Who cares about high school achievers?

Only four states — Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — have accountability systems that encourage high schools to focus on high achievers, concludes Fordham’s High Stakes for High Schoolers

Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana and New York are moving in that direction.

Most states measure proficiency in English and math: Schools get no credit for helping students move from proficiency to excellence.

Twenty-two states give or plan to give accountability points for helping high school students earn college credits via AP, dual enrollment, and the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Enrolling students in challenging courses that they’re not prepared to pass does little good, argues Checker Finn. It may harm well-prepared students.

Twelfth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have flatlined; so have SAT and ACT scores, notes Finn. “As for international metrics such as PISA and TIMSS, we’re being sorely outclassed by far too many other countries, both in the fraction of our young people who reach the upper ranks on those metrics and in the representation of lower-SES and minority youngsters (save for Asian Americans) among those who do make it.”

Complexificating school evaluation

California’s proposed new evaluation system will use a colors — lots of colors — to evaluate schools by lots of factors, reports the Orange County Register.

The old Academic Performance Index, suspended in March 2015,  generated a single number based on test scores:  800 was the goal. Schools could be compared against schools with similar demographics. Parents could see how a school’s API score changed over time or check performance by subgroups.

The color-coded California Model shows boxes for test scores, attendance, dropout rates, English proficiency, access to advanced classes in high school, parent involvement, suspension rates and more.

The API may have been “simplistic,” the new system is so complicated it’s incomprehensible, editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

There’s a series of colored boxes, with the colors designed to reflect both the school’s actual performance on a given measurement — such as how many students are suspended or what surveys say about the school’s atmosphere — and whether that performance is getting a little better or a lot better or …

There are nine different categories for measuring schools, with only one of those being how its students scored on the standards tests. Others include “basics” (such as having adequate textbooks and facilities) and “implementation of academic standards.” Each category is ranked by how high a priority it is for that particular school. And each category has two colored boxes. And there are six possible colors for each box.

In addition, there are extra boxes for “equity reports” on subgroups such as Latino, black and low-income students.

Clinton abandons ed reform

Hillary Clinton is abandoning education reform, writes Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

In New York’s affluent suburban districts, test-hating parents “have joined forces with teachers unions, who see standardized tests as a tool that subjects them to unwanted accountability,” he writes.

Facing Bernie Sanders in the state’s presidential primary, Clinton is courting the “opt-out” vote.

Giving a national test once a year makes no sense, said Bill Clinton last week. Instead, he called for  “investing the same amount of money in helping the teachers to be better teachers.”

How would we know whether teachers are getting better?

“Testing is an important tool to measure racial and economic equality,” writes Chait.

A report this year by Ulrich Boser and Catherine Brown at the Center for American Progress found that states that use standards-based reform have produced better outcomes for low-income children. . . .  Not surprisingly, civil-rights organizations representing African-Americans and Latinos have argued to keep in place annual national testing.

. . . Bill Clinton framed his wife’s position in remarkable terms: “She thinks [the tests] are just too much, that it’s national overreach,” he said, “and the most it could ever do is to help people at the very bottom levels of achievement.”

Is “helping people at the bottom . . .  so insignificant that it’s not worth doing?” asks Chait. “What a thing for a Democrat to say!”

“You can’t solve problems you don’t have information about,” says Derrell Bradford,  executive director at the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, in an Ed Week story on testing flip-flops. “Saying you don’t need test data to make decisions about how to improve schools is like saying we can solve wealth inequality without income data and job reports. It’s just not real.”

African-American parents are the strongest supporters of school testing, reports Education Post. Most think tests are “fair and necessary” and “should be used to help parents identify areas where their child needs extra help.”

SAT, ACT become high school tests

While some colleges are going “test optional” more high schools are requiring the SAT or ACT, reports the New York Times. The rival college-admissions exams are being used to assess high school performance, as required by federal education law. State are dumping the two federally funded Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and Parcc.

In January, Delaware decided to use the SAT, instead of Smarter, Balanced, “to meet the federal requirement to test high school students,” reports the Times.  A month later, the University of Delaware “announced that it would no longer require in-state students to submit SAT scores, citing research that high school grades better predict college success.”

Montana will use the ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, and Colorado will use the SAT instead of Parcc. At least seven other states plan to replace Common Core-aligned tests with the SAT or ACT, according to the Times.

Some states see requiring a college-admissions test for all students, including those without college plans, as a way to raise aspirations.

For high school students already planning to take the SAT or ACT, the move means one less exam — with no fee. But these tests are supposed to judge college readiness, not high school performance.

Going “test optional” allows colleges to raise the number of applicants, while hiding their drop in standards, writes Gerald Bradshaw, a college-admissions consultant, in the Chicago Tribune.

Students who opt to report their scores tend to have higher scores. “Test optional colleges can admit lower scoring students while at the same time maintaining artificially higher test averages in the US News and World Report rankings.”

We need hard data on soft skills

California’s nine CORE districts, which include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, are researching the link between students’ social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, confidence and collaboration, and academic achievement, writes John Fensterwald on EdSource. Rating schools by students’ social-emotional skills — as measured by student surveys — is the next, very controversial step.

