Archive for the 'Grades and Standards' Category

1st 2015
ESEA Compromise Emerges in Washington

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Choice & Testing

As most of you know, and as I will proudly proclaim once again, your pal Little Eddie has officially turned six. I’m practically a grown-up. That means I have more liberty to stay up later, make choices regarding vegetable consumption at dinner, and riddle my blog posts with six-year-old snark.

To ring in my newfound maturity, I need a big, important post. And what could be bigger or more important than the fact that we now stand on the cusp of ESEA reauthorization?

We’ve talked a fair amount about the somewhat tortured ESEA reauthorization process since last January.  After some rough waters earlier this year, grinding work during the summer led to what I thought was a fairly promising reauthorization bill passing in the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Senate followed suit by passing its own bipartisan bill. Conflicts between the more conservative House bill and the more moderate Senate bill (and the White House, which has been a little weird about the whole thing) necessitated a conference committee between the chambers to work out differences.

Now, after months of waiting, what looks like a viable compromise bill has emerged. It’s getting a fair amount of praise from a number of corners—some of which I find a little concerning—but many folks are still trying to parse through the massive document. If you’d care to read the entire 1,061 page bill, you can find it here.

For those who value their eyesight and are not paid to undertake masochistic feats of pure wonkery, Education Week has put together a helpful rundown of the provisions in the bill.  Here are a few of what I think are the most important bits:

  • Annual reading and math testing will still be required in grades 3-8, and once in high school. This is very important, as it preserves the ability to calculate and use growth data in addition to point-in-time test scores. In addition to denying parents and educators important information about how their students are doing academically, using only test scores without growth can be seriously problematic when it comes to fairly grading schools and identifying issues among the subgroups who most need help. (As an important side note, up to seven states could be selected to pilot local testing systems designed to lead to better statewide tests–not unlike the one created in last year’s Colorado testing compromise bill or the one currently being piloted in New Hampshire.)
  • States would still be required to maintain accountability systems that include test scores to some extent, but would have more leeway to choose which other factors schools ought to be held accountable for. Some of these factors are expected—English language learner performance and graduation rates, for instance—but others could involve looking at things not usually included in these systems, like school environment, engagement levels, or access to advanced coursework. Although it isn’t explicitly required at this stage, one of those factors needs to be growth.
  • Weaponized No Child Left Behind waivers would be a thing of the past. Waivers like the one Colorado just received would expire on August 1. That’s a very good thing for those of us concerned about the level of influence the U.S. Department of Education has exercised through Secretary Arne Duncan’s use of waivers from NCLB’s more onerous requirements and sanctions. This does, however, mean that there would be no more requirements regarding strong teacher accountability systems. Here’s hoping Colorado will stick to its guns on principle even in the absence of a mandate.
  • States would need to adopt “challenging” academic standards, which presumably would include Common Core, but the federal government would be prohibited from requiring or even encouraging states to adopt any specific set of standards. Looking at you, Race to the Top.
  • States would be required to intervene in the lowest five percent of schools, and in high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent. Exactly what those interventions would look like would be up to states. I’d personally like to see interventions required in more than just the absolute worst schools, but I suppose there is nothing restricting states from going above and beyond the five percent threshold. Interestingly, the bill would require states to step in if schools stayed in the failing category for four years–one year less than required by Colorado’s five-year accountability clock. How these two provisions would play together remains to be seen.
  • There is no Title I portability, which is disappointing despite being understandable given the risk of opening the bill up to a veto from President Obama. However, there is a provision in the bill allowing for 50 school districts to participate in a “backpack funding” pilot that could go beyond even the student-based budgeting efforts we’ve seen here in Colorado. I am particularly interested in this provision and how we could get some Colorado districts in on the action.

There’s also a whole lot of stuff in the bill regarding opt-outs, ELL students, and special needs kids, but we won’t cover that today. Rest assured that I will be watching this bill very closely as it moves ahead quickly. With a little luck, we could see something move within the next few weeks. Until then, we have a little more waiting to do.

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30th 2015
Don’t Fall Victim to MisNAEPery

Posted under Accountability & Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & math & reading & Research & Testing

It’s NAEP season, my friends. The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress results were released this week to a barrage of spin, rhetoric, and general “misNAEPery.” I’ve mostly seen this misNAEPery pop up in the form of certain folks using the data to show that education reform efforts aren’t working. (For now, we’ll ignore the crushing irony of using test scores to prove that testing isn’t valuable.) That’s a bummer, so let’s spend a few minutes today talking about what this year’s results do and do not mean.

