Five minute primer: Advanced Placement test scores
May 29th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Five minute primer: Advanced Placement test scores

By Jordan Bienstock, CNN

(CNN) – It began on May 7 with Chemistry and Environmental Science, and ended on May 18 with Human Geography and Spanish Literature. During the two weeks in between, millions of U.S. students pored over questions and essays on more than 30 Advanced Placement exams.

Now, all they can do is wait.

Advanced Placement, or AP, courses provide high school students the opportunity to earn college credit. They’re overseen by the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT college admission test.

The battery of exams takes place in early May, but students won’t find out how they did until July, when scores are revealed.

Even then, students won’t know which questions they got correct or what individual mistakes they may have made on essays. All they receive is a number, 1 through 5, with a 3 or higher being a passing score. FULL POST

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May 24th, 2012
04:10 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

Arizona Daily Star: Students who didn't pass AIMS can't walk in Tucson Unified graduations
Roughly 100 Tucson seniors will not be allowed to walk in graduation ceremonies after they failed part of a state-mandated test. Some parents argue that the students didn't receive enough preparation for the test or the time to remedy the situation.

The Atlantic: Do Cell Phones Belong in the Classroom?
In many American high schools, teachers and students are at odds over cell phone use. While some teachers consider the devices distractions, others say educators should learn to incorporate cell phones into their lesson plans. Robert Earl argues that whatever philosophy is applied, students have to learn to love learning.

Edutopia.org: The Homework Trap
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kenneth Goldberg has a list of suggestions about how parents should approach the issue of homework with their kids.

Connected Principals: Lessons Learned
A veteran teacher shares 13 lessons learned during a 13-year career in the classroom.

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My View:  Can tests motivate students? It depends on the test - and the student
May 24th, 2012
06:16 AM ET

My View: Can tests motivate students? It depends on the test - and the student

By Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober, Special to CNNCourtesy CEP/Nancy KoberCourtesy CEP/Alexandra Usher

Editor’s note: Alexandra Usher is a senior research assistant at the Center on Education Policy at The George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Nancy Kober is a consultant to the Center. They co-authored the report, “Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform."

(CNN) - We’re taking many steps as a nation to boost student achievement. We’re raising academic standards, revising curricula, revamping low-performing schools and improving teaching and school leadership.

These are all critical elements of school reform, but what often gets the most attention are the tests we’ve put in place to make judgments about schools, teachers, principals and students. These tests are intended to measure how well students are learning and teachers are teaching. They are also supposed to motivate students to study harder.

Student motivation is an important ingredient in school reform, and one that is often overlooked in policy debates. Even with strong accountability, a well-designed curriculum and good teaching, it is difficult to raise achievement for students who lack motivation. But are tests really good motivators?

To draw greater attention to the role of student motivation, the Center on Education Policy has released a series of papers summarizing findings from studies by psychologists, sociologists and other experts. One of these papers looks at research on tests as motivational tools for students - and the findings suggest we have too much faith that all tests will motivate all students.

The same student might be motivated to different degrees depending on the test, the stakes attached to test results, the subject matter and many other factors. The term “high-stakes” testing often brings to mind the standardized state tests used for accountability. But teacher-designed classroom tests may be more effective at motivating students than state tests if the classroom tests have a direct effect on students’ grades.

Even among standardized tests, the stakes and the level of motivation vary. State tests that are used to determine graduation status and grade promotion matter greatly to students and can be motivators for many students. State tests that don’t count toward graduation but are used for school and district accountability can be somewhat motivating for students because they have consequences for educators, who pass along this pressure to students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is used to track nationwide trends in achievement, has virtually no consequences for individual students or teachers and is often considered a “low-stakes” test.
FULL POST

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Florida test scores bring more questions than answers
May 21st, 2012
06:16 AM ET

Florida test scores bring more questions than answers

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) - The Florida Department of Education has released the results of its most recent statewide standardized tests, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test  in reading and writing.

Results for the FCAT reading tests for grades nine and 10 showed that 52% of those students were reading at or above grade level, virtually unchanged from 2011, according to the Florida Department of Education.

This year’s writing test results, however, revealed a far different story. Writing scores have plunged. Last year 81% of fourth-graders scored a 4 (at grade level) or higher on a 6-point scale. This year, only 27% did.

