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November 2, 2016

Thoughts on nuance and variance

As we approach the 2016 general election, I’ve heard public officials, family, and friends make very clear statements regarding which side of the aisle they support.  Yet, I find it hard to believe that the average American falls in line 100% with either political party, or supports every word and tenet of a particular public policy.  We are nuanced people.  Very few issues are as black-and-white as we’d like them to be.  Here’s a guide for things to consider when considering your stance on a particular issue, candidate, or political party, put in the context of educational issues.

  1. Most issues have an “it depends” clause.

With the onslaught of information available today, it makes sense that we want answers that are black-and-white.  The reality, though, is that there’s gray area for most policies and practices.  We also have to balance our ideological values with evidence.  Charter school proponents may believe in free-market values and choice to improve public schools through vouchers and charter schools, but I haven’t seen widespread evidence that choice in and of itself actually improves academic achievement or long-term outcomes in significant ways.  Yes, there are individual students who have benefited, but there are also individual students who have lost out.  Charter school opponents claim that taking away publicly-elected oversight through school boards is detrimental to the public’s ability to provide free and quality education to all.  Yet, the reality is that some public schools have dismal records, and charter or private schools have sometimes had success with the same students.  We have to acknowledge that we all want good things for our kids, and then use the evidence to figure out what that looks like without demonizing the other side.

  1. Most policies rely heavily on the quality of their implementation to be successful.

Common Core seems to be a prime example of this.  Two-thirds of Americans are in support of some sort of common standards across the country.  Yet, barely half of Americans are in support of Common Core.  Support for both questions have dwindled significantly from about 90% of public support in 2012.  Even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called the roll-out of Common Core “disastrous,” despite supporting them overall.

CommonCore

Source: http://educationnext.org/ten-year-trends-in-public-opinion-from-ednext-poll-2016-survey/

They were implemented quickly in many states, often without the curriculum materials or professional development to help teachers succeed in teaching the new standards.  While support for Common Core seems to be leveling off with teachers, who are most familiar with them, several states have repealed or are considering repealing the Common Core.  The new state standards that have been written in South Carolina and Indiana are extremely similar to the Common Core, which means that it may not be the concept or content that people disagree with so much as how they were implemented and the ensuing political backlash.

 

  1. Statistics usually tell us about an average (the typical student) but variance is also important.

Charter schools are a prime example of this.  On average, they have similar student achievement outcomes as traditional public schools.  But, there are schools that outperform their counterparts and schools that woefully underperform.  We have to think about those schools, too.

This is also clear in school segregation.  The average black student in the U.S. attends a school that is 49% black, 28% white, 17% Latino, 4% Asian, and 3% “Other,” but that doesn’t mean that every black student has this experience.  At the edges of the spectrum, however, 13% of U.S. public schools are over 90% black and Latino, while 33% of schools are less than 10% black and Latino.  To understand the reality, we need to look at the variety of students’ experiences (known in statistic-speak as “variance”) not just the average.

  1. There’s always room for improvement. “Fixing” a policy may mean making adjustments, not abandoning it altogether.

Student assessments under No Child Left Behind (2001) resulted in the narrowing of curriculum.  But, we also learned more about disadvantaged student groups and have continued closing the achievement gap for students of color.  Should we throw out testing altogether? Some would say yes, but most Americans say no.  Graduation rates, college enrollment, and achievement scores have all increased since NCLB passed in 2001.  What we can do is improve on student assessments.  Adjusting consequences for students, teachers, and schools could result in less narrowing of curriculum and subjects taught.  Involving more well-rounded tests that encourage creative and critical thinking would help teachers emphasize these skills in class.  Continued improvement in data use can help teachers and school administrators adjust their practices and policies to see continued student growth.  States have the power to make some of these changes under the new Every Student Succeeds Act without dismantling gains made under No Child Left Behind.






April 14, 2016

What’s different about ESSA?

What’s Different about ESSA?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) created the starting point for equity-based education reforms. It established categorical aid programs for specific subgroups that were at-risk of low academic achievement. “Title I” comes from this act- it created programs to improve education for low-income students. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a reauthorization of ESEA which gave more power to the federal government to ensure that all students received an equitable education and that standardized testing was the vehicle to assess high-standards for schools.

In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) again reauthorized ESEA and changed much of the language and policies of NCLB. At its foundation, the law gave a lot of decision-making power back to the states. Although state’s still need to have high-standards, test their students, and intervene in low-performing schools, the state’s themselves will have the power to determine the “how”.

