Friday, April 13, 2012

Kentucky: Statewide implementation of response-to-intervention

Reading proficiently by 3rd grade or bust! That seems to be the rallying cry in many states in recent legislative sessions. While a number of states have taken the route of retaining students who do not read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, research and experience make clear that early identification and intervention are absolutely critical if students are to become successful readers in the early grades--retention policy or no retention policy.

Kudos to Kentucky, where H.B. 69 was enacted Wednesday to require all districts to implement districtwide use of a response-to-intervention (RTI) system for students in grades K-3. The RTI system must be be for general, compensatory, and special education students, and must provide "interventions implemented with fidelity to scientifically based research" (like the "implemented with fidelity to..." rather than simply requiring interventions to incorporate scientifically based research, since interventions are not always implemented with fidelity!) Districts are to implement RTI systems over a few years, with reading and writing to be implemented by August 2013, math by August 2014, and behavior by August 2015.

Some of the other key components of this legislation:
  • The department of education must make technical assistance and training available to all districts in implementing the RTI system districtwide
  • Technical assistance must be designed to improve specified components critical to the quality and effectiveness of interventions
  • The department must develop and maintain a Web-based resource, to provide ongoing support to teachers in all of the targeted areas--reading, writing, math, and behavior
  • The department must encourage districts to use both state and federal funds as appropriate to implement the districtwide RTI system
  • The department is not going this road alone. The legislation encourages the department to collaborate with postsecondary institutions on "technical assistance and training on current best practice interventions", and is required to collaborate with specified existing entities, including postsecondary teacher education programs, and state-supported centers focused on literacy development mathematics, and instructional discipline, "to ensure that teachers are prepared to utilize scientifically based interventions in reading, writing, mathematics, and behavior."
  • This is no "set it and forget it" policy--there's a reporting component. By November 30, 2013, and each year thereafter, the department is required to report specified components to the interim joint committee on education, including "data on the effectiveness of interventions in improving student performance" in schools in the state.

The aforementioned ECS report makes clear that many retention policies focused on the early grades are likely to minimally impact their goal--widespread reading proficiency by the end of grade 3--without early identification of difficulties and prompt, appropriate interventions. Kentucky's new legislation provides a promising approach to ensuring early identification plus interventions, as the bill states, "matched to individual student strengths and needs."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Delaware: Excellent coordinated state STEM plan

While labor market projections have galvanized many policymakers and education stakeholders to call for improved STEM education and a better-prepared future STEM workforce, in many cases the efforts that have resulted to date seem to be disjointed across the P-20 spectrum and across affected stakeholders (business community, various agencies and state and local policymaking entities).

Delaware's STEM Council, created a little over a year ago by Governor Jack Markell, provides one model for a coordinated state-level approach across education sectors and stakeholders. The council's first annual report, released earlier this month, concisely articulates Delaware's current state of STEM affairs, as identified by six committees - (1) business collaboration and communication, (2) women and minorities, (3) public education (P-12 education), (4) program evaluation and monitoring, (5) higher education recommendations, and (6) an advisory committee (cutting across agencies and education sectors) - as well as recommendations for 2012 action for each. Pages 16 and 17 represent a bold move, providing a March 2012-March 2013 quarter-by-quarter timeline for the council to act on its various recommendations.

The council has clearly done its homework, both in terms of (1) what the state is and isn't doing in STEM education and STEM business/education collaboration, and (2) what the state can and should be doing. The council and report together provide a fantastic model for other states to consider as they seek to improve quality, access and coordination between P-12 and higher education and the private sector on this important issue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Georgia: Cheaters never prosper - literally

Legislation recently sent to the governor's desk in Georgia is intended to hit teachers who cheat where it counts--in their wallets. Very likely in response to the 2011 Atlanta testing scandal that made national news, H.B. 692 provides that any teacher or other certified staff member's salary increase or bonus based on an evaluation that included student assessment results found to be falsified is to be automatically forfeited. And any amount of the bonus or salary increase that the staff member already received before the cheating came to light must be repaid in full.