Last year, 82% of eighth-graders scored a 4 or higher. This year, only 33% did. Among 10th-graders last year, 80% scored 4 or higher, but in 2012, 38% did.

A 4 used to be the score that demonstrated that a student was performing at grade level, but in an emergency meeting last week, the state Board of Education decided to revise that benchmark to a 3.

The board said it didn’t want to lower grading standards but took action while the state looks for reasons why writing scores dropped so much this year.
FULL POST

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The high stakes of standardized tests
A sign on a bulletin board at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, New York alerts parents and teachers about a forum on high-stakes standardized testing.
May 17th, 2012
06:29 AM ET

The high stakes of standardized tests

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast from Steve Kastenbaum about high-stakes standardized testing.

by Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

(CNN) Standardized tests are nothing new in public schools. Chances are you filled out bubbles on an answer form at some point during your schooling. But for the past few years, scores from statewide tests in English and math have been used to determine which schools are doing a good job of educating students and which are “failing.”

Today, the test results count for more than just a letter grade for a school. Teachers in some states are now being labeled good or bad based on their students’ scores.

Welcome to the world of high-stakes standardized testing.

“I find it the most absurd thing in the world. I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re valid,” said Principal Anna Allanbrook at Public School 146 in Brooklyn, New York. “So the morale is down because teachers are worried that people who don’t really know their work will make decisions about their jobs.”

Standardized tests have long been used as one measure of a student’s progress in core subjects. But now, federal funding hinges on test results. It started with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to rate schools based on test results in order to receive federal funds.

President Obama’s administration then dangled an additional $4.3 billion dollars in front of school administrators in a competition called Race to the Top. In order to qualify for multi-million dollar grants, U.S. Department of Education spokesman Peter Cunningham said, states had to include test results in the process of identifying good and bad teachers.

“Some of those testing results need to be used to help identify schools that are struggling so that we can give them additional interventions, but they also need to be part of how we evaluate teachers,” said Cunningham.

Across the country, teachers, principals and parents are pushing back against the test results carrying so much weight. More than 1,400 New York principals signed onto a letter to the state education commissioner that said the tests are deeply flawed. The outgoing Education Commissioner in Texas called standardized testing “the heart of the vampire.” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the Texas Association of School Administrators said, “This one test has become the single measure for a student’s success, for a school’s success, and that’s what is absolutely wrong.”
FULL POST

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May 15th, 2012
11:40 AM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

Los Angeles Japanese Daily News: USC Honors Nisei at Graduation
Nine Japanese-American students who were forced into internment camps while they were students at University of Southern California during World War II graduated from USC on Friday. A small group protested the graduation because the honorary degrees are only being conferred upon the living, and because some were denied their transcripts if they continuted their education elsewhere.

AZCentral.com: Some schools removing valedictorian title
Some Arizona high schools are honoring more of their best students, not just the top two who used to earn the titles valedictorian or salutatorian. Some top students prefer the competition for the title and are afraid the lack of one hurts them in the hunt for college scholarships.

Education Week: Charters Bills Go Down in Alabama, Mississippi
Recently, charter school bills have been popular in the Deep South. However, in Alabama and Mississippi this legislative session, charter school measures died before they could hit pro-charter school governors' desks.

U.S. News: 3 Etiquette Tips for New PTA Members
Parent-Teacher Associations can have an impact on school budgets, curriculum, and other activities. The article offers advice on how parents who are new to a school can introduce themselves to the PTA.

Wired.com: Girls Impress FIRST Championship With Project That Could Save Lives
Thousands of students gathered in St. Louis recently to compete in a national robotics competition, which includes the Junior FIRST Lego League. The Hippie Pandas, an all-girl team from New York, invented a way for people to pasteurize milk safely, and their invention is already in use in Nicaragua.

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May 10th, 2012
01:30 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

NationalJournal.com: Recess, New Menus Key to US Obesity Crisis, Report Finds
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine projects that 42% of Americans could by obese by 2030. One recommendation from the institute: at least 60 minutes per day of physical education and activity in schools.

AJC.com: Colotl allowed to stay for another year
Federal officials granted Jessica Colotl, the Georgia college graduate at the center of a debate over whether illegal immigrants should attend public colleges, a one-year deferment from deportation. Colotl's case resulted in a state ruling that barred illegal immigrants from many of Georgia's colleges.

