Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Student Reports Bullying, Provides Evidence, is Charged with Wiretapping

County drops wiretapping charge against Pennsylvania  
High School student who recorded bullying

Student, 15, charged after he recorded audio of incident in class

This from WTAE Pittsburg PA:
A wiretapping charge against a South Fayette High School student who recorded two classmates bullying him has been dropped by the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, said Judge Robert Gallo signed an order Thursday to withdraw the citation against 15-year-old Christian Stanfield.

"No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter. We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation and (the) results have been unsuccessful," Manko said in a written statement. "We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation."

VIDEO: Watch the report
Attorney Jonathan Steele said it never makes sense to charge the victim of a crime with a crime.

"The lesson is zero tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean zero common sense," said Steele.

With his mother at his side, Stanfield explained Tuesday in his attorney's office why he used his iPad to record the audio of two bullies in his math class last week. It is bullying that had gone on for months with no intervention from school officials, he said.

"I feel like they wouldn't have understood it unless they have some kind of evidence, some way to understand what I was going through," Stanfield said.

At times during the news conference, the teen's mother, Shea Love, became emotional as she spoke about what the bullies were allegedly heard doing.

"They were talking about pulling his pants down, and some things I can't repeat, and laughing and cutting up like it was a big joke, it was not a joke, not at all funny," Love said.

The family reported the incident to the principal. What happened the next day made national news. Christian was told by the school to erase the audio and was charged with disorderly conduct and wiretapping.

Steele said the state's privacy laws that require a person to know he or she is being recorded do not pertain to such classroom conversation as in the South Fayette case. Steele said he would ask the government office of civil rights to investigate the school on behalf of the family.

"The family wants to use this opportunity to change the culture at South Fayette, to be an anti-bullying culture," he said.

Stanfield said he has heard from supporters across the country, giving him strength to fight the case.
"It's just amazing seeing all those people who went through the same things or even worse than I have. I'm glad they feel I've given them a voice and that's what I want to do," he said.

South Fayette Township School District Superintendent Bille Rondinelli declined to comment.

Smokin' in the Boy's Room

By June the EKU campus will be smokeless. This is a good thing. But how does that compare to the environment many of our students come from?

This from the Washington Post:

Over at Map Stories, Arizona State University’s Sravani Vadlamani put together this visualization of trends in smoking with county-level data. (The red areas are where smoking rates are highest; the yellow and blue areas are the opposite). The sad truth: smoking rates are falling everywhere, but a lot slower in poorer areas.

Like Kentucky, for example. In March, the New York Times reported on a similar trend in smoking data:
“The national smoking rate has declined steadily, but there is a deep geographic divide. In the affluent suburbs of Washington, only about one in 10 people smoke, according to the analysis, by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. But in impoverished places like this — Clay County, in eastern Kentucky — nearly four in 10 do.”
In 1951, about 44 percent of American adults smoked. By 2011, that number had fallen to about 19 percent.

Poverty in America

This from the N Y Times:


Poverty in Kentucky

 Poverty in Eastern Kentucky

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hoosier Nightmare...a Cautionary Tale

Watching the state of Indiana go through its painful gyrations in an attempt to create the Hoosier's very own curriculum standards makes me smile. I know it's not polite to enjoy the folly of others. My mother would not be proud. But the schadenfreude moment that comes with recalling how Kentucky could have been in the same boat is just too savory. I can't help it.  ...until I remember that there are real school kids and teachers being jerked around by this obstructionist politicking. And that makes me sad.

If the Kentucky legislature had followed the lead of Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown and passed Senate Bill 224 Kentucky would now be in the same mess as our neighbors - with somewhere around $35 million dollars wasted in the process.

And for what?

Here's Indiana's experience so far:
  • In March prompted by Indiana's TEA Party faction, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed off on legislation to toss the Common Core.
  • To formally leave the Common Core, the Indiana State Board of Education must find a replacement.
  • Indiana now races to create new Indiana Standards for what students should learn in each grade before July.
  • Proposed standards, months in the making, were passed last week and the early reviews weren't at all what CCSS opponents had hoped for.
  • Opinions vary, but educators seem to think that Indiana's new standards draw heavily from the common Core Standards.
  • The new standards now seem to be devoid of advocates.
  • There is a demonstration planned at the Indiana statehouse today where TEA Party protesters plan to demonstrate against the fruit of their former labors.
 This from ChalkBeat Indiana:

Indiana’s proposed new standards enter critical phase

Over the next eight days, two government boards will judge them

The final draft of Indiana’s academic standards were released last week and already the question is: do the new standards have any allies?

