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Seed Newsvine

Yesterday Education Week reported the results of a study by the National Center for Education Statistics that calls into question the efficacy of state educational assessments required by the No Child Left Behind legislation. In part, Education Week wrote:

Many of the states that claim to have large shares of their students
reaching proficiency in reading and mathematics under the No Child Left
Behind Act have set less stringent standards for meeting that threshold than lower-performing states, a new federal study finds.

The
study drew an immediate and strong reaction from many public officials
and education advocates, who said it laid bare states’ vastly divergent
standards for testing students.

The report judges states’ reading and math tests against a common yardstick: the proficiency standards used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.”

Released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics,
the analysis appears to back up the suspicions of those who have cast a
skeptical eye on state data showing high percentages of students
reaching the “proficient” level in reading and math.

But researchers who were asked by the Council of Chief State School Officers
to review the study’s methodology cited what they see as flaws in
comparing two dissimilar sets of exams: NAEP and those administered by
states.

Even so, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret
Spellings called it “sobering news” as the nation seeks to raise
academic demands on students.

States “must do their part by
setting high standards and expectations,” she said in a statement. “I
hope this report will be a catalyst for positive change.”

The
study was issued June 7, two days after a separate report by an
education policy group showing that student scores on state tests have
risen since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, which
President Bush signed into law in January 2002. (“State Tests Show Gains Since NCLB,” June 6, 2007.)

There are many reasons that state testing shows greater gains than that of the NAEP scores, not the least is mentioned above, that the tests are dissimilar and therefore do not measure similar things. That, however, is a straw man when it comes to practical significance. Policy makers and both liberal and conservative think tanks have used comparisons of state testing and NAEP over and over to make their case that NCLB is flawed or is working just fine (it all depends on one’s political lens). What is clear, however, is that there is a discrepancy between NAEP scores, which remain flat and state tests, which show an increase in student performance since 2002, the year NCLB went into effect.

The emphasis in NCLB policy on annual performance growth has altered the face of educational practice in the United States. School children and their teachers now spend more time in preparation for testing where they learn formulas for appropriate performance on testing instruments designed by state boards of education. In some estimations, in a 180 day school year, students and teachers spend between 80 and 100 full days preparing for testing. This amounts to fully half of the school year spent in preparing for the state tests. Even of this estimate is on the high side (let’s reduce it by 1/2) the fact still remains that children are spending 25% of their academic year learning formulas for passing the test so the school’s AYP passes the muster of NCLB.

Because schools spend so much of their time engaged in test preparation, little time is left for rigorous academic inquiry. Students no longer study the arts, engage in social studies education and science instruction is somewhere on or near the back burner. What counts is reading and mathematics. But, reading about what? Math in relationship to what? Teaching reading and math (by the way it is not really mathematics that is being taught rather it is arithmetic) in isolation does nothing to provide a context for either reading or math. These subjects become tasks to do, something like doing the laundry. They get done because one must do them but one does not necessarily have to like doing them.

High-stakes testing provides a climate in which students and teachers must focus on the testing and not on instruction or learning. In a recent conversation with a focus group of high school juniors that I recorded as part of a study I am currently working on, I asked the students about their recent performance on a written take-home exam. The results of the papers that the students turned in was disappointing. The writing was formulaic, showing no creative thinking but sticking closely to conventions and structural components that are appropriate on state mandated tests. One of the students said, “I really don’t know how to write any other way. That’s all I’ve ever been taught. All my life I learned the 5 paragraph essay and now, sadly, i have to learn a whole new way to write.” Another member of the focus group wondered, “Why do you teach us this style for so long and then tell us we have to go beyond. I’m confused.” My point is simply that these students clearly can and, when given a chance, do articulate significant problems with high-stakes testing and NCLB.

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Seed Newsvine

Education Week reported on June 8th:

House Democrats want to put their own stamp on federal education spending by increasing Title I and other programs they favor and slashing Reading First and other priorities set by President Bush.

In the $56 billion fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Education unveiled by the Democrats, No Child Left Behind Act programs would receive a $2 billion increase, with the Title I program for disadvantaged students receiving $1.5 billion of that.

But the $1.03 billion Reading First program—which the Bush administration points to as one of its biggest accomplishments under the NCLB law—would take a cut of $630 million, or 61 percent. What’s more, the administration’s latest proposals for private school vouchers and new mathematics programs would not be funded at all.

“This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Reports by the Department of Education’s inspector general and congressional investigators have outlined management and ethical questions involving the program.

Republicans voiced no objections to the Reading First cuts or other spending levels during the June 7 session of the appropriations panel’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the Democratic plan in a unanimous voice vote.

“If I were chairman,” said Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., the subcommittee’s senior Republican, “I don’t know that I would have made the bill a whole lot different.”

