Articles in the Educational Research category

Ariz. districts look to early childhood programs to boost long-term achievement

The following article was originally published by the Arizona School Boards Association

By Tracey Benson, ASBA Director of Communications

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It may be an old saw, but it well summarizes what many education leaders across Arizona and the nation believe to be true about the relationship between college and career readiness and early education – the learning and experiences that happen between birth and age 8.PAT 14

Current research about brain development and early learning backs those beliefs, according to Karen Woodhouse, chief program officer at First Things First, a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help children be successful once they enter kindergarten. For example:

  • 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before they enter kindergarten, and the quality of a child’s interactions with adult caregivers – from parents to childcare providers and preschool teachers – lays the foundation for a lifetime.
  • Differences in children’s vocabulary first start to appear at 18 months.
  • A child’s vocabulary, attention and general knowledge at 3 and 4 years old correlates to their reading comprehension levels at ages 9 and 10.

With the implementation of new, more rigorous academic standards in Arizona and the Move On When Reading law, which requires students to be reading at a sufficient level before they can be promoted from third to fourth grade, the stakes have been raised for preparing children for K-12 success.

Dr. Debbie Pischke, director of the Peoria Unified School District’s preschool program for the past 19 years, and a regional partnership council chair for First Things First, says early childhood education is more important today than ever before. Peoria USD serves approximately 1,000 preschool students through 40 programs on 15 campuses. Scholarships are available for more than one-fourth of those children through a grant from First Things First.

“In education we talk about the achievement gap a lot, but there was a readiness gap before there was an achievement gap,” she says. “We know that the brain a child brings to kindergarten started way before they got there. The pathways for learning were established by age three.”

Pischke and others say that achievement gap may widen if early education isn’t more fully addressed.

While preschool attendance is not the only indicator of readiness, it is one. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2013 Kids Count report, 46 percent of all U.S. children attend preschool. In Arizona, only 33 percent do.

That could become a bigger problem. “Kindergarten is no longer about reciting the ABCs,” Pischke says. “Today when children come into kindergarten, they need to know how to work with other children, listen to an adult other than mom or dad, pay attention, demonstrate persistence, be able to control their emotions and body appropriately for their age.”

They also need pre-math and pre-literacy skills.

She repeats a saying she once heard at an early childhood conference to drive home her point: “The speaker said, ‘You can’t climb the ladder of success if the first rung is broken.’”

Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Kelty also is concerned that without more aggressive early preparation and greater access to early childhood programs, the achievement gap will grow. “We see too many children starting behind, and that gap is rarely closed,” says Kelty. “We’re so used to blaming the K-12 system (for this), instead of asking how we can provide more access to quality early education options for children and their parents.”

A community survey conducted this year in Coconino County revealed that 53 percent of children in the county enter kindergarten unprepared to learn what is now expected of them. “Our county data and our statewide data are reflecting that (lack of preparedness) in our students’ academic performance,” he says.

Woodhouse, Pischke and Kelty all note that the academic and social costs to children can be high if they enter kindergarten unprepared. School districts incur financial costs, specifically those associated with remediation and retention. These education experts contend that rich early childhood experiences, whether at home, or through preschool or quality childcare settings, can reduce those costs.

A growing cadre of advocates from business, economic development, government and the social service sectors say the positive effects of investment in early childhood education are even more far reaching. Rob Grunewald is one of those advocates. An economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, he will speak before a group of Arizona citizens that will gather this fall for the annual Arizona Town Hall, where the topic of early childhood education in Arizona will be explored in-depth.

“Research shows that investments in early childhood education can return up to $16 for every $1 invested through reduced need for welfare assistance, increased income tax revenue, less burden on the criminal justice system and fewer children needing remedial education services,” says Grunewald. “Children and their families benefit from these investments, but the majority of financial benefits accrue to society and taxpayers.”

According to research cited by First Things First, children exposed to rich experiences in early childhood are 80 percent more likely to graduate high school, 70 percent less likely to commit a violent crime by age 18 and 40 percent less likely to be held back a grade.

