California Task Force Recommends Sweeping Changes To Special Education

Education Week (3/12, Samuels) reports “improving the academic outcomes for California students with disabilities will require an extensive revamp of the state’s education system, a task force said Wednesday.” Among the recommendation were “a revision of teacher preparation, support for early learning, and an overhaul of special education financing with an eye to more local control and accountability.” The report by California’s Statewide Task Force on Special Education “said that students with special education needs must be considered general education students first, existing in a ‘coherent system’ where all educators have a collective responsibility to meet their needs.”

College Board: Scores Stagnant Ahead Of Test Overhaul


The Huffington Post (10/7, Resmovits) reports that the College Board has released a report indicating that this year’s SAT scores in reading, math, and writing were “about the same as the last few years,” quoting Cyndie Schmeiser, the group’s chief of assessment, saying, “Flat and stagnant would be the words that we would use.” Noting that the College Board “announced plans for a major SAT redesign” earlier this year, the Post reports that the group “points to the test scores as a sign that American education needs renewed rigor and resources.”

California Abandons School Accountability Program To Acclimate To Common Core Tests.

The AP (3/13, Armario) reports that the California Board of Education voted this week to give “schools at least one year to breathe easy before they are held accountable for results on new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.” The board suspended the state’s Academic Performance Index accountability system for the current school year “to give teachers and students time to adjust to standardized tests aligned with the Common Core standards.”

        Reuters (3/13, Bernstein) reports that the move is an effort to satisfy both standardized testing critics and those who call for greater school accountability. The piece quotes Superintendent Tom Torlakson saying, “This will give us a complete picture rather than a narrow view.”

        The Monterey County (CA) Herald (3/11) reports that this is the second year running that “California officials have suspended the Academic Performance Index, the score used to measure academic progress at schools and districts throughout the state,” noting that the move “signals the end of API, as officials are also preparing a new system.”

        EdSource Today (3/13, Fensterwald) reports that the state board intends to replace the API with “a new system in which test scores would be just one of many measures of student achievement and school performance.”

Microsoft, Education Tech Firms Vow To Protect Student Data


The New York Times (10/7, Singer, Subscription Publication) reports that a group of 14 education and technology firms led by Microsoft is promising to adopt a set of policies to protect student data. The companies are promising “not to sell information on kindergartners through 12th graders,” not to use their data for targeted ads, and not to use the data to compile student profiles without authorization. The article notes that the move comes as “schools across the country are increasingly adopting data-driven learning programs and apps.”

Common Core Standards Compared To E.D.


Hirsch Writing. The Washington Post (10/5, Mathews) reports that people support Common Core because they see parallels between it and the philosophies of E.D. Hirsch Jr. The scholar argued that “children often don’t learn to read very well because they have not been taught enough facts about their world to understand what they are reading,” and the Common Core standards aim to give students a content-based system to learn social studies and geography.

Study Finds Online Reading Fueling New Income-Based Achievement Gap


Education Week (10/3, Herold) reports a new study by the University of Connecticut in Storrs has found a “large and significant” income-based achievement gap in locating, critically evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating online information. In particular, students struggled gauging the reliability of scientific information. The achievement gap was roughly a year’s education during the middle school years. The study utilized a small sample of upper- and lower-middle income students, failing to include families at or below the poverty line. The model ruled out pre-existing differences in how well students read offline, as well as prior knowledge of material utilized for the study. Though the study did not try to directly identify a cause, it did find students of lower-middle income were six times as likely to report they were never required to use the Internet at school. The remainder of the article interviews the lead author directly and discusses the growing body of national research supporting these findings.

Common Core Training May Be Using Ineffective Techniques To Train Teachers


The Hechinger Report (10/1, Neason) reports that Common Core training sessions for teachers reflect everything that the standards are supposed to get away from in that they consist of one-day info sessions and workshops that use traditional instructor-led techniques. This format has critics wondering if teachers can really be prepared to teach a brand new set of formats using a new teaching style when the track record of that kind of instruction is poor at showing progress. The article highlights several effective workshops and instructional techniques being used throughout the country.

Report Shows Common Core Can Benefit English Learners


The Hechinger Report (9/30, Wingert) that the Education Trust released a report showing that the new Common Core standards could help close the achievement gap for English Language Learners in American schools. The report spotlights how 11 districts have been successful in boosting achievement for English learners and describes how several Common Core-specific practices have had the most impact.

Common Core Exam Lengths, Limited Number Of School Computers Pose Problems


In its Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post (9/28, Strauss) reports on logistical issues expected with extensive computerized Common Core testing. PARCC has released its exam time guidelines, ranging from 9¾ to 11¼ hours per student, increasing with grade level. Despite these guidelines, one million students field-testing the exam took no more than 7½ hours, making it unclear if kids raced through knowing there were no consequences. PARCC tests will be given twice a year: three-quarters into the year and again near the end. Similarly, SBAC has said it estimates students will need between seven and 8½ hours to complete its exams. Because testing is computerized and must fit into pre-existing class day schedules, administrators are struggling to schedule testing of every student in every grade on a finite number of computers.

