Monday, March 30, 2009

Easier Said Than Done

This from Chuck Asay by way of Slate:


Senate Bill 1 ends the CATS era. What will replace it?

By Skip Kifer

SB1 proposes a huge amount of testing. Some testing is statewide; other testing is not. Some tests are used for accountability purposes; others are not. Some tests are multiple- choice only; others are not. There are formative tests, summative tests, performance assessments, benchmark tests, interim tests, norm-referenced tests, criterion-referenced tests, end of course tests, and writing portfolios as well as program reviews and program audits which are used to measure students, schools and districts.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is directed to integrate the testing into a new assessment system. It has almost three years to complete the task.

I doubt that a defensible new system can be created, even with that amount of time, without additional resources for KDE and more focused testing.

A first step to building a new assessment is to find out whether what is presently being done works. Major components of the existing system should be evaluated. For instance, EPAs - Explore, Plan and ACT - produces results presumed to help students learn and school personnel make better decisions. Does it? What is the evidence that the information is used? What is the evidence that using the evidence makes a difference? On what? Studies of each major component should provide answers to those or similar questions. If the component is not working, it should be eliminated.

There should be a thorough understanding of the implications of moving from an assessment system focused on schools to one focused on students. CATS relied on different forms of the test to get a better sample of achievement within a school. A student might spend an hour taking a test but with six forms of the test, the assessment contained about six times as much information for each school. Even with that, about 25% of schools were misclassified. Some were said to be progressing when they were not. Others were said to be needing assistance when they were progressing.

The existing assessment had thousands of misclassifications at the student level, too. Proposing to produce longitudinal data on students places more pressure on the assessment and more obstacles to accurate measurement. Creating measures that can be scaled across grades suggests spending more time testing each student. Is that desirable? Is it practicable?

Finally, the biggie! After almost two decades of educational reform with a spotlight on accountability through high-stakes testing, is their evidence that such testing works?

Research results both in Kentucky and nationally are mixed. Test scores go up but there are questions of whether that is mainly because of teaching to the test. Because what is taught and tested narrows, higher test scores may not mean mastery of a content area and may mean that content areas not tested are not emphasized. In addition, states with high-stakes testing do no better, and perhaps worse, on national tests than states without such programs. Reasonable persons would agree that test scores are, at best, a narrow reflection of successful schools. Other aspects are more important. Evidence should be collected, therefore, that indicates whether after about two decades of high-stakes testing Kentucky schools:

a) are better places for kids than they were prior to the reform;
b) nurture talent in ways that it should be nurtured; and
c) insure those who emerge from the school system have commitments to democratic ideals, participation in democratic communities, and tolerance for varied persons and views.

Armed with good evidence, resources and time, I hope KDE creates a system that benefits the Commonwealth and its children.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

FLUNKED

This form the Paducah Sun:

Few lament the quietus of CATS
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and when politics is intertwined with education reform, you never know who you might wake up beside.
Take CATS, the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. On one side you’ll find the independent Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and the editorial pages of Kentucky’s two largest newspapers.

On the other side you’ll find the liberal Kentucky Education Association, conservative public policy advocacy groups, every Democrat in the Kentucky Legislature, along with every Republican. Oh, and The Paducah Sun.

Both houses of the general assembly unanimously — unanimously! — backed Sen. Ken Winters’ bill to ditch CATS in Kentucky’s public schools. According to the Associated Press, both chambers erupted into applause after the vote.

The test could be more accurately called CUTS, for Commonwealth Unreliable Testing Sham. The ineffective test does less to measure student progress than give an illusion of progress whether genuine or not. It should have been deep-sixed long ago.

The legislation calls for replacing CATS, which includes open-response questions and writing portfolios, with a national norm-referenced test, still administered at the end of the school year. Scoring open-response and essay questions is necessarily subjective, making it impossible to accurately measure progress or compare Kentucky students’ scores with scores from other states. Replacing CATS is long overdue.

But the (Louisville) Courier-Journal called norm-referenced tests “outmoded, ineffective” in a blistering editorial Friday railing against “conservative, educationally revanchist Republicans,” aided by “lazy” Democrats and a backward Kentucky Education Association opposed to “new ideas.” The editorial lumped the state’s public teachers together, saying they are “grateful for being allowed to escape real accountability.”

Ouch. Sounds like the editorial writers in Louisville are not playing well with others.

The editorial even lamented “the tragic evisceration of (CATS) writing portfolio provisions.” Tragic? Hardly. Tragic describes a fatal car wreck or tornado, not a policy change.

Those writing portfolios, by the way, will be retained as a teaching tool in grades 5-12, as they should be, just not as part of the assessment.

The Lexington Herald-Leader echoed its rival paper Sunday, adding Gov. Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, both Democrats, to the list of bad actors, accusing them of caving to “the worst impulses of both the teachers union and conservative enemies of public schools.”

That’s called painting with a broad brush.

The self-evident escapes CATS’ defenders on the two editorial boards: For any testing instrument to be useful in tracking progress and comparing performance, it must use objective and measurable criteria. If anything is “outmoded,” it is the trendy educational philosophy behind subjective testing methods, designed to elevate self-esteem above actual achievement.
Ironically, those states that consistently exceed the national averages in norm-referenced tests don’t complain that the tests are ineffective.

We admit we don’t always, or even often, agree with the Kentucky Education Association. But they’re right this time. CATS was a time-consuming exercise in futility, yielding little information useful for tailoring education plans to address individual student deficiencies.

The KEA supports the planned CATS replacement. The legislation calls for a test to allow both the schools and parents to better track student performance. A side benefit is that it will help identify teachers whose classes consistently exceed expectations and those that regularly fall short. Administrators can prescribe remediation for under-performing teachers — peer coaching, additional coursework — just as teachers do for under-performing students.

Only a few will mourn the demise of CATS. The rest of us dinosaurs — teachers, legislators and proponents of public school accountability, whether liberal or conservative — are happy to say “good riddance” to CATS.

Marcum Made his Mark in Marion

This from the Lebanon Enterprise:

Roger Marcum didn’t receive a very warm welcome when he was hired to be the Marion County Superintendent in 1999.

In fact, some people were downright cold to him.

Marcum vividly remembers the night the Marion County Board of Education hired him. At least 100 or more people had gathered in support of another candidate and the atmosphere was unpleasant, to say the least. His wife, Bobbie, came with him to the meeting, and as they drove home that night he noticed tears streaming down her face.

“They don’t seem to want us there,” she said.

But, a gut feeling told Marcum that Marion County was where he was meant to be. While he was a superintendent candidate finalist in two other counties at the time, Clark and Franklin, something was calling him to Marion County.

“This felt right,” he said. “I can’t explain it. But, I felt that this was a community that was hungry to move forward and they wanted the school district to help lead them.”

Under his leadership the Marion County School District’s student achievement has improved tremendously. Today, Marion County is No. 31 out of 175 school districts in the state, putting it in the top 20 percent of all Kentucky school districts.

So, as he prepares to leave Marion County and retire this year, it’s no surprise that many people don’t want to see him go...

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Public Schools

This from the CEP:
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the economic stimulus ackage, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This law provides an unprecedented amount of federal funding for education. This summary describes the key components of the ARRA and discusses some of the implementation issues that are not yet decided.

Who Gets Title I Funds From the Economic Stimulus Package?

This CEP report examines the Title I funding provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Non-Union Teachers Forced to Pay JCTA

This from Toni at C-J:

Jefferson teachers, board OK 1 percent raise
Yearlong rift also resolved by pact
Teachers with Jefferson County Public Schools will get a 1 percent raise next year as part of an agreement that resolves a yearlong rift between their union and district officials.

