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April 5, 2017

About those ‘rough’ school numbers

Speaking to a group of CEOs in the White House on Tuesday, President Trump said this:

If you look at so many elements of education, and it’s so sad to see what’s coming – what’s happening in the country. Even the numbers, as good – you say we’re doing better, but the numbers in New York the numbers in Chicago are very rough. The numbers in Los Angeles – the cities – it’s very rough situation.

It’s hard to say exactly what numbers the president was referring to. But given the occasion and the audience – plus the fact that he was responding to a statement about New York schools – we assume he is talking about achievement.

We recently called out Morning Joe for reporting false high school graduation rates in Los Angeles. We don’t know how the president scales “rough” so, unlike with the MSNBC talk show, we can’t say definitively that he’s wrong. However, we can provide some context for readers for making their own judgments about where to place these cities’ performance on the “rough spectrum.”

First, reading and math achievement. According to the 2015 NAEP, Chicago and New York City performed near or at the national average for large cities. Eighth-graders in these cities did the same in mathematics. While Los Angeles performed below the national average, it has made sizable gains since 2003. In 2015, LA 4th graders scored 13 points higher than their 2003 peers in reading, and 8th graders improved by 18 points in math. In comparison, large cities improved an average 12 points in both subjects. Chicago was near the top in gains: a whopping 20 points in reading and math.

As we reported to Morning Joe, graduation rates in Los Angeles had risen an incredible 10 percentage points in five years, from 62 to 72 percent in 2016. In fact, all three cities reported higher grad rates. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Chicago’s class of 2016 earned diplomas. In New York City the rate was 70 percent. When including NYC summer school students in the calculation, the rate rose to 73 percent.

To be sure, on all of these indicators, the three city systems still lag behind the overall national average. The national grad rate is an historically high 82 percent. The national overall average on NAEP is 6-7 points higher than that for large cities. Perhaps this is what the president means by rough. But what cannot be denied is that performance in these systems is moving in the right direction, and in many cases, outpaces the overall national average. The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the challenges these cities face, not least school poverty rates at or above 30 percent. If we continue on this path, we will finally see the gap between urban schools and their wealthier counterparts close. That doesn’t seem so rough to me.

 

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Graduation rates,NAEP,Reading — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 2:19 pm





April 28, 2016

12th graders’ math scores drop, reading flatlines

And just when we had allowed ourselves to get giddy over record-shattering high school graduation rates.

NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report card, released the results of its 2015 assessment of high school seniors’ math and reading proficiency. Like their 4th and 8th grade schoolmates, whose 2015 scores were published last fall, the nation’s 12th-graders either made no progress or dropped a few points, especially in mathematics. Worse, scores for the lowest performers fell the most in both subjects.

Let’s start with reading. The overall score was 1 point lower on the NAEP scale from two years ago, which is not a statistically significant change. However, 12th graders are performing 5 points lower compared to their peers in 1992, the first year the main-NAEP reading assessment was administered.

There was no noticeable change since 2013 in the scores of any racial/ethnic group, or in the achievement gaps between them.

Indeed, the biggest change was at the bottom. In just the last two years, the proportion of students who did not even read at the basic level grew, from 25 to 28 percent.  What this means in more tangible terms is that this group of soon-to-be-graduates cannot recognize the main purpose of expository text; cannot recognize the main purpose of an argument; and cannot explain a character’s action from a story description.

The math picture isn’t any rosier. The overall math score fell a significant 3 points on the NAEP scale. While this is still 2 points higher than in 2005 – the first administration of the test’s new math framework – it does represent a reversal after years of steady gains. As with reading, the math scores were relatively flat for every racial/ethnic group compared to 2013. One happy exception: scores for English language learners rose by 4 points.

Math also saw an increase of the wrong kind. A whopping 38 percent of high school seniors did not perform at the basic level in 2015, an increase of 3 points over 2013. This is troubling on its own merits. It is truly baffling when considering that 90 percent of seniors reported having taken Algebra II or a higher math course in high school.  We should see this group of low performers shrinking, not growing larger.

Of high interest to education policymakers and parents is the degree to which 12th graders are prepared for college work. Beginning in 2008, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, commissioned several studies linking NAEP performance levels to college readiness. Based on the analysis, just slightly more than a third of seniors in 2015 scored at a level showing they had the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in freshmen courses. But ready or not, two-thirds of them will be bound for two- and four-year colleges the October following graduation.

