Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

From K on Up

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The usual uproar has resounded in the media since the latest scores for high-stakes once-a-year testing have been released. Which state has more students at Level 3 (meets the standard)? Which has more at Level 1 (not meeting the standard)? As if, that is all that counts. I hope not.

The first error of media talk is to call the results “Common Core Scores.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning standards devised to better organize what students in the United States learn by the time they graduate from high school. CCSS is not a test/assessment/exam. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) states have designed an assessment to see how well students have achieved as they go through twelve years of learning. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) has also developed an assessment that some states use. It is misleading to call them Common Core tests. How about “test questions aligned with CCSS” or “test questions based on standards of CCSS”?

Second, the conflict is over the test that is used, not the standards. And part of the furor is over who takes the test. Should Kindergarteners take the test? No. Should twelfth graders take the exam. No, they are taking SAT, AP exams, ACT. They’ve already learned what they are going to learn. Schools should focus on making sure those kids graduate and maybe go to college.

Third, what do the scores show? In California, overall, students did better on the English Language Arts assessment than the Math in this year’s 2015 test which the state calls the baseline to compare with the old STAR yearly exam, baseline 2003. Have all states released their outcomes? No. They are arguing about them. Instead, the issue should be to analyze how different aggregates of students did and then adjust the school/district/state curriculum to improve.

Next, why are parents and teachers upset? Because states are using the scores to evaluate teachers as well as students and calling them low-performing. I say, you don’t need tests to know how teachers or students are performing. You should use tests only to help teachers understand how to improve the curriculum; to help students get tutoring; to create small classes with more than one teacher to work with them. For example, a representative of the non-profit Californians Together says the tests can identify English Language Learners in order to find effective programs to help increase their English learning.

Last, why are schools/districts/states obsessing over a once-a-year method of assessing students? And throwing it out and starting over in hopes of getting better outcomes? If a better process was set up to train teachers; to oversee schools; to provide help for students in need; to spend time during the school year for teachers to use smaller formative assessment that allows for curriculum adaptation during the year; I feel you would see the opportunity for critical thinking, problem solving, analytical writing — the goals of CCSS.

From Kindergarten on up the gap in students’ knowledge across the country would slowly shrink.



Where is Smarter Balanced Now?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Of 10,339 schools just in California, only 49% have satisfied the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards for 2014. This year was the year every student in the United States, even a student defined as English Language Learner or identified as needing Special Education services, was expected to be proficient in reading and math.

The U. S. Department of Education has tried waivers to give states more time to devise a plan to show achievement of impossible goals. Race to the Top grants were offered to states that had a plan to achieve these impossible goals. School districts that performed well were celebrated.

Then, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed so that all school districts across the country could find results for testing that was comparable from state to state. States formed two consortia with the goal to implement the standards through professional development, curricula, and, of course, assessment. As you know, the U. S. Department of Education gave each consortium approximately $175 million to set up models for school districts, taken from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds which expired October 1, 2014.

And controversy began. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) found states dropping out of the consortia. Quarrels began with companies authorized to develop the assessments over student data. Arguments overflowed concerning the cost of investment in textbooks and technology to support the standards. Antagonism spread over how education corporations (like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and Scott Foresman to name a few) were waving expensive Common Core materials in front of public schools.

Much anger can be found on the education blogs about the U.K. public-traded corporation Pearson that was chosen to develop assessments for PARCC. What is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium doing?

It makes you wince that South Carolina has withdrawn from the SBAC and insists it will set up its own standards and have ACT, known for college preparedness testing, develop assessments for 2015. No notice was given why South Carolina withdrew from the consortium. Grumbling, but no action, has been heard from New Hampshire and Missouri state departments of education.

On the plus side, nine consortium members have made a deal with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to establish SBAC as a separate entity based at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Information for SBAC will be consolidated. Currently, Nevada is the governing state for the consortium and Washington handles the fiscal responsibilities.

SBAC is inviting 65 K-12 teachers, college faculty, parents and others to examine assessments currently used and establish achievement levels. 4.2 million students took math or ELA or both ‘computer adaptive’ assessments this spring-a Practice Test that mirrors end-of-year assessment and/or Training Tests that familiarize students with software and navigation tools for technological assessment. At least in California, no scores are being handed down until next year.