The agreement, approved 6-1 last night by the school board, also ends the union's involvement in a pending lawsuit filed by 18 non-tenured teachers whose contracts weren't renewed in May because of performance issues.

Union members had complained that the district was getting rid of the teachers without trying to help them first, and from there the union's relationship with Superintendent Sheldon Berman steadily deteriorated.

"The war is over," Steve Neal, executive director of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said after the board meeting. "There are other things I would have liked, but for the most part, this is a good agreement."

The agreement, the result of four days of mediation, also requires nonunion teachers to pay part of their salary to the teachers association to cover the cost of representation.

That sparked protest from some teachers and prompted board Chairwoman Debbie Wesslund to vote against the agreement.

Sherry Hoza, a speech pathologist with the district, said the fee is tantamount to "forced unionism."

Roughly 5,700 district teachers are members of the union. Neal said about 300 to 400 aren't members.

The agreement establishes a new process for evaluating non-tenured teachers and will still allow Berman the option of not renewing their contracts for performance reasons....

Kentucky Fares Well in Upcoming Tech Report

This year’s Technology Counts report, titled Breaking Away From Tradition: E-Education Expands Opportunities for Raising Achievement, shows that Kentucky fares well compared to many other states. To move to the top rung of states, Kentucky would need to assess students' technology skills.

This from Education Week:

Breaking Away From Tradition
E-learning Opens New Doors to Raise Achievement
As the world of online education continues to evolve, brick-and-mortar schools are incorporating digital curricula and virtual teachers into their classrooms in ways that have surprised even the advocates of the online education movement.

Once mostly catering to advanced students who educators believed had the motivation to pursue education online, virtual courses are growing in popularity for struggling students, too. And school districts and teachers that once felt threatened by the surge of online education are embracing the technology, often in a hybrid model that blends face-to-face learning with digital teaching and curricula.

A 2009 report from the Sloan Consortium, a Needham, Mass.-based advocacy group for online education, found that the number of K-12 students using online courses rose to more than a million public school students during the 2007-08 school year. That was a 47 percent increase from 2005-06. ...

Texting, cell phones a growing problem for high school staff

This from the Springfield Sun:

Cell phones are one of the most convenient modern devices in the world today, but for many schools, they are also a growing problem.

Washington County High School Principal Leon Smith said his school has had some recent incidents, and many of them have stemmed from the use of cell phones and text messaging.

“We’ve had some situations where we’ve had a few more fights than normal,” Smith said Monday. “It seems most of them stem from some type of text message sent over the weekend or the night before, and many times to multiple recipients, and they get blown out of proportion.”

Smith said messages are sometimes confrontational, and when the students arrive at school, that is the first opportunity they have to settle the problem, and it becomes a school problem...

... “It’s not just our school, but across the state and the nation, cell phones are becoming more of a problem when they are used to send rumors, hateful messages, or even details about where and when other students may get into a fight,” Smith said. “I’m afraid parents don’t realize the seriousness of cell phones in a school building. The cell phone is meant for good, but some teens have turned it into something that could be dangerous.”

It’s not just text messages, but also photos that are a growing concern for school staff members when it comes to cell phones. A new trend known as “sexting” involves a sexually explicit photo being sent via cell phone, and Smith said he sees more explicit messages each day as phones are confiscated.

“I’m blown away with the types of messages some of these kids are sending. We don’t take phones to read text messages, but some are willing to review messages with us, and the language and context some of the things are being said in these messages is so inappropriate. Parents really need to be aware what their teens are sending and receiving on their phones.” ...

Report Cards Give Up A’s and B’s for 4s and 3s

This from the New York Times, photo by Suzanne DeChillo:

PELHAM, N.Y. — There is no more A for effort at Prospect Hill Elementary School.

Parents have complained that since the new grading system is based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period.

In fact, there are no more A’s at all. Instead of letter grades in English or math, schoolchildren in this well-to-do Westchester suburb now get report cards filled with numbers indicating how they are faring on dozens of specific skills like “decoding strategies” and “number sense and operations.” The lowest mark, 1, indicates a student is not meeting New York State’s academic standards, while the top grade of 4 celebrates “meeting standards with distinction.”

They are called standards-based report cards, part of a new system flourishing around the country as the latest frontier in a 20-year push to establish rigorous academic standards and require state tests on the material.

Educators praise them for setting clear expectations, but many parents who chose to live in Pelham because of its well-regarded schools find them confusing or worse. Among their complaints are that since the new grades are based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period (school officials are planning to tweak this aspect next year).

“We’re running around the school saying ‘2 is cool,’ ” said Jennifer Lapey, a parent who grew up in Pelham, “but in my world, 2 out of 4 is not so cool.” ...

Massachusetts Goes to a Value-Added Assessment

Mitchell Chester continues to innovate in Massachusetts. This week he introduced a type of value-added assessment system - the kind Kentucky should now be considering.

Oh by the way... he's the guy the Kentucky Board of Education should have hired instead of flirting with Barbara Erwin.

This from the Boston Globe:

Mass plans to track students' progress, not just scores

MALDEN—Each fall when the state releases MCAS scores, principals often blame a dip in scores on the students, tactfully arguing that the class in question was perhaps not as superb a group of mathematicians or voracious readers as their predecessors.

State education leaders plan to inject a reality check this fall into the "good class
vs bad class" debate by tracking the performance of individual students as they advance from one grade to the next. The new measurement could shed light on who is falling short -- teacher or pupil -- and lead to fundamental changes in the way students are taught.

Mitchell D. Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said yesterday that the new analysis will make it harder for local school leaders to be dismissive of poor test scores.

"It takes away a lot of the excuse-making," Chester said at yesterday's meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education where the new system was unveiled.

Under the current system, the state judges a school's success by comparing its MCAS scores at each particular grade level to the scores posted by that grade the year before. The English and math MCAS tests are given in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10.

Many teachers and adminstrators have chastized the approach as an apples-and-oranges comparison because the variation could simply reflect a class of particularly gifted or challenged students. The problem can be especially acute at small schools, where there are only a few dozen students at each grade level and the performance of a handful of students can create dramatic shifts.

Using the new tool, the state will augment that analysis by examining the performance of individual students or classes of students over the period of several years, starting in the third-grade.

The examination of current and past scores will allow them to predict students' likelihood for improvement in the future and assess whether they are on track to meet expectations. If a number of a students at a particular school are exceeding the statistical predictions, that could indicate that the administrators and teachers there have identified promising teaching methods. If a number of students are falling short of predictions, that would indicate there could be a problem...

Former Bullitt educator pleads guilty to rape, sodomy charges

This from the Pioneer News:

SHEPHERDSVILLE - An educator in both Bullitt and Nelson counties has admitted his guilty to rape and sodomy charges dating back to 1993.

Larry Brent Childress, 41, of Pioneer Village, entered the plea Thursday morning in Bullitt Circuit Court.

Childress was indicted last fall for rape and sodomy. Two of the charges were dismissed and two others were amended.

Childress could face up to eight years in prison.

According to the plea agreement between special prosecutor Todd Lewis of the state attorney general's office and defense attorney Joseph Wantland, Childress could ask for probation at the May 21 final sentencing. Lewis said he would not oppose the probation but would ask that the defendant serve at least 120 days in the county jail.

As the victim looked on, Childress admitted that he knew that she was under 16 years of age at the time of their sexual encounter in 1993; however, the then-assistant coach at North Bullitt High did not know she was under 14.

The allegations occurred from 1993 until 1995 in Bullitt, Jefferson and Fayette counties...

