Putting Education Reform To The Test

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

Florida Schools Struggle To Find Enough Bilingual Teachers

Royal Palm Elementary School Alexandra Martin has two teaching certifications. She says creating bilingual lessons is twice the work.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Royal Palm Elementary School Alexandra Martin has two teaching certifications. She says creating bilingual lessons is twice the work.

Most of the students at Royal Palm Elementary in Miami have Spanish-speaking families.

But those families also want their kids to speak – and read and write – more Spanish in school.

So teacher Alexandra Martin is leading her 1st grade class through “Vamos Papa,” with each child reading a passage from the Spanish language story. Martin helps students through proper pronunciation and words they stumble on.

This is the Miami-Dade public schools’ extended foreign language program, or EFL

Students have 5 hours a week of classes taught in Spanish with additional lessons in English. That’s not just reading and writing, but also math and science.

Spanish is part of everyday life in Miami that’s different from the rest of the country. But Miami-Dade is struggling to find enough teachers qualified in both English and Spanish.

“We had more applicants than we could service so we had to hold a raffle,” said Marta Garcia, principal of Royal Palm Elementary School, near Florida International University. Three students applied for each slot in Royal Palm’s EFL program.

“Parents have realized that it really makes a difference in their child’s education,” Garcia said. “To truly be biliterate and bilingual, it is a big advantage.”


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The Possible Fallout From Falling National Test Scores

The latest batch of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are due next week, and many expect scores will drop. So the question is why? And who will get the blame?

There’s no doubt that if the scores, which had been inching up recently, have now tanked, everyone will be pointing fingers. In fact, many people will surely point them directly at outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who pushed through sweeping policy changes in a short time period. (And if the rumors are true, could this even be an explanation for his early exit, after he spent many years giving the impression he would remain until the end of President Obama’s term?)

Whatever the NAEP results say—and I emphasize here that neither I nor Petrill have seen them—the caveat about “misNAEPery” applies: Remember that it’s extremely difficult to use NAEP data to prove whether a particular policy worked or didn’t work.

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Explaining The Rise Of School Shootings

Columbine killer Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wrote a script that school shooters are still following, Malcom Gladwell writes the in The New Yorker. The result, he argues, is that kids who might never kill now go through with it because they can follow a playbook of techniques and rituals.

The sociologist Nathalie E. Paton has analyzed the online videos created by post-Columbine shooters and found a recurring set of stylized images: a moment where the killer points his gun at the camera, then at his own temple, and then spreads his arms wide with a gun in each hand; the closeup; the wave goodbye at the end. “School shooters explicitly name or represent each other,” she writes. She mentions one who “refers to Cho as a brother-in-arms”; another who “points out that his cultural tastes are like those of ‘Eric and Dylan’ ”; a third who “uses images from the Columbine shooting surveillance camera and devotes several videos to the Columbine killers.” And she notes, “This aspect underlines the fact that the boys actively take part in associating themselves to a group.”

Read more at: www.newyorker.com

The Evidence That White Children Benefit From Integrated Schools

A recent debate about integrating Brooklyn schools got NPR’s education looking at what research says about integrated school performance. Turns out, white students do just as well on tests whether they attend schools with a high percentage of black or Hispanic students or a low percentage.

The federal government just released a report looking at the black-white achievement gap. It found something remarkable: “White student achievement in schools with the highest Black student density did not differ from White student achievement in schools with the lowest density.”

Translation: After controlling for socioeconomic status, white students essentially had the same test scores whether they went to a school that was overwhelmingly white or one that was overwhelmingly black.

This finding “confirms decades of research that white students’ achievement is not harmed” by the color of their classmates’ skin, says Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who researches race, stratification and inequality in American schools.

Read more at: www.npr.org

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