This table below provides the key differences between NCLB and ESSA and was compiled from several sources (listed at the bottom) which provide a great deal more detail and specifics for those interested in learning more.

 

ESSA Table

 

-Breanna Higgins

 

Sources:

http://www.ncesd.org/cms/lib4/WA01000834/Centricity/Domain/52/GeneralNCLB%20vs%20ESSA%20Comparison%20-%20Title%20I-Federl%20Programs.pdf

http://neatoday.org/2015/12/09/every-student-succeeds-act/

http://all4ed.org/essa/

http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/policy/ESEA_NCLB_ComparisonChart_2015.pdf

Filed under: Accountability,CPE,ESSA — Tags: , — Breanna Higgins @ 1:10 pm





July 2, 2015

Testing, opt outs and equity

Spring heralds the return of many things – tulips, bare pavement, baseball, and for millions of public schoolkids, state tests. This year, however, the inevitable proved to be largely evitable. April tulips weren’t seen until late May. Much of the country experienced a white Easter. Major league games were snowed out. And tens of thousands of students just said “no” to being tested.

To be sure, the vast majority of students took their exams as expected. New York state has by far the largest number of test refusers. Yet an analysis by the New York Times estimates that only 165,000 New York students, or about one out of every six, opted out of one or more tests in 2015. Like New York, Colorado has experienced higher than usual opt outs but 83 percent of seniors still took their exams this year.

Despite the small numbers nationwide, the opt out movement is drawing attention to the test weariness that has been settling on many public school parents, teachers and students, even among those who don’t opt out. New common core tests seem to be adding to their anxiety. By making their frustrations visible, the test refusniks are starting to influence testing policy and its place in school accountability, most notably in Congress and proposed ESEA bills currently under consideration.

So who are these opt outers? The New York Times analysis found that the movement appears to be a mostly middle-class phenomenon. According to their calculations, poor districts in New York (Free & Reduced Price Lunch > 60%) had the fewest test refusers followed by the most wealthy (FRPL < 5%). An April 2015 poll by Siena College provides some other clues by identifying racial differences in voter attitudes. While a 55 percent majority of white voters in the empire state approved of opting out, only 44 percent of black and Latino voters did.

A 2015 survey from the California Public Policy Institute identified similar racial differences in opinions about the common core. Substantial majorities of Californian Latinos, Asians and blacks expressed confidence that the new standards will “make students more college and career ready” compared to less than half of white voters.

One probable reason for these racial and class differences is the role standards and assessments have played in educational equity over the last two decades. The 1994 re-authorization of ESEA laid the foundation for what would eventually become NCLB’s test-based accountability by calling on states to “establish a framework for comprehensive, standards-based education reform for all students.”  At that time, researchers and analysts were beginning to show that the achievement gap was not just a reflection of inequitable resources but also of unequal expectations. A 1994 study from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Research, for example, found that “students in high poverty schools … who received mostly A’s in English got about the same reading score [on NAEP] as did the ‘C’ and ‘D’ students in the most affluent schools.” In math, “the ‘A’ students in the high poverty schools most closely resembled the ‘D’ students in the most affluent schools.”  In 2001, NCLB would define further measures to correct these inequities by requiring state tests that would give the public a common, external measurement for gauging whether academic standards were being implemented equally between high- and low-poverty schools.

Indeed, the civil rights community has been among the most vocal supporters of standardized tests in accountability systems. Earlier this year, a coalition of 25 civil rights organizations led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a statement of principles for ESEA reauthorization. Signatories included the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Disabilities Rights Network. Among other things, the principles call for retaining the annual testing requirements of NCLB. In May, twelve of these organizations issued another statement specifically criticizing the opt out movement, declaring:

[T]he anti-testing efforts that appear to be growing in states across the nation, like in Colorado and New York, would sabotage important data and rob us of the right to know how our students are faring. When parents ‘opt out’ of tests—even when out of protest for legitimate concerns—they’re not only making a choice for their own child, they’re inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child.

The statement was not universally embraced. Notable civil rights leader Pedro Noguera along with the Advancement Project’s Browne Dianis and John Jackson of the Schott Foundation took exception to what they consider to be a “high-stakes, over-tested climate” for disadvantaged students. Yet their objections are not so much against tests themselves, but in how the information is used.

There is a growing consensus that the balance between assessment for improvement and assessment for accountability has become skewed toward high stakes – something many believe has a perverse effect on classroom practice. But like Mr. Noguera and his colleagues, many educators and experts also believe that standardized tests are not the problem, it’s the out-sized role they have assumed in everything from instruction to teacher evaluation. The next few months promise to launch many federal and state conversations about what a proper role for state tests should be. Ideally, it will serve ongoing improvement while assuring the public that all students are receiving the benefits of solid public education.