Dismayed by the similarity between the new standards and Common Core, groups that successfully persuaded lawmakers to void Common Core are planning a statehouse protest today.

But Common Core proponents are also railing against Indiana’s standards.

“In short, Indiana has inexplicably gutted the Common Core of its strongest elements, renamed what remains, and moved forward swiftly with a campaign to secure adoption of this pale, skills-heavy, content-light, text-neutral document,” Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote last week on behalf of the pro-Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a review of the new English standards. “It may be too late for this generation of Indiana schoolchildren.”

Even without allies in either camp, the new standards could still make it through a gauntlet over the next eight days that is expected to include votes by two government bodies. If both approve, the much-maligned standards will become the academic guidelines for Indiana educators beginning this summer despite all the backlash.

The first step is today’s Education Roundtable meeting.

Notes from a committee working on creating new Indiana math standards in February. (Scott Elliott)
Notes from new Indiana math standards
The Roundtable, created by the legislature in 1999 to ensure the state has high academic standards and an effective testing system, makes recommendations the governor, state superintendent, Indiana General Assembly and Indiana State Board of Education. Co-chaired by Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, it includes 32 members representing K-12 schools, colleges, business, labor, parents, the community and the legislature.

The large group, including many members who have not weighed in on the standards debate, and perhaps have not made up their minds, adds a bit of uncertainty today’s meeting.
For example, late last week WTLC radio host Amos Brown, a roundtable member, tweeted that he was struggling to quickly evaluate the wide-ranging, and at times difficult to decipher, standards with less than a week before he would be asked to vote on them.

His final tweet was:
If the standards make it through the roundtable, they’ll face a new challenge at their next stop, the April 28 state board meeting. Just over a year ago, the state board unanimously reaffirmed its support for Common Core. But five of the 11 board members have changed since then.
Among the new members is Andrea Neal, a private school teacher and former Indianapolis Star editorial writer, who opposes Common Core and has been deeply critical of the new standards. Neal has been in close contact with three college professors asked by the state to review the new standards and has trumpeted their criticisms.

But other new board members have expressed support for the standards creation process, including Cari Whicker, a Huntington middle school teacher and Brad Oliver, associate dean of Indiana Wesleyan University’s educational leadership school.

Board members also complained earlier this month when they discovered they couldn’t make changes to the standards on April 28 without knocking the process entirely off schedule. If the state board makes changes after the standards are approved by the roundtable, the changes would have to again go before the roundtable so both bodies would approve them.

But there is little room for error. State law requires new standards to be set by the state board no later than July 1.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ravitch Shares Concerns About School Reforms in Louisville

This from WFPL:
She's against high-stakes testing, big business in schools, and doubts charters are the answer to improving public education. But Diane Ravitch, a New York University research professor who has become an influence voice in U.S. education, didn't always feel this way.
Ed historian Diane Ravitch
“It’s very difficult once you become embedded in a point of view to step back from it," Ravitch said Wednesday. "And I found that to be true because all your social networks tend to agree with you."
Ravitch spoke at WFPL studios Wednesday morning to an audience that included people who agreed and disagreed with her beliefs on how to improve public education.

Ravitch won the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Education from the University of Louisville for her book, The Life and Death of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

She explains how she worked on reforms for the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but changed her mind on the policies she supported then.

She now says those policies now hurting students, teachers, and schools.

AUDIO here (1:03.00):  

Does she thinks our understanding of the way children learn has changed?

"I think what we understand is that there is no single understanding, that children are very different, and what we're trying to do today is to create standardization and it doesn't work," Ravitch told the audience in WFPL's studio.

"That children are so different and I hear this from teachers all the time and I know this from my own experience, that the sophistication about learning is to recognize that you have to be, as a teacher, flexible enough to respond to the children in front of you, which is why when you get non educators making policy, they don't understand that."

Ravtich also said the Common Core Standards, which Kentucky and a majority of states have adopted, will not answer public education's single biggest problem, the "vast inequality in our society."

