Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quick Hits

School defends move to go with AP preparation over honors courses: Officials at Boston Latin School are defending their decision to eliminate honors classes in an effort to prepare more students to take Advanced Placement courses in 11th and 12th grades. Many parents expressed concerns that removing the honors courses -- weighted an extra half-point in students' grade-point averages -- would hurt their children's GPAs, but administrators emphasized that the change would have little effect. (The Boston Globe)

Virginia officials to restrict use of alternative assessments: Virginia officials are moving to restrict the use of portfolio assessments, designed to replace standardized multiple-choice exams for special-education students, in response to criticism that schools are overusing the alternative tests and inflating student scores. The portfolio tests were introduced in 2004 for special-education students, and federal officials approved the use of reading tests with English-language learners in 2007. The use of the tests in Virginia schools has more than doubled, to 47,000, in the past three years. (The Washington Post)

New calculation method drops Alabama's graduation rate by 21 points: A new method being used to calculate Alabama's graduation rate shows only 65 percent of students finished high school on time in 2009, which is a 21 point difference from the state's previously reported rate of 86 percent. The new formula, called the 4-year Cohort Graduation Rate, only counts students who receive a high school diploma within four years as graduates. The state previously counted anyone who received any of six available diploma options regardless of the amount of time it took. (

New Arkansas elementary school to debut with Web-based curriculum: A new elementary school in Cabot, Ark., is set to open in August with an all-digital curriculum. District officials say they hope to expand the Web-based curriculum to all grade levels throughout the district if it is successful at Mountain Springs Elementary School. (KATV-TV)

Lawmakers question Duncan on Teach for America funding: Congressional lawmakers at a House committee hearing on the federal education budget questioned Education Secretary Arne Duncan on changes to funding policies for programs such as Teach for America, which would not be directly funded but could instead compete for a grant. Duncan defended the administration's shift toward more competition, saying it could mean even more federal money for Teach for America and other programs. But lawmakers were critical of making established programs compete for aid. (The Washington Post)

More students choosing alternatives to traditional senior year: A growing number of high-school students are choosing internships or taking advantage of early graduation or other options rather than attending a traditional senior year. Many of the students are academically advanced and may be restless or looking to accelerate the progress of their education. The trend is catching on with education policymakers as well, with a new program in eight states allowing students to take college and high-school courses concurrently. (USA TODAY)

South Dakota intermediate school takes on project-based learning: Educators at a South Dakota intermediate school are taking a more student-centered approach to lessons, giving assignments that require students to become experts in the subject they are learning about while also developing skills in reading, math and spelling. The approach is part of the school's switch to project-based learning, which aims to teach students critical-thinking skills instead of memorization. The school plans to share its experience with other schools. (The Brookings Register)

Charter advocates ask for more oversight in NCLB hearing: Charter-school advocates testified at a congressional hearing on revising No Child Left Behind to urge lawmakers to include more oversight of charter policies on admissions, academics and finances as part of the government's broader push to increase financial support of the schools. One advocated noted that a $2 billion influx of federal aid for charters in recent years was supported by less than $2 million for oversight. "It's as if the federal government had spent billions for new highway construction, but nothing to put up guardrails along the sides of those highways," one charter advocate said. (The New York Times)

Students can earn college credit in certified engineering program: A national high-school engineering program in an Ohio district received national accreditation that will allow students to obtain college credit for courses they take in high school. About 350 students from two district high schools are enrolled in Project Lead the Way, which aims to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. (Columbus Local News)

Does NCLB help or hurt special-needs students?: Some educators at New Jersey's Morris County schools say state assessments under No Child Left Behind are unfair to students with disabilities, while others say the law has shed light on the achievement of students with special needs for the first time. Under NCLB, failure of too many special-needs students can lead a school to be labeled as "needing improvement." One official says the tests do not accurately reflect what special-needs students have learned because each has an individual learning plan and should be assessed in different ways. (Daily Record)

Philosophical discussions let gifted students think deeply: Teachers at a Maryland middle school are leading a philosophy club where students respond to deep, intellectual questions and discuss ethical issues during lunch. "It gives kids the ability to think deeply. Kids need that," one teacher said of the group, which is mostly composed of gifted students. (The Washington Post)

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