Got a D? Cut a class? Mom knows

More schools now let parents go online to track their children’s grades, attendance and homework completion, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the past five years, the number of schools using such systems has more than tripled, to an estimated 25% to 35% of U.S. public schools, says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Md. Parent use is likely to expand faster in coming years, as more take advantage of the systems’ mobile apps, Mr. Bagin says.

Some parents complain it’s too much information, while others love it.

John Patriarche, a construction consultant, tracks his 13-year-old daughter’s school performance.

Using the online data, “you can get ahead of it and help your child so they can turn it around before the final,” Mr. Patriarche says.

These days, schools are adopting “integrated über-systems that link class materials and assignments, gradebooks, discussion boards and blogs, attendance records, and school calendars.” Often “parents can request immediate texts or emails if their child is tardy or absent or receives a low grade.”

In a recent online poll of 115 parents by SheKnows, a website on parenting and lifestyle issues, 32% said online reports help them prod their children to study and get assignments in on time. But 49% said teachers don’t keep their pages updated, 14% said grade and assignment information is inaccurate and 15% said their children resent such monitoring efforts.

Charting students’ performance in real time — not just at the end of the grading period — means more work for teachers. Is it worth it? I’d think so, but I’d be interested to see what teachers and parents think.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Colvin: It’s time for a new measure of student growth

California should scrap its Academic Performance Index, set up in 1999, argues Richard Lee Colvin for Education Sector.

The API . . .  is, “to a large extent, an indicator of students’ wealth rather than of a school’s educational quality.” It places overwhelming emphasis on math and reading, which results in an under-emphasis on science and social studies. And because more than 40 percent of California schools have API scores at or above the state minimum, they no longer have to worry about helping students who are not yet proficient reach that goal. That means that schools that enroll more affluent and better performing students could rest on the laurels of their students and let the quality of teaching slide.

No Child Left Behind’s proficiency deadline and the coming shift to Common Core assessments make this the time to devise a system that relies more heavily on student growth, Colvin writes. While the new measure is being debugged, the state could continue to report API numbers, he suggests.

Billions for college, but we don’t know grad rates

What’s the college graduation rate? Nobody knows because federal data leaves out or miscounts so many students. It’s time to track individual students’ progress, including transfers, part-timers and second-time-around students, an analyst argues.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A college’s quality isn’t measured by the completion rate.

Many achievers lose their edge

Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude?  Thirty to 50 percent of America’s best students slide in later grades, according to a new Fordham study.  “High flyers” often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their classmates.

Researchers followed more than 120,000 students in 1,500 schools nationwide, looking at progress in math and reading from third to eighth grade in one cohort, and from sixth to tenth grade in another. Top students started at or above the 90th percentile.

“If America is to remain internationally competitive, secure and prosperous,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., Fordham’s president, “we need to maximize the potential of all our children, including those at the top of the class. Today’s policy debate largely ignores this ‘talented tenth.’

The study also looked at students who ranked in the top 10 percent of their classes at high-poverty schools, even though many were not at the 90th percentile nationwide. High flyers at high-poverty schools made similar academic progress to those at low-poverty schools.

Distressing, but not surprising, responds Rick Hess.

LA rates schools by value added

Los Angeles Unified is rating schools by value-added methods that look at students’ progress rather than achievement levels, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Academic Growth over Time ratings produce very different results from the Academic Performance Index.

Take, for example, 3rd Street Elementary School in Hancock Park, which has an API score of 938, putting it among the highest-scoring schools in the district. Under the new growth measure, 3rd Street is one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in the district.

“We’ve got to do a better job and reexamine,” said 3rd Street Principal Suzie Oh, adding that she was shocked by the results.

When students are performing very well, it can be hard to show improvement.

Parents can view results for elementary and middle schools in math and English, and ninth grade for English only. The school score will be included in future campus report cards.

CREDO: New Orleans charters raise scores

Most New Orleans charter schools are improving student performance at a faster rate than traditional schools, according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The study matched charter students to “virtual twins” in race, socioeconomic background and previous test scores at district-run schools.

New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit, commissioned the study to help decide which charter organizations will get some of the $28 million in federal grant money for new school start-ups.

Of 44 independent charter schools, 23 were improving at a significantly faster rate in reading, math or both than other New Orleans schools. Twelve charters were doing about the same. Nine showed slower progress; three of those have turned in their charters.

'Stuck' on low

Low-performing schools are not alike, concludes an Education Trust report. Analysis of 10 states’ data shows “some low-performing schools remain stuck year after year, and others that started low performing are among the fastest improvers in their states.”

Stuck Schools: A Framework for Identifying Schools Where Students Need Change—Now! (pdf) will help target turnaround efforts, said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at The Education Trust and coauthor of the report.

Proficiency promotion

Students will progress from one level to the next when they achieve proficiency — not when they get a year older — in a Colorado school district called Adams 50. From the Denver Post:

Students will be tested this spring to determine their proficiency in reading, writing and math, and will be grouped next year with peers who are learning at the same level.

Students may move to the next level at any time, not just the end of the year or the end of a semester.

Several schools are piloting the idea.  Kim Carver, a first-grade math teacher, says the new approach is working.

Six-year-old Dominic Herrera showed (a capacity matrix) on the subject of counting pennies. On the chart were four categories: “I need help,” “I think I can,” “I know I can” and, finally, “I can teach it.”

Dominic had reached the “I know I can” level and was onto the next category, telling time in five-minute intervals. He was at the “I think I can” level.

“It’s neat that they have ownership, and they know what proficiency means,” Carver said. “It’s not arbitrary anymore.”

Eventually, the district plans to use 10 levels for students from kindergarten through high school.

The plan requires specific learning goals and close tracking of students’ progress, which I suspect will be very helpful. But kids who progress slowly will need something extra, such as mandatory summer school, to complete school by 18 or 19.

Grade levels are a subtle form of child abuse, writes Paul B on Kitchen Table Math.

Imagine if someone made you wear the wrong size underwear every day for 13 years; not very comfortable and not likely to turn you into a clothes horse.

Grouping students by standards mastery is working in Chugach, Alaska, he adds.