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December 12, 2017

School discipline: Understanding the current debate

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a full-day briefing on school discipline policy. The hearing comes at a moment of increasing tension in the debate surrounding racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline, like suspensions. While a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter outlined the duty of districts to ensure that suspensions and expulsions do not disproportionately impact students of color, opponents of the Obama-era guidance may have gained an ear in the Trump administration. Recently, officials from the Department of Education have been reportedly meeting with critics of the policy. As this debate ramps up, we examine the facts on school discipline, which students are most impacted by suspensions, and what can be done about it.

Racial disparities in suspension have been well-documented. In K-12 education, black students comprise about 16% of enrollment, but 34% of students suspended at least once. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported in 2016 that this disproportionate representation means that black students are 3.8 times as likely as white students to receive at least one out of school suspension. This pattern holds true even at the preschool level: black children make up about 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of black preschoolers have experienced one or more suspensions. Research also suggests that black students may receive harsher punishments and be suspended for more days than white students – even when involved in the same incident. Similar disparities exist for low-income students and those with disabilities. In particular, children with disabilities have been found to be suspended at twice the rate of their peers. Critics of the Obama administration’s 2014 school discipline guidance suggest that these rates do not take into account behavioral history, and that the policy creates racial quotas for suspension. However, regardless of prior student behavior, the vast over-representation of students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities among those impacted by exclusionary discipline should be cause for alarm.

Even one suspension may have a serious negative impact on student achievement. Removing students from the classroom for any reason results in lost learning, making it difficult for a student to catch up to the class upon his or her return. The learning impact of just a few days out of class may be significant: a 2014 study found that missing three or more days of school in the month leading up to the National Assessment of Educational Progress was associated with reading achievement scores more than one full grade level behind peers who did not miss class. Similar gaps were found in mathematics. Students who miss school due to exclusionary discipline, then, face a second hurdle when they return to class: catching up with their classmates who benefited from additional days of instruction during the suspension.

We know that suspensions disproportionately impact students of color, low-income students, and those with disabilities, and that these suspensions may have a significant impact on student learning. How, then, can we ensure that this discipline disparity does not perpetuate or exacerbate existing achievement gaps? Research-backed programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Safe and Responsive Schools (SRS) aim to improve the overall school climate and implement interventions for problematic behavior. Other methods, like Response to Intervention (RTI), directly target student behavior and adjust punishments to meet students’ individual situations. The 2014 guidance on school discipline emphasized the importance of these sorts of restorative justice policies, a position that may now be under reconsideration by the Department of Education. Implemented correctly, these approaches may significantly reduce suspensions for all students and alleviate behavior problems throughout a school.

Critics argue that not every school has been able to implement an effective behavior program centered on restorative justice, and that limiting suspensions puts teachers in these schools in a difficult position. Certainly, the number one priority in all classrooms should be safety. Teachers whose students struggle with serious disciplinary challenges may face difficult situations in which one student puts the rest of the class at risk. Additionally, even one violent or disruptive student may negatively impact the learning of the whole class. Teachers need options for student discipline, including training in approaches that seek to mitigate, rather than punish, student misbehavior. Approaches like PBIS, SRS, and RTI that aim to improve the school culture and provide targeted interventions to behavior challenges provide teachers with a discipline structure that encourages both fair distribution of discipline and equal access to learning. While increasing teachers’ reliance on exclusionary discipline will continue to negatively and disproportionately impact students of color, restorative justice policies may help combat the racial disparity in school discipline and keep all students learning.

Filed under: CPE,equity,Public education,school climate — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 9:41 am

November 17, 2017

Mind over matter? New evidence on the impact of growth mindset

Growth mindset – the belief that intelligence is changeable, rather than fixed –  has been promoted in classrooms across the country for years. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged to praise children for their effort and grit in solving problems rather than their innate intelligence. The widely recognized importance of a growth mindset in students has even spurred some to emphasize the characteristic as a potential element of school quality, to be tracked alongside test scores.

