New teachers are smarter

The academic caliber of new teachers is rising significantly, according to a University of Washington study published in Education NextThe average SAT score of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than the average score among new teachers in 2001. New teachers in 2008 averaged higher SAT scores than college graduates entering other professions.

“It is unclear whether this improvement reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn or a more permanent shift,” write the study’s authors, Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch.

Teachers working in 2008 were slightly more likely to hold a master’s degree or higher compared to teachers in 1987.  Sixty-three percent of teachers in 2010 had graduate training compared to 45 percent 20 years earlier.

Some claim that test-based accountability policies have made teaching less attractive to top students. Not so.

. . .  the researchers compare the SAT scores of new teachers entering classrooms that typically face accountability-based test achievement pressures (grade 4–8 reading and math) and classrooms in those grades that do not involve high-stakes testing. They find that new teachers in high-stakes classrooms tend to have higher SAT scores than those in other classrooms, and that the size of this difference increased between 2001 and 2008. This suggests that more academically proficient teachers are not generally shying away from classrooms that face accountability pressures.

High-scoring math and science majors were more likely to become teachers in 2008 than in the past, but teaching still isn’t drawing enough math and science majors, the study found. Only 30 percent of math and science classes in 2008 were led by teachers who majored in math or science in college, the same as in 1993.

Most high school students with aspirations to teach don’t become teachers — or even college graduates, notes an Illinois study. The stronger students are more likely to persist. People who earn teaching credentials have “weaker academic qualifications” than other bachelor’s degree earners, “but those who actually became teachers were quite similar academically to non-teaching college graduates.”

Learn from the California Raisins

Learn from the California Raisins how to market community colleges, advises a community college dean.

The first national accountability system designed for community colleges — the Voluntary Framework of Accountability – launched last week.

Hill: Don’t ditch NY City’s ed reforms

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education plan has raised graduation rates and created more high-quality schools, argues Paul T. Hill in The Atlantic. “Don’t ditch it,” writes Hill, who directs the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

Bill de Blasio, the likely next New York City mayor, has made a lot of promises about public education. No additional charter schools; no free space for many charter schools educating city kids; less reliance on student test performance to judge schools; and a moratorium on the closure of low-performing schools.

If the new mayor follows through, he’ll dismantle Bloomberg’s Children First reforms, writes Hill. That would be bad for students.

When Bloomberg became mayor, less than half the students in New York City’s high schools graduated in four years.  Today, nearly two-thirds graduate on time. Every year, more than 18,000 young people graduate high school than would have been expected in 2002. The percentage of graduates who enter college without needing to take remedial courses has doubled since 2001.

Furthermore, “new small high schools started during the Bloomberg administration are more effective than the schools they replaced,” writes Hill.

On campuses where new small schools replaced large underperforming high schools, the overall graduation rate increased from 37.9 percent to 67.7 percent. . . . Students who entered the new small schools with the lowest test scores benefited from them the most.

New York City charter students are learning more than their counterparts in traditional schools, according to the most recent CREDO study. That’s especially true for low-income minority students and special education students.

Across the city, in new schools and old ones, the trends are positive, writes Hill. New York’s next mayor should commit to key parts of the Children First agenda:

 Keep pupil-based funding. Continue to increase the share of total funding that goes directly to schools. The students most in need benefit most from pupil based funding.

Preserve gains in the teaching force via recruitment from many sources, rigorous tenure processes, and mutual consent hiring at the school level.

Keep opening new schools especially in neighborhoods where there are few or no high performing schools. Don’t cut off chartering as one route to creating effective new schools.

Preserve gains in the quality of principals via rigorous selection and training and by maintaining principals’ control over their school’s staffing and spending, in-service teacher training, and purchases of assistance.

Perfect, don’t scrap, reporting on student gains by school.

Keep performance based accountability and continue re-staffing and closing/replacing persistently ineffective schools.

Continue the iZone experiment with new uses of money and technology, and help all schools use ideas that are emerging.

Is there a good old days of public schooling to which New York City could return?

