Tennessee, D.C. lead ed reform

Tennessee and District of Columbia schools are making the fastest reading and math gains in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) , writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today column.

A few years ago, Tennessee students were acing state tests but failing the high bar set by NAEP, writes Whitmire. Washington D.C. “was regarded as one of the worst urban school districts in the country.”

Both adopted education reforms that remain very controversial.

In Tennessee, a third of the district school superintendents along with the teachers unions in Memphis and Nashville just signed no-confidence letters condemning State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

. . . The Washington reforms are famously controversial, designed by former chancellor Michelle Rhee (Huffman’s ex-wife), who was forced from office in part because of the political turmoil created by those school changes. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson was able to preserve and improve those reforms partly because she is considerably less inflammatory than Rhee.

Tennessee and D.C. raised their standards, then switched to Common Core.

Both got serious about evaluating teachers.

In Washington, D.C., teachers routinely won rave reviews despite abysmal outcomes by their students — a contradiction routinely explained away by poverty (despite higher-poverty school districts with better outcomes). That changed dramatically with its groundbreaking 2009 IMPACT teacher evaluation. At the time, national union leaders dubbed it outrageous. Last month, a national study dubbed it effective. Overall, the better teachers stayed and tried harder, encouraged by the prospect of being rewarded. The “minimally effective” teachers tended to look for other lines of work.

Forty percent of D.C. students now attend charter schools, which tend to have higher test scores than district-run schools. That may be a factor in the rising scores.

Education Consumers Foundation lists Tennessee’s reforms.

Successes are fragile, Whitmire warns. There’s always push back.

The author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation’s Worst School District, he is writing a book about high-performing charter schools, On the Rocketship.

Maryland tops the NAEP dishonor roll by excluding most special-education students and English Language Learners, reports Dropout Nation.

Nation’s report card: Scores inch up

Reading and math scores inched up for fourth and eighth graders, according to the 2013 “nation’s report card” released today.  However, despite some progress by Latinos, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) showed no narrowing of racial and ethnic achievement gaps, notes the Christian Science Monitor. 

Tennessee and the District of Columbia showed the most progress.

Tennessee and D.C. students made gains between 2011 and 2013 in both subjects and both grades. Fourth-graders in both Tennessee and D.C. scored 7 points better in 2013 on math than they did two years earlier, and eighth-graders in both scored 6 points better.

“All eight states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement in at least one of the Reading and/or Mathematics assessments from 2009 to 2013—and none of the eight states had a decline in scores,” noted Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.

Performance remains low,  observed Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform (CER). “After decades of mediocrity, we celebrate today the fact that only 34 percent of our nation’s 8th graders can read at grade level and only 34 percent are proficient in math.

Dropout Nation also sees lots of room for improvement.

You can check out sample questions.  (Adjust for advanced, proficient or basic questions.)

In fourth-grade math, advanced students are expected to understand equations.

Lisa sold 15 cups of lemonade on Saturday and twice as many on Sunday. Which expression represents the total number of cups of lemonade she sold on both days?

 A. 15 + 15
 B. 2 * 15
 C. 15 + (2 * 15)
 D. 2 * (15 + 15

I was an advanced math student in fourth grade. Our group worked from the sixth-grade book. We didn’t get to equations till . . . eighth grade?

Here’s a proficient-level question for eighth graders. We learned this in seventh grade.

Image of a rectangle labeled 6 feet on the left side and 8 feet on the bottom side.A teacher drew this rectangle on a playground. Sam walked around the rectangle on the lines shown. How far did Sam walk?

 A. 14 feet
 B. 20 feet
 C. 28 feet
 D. 48 feet

Here are sample questions for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading.

Teach the American dream

“As Congress moves towards opening new paths for immigrants, it should find a way to restore the foundation of American citizenship — the self-confident teaching of American history in our nation’s schools, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in The American.

The immigration bill will reaffirm “quintessential American values” and restore “the American dream,” writes Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
But “few of our students — foreign or native born — know much about the provenance of those values,” writes Sommers. “Our schools no longer teach the American dream.”

Once, immigrant and native-born children learned about America in school, “and came to view themselves as part of an extraordinary culture of liberty,” she writes. That civic mission has been neglected.

The latest Department of Education national history assessment (2010) shows that only 12 percent of American high school seniors have a firm grasp of U.S. history. More than half (55 percent) scored below the “Basic” achievement level. A 2012 Roper survey of college graduates found widespread ignorance about U.S. history and basic functions of government: only 17 percent of those polled, for example, could identify famous words from the Gettysburg Address or knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Noting a 2009 study that found that 39 percent of Americans could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment, civil libertarian Greg Lukianoff has described us as a nation in the process of “unlearning liberty.”

We are perilously close to testing Thomas Jefferson’s famous admonition: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress exams in civics, U.S. history, and geography have been indefinitely postponed for fourth and twelfth graders, reports Heartland. The Obama administration blames a $6.8 million sequestration budget cut. The three exams will be replaced by a new test on Technology and Engineering Literacy.