Doctors will look at icy pool option for high school athletes

This from the Herald-Leader:

LOUISVILLE — Physicians on a Kentucky Medical Association committee will conduct immediate research so that they can advise Kentucky High School coaches
on the best way to react to heat illnesses by the time warm-weather athletic practices begin, committee chairman James Bowles said Thursday.

One option is whether coaches should make sure that they have an icy pool available to athletes — a provision that was recently cut from legislation in the General Assembly because certified trainers and physicians worried that coaches wouldn't know how to use the pools properly.

Bowles, a Madisonville physician, heads a KMA committee that advises the Kentucky High School Athletic Association on medical matters.

He said that to meet the requirements of a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Steve Beshear, members of the committee also plan to develop an online course for coaches by midsummer.

The law requires medical and safety training for coaches by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, as well as mandating that a trained coach be present at all practices and competitions...

Obama: Bad teachers must be taken out of classroom

This from Google News:
WASHINGTON (AP) — If the nation's schools are going to see improvement, President Barack Obama says there has to be a way to ease bad teachers out of the classroom.

Obama was responding Thursday to a question from a Philadelphia-area schoolteacher. The woman looked away and refused to answer when Obama asked if she'd seen any teachers whose work was so bad she wouldn't want her own children in that class.

Obama said some people just aren't meant to be teachers.

He also said there needs to be other ways to evaluate teachers besides standardized tests. He said those tests can't measure progress in a struggling school, and that they represent the biggest flaw in the No Child Left Behind program.

Obama said that if teachers are forced to teach based solely on a test, fewer students will be inspired to learn.

Iowa dropout rate climbs with more accurate counting

This from The Des Moines Register

...Last year was the first time all Iowa students were assigned an identification number, which likely provided the state with the most accurate numbers it has had.The data showed that Iowa's largest urban school districts - Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines and Waterloo - reported the highest percentage of dropouts. The majority of Iowa's rural and suburban districts reported no dropouts or significantly smaller numbers.

Nationally, 9.3 percent of high school students dropped out in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available...

...The stakes are high. A study by the nation's largest teachers' union showed dropouts earn about $260,000 less during their lives than high school graduates. A separate analysis estimated that dropouts from the class of 2006-07 will cost the United States more than $329 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes. That's why educators in school districts across the country say they are continuing to develop new programs aimed at lowering the dropout rate...

States eye education stimulus to fill budget gaps

“We’re putting out literally billions of dollars.
We’re also holding back billions of dollars.
If we see states doing things that don’t make sense
and aren’t in the spirit of what this [stimulus aid] is about,
they would put themselves in jeopardy
of receiving the second set of money.”

-- Education Secretary Arne Duncan

This from Michele McNeil At Ed Week by way of KSBA:

Local officials crying foul as governors grab for aid

Desperate for cash to fill growing budget deficits, state governments are starting to tangle with federal and local officials over a $39.8 billion pot of economic-stimulus money that was designed to prop up the budgets of local school districts, but is increasingly being eyed as a patch for states’ own financial woes.

Vague language and loopholes in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the stimulus package signed into law in February by President Barack Obama—are sparking questions about how much discretion states have over education stimulus funding. Mayors and school boards in a number of states fear being shortchanged by revenue-hungry governors and legislatures.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is putting state-level officials on notice that spending the first chunk of stimulus money unwisely could jeopardize aid that his office will distribute later.

“If states are doing things that are not in the best interests of children, they are just very simply going to disqualify themselves and take themselves out of the running for billions of dollars,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview last week.

Examples of such power struggles are piling up across the country.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, wants to cut state education funding in the next budget year by about $37 million, free up that money for other purposes, and use federal stimulus money to fill in the education gaps.

In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who has been tapped to become Mr. Obama’s secretary of health and human services, is objecting to the legislature’s pursuit of $26 million in K-12 cuts to help shore up the state’s $680 million budget deficit, even as Kansas is expecting about $387 million in federal education stimulus aid.

And in Ohio, under a new funding formula proposed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, some districts would get little or no additional money over the next two fiscal years, even though they’re supposed to get a boost from the stimulus package through the federal Title I and special education programs...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Elaine Farris Finalist for Clark County Top Spot

As the first African American Superintendent in Kentucky Elaine Farris is an historic figure. But as Interim Education Commissioner, she agreed not to pursue the permanent position, leaving the board of education unencumbered in its search for the next Commish.
When the superintendency in her home county opened last December, Farris spoke to KSN&C off the record; so we couldn't say anything. Now that Clark County has named her as a finalist its hard to imagine a more qualified candidate.

In fact, one needn't imagine. The Winchester Sun reports:

Five candidates picked for superintendent
The finalists for the Clark County school superintendent position include the state’s interim education commissioner, the district’s operations director and a former principal of Fannie Bush Elementary.

The five finalists were announced Thursday, before the first interview this evening with Paul Christy, the district’s operations director. The other four finalists will be interviewed by the board members next week.

The board has been gearing up for the search process since Superintendent Ed Musgrove announced his resignation in December after three years leading the district.

The initial advertisement of the open position garnered 21 applicants, which a screening committee of school officials, district employees and a parent representative whittled down to five recommendations to the board members. The board then invited the five finalists to interview.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a great decision when we come out of this,” board chair Judy Hicks said. The board hopes to have a superintendent hired by mid-April...
The finalists are:
Elaine Farris: appointed interim education commissioner in January after Commissioner Jon Draud resigned due to health concerns. She was also superintendent of Shelby County’s school system for four years. Farris started as a physical education teacher at Odell Gross Elementary in 1982, before moving to George Rogers Clark High School in 1989. In 1993, she became an assistant principal at GRC. She spent three years as principal of Shearer Elementary before becoming elementary school director for the Fayette County District. (In the interest of full disclosure, Elaine and I worked together in Fayette County. She has been my boss, my student and my colleague. She understands leadership and working with people. Any district would be fortunate to sign her.)
Paul Christy: has worked in Clark County since June 2006 and is responsible for the district’s
transportation, maintenance, staffing allocations, district athletics and purchasing; Served as principal of Frankfort Independent High School for two years, was assistant principal at Franklin County High School for a year prior to that and was principal at Bath County High School for five years. His educational career started as a technology education teacher at Bath County High School.

Lisa Stone: "is presently the education leader" (sic) for the Kentucky Association of School Councils. She taught in Clay County; worked in Clark County for 11 years before becoming principal of Fannie Bush Elementary in 1990. In 1994, she started working in Fayette County as principal at Rosa Parks Elementary and as an elementary school director. (In the interest of full disclosure, Lisa and I worked together in Fayette County.)
Donald F. Aldridge: Superintendent of Eminence Independent School District for three years, following seven years as assistant principal and principal in Estill and Lee counties. He began as a math teacher in Irvine in 1994, according to his resume.

Stephen Dickerson of North Vernon, Ind.: The only out-of-state finalist. He is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Jennings County, Ind., school district since February 2000. He spent 17 years as a high school principal between three Indiana schools as well as three years as an assistant principal and athletic director. He also spent seven years as a science teacher and coach in Indiana
Interim education chief applies for new job

Interim Education Commissioner Elaine Farris is a finalist for a job as school superintendent in Clark County.

The Winchester Sun reports that Farris and four others are being considered for the position in the central Kentucky district of 6,000 students.

Clark County Superintendent Ed Musgrove announced his resignation in December 2008, effective June 30.

If Farris were to leave her post as interim commissioner before a commissioner is hired, the Kentucky Board of Education would name another interim, said Lisa Gross, director of communications for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Farris, deputy education commissioner for the Bureau of Learning and Results Services, was named interim education commissioner in January. Her duties overseeing the state's public education system began Feb. 1...

