How much reform is too much? Teachers weigh in

The January 17, 2018 edition of Education Week includes an update to an electronic article titled “Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been ‘Too Much‘” that was posted on December 19, 2017.

It’s an interesting “read.”

And, it appears teachers generally are unsettled by all the changes that have been going on recently thanks to things like Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, big changes in digital learning, and so forth.

For example:

  • Asked how they would describe the amount of change/reform teachers have experienced in the past two years, 58 percent said it was “Way too much” or “Too much.” Only 34 percent said it was “Just about right.”

  • Concerning which changes in the past two years had the most impact:

    • 62 percent of teachers surveyed by EdWeek said that changes to teacher evaluation headed the list.
    • 58 percent cited curriculum changes
    • 53 percent brought up changes to professional development (OJT for teachers)
    • 52 percent mentioned changes to state assessments

  • Regarding how reforms in the past two years had impacted instruction, only 39 percent said the impact was either “Generally positive” or “Very positive.”

That last bullet may be the real key. Certainly, the last school term’s KPREP test results were nothing to cheer about in Kentucky. Even the Kentucky Department of Education’s usually self-congratulatory news release about the 2017 results candidly admitted:

“Overall, achievement increased slightly at the elementary and middle school levels, but was down somewhat at the high school levels. Achievement gaps between different groups of students persisted in many areas and will be a major focus of KDE, schools and districts under the new accountability system.”

With scarcely more than half of the elementary and middle school students scoring proficient or more and fewer than one in two students in both school levels scoring proficient or above in math, slight progress clearly isn’t what the state needs.

And, with high school reading proficiency at only 55.8 percent and math proficiency a dismal 38.1 percent, decay at this school level was definitely not what Kentucky needs to see.

The percentage of high school graduates who met college and/or career ready criteria also dropped from 68.5 percent in 2016 to 65.1 percent in 2017.

So, it looks like EdWeek’s survey, which was taken nationwide, also applies to Kentucky, too.

There’s a problem here. And, it appears teachers know it.

Attempts to test new science standards crash in DC schools

Along with Kentucky, Washington, DC was one of the first school systems to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards and then move to create a new test to measure those standards.

Unlike Kentucky, which has delayed its implementation of new science tests due to various challenges, students in DC began taking their new science tests two years ago and might be the first school system that did that.

But, being first can be a problem. Education Week now reports that the District of Columbia schools will invalidate two years of its new generation science tests after “serious errors” surfaced. The school system has cancelled its testing contract with the prime contractor for the assessments, WestEd, and there is even speculation that the district might file a lawsuit over the fiasco.

Per EdWeek, some major issues involve, “’psychometric services’—making sure that the test meets validity and reliability standards and is fair for different groups of students.” Those are major concerns, especially when testing involves new areas that don’t have much precedent to guide test creators.

So, it’s back to the drawing boards for a new science test in DC.

Meanwhile, here in Kentucky we have yet to see any results from our pending replacement science test. Based on the problems now surfaced in DC, our educators need to proceed with considerable caution.

Kentucky Department of Education seeking still more feedback on the state’s Common Core-based math and English language arts standards

In an interesting surprise, the Kentucky Department of Education has started yet another public comment period on revisions to the state’s education standards for math and English language arts (reading and writing). This new comment period is announced in NEWS RELEASE No. 17-173, which currently is only available to e-mail subscribers but shortly should appear here. The department indicates the need for a new comment period was triggered by concerns regarding the format of the earlier comment period (a format I criticized as biased at the time).

Now, the department says:

“To ensure transition-readiness for all for all students, KDE is seeking further public input regarding the cumulative grade-to-grade progression of K-12 ELA standards at the elementary, middle and high school levels and the cumulative math standards as they are organized by domains, which are larger groups of related standards.”

But, is the new survey format any better than the one from the earlier survey I criticized back in May?

[Read more…]

WaPo: U.S. schoolchildren tumble in international reading exam rankings, worrying educators

There was lots of hand-wringing going on in Washington on Tuesday following the release of new scores from the 2016 administration of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

Some takeaways from the Washington Post’s coverage include:

  • “The United States tumbled in international rankings released Tuesday of reading skills among fourth-graders, raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.”
  • “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system.”
  • “The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins.”

The Post quotes Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner for the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, as saying:

“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment. This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”

Another educator quoted by the Post is Martin West, an education professor at Harvard University. He said, “the results are disappointing, particularly because they may show that efforts to improve educational outcomes for the most challenged students are not paying off.”

That isn’t a surprise to those who know that research going all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson era shows that Progressive Education fad ideas are least effective with less advantaged students. The adoption of Common Core was accompanied by many schools adopting Progressive Education programs, unfortunately, and PIRLS seems to indicate that Johnson era research on education still rings true today.

By the way, one country that moved ahead of the United States was Latvia, which the Post says is “one of the poorest countries in the European Union.”

