Michigan needs a smart, statewide system to measure student growth
December 5, 2013
by Amber Arellano, Teresa Weatherall Neal, Audrey Spalding, Michael Rice, Ray Telman, Jon Felske and Harrison Blackmond
(From Bridge: Michigan, December 4, 2013)
As Michigan education leaders who work in very different sectors, we often see education reform from different points of view. It’s rare for all of our organizations to agree on complex policy changes, but there are times when a public problem and solution make so much common sense, it brings us together.
Michigan’s lack of reliable and accurate student growth data is one of these issues. Our state’s education data infrastructure is among the bottom third in the country, according to Education Week and many national observers.
One of the central problems: Michigan education data do not take into account the vast differences in students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. Widespread national research tells us that low-income children come to school with far greater deficits compared to their more affluent middle-class peers. Students living in poverty, on average, start their K-12 academic careers far behind their wealthier peers, even by the time they start first grade. For example, according to Grand Rapids Public Schools, 83 percent of students who begin kindergarten in the district are already one to two years behind in reading.
Yet our K-12 education data system doesn’t take into account these differences nor does it provide reliable student growth data for any district in the state. That needs to change.
In the coming months, there’s an opportunity to do just that. Presently policymakers are debating Michigan’s proposed statewide educator evaluation and support system. One very important tool in this system is a statewide student growth tool that will generate comparable - and far more reliable - student growth data, to be used as one of multiple measures in educator evaluations in Michigan.
If it’s done right, a new growth tool will use data from a new state assessment aligned to college- and career-ready standards, and provide more accurate data on student learning. Done right, this data system will be aligned with Pre-K data systems now being built, as well as a longitudinal K-16 data system that has been in development for a few years.
We support the state’s development and support of this tool. Today, Michigan parents and educators have no idea whether their schools’ teaching quality and classroom learning levels are better than other schools’, or if a district simply set a low bar for quality. That’s because there is now a patchwork of ways in which our state’s school districts and charter operators measure student learning — and each one is left to define what a year of student growth should be.
Ed Trust-Midwest’s research has found many local student growth models in our state actually underestimate teachers’ impact on student learning. That’s neither sound nor fair to educators and students. That’s why it’s important that the state provides high-caliber, reliable, comparable growth data for all districts to adopt — and use as at least one measure in their local evaluation systems.
As a state, we also need to make sure this new student growth model is reliable, thoughtful, technically sound and fair to educators and students, including those in high-poverty and working-class communities. In other words, it should be smart.
To reach that goal, the state’s growth model should account for previous student achievement and other variables, such as poverty — and provide a measure of individual teacher effectiveness, averaged over multiple years, for use in educator evaluations.
Why is this so important? Student growth measures that are not such so-called value-added models risk penalizing educators for teaching in high-poverty schools — and may vastly underestimate student growth in urban, rural and even many suburban communities. This makes it even more difficult for such schools to attract and retain effective teachers and school leaders.
We know how fundamentally important teachers are. Research shows the most important in-school predictor of a student’s achievement is teaching quality.
Indeed, we need to support our teachers not only with fair data and evaluations, but with smart data that actually helps them inform their instruction. Such smart growth tools — especially when generated based on a high-caliber assessment— can provide valuable diagnostic information about students.
This tool could be truly transformative for our schools. Educators in leading states not only receive such data on their students’ learning gains, but they also use individual student “projection reports” that signal whether a student is on track to graduate from high school and even how ready he or she is for college and career entrance exams — as early as elementary school.
Such data would allow Michigan educators to intervene earlier in students’ academic careers, tailor instruction and improve teaching strategies. Most states make student projection reports available to parents upon request, too.
Imagine what parents, teachers and school leaders could do, together, if they knew a fourth-grader is already off track to be college- and career-ready. The potential for helping our students is enormous.
Educators also can use such data to help low achievers who are progressing slowly by providing earlier, targeted intensive support. Educators also can provide more challenging instruction to high-achieving students who are insufficiently challenged in school.