While states have been taking various approaches to curb cheating by teachers and administrators on student tests, I don't recall seeing states go after the salary increases or bonuses that the good or improved test scores would eventually result in. It will be interesting to see if this approach catches on elsewhere--particularly as an increasing number of states seem to be looking into teacher pay for performance, including barring pay increases for teachers scoring in the lowest tier in teacher evaluation systems.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kentucky: Taking concussion legislation to a new level

Over the last 2-3 years, the majority of states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to inform student athletes and parents about the nature and risk of concussions, and keep student athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion from returning to play until they've been given the all-clear from an appropriate medical professional. Some states have gone a step further, requiring coaches and other appropriate staff to receive training on identifying concussions.

However, legislation recently sent to the governor's desk in Kentucky is the first I've seen that addresses the fact that coaches and medical staff need to have a plan to act swiftly if the condition of a student who suffers a concussion begins to rapidly deteriorate--a particularly important policy component in rural areas, where the closest hospital or clinic may be a long, life-threatening drive away. Specifically, the legislation (again, pending governor's action as of this writing) directs the state board or department of education to adopt rules requiring each school with an interscholastic athletic program "to develop a venue-specific emergency action plan to deal with serious injuries and acute medical conditions in which" the patient's condition "may deteriorate rapidly. Each such plan must, among other components, "Include a delineation of role, methods of communication, available emergency equipment, and access to and plan for emergency transportation", be "posted conspicuously at all venues, and reviewed and rehearsed annually by all licensed athletic trainers, first responders, coaches, school nurses, athletic directors, and volunteers for interscholastic athletics."

To be clear, the safety plan doesn't single out concussion victims--it applies to any and all "serious injuries and acute medical conditions" for student athletes "in which the condition of the patient may deteriorate rapidly." The legislation has the potential not only to save lives, but reduce the potential severity of an injury--concussion or otherwise--if an injured student might have to travel a long distance to a hospital or clinic.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia: Using end-of-course assessments to identify grade inflation

States are showing greater interest in transitioning to end-of-course assessments (EOCs) at the high school level, as identified in an ECS report released earlier this month. While many cite a common list of benefits of EOCs--holding students accountable for grade-level expectations, ensuring common, statewide, rigorous expectations for courses bearing the same name ("Algebra I") being among those most commonly noted--another benefit of EOCs is their potential to identify and address grade inflation.

Arkansas legislation establishes a process whereby districts, upon 30 days of a student's completion of a course with an EOC, must submit each student's name and course grade to the Division of Public School Accountability in the state department of education. The division is then responsible for matching each student's name with the student's score on the EOC, reporting to the district each student's EOC score matched with the student's letter grade in the course, and creating two reports--one indicating the percentage of students who earned a "B" in the course and who did not pass the EOC.

The legislation then requires the division to annually report to the legislature and the state board the name, address and superintendent of any high school in which more than 20% of students received a "B" or above on a course but did not pass the corresponding EOC on the first try. The report must also indicate the number of students per high school receiving at least a "B" in a course but who did not pass the corresponding EOC on the first try.

The department must then investigate the classroom practices of any district in which more than 20% of students earned a "B" or higher in a course but did not pass the EOC on the first try, and provide written recommendations to the superintendent and local board on "changes that would improve classroom instruction and student performance on" EOCs. (A.C.A. § 6-15-421)

Tennessee, meanwhile, requires that when a school's mean of teacher-assigned grades and mean of EOC scores are "significantly different as determined" by state board policy, "the school must develop and implement strategies in the School Improvement Plan to ameliorate such differences. Until such time that the State Department of Education recommends, based upon an appropriate statistical analysis, and the State Board of Education approves an acceptable measure of disparity, schools and school systems should consider differences between [10] and [15] or more points to be too large and develop and implement strategies through the School Improvement Plan to ameliorate such differences." (Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0520-01-03-.06 (2)(d))

While it is not clear that Georgia has a specific policy to identify grade inflation via its EOCs, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement did commission a report in 2008 to analyze how EOC results measured up against district grading practices. The comparison at the bottom of this chart of the percentage of students statewide who failed their EOC vs. students who failed the corresponding course is particularly telling. In Economics, for example, more than 35% of students failed the EOC, while less than 6% failed their economics course. In no subject area were there more students failing the course than failing the EOC, although the analysis suggests that did appear to be the case in isolated districts. The full set of reports from this analysis is at the bottom of this page.

