‘Proficient’ doesn’t always mean proficient

Lyndazia Ruffin, a fifth grader, last month at West Broad Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. Photo:Andrew Spear, New York Times

A test score that’s marked “proficient” in Ohio may be “approached expectations” in Illinois, reports Motoko Rich in the New York Times.

Two-thirds of Ohio students at most grade levels were proficient on Core-aligned reading and math tests designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, said state officials. education-test

But “similar scores on the same tests meant something quite different in Illinois, where education officials said only about a third of students were on track.”

In California and North Carolina, state officials combined students who passed with those who “nearly passed.”  Florida’s education commissioner “recommended passing rates less stringent than in other states,” reports Rich.

Before the Common Core, each state set its own standards and devised its own tests. Some states made the standardized tests so easy or set passing scores so low that virtually all students were rated proficient even as they scored much lower on federal exams and showed up for college requiring remedial help.

Setting common standards and using common tests was supposed to end all that. It hasn’t.

“That mentality of saying let’s set proficient at a level where not too many people fail is going to kill us,” said Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a nonprofit think tank. “The global standard of what proficient is keeps moving up.”

Ohio will scrap the Parcc exam and hire a developer to come up with another set of tests, writes Rich. “Three other states similarly scrapped the Parcc test after administering it this year, creating an increasingly atomized landscape across the country.”

Ohio’s 3rd-grade reading law: Is it working?

Two years ago, Ohio required third graders to pass a reading test to be promoted. Ninety-six percent now pass the test, reports PBS.

But how well do they read? A fourth-grade teacher says only half her students read at grade level. Students can try the test multiple times and the bar has been lowered.

Ohio charters show mixed results

Ohio charter schools work well for low-income blacks, but overall do worse than district schools, concludes a new CREDO study.

CREDO estimates that low-income black students receive 22 additional days of learning in math and 29 days in reading when attending a charter instead of a district school. Cleveland charters also are outperforming the district.

Stand-alone charters do better than those run by non-profit and for-profit charter-management networks.

Charter middle schools perform well, notes Education Gadfly. Charter high schools do not, perhaps because some specialize in “dropout recovery.” Online charters also perform poorly.

Core English: Show the evidence

In Common Core English classes, students can’t pass by writing about their feelings or their personal experiences, reports the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. They must show the evidence to support their assertions.

At Moreland Hills Elementary in Pepper Pike, Ohio, fifth graders identified the themes of fables such as “The Fox and the Crow” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Nothing new about that. But worksheets include a new column: “Evidence of theme.”

“Evidence,” (teacher Brad) Anderson says to the class. “It’s not enough to just say what you think the theme is. You need specific evidence.”

As students re-read their fables, identifying what they considered the main theme of each, Hastings and teaching assistants prodded the students to find specific phrases or sentences that support their choice of theme.

“If you suspect someone of a crime, they wouldn’t just be guilty,” Anderson told the students. “You need evidence.”

At Berea-Midpark High, students read and re-read the poem “Exile” by Julia Alvarez to identify themes, allusions and metaphors.

“Finding text evidence is the skill we want to develop most this year,” Berea-Midpark English Teacher Charles Salata told his sophomore English class. “Not just that you have an argument, but that you can back it up.”

The old standards mostly asked students to relate the theme of literature to their own lives, said teachers.

“Kids used to talk more about how they felt about the theme,” said Maren Koepf, an instructional coach. “It was more about their feelings than the evidence.”

When new Common Core tests start next year, replacing the Ohio Achievement Assessments, students will have to make an argument, find details in texts, quote passages accurately and put those concepts into words if they want a good score, added Mike White, another Moreland Hills teacher.

“Before, you had a chance of passing, just relating it to your prior experiences,” White said.

“I can” statements — such as “I can read and comprehend poetry” — are the latest thing.


MOOCs: A head start on college — but kids need help

High school students could use MOOCS (massive open online courses) to earn college credits, Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller tells Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger Digital.