"The standards will not change that. Where they could be helpful to teachers is, if there's a common guideline I think that's a good thing," she said. Ravitch argues that many of the standards are developmentally inappropriate for younger kids, and many non-educators were involved in the independent group that created the Common Core.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday will also consider revisions to the standards, which he said isn't a response to backlash the Common Core has seen elsewhere.

Ravitch also dismisses the idea of using standardized test scores to measure teachers' performance. But the Kentucky Board of Education just adopted a new teacher evaluation system that will use test scores to consider student growth among students who perform similarly. The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System also uses many other indicators such as observations, student surveys and personal growth plans to measure teachers.

But when asked about the accountability that test scores provide for public education, Ravitch said other accountability models that don't use test scores exist.

“I think about a program that has been tried very successfully now for 25 years in New York City where a group of high schools got an exemption from the state test," Ravitch said. "It was 1995 or so. And they said we think we will get better results if we rely not on the state’s standardized test but on our own performance assessments. It’s called the New York Performance Assessments Consortium.

"So, there are 25 high schools that have had generation after generation of young people, they mirror the proportion of students with disabilities and English learners that are in the public schools. Their kids tend to graduate at a higher rate. They go to college at a higher rate. They persist in college at a higher rate and it’s been a big success.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

1990 education reforms put Ky. schools on path to progress

This from Cindy Heine in the Herald-Leader:
As an advocate working for better schools for more than 30 years, I want to share my perspective in response to a commentary about the missed opportunity offered by the reform of Kentucky's education system in 1990.

Cindy Heine
When I started working with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in 1983, school board members did not have to be high-school graduates and, as candidates for office, could openly solicit campaign contributions from teachers and staff. We received calls from parents and taxpayers asking whether school board meetings were open to the public and what citizens could do about the misuse of school funds. Little attention was paid to what or whether students were learning.

Passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 created a sea change. For the first time, state policy asked that teachers pay attention to what students learned, not just what was taught. These are two vastly different things.

Under the old approach, if teachers covered the content in the textbooks and made it to the last page by the end of school, they had met their obligations. Under the new approach, teachers were held accountable for what students learned. That required standards to define what students should know and be able to do and measures or assessments to gauge whether students met those standards.

The new law also provided supports for teachers and students that included technology, preschool, family resource and youth services centers, professional development and money for a new equalized funding formula.

Laws were also changed to address the rampant nepotism and cronyism. All too frequently, teachers and principals were hired based on relatives, relationships and political affiliations. The rules changed in 1990, and hiring began to focus on whether teachers and principals had the skills to help students achieve academically.

The performance of Kentucky students, particularly those in elementary and middle schools, began to improve dramatically in language arts, mathematics and science. Kentucky's ranking among the states moved from 48th in 1990 to 33rd in 2009.

Although improving some, our high school dropout rates and the need for remediation in the first years of college remained unacceptably high. To address those areas and accelerate progress, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 1 in 2009. It called for higher standards and cooperation among elementary/secondary programs, higher education and the teacher certification board as Kentucky refocused on improving student readiness beyond high school.

It also asked for standards and assessments that would allow comparisons of our students with those across the country, something not possible with our unique Kentucky standards. The result was a new emphasis on high school performance and the goal of helping all students graduate ready for college and/or career.

We've come a long way since the early days of reform. More students are better prepared to succeed as adults, whether they go on to college or choose another career path. The state is stepping up its work to help all teachers improve their skills with the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. Colleges and universities are revamping programs to better prepare teachers to deliver instruction based on the tougher academic standards.

We've just seen the governor and legislature restore some of the funding that was cut during the recession, and they chose to invest more money in early childhood programs. And wherever we travel, educators and policy makers in other states continue to ask how Kentucky has managed to make such important progress.

Do we still have much work to do? Of course. But, in my view, we should stop wasting time complaining about how we got here, celebrate the immense progress we have made, and direct our energy to providing support for teachers and students as they do the hard work to meet the demands of the challenging standards that will help ensure our students' long-term success.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/04/14/3195087/cindy-heine-1990-education-reforms.html?sp=/99/349/#storylink=cpy

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Political Dance over Common Core Continues

Three days ago Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told KSN&C:
Per Senate Bill 1 (2009), the goal is for our content standards to focus on critical knowledge, skills and capacities needed for success in the global economy. Our aim is to do that by preparing students for college and careers and we feel that these standards effectively do that. However, Kentucky’s intent always has been to do as it has with previous standards, and that is, to re-examine the standards after a period of time to see what, if anything, may need to be adjusted or changed based on research and practice.
That period of time has arrived.