Washington Post: Principal urges state ed chief to take standardized tests to see problems with exams
New York principal Sharon Fougner was so upset with questions on recent state standardized tests that she issued a challenge to New York's education commissioner – take the test. In a letter to the commissioner, Fougner reports that many of her students cried during testing, while others simply gave up. "It is unacceptable for eight, nine and ten year olds to be subjected to this kind of torment," Fougner says in her letter.

New York Times: Move to Outsource Teacher Licensing Process Draws Protest
Stanford University is working with education company Pearson on the development of a new national licensure procedure. Of the 68 teacher-candidates at the University of Massachussetts, 67  are protesting the procedure, saying that their colleagues are better equipped to judge them than are paid scorers.  The teacher candidates have also refused to send in required videos of their teaching due to privacy concerns.

Al.com: Columnist smarter than a fifth grader? No way
In a head-to-head knowledge match, a Huntsville Times columnist loses to a Horizon Elementary School fifth grader.

Grading essays: Human vs. machine
May 10th, 2012
06:20 AM ET

Grading essays: Human vs. machine

by Jordan Bienstock, CNN

(CNN) No one thinks twice about using machines to grade multiple-choice tests. For decades, teachers – and students – have trusted technology to accurately decipher which bubble was filled in on a Scantron form.

But can a machine take on the task of evaluating the written word?

A recent study conducted by the College of Education at the University of Akron collected 16,000 middle and high school test essays from six states that had been previously graded by humans. The essays were then fed into a computer scoring program.

According to the researchers, the robo-graders “achieved virtually identical levels of accuracy, with the software in some cases proving to be more reliable.”

So the simple answer to whether machines can grade essays would appear to be yes. However, the situation is anything but simple.

The grading software looks for elements of good writing, such as strong vocabulary and good grammar.

What it isn’t able to do is distinguish nuance, or even truth.
FULL POST

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April 25th, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

CBS4 Denver: Bill Would Give Tax Break On School Supplies
The average American family spends an estimated $500 to $600 a year on school supplies and children's clothing. The Colorado legislature is considering a bill that would waive taxes on school supplies and clothing for three days in August, a waiver that already exists in about 16 other states.

CBS Philly: Philadelphia School District Could Close 40 Schools Next Year
Philadelphia's school district says its budget deficit could balloon to more than a billion dollars in the next five years if it doesn't take some drastic action. The district is looking at closing dozens of schools and trimming hundreds of positions from its central office staff.

NPR: Can A Computer Grade Essays As Well As A Human? Maybe Even Better, Study Says
A new study suggests that computer software may be able to grade essays more consistently and faster than humans – if the grades are based on language mechanics. What the software doesn't check for is facts, and it has a hard time with poetry and highly stylized writing.

CBSChicago: ‘Flipped Classroom’ Getting A Tryout At Suburban High Schools
In a flipped classroom in Chicago, students are watching 20 minute lectures at home. Then the students work on assignments in class.

Nanny.net: 10 Ways to Teach Young Kids to Write Computer Programs
Computer programming skills could help children gain the analytical skills to solve complex problems. The author offers up ten ways to teach young kids, even as young as 7, to learn programming.

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April 20th, 2012
01:30 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

NYTimes Schoolbook: With Test Week Here, Parents Consider the Option of Opting Out
In a show of protest against high-stakes testing that they say is counter-productive and doesn’t measure a child’s true ability, some parents are opting to keep their children out of the tests this year.

The Educated Reporter: Will Merit Pay Make Teachers More Effective?
Under a new law taking effect in Indiana, student test scores will now be taken into account in teacher pay raises.  Does this approach work?

WFSB:  Pro-choice, anti-abortion groups clash at UConn; 2 arrested
Two students were arrested on the Storrs campus when they blocked an anti-abortion group’s display.

WAOW.com: Students pledge to stop dirty dancing
Before students at one high school in Wisconsin buy a prom ticket, they have to sign a dance code of conduct pledge.

TurnTo23.com: Local Track Team Flooded With Donations From All Over America
Fremont Elementary's track team has gone from running in flip flops and house slippers to running in real track shoes, thanks to donations that poured in after their story went viral.

 

 

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