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Fordham’s latest blockbuster report digs deep into three new, multi-state tests (ACT Aspire, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced) and one best-in-class state assessment, Massachusetts’ state exam (MCAS), to answer policymakers’ most pressing questions about the next-generation tests: Do these tests reflect strong college- and career-ready content? Are they of rigorous quality? Broadly, what are their strengths and areas for improvement?

Over the last two years, principal investigators Nancy Doorey and Morgan Polikoff led a team of nearly forty reviewers to find answers to those questions. Here’s a quick sampling of the findings:

  • Overall, PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments had the strongest matches to college- and career-ready standards, as defined by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
  • ACT Aspire and MCAS both did well regarding the quality of their items and the depth of knowledge they assessed.
  • Still, panelists found that ACT Aspire and MCAS did not adequately assess—or may not assess at all—some of the priority content reflected in the Common Core standards in both ELA/Literacy and mathematics.

As might be expected, the report has garnered national interest. Check out coverage from The 74 MillionU.S. News, and Education Week just for a start.

Or better...

  1. Editors in Youngstown opine in the strongest possible terms urging an end to the stalling of the work of the new Academic Distress Commission in Youngstown City Schools. (Youngstown Vindicator, 2/18/16)
     
  2. Editors in Canton opine on the topic of school district fees for extracurricular activities. What is their position on the matter? No idea. (Canton Repository, 2/18/16)
     
  3. Forget the alphabet soup of ESSA and NCLB. In Northwest Ohio, they just call it “the Learning Law”. And here’s what Northwest Ohio parents and school districts think of it. (WTOL-TV Toledo, 2/18/16)
     
  4. Elyria is the 14th largest city in Ohio, but its swagger appears considerably larger these days. Case in point, the school district’s director of academic services, who contends that Elyria City Schools is on track to “bust urban district stereotypes by raising expectations and achievement”. She points to rising graduation rates to make her point. By the end of her report to the school board as covered in this piece, however, she says, “We do a great job of showing progress…but not to the level the state wants.” But I admire her can-do attitude. It is likely infectious. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 2/17/16)
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It’s well known that students of color are underrepresented in gifted programs compared to white and Asian students. Attempting to understand why, a new study from Vanderbilt University investigates how student, teacher, and school characteristics affect pupil assignment to gifted programs in reading and math.

Researchers derived a data sample of approximately 10,640 pupils from the NCES Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 (ECLS-K). The ECLS-K data tracks pupils from kindergarten through the eighth grade nationwide, collecting descriptive information on student, family, school, and community factors with questionnaires administered to parents, teachers, and school administrators. The authors used this study to extract information on student demographics and achievement, as well as school environment, classroom environment, and teacher qualifications and demographics during the first, third, and fifth grades—times when most gifted students are identified in elementary school. Finally, researchers measured the probability of gifted assignment based on each characteristic.

Overall, the odds of black and Hispanic children being referred to gifted programs are 66 percent and 47 percent lower than white students, respectively. Moreover, when student, teacher, and school characteristics were averaged, white students had a predicted probability of 6.2 percent of gifted—whereas black students had only a 2.8...

  1. Some college profs took time out of their busy schedules earlier this week to air their gripes about Ohio’s efforts to allow high schoolers to take college classes via the College Credit Plus program. Nope. I don’t get it either. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/16/16)
     
  2. More than half of Columbus City Schools’ high schoolers don’t attend their “assigned neighborhood” school. District officials are trying to understand the pattern as they work on updating their facilities master plan, but the one parent interviewed for this piece seems to defy pattern analysis. More research is needed. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/14/16)
     
  3. The Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center is conducting a transportation survey, funded by a Straight A Grant. They’re aiming to save the small districts in the region millions of dollars through efficiencies and shared services. Nice. (Zanesville Times Recorder, 2/17/16)
     
  4. Finally, two pieces of good news from Cleveland. Breakthrough Schools announced expansion plans that will bring two of its prep schools to the West side in the next two years. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/15/16) And Cleveland's MC2STEM High School has been awarded an Excellence in Innovation in Secondary Schools award from the Alliance for Excellent Education. (Cleveland
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Reformers always face backlash, no matter the realm. People and institutions, structures and routines, budgets and staffing arrangements—all are tailored for the status quo. Indeed, they define the status quo, and myriad interests are then enmeshed in keeping things the way they’ve always been. Plenty of people are undone by change, even the prospect of it, and plenty more find it hard to imagine something different from what they’re accustomed to.

The reformer’s job is to overcome all that in pursuit of some greater good. That impulse arises from the belief—and, one hopes, from ample evidence—that the status quo is failing in various ways to deliver the necessary results. But part of the pushback from aficionados of the status quo is a stout insistence that today’s results are actually fine, that the reformer is wrong to say that the status quo is failing, and that changing the present arrangement could well produce a worse result.

