NYC principals fight back against state tests
A group of New York City principals said they'll no longer consider the state's standardized tests for admissions.
May 30th, 2013
10:13 AM ET

NYC principals fight back against state tests

By Marina Carver, CNN

(CNN) A group of 15 New York City principals announced last week that starting with the 2014-2015 school year, they will no longer use state test scores as part of their middle  and high school admissions criteria.

In a letter sent to parents, teachers, principals and education officials, the principals said the tests were “inauthentic” and take away time “for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing.”

This year’s New York state standardized test was introduced as being aligned for the first time with Common Core Standards - the new national standards that have been adopted in 45 states.  The tests were administered to students in third grade through eighth grade in April and are used by some selective New York middle and high schools when considering admission.

Common Core encouraged many teachers and administrators at first, including Stacy Goldstein, a principal who signed the letter and the director of School of Future's middle school in Manhattan.

“We like it because it focuses on critical thinking and reading across a lot of texts,” she said of the education standards. “We were hoping the test itself would reflect more meaningful work, but it didn’t.”

The principals’ letter expressed that disappointment:  “The length, structure and timing caused many students to rush through the tests in an attempt to finish, get stuck on confusing questions, and not complete the test or even get to more authentic parts like the writing assessment,” they wrote.

“We’re not just worried about the kids’ scores going down, we’re concerned about the validity of the test itself,” Goldstein added. “We didn’t want this letter interpreted as principals just concerned about the test scores, so we wanted to get it out before the scores are released.”

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Filed under: Common Core • Elementary school • High school • Middle school • Testing
May 6th, 2013
05:31 PM ET

Atlanta teacher accused of cheating: 'I'm completely innocent'

(CNN) - Thirty-five educators were indicted this year in a cheating scandal that rocked the Atlanta Public Schools and drew national attention. A judge recently lifted a gag order in the case, and two Atlanta teachers accused of cheating on standardized tests shared their perspectives on the charges.

"I'm struggling. I'm still struggling," elementary school teacher Angela Williamson told CNN. "To have to continue to fight to defend my name, my character, my good teaching reputation that I once had, it seems like all that has been stolen from me."

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Filed under: Cheating • Teachers • Testing
My View: How grading software fails students
Professors can learn a lot about students when they have to put their thoughts on paper, Jay Parini says.
April 15th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: How grading software fails students

Jay PariniBy Jay Parini, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the author of "The Art of Teaching." His novel "The Last Station" was made into an Academy Award-nominated film.

(CNN) - I've been teaching English in college for 40 years, and I've never met a single professor who likes grading. "Hate" is too strong a word for what they feel. But nobody likes it. The fun stuff is talking to students, holding classroom discussions, thinking about your subject in complex ways and trying to convey your enthusiasm for the subject. Education is about leading students in useful directions, helping them to discover their own critical intelligence, their own voices.

Now a company has come up with software that can grade our papers for us. EdX is a nonprofit company started by Harvard and MIT. It also creates online courses called MOOCs (for massive open online course). With this new software, students submitting their papers online can get immediate feedback: no more waiting until the lazy professor gets around to grading their work, probably leaving coffee rings and inky fingerprints on the pages.

Having a program grade papers would apparently free teachers to do other things, but I think it would be a mistake. Why? As a teacher, I may begin to understand students by their conversation or how they respond in class, but when they actually have to put their thoughts on paper, I can learn a huge amount in a relatively brief time. I can see how they think and feel in relation to the material before them, and if (and how) they have problems in making connections, marshaling arguments, drawing conclusions. Needless to say, I can also get a sense of where they are with the material at hand. Have they learned enough to progress to the next stage?

Read Parini's full column

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Filed under: Testing • Voices
Atlanta schools chief looks beyond cheating scandal
Atlanta's public schools are recovering from one of the largest school cheating scandals in U.S. history.
April 4th, 2013
02:57 PM ET

Atlanta schools chief looks beyond cheating scandal

By Tommy Andres, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - This week, 35 former Atlanta Public Schools teachers and administrators, including the former superintendent, Beverly Hall, turned themselves into police. They were indicted on charges ranging from racketeering to theft, all tied to a district-wide cheating scandal that was discovered in recent years. It's been described as the largest school cheating scheme in the history of the United States.

The teachers are accused of erasing and changing standardized test answers to improve scores. Those scores are tied closely to state and federal funding as well as teacher bonuses.

The arrests were another step towards closure of a three year saga that's left an indelible mark on Atlanta.

Errol Davis took over as superintendent when Hall resigned in 2011.

CNN Radio interviewed Davis about his journey through the scandal and about changes he's made on testing security at Atlanta's public schools.

Read the full story on CNN's Soundwaves blog

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Filed under: Cheating • CNN Radio • Podcast • School administration • Testing
March 29th, 2013
09:46 PM ET

Grand jury indicts 35 in Georgia school cheating scandal

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.

The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation's school districts after the district's test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system.

"She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.

"Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place."

The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools.

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.

Read the full story

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Filed under: Cheating • School administration • Teachers • Testing
Study finds school breakfast is a key to future success
A new study shows the positive effect that school breakfast can have on a child's performance on standardized tests.
March 4th, 2013
11:30 AM ET

Study finds school breakfast is a key to future success

By Kat Kinsman, CNN

(CNN) - Breakfast might not just be the most important meal of a child's day – it might be one of most important meals of their life. A new study released Wednesday by non-profit group Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign shows the positive effect that school breakfast can have on a child's performance in class and on standardized tests, and what this can mean for their future.

Eleven million low-income students eat a school-provided breakfast. Share Our Strength partnered with professional services firm Deloitte to analyze third party studies and publicly available data to assess the impact of existing school breakfast plans on students' academic performance. They found some rather eye-opening statistics.

