Articles from June, 2008

Poll finds conflicting opinion on test scores, student achievement

The latest Associated Press poll contains some interesting information on what the American public thinks about their public schools.

One set of data stands out: over half of the respondents (54 percent) said standardized tests measure the quality of education offered by their local schools very well or somewhat well; 60 percent of parents said the same. However, when asked what the best way is to measure student achievement, an overwhelming 70 percent said by classroom work and homework, vs. the 28 percent who said by test scores. Among parents, 69 percent said by classroom work and homework, vs. 30 percent by test scores.

These are interesting findings because most people believed standardized test scores should be used to measure the quality of a school, but not necessarily for individual student achievement. But isn’t student achievement a key indicator of school quality? What does the survey results say about people’s general perception of test scores and how they should be used? About the relationship between test scores and student achievement?
What do you think? For more information on what all this means, visit the Center for Public Education.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

UPDATE: President signs bill with Medicaid moratorium

Thanks to NSBA‘s grassroots efforts and lobbying, the President signed the War Supplemental Appropriations Bill this morning delaying the Medicaid rule which would eliminate certain transportation and administration reimbursements to schools for services provided to low-income students with disabilities. The Senate’s June 26th vote on the measure, which included the same language as the bill the House passed on June 20, was an overwhelming 92-6. The new law means that federal Medicaid reimbursements to schools for the administrative and transportation services that they provide to eligible students will continue until at least April 1, 2009.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Do states and NAEP define proficiency the same way?

According to our very own Center for Public Education the answer is no. Their latest report The Proficiency Debate: A Guide to NAEP Achievement Levels delves into the question of whether scoring proficient on state assessments means the same as scoring proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The report particularly examines whether NAEP’s proficient level is too high or whether state levels are too low.

You may be asking yourself why does it matter if states and NAEP define proficiency differently? Well, just like most educational issues in recent years, it comes down to NCLB. And since NCLB left it up to each state to define what is proficient, many critics — and even supporters — of NCLB have decried the fact that more students reach proficiency on state tests than on NAEP. Some have even called for NAEP to replace state assessments so that all students are judged on the same yardstick.

These claims are made without really knowing how NAEP and states define proficiency and why. The two tests are designed for different purposes that much be acknowledged. What BoardBuzz found most interesting was:

NAEP and No Child Left Behind define “proficient” differently. According to NAEP, “proficient does not refer to ‘at grade’ performance.” Rather, proficient is “the overall achievement goal for American students” but that “the average performance score on NAEP in most subjects falls within the Basic achievement level” (Loomis & Bourques, 2001). The U.S. Department of Education, on the other hand, is very explicit in stating that for NCLB purposes, “the Proficient achievement level [for state assessments] represents attainment of grade-level expectations for that academic content area” (Education 2007). Simply put, NAEP’s standard for proficiency is set at a level we want every student to reach, while states set their standard for proficiency at a level we expect every student to reach.

So before Congress jumps onto the NAEP bandwagon to decry the low-levels of state proficiency, they should take a look at The Center’s report. Then they’d know that NAEP’s proficient level is where we want all students to achieve, while state proficient levels are set at levels we expect all students to achieve. Now, when you hear that more students in your state scored proficient on your state test than on NAEP, you will know part of the reason. However, The Center also notes that if your state has a larger gap in proficiency rate than most other states it may be an indication you state’s standard for proficiency may be too low.

So check out the The Proficiency Debate: A Guide to NAEP Achievement Levels at the Center for Public Education. Also, see for yourself how you would do on NAEP by answering questions here.

Erin Walsh|June 30th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Making smart technology purchases and the brave new world of digital textbooks

The July edition of American School Board Journal is online right now — and you can read the technology cover articles even if you aren’t a subscriber (you are a subscriber, aren’t you?).

It’s a challenge to write about technology for school leaders. School board members and administrators often believe that education technology is a subject for their tech directors and teachers to worry about. We’re careful not to get too nitty-gritty into technology techniques and devices, and we focus instead on big-picture issues that school leaders face.

Senior Editor Del Stover writes about ways that school boards and administrators can make smart technology purchases, even during these tough budget times. Senior Editor Naomi Dillon delves into how digital technology will soon be changing the way districts approve and purchase textbooks. Laura Lefkowits, vice president for policy and planning services at McREL, addresses how schools can harness the power of social networking.

We know you’ll find these articles useful in doing your jobs. Stay tuned for more technology coverage in September, when we’ll cover up-and-coming education technology trends arriving in your schools and classrooms.