As recently as August Holliday said he had not felt any pressure to change the the state's position on CCSS adoption.

Since then, some of the original sponsors of Senate Bill 1, like Republican state senators Daymon Thayer and Katie Stine, withdrew their support, and sponsored a bill that would not have reviewed the standards, but would have thrown them out. Holliday told the Herald-Leader that he is not reacting to that criticism. He indicated that the standards ought to be formally reviewed after about five years, so he is proposing a review after four.

We are assured by Stine that her motivation in plotting CCSS's demise was not political. Holliday won and CCSS is still alive. Stine lost. And now the commissioner seems to be seeking to change the focus of the debate away from federal issues, and toward the standards themselves. He seems to be seeking a middle ground that allows everyone to provide input and save face. Stine thinks the idea is "great."

Stine now approves of a review, but wishes that had been done before the core standards were implemented.  Of course, if she felt that way she might have proposed it in 2009 when she reviewed the timeline for CCSS's roll out, instead of tromping down on the gas pedal to accelerate Kentucky's implementation.

So much posturing.

This from the Herald-Leader:
State to seek critics' feedback on Kentucky Core Academic Standards, 
education commissioner says
In an initiative that begins this fall, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said he will ask Kentuckians to review state academic standards and suggest revisions.
Alison Wright, AP Calculus, Lafayette High School

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/04/10/3189884/state-to-seek-critics-feedback.html?sp=/99/164/142/#storylink=cpy

Holliday said in an interview Thursday that by initiating revisions to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, he is not reacting to criticism of the controversial national Common Core Standards, which are the basis for Kentucky's standards on what students should know in grades K-12.

Holliday said that since the Kentucky Core Academic Standards were implemented in 2010, he has always said they should be formally reviewed after about five years.

"We're going to challenge Kentuckians to read the standards," Holliday said. "It's time to start looking at the standards and tweaking them based on feedback" from parents, business leaders, teachers and others.

Holliday said he has heard criticism of how the standards were developed, but he said he wants to hear specifics about content.

"I have yet for any critic to say, 'I don't like that standard and here's why, and here's how you need to revise it,'" he said.

After the public provides feedback on the academic standards, a group of higher-education professionals, business leaders and teachers would review their concerns and make revisions in 2015-16, Holliday said. The revisions would become part of a regulation that would be approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and subject to review by state legislators.

Holliday said the initiative to get public feedback is tentatively called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge.

Holliday and teachers who spoke to the Herald-Leader said there is a misconception that core standards are curriculum. Actually, curriculum is set by local school leaders, Holliday said.
Critic Richard Innes, a spokesman for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, said the Kentucky Core Academic Standards are more rigorous than what Kentucky had before 2010.

"However, the less-than-transparent, out-of-state process that created the new standards is troubling. So too is the appearance of possible federal overreach in support of the standards," Innes said.
State education officials have said that the federal government played no role in the development of the national Common Core Standards and does not govern them. The national standards were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers, of which Holliday is a member, and the National Governors Association.

Holliday said he had not heard criticism of Kentucky's academic standards from state Senate Republicans until President Barack Obama talked about the Common Core Standards in a State of the Union Speech.

Legislation was introduced this year in the General Assembly to eliminate the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in mathematics and English language arts and the Next Generation Science Standards. The bill mirrored others filed in states across the country.

A vote was not taken on the legislation, Senate Bill 224, sponsored by John Schickel, R-Union, but the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on it last month.

State Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, who cosponsored SB 224 and expressed concerns about Common Core at the hearing, said Thursday it was "great" that Holliday is asking Kentuckians for input, but she said she wished that had been done before the core standards were implemented. She said her concerns were not political; rather, she said she thinks the standards are not rigorous enough.
At the March Senate committee meeting, Holliday, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler and Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, all told lawmakers that they supported the Kentucky's Core Academic Standards.