Gross said Farris, a native of Clark County, notified the Board of Education early on that she would apply for the position if it came open.

"We are not concerned," Gross said. "We support her in whatever endeavor she wants to take."




Senate Gives Ky Board Member Steven Neal the Heave Ho Without Lifting a Finger

Now "former" Kentucky Board of Education member Steven B. Neal failed to gain confirmation from the Kentucky Senate yesterday. This follows his unanimous approval in the House.

Lacking confirmation in both houses, Neal is no longer a member of the board.

This apparently occurred when the Senate declined to present or act upon a resolution confirming his appointment.

KDE spokesperson Lisa Gross told KSN&C,
"What I can say about that is that he is no longer a member of the board. The Governor may appoint someone to replace him, and that person would serve unconfirmed until the next session of the General Assembly."

According to Mark Hebert a number of Governor Beshear's appointments to important state boards lost their seats because the House or Senate failed to confirm their appointments.

The republican controlled Senate adjourned after approving four of the five members of the Kentucky Board of Education who were up for confirmation. The odd man out is a union man, Steve Neal, who is the Executive Director of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

So Steve Neal was simply left behind.

Governor Beshear's spokesperson, Jay Blanton told KSN&C,

“We will be going back now as quickly as possible to review potential appointments for this important position at a critical time in the effort to move forward with school reforms. We’re disappointed that Steve was not confirmed as he already had, in a very short period of time, made significant contributions to the school board.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Arizona Vouchers for Schools Ruled Illegal

This from the Arizona Daily Star:

High-court ruling for public education
overturns '06 programs of Legislature
PHOENIX — A state law giving tax dollars to private and parochial schools is illegal, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The justices, in a unanimous opinion, called the programs established by the Legislature in 2006 "a well-intentioned effort" to assist students with special needs.

"But we are bound by our constitution," wrote Justice Michael Ryan. He said there is no way the program can be reconciled with a specific constitutional ban against appropriating public funds in aid to private and parochial schools.

The decision is a significant defeat for legislators who created the very small program in 2006 to test the legal waters. They hoped a ruling in their favor would pave the way for a full-blown voucher program, with every parent in the state entitled to use state tax money to send their children to any school they want...

Duncan Talks Teachers

This from Stephen Sawchuck at Teacher Beat:

A group of Ed Week reporters and editors met with U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan yesterday, including Politics K-12 divas Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil. Not about to be out-diva-ed, yours truly talked his way into this powwow and hit up the new Ed Sec with a bunch of teacher-policy questions.

As there's been so much chatter about performance pay, I decided to focus my questions on other issues that have been raised of late. One was to follow up on President Obama's recent speech and on language in the FY 2010 budget request that suggest the new administration will take a tougher stance on identifying and removing teachers who don't improve, even after given intense support.

Duncan gave a bit of a circuitous answer, as you can see from this video...



Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Ineffective Teachers from Education Week on Vimeo.

Here's Something We Don't Hear Everyday

This from the Springfield Sun:

Teach Your Children Well
...What’s going on? Why are students fighting just because someone’s girlfriend sent a text message to another person’s boyfriend, or maybe a rumor is being spread through text messages about a fight in the school? Do our kids have so little education outside the classroom that our teachers and educators can’t peacefully conduct education in the classroom? It appears to be the case.

I’m a parent, and no, I’m not a perfect one. Nobody is a perfect parent, employee, or anything else. But we do need to spend time with our kids, teaching them to respect each other, to act like the young adults they are once they reach high school.

When I was in school, if I had been involved in a fight, I would not have wanted to go home because I would have been in much deeper trouble at home than I could have ever found myself in at school.

I’ve spent time talking to some teachers and educators about the problems in today’s classrooms, and to my surprise, I’ve had at least one tell me that some parents have come right out and told them, “When they’re at school, they’re your problem!”

No, they’re actually everybody’s problem. Everybody who pays taxes, that is, and the last time I looked, that included all of us! Our school board and city government shouldn’t have to pay police officers to patrol the halls of a public school, especially one in a small town like ours, because some people just don’t take the time to get involved and discipline their own children, or teach them how to act so that a lot of discipline is not necessary...

Beshear Signs Senate Bill 1

FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 26, 2009) – Saying it is time to move to a new, stronger era of testing and accountability, Gov. Steve Beshear today signed Senate Bill 1, which will overhaul the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) as part of the state’s long-term commitment to education reform.

Gov. Beshear was joined at today’s bill signing ceremony by bill sponsors Sen. Ken Winters and Senate President David L. Williams.

“In 1990, the Kentucky Education Reform Act made it clear that Kentucky was no longer content with its schools and the quality of graduates those schools were producing,” Gov. Beshear said. “KERA was a model for many around the country, but that was nearly two decades ago. I am determined, as we look toward the next two decades, that we seize the opportunity to lead the nation again.”

SB 1 mandates a move toward a new testing and accountability system that will, for the first time, measure individual student achievement over a period of time. That will allow the state to understand how Kentucky students are doing compared to each other and with students nationally.

“A new day is dawning in Kentucky as we move into a new assessment program based on a focused core-content. I am more optimistic than ever for the future of our children,” said Sen. Winters.

SB 1 also mandates closer cooperation between the state’s schools and Kentucky colleges and universities in an attempt to lower the numbers of school children who need remediation.

A new exam system to replace CATS is to be in place for the 2011-2012 school year.

During that interim period, students will continue to complete annual assessments in the core-content areas of math, reading, science and social studies that are used to ensure accountability of individual schools and school districts. Writing portfolios also will be maintained, but will not be part of the testing process.

“We must devise a testing system that holds students, teachers, principals, high-level administrators and the state accountable,” said Gov. Beshear. “We must use this transition period wisely to build the next generation of testing, accountability and assessment. It must be an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to testing and building a better system for the 21st century.”

SOURCE: The Gov

To Predict or Not to Predict

By Skip Kifer

A colleague and I were doing a session on formative assessment that began with, would you believe, a formative test on creating and using formative assessments. We generated a lively discussion when going over answers to the test, particularly the answer to this question:

Which of the following is NOT a purpose for using formative assessments?

a. To learn which students are doing well and which are not doing so well.
b. To gather data about what has been taught well or not so well.
c. To predict future performance on a norm referenced test.
d. To provide a basis for future instruction.

C is the correct answer. Some teachers insisted that C was not a correct answer because prediction, too, was a purpose of formative assessments. They used as examples what they have learned recently about “benchmark” assessments.

There is no one definition of formative assessment. And there are those, mainly vendors like ACT, who say that benchmark assessments are formative assessments. They are not.

The crux of the difference between benchmark assessments and formative assessments is the difference between predicting and correcting. Benchmark assessments predict; formative assessments correct.

I give formative tests after teaching an instructional unit. The tests:

a. cover what has been done in the unit;
b. are scored but not graded;
c. are discussed immediately upon completion; and
d. are discussed (hopefully) in earnest by the students.

They are now, therefore, instructional tools. They convey to the student what was important in the unit. The students convey what they learned. My aim is to get most students to know most of the material in the unit. In doing so, I want high scores but small differences, less variance, in the scores. I want each student to know more and the class to be more alike.

The discussion is the first part of correcting. By getting a conversation going, I hope that students better understand what I thought I was teaching. The next step, however, is to look at the students’ scores and figure out what additional experience each student needs in order to master the material. I also peek at the scores to see what I did well and not so well.

Contrast the formative assessment scenario with a benchmark one.

Benchmark tests may or may not be related to what students have been taught. Alignment studies have to be conducted to determine if they are and to what extent.