Challenges have registered about the writing-heavy ELA assessment. It is feared that dual language students and Special Ed students will be at a disadvantage. At the same time, Joe Willhoft, the executive director for SBAC, has been part of collaborative data and assessment efforts for a long time. West Ed, based in California, has been brought in to manage services.

Next step: solve assessments difficulties.




The Dreaded Math and Common Core

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Until now, nobody has asked how and why does the student use sums, subtraction, multiplication, or division to find the answer to why one train reaches a station before the other. As if most children care. In the real world they are bundled into a car. And are only interested in asking “Are we there yet?” So much for making math part of the student’s world.

It has been established that Americans, in general, are not only poor readers, but admit their innumeracy, inability to perform more than very simple arithmetic. To be kind, Americans are at a low level compared to Finland, Japan, Singapore—all countries with strong mathematical students. Do those statistics make it all right to have a few math whizzes and everyone else be a victim of innumeracy ?

As has come to the attention of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Commission, it isn’t that students are not capable of learning math concepts. It isn’t that America has poor teachers. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in the 1980s affirmed that memorizing facts was not enough. Finally, the time has come to admit that other strategies make better math learners.

However, teachers in the United States, old and young, rely on teaching the way they were taught. The issue is that very few American teachers are trained to improve their abilities in alternative teaching methods at student education institutions or in professional development classes arranged by a County Office of Education.

Take a guess why. In spite of the NCTM’s strategies, acclaimed as the best methods invented in the world, do you know a teacher at your school that will not implement a new strategy, no matter which resources are available to support a new model? What are the reasons? “It’s just another idea.” “It won’t last.” “Something else will be pressed on me.” “My kids do well enough.”

Nevertheless, transformation is happening. With the adoption of CCSS by 43 states and the District of Columbia, teachers have the opportunity to learn how students learn best and so raise the school population out of the muddy waters of innumeracy and illiteracy.

For example, in Northern California teachers attend a MERIT two-week professional development class for language and technology at the Krause Center for Innovation on the Foothill-De Anza Community College campus or FAME that stresses student collaboration to find more than one way to solve a mathematical problem. Did you know that it can be done and certainly teaches students how to think?

There are many programs like these. Search in your teaching area. Here’s the chance to change your whole concept of teaching. It takes time to change old habits, but America’s students will benefit in school and in the real world. Isn’t that the point?

To learn more about math anxieties in the U.S. read “Q: Why Does Everyone Hate the New Math” by Elizabeth Green in The New York Times Magazine, July 27, 2014.

Stipend and Student Co-teaching

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

The 2013-2014 school year closes, but in states that have not dropped out of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) program teachers already attend workshops for the 2014-2015 implementation.

We’ve spoken endlessly about CCSS; about testing controversy for the new standards; about teacher evaluation tied, or about to be, to the new standards. Just this week, in Los Angeles, a judge has upheld a case to eliminate tenure and “last in, first fired” in the California education code. The Gates Foundation, big supporter of CCSS, has asked for a moratorium to allow states to resolve problems as new systems take hold. The Obama administration has defined opportunities to pay back student loans.

Nevertheless, dropout rates, poor graduation rates, poor scores on the tests tried this spring have continued to worry education experts of low-income schools. Second language students and special education children are affected. How does the community provide services to that crew of students?

Let’s solve two problems based on updating preparation in college teacher credential programs.

First, student loan fees pile up, leftover from undergraduate classes, while most potential credential candidates pursue education classes day after day before unpaid student teaching. Second, the school community knows that more adults in low-income school classrooms support students. For example, at SPARK schools in Newark, New Jersey, students improved because money assigned to the charter school was spent on additional personnel. (New Yorker, May 19, 2014, “Schooled” by Dale Russakoff)

At San Jose State University (SJSU), co-teaching has been established as the credential model to prepare student teachers for the K-12 classroom of today. SJSU Dean of Lurie College, Debbie Chin, has noted that special education preparation has long used such a model. The plan to make co-teaching the preparation model for credential programs will be most successful when it becomes a way to pay back student loans. Why not provide a stipend for co-teaching?