Meanwhile, if you have a technoloogy issue that you’re struggling with, let us know.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|June 30th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Technology, Governance|

Summer vacation?

June is here, and in the immortal words of Alice Cooper, “school’s out for summer.” But what does that mean for teachers, administrators and school board members? If you’re thinking long walks on the beach, road trips to Disney World, and lazy afternoons by the pool, think again! According to this article that came to BoardBuzz through the Gazette (Maryland), teachers’ work doesn’t always end when the school year does.

According to the most recent survey from the National Education Association on how teachers spend personal time, about 35 percent of teachers surveyed nationwide in 2003 said they were participating in courses and activities sponsored by their school systems in the summertime.

‘‘Many of them take professional development courses because that’s easier to do in the summer,” said Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the Maryland State Teachers Association, a group associated with the National Education Association. ‘‘It needs to be said that most teachers during the school year work much more than just the usual daily schedule. … They’re usually in the 60-hour per week range.”

And it’s not just teachers either. According to our friends over at the Leading Source blog, school board members don’t hang it up when summer comes either. Naomi Dillon, of ASBJ, reports that,

One school board I covered as a beat reporter always went on board retreats in July. And during a multi-year capital improvement project, district officials used the summer as a time to do renovations and additions to existing buildings.

Freed from the day-to-day distractions that occur during the school year, district officials can focus on the big picture, on things that may not be critical but matter nonetheless.

So . . . that leads BoardBuzz to ask the eternal question, how are you going to spend your summer vacation?

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Teachers|

Lagging achievement among ELL students

Yesterday the Pew Hispanic Center released a study (do these people ever sleep?) that examined the particular role schools play in the achievement gap among students with limited English skills, otherwise known as English language learners.

After analyzing the test results of public schools in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas, which collectively educate more that 70 percent of the country’s ELL students, the report revealed: nothing really new. At least not to me.

Among their key findings: The schools in which ELL students are the most concentrated, tend to be in urban areas, have higher enrollments, higher student-to-teacher ratios, and higher poverty levels.

I could have told them that. This is a generalization, of course, but non-English speaking families typically will migrate to areas where there are more opportunities to land a job, secure housing, obtain social services, and be part of a familiar community. All things that, because of historical trends and sheer numbers, are most likely to be found in central cities.

Unfortunately, that kind of concentration or cultural and linguistic isolation has some unintended and harmful outcomes as the report pointed out, including lagging academic achievement among ELL students, especially when they occupy a majority of the school, and interestingly enough, poor performance for other minorities and even white students when both are outnumbered by ELL student population.

While ELL students’ language skills clearly represent a challenge for many educators, especially when it comes to standardized tests, the bigger factor, in my opinion, is the high percentage of lower income students in many of these schools, as poverty is a proven predictor of student and school success. Add to that large class sizes and overwhelmed teachers and, well, you get the picture.

And to me, the picture shouldn’t be so much about what these schools look like and have in common, but how we can change the focus to create a new image.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|June 27th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Governance, Student Achievement|

Reality vs. Rhetoric: Are high achieving students being left behind?

If you had read last week’s Gadfly, the Fordham’s Institutes weekly bulletin, you would have been left with the impression that high achieving students have been neglected since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Although that is clearly what our friends at Fordham wanted you to think, you would be wrong.

Fordham based their rhetoric on a report they released last week called High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. The report aimed to determine whether high achieving students were making as many academic gains as low achieving students based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. The report also included a survey of 900 teachers around the country to gain insight into their views on how schools focus on high achieving students.

Although BoardBuzz found the report quite informative and well prepared, the rhetoric from Fordham just did not match the findings. Contrary to the thinking that high achieving students have been left behind, the report actually found that high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percent on NAEP) have been making similar gains on NAEP over the past 20 years. BoardBuzz hardly thinks that’s being left behind. On the other hand, low achieving students (those scoring in the bottom 10 percent) have been making 4 times as many gains on NAEP since NCLB was enacted compare to before.

Fordham sees the steady increases of high achievers as proof that NCLB is leaving our high achievers behind, rather than recognizing that schools are doing an amazing job of improving the achievement of their most challenging students while also increasing the achievement of their best and brightest. Isn’t this what we want schools to do? If you had listened to Fordham you would think the achievement of high achieving students remained flat or even declined but this simply is not the case. Would we all like to see greater gains from all our students? Of course. There is always room for improvement, but that does not mean that high performers have been neglected.