Kentucky's Core Academic Standards allow teachers to focus on a select number of important goals so they can better help students master a subject, said Winkler, whose organization represents school employees.

Meanwhile, Holliday described as invalid the criticism that science standards set to be implemented in the fall will result in chemistry and physics not being taught. However, Holliday said officials from the Department of Education and other professionals are reviewing those concerns from citizens as well.
Some KSN&C readers have questioned Kentucky's ability to legally alter the standards. KDE lawyers have looked at that issue and Holliday told KSN&C,
While the original Memorandum of Agreement that Governor Beshear and then Interim Commissioner Elaine Farris signed with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009 did, in fact, contain a provision that the Common Core would represent at least 85 percent of our standards in English/language arts and mathematics, the actual copyright and public license of the Common Core State Standards did not include this language. Since the Kentucky Core Academic Standards represent a floor, not a ceiling, teachers have the freedom to go beyond the standards at any time as long as they also cover what is included in the standards. We believe Kentucky has the authority to add new standards as we see fit.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Tower of Jell-o

As very quick search of news articles where Education Secretary Arne Duncan promoted or discussed Common Core returned 2,436 articles. Just sayin'.
This from Morning Education at Politico (via email):


It was less than a year ago that Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a no-holds-barred defense of the Common Core in a speech to newspaper editors. He cited example after example of the benefits of common standards: Teachers in different states could use the same lesson plans; children of military personnel could move across country "without a hitch" in their schooling; and, first and foremost, "a child in Mississippi will face the same expectations as a child in Massachusetts." In short: "I believe the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education," Duncan said.

-- That was then. This was Tuesday:

"Just to be very clear with this group," Duncan told the House Appropriations Committee, "I'm just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they're common or not is sort of secondary."

-- Duncan immediately added that his stance was "not news."

And his spokeswoman, Dorie Nolt, later pulled up audio from a press breakfast in January where Duncan was asked about whether the term "Common Core" was politically radioactive. "We're not interested in the term," he responded then. "We're interested in high standards. There are a couple ways to come at it." Indeed, the administration has never required states to adopt the Common Core; it just offered financial and policy incentives to adopt higher standards - and embracing the Common Core happened to be by far the quickest and easiest way to hit that bar.

-- Still, it was clear from the start - and from the $360 million the department spent developing shared assessments - that the "common" in Common Core was quite important to the Obama administration. Duncan's decision to soft-pedal that goal may well be a nod to the new reality: Indiana recently became the first state to scrap the standards; Oklahoma and South Carolina may follow. More significantly, a number of the 44 Common Core states have ditched the common assessments and are going their own way.

-- Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) reacted to Duncan's words with skepticism. "I certainly believe in high standards," he said, "but I think the 'common' word is something that's very hard to glaze over."

Ky. orders review after questions raised about use of calculator software on statewide tests

ACT forbids calculators with built-in algebra systems, 
but not those that have had software like Zoom Math added to them!?

This from the Herald-Leader:

The Kentucky Department of Education has ordered a review of how students use advanced calculators on a statewide college-readiness test, citing concerns raised by experts that the devices could be artificially inflating scores.

At issue is the math portion of ACT's COMPASS test, which is used as a placement test for high school seniors who have not met college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT test they take as juniors.
According to ACT rules, which are followed by the state, students are allowed to use certain calculators on the test, including ones that have been loaded with an algebra software program called Zoom Math. ACT forbids calculators with built-in algebra systems, but not those that have had such software added to them.

Stephen Newman, a math professor at Northern Kentucky University, said he is alarmed by the expanding use of Zoom Math, which allows students to plug in algebraic equations and get the correct answer without understanding how to do the math.

In late March, he and some colleagues conducted an experiment to measure the potential impact of Zoom Math on COMPASS test scores. They took the test 10 times, using calculators with Zoom Math to answer all equation problems. On any word problems, they simply chose the multiple choice "A" every time. In all 10 cases, they scored well above the cutoff.

"Based on our experiment, about 55 percent of COMPASS problems can be done without thought using Zoom Math," he said. "This has national implications and it could become a disaster if it continues."

COMPASS assessments are taken by more than 2.2 million students across the U.S. annually in high schools and colleges, which use them for class placement. About 18,000 Kentucky high school students took the COMPASS test in the 2012-13 school year, according to the state Education Department.