Some might say, “Sounds nice, but wouldn’t such data set lower expectations for low-income or lower-achieving students?”
The answer: Michigan already has a rigorous, high-stakes school accountability system that expects Michigan students to be proficient at the same high levels. And this measure also would be just one measure among multiple measures of performance in any comprehensive educator evaluation and support system.
If properly designed, Michigan’s new student growth data would provide a vastly more accurate way to measure student performance — and ensure that school professional development, staffing decisions and student placements and interventions are made much more thoughtfully, strategically and smartly.
We need a Michigan smart student growth model. In the coming months, we need to take that opportunity.
Amber Arellano is executive director of the Education Trust - Midwest
Teresa Weatherall Neal is superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools
Audrey Spalding is director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Michael Rice is superintendent of the Kalamazoo Public Schools
Ray Telman is executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association
Jon Felske is superintendent of the Muskegon Public Schools
Harrison Blackmond is State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Michigan
Read the full post here.
State’s charter school applications to be posted Monday
December 2, 2013
By Debbie Cafazzo
(From the Bellingham Herald, December 2, 2013)
New details about proposals to open some of Washington’s first charter schools should be available Monday.
The state Charter School Commission received 19 applications from 18 organizations hoping to launch the type of alternative public schools that already exists in most other states. Charter schools in Washington state are designed to be publicly funded and tuition-free but operated independently by nonsectarian nonprofit groups.
Submitted charter applications include four aimed at serving students in Tacoma or Pierce County: Green Dot middle school, SOAR Academy, Summit Public School: Olympus and The Village Academy.
Read the full post here.
Arne Duncan schooled in limits of power
November 27, 2013
By Stephanie Simon
(From POLITICO, November 27, 2013)
Arne Duncan brought the most ambitious reform agenda in years to the Department of Education — and a determination to use every lever of power to accomplish it.
The results were stunning: In barely a year, more than 100 state laws were passed to open public schools to competition and set tough new standards for students and teachers. Duncan won allies on the right and the left, becoming one of the few Cabinet members with bipartisan support.
Read the full post here.
The teachers union’s cynical gambit
November 21, 2013
By Tim Daly and Joe Williams
(From the New York Daily News, November 21, 2013)
Lately, student testing has become everyone’s favorite political punching bag. Just this week, New York State United Teachers, the state’s powerful teachers union, issued a statement decrying the proliferation of new tests and insisting on a moratorium for their use in teacher evaluations.
The union didn’t mention its dirty little secret: It’s a big part of the problem. Yet instead of owning up to its role or trying to fix the problem, the union is scapegoating state Education Commissioner John King, Gov. Cuomo and the state Board of Regents.
It’s a little like the Cookie Monster demanding to know who emptied the jar.
Here’s what happened: In 2010, New York joined more than a dozen other states in bringing its outdated teacher evaluation systems out of the Dark Ages. For nearly a century, teachers across the state had been simply deemed either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” by their supervisors. Great teachers got no additional recognition, and almost nobody was ever deemed “unsatisfactory.” State law prohibited student learning outcomes from being considered.
Then, a coalition of New York leaders from both parties came together to pass legislation modernizing educator evaluations and embracing richer learning standards.
Despite the union’s longstanding desire to exclude any connection between student learning and teacher performance assessments, the law decreed that 40% of a teacher’s performance would rest on progress in student learning. Existing state tests would be a factor in the grades where they are given.
But seeking to preserve its considerable clout and ensure that as little weight as possible be given to statewide tests, NYSUT lobbyists sought and won a concession that half of that 40% would be negotiated locally at the bargaining table, where union leverage is often overwhelming.
Fast-forward to today. The union-driven provision has created a monster. To comply with collectively bargained contracts, districts are layering new tests upon tests. Some of them are useful; many are unnecessary.
Now that communities are noticing the trend and complaining that the new tests are taking too much time away from instruction, the union seems to have forgotten all about its role.
Worse, the unions and some districts are exploiting parent frustration in hopes of reversing important accountability measures that they never liked in the first place.