That message about broad societal benefits is reverberating in many parts of Arizona. As part of its economic development strategy and in light of the results of the county’s recent community education survey, Coconino County has invested nearly $350,000 in a parent education program focused on the early years. Parenting College, developed and implemented by the Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Office as part of its Transformative Learning Center, focuses on nine topics, including brain development, safety, discipline and nurturing pre-academic skills through reading and vocabulary. The classes are delivered to teen parents attending Ponderosa High School, the county’s accommodation school, through a partnership with a high school in the Flagstaff Unified School District, and most recently through community sessions offered on Saturdays.

For these reasons and others, school district leaders increasingly are looking for ways to engage and influence parents and provide foundational learning and socialization experiences to children before kindergarten. “The model many people think of is to begin thinking about children as learners when they start kindergarten, but more and more school districts are taking advantage of opportunities to connect with families of young children before that point,” says Woodhouse. “It’s really important for the leaders on a school board to be familiar with the variety of ways that can be done.”

She emphasizes that meeting needs of children and families in ways that make sense for the local community is essential. One strategy does not fit all.

In addition to offering preschool programs that serve students with developmental delays, which is required by law, many school districts are extending the opportunity to other local children by braiding state and federal funds with grants from organizations like First Things First that provide scholarships to students whose families would not otherwise be able to afford preschool. First Things First currently provides 51 Arizona school districts – from small and rural, to large and urban – with grants for preschool scholarships.

Since opening a preschool four years ago, the small, rural Topock Elementary School District in Mohave County has seen kindergarten readiness jump. The 20-student preschool is offered free to 3- and 4-year-olds through a grant from First Things First. “It has become the great equalizer,” says John Warren, superintendent of the district that serves 140 students overall. “That pipeline of success stemming from the preschool is evident.” (See page 19 for an in-depth look at Topock’s program and the results it is producing.)

The Mesa Unified School District repurposed an elementary school this year as a preschool center. The school board voted last year to convert the campus because of declining enrollment. The Jordan Center for Early Education will house special education preschool, state-sponsored programs and the district’s tuition-based program, along with a “wrap-around care” option for working parents.

The Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson also has a preschool and early education campus, created after the district closed one of its elementary schools two years ago. All its preschool programs, which serve 400 children, are housed there.

Some districts and JTEDs offer fee-based, licensed preschool programs on their campuses that do double duty by providing high school students opportunities to earn career and technical education credits and valuable skills by working in the preschool programs.

The Pima County JTED is one of them. “We’re training the next generation of preschool teachers,” says Greg D’Anna, director of public relations.

West-MEC, a JTED that serves students in Maricopa County, funds early childhood education/education professions programs at 23 high schools in the West Valley. One of those schools, Apollo High School in the Glendale Union High School District, offers COOP – the Child Oriented Occupational Program. The program gives the older students hands-on experience by working one hour a day in the preschool along with an additional hour for classroom instruction and lesson planning. It gives the preschoolers a leg up on kindergarten.

Similarly, the East Valley Institute of Technology offers its early childhood/education professions students the opportunity to learn and work in a childcare center, but it has done so by partnering with a private preschool operating a center on its campus.

Other districts have created family resource centers on school campuses that offer parents of pre-K children access to information and materials to help prepare their children for school success.

Some districts blend a variety of approaches. Co-located on Sunnyside USD’s preschool campus is the district’s award-winning, research-based, free and voluntary Parents as Teachers – or PAT – program. PAT serves expectant parents and parents of children birth to 5 years old residing in the Sunnyside district. It provides them with information on the latest research in neuroscience and child development, support and strategies during the crucial early years to strengthen families and prepare children for lifelong achievement. According to district spokeswoman Mary Veres, PAT has increased children’s school readiness and success. It also improves parenting practices and provides early detection of developmental delays.

And other models exist as well.

“Having varied approaches is important,” notes Woodhouse. “We need to meet parents where they are. Preschool is not for every child or every family, but every child does need rich early childhood experiences, and it’s in the interest of school districts to be a part of that.”

In addition to improved student achievement, ancillary benefits are being experienced by districts engaged in early childhood programs. Preschools and parent programs draw young families to the district.