Why is this happening? Many advocates have been quick to point to policies like Common Core, too much testing, not enough testing, or whatever other bee sticks in their bonnets. But as I have written elsewhere, there is not enough information at this point to lay the blame on any one of these, although they surely warrant watching. Likewise, some observers have noted the increase in childhood poverty, which also deserves attention.

I think another explanation might be found in one of our great successes. High school graduation rates have exploded in just the last 10 years. In 2013, 81 percent of all high school students graduated within four years. We know from research that failing grades are high risk factors for students. Up until recently, these low performers would have dropped out before showing up in the NAEP data as seniors. The fact that they are still in school is a good thing, but it may also be dragging 12th grade scores down.

The truth is, it’s too soon for us to know for sure why this happened. But there are enough questions that schools should be examining to get us back on the right track.

  • Do the high-level courses students are taking in larger numbers actually represent high-level content?
  • Do schools have enough counselors and other trained professionals to not just make sure students stay in school, but have the support they need to perform academically?
  • Are teachers also supported as they implement higher standards in their classrooms?
  • Finally, are federal, state and local policymakers providing the resources high schools need to assure every student graduates ready to succeed in college, careers and life?
Filed under: Assessments,CPE,High school,NAEP,Reading,Testing — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 10:52 am





March 18, 2016

Improving civics education is key to strong, equitable democracy

While the constant news coverage and interest in the presidential campaign might suggest Americans are well-versed in our country’s political process, data from the latest civics assessment of NAEP, colloquially known as the Nation’s Report Card, finds otherwise.

Indeed, the results show that there is not only a widespread lack of civic knowledge, but it is especially pronounced among minority students.

Administered on a rotating basis to fourth, eighth and 12th-grade students from participating schools, the data from the last Civics Assessment for 12th- graders show that 62% of African American students have a below basic knowledge of civics, and only 8% are at or above proficient. Meanwhile, 50% of Hispanic students possess below basic knowledge of civics, with 13% are at or above proficient.

What kind of knowledge gaps are we talking about?

Based on the sample questions in the NAEP assessment, most minority students in eighth-grade cannot name a right protected by the First Amendment, while most 12th-grade minority students cannot explain the meaning of a Supreme Court opinion. A mere 3% of 12th-graders nationally knew that the Supreme Court could use judicial review to preserve the rights of minorities.

Conversely, white students are performing better on each aspect of the civics exam, creating a civic engagement gap that is important for the nation to address. Democracy cannot be fully realized when citizens do not recognize how the government works and their own ability to make change. Research shows that civic learning corresponds to an increase in students’ civic participation and likelihood of voting. Building a civic identity in students will increase their sense of empowerment over their lives and the direction of their communities.

An unintended consequence of recent policies pushing for achievement and excellence in reading and math is that there is less time in the curriculum for other subjects. Science and social studies are often sidelined to increase time in English and math courses. Seventy-one percent of districts have cut back on time dedicated to subjects other than math and English— the largest cut coming from social studies. This has meant that civics education is not valued as much as courses that will prepare students for standardized testing. Civics education is vital for all students so that they are able to participate in democracy and engage the community in a meaningful way.

A great danger for the future of the United States is that we are educating a citizenry that does not understand how to have a voice in politics, how the government of the United States operates, or how to enact change and influence in their communities; particularly among poor and minority populations.

While it is important that students continue to have strong content knowledge in English and math, it must also make time in the curriculum for civics education. Civics courses will complement English and math courses as it requires students to read, think critically, write, and analyze charts, graphs and data. Further, students who feel empowered to change their communities and circumstances and receive instruction that is relevant to their lives become more engaged in school which could lead to higher performance in all subjects.

It is imperative that all students learn how to participate in a democracy and then create change in their communities in a civically responsible manner. A civics course that requires students to learn how the United States government works as well as how to be active, politically-engaged citizens must be included in public school curricula.  -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,First Amendment,NAEP — Tags: , — Breanna Higgins @ 7:00 am





January 14, 2016

Graduation Rates are High: Goal Met?

