Flypaper

Lisa Hansel

In the past two decades, something extraordinary has happened with very little fanfare: The reading ability of our lowest-performing children has increased significantly. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), between 1990 and 2012, the scores of nine-year-olds at the tenth and twenty-fifth percentiles increased by roughly two grade levels (about twenty points). For those children, those gains aren’t just impressive—they’re potentially life-changing.

At the same time, there has been a fourteen-point gain (a little more than a grade level) among fourth graders at the fiftieth percentile and a mere six-point gain among those at the seventy-fifth and ninetieth percentiles.

What’s causing this long-term trend of much greater gains among lower-performing students than higher-performing ones? That’s hard to say. There are many plausible explanations, but one that seems likely is that K–2 teachers have simply gotten better at teaching “decoding” (learning to sound out words). Nationwide, there’s been an increased focus on evidence-based practices, including high-profile initiatives like the National Reading Panel report and Reading First. Both stressed that children must be explicitly taught how to decode, and most early reading programs—and, more significantly, teachers—seem to have gotten the message.

But decoding is only the...

Rural school districts face many of the same challenges as their urban counterparts: lots of students living in poverty, low college-attainment rates among parents, high and growing numbers of ELL students, and difficulty attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals. Add the sprawling and isolated geography, weak tax base, and iffy broadband access that plague many rural districts, and we have a daunting set of barriers to the goal of students leaving high school fully ready for their next step in life. As Paul Hill put it recently, if America neglects its rural schools, nobody wins.

Fortunately, according to a new report from Battelle for Kids and Education Northwest, America’s rural schools are not standing idly by. The report looks at the work of rural education collaboratives (RECs), which have been formed across the country in an effort to respond to these very challenges. While there seems to be no handy list—nor a single definition—of such organizations, the authors know what they’re not looking for: top-down collaborations, which they eschew in favor of “informal and organic collaborative structures that are more peer-to-peer and network based.” The identify the right sort of RECs as partnerships that are: 1) committed to a common purpose that creates value for...

Over the past decade, Tennessee has seen steady growth in math, science, and social studies scores. Those gains have been accompanied, as in many states, by rising high school graduation rates. But all is not well in the Volunteer State. “Reading remains an area where we are putting in substantial efforts and not seeing corresponding improvement,” laments this impressive report from the state’s education department.

English language arts (ELA) is the only subject tested on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) for which less than half the state’s students earn a “proficient” score. State officials are rightly alarmed by the spiral of failure that sets in when children are far behind in reading by the end of the third grade: Only one-third of Tennessee third graders who scored “below basic” on the TCAP in 2013 improved to “basic” two years later. A mere 3 percent reached proficiency by fifth grade. Neither is third-grade proficiency sticky. Twenty percent of students who scored “proficient” in third grade dropped back down to “basic” by fifth grade; more than half of the “advanced” third graders fell back below that level two years later.

So what’s the matter with Tennessee? The state sent literacy experts from TNTP into more...

A new Harvard University study examines the link between Common Core implementation efforts and changes in student achievement.

Analysts surveyed randomly selected teachers of grades 4–8 (about 1,600 in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Nevada), asking them a number of questions about professional development they’ve received, materials they’ve used, teaching strategies they’ve employed, and more. Analysts used those responses to create twelve composite indices of various facets of Common Core implementation (such as “principal is leading CCSS implementation”) to analyze the link between each index and students’ performance on the Common Core-aligned assessments PARCC and SBAC. In other words, they sought to link teacher survey responses to their students’ test scores on the 2014–15 PARCC and SBAC assessments, while also controlling for students’ baseline scores and characteristics (along with those of their classroom peers) and teachers’ value-added scores in the prior school year.

The bottom line is that this correlational study finds more statistically significant relationships for math than for English. Specifically, three indices were related to student achievement in math: the frequency and specificity of feedback from classroom observations, the number of days of professional development, and the inclusion of student performance on CCSS-aligned assessments in teacher evaluations....

Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, American education has focused in recent decades on ensuring that all children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, attain a minimum level of academic achievement. Yet our focus on the performance of students “below the bar” has been accompanied by a neglect of girls and boys who have already cleared it, and especially those who soar over it. While it’s true that "federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students," as the group Chiefs for Change has stated, our high-performing students deserve an education that meets their needs, and maximizes their potential. Far too few of them, especially the poor and minority children among them, are getting that kind of education today.