There are always concerns with international testing that other countries don’t test all their students, and so forth. Still, it doesn’t seem very likely that other countries would change their policies a lot from administration to administration of PIRLS, so the United States’ decline does provide cause to worry.

Thus, while we are still waiting for the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for the nation and the states to give us more insight, the new 2016 PIRLS data already provides more indications that Common Core might not be getting the job done for our kids.

BROKEN PROMISE? Common Core tests were supposed to usher in a new era of comparing America’s schools

Back in 2010 one of the major reasons we heard for adopting the Common Core State Standards was that the results from new Common Core-aligned tests would be comparable across states.

It’s now 2017, and as Chalkbeat points out, this is yet another promise from the education community that hasn’t been kept.

Kentucky, of course, uses its own, self-created Common Core-aligned Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) tests, which don’t compare to tests used in any other state.

But, even for those states that joined one of the two Common Core test consortia and are nominally using the same tests, Chalkbeat’s article points out that no one is calling the results comparable.

It makes you wonder if the underlying education in each state is even close to comparable.

Which brings up another problem.

We normally could answer that question about cross-state education performance with results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, there was a change in the way this federal test was administered in 2017. Right now, we won’t see the 2017 NAEP results for several more months, at least. Even then, it is possible the 2017 results might have problems because of those changes in administration procedures. So, even the NAEP might not be useful to analyze the Common Core and cross-state education performance as of 2017.

In any event, right now, that Common Core promise about comparing cross-state testing remains unfulfilled. With seven years under its belt since enactment, that doesn’t speak well for Common Core.

An Open Letter To: All Individuals Involved with Reworking Kentucky’s Academic Standards

Thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 1 during the 2017 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session, Kentucky’s current education standards for English language arts and mathematics, which are currently cut-and-paste adoptions of the Common Core State Standards, are going through a change. However, it remains to be seen how dramatic a change will actually occur.

Part one of the review and development of Kentucky’s new reading, writing and math standards – an online public comment effort – has already been completed. As I discussed back in May, I have reservations about how this process, which was conducted online using Survey Monkey, seemed likely to produce few changes to the existing Common Core-based standards in Kentucky. People using the Survey Monkey had to shoehorn their suggestions around the existing standards. There was no practical way to suggest major changes with this limiting approach.

In any event, the next step in Kentucky’s standards reworking process is for new Standards And Assessments Review and Development Committees supported by several grade level specific (K to Grade 5, Grade 6 to 8, Grade 9 to 12) Advisory Panels to be formed and to start the detailed work of examining the academics our students really need to be successful in the ever more technically involved world economy. One of the new committees and its support panels will cover the English language arts areas and another group will handle the math standards.

So far, there has been no announcement about who will serve on these committees and panels or what their working sessions will look like. As statutorily created agencies, these committees should be subject to Kentucky’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws, but again we have no details at this time.

Because I don’t think the Common Core has the right elements presented with the right timing to meet students’ needs, and because of my concerns about the Survey Monkey process and its almost inevitable outcomes, I put together an open letter that discusses what truly high quality standards look like in a high performance education system. I hope this letter eventually reaches all of the committee and panel members who will do the tough work to create the new standards called for in Senate Bill 1. However, since I think many others in Kentucky – and in other states as well – would benefit from this, I am making the open letter available online here: Standards Review Open Letter Sep17

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – High Schools

Over the past few days I’ve blogged about the problems with white minus black reading and math achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary and middle schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the high school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black proficiency rate gaps over time from the KPREP English II End-of-Course exams used in Kentucky’s high schools. The English II End-of-Course exam scores are also used for reading accountability in Kentucky’s high schools.

As we saw in the lower grades, things don’t look very good during the time these tests, which are part of the ACT’s Quality Core series, have been in use.

Figure 1

High School KPREP EOC Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the white reading proficiency rate has been jumping up and down slightly since 2014. The new 2017 white reading proficiency rate of 59.6 percent is actually lower than previously posted rates for 2015 and 2016 and really isn’t much different from the 2014 rate, either.

For all intents and purposes, the white high school level reading performance in Kentucky hasn’t really changed in half a decade.

The rate of progress for black reading performance looks just about the same, except that the scores are much lower. With the 2013 and 2015 black reading scores both higher than the latest 2017 results, about the best you can say is black high school reading performance in Kentucky has also been flat for half a decade.

The achievement gaps are also problematic. While the 2017 white minus black high school reading proficiency rate gap is smaller than in 2015 and 2016, it is larger than the gaps for 2012, 2013 and 2014. That isn’t progress.

Basically, after six years of Unbridled Learning testing, the English II End-of-Course exams indicate there has been scant progress in reading in Kentucky’s high schools since the Common Core State Standards came along either for whites or blacks.

Figure 2 shows the high school math situation.

Figure 2

High School KPREP EOC Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

This math picture is far more sobering than the flat reading situation.