ACT is standing firm by its corporate decision to allow use of the add-on software.

"Through ongoing research, ACT ensures that our test administration policies remain fair and consistently enforceable," according to a statement from the Iowa-based company. "ACT math specialists continually review new calculator models, as well as algebraic systems and software, to determine their potential impact on test questions. Our current policies, which prohibit calculators with built-in algebra systems, remain in effect. We are confident that math test scores achieved under our current policies are valid and representative of student achievement."

Kentucky education officials aren't as confident. Ken Draut, director of assessment for the Education Department, has ordered a review to determine if Kentucky needs more stringent rules than those set by ACT.

"We'll be getting together with ACT to discuss our findings no matter what they are," Draut said. "At this point, I'm not worried because I don't think it's widespread, but I want to nip this in the bud for the future. I don't think it has had a big effect yet, but I am worried about the future if this is a program that provides a score we can't consider valid."

According to an Internet search, at least nine Kentucky school districts have purchased Zoom Math. Fayette County Schools do not use the program, but it is used by students on tests in Jefferson County, although the school district would not say by how many schools.

Newman is part of a group of math educators who developed a similar statewide assessment for the Kentucky Department of Education called KYOTE; it is forbidden to use Zoom Math on that test. (Newman said he has no financial interest in the KYOTE test.)

Zoom Math started as a tool to help special education students, said Tammy Herrada, the software company's CEO. Although its software has been around since 2006, Herrada said she heard of its use on ACT tests only in the past year.

The company has never advocated the software as a testing aid, she said.

"It allows students to go over the things they've learned in the past," she said. "We're not selling it to pass any ACT tests. We're selling it to teach and benefit."

Some school officials said its use appears to be expanding around Kentucky.

Cindy Beals, the district assessment coordinator for Warren County Schools, said the district's high school students have access to Zoom Math, but she does not know to what extent they use it on the COMPASS test.

"As long as they are allowed, then we allow our kids to use it," she said.

Tamela Porter, a guidance counselor at Bath County High School, said students use Zoom Math on the ACT and COMPASS tests.

"We were always told that it was fine since KDE had approved it," Porter said. "We use it in daily instruction ... We felt like if we are using it in instruction every day, we don't want to change that once they go take the ACT."

Newman said he doesn't think Zoom Math would have as much benefit on the regular ACT test because there are more analytical word problems.

Still, he would like to see other experts try his experiment and is angry that ACT hasn't moved to ban the software.

"They're wrong," he said. "We cannot continue this fraud. People are suspicious of gains in college readiness. It's our college readiness program that is being threatened."

"Career and college readiness" benchmarks are part of a 2009 overhaul of the state testing system in which ACT products were adopted at nearly every grade level. In 2013, the percentage of students deemed ready for college or a career jumped to 54.1 percent, up from 34 percent in 2010.
However, it's not clear what role, if any, Zoom Math might have had in the 20-point jump, since that score includes results from COMPASS, KYOTE, ACT and other career tests, such as ACT WorkKeys.

At least one other state has already banned use of Zoom Math on statewide tests. Mississippi took that action in 2011 after its education department concluded that Zoom Math "provided students with an unfair advantage and compromised our ability to make specific claims about student learning based on our assessment," said spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle.

Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said new technology is constantly providing opportunities to give some kids a leg up.

"As high stakes testing moves into the computer area, teachers need to find ways to ensure that some students don't have tools that give them an advantage on the exam," he said.

Donna Caldwell, the district assessment coordinator for Madison County schools, said she heard of Zoom Math only a few weeks ago and doesn't know if individual schools might be using the software on tests.

But she said ACT and the Kentucky Department of Education need to address the issue as the availability of similar technologies expands.

"There's got to be some effect," she said. "Does it make the scores invalid? I don't know that you can say that. Do I think there's a huge impact? No, but a policy has to be developed, and it has to start with ACT."

Take the Time to Evaluate Teacher Evaluation

This from Education Week:

Do you remember New York City's Pascale Mauclair? She was an educator who primarily instructed English-language learners and won accolades for teaching excellence. But then she was labeled the worst teacher in New York City in 2012. Following the release of much-publicized assessment-based ratings by New York City's education department, stunned parents demanded that their children be instructed by a different teacher, and that Ms. Mauclair—whose test-based ratings were low—be fired. This happened despite tremendous support for the teacher from her principal. Later, it was revealed that her rating had failed to account for such factors as her students' English-language-learner status.