“There are so many studies that demonstrate the benefit to students in high school in having access to college-level material. It encourages them to go to college and complete college. But that opportunity has largely been available to the most advanced students at highly endowed school districts that have teachers that can teach college-level subjects. It’s been a very inequitable offering.”

With the help of a MOOC, a high school teacher who is “passionate and motivated, but not necessarily expert” can teach a college course, Knoller says.

Ohio is looking at MOOCs to prepare students for college and prevent the need for remediation.

The San Jose State Plus pilot, a partnership with Udacity, offers three remedial and entry-level math courses to high school, community college or university students. The for-credit courses cost only $150.

At the Oakland Military Institute, a charter school with predominantly low-income students, some students didn’t have the computers or Internet access at home needed for the college statistics course, reports the San Jose Mercury News. And “many needed personal attention to make it through.”

To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.

. . . With more than 700 students in grades 6 through 12, the school had to devote much of its computer lab space, equipment and staffing to online courses for the roughly 45 students taking the Udacity courses. A donation paid for the course fees.

Answering questions and keeping students on task consumed much of his time, said Omar Solache, a computer teacher with two other job titles. A second teacher was assigned to help ease his load.

“They’re so used to having teachers right there with them,” Solache said.

Students watched short videos, chatted with online tutors available around the clock and moved at their own pace, reviewing what they didn’t understand. An evaluation of the pilot will be available in the fall.

Here’s a research report on San Jose State’s partnership with edX on an introductory engineering MOOC.

Evaluation overkill hits PE teachers

Evaluating teachers’ impact on student achievement is “a necessary reform,” writes Terry Ryan on Ohio Gadfly. But it can go too far. Ohio will evaluate phys ed teachers on their students’ skipping, throwing, dancing and batting skills and knowledge. Among the goals:

*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;

*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances.

The suggested written test for K-2 students (five to eight year olds) includes:

To throw a ball overhand with your right hand, you should step forward with your left foot.

A. True B. False

For a good overhand throw, you should bend the elbow in the shape of an “L” behind the head before throwing.

A. True B. False

Instead of throwing balls, kids will be taking tests on how to throw balls. Teachers think this is stupid, writes Ryan. Parents think it’s stupid. Everyone thinks it’s stupid except for the Ohio Department of Education.

Ohio: Third graders must read or repeat

Ohio’s “third grade guarantee” — students who don’t read on grade level will be held back – is the subject of a PBS report.

Ohio: Exit exam will test college readiness

Ohio will replace its high-school graduation test with a tougher college-readiness exam and end-of-course tests, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

The current graduation test asks for 10th-grade skills. Forty-two percent of first-year college students in the state require remedial coursework.

The new college- and career-readiness test has not been developed. There’s “talk of using the ACT,” which would be provided free of charge, reports the Dispatch. End-of-course exams will be required in English I, II and III, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology, physical science, American history and American government. Test grades will count as a portion of the grade for the course.

So what happens when the failure rate soars? And what about Ohio students who aren’t prepping for college but want a high school diploma to qualify for an apprenticeship or the military?

Ohio bill ‘guarantees’ third-grade reading

Ohio will “guarantee” that third graders can read well before being promoted under an education reform bill that Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign. Poor readers could be held back for one or two years.

This year, more than 22 percent of the state’s third-graders tested at the lowest reading level — “limited” — in October and another 19 percent scored at the basic level.

The bill also makes way for greater use of technology across public education and creates state report cards for vocational and career programs that are tied to Ohio’s job needs. The schools will work in consultation with career-technical education groups to set standards for the report cards.

In addition, the bill begins the process of building a statewide birth-to-third-grade literacy education strategy, requires eye exams for special needs students, and adjusts training and retesting requirements for teachers who are deemed ineffective for two of the previous three years.

Kasich a first-term Republican, championed many of the bill’s reforms.

House Democratic Leader Armond Budish called the reading guarantee an “unfunded mandate that could actually harm children.”

Ohio cuts funds for university remediation

Ohio is cutting funds for remedial classes at state universities.

North Carolina community colleges are backing out of participation in federal student loans, fearing a high default rate will risk future students’ access to Pell Grants.