48% of schools missed progress goals

Forty-eight percent of public schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, according to the Center on Education Policy.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who predicted 82 percent of schools would miss AYP, also failed to reach his target.

Fewer states require exit exam

Fewer state are requiring students to pass an exit exam to earn a high school diploma, reports the Center on Education Policy. Instead, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee now count a student’s exit exam score as a percentage of the final grade in a course required for graduation. Alabama will make this change in 2015.

However, testing is on the rise.

. . . in addition to the 31 states that administer an exit exam, 11 states require students to take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, and 16 states administer, or at least offer to all students, assessments intended to assess students’ readiness for college and/or a career. But although many states are using college and career readiness assessments to determine how well students are being prepared for success after high school, very few colleges and universities actually use these assessments for college admission or placement.

Common Core Standards adopted by most states will require new tests.

Many districts aren’t ready for new standards

Only half of school districts are working on implementing the Common Core Standards their states have adopted, according to a Center on Education Policy survey. Some are waiting for state guidance on how to adapt curriculum, instruction and assessment and add learning materials.

“What it says to me is that there is a large percentage that don’t seem to understand the train that is about to hit them,” said William H. Schmidt, a Michigan State University education professor who is conducting his own research on districts’ readiness for the new standards. “That, to me, is somewhat scary.”

Superintendents disagree on whether the new standards are more demanding, reports Education Week.

Fewer than 60 percent of the districts said they view the new standards as more rigorous than their states’ previous guidelines. Fewer still—55 percent in math, and 58 percent in English/language arts—said they believed the standards would improve students’ skills.

Two-thirds of the districts anticipate the need for new curriculum materials in math, and 56 percent anticipate a similar need for the literacy standards. About half the respondents said they thought the new standards would demand “fundamental changes” in instruction.

Surveying superintendents overstates districts’ readiness for the new standards, Schmidt told Ed Week.  “In his work surveying 700 districts, he said, he has found that teachers know less about the standards than do staff members at district headquarters.”


Study: Low-income students are improving

Disadvantaged students who qualify for Title I funding are improving in math and reading, according to a Center on Education Policy analysis.


Do vouchers boost achievement?

Vouchers have “no clear positive effect” on student achievement and mixed outcomes overall, according to a review of 27 studies by the Center on Education Policy. From Ed Week‘s Inside Schools Research:

Low-income students receiving vouchers made similar achievement gains to comparable public school students in district schools in several studies, the report found.

The report also noted that some research found that voucher students graduate at a higher rate than their public school peers, and that overall achievement at public schools was higher in those schools most affected by voucher competition. However, the report said it is difficult to tease out causation in those results, because schools most affected by vouchers often are targeted for other intensive school reform efforts.

The CEP review did not include privately funded vouchers or tax credits or voucher programs for students with disabilities or students in foster care.

“CEP’s study narrowly cherry-picks school choice studies in a handful of states and inaccurately characterizes the results of these studies,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a voucher advocacy program based in Washington.

A rival analysis of voucher research by the Foundation for Educational Choice found large benefits for some programs, but modest gains for most.  No voucher studies have found a negative effect, said Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the foundation. “When the small, restricted programs produce moderately positive results, that indicates we should be trying bigger things,” Forster said.


English Learners improve

More English Language Learners are reaching proficiency on state reading and math tests, according to a Center on Education Policy report.  However, it’s impossible to compare data from one state to another, says CEP’s Jack Jennings. From Education Week:

Because of deficiencies in data on ELLs, Mr. Jennings said he’s inclined to think the nation should have a single definition for such students. Currently, each state creates its own definition for an English-language learner under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford education professor, called for benchmarking “state assessments against trusted common benchmarks such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress to verify if the gains are indeed real.”

By breaking out data on ELLs’ achievement, NCLB greatly increased the information available and the focus on non-fluent students. What’s missing is long-term data on how well former ELLs do over time after they leave the program.

Update:  In a long-term study of randomly assigned ELLs, children learned English reading equally well by fourth grade whether they were assigned to Success for All’s Spanish bilingual or English immersion reading program.  Both groups of fourth graders closed most of the gap, but not all, with native-English-speaking students.  John Hopkins’ Robert Slavin, who designed SFA, conducted the study.

SFA’s transitional bilingual program teaches reading in Spanish, “with a transition to English starting as early as 1st grade and completed by 3rd grade,” reports Ed Week.

The study found that students in bilingual education had an edge in Spanish reading skills over students in English immersion in the early grades, while the reverse was true for English reading skills. But differences evened out by the 4th grade, with students scoring about the same in Spanish and in English, the researchers reported.

Since all teachers used Success for All’s scripted curriculum and received the same training, the only difference was the language of instruction. I think the evidence for quite awhile has suggested that good teaching and a strong curriculum is much more important than the language of instruction.

States create alternate exits

States are creating alternate pathways to graduation for students who can’t pass high school exit exams, reports the Center on Education Policy. Most offer alternatives for disabled students; some also exempt students who aren’t fluent in English. Pass rates have improved in most states. Many more states are using their exit exams to meet NCLB’s high school testing requirements.

Students narrow achievement gaps

Student achievement has risen since 2002 with black and Latino students improving at a faster pace than whites, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy. The gains — for all students — are strongest in elementary school.

The report focused on “trend lines” – for Latino students in fourth-grade reading, for instance, or for low-income students in high school math – and examined the gaps between lines. The gaps narrowed in 74 percent of all trend lines the researchers examined, most often because the gains made by lower-performing groups outpaced those made by the top-performing group.

Achievement gaps remain large, but they are narrowing, says CEP.

Let’s wallow in some good news!

All boats rise

Reading and math achievement in improving across the nation, concludes a study by the Center on Education Policy.  The study found no evidence that the federal push for “proficient” performance has shortchanged advanced or low-achieving students.

. . . even though NCLB creates incentives for schools to focus on ensuring students reach the proficient level, states posted gains at the advanced and basic-and-above levels as well. At the basic-and-above level, 73 percent of the trend lines analyzed across various subjects and grades showed gains. At the advanced level, 71 percent of the trend lines analyzed showed improvement.

“If accountability policies were indeed shortchanging high- and low-achieving students, we would expect to see stagnation or decline at the basic and advanced levels,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Instead, the percentages of students scoring at the basic-and-above and advanced levels have increased much more often than they have decreased, especially in the lower grades.”

Students improved more in math than in reading. Most of the gains were seen in elementary and middle school, though high school scores improved slightly.

Update: Eduwonk and Mickey Kaus wonder why the study hasn’t made more of a splash. Eduwonk asks:

Is it too cynical to think it would be bigger news if it went the other way?

Education Week has more on the study; many of the comments from educators dismiss the importance of higher reading and math scores.