Archive for February, 2015

Take the Math Gap and See

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

It’s enough to make you slap the side of your head. Why can’t policy makers recommend projects that close the achievement gap in spite of obstacles?

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) in Atlanta, Georgia, released a report Friday, January 16, 2015. In “A New Majority Research Bulletin” (at right on SEF home page), an average of 51% of public school students in the United States are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. The statistic infers that they come from low-income families. Only the Agriculture Department can be smiling.

Currently, 2/3 of the states are in the south. However, the West shouldn’t gloat. Utah (59%), New Mexico (68%), and California (55%) should frown at their number of students.

Lots of hand wringing, but few improvement ideas are proposed. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association (NEA) thinks that policy makers should look at wealthy districts with strong student outcomes and provide all public schools with the models used there. In California, the new funding formula for schools specifies more money to schools with low-income student needs.

Match is a program that has shown positive results, especially in high school which is the last resort to get students from low-income neighborhoods to succeed. One would guess that English/Language Arts is attacked. But no, Mathematics is the draw.

The model treats boys who fare worst on every tenet of academic achievement. As results brought out by the University of Chicago Crime Lab show, the improvement in math can happen quickly and carries over to non-math classes. In many cases the students become more focused on graduation and moving on to higher education. Key components of the tutoring model include the following:

  • Tutoring is a continuous, intensive experience; tutoring is provided to students every day.
  • Tutorial is embedded into the school day as its own period; it is not a pull out or a push in model.
  • Tutors tutor full class sections of students so that the classroom teacher is free during those periods.
  • Tutoring happens in small groups (1:2, 1:1).
  • Tutor/student pairs remain consistent throughout the year.
  • Tutors receive two full weeks of initial training and extensive and ongoing support and monitoring (tutors are observed daily).
  • Tutors have the opportunity to take on other school-based projects in their extra time.

In 2008, the model began in Boston as the Match School Foundation which has focused on low-income charter schools. In addition, the Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education offers a Master’s Degree in Effective Teaching. Graduates train tutors in schools asking for help.

In fact, districts across the country have requested the foundation’s support in building tutoring programs within their schools, mainly in large urban districts: Chicago, Houston, ARISE Schools in Louisiana, and Summit Charter Schools in the Bay Area in California.

Many reports conclude that intervention must begin early which is true, but never give up. Public or charter, students who need help, no matter what age, are entitled to support. Policy makers must take the bull by the horns. No fear allowed. No excuses.



Colorado Standards and Assessments in Pussyfoot Mode

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

“Fog comes on little cat feet,” wrote Carl Sandberg, American poet. None know that better than members of Colorado’s HB14-1202 Task Force on Standards and Assessments. Despite expectations, no testing clarity will likely come from the Task Force. Instead, there will be a lot of pussyfooting in the fog.

As predicted, the 1202 Task Force breaks about 7-7 on the most important issues. Susan Van Gundy, the committee member paid by test consortium PARCC of which Colorado is a member, would be the tie-breaker if the committee decided to vote on recommendations.

The Task Force will apparently offer two types of recommendations: one from those who want to stick with almost all of the Colorado mandated tests and another from those who want to trim way back.

The 1202 committee agrees on eliminating state mandated tests for high school seniors. But seniors took care of that themselves when they didn’t show up for the CMAS social studies and science tests this fall.

The Task Force will probably recommend making non-ACT tests in ELA and math optional for 11th graders. Another brave recommendation may be to make 9th grade ELA and math tests optional. The ELA and math state assessments will occur in 10th grade.

Other than that, the Committee tiptoed away from tough decisions. The two assessment experts on the Task Force, Lisa Escarcega from Aurora Public Schools and Syna Morgan from Jefferson County Public Schools, brought specific recommendations of what they deem a reasonable testing schedule. Both educators cited research that says ELA should be tested in third grade. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirms that proficient 3rd grade reading is a critical skill that affects high school graduation rates.

But they also said that annual testing in every subject every year is repetitive and unproductive. Local assessments conducted by school districts provide much more refined and timely data related to reading progress, for example. The assessment educators offered a rotation in which each subject, ELA, math, science, and social studies, gets tested once every three years.

Task Force members supporting the status quo are insisting on continuous, annual testing. They believe that standardized tests and the Colorado Annual Growth Model are the most reliable tools for measuring teacher and school performance and improving student achievement. They brought no research that proved their contention. Flat TCAP and CMAS scores don’t make their case.

The Colorado Annual Growth Model is premised on comparing cohorts of students’ scores from year to year. Students who have the same test scores in year one are compared to each other in year two by subject. When students test above their cohort average, they’re deemed to have made progress and teachers get credit. When students test below their cohort average, they haven’t made progress and teachers are dinged.

The state averages credits and dings across subjects by student, class, and school to come up with a credit/ding number used in teacher and school performance evaluations. Teacher salaries may depend on their average of credits and dings involving up to four subjects for elementary school teachers.

It’s easy to see how the Growth Model gives screwy end-results. A child may score very high in reading and very low in math and the teacher’s performance evaluation will tip in one direction or another depending on how high in one subject and low in the other. None of this crediting and dinging and averaging really helps the student.

Task Force parents Bethany Drosendahl and Ilana Spiegel question the Colorado Annual Growth Model. Ilana Spiegel pointed out that a student can advance and go backwards at the same time. That is, some students may progress compared to their non-proficient peers but regress in relation to proficiency.

Parent Task Force members also reminded their colleagues that state mandated tests don’t diagnose ELA, math, science, and social studies challenges. They take resources, money, and teacher-to-student intervention time away from remediation and advancement. Tests don’t get students to proficiency; steady application of intensive effort gets students to the next level.

The status quo members have not identified a pathway to get non-proficient students the actual support they need to meet the standards.

So the Task Force is stuck: no change v. big change. Governor John Hickenlooper acknowledged the need for modifications in high school and social studies testing in his State of the Union. But he, like the status quo members, wants to hang on to the Colorado Annual Growth Model despite its dubious value.

This may be a matter of pride and stubbornness. Many other states are using the Colorado model. But if the Task Force ends up pussyfooting, and the legislature ends up tiptoeing, they can expect big cat parents and students to strike. Watch out! In the electric words of British poet William Blake:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?