Archive for the ‘Annual Yearly Progress’ Category

How Many Americans Think Public Schools Are ‘In Crisis’?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

We received our Academic Performance Index (API) results Monday, September 13, and pumped our fists since our school, middle-of-the-road as far as our district goes, reached a score of 908.

Almost any school reaching 800 or above is considered fine and dandy, but according to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks a couple of the schools in my district, though showing an API of 900 or higher, are considered ‘program improvement’ schools.  That’s right. A disaggregated group did not reach the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) state goal of 56.8% in English/Language arts, 58% in Math.

The glitches in federal guidelines and state benchmarks, long warned about, are beginning to show up.  Of course, the school district immediately began to examine scores of the students who stayed at ‘basic’ or below, i.e. not good enough, and as we already knew, it was the special services students who didn’t make the grade.  Those small number of students are spread through the grades and so there aren’t enough to label my school ‘program improvement,’ especially since the younger students managed to make a good enough score.

Loud wailing about the weaknesses of the NCLB inspired exams and benchmarks set in 2002 continue all over the country.

But 67% of Americans think the public schools are ‘in crisis’?  As usual, statistics and polls must be read with caution–including Time magazine who paid for the poll.  What does the question mean?  No one in my school district, parents or educators, would say we’re in crisis as far as learning success.  Budget yes, learning, no.

I read, however, in The San Francisco Chronicle an opinion article that STAR tests aren’t secure, that is, old test examples can be modeled and even correct answers handed out, though I don’t know what evidence indicates that illegal activity.  Not at my school.

In my Masters classes, however, we have discussed tests like California’s STAR testing which will have to change now that the legislature and state Department of Education have agreed to Common Core Standards.

About time!  Special services students as well as high-achieving students might do better if the way to account for successful learning changed.  Right now a multiple-choice exam once a year is the easiest to score, disaggregate, and analyze.  Perhaps the experts should look at some other ways to find out if students, from high-achievers, special service students and all the diverse groups in between, are learning to read and do math well enough to think through to the meaning.

In an article by Susan Engel, director of the teaching program at Williams College, I was reminded of using and analyzing reading samples which is the reason I want to get funds for iPod-Touch tools.  In fact, that type of reading sample has been used in many schools to analyze reading and English Language Development.

Ms. Engel also suggests that we don’t need to obsessively follow each and every student every year to see how a particular school is doing.  Using that instrument to punish teachers is not going to improve a school.  I know this blog has enumerated a number of models that would keep public schools strong without being dependent on tests only.

Right now, of course, I’m just happy that this year my students are willing to learn without having to coax them every step of the way.

*For more see Susan Engel, The New York Times “Scientifically Tested Tests” September 20, 2010.

*See Time Magazine’s print article abridgement of the poll done by ABT SRBI, August 17-19, 2010.

Who is Being Tested?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The single word ‘test’ sets off certainty and abuse.  Toss in the word ‘evaluation,’ especially ‘teacher evaluation’ and the argument becomes furious.

analyzing 8-week tests

analyzing 8-week tests

For example, based on the once a year test, California schools received their Annual Yearly Progress scores mid-August and on September 13 Academic Performance Index scores, statistically calculated mainly from the test assessment.  Some schools were grinning and some were down so far it looked like up.

At the same time California legislative bill SB1381 is ready to be signed by the governor which over time will change the test results for schools because Kindergarten students must be 5 years old by September 1 rather than December 1 (with possible waivers, of course).  This change introduced over three years is guaranteed to revise the test scores for even the most low-performing third graders in the next few years.  The older the student, the more likely he or she is to understand how to perform.

Why the fury?

Read any newspaper, education magazine, or online journal to read a long list of reasons one test is an unreliable measure of a student or teacher.  Here are three often named: scores can bounce for a student from one year to the next; short tests every 8 weeks or so assesses what students are learning and provides opportunity to revise teaching; the tests used for AYP and API do not “measure the social skills that are crucial to early learning.” See Daniel Leonhardt’s article “Stand and Deliver” in The New York Times Magazine, September 5, 2010.

The Congressional Edujobs bill with money being sent to states will allay some anxiety during this year as more teachers are not worried about their positions and thus not so vehement about tests-whichever exams are used.

In addition, Race to the Top guidelines and funds for states is a good thing overall.  At least a set of proposals has been generated and states are now addressing the education problems that in the past have been enumerated until one’s eyes glaze over.  No district is asked to choose one over another way to save low-performing public schools.  The models that eventually show the most improvement in student achievement will likely combine several of the many models available.

One sure thing, however, is the chance to revise each state’s testing program.  Keeping in mind the long list of problems with the current tests, it seems valuable to devise a system for the state that will assess the achievement success of students and provide support for learners from the analysis of reliable assessments.  It may be that lots of short assessments (like old-fashioned spelling tests or brief math operations weekly assessments) will turn out to be the most useful.

