Archive for the ‘NCLB’ Category

Opt Out

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Has the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) thought about the variety of students who must be assessed?

Or is each state, member of a consortium or not, only thinking of assessment in terms of the numbers No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires, which is still not revised in Congress?

The “opt out” strategy that has swept across the country, mainly in PARCC assessment states, but also in SBAC states, sheds glaring light. This post will look over the statements made about “opting out.”

“Opt out” supporters do not like the over-emphasis on testing; but also feel that student data privacy is not protected under the current assessment requirements. In reading various blogs and reports by parents on “opt out,” it can be claimed that middle class, educated parents and students are rebelling against the national fanaticism for testing. As has been said many times, students that come from high income, educated communities always do well. Testing all the time does not serve their learning well. Also, these parents have long been leery of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA. Note that in January 2015, President Obama called for revised federal legislation to regulate student data privacy. Up to Congress to change the current FERPA.

Let’s look at the national United Opt Out website. United Opt Out’s position is that corporations are dominating high-stakes testing decisions that the site intimates has influence over Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the consortia, and  the United States Department of Education. The website names ACHIEVE, a partner of the testing corporation Pearson, and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) which advocates for free markets, limited government, and federalism.

From my perspective, even more paranoid are the views named in the book Crimes of the Educators written by Alex Newman and Sam Blumenthal. Mr. Newman, in his post for Brave New Schools on WND News, “Common Core: Obama’s Assault on Children” (4/12/2015) wants to “stop the nightmarish plot and keep liberty alive.” He includes CCSS in the testing tirade. He has said that CCSS shapes minds with propaganda and reduces critical thinking for nefarious purposes. He asserts CCSS is a federal encroachment on every child’s education and that the assessments leave privacy of student records open to the world. He places guilt on the Obama administration, the UN, crony capitalists hoping to profit, population control zealot and Common Core financier Bill Gates, and “the whole corrupt educational establishment”. According to his convictions, students should “opt out.” Now, to whom is he speaking?

School districts from Seattle, Washington, to Pacific Grove, California, to the state of Colorado and New York have counted thousands of students and parents opting out of this year’s tests. Many districts have made applications that must be signed. Only California (SBAC) and Utah have regulations that allow parents and students to “opt out.” Since the country must still abide by the regulations under NCLB, state and school district administrators pale with fear of punitive measures because schools must include the number of test takers to fulfill the Adequate Yearly Progress, known as AYP, reports still required by federal law.

Before thinking that getting rid of the federal government’s place in schools will solve the CCSS and assessment problem, ask the administrators at SBAC and PARCC if they have thought of how to equip the United States’ diverse schools, students, and teachers for this future? Opting out does not help student achievement; supportive alternatives are the answer.

What about supporting diverse needs? Look for the next post that will address the problems for the actual tests.



Three Ways to Help a School

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Believe it or not the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted last week to bring its revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known to teachers in the 21st century as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), to the Senate floor.

Understand, only the Senate’s committee has voted for any change – not the entire Senate — and reconciliation must occur with House of Representatives legislation. ESEA has not been revised—disagreement has reigned over options and policy — since NCLB was passed and signed in 2001. The original bill was designed to be revised every seven years to address poverty and unequal education in America.

Why hasn’t complete revision yet been made? These days, why does this blogger suspect politics — not success for students — is the culprit? Look at who is the current president. Look at the mean-spirited lawmakers who run the current Congress.

It can be said that the latest is an amazing reconciliation among 22 members of the Senate committee. Committee leaders, Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), must have patiently twisted recalcitrant arms after hearing enough from the public who, I’m thinking, said “We’re not going to take it anymore!” At least I wish they had.

According to Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers, the legislation “moves away from the counterproductive focus on sanctions and high-stakes test, and ends federalized teacher evaluations and school closings.” Opinion, p.2, New York Times, Sunday, April 19, 2015.

So what will help a school succeed, if a low-performing school no longer spends the day on high-stakes tests and teacher evaluation? The country is full of foundations researching and reporting on good educational programs that succeed in low-performing neighborhood schools. One foundation study that has caught my eye is the series of reports from The Wallace Foundation relating to the need for valuable leadership in a school. Since the possible – notice, I said possible – revised ESEA legislation will support strategies for under-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods, it behooves districts to train new principals to be those leaders. Read the reports! They emphasize the ways for a district to expand the number of quality principals. They provide tools to achieve leadership quality.