Test-based funding linked to ADHD rise

The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic is test-based accountability argues Maggie Koerth-Baker in the New York Times Magazine. Diagnoses are skyrocketing, she writes. “Before the early 1990s, fewer than 5 percent of school-age kids were thought to have A.D.H.D.”  This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 had received the diagnosis.  When test scores count, schools have an incentive to diagnose more children as disabled, she believes.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance. But various states had been slowly rolling out similar policies for the last three decades. North Carolina was one of the first to adopt such a program; California was one of the last. The correlations between the implementation of these laws and the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis matched on a regional scale as well. When (Berkeley Psychology Professor Stephen) Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.

To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But A.D.H.D., education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.)

Rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis vary widely from country to country, Koerth-Baker observes. In 2003, nearly 8 percent of U.S. children — but only 2 percent of British kids — had been given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D.

Accountability helps — at low-rated schools

Accountability pressures improved outcomes for students who attended low-performing Texas high schools in the ’90s, concludes a new study, School Accountability, Postsecondary Attainment and Earnings.

Schools at risk of receiving a low rating increased the math scores for all students, notes Education Gadfly.

Students at these schools were later likelier to accumulate more math credits and graduate from high school. On top of that, they were more liable to attend college and earn more at age 25. In particular, students who had previously failed an eighth-grade exam ended up around 14 percent more likely to attend college and 12 percent more likely to get a degree.

Accountability policies had no impact at schools that weren’t in danger of a low rating.

At schools with a shot at a relatively high rating, “recognized,” more low-scoring students were placed in special education, “perhaps in order to take them out of the accountability pool,” reports Gadfly. Low-scoring students in these schools had “large declines in attainment and earnings,” the study found.

We need more tests, but what kind?

American Schools Need More Testing, Not Less, writes Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The New Republic. Students learn more when they take frequent, short tests.

A young neuroscientist named Andrew Butler has gone further, showing that testing can actually facilitate creative problem solving. In Butler’s research, undergraduates were given six prose passages of about 1,000 words each filled with facts and concepts. (Fact: There are approximately 1,000 species of bats. Concept: how bats’ echolocation works.) He had the students just study some of the passages; others, he repeatedly tested them on. Not only did his subjects demonstrate a better grasp of the tested material, but they also fared better when asked to take the concepts about which they’d been quizzed and apply them in completely new contexts—for example, by using what they’d learned about bat and bird wings to answer questions about airplane wings. When students had been tested on the passages, rather than just reading them, they got about 50 percent more of the answers correct. They were better at drawing inferences, thanks to the testing effect.

Only tests written by teachers are useful, responds Diane Ravitch. “Today’s standardized tests are useless.”

What he really admires, and appropriately so, are the regular weekly tests that he took in high school chemistry. His chemistry teacher Mr. Koontz knew what he had taught. He tested the students on what they had learned. He knew by the end of the day or over the weekend which students were keeping up and which ones were falling behind. He could act on that knowledge immediately to make sure that students understood what he thought he had taught and to explain it again to those who did not. He also learned whether to adjust his style of teaching to communicate the concepts and facts of chemistry more clearly to students. Mr. Koontz used the tests appropriately: to help his students.

Standardized exams are being used as “a ranking and rating system, one that gives carrots to teachers if their students do well but beats them with a stick (or fires them and closes their school) if they don’t,” Ravitch writes.

Most researchers say that teacher quality cannot be reliably measured by student test scores, because there are so many other variables that influence the scores, but the federal Department of Education is betting billions of dollars on it.

The job of writing, grading and analyzing tests belongs to “Mr. Koontz, not to Arne Duncan or Pearson or McGraw-Hill,” concludes Ravitch.

California suspends accountability

The shift to Common Core standards has given California’s powerful education unions an opportunity to undo the state’s testing-and-accountability reforms, writes Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist. The unions never liked testing, comparing schools on the basis of test scores (primarily) and, especially, using test scores to evaluate teachers.

A bill backed by the unions, their perpetual ally, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and Gov. Jerry Brown would suspend almost all academic testing immediately and then, the sponsors say, reinstate it in alignment with Common Core in a couple of years.

. . . everything that stems from testing and that the unions dislike would also be suspended and, it’s widely believed, be quietly killed.

Could California abandon statewide testing for good? Or just kill the Academic Performance Index and teacher evaluation plans?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to cut off tens of billions of dollars in federal aid in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill. ”No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan wrote.