Anxiety is using one exam a year to label students as well as use that score to evaluate teachers.  A few teachers unhelpful to students may be identified.  However, if the school does not receive the resources to improve, what good is it to castigate a particular school, its teachers and students?

Here is where small grants like those saluted in the current issue of the California Teachers Association magazine California Educator are important as well as financially well-liked in a state with a continuing budget crisis.  Teachers can develop a program that suits their own school’s difficulties, then apply and receive a grant to implement the plan.  Of course, concerns arise like does the small plan allow replication, does it become an institution for the school, does the entire school support the plan.

The struggle is faced in California as well as states all over the country: teachers must be accountable, the latest term for being responsible in elementary school for the success of 20-30 students a year.

A system of testing, if it doesn’t assess what teachers are being asked to do, is going to be seen as an obstacle, something to defend against, so that it takes up a lot of thinking time that one would hope was being used for instruction.

Learning Math in the USA

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

How can we be doing so badly?  The richest country in the world and our kids can’t get a decent math test score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

hands-on math in textbook

hands-on math in textbook

That, at least, is the judgment based on data from the 2009 Nation’s Report Card released Wednesday, October 14, 2009, and noted in many national newspapers.  The San Francisco Chronicle, “State’s math scores near bottom” by Jill Tucker, says, “California consistently has ranked among the lowest-scoring states”–third from the bottom after this year’s testing sample, only Alabama and Mississippi with lower scores.

On the other hand, except for once every two years when the Nation’s Report Card test scores hit the newspaper, only a few people in the education world know the test was given.  When teaching, I never knew a school or teacher who had given the test.  I’d never seen an example of the test.

It’s a bet that only math gurus at the State Department of Education know fourth grade math proficiency has grown from a scale score 208 in 1992 when the test was first given in California to 232 this year, compared to USA national average 239.  The bad news is two years ago fourth graders had almost the same paltry score-230–out of a possible 500 scale score (a statistical tool to compare data from all 50 states).

The final insult is only 35% of California fourth graders learned enough of the federal math standards to achieve scale scores considered proficient or advanced.

How can that be when the level of proficiency or better on the California Standards Test (CST) used as a growth benchmark for the California Academic Performance Index (API) and the national Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report has shown considerable improvement?

How? Why?

After much clicking through data on the National Center for Education Statistics’ unfriendly website, the following was disgorged about California NAEP math scores:

1) 7400 of 6 million California students were tested

2) 310 schools agreed to give the test in Fresno School District, San Diego Unified, and Los Angeles Unified

3) where the largest groups of English Language Learners (ELL) in the state reside.

No wonder the scores are weak (ELL average scale score 211).  Every California school district already knows that the achievement gap in the state is most disparate for students who speak little English.

Seems like, as teachers say all the time, too many exams.  Teachers in-the-know are busy looking at in-school assessments, using on-site data to make teaching decisions for improvement in state standards math instruction.

Nevertheless, newspaper articles and various reports about NAEP student failure point to four problems.

1) Every state has different math standards, some too easy, some too broadly defined, none matching the federal standards.

2) State assessments are too easy or don’t assess the most important math standards.

3) State proficiency benchmarks are too low.

4) Teacher preparation, credentialing, and professional development aren’t good enough, often blamed on teacher’s union policies.

What to do?

Most teachers will say, get on with it, create common standards, assessments, and benchmarks between states for math education.  Another well-kept secret, 48 states have agreed to do so.  An example is the New England Common Assessment Program.

Most important by far, states need to step up and fork over the money to “turn around” low performing schools which all those achievement gap ELL students attend.  Various studies have documented a small number of excellent schools for “turn around” models.*

Once attendance is secured, high standards made clear, parents involved, teachers well-supported, the curriculum may begin to stress critical thinking skills, the way to pass any test with flying colors, no matter who gives the exam.

*The school community wants to talk about this dilemma?  Take Care!, showing ways for the school community’s adults to resolve problems successfully,  may help.  See the website for this blog.

Better Off in “Basic Aid” School?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

These days, savvy California parents with school-age children, looking for a place to live in a school district with stable finances, might search in a “basic aid” school district.

"basic aid" school in Los Altos, CA

"basic aid" school in Los Altos, CA

Those schools are usually thought to be found in high personal income communities, with high academic ratings and highly-qualified teachers.  A parent would be happy when the realtor discovered the perfect house.

Turns out nothing is perfect.  Every school unique.

If the realtor found a delightful dwelling in up-scale Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, the family might be surprised that Beverly Hills Unified School District-fabulous student academic achievement; clean, up-to-date facilities; elite teacher corps-depends on “revenue limit” funds.