Once strong leadership is established, and once high-stakes testing is no longer the be-all and end-all of the school year, an abundance of programs can help teachers improve student behavior and academics. Articles from workshops and education magazines have shared math projects, said to improve both confident behavior and student academic success.

Have you, high school teachers, been introduced to Build, a program that leverages both reading and math literacy? Districts using this model can be found on both coasts. In a ninth grade course, students form a partnership of four and divide responsibilities to design and produce a product, design a business plan with a budget, marketing plans, and consumer services. One product I read about was a bracelet made from melted toothbrushes decorated with motivational slogans. Sweet, as kids say. Designed in 1999 for East Palo Alto schools by Suzanne McKechnie Klar, by now students even make pitches to venture advisors.

A larger project motivates middle school students in a school with math abilities from kindergarten to eighth grade levels. It’s called School of One and it’s expensive. However, it uses computers for teaching, not playing computer and video games, it does more for teachers than design, administer, and score tests. At one school, on any day, you may see four seventh grade math teachers work with 120 kids, some individually, some small group, others working on a group math project. The teachers’ computer program analyzes the quizzes from the previous day, organizes the period for the day, and students check the monitors when they enter to know what their station is. At the end of the day, they take quizzes again which tell the teachers what the student should do the next day.

Critics have said that such a model is disruptive and hard to organize. So? It’s disruptive when students are not being taught at their level. The organization is geared to improve their achievement. New Classroom Innovations Partners can support introduction and management. Again this teaching model can be found across the country.

Three strategies to implement if school boards no longer have to spend time on high-stakes tests and sanctions: good school-site leadership, and two math models to improve achievement for all the graduates in the 21st century. Cross your fingers!




The Trouble with DFER

Monday, September 15th, 2014

The media has been filled with news about the initial start of pre-kindergarten classes. Bill De Blasio, New York City mayor, has made the biggest leap. Several states have been building up such a program for many years: Oklahoma and Tennessee are two examples. Thus, President Obama has seen light glimmering for one of his education reforms.

At the same time, struggle goes on over Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how to implement them in a responsible way. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a title calculated to mislead, is one of the stalwarts in stirring up trouble about procedures. On the one hand, its website espouses opening the top-down education monopoly that its board sees as taking away power from parents. Reading between the lines that means parents should have access to vouchers so they can choose to send their children to any school that’s not failing.

On the website, it states that schools are captive to powerful entrenched interests that want to preserve the position of adults, not students. Guess what those words infer? Teachers unions! One of DFER’s purposes is to spend money on candidates for office that support its ideas. Can you guess who is not getting support?

Another strong statement on the website advocates accountability at public schools and closure of failing schools. The statement infers testing and Value Added Measures for scores and teacher evaluation based on the percentage of students who pass these exams. As has been stated many times in posts on this blog, an evaluation process is easy to design but difficult to implement fairly. Until the assessment process is sorted out country-wide, teacher evaluation based on test scores is not valid.

For those who dig deep into the education reform movement, examine the board for DFER. One will find lots of well-known educators who, in the past, have promoted liberal education ideas. And a lot of hedge fund members who often choose philanthropy that is supposed to help impoverished children but is also easy for results-oriented business executives to understand (see Joe Nocera). Thus, charter schools proliferate, like many in New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, and other big cities with troubled schools. Are hedge fund executives suddenly knowledgeable about education in the public schools? No.

Joe Williams is the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform in addition to running Education Reform Now, a non-profit, and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, Inc., its 501c4 advocacy affiliate. If one reads the articles named in his biography, they range from liberal to conservative viewpoints. Often they are published by the conservative Hoover Institute in California. The CA DFER is led by Steve Barr, known from the Profile in The New Yorker about Green Dot Schools (charters) that do allow union representation. What do you think? It’s Los Angeles! Eli Broad, the big money man in Los Angeles is a DFER supporter.

On the other hand, Diane Ravitch, who once backed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and at one time was supportive of DFER is now against its efforts as well as against most government efforts to remodel public schools. A quote from her blog states that the business model is not transferable to education. Many teachers will agree with that position. Ravitch also stomped on a Colorado DFER member when she said professional educators do make a difference when teaching children, but that won’t happen when a school district continues to hire short-term teachers because they’re cheap.

Last, Paul Horton, a history teacher at University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, wrote to the president, castigating his support for Race to the Top and Teach For America among other ideas with unintended consequences loved by DFER, promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan.

As Michael Hirsch in an article in the New York Teacher way back in December 2010 warned, should you wait to see how DFER’s conservative ideas like vouchers, merit pay based on faulty assessment plans, and curbs on tenure play out?


