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November 20, 2014

Growing concerns on testing

A recent opinion piece in the Denver Post challenged the commonly claimed notion that American public students are being tested too much. Recently, high school seniors in Colorado refused to take state assessments in science and social studies, arguing these assessments do not reflect what they have been taught.

But Alicia Caldwell, an editorial writer at the Post, writes that students from third to 12th grade are only tested 1.4% of the time in school, citing data from the state of Colorado’s Department of Education. Caldwell also points out that there was local input on these testing decisions, as eight educators from these school districts were placed on the committee that enacted the social studies standards in 2009.

These standards were put into place because Colorado students were required to take way too many remedial classes in college, which they received no credit but have to pay for. In essence, the Colorado students had to pay for classes that they should have already passed in high school. Finally, the author highlights the role of local districts, as “local districts are layering their own assessments on top of those required for the state, adding to total test time.” This reminds us that the amount of testing is the result of federal, state, and local policies. If parents or students, such as those in Colorado, are complaining about too much testing, then it is the school board and local government’s responsibility to make their testing information transparent.

Colorado is not the only state where communities have voiced their concern on testing. Maryland has also engaged in the debate over the right amount of testing. Eighth-graders in Baltimore schools, for instance, spend 14 to 46 hours a year on standardized assessments. A school year amounts to approximately 1000 instruction hours, so this would mean students are spending 1.4 to 4.6% on testing. When expressed as a percentage, this level of testing does not seem as significant as some of testing critics claim it to be. In Anne Arundel County, students are tested 46 hours per year and 33 of these tests are locally mandated tests. This again demonstrates the role of local government and school board decisions in testing.

An upcoming brief from the Center for Public Education will examine these and other concerns on testing and explain what studies have found on the subject. Stay tuned!






November 7, 2014

How Can School Leaders Respond to Concerns about Testing?

Many teachers, parents, and policymakers have argued that there is too much testing in American public schools, but how much testing is really going on in American public schools? TeachPlus executed a 2014 study on 32 districts in the United States and found that there is a wide variation of time spent on testing across different districts.  Seventh graders spend on average 17.1 hours on ELA and math testing per year in urban districts, while suburban districts spend 1.3% less time on testing than the urban schools. The variation between districts is a result of local policies as many of the tests students are required to take are district tests.

Achieve has provided a new tool, Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts, which can help school boards and other education leaders audit the amount of testing that occurs in their schools. Piloted in Connecticut and now available nationwide free of charge, this tool allows education leaders to evaluate current levels of student testing, determine the minimum amount of testing that will meet diagnostic, instructional and accountability purposes, and ensure that every district-mandated test is of high-quality.  By evaluating current student assessments, school districts will open a discussion over the amount of testing and become more transparent to parents. The tool provides a way local leaders can respond to the ongoing concerns over testing. – Courtney Spetko

Filed under: CPE,School boards,Testing — Tags: , — Courtney Spetko @ 12:58 pm





October 28, 2014

Building a better reporting system

As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.

The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.

The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:

  • First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
  • Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
  • State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
  • Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.

While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. – Patte Barth

Filed under: CPE,Data,Parents,School boards,teachers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 3:43 pm





August 21, 2014

Common core support drops, local control rules, and other public opinion trends

Back to school season means it’s also time for the yearly ritual of gauging American attitudes about their public schools. Two major surveys released this week once again show that the public says its local schools are great even though they think U.S. schools overall are in the tank (a mathematical impossibility, by the way). The surveys also highlight some inconsistencies in public thinking as well as widespread acceptance of misinformation, particularly regarding the common core. So let’s start there.

First, what a difference a year makes! The 46th annual PDK/Gallup poll registered a big increase in public awareness about the Common Core State Standards between 2013 and 2014. Last year, only 38 percent said they had heard of them. This year, awareness has more than doubled to 81 percent. But that wasn’t the only shift. Of those who knew about the Common Core in 2013 a majority liked them, but that pendulum swung, too. Now according to PDK, only 33 percent support the new standards while a full 60 percent are opposed.

A new poll from Education Next shows the same downward trend in public support for Common Core as PDK, although EN shows that a majority are still favorable: 53 percent of the public supported them in 2014 compared to 65 percent the year before. EN teased out attitudes by party affiliation and found that Democrats were more far more likely to support Common Core than Republicans — 65 to 43 percent, respectively. Still, even among Republicans, support is significantly higher than PDK reported.

EN also conducted a small randomized experiment. They asked the same question about Common Core standards to one half of the survey pool, except they eliminated the words “Common Core” in the brackets below:

As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use [the Common Core, which are] standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of these [the Common Core] standards in your state?

Now it gets interesting. When the words “Common Core” are eliminated, public support rises from 53 to 68 percent. Moreover, Republicans approved of the non-Common Core statement at the same rate as Democrats. The conflicting poll results could suggest that the Common Core critics are winning the media war. As EN puts it, the words themselves may have become “toxic.” As further evidence, the poll found that the majority of the public believed statements about the Common Core that were not true, such as the federal government requires states to use the Common Core. Yet these beliefs have entered into the information stream and are affecting public attitudes.

Of course, it’s also possible that we are seeing a sea change in attitudes. The EN survey raises an issue that should be of major concern: teacher support for the Common Core declined the most. In 2013, a full three-quarters of the teachers polled were in favor of the Common Core. In just one year their support plummeted to slightly less than half (46 percent). One has to wonder if teachers are expressing their frustration with inadequate implementation support. If this is the case, state and district policymakers should pay close attention.

On other topics, the public continues to view public schooling as a mostly local concern, according to PDK. The majority of the public — 56 percent — say local school boards should have the “greatest influence in deciding what is taught in public schools,” followed by 28 percent who say the state should, and only 15 percent who say the federal government should. In addition, to know public schools is to love them. Consistent with results of the last 20 years, the public gives public schools nationally poor grades, but grade their local schools highly. In 2014, 50 percent of the public and 67 percent of public school parents gave their local schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ compared to 17 percent who gave the nation’s schools high grades. However, this represents a slight drop from 2013 overall.

Both PDK and EN found that the public continues to like the idea of charter schools. But the polls conflict over voucher support. PDK reported that nearly two-thirds of the public opposed vouchers, while EN showed that about half support vouchers for students in “failing public schools” and even for “universal vouchers.” Surprisingly, only a third told EN they would support vouchers for low-income families.

As always, polls can be useful in understanding what the public is thinking. But this year’s polling seems to further cast a light on winners and losers in communicating their messages. – Patte Barth






June 11, 2014

CPE’s latest report explores mayoral involvement in urban schools

CPE_MayoralControl_Slider Few would disagree that the future prosperity of cities are linked to the current performance of schools. It’s no doubt what has compelled many a mayor to take control of city schools, especially ones that are troubled and low performing. But do urban schools benefit under a mayoral governance model? Is student achievement higher in urban systems led by school boards or city mayors? What happens to community involvement in either arrangement? These were the questions CPE set out to discover in its latest report, Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup. As you can likely tell from the title, we concluded more could be achieved if the two offices worked together than apart. To find out how we got there, though, you’ll have to read the report.






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