“Without these tests, advocates for a richer civic education will not have any kind of test to use as leverage to get more civic education in the classrooms,” said John Hale, associate director at the Center for Civic Education.

Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”

NAEP: Vocabulary gap is wide

A wide vocabulary gap separates low-income and middle-class students (and blacks and Hispanics from whites and Asians), according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report. Vocabulary is closely linked to reading comprehension.

The word “permeated” was a trouble spot for a lot of 8th graders, with nearly half failing to correctly identify its meaning in a nostalgic passage about eating a “mint snowball” at a small-town drugstore. And “puzzled” was apparently puzzling for 49 percent of 4th graders, who misidentified its meaning in a passage from the story “Ducklings Come Home to Boston.”

Fewer than half of fourth-grade readers recognized “barren,” “detected,” “eerie,” “flourish” or “prestigious” when used in a reading passage.

The sample questions include this one aimed at eighth graders:

On page 1, the author says that her great-grandfather concocted something on the stove. This means that he

A. mixed things together in a new way
B. cooked ingredients at a high heat
C. kept his cooking methods secret
D. preferred to work in the kitchen

Between half and three quarters of students knew the meaning of “concocted.”

“Urbane” stumped most students in eighth and 12th grade. Most 12th graders also didn’t know the meaning of “delusion.”

Spending skyrockets, scores don’t

While spending per-student has “taken off like a moonshot ,” SAT “scores have stayed the same or declined, reports Neal McCluskey at Cato @ Liberty. The fact that more students are taking the SAT doesn’t account for “the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores,” especially as National Assessment of Education Progress scores also have flatlined.

Conservatives are incoherent on federal education policy, McCluskey adds, criticizing Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute for their analysis of federal micromanaging. An addiction to spending federal money and a love of ”standards and accountability” leads to “a great big refuse heap of squandered money, red tape, educational stagnation, and political failure.” Yet Hess and Kelly don’t call for the feds to get out of education policy.

NAEP: 27% of students write proficiently

Students in eighth and 12th grade write just as poorly on laptops as they do with paper and pencil, concludes the new National Assessment of Educational Progress writing exam. In both grades, 27 percent of students were rated proficient or better.

Students were given “two 30-minute writing prompts that asked them to persuade, explain, or convey experiences,” reports Education Week.

At the 8th grade level, for example, one exercise called “Lost Island” asked students to imagine they had arrived on a remote island and listen to an audio file that included nature sounds and lines of a journal read aloud. Students then were required to write personal stories that chronicled an experience they would have had on the island, had they been there.

To reach “advanced” on the exam, students told well-organized stories with strong details, precise word choices, and varied sentences, according to the NAEP report. Students at the “basic” level would use some detail in their stories, but organization was “loose,” sentence structure unvaried, and word choice limited.

Students who were required by teachers to use computers more often to write and edit assignments performed better on the test, NAEP reported. Most students used spell check, but only 20 percent used the cut and paste functions on the laptops.

Girls did much better than boys. The racial breakdown was . . . The usual. I’ll just note that Asian-American students, many of whom speak English as a second language, outscored whites.

 

One third ace 8th-grade science test

Eighth graders did a bit better on a national science exam, but fewer than one-third reached the proficient level. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (or NAEP) found achievement gaps are narrowing, slightly.

 

Brookings: Common Core won’t boost achievement

Common Core standards “will have little to no effect on student achievement,” predicts Tom Loveless, in How Well are American Students Learning?, a report by Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. The quality or rigor of state standards doesn’t correlate with students’ reading or math performance on NAEP, Loveless concludes.

“State standards have really never been able to penetrate down to the classroom and affect teaching and learning.  Common Core advocates believe this time is different.  I’m skeptical that their project has some secret ingredient that previous standards lacked.”

Standards represent the intended curriculum, “what governments want students to learn,” Loveless writes. Then there’s the implemented curriculum, “what teachers teach.”

Two fourth-grade teachers in classrooms next door to each other may teach multiplication in vastly different ways and with different degrees of effectiveness. State policies rarely touch such differences. The attained curriculum is what students learn.

Standards peak in popularity when first proposed, then nosedive when “tests are given and consequences kick in,” Loveless writes. Common Core is already losing support.

The report also looks at achievement gaps on NAEP and the tendency to misinterpret international test scores.

Education Next is hosting a discussion on Common Core math standards today.

Milwaukee, Fresno fail reading for low-income kids

If you plan to be reincarnated as a low-income student and you’d like to be literate, pick Tampa, New York City or Miami, writes Matthew Ladner, who’s been looking at the urban NAEP results. Avoid Milwaukee and Fresno, where very few low-income students reach proficiency in reading.

 

Washington, D.C. “has improved but is still horrible,” he adds, writing on Jay Greene’s blog. “Everyone in Wisconsin ought to be horrified by the abomination that is the Milwaukee Public Schools.”