On the other hand, an oil man, buying a home in the Kern County Taft Union High School District, would find his children in a “basic aid” district, reaping the property taxes from the oil companies sitting on vast oil fields in the Central Valley.  The families with children attending TUHSD, however, have the lowest average personal income levels in the state. The schools are identified as Program Improvement (PI) under No Child Left Behind and student educational needs put a huge stress on the “basic aid” funds.  It relies heavily on state and federal categorical funds like Title I to support its programs.

How can it be so?

Settlement of the Serrano vs. Priest cases in 1972 and 1976 by the California Supreme Court, brought students under the equal opportunity protection of the law.  (Read Paradise Lost by Peter Schrag for the whole picture.)

The state then guaranteed each district a specific amount of funding per student per year, based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA).  Those “revenue limit” funds were based on property taxes raised in 1972-73.  For 35 years those monies have been adjusted by the state from other sources to equalize the revenue to each district.  Most of the approximately 1000 school districts in California rely on state “revenue limit” funds to set the yearly budget.

In 1978 Proposition 13 passed and property taxes became a huge thorn in the side for every school district.  It turns out some school districts actually had more property tax available within the school district boundary than would have been received from the “revenue limit” allocation.  Those districts are known as “basic aid” districts, about 100 or so in California this year.

Remember, all is not perfect.

Look at two adjoining “basic aid” elementary school districts in the affluent Silicon Valley where some of the most expensive property in the United States is found.  Los Altos School District’s Academic Performance Index (API) for 2008-09 was 959.  Can’t do much better, except for its few socio-economically disadvantaged students who barely made the grade on the NCLB Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) scale.

Meanwhile next door, “basic aid” only since July 2009, the Mountain View Whisman School District’s API rating was a respectable 822.  However, with a far more diverse student population, two of its schools are designated PI and must “turn around.”

Listening to Los Altos school board candidates, many questions came up about the antagonistic exchanges with the charter school that uses property in the district boundary.  No one brought up the need for schools, even high-performing ones, to devise plans to analyze test data to enrich the curriculum for high-achieving students as well as support low-performing students.

Reading the local newspapers, MVWSD is consumed with issues that can drain money from its  “basic aid” funds.  For example, property tax money doesn’t relate to student enrollment, so when one school loses and another bulges with students, arguments ensue.

What about the main problem for this “basic aid” district:  Program Improvement and “turn around?”  PI means professional development; teachers to work with low-performing students; a staff that communicates well; a plan to analyze testing data and account for the improvements all students must make; district administrators that realize the time and effort it will take.

School boards have difficulty focus on these tough issue, and such a “turn around” gives all districts a tight budget headache.

OMG, What To Do?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

So you see (post 7-14-09), everyone in the education world is accountable for helping students become proficient in reading and math.

It turns out that some schools are doing well. They continue to turn out plenty of qualified applicants for high ranking universities. In addition, many schools are still able to hit their targets – just enough students can read at grade level and perform well enough on math exams to reach the yearly benchmark.

The question might creep into your head-what about the students that haven’t reached the yearly target?  Despite NCLB, some schools chronically under-perform.  No matter how stringent or how lax the state standards and exams, a large group of students do not do well in school. Many drop out before they finish high school.

Those students are the ones that schools must figure out how to be accountable for.  NCLB says nothing about how to save those students.  It leaves the nature, depth, and quality of any needed reforms entirely up to schools, school districts, and states.

This blog summarized studies that have analyzed what improving schools look like (post 6-30-09).

To begin a turn-around the federal administration and department of education have enumerated specific basic principles to improve the school day and year for the nation’s children.  For instance, on the Education Agenda of the current White House website, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind legislation specifically states that money should be provided to support programs to retain and train teachers; provide mentoring and planning time; as well as address compensation for work in schools with high need students.

Teachers examine data

Teachers examine data

With those principles in mind, the blog reader should go to the Partners in School Innovation Foundation, based in San Francisco, for information about the ‘cycle of inquiry,’ one model based on the business model suggested in the previous post which supports mentoring and planning time.

Such a strategy helps teachers and other school professionals be accountable.  For a former “program improvement” school like Grant Elementary in San Jose, California, a continuous ‘cycle of inquiry’ strategy was a major thrust to meet AYP goals.  As of 2008 data, school’s performance was 12% higher in reading/language arts and 22% higher in math than the state benchmarks required.

Ted Lempert, former assemblyman in the California legislature, heads a group called Children Now, which has useful recommendations about teacher compensation.  The group also strongly recommends transparency of funding resources and stable funding for schools, especially those working with high need students.

Speaking of money and teacher training, remember that there are many programs available, even in these tough economic times, to provide inexpensive, but valuable, professional development.  See the flexible DVD model Take Care! on the blog’s website.

The NCLB approach for holding schools accountable is clear.  The expected educational outcomes are clear.  Given the need, it’s unclear why the multitude of models available to achieve student success are so difficult to implement.