Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Despite Losing Grant, Choral Group Still Teaching Miami Students To Sing

Natural Bridge Elementary School students sing "Amazing Grace."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Natural Bridge Elementary School students sing "Amazing Grace."

As soon as the fourth and fifth graders at Natural Bridge Elementary were handed the lyrics to Amazing Grace, they were ready to sing out.

But first, they needed a lesson in the four voice types of a choir – bass, tenor, alto and soprano.

One by one members of the group added their part while the students waited to sing the melody. Finally, it was time to add soprano Sara Guttenberg

“I really hope she sings the melody,” tenor Patrick Muehleise kids.

The students are ready. They join in before the conductor gives them their cue.

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International Baccalaureate Programs Finding A Home In Florida Middle and Elementary Schools

It’s game day in the 8th grade International Baccalaureate design class at Ada Merritt K-8 Center in Little Havana in Miami.

The games the students are playing are designed by their classmates. And they’re based on books the students read for class.

Four eighth graders prepare to set off on a board game based on the book “Everlost” – set in a fantasy world between life and death inhabited by “afterlights.”

Ada Merritt K-8 Center 8th graders Theo Urquiza and Victoria Fernandez play a role-playing game based on the book "Everlost" that their classmates created.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ada Merritt K-8 Center 8th graders Theo Urquiza and Victoria Fernandez play a role-playing game based on the book "Everlost" that their classmates created.

Theo Urquiza reads the rules and introduces the characters.

“Every player must choose one character,” Urquiza reads, “and once you have chosen a character go to the table of contents to see what page your player is on.”

“So, who’s Allie?” he asks.

“Ok, Allie,” he continues, and reads the character description. “Although Allie is dead, she’s not really dead. She got stuck in between life and death in a world called Everlost.”

Students were asked to create a role-playing game – where players live in the heads of the characters they’re playing with.

In this game, the players face a series of scenarios as the move along the board. They make a choice, and the outcome is decided by a roll of the dice.

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How A Miami High School Made The Most Of Federal School Improvement Grants

Politico goes in depth to look at how Miami Edison Senior High School got ready to make the most of federal grants intended to turn the school around. In comparison, Miami Edison got better results than a Chicago school that bickered about the grant.

In 2009, the Obama administration saw a chance to tackle a problem that had bedeviled educators for decades. “Our goal is to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, as part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the dropout rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace,” said Arne Duncan, the administration’s new secretary of education in August of that year.

Read more at: www.politico.com

Poll Shows Strong Support For Testing — But Growing Calls For Opting Out

A strong majority of Floridians say they support regular school testing, even testing tied to the Common Core State Standards that Florida has adopted, according to a new poll from St. Leo University. But a growing number of parents say they should have the choice of opting their students out of testing.

The survey showed much higher support (about 80 percent) for regular testing, with 52 percent backing the use of test results as a measure of success. By contrast, 58 percent said graduation rates should be used to measure success, and 42 percent said teacher qualifications and accomplishments should be used.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Why President Obama’s Call For Less Testing Might Not Change Much

President Barack Obama recently said he thinks there should be less testing in schools. He admits his administration is partly to blame for the problem.

Pool / Getty News Images

President Barack Obama recently said he thinks there should be less testing in schools. He admits his administration is partly to blame for the problem.

Recently, President Barack Obama admitted he’d made a mistake when it comes to public schools.

Like most people with big news to share – he posted it on Facebook.

“I also hear from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing,” Obama said in a video posted to the White House’s Facebook page.

For more than a decade, the federal government has required schools to test students every year and use those results to force changes in schools.  And since the late 1990s Florida has used tests the same way.

The president now says he wants less testing in schools.

To be clear, President Obama says he’s worried schools are “obsessing” about testing.

But he’s not isn’t saying that public schools should get rid of the Florida Standards Assessments and other annual exams.

“Our kids should only take tests that are worth taking,” Obama said in the video. “Tests that are high-quality, aimed at good instruction and make sure everybody’s on track.”

The president is asking school districts to limit testing to two percent of class time – but that’s still 26 hours out of the typical school year.

The reason Obama and Florida lawmakers are so focused on testing is parents like Kim Werner from Miami. She’s worried her daughter — who gets good grades — still may not graduate.