What was most striking to BoardBuzz, which no one else seems to be talking about, are the huge gains low achieving students have made in recent years. Reason being, BoardBuzz has heard a lot that schools have been forced to focus on only those students right below or above proficiency, so called bubble kids, at the expense of their low and high performing students to raise their proficiency rates since high achievers would reach proficiency anyway and low achievers weren’t likely to. Fortunately the report shows that this appears to be untrue. Although NCLB implicitly encourages schools to do so, they are not just focusing on these bubble kids at the expense of other students. As a matter of fact, both high and low achieving students are making solid academic gains and teachers report focusing on their low achieving students.

Does BoardBuzz agree with the report that future accountability systems should provide incentives to schools to focus on high achieving students? We certainly do. Schools deserve a pat on the back for their efforts and improvements they are making with their low achieving students. It is certainly time for accountability systems, both state and national, to use more carrots than sticks and to recognize the gains students below and above proficiency are making. This is just one of many reasons Congress needs to act now to change NCLB.

For a summary of High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB go to the Center for Public Education. While there also check out Measuring Student Growth: A guide for informed decision making to learn more about how to measure student growth.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Swimming, archery, and cheese fries

When the school year ends, summer camp season begins. As students head into a summer of fun and games, parents have other thoughts on their minds. Can camps be trusted to provide a nutritious meal? Will students staying at home eat healthy? BoardBuzz is also curious.

It looks like The New York Times was thinking about it too. As the Times reported, summertime nutrition has become a big challenge for parents, who rely on the structured school days’ eating and exercise schedules to keep kids healthy.

With schools usually limiting eating to lunchtime and snack time, children at home have more access to food and no organized physical activity. Children at camps have the benefit of exercise, but camp food isn’t what many parents hope for:

“Camp food is terrible,” said Susan B. Roberts, director of the energy metabolism laboratory at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “The problem is that they are doing what is easiest — the lowest common denominator for what kids like, and on top of that usually it has to be not something that goes bad and is no work to prepare.”

Even out of the classroom, children’s health and wellness is important to BoardBuzz. Some of these camp favorites, like cheese fries, can pack more than 800 calories in just one serving! As summer starts up, BoardBuzz is reminding parents and families to encourage physcial activity and help kids make healthy choices when snacking. For more information about keeping students healthy, check out NSBA’s School Health Web site.

Erin Walsh|June 27th, 2008|Categories: NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Wellness|

Did you see what I think I saw?

It’s been a while since BoardBuzz has had a really good news of the weird story . . . but today we’ve got a doozy! According to this article that came to us via AP, it seems that schools in Barnegat, N.J. were locked down yesterday because of a ninja on the loose. And, yes, BoardBuzz knows that school safety is no laughing matter.

But this story is definitely worth a chuckle.

Turns out the ninja was actually a camp counselor dressed in black karate garb and carrying a plastic sword.

Police tell the Asbury Park Press the man was late to a costume-themed day at a nearby middle school.

For more on the story, including a picture of the ninja in question, click here. According to the ninja, (also known as Christopher Begley),

“They told us to create a persona that reflected our personality for orientation,” said Begley, who has a black belt.

“It was a nice day out, so I decided to walk. I realized I was late so I started to run. I didn’t even think anybody saw me,” he said.

As for the sword, it was a footlong piece of gray plastic in a black holster that he bought from a dollar store.

So in the end, no harm came to anyone, and BoardBuzz got our giggle for the day.

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Who hates NCLB and what voters think of education

Chances are, if you are white and an independent, you’re more likely to hate NCLB. That’s a finding from a new national poll. As Campaign K-12 pointed out, it’s no wonder Democratic presidential candidates were attacking the law. It’s probably no surprise that independents tend to think NCLB is hurting public schools because the law has become so politically controversial. Forty percent of independents surveyed said NCLB is hurting public schools, compared with 32 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans, according to the poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and sponsored by the Public Education Network (see the PowerPoint here).

Among racial groups, 34 percent of whites said NCLB is hurting public schools, compared with 21 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos. Overall, about one third (31 percent) of Americans said the law has hurt and another one third said it has helped. Thirty-eight percent said it has made no difference or that they don’t know.

The poll also asked people to rank the most important issues in their decision in the next president. Even with soaring gas prices and the economic downturn hurting voters’ pocketbooks, they still care about education, ranking it third, above health care, taxes, homeland security and budget deficit. Gas price and economy ranked first and second, respectively.

Erin Walsh|June 26th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|
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