First, let’s talk briefly about the results themselves. Chalkbeat ran a pretty good piece on Colorado’s 2015 NAEP scores that included some nifty graphs. Nifty or not, however, I take some issue with the graphs’ reliance on percentages of kids scoring proficient or better rather than scale scores. Not that I blame Chalkbeat for going this way; graphs showing what appears to be actual change are a lot more exciting than what you get when you look just at scale scores over the past ten years. Those graphs look like this:

Continue Reading »

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24th 2015
Colorado’s ACT Flatline Has Me Worried

Posted under Accountability & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

I feel like I’ve been alienating my fellow edu-nerds in recent weeks by spending so much time talking about the antics of the courts. Most recently, we examined a Colorado Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the “Negative Factor” under Amendment 23. One could be forgiven for believing that I had suddenly changed careers and become the world’s youngest edu-lawyer extraordinaire. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Today, we celebrate my triumphant return to the world of education policy data by taking a belated look at Colorado’s 2015 ACT scores. As most of you know, the ACT is taken by every high school junior in the state under state law. This year, that amounted to 57,328 kids. The ACT is an important test, as it provides the best picture of the “end product” our education system has produced after more than a decade of school for most students.

Unfortunately, Colorado’s ACT numbers this year are flat again. In fact, they’re a little worse than flat, with our overall composite score having fallen from 20.3 in 2014 to 20.1 this year (on a 36-point scale). Other than a very slight increase in science composite scores, scores across all subjects were down.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. The typical achievement gaps we’ve come to expect are still present, with Hispanic students coming in at a composite of 17.3, black students at 17.1, and English language learners (ELLs) coming in at just 13.7. White students, by contrast, achieved a composite of 21.7.

Low-income students also continue to fall behind their higher-income peers. Students eligible for free lunch achieved a composite score of 16.9, and those eligible for reduced lunch prices managed an 18.5. Kids qualifying for neither free nor reduced lunches came in at a composite of 21.6. Continue Reading »

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31st 2015
A(New)PUSH for Truth in American History

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Board

Yesterday, I highlighted a brave Jeffco mom who was willing to go on camera and thank the Jefferson County Board of Education majority for standing up for reform. I also ran through a distressingly lengthy list of inaccurate claims—maybe “fabrications” would be more appropriate—and downright disturbing revelations about the recall. Included on the list was a mention of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework, which I’d like to spend some more time on today.

Many of you remember the teacher sickouts and student walkouts last fall. Initially, we were told—amid many “ums” and “uhs”—that the protests were about the board’s move to a performance-based raise model. You already know how much (and why) I support pay-for-performance systems, but this one was exceptionally innocuous, providing raises to 99 percent of Jeffco teachers. Yes, 99 percent.

When that argument fell apart under the weight of pesky reality, the protests morphed into misleading statements about the board’s attempt to “censor” or “whitewash” American history by proposing the creation of a curriculum review committee to potentially examine, among many other things, the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework. You likely recall (heh) that the original, somewhat inflammatory proposal was never even truly introduced at the board table, that there were never any concrete plans to review or modify APUSH, and that no review of the framework was ever undertaken. The only outcome of the controversy was the creation of two new curriculum review committees that better represent a cross section of interested parties and community members.

I am personally of the opinion that no justification was ever required of the board’s desire to review district curricula of any kind given that such power is granted clearly and explicitly by Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution. I would certainly have felt differently had they actually made any true effort to “censor” history, but they didn’t. All that aside, though, it now appears that many concerns about APUSH have been vindicated. Continue Reading »

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18th 2015
Performance-Based Learning, Strategic Compensation Keep My Eyes on Mesa 51

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & learning & Online Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Testing & Union

When it comes to K-12 education, I tell you a lot about what’s going on in the Denver area and along the Front Range. That’s where most people in our state live. But Colorado is a big place, and it’s good for me to keep expanding my horizons.

One of those places is called the Western Slope. The largest school district out there is Mesa Valley 51. A lot of times it’s just hard for little me to get a good look at what’s taking place on the other side of the mountains.

I appreciate the big step ladder provided by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which includes an Emily Shockley article yesterday that points to big things happening in Mesa 51, namely a forward-thinking system of competency-based (or “performance-based”) learning. It will launch in seven schools this fall: Continue Reading »

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14th 2015
Whichever Way You Look, Colorado Seems to be Stuck in a Testing Rut

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Parents & School Accountability & State Legislature & Testing

I came across a story in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Majority of California’s Latino voters highly value school testing.” Given the state of affairs in Colorado, how could something like that escape my attention?