“The early years are a great time for districts to begin building relationships with the family, to become a great resource, to make them comfortable in the school community and to help them understand what will happen when their child starts kindergarten,” Woodhouse explains.

Pischke agrees and says Peoria has experienced that benefit. An elementary school that opened four preschool programs on its campus one year had 25 variances for kindergarten the following year. “We’re their first exposure to school,” she says. “So if we’re making a good impression, they’re going to want to stay.”

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 11th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, Preschool Education, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

Missouri businessman, MSBA announce $1 million incentive for Baldrige school district award

A Missouri couple will donate $1 million to the first public school district in their state that can win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which recognizes organizations for achieving performance excellence. The award will be announced at the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) conference this weekend.

Larry Potterfield said he and his wife, Brenda Potterfield, are making the donation because they want to help improve public education in Missouri. “This is for the children,” he said. “We want to impact the educational system, to make the school districts more accountable, to better prepare and educate the next generation so that our nation can continue to compete in the global marketplace.”

The gift challenge will reinforce current efforts for measurable educational improvements among Missouri’s 520 school districts as they strive to achieve “role model status,” as defined by the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Each year, the President of the United States honors American organizations in business, health care, education, non-profit, and government that win a Baldrige Award, the nation’s only award for performance excellence.

Anne L. Bryant, who sits on the board of the Baldrige Foundation and is a former executive director of the National School Boards Association, said that Larry and Brenda Potterfield’s million dollar challenge has called upon the entire state of Missouri to ”show the way” by encouraging every school district across the state to consider taking up the Baldrige quality and excellence program.

“Like all Baldrige Award winners, a school district that goes through the process is demonstrating to its students, faculty, staff, parents and entire community that it wants to be the best,” Bryant said. “I watched my neighboring district, The Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) go through the process and reach the national award with such pride and excitement. It reinforced to the community and the entire state that this public school district could be an example for all.”

Moreover, Bryant said that the Baldrige community is “thrilled by the Potterfield’s generosity but, even more importantly, by their foresight to focus on education…which indeed is the cornerstone of a state’s economy and future.

The $1 million gift will be stewarded by the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award until it is awarded.

“The million dollar unrestricted gift will be an obvious benefit to the school district that demonstrates outstanding performance,” said Potterfield, who is CEO of Midway USA, a company that sells hunting and gun supplies. “The school district will receive tremendous recognition for winning the Baldrige Award. Most importantly, the winner will have to demonstrate an improvement in educational outcomes because the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence are results-driven.”

The Potterfields’ official announcement will be made at the 2013 MSBA Annual Conference on Oct. 5, 2013. The conference is held in cooperation with the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA).

“We’re delighted Larry and Brenda Potterfield chose the MSBA Annual Conference to announce their gift,” said Dr. Carter Ward, the MSBA executive director. “MSBA strongly supports school districts interested in utilizing the Baldrige Criteria to create a culture of continuous improvement ultimately aimed at providing the finest possible education for the students in our public schools.”

Dr. P. George Benson, chair of the Board of Directors of the Baldrige Foundation, called it “gratifying” for the Potterfields to link their donation to the Baldrige National Award for Performance Excellence.

“It demonstrates the faith and confidence that Larry and Brenda Potterfield have in the Baldrige Program,” Dr. Benson said. “For 25 years, we helped organizations in the public and private sectors reach their peak level of effectiveness, and honored the very best with a Baldrige Award. With their generous donation, the Potterfields are challenging Missouri school districts to provide a better education to their students.”

School districts must reach the highest level in the Missouri Quality Award, the state Baldrige-based program, to apply to the National Baldrige Performance Excellence Award Program. School districts will need to demonstrate performance results that are national benchmarks and better than their peer groups at comparably-sized school districts across the country. In so doing, they will be improving their budget and operations, as well as the education they provide in the classrooms.