Controversy Clouds Common Core Compact

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were initially an answer to controversy over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It required students to be proficient in state standards by this year 2014. Most states and teachers in the country knew years ago that the provisions of NCLB (the revision of the Elementary and Secondary School Act in 2001) would never succeed.

Why? States realized that when comparing proficiency, each state had different standards for grade level proficiency and different benchmarks to label students proficient or not. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam confirmed that diagnosis. High-flying student scores dived on the NAEP.

In the uproar that followed, the National Governor’s Association asked the Chief State School Officers Association to gather a team willing to set up standards for all 50 states, Washington D.C. and other territories like Guam. Although agreement to use the standards was voluntary, 45 of the 50 states did agree. And, in spite of criticism that always appears when a new idea is suggested, the standards were well-liked at first. Students were asked to think critically (the new “thing”) and to use their knowledge to solve problems, not merely spit out a fact. Could it be that reams of opinion about vouchers, teacher evaluation, and “school choice” would be sidelined as teacher preparation and strengthened curriculum became the headline?

As for criticism, the most worrisome is to blame current poor rates of reading and math proficiency, poor high school graduation, and poor teacher practice on public school education. Above all, the 22% impoverished children in the U.S. continue to trouble urban and rural sections of the country. Will CCSS change that? Only with relentless determination over time.

What has happened? Suddenly, the talk has become political. States have dropped out of the two consortia that formed to design an exam that would assess student learning. Did anyone think that an “assessment” would NOT be designed? However, a major concern is the use of “problem solving” queries rather than old-time multiple choice questions. Ah! Should students be taught to think?

Controversy explodes over security and privacy of test data. (See other posts.) Although participation is voluntary and the standards were developed by state educators, not the federal government, very conservative citizens insist the CCSS is an element of “federal takeover” of their lives. The most conservative state legislatures use such worries as the excuse to drop out of their consortia. Indiana has dropped away. Missouri’s and Kansas’ legislatures are debating the issue.

Will we ever get past the politics? You may have strong ideas about assessment, teacher preparation, or “choice.” Who would think that providing Common Core State Standards to every citizen’s son and daughter should be the controversy?

FERPA-Whose Hands Tap Student Data?

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

The window of time for field testing California’s Smarter Balanced tests, designed to assess Common Core State Standards (CCSS), began Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Next the issue of analyzing the test questions for validity will come and that means a conflict with limits in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The March 26, 2014, program on NPR’s Forum discussed the pros and cons of assessment that had been roundly criticized in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. In spite of the troubles for states that have already used new exams to assess Common Core State Standards, like New York, the advocates of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in California are upbeat. Teacher education is to be modified; standards are fewer but explored more deeply; technological components needed in school districts have been surveyed; and new curriculum is to be phased in gradually. Most important, at least in California, analysis of the assessments is to improve instruction, rather than assign a label which stays in the student’s record for all school days.

However, the analysis of student assessments and who is allowed to handle such data is the conflict in many states. Since 1974 the law called Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a bill by Senator James Buckley, has provided the guidelines for sharing student records. As a brief summary, only parents and students can peruse and amend information in the student’s record. Schools may not hand over information unless all identification has been eliminated and, even then, only certain groups are authorized to use the records. Every state’s department of education has the full legislation available on its website.

The 1974 legislation has been amended several times to define vague wording or to update references. The latest amendments came about in 2011when the United States Department of Education offered clarifications to the act. The main change was to ask for written agreement between the school, district, or state and any private company before allowing disguised information to be touched by the private company hired to analyze educational assessment data. For example, SBAC has hired and will hire firms to verify validity of field test data. (See 3-18-14 post for information about SBAC).

Look up FERPA on the internet. You will find many articles and blogs chastising the U. S. Department of Education, saying the latest changes make it easier for outside vendors to exploit the data for financial marketing reasons. For example, in some PARCC consortium states, parents objected to data being managed by InBloom, a private cyber cloud firm that might sell the data to other vendors. Parents say the legislation no longer protects student rights of privacy. It is true that in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, directory information was amended to be disclosed for military purposes.

Although 45 states and Washington, DC, agreed to update their curriculum to reflect Common Core Standards, it is not certain that all education changes will unfold smoothly. Criticism abounds. Conservative states have dropped out of consortia. Money concerns overtake the explanation of advantages. Technology in schools is not as advanced as news stories share.

On the other hand, why denigrate one change to public education that over time may finally improve student learning? Student achievement is the goal. Fix the problems. Move along!