Since the questions are not released, a teacher does not know what has been done well or poorly. Students have no idea how well they are doing because the questions and the right answers are never discussed. There is no way to tie the results to what a teacher has been teaching because the test, at that time, does not necessarily reflect what has been covered in the curriculum.

What benchmark tests do is predict scores on other tests. That is, benchmark results are used to estimate the extent to which student scores on a first test are replicated by results of a second test. That prediction is strongest when the variation on the tests is largest. On the other hand, the more similar are student scores, the worse the prediction. If each student did exactly the same on the first test, the prediction would be zero. So my attempts to use formative assessments to get high scores with small differences between them fly in the face of strong prediction.

Imagine a student entering a classroom and the teacher saying she can predict where the student will be at the end of the year. The student will be about as much above the mean or below as they now are. That strong prediction would be desirable from a benchmark point of view. It may not be so desirable from the student’s view. But that’s predicting!

Imagine that same student entering a classroom and a teacher saying we are going to work together to master the material in this course. She will use formative assessments to help the student. That would imply no relationship between the status of students upon entering the class and their final status in the class. That is correcting. And, teaching!

Just for fun here is the formative test on formative assessment and an answer key.

A formative assessment on formative assessment…..

1. The person who first distinguished between formative and summative approaches was:

a. Paul Black
b. Benjamin Bloom
c. Michael Scriven
d. Richard Stiggins


2. When the chef tastes the soup, it is _____? When the customer tastes the soup, it is _____? Choose the two words that best complete these thoughts.

a. summative, formative
b. formative, summative
c. objective, formative
d. summative, objective

3. Which of the following is NOT a purpose for using formative assessments?

a. To learn which students are doing well and which are not doing so well.
b. To gather data about what has been taught well or not so well.
c. To predict future performance on a norm-referenced test.
d. To provide a basis for future instruction.

4. Formative assessment activities in the classroom used properly:

a. Provide a basis to rank order students.
b. Predict performance on other tests.
c. Help the teacher know what she has done well or poorly.
d. Add to the precision and usefulness of grades.

5. The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives:

a. Orders outcomes according to how difficult it is to teach them.
b. Is based on learning hierarchies
c. Shows what is desirable
d. Is ordered by cognitive complexity

6. Suppose students in a class were asked to memorize the names of those who came over on the Mayflower. A test question then asked them to write down 10 of those names. At what level of the Taxonomy is the response likely to be?

a. Knowledge
b. Comprehension
c. Application
d. Analysis

7. Suppose the list contains occupations of the Mayflower passengers. Students are asked to write an essay that draws inferences about why certain occupations were present on the ship. At what level of the Taxonomy are the responses likely to fall?

a. Knowledge
b. Comprehension
c. Application
d. Analysis

8. Suppose the list of names of persons on the Mayflower also included their occupations. Students are asked to write an essay that draws inferences about why certain occupations are on the ship. That would represent what Depth of Knowledge?

a. DOK 1
b. DOK 2
c. DOK 3
d. DOK 4


Key to Formative Test

1. C. Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. Tyler, Gagne & Scriven (Eds). Perspectives of curriculum evaluation. (AERA Monograph Series on Curriculum Evaluation, No. 1). Chicago: Rand McNally
2. B. Bob Stake coined this to distinguish between the two.
3. C. Prediction comes from benchmark assessments. A teacher would like all of her students to do well on the formative tests. If so, there would be no correlation (prediction) between the formative test results and some norm referenced test results.
4. C. First of all, did the teacher do well, on what? Secondly, which students did well and which did poorly, on what?
5. D. Bloom called the Taxonomy the most used, least read book in education. The taxonomy orders outcomes according to cognitive complexity.
6. A. Recall would fall under Knowledge, the least complex cognitively of the levels.
7. C or D. A taxonomy purist would probably say D. I have difficulty getting beyond Applications.
8. C or D. I don’t do Depth of Knowledge. I don’t think it adds anything to the taxonomy. There are lots of classification schemes. I am happy being familiar with one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

C-J Still Mystified by Strange Bedfellows

This from the Courier-Journal:

After S.B. 1

Local school districts seem ready to make the best of the bad situation created by passage of Senate Bill 1, and by Gov. Steve Beshear's expected signing of the bad legislation.

No bill would have been much preferable to one that effectively suspends state accountability for three years, narrows attention to curriculum, guts emphasis on writing portfolios and indulges the Kentucky Education Association's lazy appeal to "just give everybody a breather."

Jefferson County Public Schools is wrong to drop testing in arts and humanities and vocational studies and practical living. It's wrong to drop the use of writing portfolios to help assess how schools are doing, especially since writing is the capstone skill with which students demonstrate their ability to assemble, synthesize and communicate information. Local parents who want their children to compete for top college acceptances and the best career opportunities want more emphasis on writing, not less.

However, JCPS as well as the Oldham County and Bullitt County systems at least will continue requiring and grading portfolios. As Bullitt school official Greg Schultz says, "How do we know if we're progressing if we don't continue that?" Oldham Superintendent Paul Upchurch takes the right approach when he says, "We're coming at this from the standpoint that we have to maintain accountability in every classroom and for every child."

That's more than one can say for the odd alliance of (1) Republicans who have opposed the Kentucky Education Reform Act since its passage; (2) reflexive right-wing opponents of public schools, and (3) teacher groups that find KERA too demanding.

The latter are the most surprising, and most disappointing, in that they joined hands with those who would like to see public schools crushed, some day, under the weight of public funding for private schools.

Most individual teachers are caring and hard-working, but during this legislative session their organized leadership stood for less accountability. And in the long run that likely will cost them public support.

It's a shame there has been no organization representing all those teachers who have embraced the challenge of KERA, rather than resist its goals and fear-monger its demands; who have accepted accountability for all the curriculum, not just part of it; who know that the wider world won't take "a breather" while Kentucky decides how to cheapen a historic school reform that provably has achieved so much.

JCPS will make big changes in testing

This from C-J:

Subjects will be trimmed;
portfolios, scoring revised

Parents will see big changes when statewide testing begins May 11 in Jefferson County Public Schools, courtesy of the state legislature's decision to phase out CATS testing.

State testing in arts and humanities, as well as vocational studies and practical living, has been eliminated.

Students will still compile writing portfolios, but the state won't hold schools accountable for the results.

And schools likely won't receive an academic index score that would measure whether they are making progress toward academic proficiency.

Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Steve Beshear is expected to sign this week, calls for replacing the state's Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, with new state tests starting in 2011-12...

...Marty Bell, deputy superintendent for the district. "The portfolios will only be used as an academic tool." ...

Bell said Jefferson County will continue tracking how well schools are doing in key subjects such as math and reading.

And the district will release student test scores for each subject area tested, but does not plan to create an overall index score for ...

BIPPS Corrects Errors

It took a while, but in a note attached to yesterday's weekly audio blast, Bluegrass Institute Communications Director Jim Waters corrected errors pointed out by KSN&C in last week's audio.

A Bluegrass Audio commentary released Monday contained the incorrect date for implementation of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS). House Bill 53, which established CATS as the state's testing system, was passed into law by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1998. Also, schools no longer receive funding based on CATS scores.
Waters stopped short of admitting that, as a result, his conclusions were all wrong.

He had used some factually incorrect information...

"KERA...gives money to schools based on their test scores. The higher its students score on CATS the more money the school gets."
as a basis for an argument...

"Therefore, schools have focused class content solely on CATS material."
The conclusion was 180 degrees wrong -not solely because it was based on faulty information - but partly because Waters formed his conclusion before he gathered his data. It's what researchers call pseudo-science.