This should come as no surprise given the recent questions about how the DoED administered the Reading First program. Surrounded by questions of improper ethics and outright fraud when it came to forcing DIBLES on school districts large and small, draining much needed funds away from the classroom, the bipartisan support of this spending cut makes a great deal of sense.

The DoED, like other embattled Bush administration departments, is keeping a stiff upper lip claiming no ethical violations and that the Democrats are undermining the ability of the urban poor to learn. What they forget is that this legislation will most likely leave the committee with full bipartisan support. Republicans as well as Democrats have simply had enough of this scandal ridden White House. Of course, it is easy to take a stand when those directly effected by that stand are not voters.

Where is this kind of bipartisanship when it comes to the blatantly political Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales? But that is for another post…

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Seed Newsvine

David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, both well respected educational researchers, claim that NCLB is causing substantial harm to children, to schools, to teachers and to administrators of those schools that has the chilling effect of placing the Nation at Risk.

Limiting their remarks to only the high-stakes testing requirements of NCLB, Berliner and Nichols said:

The stakes are high when students’ standardized-test performance results in grade retention or failure to graduate from high school. The stakes are high when teachers and administrators can lose their jobs or, conversely, receive large bonuses for student scores, or when humiliation or praise for teachers and schools occurs in the press as a result of test scores. This federal law requires such high-stakes testing in all states.

More than 30 years ago, the eminent social scientist Donald T. Campbell warned about the perils of measuring effectiveness via a single, highly consequential indicator: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking,” he said, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” High-stakes testing is exactly the kind of process Campbell worried about, since important judgments about student, teacher, and school effectiveness often are based on a single test score. This exaggerated reliance on scores for making judgments creates conditions that promote corruption and distortion. In fact, the overvaluation of this single indicator of school success often compromises the validity of the test scores themselves. Thus, the scores we end up praising and condemning in the press and our legislatures are actually untrustworthy, perhaps even worthless.

Campbell’s law is ubiquitous, and shows up in many human endeavors. Businesses, for example, regularly become corrupt as particular indicators are deemed important in judging success or failure. If stock prices are the indicator of a company’s success, for example, then companies like Enron, Qwest, Adelphia, and WorldCom manipulate that indicator to make sure they look good. Lives and companies are destroyed as a result. That particular indicator of business success became untrustworthy as both it and the people who worked with it were corrupted.

Similarly, when the number of criminal cases closed is the indicator chosen to judge the success of a police department, two things generally happen: More trials are brought against people who may be innocent or, with a promise of lighter sentences, deals are made with accused criminals to get them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

When the indicators of success and failure in a profession take on too much value, they invariably are corrupted. Those of us in the academic world know that when researchers are judged primarily by their publication records, they have occasionally fabricated or manipulated data. This is just another instance of Campbell’s law in action.

We have documented hundreds of examples of the ways in which high-stakes testing corrupts American education in a new book, Collateral Damage. Using Campbell’s law as a framework, we found examples of administrators and teachers who have cheated on standardized tests. Educators, acting just like other humans do, manipulate the indicators used to judge their success or failure when their reputations, employment, or significant salary bonuses are related to those indicators.

clipped from www.edweek.org
In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush claimed success for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “Students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap,” he said
But, as with Iraq, a substantial body of evidence challenges his claim.
We believe that this federal law, now in its sixth year, puts American public school students in serious jeopardy. Extensive reviews of empirical and theoretical work, along with conversations with hundreds of educators across the country, have convinced us that if Congress does not act in this session to fundamentally transform the law’s accountability provision, young people and their educators will suffer serious and long-term consequences.
We note in passing that only people who have no contact with children could write legislation demanding that every child reach a high level of performance in three subjects, thereby denying that individual differences exist.

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Another Peace Poster

Seed Newsvine

Here is another peace poster. This one I find even more ironic. Here we have the education president bombing Iraq back to the stone age while the DoED is engaged in the Reading First scandal and NCLB is under significant attack from independent researchers across the country. Time to stand up and be counted.

clipped from www.brushstroke.tv

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I believe schooling must be authentic in order to have any value to the student. By authentic I mean 1) that all work assigned and all assessment tools must have value to the student beyond merely the four walls of the classroom, 2) that all work assigned and all assessment tools must be academically rigorous, and 3) that all work (including assessments) must have an audience beyond the teacher. In other words, all school work must have value, be rigorous and have an broad audience.When students feel the need to cheat it is because one or more elements of authentic schooling has gone missing. Often the only piece present is academic rigor that is attached to some form of high-stakes assessment. When this is the case, students, especially the ‘good’ students, feel the need to enhance their performance–something like athletes and steroids.

If principles of authenticity are followed the need for high-stakes assessment is diminished. Teachers can and do find low-stakes approached to assessing students rather than to brow-beat them into compliance with external demands on their brainpower. If principles of authenticity are followed, even the high-stakes assessments attached to No Child Left Behind will not be problematic and may even provide schools and districts with some really valuable data.