“Schools and districts interested in pursuing a Baldrige award can access resources through the recently launched Missouri Network for Educational Improvement (MNEI),” says Daniel L. Clay, dean of the University of the Missouri College of Education. “The network will help schools and districts strategically coordinate continuous improvement efforts.”  The MNEI is led by the Hook Center at the University of Missouri College of Education, in partnership with MSBA, MASA and districts around the state.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|October 4th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Board governance, Educational Research, School Board News, School Boards, School Climate, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , |

More classrooms see return to “ability grouping,” NYSSBA reports

The following story was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association in On Board Online.

Ability grouping – a controversial approach in which teachers sort students into small groups based on their level of comfort with curriculum material – is back in classrooms.

Ability grouping became unfashionable in the late 1980s and 1990s, when critics said it was an unnecessary technique that sends negative messages to some students and highlights racial disparities.

“It was PC to criticize ability grouping,” Tom Loveless, a prominent education analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington told On Board. But now ability grouping has resurfaced as way to differentiate instruction.

Seventy-one percent of fourth-grade teachers used ability grouping for reading in 2009, compared to 28 percent in 1998, according to a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For fourth grade math, 61 percent used ability grouping in 2011, compared to 40 percent in 1996.

Ability grouping is not the same as “tracking,” which Loveless said has been persistently popular in the crucial subject of eighth-grade mathematics. While ability grouping refers to the practice that teachers use to separate students within a classroom into smaller groups, depending on their proficiency with a subject, tracking is usually district-driven and focuses on making choices and placing middle and high school students into programs in which they study different curriculums.

In a recent paper published by Brooking’s Brown Center Report on American Education, Loveless suggested that the return of ability grouping was linked to the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, as well as the increased use of technology in the classroom, which enables teachers to personalize instruction more readily.

The debate about ability grouping – when, whether, and how to use it – involves disagreement about the best way to deal with one of public education’s perennial problems – the “achievement gap.” Middle- and upper-income students, who are usually white or Asian, consistently outscore low-income, usually African-American or Hispanic students, on standardized tests.

In New York, only 16.1 percent of African-American students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard in 2013, compared to 39.9 percent for white students. Racial and economic gaps widen as students get older; 94 percent of students from low-need districts graduate from high school, compared to 65 percent of students from high-need districts.

Educators say they are taking a second look at ability grouping as they strive to make all students college- and career-ready. “We are seeing more of a trend to go back to specifically working with students in ability groups,” said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown school district, who added that he is uncomfortable with the term “ability” and would rather say “proficiency groups.” Starting this fall, Middletown will offer a two-year kindergarten class “for kids who are not cognitively ready for kindergarten,” which represents about a quarter to a third of the class.

Ability grouping isn’t limited to less proficient students, Eastwood added. “There’s a push around rigor, where kids can accelerate,” he said. “Your best readers and writers have to be challenged. I like the concept of personalized learning, when we push kids individually.”

This fall Middletown is also adding two mastery classes in third grade. “We’re taking the highest learners and building a curriculum around their capabilities,” said Susan Short, principal of Presidential Park elementary school. “The sky is the limit. There will be a lot of project-based learning, with the teacher as facilitator.”

For many teachers, ability grouping reflects classroom realities. “When there’s a heterogeneous classroom, you’re still grouping students based on their ability level,” said Nicholas Sgroi, who taught fifth grade at Carter Elementary School in Middletown. “As lessons start going on, you see what they know, and see where they need support or push them further. It goes on all year long. The groups are pretty fluid.” Even students who stay in the lower group are “still growing at their own pace.”

In a lesson on fractions, for example, Sgroi has students who need more practice with the material adding like denominators. To challenge others, he’d offer a problem of adding fractions with different denominators or ask them to develop word problems on their own. “They’re not just doing work sheets,” said Sgroi.

But what happens when the kids in different groups are predominantly of different races? That’s something many districts with diverse populations want to avoid.

“We’re wrestling with big issues of equity,” said Laurence T. Spring, Schenectady superintendent. “Race, economics and disability cannot be predictors of students’ achievement. We need to think of lots of other things to do in the classroom. Most educational services should have a heterogeneous environment, especially in elementary school.”

He pointed to the district’s inclusive admissions process for the high school’s IB (International Baccalaureate) program as reflecting the goals of the district. As Spring said, “We want more kids in IB, to take the challenge.”

