Study says U.S. students are tested too much

This morning the Council of Great City Schools held a press conference and panel discussion to release a study on school testing. Here are some recent news articles on the study and the subject of the number of tests administered in U.S. public schools:

From the Washington Post:

Where did Obama administration’s 2 percent cap on standardized testing come from? You won’t believe it. (Or maybe you will.) 

Obama meets with educators to talk about standardized testing

Study says standardized testing is overwhelming nation’s public schools

From Slate:

American Students Are Overtested: Obama Administration Says It’s Too Much

 

Should school funding be tied to enrollment or to attendance?

Cinque Henderson argues that school funding should be tied to enrollment, not attendance: How some school funding formulas hurt learning and make schools more dangerous.

Attendance-based school funding hurts our most vulnerable students by pressuring educators to keep unruly – sometimes violent – children in school. Add to that the recent push to ban suspensions altogether, and the schools in our toughest areas feel no different from the rough streets that schools, at least in part, are designed to provide poor students an escape from.

These funding formulas put educators in a no-win situation: If they suspend or expel disruptive children, they lose out on money to provide educational services to other students who need it. If they keep misbehaving children in school, that threatens the safety of the staff and cripples the learning process. Teachers can’t teach when they are forced to babysit recalcitrant students in their classrooms. Allowing states to, in essence, punish the vast majority of students — those who are well-behaved and show up to school every day willing to learn — for the indifference or truancy of the minority who are chronically absent seems fundamentally unfair.

Henderson, who was a writer for HBO’s The Newsroom and is working on a book about America’s public schools. says, “As Congress debates this month the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s primary education law, lawmakers should consider how states distribute the federal funds they receive for schools.”

Some Fairfax secondary schools have late starts or early dismissals

Yesterday I mentioned the comments that Ed Linz made about the amount of instructional time in Fairfax high schools. He noted that in response to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, FCPS high schools “were directed to carve a period of time out of the school day to be used for remediation; students who did not require this assistance would be allowed to do homework, complete makeup work, or, in some schools, socialize or surf the internet during the remediation periods. “

Additional time is taken out of the school day by some secondary schools that have some late start or early dismissal days. The buses keep the same schedule, but students have the option of attending only when classes are actually being held. These schedule changes are sometimes called “collaboration days,” since teachers can take that opportunity to meet and collaborate. A few schools have collaboration days every week.

Chicago inspector general finds widespread fraud in free and reduced-price lunch program

CBS Chicago reports that fraud in the Chicago Public Schools’ free and reduced lunch program is system wide. “The inspector general reviewed of 1,000 cases of children enrolled in the program and reported “an astonishing 707 recipients — nearly 71 percent — had their benefits decreased” because of violations by parents,” Pam Zekman reports.

Education Next reported in its Winter 2010 issue that the federal school lunch program may not be a reliable measure of poverty. David N. Bass said that “the process for verifying eligibility for the program is fundamentally broken and that taxpayers may be picking up the tab for participation by ineligible families.”

State governments dole out benefits according to free and reduced-price lunch percentages, too. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, for instance, allocates $2,250 to schools for each low-income child enrolled in kindergarten through 3rd grade. The program gauges poverty using NSLP participation.

Because of the financial benefits, local school districts have a clear incentive to register as many students in NSLP as possible. Some districts encourage parents to fill out applications, even if they are not sure they qualify….

Also, the federal government uses school lunch subsidies as a poverty indicator. “No Child Left Behind requires that schools meet performance benchmarks for program-eligible students in order to make adequate yearly progress,” Bass said. “Academic researchers also make use of NSLP participation data, raising the question of whether researchers could be producing skewed results if program participation is not a reliable indicator of income.”

In response to the article by Bass, Philip Gleason and Michael Ponza of Mathematica Policy Resarch said their research suggests that fraud is not a major factor in explaining errors. In one study, more than 40 percent of parents over-reported, rather than under-reported their income. “A simple approach that could reduce error by one-third would eliminate the distinction between free and reduced-price benefits, since much program error results from misclassification,” they said.”We could also build on current federal initiatives such as direct certification to improve NSLP certification accuracy.”

Under this policy, now required in all districts, households receiving benefits from other federal programs with more rigorous income-verification requirements are automatically eligible for NSLP. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also considering using existing surveys to estimate the proportion of eligible children in selected schools, and then developing schoolwide reimbursement rates. This would eliminate the need for districts to certify households through the current process.

Ending the Fairfax Monday early dismissal policy would benefit poor and minority students

Andrew Rotherham criticizes Virginia school officials for adopting “dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.”

“There are better ways to design an accountability system,” Rotherham says. “For starters, Virginia could set common targets that assume minority and poor students can pass state tests at the same rates as others and at the same time provide substantially more support to these students and their schools.”

Rothermere says that Virginia’s new policy is a step backward, not an improvement to the No Child Left Behind law, which has not yet been updated by Congress.

I posted the following comment to this Washington Post article:

Additional “support for minority and poor students” could be provided in Fairfax County elementary schools by ending the policy of dismissing all students two hours early on Mondays. Providing this improved schedule for all students in all schools is the best way of ensuring that all minority students and all poor students get the benefit of such a reform. Currently the students have 27.5 instructional hours per week. Next year there are 31 early dismissal Mondays. If the students were allowed to stay in school for a full day on Mondays, they would gain 62 instructional hours, the equivalent of 2.25 additional weeks in school.

