Putting Education Reform To The Test

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

Deciphering Dueling Stats on Graduation Rates

Graduation rates something something...

kthypryn / Flickr

Experts say it should be simple to calculate graduation rates. But it's not.

It sounded like a story guaranteed to irritate taxpayers: a national study out of Rutgers university says more and more public high school students are taking longer than four years to graduate.

Instead, they’re in school for five or six — or more –  years!

But Florida school officials say that’s not a problem here. And experts say, they both may be right — the difference may lie in some good news from the last several years.

Graduation rates are an important number because it lets us know how our high school students are doing, in terms of being ready to go to college or go into the workforce.

The Rutgers researchers say the U.S. Census data that they used is a more accurate way to measure graduation rate as it follows individuals through their lives.

They found a decline in on-time graduation through generations of high schoolers born in the 1940s to the 1980s, especially in boys and minority students.There was a definite growing trend for students to graduate well after they turned 18.

But education officials in Florida said, that’s not what’s happening here.

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Bill Would Let Principals Take Over Low-Performing Schools

A Miami lawmaker is backing a bill which would create a pilot program with the University of Virginia to train principals to turn-around low performing schools. The principals would have autonomy like a charter school, but the state’s teacher union says it take a community to improve schools.

The initiative is similar to a more aggressive state takeover model that has been tried in Massachusetts and is now being implemented in New York, in which a state-appointed “receiver” — which could be an individual, another school district or a non-profit organization, like a charter school operator — receives broad authority to implement strategies that aim to rapidly improve student performance. In some cases, receivers are allowed to fire teachers, lengthen the school day or year and overhaul curriculum.

”I love that idea. I love that model,” Diaz said, referring to the receivership program tried in other states. “I think that’s the way that’s most effective. But I think this is kind of baby steps to create that atmosphere so someone could come into the schools and change the culture.

Read more at: www.capitalnewyork.com

Veteran Florida Teachers Wonder If New Bonuses Are Meant For Them

Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.

“Who are these bonuses for?”

It’s a question we heard from teachers over and over again while reporting on the new Best and Brightest Scholarships. They’re not actually scholarships — they’re bonuses worth up to $10,000 for teachers who scored in the top 20 percent of students when they took the SAT or ACT and earned the state’s top rating, “highly effective.”

Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen proposed the $44 million program during the legislative session. He’s said he was inspired by Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids In the World.” In the book, Ripley found top students wanted to become teachers in Finland, South Korea and other top-performing nations. That isn’t always the case in the U.S.

Fresen’s bill went nowhere, but he managed to get the money added to the state budget despite objections from the Senate.

For many teachers, qualifying for the bonus meant tracking down decades-old test scores from the two testing companies or from the college they attended. Many teachers said they couldn’t get the records before the October 1st deadline.

It’s why many veteran teachers don’t think they bonuses were meant for them. They think they were intended for young teachers. More recent graduates can get their test scores online and first-year teachers are exempt from the “highly effective” requirement.

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