A majority of Latino voters, 55%, said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information. Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.

The survey, sponsored by the Times, found that even higher percentages of Californians (77% Latino, 56% White, 64% Total) agreed that “students’ achievement and progress on standardized tests” should be an important or the most important factor in teacher pay and evaluations. That finding casts even more doubt on the suspect poll finding trumpeted by the National Education Association last year.

Especially interesting, given this is the state that gave us last year’s earth-shattering Vergara ruling. Though no one seems to have consulted the Colorado Education Association president, who recently told legislators that “all teachers do the same job.” Continue Reading »


9th 2015
Tick, Tock: Accountability Clock Leading Some CO School Districts to Watershed

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Grades and Standards & High School & innovation schools & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & State Board of Education

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Not many clocks today actually make that noise anymore. But even with the digital timepieces we’re more accustomed to now (and are pretty much all little people like me have known), if you set the alarm you know that it’s bound to go off at some point.

Whether it’s a soothing chime, a familiar radio station, or a deeply irritating Beep, beep, beep, your time to sleep (or whatever) eventually will run out. The question for struggling Colorado schools and districts is what’s going to happen after time is up. That time is drawing perilously close for some.

As Chalkbeat Colorado reports this morning, the 5-year accountability clock is quickly running out for some districts: Continue Reading »


26th 2015
Reading New ETS Report on Millennials Not Likely to Cheer You Up

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Innovation and Reform & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

A few weeks ago I raised the question: Should I get my hopes up about Colorado course choice again? Today, it seems more appropriate to ask whether I should get my hopes up at all.

Yeah, you might think that sounds kind of depressing. But dare I say you haven’t yet had the chance to drink deep the dose of melancholy that flows through Robert Pondiscio’s new Flypaper post “America’s Millennials: Overeducated and Underprepared.” To his credit, he tries to soften the blow with some lighthearted old sports announcer allusion, but the damage cannot be escaped.

What’s the big downer? Pondiscio points readers like you and me to a new Educational Testing Service (ETS) report America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. The bottom line? While American Millennials are on track to reach the highest level of educational attainment EVER, they are less literate and numerate than both prior U.S. generations and to their international peers. There are also apparent implications about growing inequality in skills between the privileged and the less privileged.

Yikes! I feel Pondiscio’s pain. Even though trailing behind the Millennials in vaguely defined Generation Z, my fellow kids and I will reap some of the consequences. So yes, I do care. Continue Reading »

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17th 2015
Report Card Skirmish: Falcon High School’s Standards-Based Grading

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Suburban Schools & Testing

What’s in a grade? Strange question, I know. From my perspective, a good report card means praise and, if I’m lucky, a cookie or a new toy. Bad grades mean I get a “talkin’ to” from my parents. Those aren’t all that fun. For my parents, report cards are an important way to track how I’m doing, see where I might be struggling, and quantify my improvements. But do the grades on my report card tell a fully accurate story?

Some districts don’t think so. Across the country, schools and school districts are experimenting with something called standards-based grading. This system of grading ties student grades not to a percentage of points earned in a class, but to competence when it comes to specific standards. Check out the video below for a brief overview of the arguments for standards-based grading.

Sounds pretty good, right? But as with all things related to education, stuff may be more complicated than it seems. While some districts in other states are happy to sing the praises of standards-based grading, a recent Colorado Spring Gazette article indicates that Falcon High School parents in Falcon 49, one of Colorado’s most innovation-minded districts, may not feel the same. Continue Reading »


30th 2014
Eddie’s Top Posts of 2014: Part One

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & International & Just For Fun & Parents & Research & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers

It’s hard to believe, but another long year of being age 5 is nearly past. January doesn’t seem that long ago, but here we are again, on the brink of new calendars and check-dating confusion. The year 2015 is just around the corner. But for now, it’s time for a little reflection on some of the big Colorado education stories I’ve mused on in 2014.

What better way to wander quickly down Recent Memory Lane than to hit the highlights? I’ve picked a favorite blog post of mine on Colorado education happenings from each month, to relive a year that took us through everything from the throes of a Common Core backlash and a dramatically contrived backlash against the Jeffco school board to the initial defeat of a union-pro tenure lawsuit and the long-awaited arrival of Dougco’s Choice Scholarship Program before the Colorado Supreme Court.

Because we’re in the middle of the holiday malaise and most of you already have short attention spans to begin with, I’ve decided to break it up into two parts. Tomorrow I’ll bring you home with the second half of 2014, but today join me as we meander from January through June: Continue Reading »


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