Fordham; New science standards earn a C

Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and South Carolina earn A- grades in Fordham’s rating of science standards. The Next Generation Science Standards get a so-so C.

The NGSS fall short of excellence in several ways, including: overemphasis on practices over essential content; omission of much essential content; failure to integrate mathematics content that is essential to science learning; and use of “assessment boundaries” that put arbitrary ceilings on the content that will be assessed (and therefore taught) at each grade.

Most states are struggling to implement the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, Fordham observes. Adopting new science standards — even good ones — could be more than states can handle.

We caution against adopting any new standards until and unless the education system can be serious about putting them into operation across a vast enterprise that stretches from curriculum and textbooks to assessment and accountability regimes, from teacher preparation to graduation expectations, and much more. Absent thorough and effective implementation, even the finest of standards are but a hollow promise.

In Kentucky, NextGen Science Standards are controversial, reports Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters.  Kentucky is among the 26 “lead state partners” that helped develop the standards, but issues such as evolution and climate change have “sparked some pushback.”

Fordham gives Kentucky’s current science standards a D, saying they’re “vague” and short on content.

Too soon for Common Core tests?

Move ahead with Common Core testing, editorialized the New York Times on Sunday.  Tough new math and English tests “are an essential part of rigorous education reforms” designed to teach reasoning skills.

In Kentucky, the first state to adopt Common Core-aligned tests, the proportion of students rated “proficient” or better in math and reading dropped by about a third, notes the Times, which warns New Yorkers to prepare for a shock.

California won’t be ready for Common Core testing, which is scheduled to start in the 2014-15 school year, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. The state “hasn’t figured out how to go about training teachers, and won’t begin to adopt new textbooks — a slow and politically rancorous process — for at least two years.”

What’s more, common core is expensive, requiring extensive new training for teachers, new textbooks and computers on which the new tests must be taken. It’s unclear where the state will find the money.

At the rate the state is going, teachers will end up being trained before the English curriculum is even in place, and instruction would start before the new textbooks are in anyone’s hands. Yet if the school reform movement has its way, teachers will be evaluated in part based on how well their students do on the very different standardized tests that go with the new curriculum. Reflecting the concern that teachers throughout the state have been expressing, one California teacher recently tweeted that within a couple of years, “we start testing on standards we’re not teaching with curriculum we don’t have on computers that don’t exist.”

Teachers believe they’re being “set up for failure,” the editorial warns. Common Core will be “yet another education flash in the pan” unless it’s “carefully implemented with meaningful tests that are aligned with what the students are supposed to learn.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to cut off federal money to implement Common Core State Standards, but his proposal probably isn’t going anywhere.

Kentucky scores drop on core-aligned tests

Kentucky was the first state to adopt Common Core Standards and the first to align its state test to the new standards. Not surprisingly, scores are way down on the new core-aligned tests, reports Ed Week.

The share of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given.

“What you’re seeing in Kentucky is a predictor of what you’re going to see in the other states, as the assessments roll out next year and the year after,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Scores typically drop when any new test is introduced. Kentucky’s K-PREP is more rigorous than its predecessor.

Most Common Core Standards states are expected to use tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Learning ‘on demand,’ in bite-sized pieces

Kentuckians can complete self-paced, online modules in as little as three weeks, earning community college credits that can be “stacked” to earn vocational certificates or associate degrees. Learn on Demand is designed for working adults, but on-campus students are signing up too.

Also on Community College Spotlight: The real trouble with online education is that critics won’t give it a chance.

Ready or not: Tracking grads’ outcomes

College and career readiness is all the rage, but only 13 percent of high school educators track their graduates’ academic performance in college, notes Education Sector in announcing Data That Matters: Giving High Schools Useful Feedback on Grads’ Outcomes by Anne Hyslop.

Now over 40 states can collect information about college readiness. Yet fewer—only eight—are using that information in ways that can materially improve college preparation.

High schools brag about how many students go on to college. But how many have to take remedial classes? How many give up in the first year?

Kentucky high schools made changes after discovering how many graduates were struggling in college, reports Education Week.

Kyle Fannin thought he was doing a good job as a teacher of U.S. history and AP American government at Woodford County High School in Versailles, Ky. “By all outward appearances, we were a great school,” said Mr. Fannin, as students scored well on tests and AP exams. But the data told a different story.

Some Woodford students who had received state scholarships based on merit had lost their funding because they weren’t maintaining a 3.0 GPA in college. Other data showed more of the students taking remedial math and English in college than the school had expected. When Mr. Fannin would talk to returning students, they would tell him that finals “killed” them. In high school, final exams counted for only 10 percent of their grades.

Armed with that information, the school made changes. More reading was assigned, including primary sources, and longer periods of sustained reading were included in classes. Finals counted for a bigger part of their grades.

Eastern Kentucky University is working with high school teachers to reduce the number of students needing remedial classes.

 

More states plan to defy NCLB

Idaho, Montana and South Dakota plan to ignore No Child Left Behind’s proficiency targets, unless Congress acts to modify the law, reports Ed Week.  The three states have told Education Secretary Arne Duncan they’ll “stop the clock as the 2014 deadline approaches for bringing all students to proficiency in math and language arts” to limit the number of schools that face penalties for failure to make progress.

Kentucky has asked permission to use its own accountability system.

The Education Department has offered waivers only to states that agree to federally approved reforms. Roll-your-own waiver is not an option, said Justin Hamilton, the department spokesperson, on Tuesday.

 

Singapore math in Kentucky

Singapore math is working in Fayette County, Kentucky, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Nine schools are using textbooks based on the curriculum used in high-scoring Singapore.

So-called “Singapore math” features problems that often are more complex than American textbooks contain. It demands deep mastery of a few math concepts, rather than an overview of many different ideas.

Jessica Alt, a fifth-grade teacher, says some students who were two years below grade level in the fall scored at or above grade level half way through the year.

Singapore math “is expected to fit nicely with new, narrower and deeper math standards that Kentucky education leaders will be adopting soon.”

“Before, we would touch on a math concept, get the kids comfortable with it and then move on to something else,” (teacher Polly Anna) Cox said. “We went so fast that sometimes it could be frustrating. But with Math in Focus, we might spend a couple of months on just one concept. The students really understand it before we move on.”

Teachers are getting nearly 100 hours of training in how to use Singapore math.