State universities provide scholarships; turn them into stipends. State legislatures furnish funds to credential programs; change the money to stipends. If a charter school such as SPARK can adjust its finances, surely public school districts can find a way to do so. Foundations that have traditionally funded new ideas for schools and other groups like the NewSchools Venture Fund can establish the wages/payments for loans to provide pay for student teachers in public schools.

Controversy over poor teacher salaries goes on non-stop. Paying stipends to student teachers who co-teach in low-income schools and can pay back their loans encourages high quality that the education community desires.

inBloom’s Big Data: Accountabilty or Liability

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Jefferson County School District in Colorado is embroiled in what’s likely to become a national controversy around the uses of big data in k-12 education, student privacy, technology security, and the impact of large foundations on so-called education reform.

School districts like Jeffco, one of the 50 largest in the US, have collected lots of data on students including names, addresses, email addresses, test scores, assessment scores, disciplinary events, medical needs, and demographic and economic information.  Much of the data is scattered over numerous software applications, making it difficult for teachers and other educators to pull everything together.

Teachers may have to enter the same data into several different databases, which is time consuming and annoying.  So districts want a system to pull all the bits together.

inBloom built by $100 million from Gates and Carnegie Foundations

That’s where inBloom, the technology platform developed by the Gates and Carnegie foundations, comes in.  It can take data from multiple sources, organize it, store it, and funnel it back to teachers through a “dashboard” system.  That’s the good news.

Here’s part of the controversy.  inBloom will store huge chunks of personal data from Jeffco students and all students in New York State and potentially many other states in one platform on cloud servers managed by inBloom employees.  Parents worry that their kids’ data will get highjacked by hackers.  They also wonder why all this data will be bundled in one place rather than held locally so it all can’t be shoveled out at one time to who knows whom.

Parents worry that federal privacy rules are insufficient for protection

Parents are also concerned that federal FERPA (privacy rules) regulations, watered down by the US Department of Education, won’t provide sufficient security to protect private information.  Under FERPA, school districts can share student information without notifying parents for research or for development of curriculum content.  Maybe parents don’t want their kids’ data used for those purposes, but they won’t know.

Rupert Murdoch wants to profit from education content business

Here’s the next part of the controversy:  Who will be in the business of developing the curriculum content, especially for the new Common Core Standards?  Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, with its Amplify tablet, will be one provider.  Murdoch’s numerous media holdings in Britain have admitted to breaking the law related to hacking into voicemail of newsmakers and other privacy violations.  That’s not a track record that gives much comfort to some parents.

Are philanthropic foundations wagging the tail of the education dog

The Gates Foundation has a big dog in this hunt.  The education side of the Foundation is committed to building digital content to support student achievement.  The content may be derived from information gleaned from the big data contained within inBloom if districts agree to share it.  While Jefferson County School District won’t sell the data, it can share the information, giving private entities access to their students’ records.

Even if individual student identifiers are stripped from the data, parents may not want their children’s records used for these purposes.

Jeffco school board hasn’t provided guidance on the pilot, yet

So far, Cindy Stevenson, superintendent of Jeffco schools, has set up a Data Management Advisory Council without guidance from the district’s board of education.  The board hasn’t given direction on the big data pilot’s mission or policies.  At this time, the district is not offering parents any options to stay out of the data collection.

Apparently, parents who want to opt out are going to have to leave the district, seek private schools, or do homeschooling.

Many other questions are out there:

  • How will the data be secured
  • Who will have access to the data, under what circumstances
  • Will the data be shared with non profit, for profit, and research entities, and will parents be notified of any sharing
  • What government entities will have access to the data and for what purposes
  • What is the long term financial plan for inBloom; is it sustainable
  • What will happen if a security breach occurs; will parents be notified if a security breach occurs; how will security breaches be defined
  • Who is liable for security breaches
  • What policies will protect student privacy
  • How will districts monitor compliance with privacy and security policies
  • Who is responsible for guiding the district in its big data mission – the board or the superintendent
  • How will school boards provide oversight on big data collection and distribution
  • How effective has data collection been in driving education results over the last decade
  • To what degree should foundations drive education “reform” within a school district
  • How will big data collection ultimately affect teacher evaluation
  • What negative impacts may big data collection have on student achievement

Please add your questions and observations to our comment boxes.  Paula Noonan, First Vice President, Jefferson County School District