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Assessments,Common Core,equity,Testing — Tags: , , , , , — Patte Barth @ 1:10 pm





September 25, 2012

FairTest’s Ironic Misuse of SAT Results

I find it ironic that an organization whose sole mission is to end the misuse of tests then blatantly misuses test scores themselves. That is exactly what the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) did yesterday with their claim that yesterday’s SAT results show that NCLB has been a detriment to our students’ achievement and that the U.S. education system is headed in the wrong direction. For an organization that consistently argues that a single test shouldn’t be used to make broad claims they know that overall SAT results cannot be used to accurately measure the impact of NCLB or to make any broad claims about the state of our education system which FairTest does in their press release.

In making such claims about NCLB and the overall quality of the U.S. education system FairTest ignores these simple facts:

  • Since the SAT is voluntary and typically only taken by those students who expect to go onto college SAT results are not even close to being representative of all 2012 seniors.
    • In 25 states less than 40 percent of students took the SAT.
    • In only three states did more than 90 percent of students take the SAT
  • Declines are likely due to the fact since 2006 more disadvantaged students, particularly minority and non-native English speakers, now see college as an option, hence more are taking the SAT.
    • Such students are typically lower performing students which may negatively impact SAT results in the short-term.
    • The increase of such students taking the SAT is a success for our public schools not a detriment.
  • Between 2006 and 2012 SAT scores have declined by 20 points as FairTest notes, however over the same time period ACT scores remained flat even though just as many students take the ACT as SAT.
  • Other indicators show that our high schools have been making significant progress.
    • Between 2006 and 2009 the national on-time graduation rate has increased significantly from 69 percent to 73 percent.
    • The number of black and Hispanic students taking more rigorous high school courses that research shows prepare students to get into a good college and succeed has increased significantly over the past decade.
    • There was a greater increase in students enrolling in college post-NCLB than prior to NCLB.
      • 27 percent more students were enrolled in college in 2010 than in 2002, the year NCLB was implement..
      • 16 percent more students were enrolled in college in 2002 than in 1994.

Of course, FairTest may have a valid concern about the potential impact of high stakes testing on our students. However, SAT results are not a valid tool to evaluate such impact. It is a voluntary test taken by students in just half the states who expect to go on to college. So as more students expect to go onto college it is impossible to make apples to apples comparisons between years. FairTest focuses their argument about NCLB on the decline of SAT scores between 2006 and 2012 but fails to recognize the type of students who took the SAT in 2006 is significantly different than in 2012. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop FairTest from making their argument that U.S. education is headed in the wrong direction. Nor do they recognize the number of positive outcomes our schools have made over the same time period. Can I say those positive outcomes are due to NCLB? No, that would be irresponsible and unfair.  – Jim Hull






October 17, 2011

Others agree, Fordham’s claims about high achievers not supported by data

Last month I wrote about how the Fordham Institute’s claim that our nation’s high achievers are losing ground wasn’t supported by evidence.  Well, it is good to know I am not alone. First, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) supported my critique that the data didn’t back up Fordham’s claim– but then again NEPC disagrees with just about everything Fordham says. Then the Center for American Progress (CAP)—which agrees with Fordham on several issues–released a critique of the Fordham report that raised similar concerns about the conclusions as I did. CAP’s main criticisms were:

1.     Fordham claimed that the federal No Child Left Behind law might have caused high-flying students to do worse over time. All of Fordham’s data, however, came from the post-NCLB time period. Without a pre-NCLB comparison, there is no way to make a claim that NCLB caused the decline.

2.     The report fails to acknowledge the true consequences of poverty on student achievement. The Fordham researchers note that “high achievers in high-poverty schools grew slightly less than those in low-poverty schools,” but use this finding to argue that poverty is not a strong predictor of student progress. Ample evidence proves, however, that low-income children need more resources in order to overcome the disadvantages they bring with them to school.

3.     A broader look at the data suggests that the nation’s top students have actually been gaining ground in a number of areas. For example, from 2000 to 2009, the percentage of eighth graders scoring at the highest level in math jumped 3 percentage points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

I’d have to agree with CAP on each of these points. It will be interesting to hear Fordham’s rebuttable when they host a conference on their report that includes one of the CAP authors on Monday October 17th. I will certainly be watching. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,research — Tags: , , , — Jim Hull @ 10:27 am





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