In fact, the only schools to receive assistance were those that were not performing well on the CATS.

Schools have focused largely on CATS material because a strong state accountability system had put great pressure on schools to produce better numbers. Since school principals were unable to control for serious problems - like insufficient funding to deliver enhanced instructional services or the fact that too many students' home lives negatively affected school performance -they were left with the only tools they had - "motivation" of teachers.

Of course, that system is now gone.

It is only because we had an accountability system that we knew a lot of schools weren't going to make the grade. That prompted some administrative folks to panic and wade into instructional areas with broad "solutions" that they might not have implemented otherwise. They ratcheted up the pressure on teachers to perform at higher levels as measured by the test.

As for BIPPS, factual mistakes and other errors can happen in any human endeavor. It is only proper that Waters made the corrections.

But those errors when added to BIPPS's prior exaggerations of research data - threaten to place BIPPS on the very edge of credible scholarship. And BIPPS uses its role in scholarship as partial justification for its 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status. If BIPPS is going to claim that its work is based on scholarship, then we are owed at least one more retraction.

On the other hand, If BIPPS is simply a political group expressing its opinions without any particular adherence to the principles of good science - as seems more likely - fine. But claiming to be one thing while acting like another is inherently dishonest and should be guarded against.

Yesterday's retraction is a step in the right direction.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Figuring Out What Gets Tested

“If they’re not going to score it,
and if it’s not going to count for anything,
I don’t know why we should waste our time.”
Supt Rich Crowe, Frankfort

From district to district, and perhaps from school to school within districts, this spring's testing is certainly going to be different. Many districts will drop from having one too many accountability scores - down to having one too few. Where accountability scores exist at all, they will be calculated locally.

Fayette County Superintendent Stu Silberman seemed to get the ball rolling by declaring that Fayette County would proceed as usual by scoring writing portfolios, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
"The students already have put a lot of work into them, and we need to honor their commitment," Silberman said. "It's up to each individual school, but we've suggested that they complete the portfolios, grade them and give the students their grades and feedback."

Silberman also said the district expects to calculate and make public its own "academic index" based on this spring's testing, whether the state publishes a performance index or not.

On one hand, word about what and how the assessment is going to be different is still being filtered out to schools. According to KDE spokeswoman, Lisa Gross, so far the only guidance sent to districts from KDE is this chart. On the other hand, assessment time will be here before we know it. School folks are scrambling.

Adding to the confusion is the arts & humanities and practical living/vocational studies portions of the KCCT. As Gross confirmed, "the arts & humanities and practical living/vocational studies portions of the KCCT will still be sent to schools by our testing contractor, and they can administer them if they wish." Some teachers of these subjects have apparently been told that they can design their own tests from these questions.

This may have led other teachers to wonder if other sections of the test might be reconstructed by teachers - and they can not.

The Kentucky Board of Education meets next week. Additional guidance to school districts is likely to follow.

In Hopkins County, The Messenger (subscription) reports,
Schools' preparations for this year's state assessment are getting some last-minute revisions...."We got some inklings of it before we got the final version of Senate Bill 1," said Hopkins County Assistant Superintendent Linda Zellich. "We were pretty sure early on that things were going to change with the writing portfolio. What we're really surprised about is ... the timing issue, that it went into effect immediately."

Dan Evans, the district's assessment coordinator, said ..."If they want to revamp the testing system, certainly there are some things that need to be changed, but throwing things out that we've worked all year on makes no sense."

Zellich said she believes it will be the district's recommendation to score portfolios locally this year and provide feedback to students and teachers. The portfolios are "effort intensive" but "yield some good work," she said."There's no doubt ... that students' writing skills have improved," Zellich said...

..."It still remains very confusing to us," she said. "We're still not sure what we're going to do and when we're going to do it. That creates some anxiousness on our part because we want to know, our principals want to know and the public wants to know...

The Paducah Sun (subscription) reports that,

McCracken County students will be tested this spring in arts and humanities and practical living/vocational skills even though the legislature has attempted to change school testing... The McCracken school board passed a measure Thursday night allowing the district to continue testing on arts and humanities and practical living as well as the writing portfolios.

Paducah Assistant Superintendent Vickie Maley said she has talked with principals, and Paducah schools likely will score their own writing porfolios. As for the rest of the test, she said administrators are waiting to see the final outcome at the state level...

Eleanor Mills Spry, assistant superintendent for Murray Independent Schools, is attempting to stay positive about the changes. “One of the most positive aspects gathered from the legislation is that schools will have fewer days of assessment, which, in turn, provides additional instructional time for students.”

In northern Kentucky, Walton-Verona Schools Deputy Superintendent Gene Kirchner had to assuaged potential concerns about the district decreasing its focus on art and humanities.

"We will focus on the core skills that all children need to be successful (reading, writing, arithmetic) without sacrificing those things which create well rounded individuals (Science, Social Studies, Arts/Humanities, Practical Living/Vocational)," Kirchner said in the e-mail."We wanted our people to understand that our expectations haven't changed even though there's no state assessment (on the subjects)," Kirchner said.

In Hardin County,

Nannette Johnston, superintendent ... said once the bill is signed district officials will to decide what to do with the portions of the test that are discarded, such as the writing portfolio. Individual districts still can do their own assessments of these areas, and Johnston said she and others will decide what pieces will help them monitor student performance.

Jayne Risen Morgenthal, superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Schools, said the quick turnaround between the possible changes and this year’s scheduled testing.
“I think the timing could have been better,” she said. ... Overall, Morgenthal is happy with the bill, but waiting for instructions has been difficult, she said.
In Pike County, schools Superintendent Roger Wagner is playing it safe. He notes that the legislature still has two days remaining in which to consider legislation. Should Governor Beshear veto this bill outright, or use line-item veto on the bill, it will go back to the legislature for review.
"Until he signs the bill, it is not law, and the current CATS testing laws stand
in place,"
Wagner said. Of course, SB 1 passed both houses without dissent and the Governor has said he will sign the bill.
“I can’t anticipate what the Governor says he’ll do,” Wagner said. “We’ll know
more at the end of the month.”calling, changes to testing law has created,
“a lot of confusion with everyone.”
SB 1 has gotten a mixed reception at Murray Independent and Calloway County schools.
Eleanor Spry, superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Murray Independent, said Wednesday that there are a lot of unknowns about the move so schools officials aren't planning any response until more information can be obtained.Spry said the district honors the intent of the CATS system and its predecessor and will continue to move toward a goal of academic achievement.“If instruction was important then, it still continues to be important whether you assess it or not” she said. “ So we value our teachers. We value the instruction they give and what they teach our kids.

Calloway County Schools Superintendent Steve Hoskins said the testing process is evolutionary“It's probably time to evolve now. It's advantageous to regroup. ... However Hoskins believes writing portfolios should continue to be an important part of the curriculum.
In Floyd County Superintendent Henry Webb sees the decision to modify the testing as a positive change

.“We are not going to see too many changes in the interim,” Webb said. “I think the changes are going to be beneficial for both students and staff. It’s a good move to eliminate the portfolios from the accountability process. I’m pleased with the changes that have been made, and I think it will continue to help us move forward.”

The State Journal reported last week that reformers' worst fears may already be coming true in some places.
Superintendent Rich Crowe told the Frankfort Independent Board of Education last week that he’s inclined to focus on curriculum areas that actually count toward the ratings. Scoring of writing portfolios may be scaled down. “If they’re not going to score it, and if it’s not going to count for anything, I don’t know why we should waste our time,” Crowe said.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bill signals retreat from KERA goals

This from the Messenger-Inquirer:

Fourteen years ago, in early 1995, the mood was celebratory at Cravens Elementary School on Owensboro's west end. The little school that had failed to break 30 on the initial KIRIS accountability tests three years before, a score that reduced teachers to tears, was in line to receive the maximum financial reward for dramatic improvement on the battery of tests.