Results such as these from Georgia reinforce the importance of including EOC scores as a portion of a student's final grade in a course. While everyone can have a bad day and perform poorly on a test--and consequently, EOC scores should not overshadow other factors in student final course grades--completely leaving EOC scores out of final course grades may open the doors for grade inflation, which by many accounts is on the rise in U.S. high schools. And the results from Georgia districts where there seemed to be a concentration of tough graders also point out the importance of identifying and reining in stringent grading practices, that may hurt students' chances of earning merit scholarships and college admission that take GPA into account.Link

Friday, March 16, 2012

Virginia: Making career-readiness count for high schools

Virginia recently enacted legislation intended to increase high schools' focus on getting CTE students truly career-ready. H.B. 642 directs the state board to adopt regulations requiring an adjustment of the formula for calculating high school accreditation (for schools that have met minimal accreditation requirements). The revised formula must add a minimum three-point increase to the completion index total points calculation for each student in a CTE program who earns a diploma along with an industry certification, industry pathway certification, state licensure, or occupational competency credential, when the certification/licensure/credential is approved by the state board as fulfilling the student-selected end-of-course assessment requirement for high school graduation.

Virginia has already taken great strides to ensure the quality and rigor of high school-level CTE programs. This latest policy action may create even greater incentives for CTE instructors to elevate their game, to bring students to a level of readiness to achieve certification/licensure/credential in their field, as well as motivate adults in schools to encourage greater numbers of CTE students to pursue certification/licensure/credential.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Foreign language: Issue to watch in 2012?

As a true believer in the benefits of learning a foreign language, I have been very excited by recent proposals and enactments to highlight K-12 foreign language instruction.

In his 2012 state of the state address, Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared that the First State will be moving forward with the World Language Expansion Initiative, creating partial immersion programs in 20 schools in which "students will spend half the school day learning in another language."

Foreign language has gotten a toehold as an accountability indicator with recently-enacted Illinois legislation that requires school accountability report cards to report on foreign language offerings (at the state superintendent's discretion, this indicator may also be included in district report cards).

Meanwhile, Louisiana legislation enacted in 2011 outlines criteria for "Certified Foreign Language Immersion Programs" and directs the state board to designate as as a certified program any foreign language immersion program that meets the criteria. The legislation makes clear that the purpose of the certification process is not only to put the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on high-quality programs, but to support schools and districts "in establishing and maintaining high quality, highly effective foreign language immersion programs." And in an October 2011 post I highlighted California legislation to create a State Seal of Biliteracy on high school diplomas and transcripts, the first such state-level initiative in the nation.

In a time when the Wall Street Journal is reporting on the growing demand for American workers who speak foreign languages (particularly Spanish and Chinese), and the expansion of online and blended learning programs has the potential to connect ever more students with learning experiences in foreign languages, let's hope that more states work in 2012 to increase student access to high-quality foreign language instruction.

Monday, February 6, 2012

New Hampshire: Making high school learning more meaningful via Expanded Learning Opportunities

President Obama's recent State of the Union address has unleashed a Pandora's box of questions related to the proposal for all states to raise their upper compulsory school age to 18. Many ask: Will simply requiring students to be in school have a meaningful effect? While there is some research suggesting that requiring students to stay in school until they are older has positive impacts, common sense also cries out that students need to feel that what they are learning in school has real implications for their post-high school educational and career directions.

An evaluation published last year suggests that a pilot New Hampshire voluntary program may be a template for other states to consider if they want more students to stay in high school AND feel their high school experience is preparing them for the world after graduation. Conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute, the study (executive summary here) found that while challenges existed, there were numerous positive outcomes for students participating in Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO), which allows students to earn high school credit via a variety of out-of-school learning experiences. (And perhaps it should be stated first that more than 1 in 3 of ELO participants "met one or more of the criteria for an underserved learner".)

