Parents: Set goals, measure, fix

Parents strongly support standards, assessment and evaluation writes Suzanne Tacheny Kuback in an e-mail discussion on Mike Petrilli’s “problem with proficiency” post. She describes parent focus groups conducted by PIE Network.

Standards, assessment, and evaluation don’t make sense to parents as separate concepts:  to the extent they think about these things at all, it’s just stuff that they assume you do to manage sensibly. (Set goals, measure them, talk about how well you did, and then fix stuff that didn’t work.) Not only would it not make sense to parents to suggest not doing these things, parents are incredulous when they think that any of it isn’t already common practice.

Most intriguing, “standards” don’t even make sense to parents as an idea unless you measure them. I wished we’d videoed those moments in the conversations: if you suggested having standards but no common tests, parents got mad. They literally pushed chairs back from the table or threw pens down to make their point: “You can’t say you have a standard if you don’t also measure it.”

Parents are concerned about excessive testing, but they want the information, Kubach wrotes.  It’s not that they don’t trust teachers.  ”They just want to know how their kids are doing and value the objective information they get from tests.”

The problem with proficiency

Proficiency rates are terrible measures of school effectiveness because they “mostly reflect a school’s demographics,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Schools should be evaluated on growth measures, he argues.

Our school—let’s call it Jefferson—serves a high-poverty population of middle and high school students. Eighty-nine percent of them are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch; 100 percent are African American or Hispanic. And on the most recent state assessment, less than a third of its students were proficient in reading or math. In some grades, fewer than 10 percent were proficient as gauged by current state standards.

That school deserves a big ole F, right?

But there’s more.

According to a rigorous Harvard evaluation, every year Jefferson students gain two and a half times as much in math and five times as much in English as the average school in New York City’s relatively high-performing charter sector.

.  . .Jefferson is so successful, the Harvard researchers conclude, because it has “more instructional time, a relentless focus on academic achievement, and more parent outreach” than other schools.

Now how would you rate this school? How about an A?

“Jefferson” is Democracy Prep Charter High, a New York City school whose high school seniors earn high test scores. It takes at least five years to get them there, says Seth Andrew, founder of the DP network.

Proficiency matters too, responds Checker Finn.

Kids can show plenty of “growth” in school—and yes, we should laud schools that accomplish this—but still not be ready for college because they aren’t actually proficient. This is why absolute levels matter, too, and why schools should be judged in part by how many of the students emerging from them have reached true proficiency or, in today’s parlance, are truly college and career ready.

Let’s concede that both matter, but growth is a better measure of school effectiveness.

Petrilli’s piece has sparked an avid e-mail discussion including American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, Rick Hess, Robert Pondiscio and a host of others.  (I’m on vacation with unreliable wireless access — I typed part of a post on a smart phone! — so I haven’t jumped in.)

‘Proficiency’ means little in some states

States define “proficiency” very differently, write Paul Peterson and Peter Kaplan in Education Next.

Massachusetts, Tennessee and Missouri have the highest expectations, while Alabama and Georgia expect the least of their students. Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Illinois and Virginia also set a low bar.

Standards still declined in rigor in 26 states and D.C. between 2009 and 2011, while 24 states increased rigor, the study found.

The study grades the states for setting high standards, not on whether students meet those standards.

Having been graded an F in every previous report, (Tennessee) made the astounding jump to a straight A in 2011. . .  state tests were made much more challenging and the percentage of students identified as proficient dropped from 90 percent or more to around 50 percent, a candid admission of the challenges the Tennessee schools faced.

West Virginia, New York, Nebraska, and Delaware also strengthened proficiency standards, while New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Georgia lowered the bar.

Uneven at the Start, a new Education Trust report, looks at academic performance to predict how different states will meet the challenge of Common Core standards.

New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts show strong performance and improvement for all students — and for disadvantaged students, reports Ed Trust.  Performance is weak in West Virginia and Oregon. Ohio and Wisconsin do well for students overall, but poorly for “or or more of their undeserved groups.”

Education Trust also has updated its EdWatch reports, which analyze  college and career readiness and high school and college graduation rates for all groups of students in each state.  The state academic performance and improvement tool shows how each state compares with the national average and with other states.

Schools excel in sports — and academics

Ohio high schools that invest in athletic success also produce more academic success, concludes a study by Jay Greene and Dan Bowen published in the Journal of Research in EducationA winning sports team and higher student participation in sports correlated with higher test scores and a higher graduation rate, writes Greene in Education Next.

A 10 percentage point increase in overall winning percentage is associated with a 0.25 percentage point increase in the number of students at or above academic proficiency. When we examine the effect of winning percentage in each sport separately, once again winning in football has the largest effect. Girls’ basketball also remains positive and statistically significant (at p < 0.10), but boys’ basketball is not statistically distinguishable from a null effect.

Adding one winter sport increases the percentage of students performing proficiently by 0.4 of a percentage point, while an additional 10 student able to directly participate in sports during the winter season relates to a 0.6 percentage point increase in students at or above proficiency.