Cravens' score on the 1991-92 baseline test was 29.5. The next year the school improved to 35.6 on the test. The following year, fourth-graders recorded a score of 52.5, far exceeding the school's goal. Cravens, transformed by the gritty perseverance of its staff, was off and running.

Now we wonder if the days of that kind of success story, and many others like it, are over. While we would never doubt that many of our local educators will teach with every bit as much integrity as before, it's a fact that Kentucky is now in full retreat from the lofty goals set out by KERA in 1990. House and Senate members celebrated in Frankfort last week when the CATS tests were scrapped, and with it public school accountability. What was to have been a review of KERA and CATS, with adjustments being made where necessary, turned into a rout. Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Steve Beshear has indicated he'll sign, passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 93-0.

Just like that, with five years to go for schools to reach the goal of scoring 100 on the CATS test (several schools in this area are already there), the state will devise a new test and a new accountability system. Writing portfolios will no longer be part of the test. The testing period will be shortened. Multiple-choice questions will prevail, and open-response questions, which require students to actually write an answer to questions, will be downplayed. Arts and humanities and vocational studies will no longer be tested.

Schools that were in danger of not making their 2014 accountability goals can look forward to a new accountability system, bailed out, as it were by the legislature's drive to pull back from KERA's tough but fair demands...

...Cravens' faculty dug in deep. Principal Beverly McEnroe said teachers looked at every single thing they did and took everything apart. Every teacher was assigned to a committee to push for improvement in a different part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act. Teachers even started making home visits.

It is not our intention to single out Cravens, except to hold it up as an example of what was and remains possible in public education. Cravens' success was repeated in school after school in this area; it was indicative of what KERA accountability and the mantra that every student can learn and learn at a high level wrought. Better yet, these many years later, the success has continued.

Many of our local and area schools are performing wonderfully. The effort put forth, the expertise gained, the determination demonstrated during nearly two decades of the education reform and accountability movement in Kentucky in so many of our schools has been exemplary and often amazing.

We say this because we are immensely proud of principals, teachers and support personnel and everyone who embraced KERA and its monumental challenges. The good fight was fought, and a generation of students are better for it. In light of what happened last week, we worry about the next generation.

Governor to sign CATS overhaul; reaction mixed

This from the Mesenger Inquirer:

Students in Kentucky public schools will take the current core content test within the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System this spring, but CATS will start going away over the next three years.That is the gist of Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday he will sign into law.The legislation, which passed both chambers of the 2009 General Assembly on Friday, charges the Kentucky Department of Education with developing new standards and a new test for the 2011-12 school year based largely on lawmakers' mandates.Since Friday, educators and advocates from all sides have been finding parts of the new assessment plan to like and dislike.

"The short term is really a mess," said Robert Sexton, the Prichard Committee's executive director. "We are very concerned about the next three years. ... If we can get through that, the end product will be a better system."School accountability will be drastically cut down while the new standards and tests are being created...

..."There's some good and not-so-good sides to it," Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said. "I'm really surprised there hasn't been more outcry to this."Shelton, who was in Frankfort on Friday when the last-minute discussions on the bill were taking place, gave the Daviess County Board of Education an update at a Friday night board retreat held at the central office."

Quite frankly, the legislature shouldn't be deciding this," Shelton said. "They should set the standards, and the department of education and local districts should be creating this."Shelton said he would have preferred to leave CATS intact until 2014, the target year for all Kentucky schools to have helped students achieve proficiency in the tested subjects."If I was among the public, I would be saying, 'You promised me proficiency by 2014. ... Now what?' " Shelton said.

Board member Frank Riney asked why there was such a push to change CATS."Is it because a bunch of schools are not going to make accountability by 2014, and now they don't have to face the music?" he asked.Shelton said he believes the lack of public outcry may be because a large number of schools are not in line to achieve accountability.

The superintendent speculated the reasons behind the push were more political."We'll find ways to make it work as we always do," he said. "We'll also find ways to make sure other areas not tested are not forgotten, because as you know, if it's not tested, it's not taught."Shelton, who is the president of the Council for Better Education, said legislators got mixed messages from education groups.

The Kentucky Education Association supported Senate Bill 1.Three other groups -- Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents -- could not reach consensus on where assessment should go, Shelton said."I think legislators said, if the educators can't agree, then we have to do this," he said.

Owensboro Superintendent Larry Vick said the new assessment plan has some good features, including reducing the amount of testing and changing the way writing portfolios are used."I support teaching writing and we will continue to stress writing, but the writing portfolio is not as reflective of students' abilities as it is teachers' coaching, which is perfectly legal under the current system," Vick said.

Vick also is encouraged by components in the plan that will focus on aligning high school and college coursework."There is no reason for a child ever to have to go to college and take a remedial course," he said. "We can coordinate much better with what they need to know to go to college."

Vick also is concerned about the interim years and accountability."Right now we have more questions about the system than answers," he said.

Sandy Hayden, an art teacher at the Owensboro 5-6 Center, said she, too, wants to learn more about the assessment changes. She serves on the state's core content advisory committee for visual art."Personally, my greatest concern is with the possibility/reality of the arts being removed from the test," she said in an e-mail message. " I fear programs will be removed (from study) because they are not 'on the test.' "Hayden said Kentucky's testing system was meant to improve education, but in the end it has been our "own worst enemy." ...

Angela Gunter, a senior writing teacher at Daviess County High School, said she's excited about the changes."I think the on-demand test given to seniors is a much better tool for me as an instructor and measure of student ability than the portfolio," Gunter said in an e-mail message.

"It is comparable to the writing portion of the ACT ... ."Gunter also said she will be happy to be able to refocus some class time she is spending on portfolio preparation toward specific students' needs for college writing.

Bonnie Watson, a writing specialist at the Owensboro 5-6 Center, thinks the assessment changes will be good for education. She, too, prefers the on-demand writing test at the end of the year as a true assessment of students' writing."If teachers are teaching the writing process throughout the year, students should be able to perform on the test at the end of the year," Watson said. "I've seen that to be the case here at the 5-6 Center. We teach the children how to write, and their scores reflect that. ..."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

States eye education stimulus to fill budget gaps

This from Ed Week by way of KSBA:

Local officials crying foul as governors grab for aid

Desperate for cash to fill growing budget deficits, state governments are starting to tangle with federal and local officials over a $39.8 billion pot of economic-stimulus money that was designed to prop up the budgets of local school districts, but is increasingly being eyed as a patch for states’ own financial woes.

Vague language and loopholes in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the stimulus package signed into law in February by President Barack Obama—are sparking questions about how much discretion states have over education stimulus funding. Mayors and school boards in a number of states fear being shortchanged by revenue-hungry governors and legislatures.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is putting state-level officials on notice that spending the first chunk of stimulus money unwisely could jeopardize aid that his office will distribute later.

“If states are doing things that are not in the best interests of children, they are just very simply going to disqualify themselves and take themselves out of the running for billions of dollars,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview last week.

Examples of such power struggles are piling up across the country.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, wants to cut state education funding in the next budget year by about $37 million, free up that money for other purposes, and use federal stimulus money to fill in the education gaps.

In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who has been tapped to become Mr. Obama’s secretary of health and human services, is objecting to the legislature’s pursuit of $26 million in K-12 cuts to help shore up the state’s $680 million budget deficit, even as Kansas is expecting about $387 million in federal education stimulus aid.