Until now, the evidence in support of the growth mindset has relied on studies of high school and college-aged students, and has provided little insight to development of the characteristic in historically underserved students. A new study presented this month at the fall conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Measurement tackles these issues, and provides some intriguing new evidence about the academic impact of growth mindset.

The study examines 125,000 students attending 4th through 7th grades in five urban California school districts. In order to examine the impact of growth mindset on students’ learning outcomes, the authors linked student test score data to a measure of growth mindset that reflects responses to the following questions:

Please indicate how true each of the following statements is for you:
(1) My intelligence is something that I can’t change very much;
(2) Challenging myself won’t make me any smarter;
(3) There are some things I am not capable of learning; and
(4) If I am not naturally smart in a subject, I will never do well in it.
For each of these questions, students choose: Not at All True, A Little True, Somewhat True, Mostly True, or Completely True.

Their findings are substantial: historically underserved students were less likely than their peers to hold a growth mindset, and students that did hold a growth mindset showed significantly more learning over the course of a school year than did students with a fixed mindset.

The authors find that what they call the “mindset gap” impacts a variety of historically underserved student subgroups. Students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, English Language Learners, and both Hispanic and African American students all show lower degrees of growth mindset across the 4th-7th grades than did their peers. Female students were more likely to maintain a high level of growth mindset than their male peers until the 7th grade, when the gap closes. The authors note that these gaps are larger across schools than within an individual school, possibly highlighting the power of the school environment to shape beliefs about learning among students.

The authors’ findings on the impact of growth mindset on academic achievement are particularly striking. Students who had a high level of growth mindset measured in one year, when compared to demographically and academically similar students, achieved higher test scores and showed greater learning when tested in the following year. Students in all subgroups – including students of all races and ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and genders – who held a growth mindset saw higher test scores in both mathematics and language arts (by 0.04 standard deviations and 0.07 standard deviations, respectively). These higher test scores reflect significant additional learning over the course of a school year. The average student who moves from a fixed mindset to a neutral mindset experiences learning growth reflective of approximately 19 school days of learning – about one additional calendar month in the classroom.

Evidence continues to build on the effectiveness of growth mindset. Teachers and administrators already know that developing this attitude can help build students’ learning, but now current research tells us just how significant that impact may be. It is particularly important for schools serving underserved populations – those students who may be less likely to hold a growth mindset – to cultivate these beliefs about learning in their students. With nearly one month of additional learning growth on the line, developing and promoting growth mindset may bring significant achievement gains for all students.

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,equity — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 4:44 pm

November 13, 2017

ESSA growth vs. proficiency: a former teacher’s perspective

Right now, state education departments are working to try to come up with a plan that meets all the requirements of the Federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One area that has received a lot of attention in ESSA is the student accountability section and the required indicators that hold schools accountable for student learning.

The first indicator under ESSA is known as the academic achievement indicator and requires states to annually measure English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math proficiency using statewide assessments. To simplify, I would call this a proficiency indicator, where states use the information from state standardized tests to see if students are meeting grade level standards. When I was a 4th grade teacher, this information was incredibly useful for me. I needed to know what level my student’s were performing at in language arts and math so that I could scaffold lesson plans, create student groups and understand which students needed to do the most catching up. These scores helped me also talk to parents about where their child was performing in relation to where he/she should be performing as a 4th grader. However, a student’s proficiency score was only a part of the puzzle, which is where the second indicator under ESSA comes in to complete the picture.

The second ESSA accountability indicator is the academic progress indicator, which looks at the growth or progress that an individual student or subgroup of students has made in elementary and middle school. States have created different policies to measure this, but the general goal is to measure an individual student’s growth over a period of time.

When I was a teacher I also had a method of measuring this for each of my students. For example, in reading I would assess their starting reading level at the beginning of the year and then map out an individual plan for each student. Each student would have to grow between 6 or 8 reading levels, depending on where they started, with the overall goal of growing the equivalent of two grade levels. Some of my students did grow two grade levels, but they would still be below where they should be at that grade. For others the two-grade boost would put them way above the 4th grade reading level.  It is important for teachers and students to understand and celebrate their progress at multiple checkpoints throughout the year that are not in the form of state tests. In my classroom, this gave students a sense of purpose for their assignments because they wanted to meet the individual goal that we had set together. As a teacher, I also would constantly adjust assignments, homework, student pairs, etc. based on the new levels that students reached throughout the year.

