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December 15, 2015

It’s Official: HS Grad Rates Hit another All-Time High

I feel like am beginning to sound like a broken record as I seem to keep repeating “HS Grad Rates Hit another All-Time High”. Once again this is true as the U.S. Department of Education made it official today that the on-time high school graduation rate for the class of 2013-14 reached 82 percent.

This news does not come as much of a surprise since preliminary results back in October showed most states increased their graduation rates, but it is still worth celebrating. After decades of data showing graduation rates stuck around the 70 percent mark rates have increased significantly in just the last decade alone.

Keep in mind, however, the 82 percent actually understates how many students earn a high school diploma. That’s because the 82 percent is simply the on-time rate, meaning, only those students who entered 9th grade and graduated four years later are counted as graduates. But as our Better Late Than Never report showed, including those students who needed more than four years to earn a standard diploma or better would likely increase the graduation rate to around 87 percent — just a few percentage points shy of the 90 percent mark and a goal that seemed unattainable just a decade ago.

 

Unfortunately, not all states currently report data that includes late graduates so it is not possible to get a true national graduation rate. But the late grads are students who should be recognized for meeting the same requirements as their classmates who graduated on-time. And schools and districts should be recognized as well for identifying these students who fell behind their classmates and providing the support to them and their teachers to get them back on-track to earn a high school diploma. As our report showed, earning a high school diploma, even if it takes more than four years, significantly improves the chances a student will find success after high school. And both students and schools should be encouraged and rewarded for graduating all students who earn a high school diploma, not just those who did so within four years—Jim Hull

Filed under: Data,Graduation rates,High school,Public education — Jim Hull @ 1:47 pm





December 10, 2015

The future of using student achievement measures to evaluate teachers

With the president signing the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law today the days of the No Child Left Behind Act waivers (NCLB) as well as Race to the Top grants (RTTT) have officially come to an end. The elimination of these programs also ends the ‘incentive’ for states to evaluate teachers based, at least in part, on measures of student achievement. Keep in mind, however, over 40 states currently evaluate teachers partially on their students’ achievement.

Less than a decade ago this was far from the case. Prior to NCLB waivers and RTTT only a small number of districts included student achievement measures when they evaluated their teachers.  In fact, a number of states prohibited using these measures in evaluation as a matter of law.

More recently, NCLB waivers and RTTT grants provided ‘incentives’ to include student achievement measures as a significant portion of how teachers are evaluated. In response, the vast majority of states have made significant changes to their teacher evaluation systems. However, developing these new evaluation systems was no easy task. In fact, most states have just recently fully implemented such systems and some are still in the process of doing so.  So it is far too early to tell what impact these new evaluation systems have had on teachers and student learning.

Now that federal ‘incentives’ have been lifted, the question is will the states stay the course when it comes to evaluating teachers or will they shift gears? Of course, only time will tell but with the pushback against testing in a number of states I’m guessing at least some states will change their evaluation system, especially as it pertains to including student achievement measures.

Yet, even if states pull back on linking teachers’ ratings to student performance, these systems are likely to be significantly better than what states had in place prior to NCLB waivers and RTTT. As discussed in our Trends in Teacher Evaluation report, for decades most evaluation systems were little more than a bureaucratic exercise that failed to recognize either excellence or mediocrity in teaching. This is no longer the case. States have vastly improved their teacher evaluation systems in recent years and not just by including measures of student achievement. Nearly every state has vastly improved the way classroom observations are conducted. Now it’s the norm for teachers to be observed every year–in many cases, multiple times a year—and then provided immediate feedback to inform and improve their instruction. Moreover, nearly every state now evaluates teachers on multiple measures even when tests scores are not used. Such indicators include the quality of their lesson plans, feedback from their students, and the quality of their classroom assignments among others. These measures are then combined to provide a more accurate measure of a teacher’s true effectiveness as well as provide valuable information to help teachers improve their instruction.

States and districts have worked extremely hard over the past several years to design and implement these new teacher evaluation systems so it is unlikely they will be going to back to the old days when teachers were evaluated every couple of years and rarely provided useful information. While including objective measures of student achievement like test scores can be a valuable part of an effective teacher evaluation system, the new evaluation systems even without the student link are much more likely to accurately identify effective teachers as well as provide useful information to improve instruction. And that is good news for all teachers and students. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 1:42 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





November 11, 2015

More students are graduating but are they leaving high school prepared?

Last month the U.S. Department of Education released preliminary data showing the U.S. is on-track to set yet another record on-time high school graduation rate. While a preliminary national rate was not provided, the data showed that at least 36 states have increased their graduation rates over the previous year which reported an unprecedented 81 percent on-time rate nationally.