The bill’s backers shrugged off the threat and passed the bill, which Gov. Brown plans to sign.

Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat on the Education Committee, in a statement.

Jerry Brown to California’s Children: I Don’t Care About Your Futures is RiShawn Biddle’s headline on Dropout Nation.

It seems inevitable that the switch to new standards and new exams will make test data unreliable and disrupt state accountability systems. Wait to evaluate teachers until there’s enough data from Common Core-aligned tests to do it right, recommends a RAND analyst.

Duncan fails to block state testing law

California will scrap its state testing system to field-test new exams linked to Common Core Standards. That means schools won’t be held accountable for students’ progress and parents won’t see how their children are doing.

The Los Angeles will have to defer plans “to use student test scores to evaluate teachers,” notes the Los Angeles Times. “Such performance reviews would be impossible because the results could not be compared to previous years.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to withhold federal funds, but legislators ignored him, reports EdSource Today.

Veteran education watchers in California could not recall a presidential cabinet officer ever attempting to block state legislation and certainly not in the heavy handed way U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to do on Monday night.

In an extraordinary move, Duncan issued an after-hours statement in an effort to head off a vote by the California Legislature the next day on Assembly Bill 484. The bill calls for administering field tests tied to the Common Core State Standards this spring in place of the California Standards Tests in math and English that have have been a fixture on the California education landscape for 15 years.

California won’t “look in the rear view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Under AB 484,  only the high school exit exam and science tests in three grades, required by federal law, would survive.

It could be three to five years before the state reintroduces an Algebra I or Geometry test, creating a big gap in information on student achievement in those and other subjects.

Students in districts offering the field test would get either the math or English language arts part of the test, not both. Because the new test must be taken on computers, districts that don’t have enough computers wouldn’t participate in the pilot.

How to measure preschool quality

Advocates for preschool always say they want “high-quality” preschool. Preschool quality can be measured, but not the way states are trying to do it, writes Daniel Willingham. Most have adopted Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRISs) that measure inputs, such as class size and teachers’ education, rather than looking at what children are learning.

QRIS scores don’t predict student learning, concludes a new study published in Science.

It takes a trained observer in the classroom to evaluate quality, writes Willingham. That costs a lot more than counting inputs. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which evaluates interactions between teacher and child, is a good — but not cheap — measure of quality, he writes. (It’s labeled “interactions” in this graph.)


Picture

Sara Mead has more on the problems with QRIS and the need to observe what’s actually going on in preschool classrooms.

Washington D.C. charter preschools and pre-K programs will be evaluated on reading and math scores, writes Sam Chaltain.

Just to clarify: we’re talking about three-, four-, and five-year-olds. Being Tested. In Reading and Math. With High Stakes attached for the schools that care for them.

Universal preschool is nearly a reality in D.C., where 88 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children are enrolled in preschool programs and at an expense of nearly $15,000 per child.

Math and reading will count for 60 to 80 percent of a school’s rating. If schools “opt-in” to adding a measure of social and emotional growth, it will count for 15 percent of the score for preschool and pre-K and 10 percent for kindergarten.

Charters already are using these assessments, responds Scott Pearson, who chairs the D.C. Public Charters School Board. “Many school leaders are reluctant to have significant portions of an evaluation of their school be based on an assessment of their students’ social and emotional development” because valid measures haven’t been well-established, he writes.

Early childhood programs routinely assess children without them realizing it’s a “test,” Chaltain writes. But these assessments have high stakes attached. Charters need a high ranking to raise money, acquire facilities and recruit families. They’ll be pressured to concentrate on raising reading and math scores.

Feds end ’2% rule’ for disabled students

Disabled students won’t be counted as proficient — unless they’re really meeting college and career readiness standards, under  new regulations proposed by the U.S. Education Department. Currently, the “2 percent rule” lets states count up to 2 percent of disabled test-takers as proficient, regardless of their achievement levels.

“We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards.”

Being honest about students’ achievement is a good thing, but educators will be embittered — even more so — if they’re held to impossible standards. Students with disabilities achieve more when expectations are high, but — even with the best teaching in the world — many won’t able to meet standards linked to college readiness. (“Career” is thrown in there, but there are no lower career-ready standards.)