We must persuade our educators and policy makers to attend more purposefully to the schooling of our brightest kids. To that end, Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli recently nominated two worthy individuals for the Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee: M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, and Jonathan Plucker, inaugural Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University. “They have the knowledge...

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts taking a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first three posts can be read herehere, and here.

It’s historically been one of the most common complaints about state tests: They are of low quality and rely almost entirely on multiple choice items. 

It’s true that item quality has sometimes been a proxy, like it or not, for test quality. Yet there is nothing magical about item quality if the test item itself is poorly designed. Multiple choice items can be entirely appropriate to assess certain constructs and reflect the requisite rigor. Or they can be junk. The same can be said of constructed response items, where students are required to provide an answer rather than choose it from a list of possibilities. Designed well, constructed response items can suitably evaluate what students know and are able to do. Designed poorly, they are a waste of time.

Many assessment experts will tell you that one of the best ways to assess the skills, knowledge, and competencies that we expect students to demonstrate is through...

I’m appalled that The Donald might actually win the Republican nomination running on a “platform” of bombast and xenophobia. But like many of you, I’ve also been trying to understand his appeal. A booming cottage industry—shall we call it Trumpology?—is emerging to explain his supporters to the rest of us. Is it the strength that he projects? His image as a “winner”? Is he tapping the anger of the white working class and finally showing them some respect? Or is a significant slice of America still simply, and secretly, racist?

The part of his message that resonates most broadly, it seems to me, is his war on “political correctness.” Some on the Left see this as simply giving tacit approval to prejudice or poor manners. I don’t think so. It’s bigger than that: It’s about our fatigue with politicians and other leaders sticking to their talking points rather than speaking the whole truth. Here’s how the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart put it this week

In the professional conservative world, “political correctness” is confined to the Left. But for Trump’s supporters, who are less doctrinaire, it means something broader. It refers to the things that elites won’t admit but “ordinary people” (or at...

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first two posts can be read here and here.

The ELA/literacy panels were led by Charles Perfetti (distinguished professor of psychology and director and senior scientist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center) and Lynne Olmos (a seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade teacher from the Mossyrock School District in Washington State). The math panels were led by Roger Howe (professor of mathematics at Yale University) and Melisa Howey (a K–6 math coordinator in East Hartford, Connecticut).

Here’s what they had to say about the study.

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Which of the findings or takeaways do you think will be most useful to states and policy makers?

CP: The big news is that better assessments for reading and language arts are here, and we can expect further improvements. Important for states is that, whatever they decide about adoption of Common Core State Standards, they will have access to better assessments that will be consistent with their goals of improving reading and language arts education....

For some, the ivory tower of academia is “ivory” in more ways than one.

Events over the last year showed us that within our educational spaces, racial tension can quickly bubble to the surface. Protests erupted across the country, and college campuses became hotbeds for a new wave of student activism that helped deliver a powerful, inescapable message: As a country, we have failed to address how race fits into American education, and communities of color feel a lack of representation. Whether it was the absence of diversity among faculty members or outright instances of racism, student activists cited myriad reasons for their discontent. Children of color will make up 52 percent of K–12 students by 2021. Will this spike in non-white Americans feel the same alienation from, and even anger toward, what is perceived as a mainstream American education? What can be done today to bridge the gap in achievement—and the gap in classroom representation? We might start with culturally responsive school curricula.

As many have said before me, education plays a major role in framing American culture and identity. Through our schools, we reflect on which “ideas, phrases, and principles...are woven into the fabric of the nation,” argues my...

M. René Islas

A new study, Public Pre-K and Test Taking for the NYC Gifted & Talented Programs: Forging a Path to Equity, released by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, discovered a positive side effect of participating in New York City's public pre-Kindergarten programs: more interest in gifted and talented programs by parents and their children. This unintended outcome is particularly promising because it increases the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that want access and compete for a chance to be in advanced academic programs.

According to Ying Lu, the study's lead author, "whether a student attends a public pre-k program is the strongest predictor of whether the student takes the gifted and talented test." Lu continues, "there is a compelling need to create public awareness of educational opportunities to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access to them.”

While participating in pre-K may not be the silver bullet for increasing the equitable participation in gifted and talented programs among high-potential disadvantaged youth, it does point to the importance of educating parents about quality options for their children and the power of access to outstanding content, instruction, and expectations in helping students achieve their full human...

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