While ability grouping raises few eyebrows in the early grades, some worry that it might lead to tracking later on. These critics say that creating different groups for younger students to learn a given curriculum can create a culture that leads to older students being assigned to entirely different curriculums.

As Cathleen Chamberlain, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Oswego, said, “Some of the problems with tracking is that we can actually be determining a student’s future when we are making tracking decisions. Some tracks point to a future in college while others send students directly to a career path and we may be inadvertently closing doors that are options for students. Again, we have to be mindful that we are not typecasting students.”

“I’m horrified that tracking is coming back,” said Carol Burris, a principal at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, who was named principal of the year by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Her district has “accelerated all kids in math, including special needs kids, completely de-tracked ninth and 10th grade, and offered IB English to everybody in 11th grade,” she said.

With 15-16 percent of the district’s students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and a minority population of 21 percent, the district has 100 percent of graduating students receiving a Regents diploma and 80 percent having a Regents degree with advanced designation.

“We level the field,” said Burris, who has a book coming out on de-tracking in math. “We closed the achievement gap in terms of earning a Regents diploma. “We’re in the process of leveling up, to give the best curriculum we can. The tone of the building improves when you’re not isolating lower performing students.”

“For me, the problem really lies in not stepping back and saying ‘what is ability?’” said Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “With accountability and high stakes testing, the definition of ability has gotten more and more narrow. The return to ability grouping is so hierarchical because it’s competitive about very narrow measures. The perception of kids factors into the tracking process. We need to question what’s happening.”

For all the focus on data driven results, it’s unclear that ability grouping ultimately achieves its stated goals. “We don’t have good evidence that it helps or hurts kids, except for the highly advanced, high achiever, by giving them different curriculum,” said Loveless.

Despite questions about the value of ability grouping, Loveless expects to see more of it in elementary and middle schools as districts strive to improve results.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said. “It comes back under a different name.”

Joetta Sack-Min|September 13th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Policy Formation, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA President: Effective school boards will improve students’ success

David A. Pickler, the 2013-14 president of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board, wrote this column for the October 2013 issue of American School Board Journal.

How can school boards become more effective?

Through our work at NSBA and the state associations, we’ve seen many good examples of school boards that function well and show results through student achievement. We’ve learned through NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) that school boards in districts with high student achievement are different than school boards in low-achieving districts.

So this would seem to be a fairly straightforward matter of identifying what makes school boards work effectively. But teasing out the tangible areas where school boards can make a difference is still an emerging area of research, and the question is more complex than it initially appears.

I recently spoke at a media event in Seattle, hosted by the Alliance for Education. This nonprofit group is working with the Seattle school board to improve academic achievement and guide student success in the district — and to sustain those actions over time. We talked about CPE’s recent report, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” as well as other research by the Iowa School Boards Foundation and NSBA’s Key Work of School Boards. Researcher Thomas L. Alsbury, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, also discussed the important role that a school board holds as “one of the few remaining vestiges of accessible democracy.”

So what do we know about effective school boards — those that are making progress in student achievement across all sectors of their student population? CPE’s research shows that some of those characteristics include:

  • An ability to set goals reflecting high expectations for students and monitoring progress toward goals, an understanding of student data and how it can be used
  • A relentless focus on student achievement and spending less time on operational issues
  • A comprehensive understanding of the needs of the school district, and strong relationships with the superintendent, other administrators, teachers, and other key stakeholders, and
  • Perhaps most importantly, everyone in the district is committed to success.

More information about the eight characteristics can be found at CPE’s website.

Student success should be the core mission for any school board. We cannot focus on a single issue but must be committed to a comprehensive plan that will support all our students and their needs, Alsbury noted. Board conflict and turnover ultimately will harm student achievement. We must not get mired in micromanagement and organizational details.

As school board leaders, we must lead, and we must model these characteristics for the district staff, students, and the community. We must ensure that every child is prepared for the 21st century and beyond. We know that we are living in exponential times of change—in just the last few years technology has changed our work and our lives in ways we never imagined. The generation of students that we are now educating will be taking on jobs that don’t yet exist.