It’s now no secret that graduation rates have hit an all-time high of 82%, and as our previous blog post reminds us, the rate is even higher when we count students who took more than 4 years to earn their diploma. But, what does a high school diploma today mean? Unfortunately, as Robert Pondiscio at the Thomas Fordham Institute points out, SAT scores have dropped, the recent NAEP performance has seen a slight decrease, and there is a growing need for higher education institutions to offer remedial courses.

The newest report from Achieve – Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts reiterates the point that while more high school students are earning diplomas, these students are not necessarily adequately prepared for the next stage of their lives. In fact, over half of college-going students will have to take at least one remedial English or math course. In addition, less than half of college-goers actually graduate and 60 percent of employers report that high school graduates are lacking the necessary basic skills.

In light of this, we may need to tamper the excitement of rising high school graduation rates. Rather, we need to focus on making a high school diploma more meaningful. Students who graduate high school must be college and/or career ready. This is the next wave of reform. Many organizations, including Achieve, are working to create high school standards that are better aligned with the skills students need to be successful in college and career. The first part of this means to raise the standards for high school students to graduate and work to bridge the gap in academic expectations between high school and college. The second part is to include more career readiness skills in the high school curriculum. CPE’s report “The Path Least Taken” highlights the need for non-college-going students to have the necessary skills to achieve economic success. There is much debate about what career readiness skills are and where schools will find time in the school day to teach them (ex. Financial literacy, email etiquette, personal responsibility etc.). The conversation around that will, and should, continue.

Achieve advocates for including more “real world tasks” as assessments in schools. This is critical. Teachers will all agree on the difficulty of getting students to see the purpose behind the content they learn in classes, which in turn effects their engagement in class. Students don’t see the relevancy of Algebra II, English, Physics, etc. in real life or believe they will ever need those skills in the workplace. Standards, tests, and curriculum can be better aligned with real-world examples and projects so that students are more engaged in the learning. Higher levels of engagement will lead to retention of material and consequently higher academic performance in high school and beyond.

In sum, it is laudable that high school graduation rates are improving. But there is still much work to be done to raise the actual academic performance of the students and make sure that a diploma accurately represents a readiness for life beyond high school. -Breanna Higgins

Filed under: Career Readiness,CPE,Graduation rates,High school,NAEP,Public education — Breanna Higgins @ 1:30 pm





December 9, 2015

Some urban districts are ‘choice-friendly.’ So what?

The Fordham Institute today released a ranking of 30 cities according to which ones were the most “friendly” in terms of encouraging and supporting school choice. Topping the list is New Orleans followed by Washington DC and Denver – the only cities to receive an overall grade of B or better.

So what did these cities do to earn these bragging rights? Fordham scored each city on 50 indicators in three domains:

Political support based on interviews with local policymakers and important stakeholders;

Policy environment that, among other things, places no limits on the number of charters, funds them adequately and has quality controls in place; and

Quantity and quality
of choices.

Fordham apparently doesn’t grade on a curve. Almost half of the cities earned Cs and nearly as many got Ds. Albany NY, has the distinction of earning the only F. According to the authors, landing at the bottom of the list means you were deemed “downright hostile” to school choice.

I suppose this is useful information if you are a school choice advocate (Hey, LA: not looking so good with that C-!). But for those who are ambivalent, the ranking omits an important piece of information: how well the city’s schools perform. We’re Americans. Of course we think choice is good. But mostly what parents want are good schools. And being “choice friendly” is no guarantee the choices will be better.

Consider that Charlotte NC and Austin TX are the top-performing urban districts in the nation. Their 2015 NAEP scores in math were not just higher than other participating districts, they were higher than the overall average for the nation as a whole. According to Fordham, neither is a choice-friendly city. Charlotte and Austin respectively ranked 27th and 29th out of the 30 cities in the report. On the other hand, Detroit ranked in the top 10 yet produced the lowest scores in the NAEP urban sample.

This is not to say being “choice friendly” caused low performance. DC, for example, has been one of the highest improving districts in the country on NAEP and was ranked second on Fordham’s list. But it does show that choice for choice sake is not a school improvement strategy. For more evidence see our recent report on school choice.

To its credit, the Fordham Institute advocates for more accountability for student results in the design of choice programs. I also recognize the limitations in the available data. But ranking on “choice friendly” policies doesn’t tell the public what they really need to know: is this helping all students succeed? From what we have found, the promise of school choice has been largely oversold.

Filed under: Charter Schools,NAEP,vouchers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 4:46 pm





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