For starters, the white math proficiency rate in 2017 is not only lower than it was last year, but it is more than a percentage point lower than it was back in 2012. That is a bit less than just flat performance.

The math situation for blacks as of 2017 is far worse. In fact, the drop in the black Algebra II End-of-Course exam proficiency was so severe in 2017 that I double-checked with the Kentucky Department of education to insure there wasn’t a typographical error. There was no typo, unfortunately. That 9.4 point math proficiency rate drop from 2016 to 2017 is apparently real.

Even if we were to consider the 2016 score as abnormally high, the 2017 score is still well below the initial 2012 score of 24.4 percent proficiency and is well below the rate for all other years, as well. When you consider that well under one in five Kentucky black high school students met muster in Algebra II in 2017, this is a very sobering situation indeed.

Arguably, Kentucky’s blacks have gone backwards in math since Common Core came along.

The high school math gap situation is also problematic. The most recent white minus black high school math gap is by far the largest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either. What makes the gap growth particularly troubling is that even though the white math proficiency rate dumped by more than three points between 2016 and 2017, the white minus black math gap still managed to increase dramatically.

[Read more…]

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – Middle Schools

A few days ago I blogged about the problems with white minus black achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the middle school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black gaps in KPREP reading over the time this Common Core-aligned testing program has been in use.

Figure 1

Middle School KPREP Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the proficiency rates in reading for both whites and blacks have improved, but the whites have made more progress. As a result, Kentucky’s 2017 middle school reading achievement gap is larger than for any earlier year.

Furthermore, fewer than one in three black middle school students is reading at the proficient level as of 2017, which I must remind some is 27 years after the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was passed with promises to deal with this problem.

Now, Figure 2 shows the middle school math situation.

Figure 2

Middle School KPREP Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

Figure 2 clearly tells a much more sobering picture for math than the rather somber gap story in Figure 1 for reading. First, both white and black scores either went stagnant or into decline in 2017. That isn’t what Common Core promised us.

The gap situation is also problematic. The most recent gap is the highest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either.

Given that scarcely more than one out of two white middle schoolers in Kentucky is proficient in math and less than one out of four black students passed muster on the KPREP, these faltering results for 2017 are particularly unsatisfactory. With foreign competition lining up to swamp our kids if we don’t get them much better educated, Kentucky cannot afford to allow such meager performance and slow rates of progress to continue.

Technical Information:

All scores in Figures 1 and 2 came from the Kentucky School Report Cards for the state for the years listed. The specific data came from the Data Sets section, ASSESSMENT_KPREP_LEVEL link.

Elementary School KPREP achievement gaps for white minus black scores getting worse

The new KPREP results for the 2017 test administration are now loaded in the Kentucky School Report Cards Database, so I took a look at how the latest elementary school level achievement gaps for white minus black proficiency rates in math and reading look.

The simple answer to my question is: very disappointing.

In fact, for elementary school blacks, their reading proficiency rate as of 2017 has now sunk below the level for the state’s students with learning disabilities. That’s just not acceptable.

[Read more…]

Kentucky’s disappointing new test results – other voices – Northern Kentucky

As I blogged earlier, Kentucky’s new test scores are out. However, the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability system is dead, so this year, as the Kentucky Enquirer’s Hannah Sparling laments:

“There are no state rankings or overall scores – the numbers that used to rank schools from best to worst.

There are no labels marking schools as Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement.”

The Enquirer points out that this makes it tough for parents to figure out how their school is doing.

Still, test scores, graduation rates and some other data are available, and the Enquirer echoes comments we mentioned in our earlier blog that the picture doesn’t look so good.

For example, the Enquirer quotes Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt admitting:

“Math is a mess across the state and across the country, so what are we going to do differently with math going forward?”

So even the commissioner admits that math, a major part of Common Core, is in trouble both here in Kentucky, which has the most experience with these standards, and around the nation, as well. Considering that Kentucky has more experience with Common Core (state Common Core-aligned math and reading testing began in the 2011-12 school year), that should give pause to even the most enthusiastic member of the dwindling Common Core cheerleaders.

The new data cover more than math. The Enquirer also correctly reports that “Kentucky’s college and career readiness score dropped, from 68.5 percent this past year to 65.1 percent this year.” I’ll have more to say about these data shortly, but a decay in readiness is a serious trip up for Common Core, which promised to increase readiness.

Returning to the Enquirer’s main theme about parent confusion due to the lack of accountability scores, the paper quotes Jay Brewer, Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent saying:

“People like to compare schools, and at this point, there really isn’t that information available.”

What are parents supposed to do? The Enquirer says state education folks are hoping that parents will dig into the school report cards for more detailed data. Well, having taught a few parents about how get into the report cards, I don’t think many parents will take the time to learn how.

So, stay tuned here. We have a lot more to cover, and you won’t have to dig through a fairly extensive, but commensurately somewhat complex, online system to get that.