A winning sports team may create a sense of pride in the school and bond students and parents. Playing on a sports team may inspire students to show up at school every day, keep their grades up to maintain eligibility and learn responsibility, teamwork and goal setting.

Everyone’s ‘highly effective’ — but the students

In Michigan’s Hazel Park School District, every principal and teacher is “highly effective,” but  student achievement earns an F in 10 of 16 categories, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential. Four elementary schools and the high school earned D’s and F’s. The junior high got the top grade, a C in reading.

The district’s proficiency numbers nosedived when Michigan raised cut scores on state exams. The district is 60 percent white, 36 percent black; 59 percent of students qualify for a subsidized lunch.

A state law in 2011 ordered schools to rate teachers and administrators by using one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Statewide, 97 percent of teachers were rated in the top two categories.

 Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the district would hurt morale among truly highly effective teachers.

“It does a disservice to the teachers themselves if the district is not going to differentiate and define what good teaching is,” Van Beek said. “It doesn’t help anyone. Think how insulting it is for a good teacher in that district. They know they are putting in the extra time but are getting the exact same rating as one who may not be good at all. That’s not treating teachers as professionals.”

It’s possible for a highly effective teacher to be unable to raise students to proficiency, especially if they’re years behind at the start of the school year. But when everyone’s highly effective, except for the students, there may be a problem defining “highly effective.”

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.

When English Learners don’t learn

By middle and high school, 59 percent of California’ s English Language Learners aren’t making progress, a study by Californians Together found. Now, if the governor signs the bill, California will be the first state to report data on “long-term” ELLS, reports Ed Week.

A long-term English-learner is defined as a student who’s attended U.S. schools for more than six years, but tests poorly in English Language Arts and in English proficiency and hasn’t moved up a level on the state’s English proficiency exam for two years or more.

These non-learners typically speak English as well (or poorly) as they speak Spanish, but don’t read or write well in either language.  They’ve lived down to low expectations.

In Tracy, where 55 percent of secondary students are long-term ELLs, teachers have created a supplementary class to teach writing, “academic” English, critical reading and study skills, reports Ed Week.

Children from non-English-speaking families who test as proficient in English by second or third grade are high performers who do very well in school.  Those who  leave ELL status by the end of elementary school have a good shot at success.  But the kids who haven’t made it by sixth grade face long odds of completing high school. California has lots and lots of these kids — and I’d bet other states do too.

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.

 

Who will choose your child’s education?

In 1976, as a high school newspaper reporter, Robert Maranto asked retiring Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joshua Wheeler why students weren’t required to pass a proficiency test to graduate. ”The purpose of public education is not to educate students,” Wheeler answered. “The purpose of public education is to provide an education for those few who want it.”

Someone will choose your child’s education, so why not you?, writes Maranto, now an University of Arkansas education professor, in the Baltimore Sun.

In college, he asked an education professor how to become a social studies teacher.

He explained that I would need 12 education classes but only four in the social sciences. I had no need to understand the subject I taught, since “the curriculum people will tell you what to teach.” In fact, it would be dangerous to have teachers who loved their subjects, since they might not “relate” to students who didn’t. (I couldn’t help but wonder whether schools would hire football coaches who didn’t love football, and whether such coaches could win any games.)

He gave up on teaching high school.

Who decides which kids get taught and which kids get warehoused? Who decides which schools get AP programs and which don’t? Who pays a price if the school bureaucracy in Towson decides that disadvantaged kids in Woodlawn don’t want to learn, and thus need not be taught?

It struck me that the best way to have schools serve children, rather than just hold them in place, is to give parents their choice of schools.

If parents choose mediocrity — easy classes, little homework, sports and socializing — at least it would be their choice, Maranto writes.

Science expectations are ‘All Over the Map’

States have radically different targets for eighth-grade science proficiency, concludes All Over the Map, a study by the pro-STEM business group, Change the Equation.

Expectations in 37 states were compared to the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade science test.

New Hampshire has the fewest students meeting state benchmarks — and the highest benchmarks. At every level — basic, proficient and advanced — New Hampshire equals or exceeds NAEP expectations. As a result, only 0.4 percent of New Hampshire eighth graders rank as “advanced” in science. Nearby Connecticut calls  62 percent of its eighth graders “advanced,” but the expectations are “basic” by NAEP standards.

At the “proficient” level, only four states — New Hampshire, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island — are at or above NAEP’s standard. Fifteen states label students “proficient” who’d score below “basic” on NAEP.

Virginia has the lowest definition of “proficient,” followed by Tennessee, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Oregon, South Carolina, California and Arizona.

ACT estimates 13 percent of eighth-graders nationally are on track to succeed in college science classes.

“Raising the bar on measuring student achievement will take fortitude as some states see the percentage of proficient students plummet,” said CTEq Board of Directors Chair Craig R. Barrett, Ph.D., and retired CEO and Chairman of the Board of Intel.  “Though it may be painful and initially unpopular, we are doing students a disservice if we set the bar low and give them a false sense of achievement that will hinder their learning and growth in school and beyond.”

States are collaborating on Next Generation Science Standards, the report notes. However, setting high content standards won’t help if states set low passing scores on tests.