While ELOs held students to rigorous expectations:
  • Most students believed they learned more from their ELO than they would have through a traditional classroom experience. Faculty surveys also indicated that ELOs sparked students' academic interests.
  • ELOs positively impacted "students’ awareness of skills they will need for the future, self-confidence, work readiness, and clarity about interests and goals"
  • Students and teachers concurred that students in ELOs "became deeply knowledgeable about a specific topic area and learned new skills through their ELO, and that students were able to explain what they learned through the experience"
  • Community partners (for example, a business at which a student completed an apprenticeship) were highly pleased with the ELO experience, with virtually all (98%) "indicating that their organization would consider leading another ELO."

However, the evaluation was of just four pilot high schools in the state. Meanwhile, some have pointed out that New Hampshire is not like many places in the U.S. Could ELOs work in a large urban district? In a larger state? What else (if anything) needs to be in place to transfer New Hampshire's success to jurisdictions serving larger numbers of English language learners, or low-income students?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

North Carolina: Evaluation of online credit recovery

There's little research on the impact of online credit recovery programs so far. However, a recent North Carolina study does shed some light on teacher and student perceptions, as well as student success, in online credit recovery in that state.

While the report notes that "mastery rates" (successful completion of credit recovery) have been on the rise since the program's launch in 2008, fewer than 7 out of 10 students (67%) achieved mastery in summer 2010. Yet online credit recovery students seemed very pleased with the model, and identified specific approaches that supported their success. For example, students noted that teachers used various approaches to address the self-discipline issues that led many students to fail the course the first time around. Students also were very likely to agree or strongly agree on the presence of several key teaching quality indicators in their credit recovery programs:
  • "'My teacher does a good job teaching in the online environment.' 93.7% of CR (credit recovery students) agree/strongly agree"
  • "'My teacher provides timely and regular feedback on course assignments, assessments, and my progress.' 89.3% of CR agree/strongly agree"
  • "'My teacher provides content and assignments that address students' different levels of understanding.' 80.8% of CR agree/strongly agree"
  • "'My teacher provides or suggests strategies to help students succeed in this course.' 90.5% of CR agree/strongly agree"
Wow! The researchers also noted that credit recovery students were more likely than online general studies or honors students to agree/strongly agree on the presence of these teacher attributes in their courses. Would fewer students have been in credit recovery in the first place had their original teachers been creating a positive learning environment, providing student success strategies and differentiated instruction? Quite possibly. This study provides a toehold in the research on what students positively respond to in the online credit recovery environment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ECS 12 for 2012 is here!

Yesterday, ECS released its 12 for 2012 report, identifying not necessarily the "hottest" or "biggest" issues of the year, but the issues that demand our attention as a nation and, if we act in a thoughtful and meaningful way, through which we have the potential to greatly improve public education in this country, from the earliest years through postsecondary. Of course, there are other critical issues that didn't make the list--improving high school graduation rates, improving college-readiness and transitions for traditionally underserved students, and improving state accountability systems, to name just a few--but we had to draw the line somewhere.

What are your thoughts? Where were we spot-on? Are there issues you feel do not meet the criteria that all 12 for '12 entries were expected to meet? Other criteria for inclusion we did not consider? Looking forward to receiving feedback, as there has already been talk about doing this again in 2013.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New York: Let's run schools more efficiently

State of the state season is upon us. One of the first governors to deliver a state of the state address was Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. Among Governor Cuomo's proposals: appointing a bipartisan education commission to work with the legislature to recommend reforms in critical areas, including management efficiency.

Approaches already implemented in Virginia and Texas may provide food for thought for this proposed commission. Virginia legislation requires the department of planning and budget, upon a district's request, to initiate a review of the district's noninstructional expenditures. This review should identify opportunities to improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs for the division in such areas as overhead, human resources, procurement, facilities use and management, financial management, transportation, technology planning, and energy management. School districts must pay 25% of the cost of the review in the fiscal year following the completion of the final report.

Texas takes a slightly different approach. Legislation directs the comptroller to identify districts and campuses that use resource allocation practices that contribute to high academic achievement and cost-effective operations. In doing so, the comptroller must ensure resources are being used for instruction, and must evaluate the operating cost for each student and for each program, and the staffing cost for each student.