Another report was released yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and Everyone Graduates Center showing the recent increase in on-time graduation has led to the number of high school dropouts to fall from 1 million in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012. Over the same time period the number of so-called ‘Drop Out Factories’– high schools that fail to graduate at least 60 percent of their students within four years—decreased from just over 1,800 to 1,040 schools. These are dramatic decreases in such a short amount of time by any measure. But these decreases are made even more impressive by the fact that between 2002 and 2008 the number of dropouts increased by over 25,000 while the number of ‘Drop-out Factories’ fell by less than 200.

More students may be graduating high school but does that necessarily mean more students are finishing high school with the skills they need to succeed in college or the workplace? This is the big question. If high schools are just handing out pieces of paper to any student who attends for four years, a higher graduation rate doesn’t mean much of anything. Yet, if more students are graduating college and career ready, then indeed the record graduation rate is something to celebrate.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to determine how many students are graduating college and career ready, at least at the national level. Reason being, each state sets its own requirement for obtaining a high school diploma. In fact, a number of states set different requirements for different types of high school diplomas. A recent report from Achieve found 93 diploma options across all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the Class of 2014. The report noted that only 5 states (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) require their students to meet college and career ready standards in math and English Language Arts (ELA) to earn a high school diploma. Meaning, these are the only states whose graduation rates are the same as the percent of graduates who are college and career ready.

This doesn’t mean that other states don’t have college and career readiness requirements to earn a high school diploma. In fact, 26 other states offer at least one diploma aligned with college and career standards. However, these states also offer multiple diplomas where students may still graduate high school without meeting college and career ready expectations by either opting out of the college and career ready requirements or choosing not to opt in. Moreover, just 9 of these states publicly report the percentage of students earning college and career ready aligned diplomas. So only in 14 states do we know what percent of high school graduates finish high school ready for college or the workforce.

The lack of alignment between diploma requirements and college-career ready standards may lead some to conclude the recent rise in graduation rates is due to a lowering the bar to graduation. But that would be wrong. Achieve’s most recent annual Closing the Expectations Gap report shows the bar to a high school diploma has been raising in most states—not falling. In fact, when Achieve first started examining high school graduation requirements in 2004 not a single state aligned their graduation requirements to college and career standards, and only Arkansas and Texas required students to pass an advanced Algebra course to earn a high school diploma. Since that time a number of states have adopted similar requirements for high school diploma.

The good news, then, is that graduation rates are not increasing simply by giving out more diplomas, but by more students meeting more rigorous graduation requirements. The bad news is it is still unclear how many of those requirements are aligned with college and career standards. Knowing how many students complete high school college and career ready is vitally important for policymakers in order to make more informed decisions to ensure all students leave high school prepared for postsecondary success. – Jim Hull






October 28, 2015

U.S. Performance Slumps According to National Report Card

U.S. Performance Slumps According to National Report Card

There is simply no way to sugar coat today’s NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading results. They were disappointing to say the least. With the exception of a few states and districts results remained flat or declined across both grades and subjects between 2015 and the last administration in 2013.

Specifically, national math scores declined between 2013 and 2015 at both the 4th and 8th grade levels, while reading scores dipped in 8th grade but remained steady at the 4th grade level. States didn’t fare much better during this time period either. In fact, no state made any significant improvement in 8th grade math while Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Department of Defense schools made modest gains at the 4th grade level. Of the 20 large districts that participated in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015, only Chicago improved over their 2013 results at the 8th grade level. Washington, DC, Miami-Dade, and Dallas improved their performance as well at the 4th grade level while the scores in 7 districts declined.

When it came to reading West Virginia was the lone bright spot at the 8th grade level by being the only state to post gains from 2013 to 2015. In 4th grade reading, 13 states made significant gains topped by Washington, DC (7 points), Louisiana (6 points), Mississippi (6 points), and Oklahoma (5 points) which all made gains of 5 or more points since 2013. Miami-Dade was the only district to post gains at the 8th grade level while Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC made gains in 4th grade. Most districts neither saw improvement nor declines in either 4th or 8th grade.

While this year’s NAEP results are disheartening, one data point does not make a trend. Keep in mind, NAEP scores have steadily increased over the past 25 years. In fact, even with this year’s declines 8th graders still scored 19 points higher in math than 8th graders in 1990 which equates to nearly two years’ worth of learning. Since 2000 8th graders have improved their math performance by 9 points—nearly a year’s worth of learning.  So while scores declined in 2015, it does not necessarily mean our schools are less effective. The results from this and every NAEP release should be based on the larger trend which has shown steady gains over the past decade.