For me, both proficiency and growth measures were crucial for the success of my students. The growth measure made learning real for students as they saw their reading levels steadily increase throughout the year. But I couldn’t rely on growth measures alone. The proficiency measure provided that benchmark to help me know what level fourth grade students should be able to perform at by the end of the year. Without this, I could not have identified the achievement gaps in my classroom and would also not have been able to communicate these to the parents of my students. After understanding the difference between growth and proficiency indicators and how to use the data from each to inform my instruction as a teacher, I do not think that it is a matter of one being more important than the other, but rather both working together to paint a more holistic picture of student learning.

data tracker picture

Filed under: Accountability,Assessments,CPE,Testing — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 3:28 pm

January 25, 2013

The future is still the future?

Honestly, I’m not a Luddite. But sometimes I feel like I’m playing one here at CPE.

Last year we examined what was known — or more accurately what was not known — about online courses and cyberschools, and their overall impact on student learning. The report, Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools, found that despite some very exciting things happening in online education, the overall impact of virtual courses and schools on elementary and secondary students is either undocumented or bleak.  We also found that the fault is mostly with inadequate monitoring systems for students working online, with the result that many of them appeared to be dropping in and out of the cyberworld unnoticed and often untaught.

Recent news from Pennsylvania isn’t making us any more hopeful. Earlier this week, an independent education news service in Philadelphia reported on allegations by former employees that a major virtual charter school provider, K12 Inc.

“aggressively recruited children who were ill-suited for the company’s model of online education. They say the schools then manipulated enrollment, attendance, and performance data to maximize tax-subsidized, per-pupil funding.”

K12 operates the Agora cyber charter which enrolls 8,000 of the state’s 32,000 full-time cyber students.  In addition to actively seeking students who are most likely to do poorly online, the former K12 employees further described the company’s practice of skirting attendance requirements while continuing to bill the state for students who are clearly not participating in the instruction.

The charges are part of a class action suit filed by investors in K12 which reported $522 million earnings in 2011. According to the article, most of K12’s revenue was generated by managing public virtual charter schools.  While the investors have their reasons to be unhappy, the real victims here, of course, are the students.

Then yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released recalculated AYP numbers for all charter schools in the state. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the recalculations were called for after it was revealed that AYP requirements for charter schools were more lenient than those for traditional public schools. The new numbers show that 43 charters met AYP, down from 77 under the former rules.

Of particular interest was that not one — zero — virtual charter schools made AYP.  As we reported last year, Stanford University researchers had earlier looked at Pennsylvania virtual charter schools over the period 2007 and 2010. They found that they consistently performed worse in terms of student gains than the traditional public school the students would have otherwise attended. Obviously, nothing has changed.

A now legendary 1955 documentary heralded the approach of a new technological age, proclaiming that “the future is now.”  I have seen how technology is transforming classrooms for the better, especially when blended with face-to-face instruction with a teacher. But for the idea there will be a brave new cyber world of schooling, the future still seems to be in the future.

January 4, 2013

Singing our song

Fareed Zakaria is calling for a “growth” agenda for the nation’s economic health, one that recognizes the importance of developing our human capital.  Writing in this morning’s Washington Post, Zakaria acknowledges the urgency — and difficulty — of getting our fiscal  house in order, yet argues that our “deeper challenge” may well be finding the collective will to invest in our infrastructure.

Zakaria is singing our song, especially when he highlights our need to invest in education. And indeed, to make the point he quotes from Jim Hull’s recent analysis on international college completions. As Jim points out, our young adults are being surpassed by their peers in other countries in college attainment, but a focus on two-year degrees will go a long way toward improving our standing and give a real boost to the economy.

You can learn more about the role for high schools in improving post-secondary completions by checking out CPE’s high school toolkit.–Patte Barth

Filed under: college,High school — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 11:54 am

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