And in Ohio, under a new funding formula proposed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, some districts would get little or no additional money over the next two fiscal years, even though they’re supposed to get a boost from the stimulus package through the federal Title I and special education programs...

School vouchers leave too many children behind

This from Walt Gardner in the Christian Science Monitor:

Choice is good, but some parents are
busy worrying about food and shelter

Los Angeles - There's another side to the school voucher story that needs to be told if we ever expect to create educational equity in this country. It has to do with the disconnect between what we say we want for children and what we're willing to settle for.

Teachers have long known that parental involvement is one of the most powerful factors in student achievement. When parents become partners with teachers in the educational process, the effects are reflected in superior test scores and in on-time graduation rates.

Yet too many children come from households where their parents are disengaged from their schooling. This is particularly the case in inner cities because education takes a back seat to concern about food, clothing, and shelter. As a result, parents fail to respond to repeated requests from teachers for conferences and are conspicuously absent from open house teacher-parent meetings.

It's not surprising, therefore, that these same parents are precisely the ones who do not take advantage of the opportunity afforded them through the use of vouchers to get a better education for their children. There is nothing magical about vouchers that can induce them to participate, no matter how hard schools publicize choice...

The New School Emergency Drill

At Raven Watch the mood is remeniscent of scary times from my childhood.

Back in the 1950's, when I was in grammar school in Chicago and the Cold War was at its freezing point, we routinely had what were called "Air Raid Drills." At precisely 10:30 am every Tuesday, the City of Chicago let loose its loud city-wide air raid sirens, and school children throughout "Chicagoland" were forced to get under their desks for a full minute, to prepare for that dismal day when their desks would certainly protect them from a nuclear attack.

We had drills here in Kentucky schools too, because our parents loved their children and wanted to feel like they were protecting them - even if they knew they weren't - really.

On a signal from the principal, teachers would direct each of us students to a "safe place" under our desks where the boys joked about kissing our asses goodbye.

But what about today? Today's threat may not rise to the level of nuclear winter but the effects of "economic winter" are powerful too. This calls for a school district emergency procedure.

Drills perhaps.

The new drills could require each school district Chief Financial Officer to monitor CNBC during school hours. The CFO should note the number of times cable reporters scream at the president or have their heads handed to them by John Stewart.

When the threat level is HIGH students could receive instruction in practical economic "coping skills that focus on fundamental concepts of economic security, financial basics, deferred gratification, and long-range thinking."

If the economic threat level reaches SEVERE all district principals would initiate the district-wide economic emergency response system, illustrated below.

Rhee Apologizes to D.C. Educators for Pushing "too many" Reforms

This from The Washington Post:

Washington, D.C., school leaders may have pushed too many reforms too quickly, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said. "In our exuberance to fix everything all at once, we've thrown so many different programs at you," she wrote in a letter to D.C. educators. "But now I see that we may have pushed on too many different fronts all at the same time." ...

...Since her appointment by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in June 2007, Rhee has moved with urgency at all levels of the school system. Her most visible changes include closing 23 schools, firing dozens of principals and attempting to introduce a potentially groundbreaking pay-for-performance package in labor negotiations.

Less visible, but just as significant, are a flurry of pilot programs and policy changes that have placed increasing demands on many teachers. They include Saturday programs to prepare students for the DC-CAS standardized tests; a push for inclusion of special education students in regular classes; a new accelerated math program; a cash reward program for students in selected middle schools that requires new paperwork and record-keeping; and new guidelines for bilingual, arts and health education.

In a letter to the District's 4,000 teachers and specialists yesterday, Rhee acknowledged that she might have tried to take on too much too soon.

"In our exuberance to fix everything all at once, we've thrown so many different programs at you," Rhee said. "Please know that this comes from a desire to support you, not inundate you.

"But now I see that we may have pushed on too many different fronts all at the same time," she wrote. Rhee did not specify which programs or initiatives might be slowed or delayed.

Rhee is in contract negotiations with the teachers union at the present time.


The Price of Public Proselytizing

Over At EdJurist, Justin wonders why people are willing to pay for "relatively silly cases."
The law was pretty clear that the Ten Commandments was not going to fly in a new display in a public courthouse, even before they ever posted them. They would have been wise to listen to their counsel and forget about it - instead, local taxpayers are going to have to foot the (sizeable) bill.
In McCreary County v. ACLU some counties in Kentucky wanted to put the Ten Commandments in the courthouse. The ACLU sued to have them removed and prevaled. Now the taxpayers of McCreary County have a $400,000 bill to pay - not only their own attorneys' fees, but the ACLU's as well.

Questioning Assumptions

Secretary Arne Duncan Speaks at the
National Science Teachers Association Conference

...The challenge of getting more young people into science is not something we can successfully implement in Washington. That falls to you and your colleagues in classrooms all across America. You need to challenge yourselves and each other to move the curriculum beyond dinosaurs and volcanoes—and I know that many of you already have—but we need to take the best ideas to scale in tough inner-city districts like this one—as well as rural areas that cannot find qualified teachers in every subject.

You need to make inquiry-based science relevant to kids—stimulate their curiosity—connect it with their lives. Together we need to change the national dialog about science—to prepare our kids to be honestly critical and technically competent.

Science is all about questioning assumptions, testing theories, and analyzing facts. These are basic skills that prepare kids not just for the lab—but also for life. We're doing kids a disservice if we don't teach them how to ask tough and challenging questions...

SOURCE: Ed Dept Release

Baby Olympian? DNA test screens sports ability

This from MSNBC graphic by Duane Hofmann:

Ava Anderson can’t run — not yet anyway. And the only iron she pumps comes via her tiny spoon. Then again, she’s just 13 months old.

But Ava was born with a genetic blend that will infuse her body with the explosive bursts of a power athlete and the steady engine of marathoner. Someday, this baby may blossom into a multisport, cross-training double threat.

That’s not parental conjecture. That’s her DNA profile.

Her mom and dad had her tested...

Obama's Long Day

This from Steve Kelly at the Times Picayune by way of Slate:

'Relentless Pursuit': A Year Teaching America

This from NPR:

Teach For America recruits receive five weeks of training before heading out to teach in struggling urban schools.

Listen Now [30 min 19 sec]

Donna Foote followed four elite college graduates in the Teach For America program. They were assigned to one of the worst schools in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and Relentless Pursuit is their story.

TFA recruits are a remarkable group, and the program is an incredibly popular destination for new college grads. In 2008, roughly 10% of Georgetown, Harvard and Yale's graduating seniors applied.

The Accountability Illusion

AYP Rules Skew Schools' Results,
Study Concludes

Geography may have as much to do with a school making AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability system as does student achievement.

Because states set their own standards, define proficiency differently, and employ a variety of statistical methods in interpreting test scores, a school’s accountability status could differ from one state to another, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found in research for the “The Accountability Illusion.”

“Unfortunately, the way NCLB rates schools appears to be idiosyncratic—even random—and opaque,” says the report...

This study examines the No Child Left Behind Act system and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rules for 28 states. We selected 36 real schools (half elementary, half middle) that vary by size, achievement, diversity, etc. and determined which of them would or would not make AYP when evaluated under each state's accountability rules. If a school that made AYP in Washington were relocated to Wisconsin or Ohio, would that same school make AYP there? Based on this analysis, we can see how AYP varies across the country and evaluate the effectiveness of NCLB.

Click Here for an interactive map of state AYP targets.

Fix that failing school! Click here for the full-size video game.



The Accountability Illusion: An interview with Checker from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.