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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 18, 2014

High performing students ≠ Highly effective teacher

Sheri Lederman may, in fact, be an excellent teacher. But the fact that her fourth-grade class performed well above the New York state average on both the math and English tests is not evidence of her effectiveness. That’s because overall scores such as these have long been known to be more a measure of the quality of the students a teacher is assigned than the actual effectiveness of that teacher. As such, such scores should never be used to evaluate teachers.

Why would this be the case? Let me give you an example. Say Teacher A is assigned a remedial class where just 15 percent of students pass the state test, while Teacher B is assigned to a gifted class where 70 percent of the students pass the state test. However, 70 percent of Teacher A’s students made more than a year’s worth of growth, while just 15 percent of Teacher B’s students did so as well. Which teacher do you think is more effective?

Based on these test scores alone, Teacher A would be considered the more effective teacher since the amount of growth individual students make from one year to the next is more indicative of a teacher’s true effectiveness than scores for individual students at one point in time. So, the fact that Lederman’s students scored above the state average is basically meaningless when it comes to evaluating her effectiveness.

What needs to be known is how much growth her students made over the past year and how that compares to other teachers. But simply comparing the growth Lederman’s students made to the state average isn’t a very accurate measure of a teacher’s effectiveness either since a student’s prior achievement and background can influence how much growth they make in a given year. Such differences need to be accounted for before growth measures can be used to evaluate teachers.

In fact, New York state does account for such student differences when evaluating teachers based on student test scores—including Lederman. The statistical term for including such measures is called the Value-Added Model or VAM which simply determines if a teacher’s students made more, less, or similar academic gains had those same students been taught by an average teacher.

In 2014, the statistics show that Lederman’s students, for the most part, would have made greater academic gains if they had an average teacher. This was not the case for her previous class. So one must ask why the difference? How can a teacher’s performance change so much from year to year?

The answer is VAM’s are not perfect measures of a teacher’s effectiveness, so results may vary from year to year even if the teacher’s actual performance hadn’t changed. Keep in mind, while VAM’s get criticized for their inaccuracy, other measures including classroom observations are in many cases less accurate measures of a teacher’s effectiveness. However, research shows combining student growth measures along with other measures of teacher effectiveness– like classroom observations—provides a pretty accurate measure of a teacher’s true effectiveness.

Are teacher evaluations perfect? No, which is why decisions about individual teachers should be made based on multiple evaluations, not a single one. Even then, results should be used to inform personnel decisions not mandate specific actions. Those decisions should be left in the hands of school and district leaders who know what is best for their students. For Lederman, those who know her best consider her a good teacher despite her last evaluation. The question is: would their opinion change if she continues to receive poor evaluations? Time will only tell. – Jim Hull






November 7, 2014

Now Accepting Applications for CPE’s Spring Policy Research Internship

The Center for Public Education seeks a policy research intern to work closely with CPE’s senior policy analyst in conducting education policy research. CPE is a national resource for accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools.

Primary duties include: Produce a report to be published by the Center as well provide research assistance to the Center’s staff, summarize findings of significant education reports on the Center’s blog, update the Center’s previous reports, and attend briefings/conferences in the Washington, DC area. Previous interns have produced reports on such topics as credit recovery programs, effective professional development and preparing high school graduates to succeed in college.

Job qualifications: A graduate or undergraduate student studying education policy, public policy, statistics, economics, or a related field. The student should also have a strong interest in education policy and research.

The internship begins in Late January and concludes in May and requires a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week. The internship is unpaid. However, the Center will work with your school to satisfy any requirements for you to receive course credit.

Send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to: Jim Hull1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 or e-mail to jhull@nsba.org with the subject line Policy Research Intern. Please contact Jim Hull at 703-838-6758 or jhull@nsba.org with any questions about the internship.

Filed under: CPE — Jim Hull @ 1:05 pm





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 29, 2014

Technology in the Classroom

A new app called Newsela may help classrooms read and discuss the same current events stories despite the differing levels of reading ability among the students. The app works by adjusting and creating versions of the same news story  in varying difficulty levels. It operates in a discreet way, so students with the easier version of the story will not get embarrassed. Students also have the option of leveling up or leveling down the story themselves to adjust the material if they find it too hard or too easy. Newsela creator Dan-Cogan Drew states that this new technology will facilitate social learning by enabling all students to be able to participate in class discussion.

While it is certainly valuable for students to be able to tackle readings in order to participate, I wonder if these technologies and teacher’s expectations will prevent students from being challenged with their reading. There have been many studies that prove a strong correlation between a teacher’s expectations of a student and the student’s achievement.  This NPR blog discusses the first experiment that demonstrated teacher’s expectations of their students affects their daily interactions with them, and students expected to succeed are more likely to succeed. The reverse is also true: students expected to fail are more likely to fail. Relating this research to Newsela,  if a teacher has low expectations of  students’ reading abilities and assigns easier versions of the article, then students may actually do worse than if they were all assigned the same reading.  However, this does not mean that technologies such as Newsela are not valuable in the classroom, but it does mean that teachers should not blindly rely on this technology. Instead teachers should strive to make sure all students are being challenged in their reading.

Filed under: 21st century education,Reading — Tags: , , — Courtney Spetko @ 12:59 pm





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