Consider some of the extreme examples of how this has played out:
-Districts have launched what they call “pretests” at the start of the school year, to measure where students start out academically. Ironically, the state Education Department never advised districts to do these additional new tests; that advice came from United Teachers itself prior to the 2012-13 school year.
-Glen Cove, L.I., is adding third-party vendor assessments to existing state tests in grades K-8. None of those assessments are required by the state.
-In Harrison, Westchester County, the same Regents exams that have been given for the past century are used to show high school students’ mastery in their subject matter. But the local union and district added yet another test that students must take in the same subject matter.
Not all tests are bad, and some districts may have valid purposes for their new assessments. If so, they should own their decisions rather than blaming the state.
But if the union is sincere about reining in truly excessive testing and building truly useful evaluation systems, the easiest fix is to tackle this problem where it first arose: at the local bargaining table. There’s nothing stopping the state teachers union from taking action to fix this issue tomorrow.
Nothing, that is, except the cynical desire to exploit this issue for every last ounce of political leverage.
Williams is executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. Daly is president of education advocacy group TNTP.
Read the full post here.
Johnson: The Common Core will help our children compete
November 8, 2013
By Craig Johnson, DFER New York State Director
(From Newsday, November 7, 2013)
Long Islanders are understandably anxious about changes in the way public school students are taught and tested. People attending community forums on the new Common Core State Standards are worried that their kids aren’t succeeding, their property values are going to plummet, and public education is now under the control of bureaucrats in Albany who are working to dismantle it.
But slowing implementation of the Common Core standards, as some are calling for the state to do, would be a step in the wrong direction. This change has been difficult because the old way had become comfortable. Kids on Long Island looked good on paper: In 2012, 62.4 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded proficiency standards in English, and 72.7 percent did so in math. Those of us invested in our children’s education were coasting on complacency, even when we knew it wasn’t necessarily serving students well.
The Common Core reforms are a necessary recalibration. While it’s easy to get caught up in the vitriol, it’s important to ground the debate over Common Core in the facts.
Setting state standards is nothing new. The state Education Department has been outlining what students should know in English language arts and math for nearly 20 years. But, as in many states, those standards were often vague and cumbersome, a mile wide and an inch deep.
The Common Core standards are a definite improvement. They are clear, focused and rigorous — something even critics acknowledge. In the early grades, the standards emphasize foundational reading and math skills, and they acknowledge the importance of play to learning in kindergarten classrooms. By high school, they are focused on ensuring all students do the kind of demanding daily work that will prepare them for the range of opportunities that await them after graduation.
Peer-reviewed research by a leading expert on international mathematics performance has compared the topics in the Common Core to high-performing countries in grades K-8. The study found that the Common Core math standards closely matched the standards of high-performing nations. It also found that states whose standards more closely matched the Common Core tended to have higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the largest nationally representative assessment of American students — than those that didn’t.
Similarly, the demands of the Common Core are a response to research that has shown that, even as the demands of college-level reading have increased, the difficulty of the texts students read in grades K-12 has dropped for years.
State Education Commissioner John King has correctly noted that certain tests are unnecessary and should be dropped. The goal has never been about testing our children into the ground. Any reduction of testing, however, cannot be at the expense of halting implementation of the Common Core.
New York is a national leader in Common Core implementation. In many states, teachers are clamoring for guidance. New York has begun developing a curriculum for all grades in both English language arts and math that has been highly touted by educators nationwide. The materials are well-aligned to the Common Core and available to every New York teacher free of charge.
As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has noted, the Common Core rollout has been rocky. But it’s a smart way to go if we want to ensure that Long Island’s young people are ready for the world that awaits them.
King was a teacher in Massachusetts when that state implemented the most ambitious curriculum and standards in the nation. He knows what disruption looks like. He also knows how important it is to get this right, so teachers can ensure that our students will flourish.
Delaying this important progress, rolling back these well-thought-out policies, and ignoring the problems they’re intended to solve won’t make the issues go away. And it certainly won’t do any favors for our kids.
Read the full post here.