Teachers may raise scores, but not happiness

Teachers who raise students’ test scores may lower their spirits, concludes a new working paper.

Harvard and Brown researchers looked at upper-elementary teachers’ “influence on math test scores and students’ self-reported behavior, self-efficacy, and happiness in math class,” reports Teacher Quality Bulletin.

More than a quarter of the most effective teachers (based on test scores) were among the least effective when evaluated using student non-tested outcomes.

To further complicate matters, the non-academic outcomes don’t always correlate. For example, teacher scores on classroom organization had a positive correlation with student behavior but a negative correlation with happiness in class.

Do we prefer teachers with happy, low-scoring students to teachers with high-scoring but unhappy students?

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

Are Nashville schools faking the grade?

Thanks to rising test scores, Nashville schools no longer face a state take over. But two educators charge high schools are “faking the grade” by not testing low performers, reports News Channel 5.

CR_USDeptEdTennessee high schools are evaluated based on students’ scores on end-of-course exams in English, algebra, biology and chemistry.

In 2013-2014, Pearl-Cohn, Nashville’s lowest-performing school, was  “under the gun to get our scores up,” says Kelly Brown. In April, her principal brought her a list of students to pull from classes before the end-of-course exams.

“A lot of them were, yes, failing – but not by much. There were some that were actually passing,” Brown said.

One Pearl-Cohn student passed the first semester of Algebra I with an 81. But she scored “below basic” on practice tests. She was assigned to finish Algebra I in a computer lab using a program the district calls A-Plus. More than a year later, she hadn’t finished Algebra I.

“Without real structure and guidance,” most students don’t finish A-Plus, says Brown.

The same thing happened at low-performing Hunters Lane High, says counselor Shana West. She got in trouble for promoting students who weren’t allowed to finish their classes.

Brenda Seay’s granddaughter was passing English I and Algebra I at Hunters Lane, when she was pulled from both classes. Seay wasn’t told why.

. . . Kelly Brown had evidence that last year — as Pearl-Cohn High School faced the risk of a state takeover — the enrollment in independent study went from three classes with 47 students in the fall to 11 classes with 119 students in the spring.

At test time, the pass rate nearly doubled in Algebra I and Algebra II proficiency quintupled.

‘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.”

What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

Effective schools raise scores, not cognition

Effective schools — as measured by raising test scores — don’t raise students’ cognitive abilities, concludes a study of 32 Boston schools. Instead, these schools help students achieve at higher levels than their cognitive abilities predict, write the researchers in Education Next.

The study evaluated state test scores and measures of “fluid cognitive skills” for 1,300 8th graders attending traditional public schools, exam schools that admit only academically talented students and charter schools.

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Charter schools with wait lists (and lotteries) showed the strongest results. “Each year of attendance at an oversubscribed charter school increased the math test scores of students in the sample by roughly 50 percent over the progress typical students make in a school year, but had no impact on their fluid cognitive skills.”

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State tests measure “crystallized knowledge,” which “matters a great deal for success in school and beyond,” the researchers write.

But it’s possible that students who do well in these schools but falter in college suffer from limited cognitive skills. Effective schools should experiment with ways to raise students’ “processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning skills,” researchers conclude.

Tests don’t show how you’re special


This headteacher's letter to year 6 students at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire has become an internet sensation

Tests don’t measure children’s “special and unique” qualities, a British head teacher wrote to six-year-olds and their parents. “The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.”

Good teaching, poor test scores

Evaluating teachers based partly on student test scores is unreliable, concludes a study in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Researchers analyzed a subsample of 327 fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and English-language-arts teachers across six school districts.

“Some teachers who were well-regarded based on student surveys, classroom observances by principals and other indicators of quality had students who scored poorly on tests,” reports the Washington Post. Some poorly regarded teachers had students who did well.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia require student achievement to be a “significant” or the “most significant” factor in teacher evaluations. Just 10 states do not require student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations.

Most states are using “value-added models” — or VAMs — which are statistical algorithms designed to figure out how much teachers contribute to their students’ learning, holding constant factors such as demographics.

Last month, the American Statistical Association warned against used VAMS, saying that “recent studies have found that teachers account for a maximum of about 14 percent of a student’s test score.”

“We need to slow down or ease off completely for the stakes for teachers, at least in the first few years, so we can get a sense of what do these things measure, what does it mean,” said Morgan S. Polikoff, a USC assistant professor of education and co-author of the study. “We’re moving these systems forward way ahead of the science in terms of the quality of the measures.”

Schools get D+ from Students First

The nation’s schools earn a D+  from Michelle Rhee’s Students First. No state earned an A, reports U.S. News.

The group evaluated states on three policy areas: how well states “attract, retain and recognize quality teachers,” how well they give parents easily accessible information about their children’s schools and how well they spend public funds to support schools and teachers.

Louisiana (B-) and Florida (B-) earned the highest grades, followed by Indiana (C+). North Dakota, Montana and Vermont received F’s.

Fourteen states now assign A-F letter grades to schools or will do so by 2015, reports the Education Commission of the States’ new accountability database.

? All 50 states and the District of Columbia consider student achievement as measured by test results in their performance indicators
? 37 states and D.C. factor in student growth or improvement on tests in deciding school performance. That’s up from 21 in 2002.
? 44 states and D.C. consider graduation rates in determining school performance while 12 states include dropout rates.
? 9 states weigh growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students in judging their schools.

Florida was the first state to issue letter grades to schools in 2002.

Schools raise scores, but not smarts

Schools can improve students’ achievement test scores, but not their cognitive ability, writes Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American. Reseachers analyzed math and English scores and cognitive ability (working memory, processing speed, and abstract reasoning) among nearly 1,400 eighth graders attending traditional, exam and charter public schools in Boston.

“Good test takers tend to have high levels of working memory, processing speed, and abstract reasoning skills,” Kaufman writes.

Cognitive ability was associated with growth in achievement test scores from 4th to 8th grade. This is consistent with prior research suggesting that cognitive ability predicts academic achievement, but academic achievement does not predict cognitive ability.

Students in some schools showed growth in achievement scores but school quality “played little role in the growth of cognitive ability.”

Students attending a charter school as a result of winning the admissions lottery had higher standardized test scores compared to students who lost the lottery.

There was no difference between the lottery groups, however, on measures of cognitive ability.

Cognitive skills such as fluid reasoning and executive functioning (working memory and cognitive inhibition) affect many life outcomes, from school performance to drug use, Kaufman writes. The researchers cite “examples of targeted programs that increase cognitive control and reasoning.”