This work becomes even more important in light of the new landscape of education policy, where we as school boards are being forced to justify our existence more frequently.

Not every school board has an organized group like the Alliance for Education to monitor our work, so we must take it upon ourselves to learn from this research, taking a hard look at our inner workings and continuously striving for improvement. We also could look for community and business partnerships with like-minded groups such as the Alliance. If we use our ability to lay a foundation and set the culture for the school district, our students will benefit for years to come.

Our students need—and deserve—the best we can give.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|September 11th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Governance, Key Work of School Boards, Leadership, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Reform|Tags: , , , , |

Kentucky district uses “Brain Bus” to stop summer learning loss

The following article was originally published by the Kentucky School Boards Association and was written by Madelynn Coldiron.

When kids run for the school bus, it’s usually because they’re late. When Henderson County Schools’ summer Brain Bus pulls into Woodsview Apartments, they run for a different reason.

“It’s a good idea – it gives them something to do. When they see that bus pull up, they run,” said resident Terrence Belle, whose fourth-grade son, Talyn, took advantage of the bus this year and last year as well.

The surplus school bus, its exterior festooned with colorful graphics, has been gutted and retrofitted with individual computer stations, where children can learn while having fun with games and other electronic activities.

National research shows children lose ground academically during the summer and “kids in poverty will lose more,” said Marganna Stanley, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration.

The Wi-Fi-enabled, air-conditioned mobile tech lab began making its rounds in 2011. It was the brainchild of a team from a community leadership program whose members included several then-school district employees who were concerned about the dip in student scores between spring and fall.

Knowing that some children would not have transportation, “we thought, why not take it to them,” said Ellen Redding, former district employee who now works for Northwest Kentucky Forward.

The leadership program raised funds and got donations of laptops and other supplies and services for the bus, which was donated by the district. The program now is fully under the school system’s aegis.

During June and July, the Brain Bus targets mostly low-income areas where large numbers of children reside. It spends two hours at each of the eight stops over a four-day week. However, the schedule is flexible. Bus driver John Haynes, who also is a substitute teacher, said a crowd isn’t always guaranteed. In some spots, he said, few turn out and in other locations, kids are “lined up waiting for a computer.”

This year one site didn’t draw any participants so the district switched to another location.

That wasn’t the case at Woodsview, where sisters Madalynn and Shelby Terrell were among those climbing aboard.

“It’s great – it’s entertaining and you get to spend time with your friends,” third-grader Shelby Terrell said. Fifth-grader Alexis Sutton, meanwhile, not only played games herself, but helped younger students with theirs.

“We’ve had anywhere from kids who are just going into preschool to a few high schoolers,” said newly certified teacher Rachel O’Nan, who is stationed on the bus. “Every time we come, we get a couple of new ones.”

The district will track the performance of students who used the Brain Bus this summer to try to gauge the academic effect. The community leadership program did that last year, Redding said, and found “We had over 60 percent had an increase in their test scores – both math and reading. Those were just the kids we could track. We just looked at an increase in scores – we didn’t even look at the ones that stayed the same, and in reality those scores that stayed the same is still a win because they didn’t fall back.”

Children are on the bus a relatively short time, so the kind of progress they might make in a regular summer school offering is not possible, Stanley said.

“It’s voluntary so a student might have two hours a week (on the Brain Bus), maximum,” she said. “If they stay where they are or increase, we would be very pleased.”

There are also less empirical benefits, she said: “You can’t really measure this, but increasing their love of learning.”

O’Nan said the experience also helps those without computers or Internet access at home feel more comfortable with technology in a setting where they aren’t afraid to ask questions.

The Brain Bus was put to use for adults when the district wanted to show parents who work at one of the area’s large employers how Infinite Campus can be used to access their children’s records and grades. The plant didn’t have a computer lab-type setup available, “so we thought, ‘We have a lab on wheels’” Stanley said, and brought the bus to the factory.

This summer, in addition to its regular rounds, the bus visited a Boy Scout day camp at the group’s request.

“I think we’ll find lots of ways to use it,” Stanley said.