California Superintendent Candidate Says He Would Not Seek Appeal Over Landmark Teacher-Tenure Ruling


The AP (9/26, Leff) reports the challenger in California’s state superintendent election Marshall Tuck said during a speech that he would drop the appeal over California’s “landmark legal decision that struck down teacher-tenure laws.” Tuck said that he supports the ruling as well as the goals of the plaintiffs who brought the initial case to the court system. The article notes that even if the Tuck wins the election, the lawsuit would move forward since he is not named as a defendant on the suit. Tuck also said that if elected, he would convene a group of lawmakers, teachers, and academic experts to revise the statutes challenged by the law.


PBS Interview Examines State Of Testing In Schools


Judy Woodruff of the PBS (9/25) “American Graduate” series interviews superintendent of Miami-Dade County School District fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute Kathleen Porter-Magee on whether there is too much testing and the role that standardized tests play in America’s schools. The interview explores whether students are being overtested, whether the assessments are meeting their goals, and how they can be better utilized by educators and state officials.

Experts Concerned Online Testing Will Hinder Open-Ended Math-Performance Tasks


Education Week (9/24, Heiten) reports that math experts are expressing concerns that the online Common Core-aligned tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium “will hamper a key element of the exams: open-ended math-performance tasks that test students’ ability to apply their knowledge.” The tests “will include complex, multipart word problems that students will answer on screen” and some questions “will ask them to write their answers in narrative form, using a keyboard.” The article explains that experts argue that having students “write a solution doesn’t match the expectations of the common-core math standards, which ask students to model mathematics using diagrams, graphs, and flowcharts, among other means.”

Early Study Finds Problems With Performance-Based-Pay


In continued coverage, Education Week (9/24, Sawchuk) reports on communication and adherence failures in 2011-12 for new Federal performance-based pay programs (the Teacher Incentive Fund), following an early Mathematica Policy Research study conducted on behalf of the Education Department. More positively, teachers cited happiness with evaluations and no decrease in collaboration. The program intends to provide professional development, measure educator effectiveness, and give performance-based bonuses, as well as additional bonuses for additional roles and responsibilities. The study found 46% of districts utilized all four components, despite 80% qualification; districts were prepared to give 90% of educators bonuses intended only for those “far better than average”; and fewer than half of teachers in a 10 district subset thought they were eligible, despite all being eligible, while perceiving bonuses to be smaller than they were.

California Law Directs More Funds For Summer Learning Programs


Education Week (9/23) reports California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this week that reprioritizes $120 million of funds from the Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program to help current after-school programs that want to expand into offering summer programs. The new bill “requires that programs show that they’re actively working to improve based on Quality Standards for Expanded Learning in California.” The standards were released the same day that the governor signed the bill along with a guide of examples on how to meet them. The law also removes portions of the education code requiring expanded learning programs to report standardized test scores.

Professor: California Needs A Grand Bargain In Wake Of Vergara Ruling


Professor emeritus at Cal State Sacramento Ken Futernick writes in a Los Angeles Times (9/20, Futernick) op-ed that the Vergara vs. California decision making it easier to fire teachers “will hurt students” if officials, teachers, and state leaders “don’t move beyond its limited focus and address the many factors that adversely affect student learning and teacher performance.” Futenick advocates for a “grand bargain” that addresses poor teacher performance as well as the other obstacles that teachers face and that prevent students from learning. Futernick lays out a framework for a grand bargain and closes saying “we will never see real equity when it comes to teacher effectiveness until the state provides enough education funding to fully address the problem.”

NPR Gives Advice For Parents On Teacher Conferences


NPR (9/18) “Ed” blog reports that preparing for a parent-teacher conference “can make a big difference” and offers tips for parents base on the Harvard Family Research Project’s Tip Sheet for Parents as a guide. The conference should cover the state of the child, what happens academically and socially in the classroom, and what challenges will be approaching in the future.

Despite Perception, Education In US has Gotten Better


The Washington Post (9/18, Rampell) reports that despite the results of national opinion polls, education in the US has actually gotten better. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress Test shows that scores have been steadily improving over time. However, a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll shows that while parents think their own child’s school is good, very few would not say the same thing about education nationally. Experts interviewed say that the discrepancy in the polls and the test scores could be the result of media attention on the worst school, an inability to narrow the achievement gap, misplaced nostalgia, or the high emphasis on college education for workers that diminishes the value of high school education.

Video Games Used To Spur Interest In Learning


The Hechinger Report (9/18) examines the “new generation of educational games” being implemented to turn students “into voracious learners — without them even realizing it.” The article cites comments from video game developers, who engineer games and curricula to spur creativity and engagement, and teachers who have seen positive results from using such programs.

Column Questions Overexposure To Technology


Writing for the Chicago Tribune (9/18), Heidi Stevens comments on the abundance of technology in classrooms and how children’s technological acumen comes at the expense of “the pencil-and-paper writing and turning-the-pages reading and calculating-by-hand arithmetic” learning. The column highlights notable tech executives’ limitations on their own children’s exposure to technology in order to prevent early overexposure. Stevens concludes that while eliminating technology from classrooms could be extreme, “But it sure gives me pause to hear that the innovators developing these products refuse to expose their own children’s minds to them.”