Title I focus on the achievement gap

Why should the federal government insist on classifying students by race? There is logic in paying attention to poverty, but what is the rationale for saying that children should be categorized by race? Here is the full text of Section 101 of the No Child Left Behind Act, with paragraph (3) mentioning minority and nonminority students.

SEC. 101. IMPROVING THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT OF THE DISADVANTAGED.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.) is amended to read as follows:

TITLE I–IMPROVING THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT OF THE DISADVANTAGED

SEC. 1001. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE.

The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. This purpose can be accomplished by —

(1) ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement;

(2) meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation’s highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading assistance;

(3) closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers;

(4) holding schools, local educational agencies, and States accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students, and identifying and turning around low-performing schools that have failed to provide a high-quality education to their students, while providing alternatives to students in such schools to enable the students to receive a high-quality education;

(5) distributing and targeting resources sufficiently to make a difference to local educational agencies and schools where needs are greatest;

6) improving and strengthening accountability, teaching, and learning by using State assessment systems designed to ensure that students are meeting challenging State academic achievement and content standards and increasing achievement overall, but especially for the disadvantaged;

(7) providing greater decisionmaking authority and flexibility to schools and teachers in exchange for greater responsibility for student performance;

(8) providing children an enriched and accelerated educational program, including the use of schoolwide programs or additional services that increase the amount and quality of instructional time;

(9) promoting schoolwide reform and ensuring the access of children to effective, scientifically based instructional strategies and challenging academic content;

(10) significantly elevating the quality of instruction by providing staff in participating schools with substantial opportunities for professional development;

(11) coordinating services under all parts of this title with each other, with other educational services, and, to the extent feasible, with other agencies providing services to youth, children, and families; and

(12) affording parents substantial and meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children.

Standardized tests are labeling too many students as failing

Marion Brady, writing in The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post, asks the interesting question of whether publishers of text books, tests, and test-prep materials are designing tests to have a high enough failure rate to spur more sales. What is her theory about how they do this?

It’s easy. Make the passages to be read boring. Ask questions that have more than one right answer but count only one answer as correct. Throw in a few unfamiliar words or references. Increase the length of sentences. Make the test so long that fatigue or impatience set in. Add a few trick questions. Increase stress levels by setting a too-short completion time. Or, easiest of all, just arbitrarily raise the passing score.

Brady thinks No Child Left Behind has created a marketing opportunity for tests that label too many students as poor readers. Brady, a veteran teacher . administrator, curriculum designer and author, states, “there’s not one shred of evidence that standardized tests are a more accurate and useful measure of learner performance than teacher judgment.”

Brady also questions the practice of timing standardized tests. She quotes one reading expert who says, “what we actually do is assess how well a population performs under testing conditions rather than testing what they actually know.”

Why should students have to get a special diagnosis of a type of learning disability in order to have extra time for a test? Why not get rid of time constraints and let all students think carefully and take the time they need to answer questions?

Afterschool Alliance questions waiver provision for NCLB

The Afterschool Alliance raises some questions about the waiver package that allows states to bypass some of the legislative requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  The issue of the Afterschool Advocate published October 6, 2011, states that states could use 2ast Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funds to add time to the regular school day, rather than to support after school programs.

The Advocate states:

Given the high cost of extended learning time programs compared to afterschool, it is estimated that for each school that uses 21st CCLC to add an hour to its day, six afterschool programs would lose their funding. The afterschool community is urging states to think carefully before checking this optional box, which would allow for a temporary change in the use of 21st CCLC funds – and urging states that do check the box to make sure that expanded learning time is defined to include the best of afterschool practices: community-based partnerships; engaged hands-on learning that enhances and supplements, but does not replicate, the school day; and opportunities to involve parents.

Let’s carefully examine the definition of “Extended Learning Time”, or ELT. For some schools adding some time to the school day or week would simply be a way of bringing them up to a competitive level with other school districts. It seems to be a bit of an over-generalization to specify the cost of an hour added to the school day.

Is there a downside to federal funding of ELT? Does this give school districts an incentive to wait for federal funding before adding time to the school day? How is the distinction made between the hours that should be funded by the localities, the states, and the federal government?

Expanded Learning Time (ELT) included in NCLB waivers and federal budget

David Goldberg reports that expanded learning time (ELT) is included in the Obama Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) waivers and in the budget. Goldberg, the director of federal policy and national partnerships for the National Center on Time and Learning, noted that last Thursday President Obama announced the first ten states that will receive waivers from some of the requirements of NCLB. He said that schools can use ELT school designs to improve high-poverty, low-performing schools.

The Obama Administration made high-quality ELT schools an important part of the waiver plan. ELT is woven throughout the guidance given to states for developing their proposals, and expanded-time schools are specifically included as a whole-school alternative in places where federal funds had previously been restricted to other uses.

Goldberg also says that President Obama’s FY 2013 budget gives states and school districts the flexibility to choose ELT within the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) program and when choosing an intervention for their lowest performing schools.

Let’s hope that school leaders also recognize that students in high-performing schools also deserve to have adequate amounts of learning time. It would be a shame if an emphasis on ELT for a few schools takes attention away from the idea that all schools with a below average school day should provide more time for the students. Perhaps the education community needs a new abbreviation– NLT for Normal Learning Time. Administrators in a school district such as Fairfax County should not smugly ignore the fact that they are lagging behind most other school districts in their elementary school schedules.

Virginia Schools Insider asks for advice on ensuring a well-rounded education

Virginia Schools Insider asks a good question–

I’d love to hear what other parents and teachers think should be done to make sure that science, history and civics — and recess, art and music! — don’t get short shrift in the age of No Child Left Behind.