Pascale Mauclair
Thankfully, there is some good news for teacher-evaluation systems that could help avoid this type of error. Last June, the U.S. Department of Education agreed to allow some states to seek an additional year before they must rely on new evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores. Thus, their deadlines will be extended to the 2016-17 school year, giving those states a total of three years before teacher-evaluation systems must be used for high-stakes purposes, such as identifying teachers for sanctions or rewards.

This time frame is an absolute window of opportunity in which to conduct necessary validity studies. Without studies to support the use of student scores for evaluating educators, good teachers could be dismissed and teachers needing support, or those who should not be teaching at all, may not be identified.

When teachers challenge the validity of evaluation systems, it can appear self-serving. Because of this, it is the responsibility of testing professionals such as us to weigh in on the use of student scores in the evaluation of teachers. Testing professionals must lead the way in providing a framework for evaluating proposed systems that purport to measure teacher quality.

"Testing professionals must lead the way in providing a framework for evaluating proposed systems that purport to measure teacher quality."
In fact, unless appropriate validity studies are conducted, widespread use of student test scores for evaluating teachers will constitute a serious violation of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. These standards were developed collaboratively by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education with the intent of providing test developers, administrators, and users with criteria for evaluating both the quality of a test and its appropriate uses. A large component of the standards consists of guidance for evaluating the validity of proposed uses of test scores.

In a 2012 research paper, Lorrie A. Shepard, the dean of the education school at the University of Colorado at Boulder, emphasized that validation requires testing the viability of the assumptions underlying the use of test scores in teacher evaluation.

The following list identifies some of the assumptions that need to be verified as part of a study to ensure that when an evaluation declares a teacher "effective" or "ineffective," the label carries meaning:
  • The instruments (e.g., accountability assessments, teacher-observation protocols, student-satisfaction surveys) that make up the teacher-evaluation system are designed to be sensitive to classroom instruction and changes in classroom instruction across a diverse population of students.
  • The administration and implementation of the instruments are consistent with their protocols.
  • The scoring rules and rubrics used for instruments are appropriate.
  • Scores assigned by raters (e.g., peers, principals, students) are accurate, consistent with scoring protocols, and free of bias.
  • Observations used in the evaluation are fair, using multiple observers and representing the variety of conditions that could affect teacher performance (e.g., time of year, time of day, subject area covered), so that results are generalizable to teacher performance as a whole.
  • The measurement instruments are sufficiently reliable.
  • Teacher-evaluation scores do not significantly correlate with variables associated with the students they teach (e.g., English-language proficiency, prior performance on content, free or reduced-price lunch status). That is, the instruments address factors that can be changed by the teacher.
  • The instrument outcomes are related to the desired traits (e.g., those exhibited in classrooms that differentiate between higher- and lower-quality teachers).
  • Teachers with higher scores are more effective than teachers with lower scores.
  • Raters are able to appropriately assess teacher performance.
Some of these assumptions are easy to test, and data supporting them may already be available. Gathering and analyzing data for other assumptions will require more creative research designs.
Also critical is the evaluation of assumptions related to consequences of policy implementation. For example, policies concerning the use of teacher-evaluation measures typically rest on assumptions that decisionmakers understand and can effectively interpret and use the measures to select teachers for rewards, sanctions, and additional professional development, and that pay-for-performance incentives would increase teacher quality.

Likewise, undesirable consequences need to be explored and vetted for their impact. For example, personal concern for evaluation results and their associated rewards or sanctions may discourage teachers from accepting teaching assignments for specific student populations; or the number of effective teachers may be inadequate to replenish those who are removed through sanctions or who retire in discouragement from the teaching profession.

Most importantly, the public's and the education profession's trust in the labels placed on teachers is vital in enhancing the quality of education in the classroom. (On this matter, a lawsuit was recently filed in Tennessee over the state's value-added teacher-evaluation system, which relies on student test scores.) Ultimately, we need to gather evidence to support these labels and address possible consequences.