Cause she’s got to get a test score to get a high school standard diploma,” Werner said.

Werner was one of dozens of parents at a State Board of Education meeting in Orlando last week pleading for changes to the state’s testing system.

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Hillsborough County Ending Teacher Evaluation System Developed With Gates Foundation

Hillsborough County is scrapping six years and $180 million worth of work to build a new teacher evaluation system with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That means getting rid of 260 teachers trained to mentor and evaluate teachers.

Among the selling points Hillsborough made back in 2009 when securing the Gates foundation’s support: a close working relationship between district officials and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. District leaders praised and promoted the union at public gatherings, and assured teachers that members were equal partners in designing the system.

The Gateses hoped the newly developed systems in Hillsborough and elsewhere would result in all students — especially those with the highest needs — getting quality teachers.

But in a report published Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times showed the project fell short of many of its goals and cost more to sustain than the district could afford.

Lower-income schools continue to hire the newest and least qualified teachers. Test scores are still measurably lower for poor and minority students. And Hillsborough’s graduation rate now lags behind other large counties in Florida.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Students In Online Schools Learn Less Than Peers In Traditional Schools, Study Finds

Students who attend online charter schools do significantly worse than peers in traditional schools, a new Stanford University study finds. And in Florida, the negative effects of online schools are twice as large as the rest of the studied group.

The latest study, released Tuesday, looks at the learning gains of students attending 158 virtual charter schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia over four years.

It finds virtual charter school students make significantly slower progress than their peers in traditional, brick-and-mortar schools, losing the statistical equivalent of 72 days’ worth of learning in reading in a typical school, and 180 days in math.

These results, the report says, “leave little doubt attending an online charter school leads to lessened academic growth for the average student.”

Read more at: www.redefinedonline.org

Miami-Dade Gets Good Marks On “Nation’s Report Card”

10-27 4thGradeReading

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade students improved their scores on two of four national reading and math exams, even as scores dropped nationally.

The results are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP — also known as the “nation’s report card.” The test is given every two years in math and reading to 4th and 8th grade students.

The U.S. average scores dropped on each of the four exams — with the biggest declines in 8th grade reading and math.

Education leaders said the latest national scores were surprising and disappointing, but said that scores have improved over the long term.

“The news isn’t great,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters.

Duncan said the cause for the decline in national scores isn’t clear, but said the switch to Common Core math and language arts standards in more than 40 states and other new education policies probably caused a downward dip as schools adjusted.

“This is not an infrequent occurrence,” Duncan said.

The question is whether the dip is temporary.

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Why President Obama’s Call To Limit Testing Won’t Change Anything

Robert Pondiscio argues President Obama won’t be able to limit the time spent testing, because those decisions are made by the state and local leaders. “Our present relationship with testing is like holding a wolf by its ears,” Pondiscio writes. “We don’t like it, but we can’t let go.”

It’s the same with testing. First of all, reports that Obama “plans to limit standardized testing to no more than 2% of class time,” are simply wrong. The federal government has virtually no say about how much time schools spend testing. The vast majority of tests that our children take are driven by states and school districts, as well individual schools and teachers, not by Washington. The best the president can do is use the bully pulpit to encourage less testing and even then there’s reason to be skeptical.

The amount of time kids spend on testing is not the issue. It’s what the tests are used for that matters. Like my speech example, when you use standardized tests to make high-stakes judgments about schools and teachers, they are no longer a mere diagnostic. The testing tail wags the schooling dog.

Read more at: www.usnews.com

President Obama Says Schools Spend Too Much Time Testing

President Barack Obama says that U.S. schools spend too much time testing, and that he’s partly to blame. He’s asking school districts to spend no more than 2 percent of class time on exams.

In a 10-page plan, the White House outlined a series of steps to help educators end assessment that is burdensome or not benefiting students or teachers. The administration said the tests should be “worth taking,” time-limited and provide a “clearer picture” of whether students are learning.

Students in big-city public schools will take about 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and high school graduation, according to a study of 66 school districts released Saturday by the Council of Great City Schools.

The average amount of time devoted to taking mandated tests during the 2014-15 school year was 4.2 days, or 2.3% of school time, for the average eighth-grader—the grade with the most mandated testing time.

Read more at: www.usatoday.com

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