That’s been the story of education reform and its resisters as long as I’ve been around—dating back, at least, to the denial of Coleman’s findings in the sixties and seventies, the denunciation of A Nation at Risk in the eighties, and the recent insistence that adopting the Common Core...

  1. The state has asked the judge to lift his stay on the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission, to at least allow the four seated members to meet and begin work, even if the fifth member is still in question. “Without immediate intervention from this court, [the children of Youngstown] have no hope that anything will be different in the coming school year,” wrote the state’s representatives. No word as to whether they asked “pretty please” or not. (Youngstown Vindicator, 2/12/16)
     
  2. We told you last week about the fancy new Lorain High School currently under construction – how local pastors love it, how it won’t have metal detectors (not because they’re not necessarily warranted, but because “knuckleheads” can fairly easily get past them), and how it will have a crap ton of space dedicated to the local community college for dual enrollment courses. But this last item could mean the end of the 10-year-old “Lorain Early College Program”, dedicated to getting first-generation students into college. At a minimum, the existing program will have to change. Some folks are unhappy about this turn of events. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 2/11/16)
     
  3. And finally this week: Beef School. Line forms
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  1. Here are some things we learned during this week’s state board of education meeting. Ohio’s learning standards are still in the process of being revised. Said the dude from ODE: "We're looking for revisions, not a debate on whether you like standards-based education.” Not everyone got that memo, it seems. (Gongwer Ohio, 2/9/16) The next permanent state supe is still in process of being selected. A lack of consensus among board members on things like the qualifications required of applicants and pay level could hold up said process for a long time. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/9/16) ODE is still figuring out how to handle school report cards in the face of parents opting their children out of testing. Looks like they are going to be giving schools two different grades – one with untested students getting “zeroes” and one with untested students not being counted at all. Nothing could go wrong with that, could it? (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/9/16)
     
  2. Meanwhile, editors in Cleveland PD opine with a vote of no-confidence in the Ohio Department of Education with regard to charter schools. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/9/16)
     
  3. We all know the old SchoolHouse Rock tune about how
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  1. We told you last year of the saga of a group of homeowners here in central Ohio who petitioned successfully to have their homes rezoned from one school district to another. Turns out it doesn’t take a group, but such a rezoning process can commence with even just one property owner making the request. Such is the situation now, with homeowner, sending district and state board of ed all OK with the move. Small potential hiccup: the receiving district doesn’t seem keen on it. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/6/16)
     
  2. School district officials in Athens County discussed their K-3 literacy grades on the recent partial report cards. Most officials interviewed went into some serious and interesting detail as to why they think their grades – all of them – were so bad. (Athens Messenger, 2/7/16)
     
  3. Perhaps more and better pre-K would help K-3 literacy scores in Athens County. Editors in Akron think that could work, as they opine in favor of a “big leap” in such funding statewide. (Akron Beacon Journal, 2/7/16)
     
  4. Speaking of early education, here’s news of a possible expansion of the SPARK program into Ross County. We’ve told you about SPARK before (stands
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  1. We told you earlier this week – as dispassionately as your humble compiler was able – about the proposal to reconfigure a large number of Dayton City Schools buildings in order to combat “major academic and discipline problems” among the districts’ 7th and 8th graders. Passions, however, are rising among Daytonians in regard to the changes. (Dayton Daily News, 2/3/16)
     
  2. One of the passionate defenses of the status quo in the story above is that if you mess with the grade configurations, kids will leave for the charter school down the street, which is noted to be very high performing. But perhaps that problem is less pressing than the good folks of Dayton think. The D reported yesterday that the Ohio Department of Education has revised both the number of poor performing charter schools (upward, from 6 to 57) and the number of high performing charter schools (down, from 93 to 59) reported to the USDOE in regard to that stalled $71M grant that was all up in the news a couple of months ago. The department said the revision is due to new rating criteria put in place since the original grant application. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/4/16)
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This progress report from Education Superhighway, a nonprofit aimed at upgrading Internet access for America’s public schools, is worth the acronym dictionary you’ll need to decipher it. Researchers examine data from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate program (a federal initiative that defrays the cost of internet in schools) and deliver much good news about connectivity status for the average K–12 classroom. From 2013 to 2015, twenty million more students were connected to high-speed broadband (that which meets the FCC’s minimum Internet access goals), representing 77 percent of all districts. This is up from 30 percent of districts in 2013. Even though 21.3 million students nationwide still miss the FCC’s mark, lacking the connectivity necessary to fully reap the rewards of digital learning, the report declares that “those left behind are not disproportionately rural or poor.” In 2013, the most affluent districts were three times as likely as low-income ones to meet FCC goals; by 2015, “the E-rate program [had] effectively leveled the playing field.” If nothing else, that’s a whopping success.

In Ohio the news is mixed: Three out of four school districts are adequately prepared for digital learning in terms of broadband speed. The report commends...

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