Putting Education Reform To The Test

Education Data Now Being Used for More Than Just Testing

As Florida grapples with difficulties implementing online testing, schools across the country are expanding the use of collected data for a broad variety of uses. Academics, instruction and even discipline are being re-evaluated with the use of statistical analysis.

In Jenks, Okla., for example, the school district tracks how often teachers use photocopiers. With a bump in use, curriculum supervisors may offer teachers help finding supplemental class materials or with planning lessons further in advance. After documenting a drop in the size of marching and concert bands, the Arlington Independent School District, near Dallas, suspended instrument rental fees. Band participation at the middle and high schools jumped.
Those who advocate more use of data in the classroom say it can give teachers concrete evidence of what instructional strategies work.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

FGCU Considers Changing Focus in Curriculum

Florida Gulf Coast University’s board of trustees will meet on Tuesday to discuss shifting their focus from liberal arts degrees to programs they say will better prepare students to enter the future work force. The move, designed to make the university more economically competitive, is not without its critics.
“(Cutting programs) makes Florida Gulf Coast University lesser of an institution and more of an occupational, technical, vocational school,” said FGCU founding president Roy McTarnaghan.

The school is part of a growing national divide over whether the role of higher education is to train a future work force, or, as most mission statements indicate, provide a universal education.

On Tuesday the school’s board of trustees will meet to further consider eliminating active degree programs and narrowing the university’s focus to, as one proponent suggests, “areas of excellence.”

“In looking at the university, I tend to look through what I would call private enterprise or free-market glasses,” said former Republican state representative Thomas Grady, a Naples attorney appointed to the FGCU board of trustees last July by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Read more at: www.news-press.com

As Florida Reduces Testing, Teacher Evaluation Questions Remain

Broward Teachers Union president Sharon Glickman, with Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie, calling for changes to the teacher evaluation system in October.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Broward Teachers Union president Sharon Glickman, with Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie, calling for changes to the teacher evaluation system in October.

Florida lawmakers’ decision to end mandatory final exams for every class will mean that more teachers’ performance will be judged on subjects they don’t teach.

Concerned about the amount of testing in schools — and pressured by activists and educators — this year lawmakers rescinded a state law that requires school districts to have a standard final assessment in any class that doesn’t already have a statewide exam. In most cases that’s a test, but it could be a final project or compilation of a student’s work.

Many districts jumped on the chance to get rid of the tests, which are also known as end-of-course exams.

But eliminating end-of-course exams means confronting an old problem again: Florida law requires teachers are evaluated based on whether students miss, meet or exceed expected results on state standardized tests. So how do you rate teachers if there’s no test?

Several large Florida schools districts say they will use state test scores to evaluate those teachers. That means some art, music or gym teachers will be judged based on their students’ scores on the state reading test.

“In some cases teachers are definitely not happy with it,” said Sharon Glickman, president of Broward Teachers Union. “And to a certain extent we’re not either. But it’s the best of, I hate to say it, two evils.”

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Schools Often Don’t Check Eligibility For Federal Food Programs, Audit Finds

Schools in Florida, California and Texas are giving away millions of dollars in free or reduced-price meals to students who don’t qualify, according to a new federal audit. Auditors say school districts should do more to verify family income levels. Federal programs provide meals to 1.6 million Florida students daily.

Auditors suggest it might be time to require more proof of poverty from families applying for free or low-cost meals.

“The act of turning in income documentation with applications may discourage applicants from being dishonest about household income levels,” the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General noted in the report made public this week.

But while USDA officials acknowledge the room for improvement, and say they have the legal authority to require income documentation, they also resist imposing new application barriers.

“Significant other legal, policy and operational concerns remain,” the department’s Food and Nutrition Service stated.

Requiring applicants for free or low-cost meals to submit proof of income “could create barriers to participation for eligible children (and) cause significant administrative and record-keeping burden for participating schools,” the agency stated.