Well-established research shows that students generally score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer break compared with the same tests they took at the beginning of summer.

In math computation, most students lose about two months of grade- level equivalency over the summer months.

Low-income students lose more than two months of grade-level equivalency in reading achievement over the summer. Middle-class students, however, gain slightly.

Unequal access to summer learning opportunities can be the culprit in more than half the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth.

Source: The National Summer Learning Association, citing numerous studies

Joetta Sack-Min|August 27th, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Budgeting, Educational Research, Educational Technology, School Board News|Tags: |

Center for Public Education examines good and bad news from ACT data

Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Public Education (CPE) at the National School Boards Association, recently analyzed the latest batch of ACT scores for CPE’s blog, the Edifier:

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution.

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report:

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
  • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
  • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
  • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
  • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:

  • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
  • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
  • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.

Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:

  • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
  • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
  • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
  • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
  • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
  • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
  • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
  • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
  • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
  • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
  • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
  • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

 

Jim Hull|August 21st, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Curriculum, Educational Research, Mathematics Education|Tags: , |

Americans support for public schools, yet skepticism on testing, PDK/Gallup poll finds

The general public is quite skeptical about school vouchers, standardized testing, and teacher evaluations using student test scores, according to the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, released August 21. But those surveyed continued to give record-high grades to their local public schools and showed strong support for charter schools.

The general public also overwhelmingly feels that schools are safe, and supports more funding for mental-health services instead of hiring security guards.

This year, 53 percent of the public gave their local schools a grade of A or B, the highest percentage recorded in the poll’s 45-year history. Public education as a whole received an average of a C, consistent with recent polls.

Public school parents named “lack of financial support” and “overcrowding” as the biggest problems facing public schools. PDK/Gallup reported that three concerns have risen on the list of the biggest problems facing public schools: lack of parental support, difficulties in getting good teachers, and testing requirements and regulations.

The poll also showed that a majority of the public believes charters do a better job educating students than traditional public schools, and two of three respondents support opening more charters in their communities. Yet, support for private school vouchers was extremely low, with only 29 percent of the respondents said children should be allowed to attend private schools at public expense.

And in a question that was sharply divided on partisan lines, 55 percent of respondents oppose providing a free public education to children of illegal immigrants. A majority also support home-schooling and support allowing home-schooled students to attend public school part-time and participate in athletic programs.

The poll also showed a growing skepticism toward standardized testing in schools, where 36 percent of those questioned said increased testing was hurting the performance of their local schools, 41 percent said it had made no difference, and 22 percent said it helped. In 2007, 28 percent of respondents said testing had helped their schools.

William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International and co-director of the PDK/Gallup poll, said in written remarks, “Americans’ mistrust of standardized tests and their lack of confidence and understanding around new education standards is one the most surprising developments we’ve found in years. The 2013 poll shows deep confusion around the nation’s most significant education policies and poses serious communication challenges for education leaders.”

Further, the public knows very little about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—slated to go into effect in 2014—and those who do still don’t understand it, the poll found. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they had never heard of CCSS, and of the remaining 38 percent, most believed that the federal government was forcing states to adapt the standards and that the standards covered more subjects than English/language arts and mathematics.

NSBA and the major administrators’ groups issued a statement in May that supported the principles behind Common Core but warned states and districts face “very real obstacles” to align their curricula with the new standards and administer the required tests.

In June, the Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 16 education groups including NSBA, called on lawmakers to give states and school districts more time to transition to the Common Core, noting that there needs to be more time to develop the proper resources for students and teachers, including curriculum, assessments, and professional development.

The 2013 PDK/Gallup poll results are available at www.pdkpoll.org.

Joetta Sack-Min|August 21st, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Common Core State Standards, Educational Research, Federal Advocacy, National Standards|Tags: , , , |

NSBA and CTEq host Common Core graduation requirements Twitter chat at #CCSSGradReq

The new report released last week from Change the Equation (CTEq) and the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education (CPE) examines the connection between state graduation requirements and Common Core State Standards in math. The report, “Out of Sync: Many Common Core states have yet to define a Common Core-worthy diploma,” found that of the 45 states that have voluntarily adopted Common Core, only 11 have aligned their graduation requirements in mathematics with those standards.