But this also does not mean this year’s NAEP results should be ignored. Researchers, policymakers, and educators should take a deep look at these results as well as other indicators of school quality such as results from state assessments to determine if they provide evidence on whether this year’s NAEP results are an anomaly or the start of a new downward trend. By examining NAEP scores along with other measures of school quality policymakers can make more informed decisions on what is needed to support our public schools.

 

The Findings

 

     4th Grade Math

District Level

  • Of the 20 large urban school districts that took part in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015 Washington, DC, Miami-Dade, and Dallas were the only districts to make significant gains.
    • On the other hand, 7 districts saw declines in their average 4th grade mathematics scores since 2013.
  • Charlotte, Hillsborough (FL), and Austin were the highest performing districts, while Detroit, Baltimore City, and Cleveland were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the state level scores increased between 2013 and 2015 in three states/jurisdictions (Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Department of Defense schools). Fifteen states had increased their scores between 2011 and 2013
    • 16 state saw declines in their average 4th grade mathematics score since 2013. No state saw declines between 2011 and 2013.
  • Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while Alabama, New Mexico, and Washington, DC were the lowest performing.

National Level

  • Nationally, scores dropped by 2 points between 2013 and 2015.
    • Student achievement in math has increased by 27 points (2.5 year’s worth of learning) since 1990, the 1st year of NAEP.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level dropped by 2 percentage points between 2013 and 2015 (42 and 40 percent respectively).
    • The proficiency rate has more than tripled since 1990 (13 percent in 1990 vs. 40 percent in 2015).
    • Moreover, the percent of students scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has increased from 17 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2013. In 1990 50 percent of 4th graders scored below the Basic level.

 

8th Grade Math

District Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 Chicago was the only district to make significant gains.
    • Only Hillsborough (FL) and Houston saw declines during this time period.
  • Just as with 4th grade math, Charlotte, Austin, and Boston were the highest performing districts, while Detroit, Baltimore City, and Cleveland were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the 8th grade level, 22 states saw declines in their scores between 2013 and 2015, while not a single state made statistically significant improvements during this time.
  • Massachusetts continues to post the highest 8th grade math scores, with New Hampshire, Minnesota and New Jersey close behind. Washington, DC, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi scored the lowest.

National Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 national scores fell 3 points for the first time. However, students in 2015 have obtained about two more years’ worth of learning in math than students in 1990.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s Proficient level has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2015. The percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level decreased from 48 percent to 29 during the same time period.

4th Grade Reading

 

District Level

  • Of the 20 large urban school districts that took part in NAEP in both 2013 and 2015 Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC were the only districts to make significant gains.
    • On the other hand, Baltimore City was the only district that saw declines in their scores during the same time period.
  • Hillsborough (FL), Miami-Dade and Charlotte were the highest scoring districts, while Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore City were the lowest scoring.

State Level

  • At the state level, scores increased between 2013 and 2015 in 13 states/jurisdictions. Only Maryland and Minnesota saw their scores decline during this time period.
  • Five states saw their scores increase by more than 5 points during this time period with Washington, DC leading the way with a 7 point gain followed by Louisiana (6 points), Mississippi (6 points) and Oklahoma (5 points).
  • Massachusetts, Department of Defense schools, and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while New Mexico, Washington, DC, California, and Alaska were the lowest performing.

National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased by 1 point from 2013 and 2015 but the increase was not statistically significant, meaning the increase likely happened by chance.
  • The percent of students scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level increased by 1 percentage point between 2013 and 2015 (35 and 36 percent respectively) but the increase was not statistically significant either.
    • The proficiency rate has increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2015.
    • Moreover, the percent of students scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has decreased from 32 percent in 2013 to 31 percent in 2015. In 1992 38 percent of 4th graders scored below the Basic level.

8th Grade Reading

District Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 Miami-Dade was the only district to make significant gains.
    • Only Hillsborough (FL), Albuquerque and Baltimore City saw declines during this time period.
  • Among the highest performing districts were Charlotte, Austin, Miami-Dade and San Diego, while Detroit, Baltimore City, Cleveland, and Fresno were the lowest performing.

State Level

  • At the 8th grade level, 8 states saw declines in their scores between 2013 and 2015, while West Virginia was the only state to increase their score during this time.
  • Department of Defense schools posted the highest reading scores, with New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont close behind. On the other hand, Washington, DC, Mississippi, and New Mexico scored the lowest.

National Level

  • Between 2013 and 2015 scores fell 3 points bring the overall score back down to the 2011 level of 265 which had been the all-time prior to 2013.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level decreased from 36 to 34 percent between 2013 and 2015. During this same time period the percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level increased from 22 percent to 24 percent.
Filed under: NAEP,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 3:39 pm





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