Read more at: www.mcclatchydc.com

More For-Profit Colleges Closing Campuses

Two leading for-profit college companies announced they will close or phase out campuses enrolling roughly 14,000 students, Inside Higher Ed reports. The for-profit industry has been shrinking the past several years, a trend highlighted by the sudden collapse of Corinthian Colleges last year.

One reason for the decline is competition. Private colleges with online programs that have a national draw, such as Liberty University and Southern New Hampshire University, tout their nonprofit status in advertisements. And it appears to be working, given some of those institutions’ rapid expansion online.

The for-profit industry may have a way to go before it hits the bottom, said Kevin Kinser, who is chair of the educational administration and policy studies department at the State University of New York at Albany and an expert on for-profits.

Kinser said decisions to close campuses or refocus “do not sound like the actions of a healthy industry.” But for-profits have resisted that kind of transformation for a long time.

Read more at: www.insidehighered.com

Bay District Schools Outline Third Grade Promotion Decisions

Florida’s switch to a new statewide test this year will mean delayed results for 3rd grade reading test scores. So school districts asked for, and received, more flexibility to determine how and why the state’s lowest-scoring 3rd grade students will be held back. Bay District Schools outline their process Tuesday.

Senate Bill 7069 allows the Florida Department of Education to place decisions regarding promotion and retention of third-grade students at the discretion of each district.

The decision to promote or retain a student will be based on the following factors: student course grades and assessment data with a focus on English language arts, diagnostics in reading, writing, math, or science as required by state law, students’ portfolio (classroom assessments, work samples), documentation of performance in school-based reading support programs and other academic performance records.

Read more at: www.newsherald.com

Despite Problems With Florida’s New Test, Lawmaker Opposes Cancelling Contract

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

The Florida Senate

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

The chairman of the Senate Education committee says lawmakers aren’t interested in cancelling the six-year, $220 million contract with Florida new statewide test provider despite multiple problems with the new exams already.

Twice this year contractor American Institutes for Research made changes to their system which prevented students and administrators from accessing the exam. Some students were even booted in the middle of completing the test.

One senator, Alan Hays, even filed amendments which would have canceled the contract. Critics of the new exam, Florida’s Common Core-based standards and judging student and school performance based on exam results supported the idea.

But Sen. John Legg, a Pasco County Republican, says there’s little support for that.

“Quite frankly the Legislature is not heading in that direction,” Legg says, “nor are senators and House members even talking about that. To cancel a contract in the middle would be very costly.”

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It Takes A “Forest” To Feed An Elementary School

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

Rain is terrible when you’re trying to give tours of your new garden.

But it’s great for the spinach, sweet potato and purple passion fruit rapidly taking root.

On a very rainy day, Kelsey Pharr Elementary third graders Ronnield Luna and Jeffrey Arroyo are showing grownups around what used to be a grass field.

Now the school in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood has several thousand square feet of all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Some you can find at your supermarket.

“And here we have lemongrass,” Arroyo says. “When you rip a little piece and you smell it, it smells like lemon.”

Other produce is more exotic.

“And here we have the Moringa, the Moringa tree,” Arrroyo says. “It’s the healthiest plant ever and it has protein.”

“It makes you live longer,” Luna adds

Students at ten other Miami-Dade elementary schools also will soon be eating kale, tomatoes and guava they grow themselves.

In a couple of years, the banana and jackfruit trees will be ready too.

The gardens — dubbed “food forests” — are part of a program to teach kids to eat more healthy and to teach them the science of farming and nutrition.

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Students Show Little Progress On History, Civics and Geography Tests

The latest batch of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are out, and U.S. 8th grade students have made no gains in Social Studies subjects since 2010. Scores on the NAEP history, civics and geography exams were flat. Some educators say more emphasis is being put on other subjects.

Terry Mazany, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, called the results “unacceptable.”

“Geography, U.S. history and civics are core academic subjects that must be a priority,” Mazany said in a statement. “They represent knowledge and skills that are fundamental to a healthy democracy. The lack of knowledge on the part of America’s students is unacceptable, and the lack of growth must be addressed.”

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

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