Students who ate school breakfast attended an average of 1.5 more days of school than their meal-skipping peers, and their math scores averaged 17.5% higher. The report, which was funded in part by Kellogg's, went on to share that these students with increased attendance and scores were 20% more likely to continue on and graduate high school. High school graduates earn on average $10,090 more annually that their non-diploma-holding counterparts and are significantly less likely to experience hunger in adulthood.

Read the full post on CNN's Eatocracy blog

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Filed under: Nutrition • Report cards • Testing
February 8th, 2013
12:30 PM ET

Some ACT tests canceled by winter storm heading toward Northeast

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) potentially historic winter storm closing in on the Northeast is causing some ACT achievement test cancellations a move that could delay about 12,000 students scheduled to start the test at 8 a.m. ET Saturday.

There are about 190 ACT test sites in the path of the storm, and 103 had canceled by Friday afternoon, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said. Tests were canceled in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The test dates will be rescheduled, usually at the same testing site or another one nearby, as soon as possible, Colby said. If students aren't available on the retake date, they'll be able to take the ACT on the next national testing date, April 13.

Local test officials make the decision on whether to cancel. Test takers can check with their testing sites at ACTstudent.org or by calling 319-337-1270 or 319-337-1510.

"We will be updating our website continually and getting those cancellations up there as soon as we get them, probably into the night and perhaps into the morning," Colby said.

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What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?
Michelle Rhee visited the Noyes Education Campus in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
January 8th, 2013
04:40 PM ET

What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Michelle Rhee hasn't run the Washington, D.C., public schools since 2010, but her time in charge, and her every move in education since, still draw cheers from some and ire from others.

"Rhee is one of worst friends and best enemies of public education," user david esmay commented on an opinion piece by Rhee and former New York schools leader Joel Klein on CNN's Schools of Thought on Monday. Rhee and Klein wrote about a new report from StudentsFirst, the non-profit Rhee heads, which graded states' education policies.

"She's only a standout because she has the political backing to make her so. Her policies in Washington area schools are falling apart now that she and her drive to find funding are gone," William commented.

"I don't see how anyone can take this report or Ms. Rhee seriously," commenter Christine wrote about the StudentsFirst report.

"The Education of Michelle Rhee," a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, follows Rhee's time leading Washington, D.C., schools, and examines her legacy there. "Frontline" correspondent John Merrow followed Rhee on her trip to a school warehouses filled with hard-to-get supplies, to the firing of a  school principal and to rallies celebrating higher test scores, some of which are now in question.

Through it all, Rhee still speaks boldly about education and her ideas. Here are five quotes from the film that offer a taste of how Rhee ran the D.C. schools, and what she's done since.

“I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools ... and no, I have never run a school district before."

This is how Rhee introduced herself to teachers in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Rhee had spent a few years teaching in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and a decade in education reform, but was a "virtual unknown," when Mayor Adrian Fenty picked her to run the D.C. schools. Her style was direct and her objectives clear - make Washington's school's better, even if it meant changing laws, firing people, closing schools and making adults unhappy.

"We’re not running this school district through the democratic process."

Indeed, after some initial excitement, many adults were unhappy. Scenes show parents angry about school closures, district leaders angry that she defied their instructions, teachers angry about layoffs and firings. Teachers interviewed for the film said Rhee didn't consider that some kids live in extreme poverty or have fallen so far behind that they'd need more than one year to catch up.

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A majority of states set different benchmarks by race
October 17th, 2012
12:54 PM ET

A majority of states set different benchmarks by race

By John Martin and Nick Valencia, CNN

(CNN) - Civil rights groups and some parents are concerned that new proficiency targets in several states are selling African-American students short.

A majority of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have set up different benchmarks for different groups, including racial and ethnic student populations.

Florida is the latest state to establish race-based standards. By 2018, 74% of the state’s African-American students must be proficient in math and reading. That is a lower standard than the state’s white (88%), Hispanic (81%) or Asian students (90%) are expected to reach by the same year.

On the surface, this may look like less is being expected of some kids. But there’s an explanation that’s rooted in how we assess student performance under No Child Left Behind.
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Filed under: NCLB • Policy • Testing
Nation's Report Card:  Writing test shows gender gap
September 17th, 2012
04:32 AM ET

Nation's Report Card: Writing test shows gender gap

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) When it comes to writing, girls are better than boys.

That’s a generalization, but it’s one that is supported by the latest writing test from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The test, taken by 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 students in the 12th grade, was administered in early 2011. NAEP tests in different subjects have been given to students in the U.S. since 1969.  This year, however, marked the first time that the writing test was computer-based.  Students were able to take advantage of editing software and other writing tools, such as spell check and a thesaurus, as they crafted their writing samples.

Since this was the first large-scale writing assessment designed to be taken on a computer, the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the NAEP, said that it could not make comparisons to previous “paper and pencil” writing tests.

Students were asked to perform writing tasks in three areas:  To persuade, trying to change the reader’s point of view; to explain, trying to broaden a reader’s understanding of a topic; and to convey experience, trying to provide an account of a real or imaginary experience to a reader.

The NAEP writing test is a scaled test with a range of 0-300, and a mean score of 150.  “Achievement levels” were set along that scale for the categories Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.

Among eighth-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 54% basic, and 20% below basic.  (Because the numbers were rounded, they do not add up to 100%).

Among 12th-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 52% basic and 21% below basic.

According to the board, performances varied by race, ethnicity, gender, school location and other factors, such as parents’ educational attainment.  But the most notable achievement gap was between males and females in both eighth and 12th grades.
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