Join the conversation about graduation requirements and the Common Core, as CPE and CTEq will be hosting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, June 18 at 1 pm EDT. Use hashtag #CCSSGradReq to follow along.

Alexis Rice|June 17th, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, Center for Public Education Update, Common Core State Standards, Educational Research, High Schools|Tags: , , |

CPE discusses resurgence of “Ability Grouping” in video chat

The Center for Public Education’s (CPE) Director Patte Barth joined the Huffington Post today for a video chat on “’Ability Grouping’ in Schools.”

The segment discussed the classroom practice of “ability grouping,” often known as clustering, of students by their strengths and abilities. The practice declined in the 1980s and 1990s because of concerns over inequalities, according to a recent article in Salon magazine, “The Return of Ability Grouping,” that inspired the video chat. The online chat asked, “Why are we revisiting a teaching method that we abandoned back in the 1990′s?”

Barth noted that two decades ago, students usually stayed in the same “track” that they started from first grade through high school, and the track became “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” However, the standards-based reform movement and mindset that all children need to achieve at high levels changed the landscape, she said, adding that teachers now know that they cannot let struggling students falls behind.

“All of these children are able, but the grouping needs to be dynamic” so that the structure does not become too rigid, Barth said.

 

Watch the archived chat at HUFFPOST Live.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|June 12th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Mathematics Education, Policy Formation, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , , |

LFA calls for longer transition to prepare for Common Core

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is one of 16 members of the Learning First Alliance (LFA). This week LFA called on lawmakers to give states and school districts more time to transition to the Common Core State Standards so that they can develop the proper resources for students and teachers, including curriculum, assessments, and professional development. NSBA also recently asked Congress to give adequate time for stakeholders to prepare for the transition.

Here is a copy of LFA’s letter:

June 6, 2013

OPEN LETTER TO EDUCATION STAKEHOLDERS:

Fifteen members of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of national education organizations representing more than ten million parents, educators and policymakers, have agreed on the following statement:

The Learning First Alliance believes that the Common Core State Standards have the potential to transform teaching and learning and provide all children with knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community.

To meet this potential, teachers, administrators, parents and communities are working together to align the standards with curriculum, instruction and assessment. Their work – which includes providing the pre-service and professional learning opportunities educators need to effectively teach the standards, making necessary adaptations to implementation plans as work progresses and field-testing efforts to ensure proper alignment – will take time.

Rushing to make high-stakes decisions such as student advancement or graduation, teacher evaluation, school performance designation, or state funding awards based on assessments of the Common Core standards before the standards have been fully and properly implemented is unwise. We suggest a transition period of at least one year after the original deadline in which results from assessments of these standards are used only to guide instruction and attention to curriculum development, technology infrastructure, professional learning and other resources needed to ensure that schools have the supports needed to help all students achieve under the Common Core. Removing high-stakes consequences for a short time will ensure that educators have adequate time to adjust their instruction, students focus on learning, and parents and communities focus on supporting children.

During this time, we urge a continued commitment to accountability. We recommend that states and districts continue to hold educators and schools to a high standard as determined by the components of their accountability systems that are not solely based on standardized tests, including other evidence of student learning, peer evaluations, school climate data and more.

We have seen growing opposition to the Common Core as officials move too quickly to use assessments of the Common Core State Standards in high-stakes accountability decisions. Such actions have the potential to undermine the Common Core – and thus our opportunity to improve education for all students. We must take the necessary time to ensure we succeed in this endeavor.

Cheryl S. Williams

Executive Director

Learning First Alliance

ON BEHALF OF:

American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE)

American Association of School Administrators (AASA)

American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA)

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)

American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

Learning Forward (formerly National Staff Development Council)

National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

National Education Association (NEA)

National School Boards Association (NSBA)

National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK)

National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

Joetta Sack-Min|June 7th, 2013|Categories: Assessment, Common Core State Standards, Educational Research, Mathematics Education, National Standards|Tags: , |
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