We plead: Evaluate the validity of claims made about teacher quality before moving forward. We now have an extra year granted to us by the Department of Education. We need to take this time to conduct essential validity studies for the sake of true accountability, student learning, and a just educational measurement system.

Community Development and the Rural-Urban Divide

This from William Hatcher in the PA Times:

The cultural, natural and environment assets of rural America have been and are a significant part of the nation’s identity. However, over the past century, a divide has grown between rural and urban America. With the current transition of the nation’s economy into a creative class, rural communities have a host of new challenges that may make this divide even more pronounced.

rural divideIn its latest issue, Governing has a series of articles on issues involving the rural and urban divide in this nation. Article in this series examine the problems of rural health care, the need for rural cities and counties to coordinate and the resilience of rural political power. Public administration and community development need to assist rural communities by giving sound advice in the designing of innovative administrative solutions that can help cities and counties pool resources and properly execute political power for policies based in the modern economy.

Consolidation, Cooperation, and Coordination

One administrative design, which isn’t that new or innovative but is highly effective, is for rural cities and counties to pool their resources. This is already occurring in many areas of public policy. Rural communities may combine resources to fund community health institutions. However, in many areas of governance, there are too many local government units, leading to ineffective public policy. Combining resources is difficult for local governments. The structure of the overall system often forces cities and counties to compete for finite resources—as James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 10, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” However, at the end of the day, these numerous units need to govern and their separated nature makes this difficult.

This is not an argument for complete consolidation of rural cities and counties. Over the nation’s history, only a small number of cities and counties (around 40) have consolidated. Georgia has by far the most consolidated local governments, with Bibb County and Macon being the latest examples. In many states, there are legal hurdles that make consolidation difficult if not impossible. And in all communities, consolidation is a very rare event because it is so politically difficult. Local officials are worried about losing their positions and influence. Furthermore, the limited research on consolidated governments has not produced convincing evidence that these arrangements are more efficient and effective than separated local governments. For instance, Edward J. Jepson, in an article in Planning Practice & Research, compared consolidated communities to similar ones that are not consolidated. He found little administrative difference between consolidated communities and non-consolidated ones. Among the cities in his study, consolidation did not produce more cost-efficient policy outcomes for the communities.

Perhaps targeted-coordination and encouraged-cooperation may be the best solutions for local governments to pool their resources. My colleague Dr. Matthew Howell and I have argued that community cooperation is a vital part of development. A pooling of resources in the form of local service agreements may help address many issues facing rural areas.

Resilient Political Power

Even with declining economic influence, rural communities have managed to retain a great deal of political power. Structural features of our political system, such as equal representation in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College, reinforce political power in rural areas. The Republican Party’s leadership is largely pulled from rural communities. Even with the disjointed nature of American federalism that gives us over 87,000 local government units, rural America has maintained this political power. But many rural communities are using their political power to support policies that try to return them to the nation’s old economy.

Rural communities are using political power to engage in smokestack chasing economic development. Rural areas advocate and secure tax incentives for companies to either stay within their boundaries or relocate to them. Often these companies don’t relocate to rural communities because there are concerns about quality of infrastructure and the local workforce. As I’ve discussed in an earlier column, communities give away their local tax bases with these attraction-based tax incentives. These are valuable public resources that would most likely be better spent on investments in infrastructure and workforce. The manufacturing jobs that these communities wish to attract are no longer a strong part of the nation’s economy.

A Future for Rural America

Since the 1970s, the nation’s working class jobs, in particular manufacturing ones, have declined significantly. This economic trend has hollowed out many of our rural communities. Tax incentive packages and other attract-based policies will not change the power of this economic force. Rural communities should use their political power to advocate for innovative solutions to address health care weaknesses, a lack of cooperation and overall economic development. If rural communities focus on their assets and realistic visions that take into account the fact that these areas may be smaller in economic power and numbers, then there is a sustainable future. Rural areas have a great deal of amenities to attract creative workers. Research has shown that creative class workers are moving to rural areas to take advantage of these amenities. To attract creative class, rural areas need to invest in technology, such as broadband, access to allow for telecommuting; protect amenities, in particular natural amenities and environmental resources; and craft and market a clear vision.
Author: William Hatcher, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Government at Eastern Kentucky University.