A sixth grade student at Oak Ridge Elementary in Sacramento writes into a "gratitude journal," identifying one thing each day that he is grateful for.

A sixth-grade student at Sacramento’s Oak Ridge Elementary writes in a “gratitude journal.”

The experiment is worth pursuing, writes Martin West, a Harvard education professor and Brookings fellow.

Some CORE districts, including San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento City, are trying to integrate teaching social-emotional skills into their curriculums and classroom activities, writes Fensterwald.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to include at least one non-academic indicator of school or student success.

CORE’s surveys of four social-emotional skills — self-management, growth mindset, self-efficacy and social awareness — are valid predictors of academic achievement, West concludes. (The statistical reliability is not as strong for third and fourth graders.)

Middle schoolers’ self-ratings in social-emotional skills correlated with their schools’ math and English test scores, rates of suspension and absenteeism and students’ grade point averages, the study found. Self-management skills showed the strongest link.

Social-emotional factors will count only for 8 percent of CORE’s new School Quality Improvement Index, which CORE introduced this year without including the social-emotional survey ratings. That will came next fall.

CORE’s hope is that schools with high ratings will share what they do well, and schools with low ratings, particularly with subgroups of struggling students, will change instructional approaches. But many researchers remain skeptical of including soft, potentially manipulable measures for school accountability.

Using social-emotional skills ratings in a high-stakes setting — or even a low-stakes setting — could be problematic, West acknowledges. But he thinks the CORE experiment is “an enormous learning opportunity.”

Don’t grade schools on grit

Don’t grade schools on grit, writes Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth, who practically invented grit, in the New York Times.images

Character traits such as self-control affect students’ success, she writes. Schools can help students develop these traits.

But character measures aren’t accurate enough to be used for accountability.

Encouraged by ESSA, the new federal education law, nine California districts are experimenting with using measures of “soft skills” to evaluate school effectiveness.

Duckworth’s research has identified three clusters of character strengths.

One includes strengths like grit, self-control and optimism. They help you achieve your goals. The second includes social intelligence and gratitude; these strengths help you relate to, and help, other people. The third includes curiosity, open-mindedness and zest for learning, which enable independent thinking.

Educators and researchers are looking for ways to assess these traits, raise students’ awareness of their shortcomings and provide “strategies for what to do differently,” she writes. Turning that research into a high-stakes assessment would be a mistake.

Non-cognitive measures aren’t reliable and may never be good enough to use for accountability writes Jay Greene. For a new study, his team tested students with different measures of “non-cognitive” skills. They wanted “to see if we get consistent results. We didn’t.”

W need “hard thinking on soft skills,” writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. These skills are “far too important to suffer the fad-like fate” of other education reforms.

Core testing moms plan ‘Opt Out, Shop Out’ 

Opponents of Common Core testing will stage an “Opt Out, Shop Out” event at a chic Long Island mall today, reports Newsday.

Participants wearing “Opt Out” T-shirts will urge parents to boycott state tests being given in April to students in grades three through eight.
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“The Stuart Weitzman boutique is having a sale on their popular “Mummy in Suede”sandals — only $465!,” notes Laura Waters on Head in the Sand, Education Post’s new blog.

Teachers’ union leaders are backing the “shop out.”

Opt-outers, please don’t mistake arrogance for awareness,” writes Tracy Dell’Angela, also on Head in the Sand. (The idea is that we need to get our heads out of the sand.)

 You don’t know what’s best for my biracial daughters. You don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

Opting out of testing is “a luxury, afforded to parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success,” she writes.

California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”

Ed Next’s top stories of 2015

Starting in pre–K, children at Hoover School talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Children who aren't proficient in English can learn well in English or their native language -- if they're taught well.

Children at Hoover School in Redwood City, California talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Good teaching is more important than the language of instruction.

Learning English, my story on how “accountability, Common Core and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction” of students from immigrant families, ranks 10th in Ed Next’s list of the top 20 Education Next Articles of 2015.

That’s not bad considering it didn’t come out till late November.

Overall, readers went for stories on poverty and inequality, say editors. “Five of the articles in the top 20 are from a special issue . .  . on the 50th Anniversary of the Moynihan Report which examined the rise in the number of children growing up in single-parent families.”

ESSA passes: Will states step up?

No Child Left Behind is no more. The Every Student Succeeds Act has passed the Senate and House by wide margins. President Obama signed the new education bill today.

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

ESSA guts the “strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education,” writes Sandy Kress, who helped write NCLB, on Dropout Nation.

Under ESSA, “schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps” will face no federal consequences, he writes. States and districts will hold themselves accountable for serving all students. Or not.

As seen in TexasCalifornia, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students . . .

ESSA stands for Excusing States for Student Abandonment, writes Alan Singer on the Huffington Post.

The bill is “political posturing,” writes Conor Williams. “It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability.”

Conservatives should oppose the bill’s “bizarre, unclear federal accountability mandates,” he argues. Progressives should not trust states to hold schools accountable for serving underprivileged and underserved kids.