As the system now stands, however, cheating is the norm rather than the exception; a norm created by the interference of misguided legislation and misinformed adults.

Authenticity makes education engaging and fun. It makes education the responsibility of the learner, guided by a competent adult in the classroom. Without authenticity, education is alienating and a cauldron for adolescents to conjure ways to beat the system. Which would you rather have?

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
MERIDIAN, Idaho —
Banning baseball caps during tests was obvious — students were writing the answers under the brim. Then, schools started banning cell phones, realizing students could text message the answers to each other. Now, schools across the country are targeting digital media players as a potential cheating device.
Devices including iPods and Zunes can be hidden under clothing, with just an earbud and a wire snaking behind an ear and into a shirt collar to give them away, school officials say.
“It doesn’t take long to get out of the loop with teenagers,” said Mountain View High School Principal Aaron Maybon. “They come up with new and creative ways to cheat pretty fast.”
Mountain View recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players.

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Seed Newsvine

While the DoED is praising the outcomes of Reading First through an internally funded study, the House Education and Labor Committee is investigating potentially criminal behavior at the DoED surrounding Reading First.

Rep. Miller scolded Mr. Doherty at one point.

“Was your mantra, ‘Mistakes were made’?” Rep. Miller said. “You don’t get to override the law because you’re turning the law into a program.”

Mr. Doherty responded: “We thought then, and we think now, we did abide by the law.”

The hearing was the first of two that are expected in Congress in the wake of reports by the Education Department inspector general and the Government Accountability Office that found federal officials had mismanaged the program.

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.

Ms. Lewis noted that one of the consultants providing assistance during the grant-review process had financial ties to the assessment, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS. Kentucky was asked to revise its Reading First grant proposal three times.

“We were repeatedly advised to replace our current assessment tool with DIBELS,” Ms. Lewis said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the education committee, has introduced legislation that would require the Education Department and its contractors to screen Reading First peer reviewers for potential conflicts of interest, among other provisions.

Rep. McKeon was much less hostile to the witnesses connected to the Reading First program than Mr. Miller and some of the other committee Democrats.

“I want to thank you for your service,” he said. “I’ve been here almost 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of people get crucified, and I’m really getting sick of it.”

But after hearing some four hours of testimony about alleged missteps and wrongdoing in the implementation of the federal program, Rep. Miller said he would consider making his own request for a criminal investigation.

“I think this process was cooked from the very beginning,” he said.

clipped from www.edweek.org

“We found that the department obscured the requirements of the statute by inappropriately including or excluding standards in the application criteria,” Mr. Higgins told the committee.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education has referred some of the information gathered in a lengthy audit of the Reading First program to federal law-enforcement officials for further investigation, he said during a lengthy and contentious hearing today before the House Education and Labor Committee.
The former director of the Reading First program denied in the April 20 congressional hearing that there were conflicts of interest in the implementation of the $1 billion-a-year federal initiative. He also denied that he and other officials and consultants had overstepped their authority in directing states and school districts on the curriculum materials and assessments that would meet the strict requirements of the grants awarded under the program.

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The DoED press release clipped in part below is interesting, though not complete. There are also questions of trustworthiness of the report. One must never take a single study as being true on its face. Rather serious critical questions must be raised about why one should trust the results. Questions like:

+ Who funded the study?
+ Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings?
+ What is the purpose for undertaking the study?

In the case of this work, the study is internally funded by the DoED and, therefore, is suspect. It is sort of like trusting a study whose findings advise parents to delay toilet training for their children that was funded by the manufacturer of Pampers. The investigators have a bone to pick because their patrons have a bone to pick.

Is there independent evidence to corroborate the findings in this study. The fact is no, there is not. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence that is in direct conflict with the results of this particular study.

One can only assume that the DoED funded this study in order to show how good Reading First and NCLB really is. This is not an independent reason for conducting such a study. Rather it is further evidence that the discredited notion that educational progress can be determined by reducing all learning to a single test score number causes teachers to teach to improve that number no matter what impact that teaching might have on the students they teach.

Sorry, but I have to dissent from the DoED. Reading First and NCLB are flawed policies and must be significantly revised.

clipped from www.ed.gov
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education today released new state-by-state data on the effectiveness of Reading First, indicating that students who receive instruction through the program achieve strong gains in reading proficiency. Another measure of the program’s success since its launch in 2002, the state-by-state data demonstrate that Reading First is working to help our nation’s neediest kindergarten through third-grade students significantly improve their reading skills.
The data released today reinforce the positive indicators from the Reading First Implementation Evaluation interim report released in July 2006. According to the interim report, Reading First students receive on average 100 extra minutes per week of proven, research-based instruction from teachers, tutors and reading coaches.
Secretary's CornerNo Child Left Behind

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“These results are yet another confirmation that Reading First is working on behalf of our children,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Farris

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