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11-11-14 Teacher Distribution...Chistie's Education Panel...How Schools Scored on Tests

Education Week - Ed. Dept. Directs States to Improve Teacher Distribution

By Alyson Klein on November 10, 2014 11:30 AM


The Obama administration promised over the summer that it would direct states to develop plans for ensuring low-income kids get access to as many highly qualified teachers as their more advantaged peers—a key goal of the dozen-year-old No Child Left Behind Act that has largely gone unenforced. 


Twenty-seven pages of new guidance released on the issue Monday appear to give states a lot of running room to figure out just what these equity plans should look like—without clear, strong federal levers in place for ensuring that states follow through.


What's more, the Obama administration directs states to focus their plans mainly on "inputs"—such as how many years of experience a teacher has—rather than "outputs," or how effective teachers actually are at moving the needle on student achievement. (To be sure, the department contends that it isn't allowed to consider "effectiveness" in teacher distribution under NCLB. But that didn't stop the administration from requiring states to include teacher effectiveness in their NCLB waiver plans. More here.)


[UPDATE: (1:54 p.m.) This update is just for you true-blue wonks out there. On a call for reporters explaining the guidance, Education Department officials parsed the legal distinctions a bit more for me. The big difference between these equity plans and the waivers is that the waivers are voluntary, while these distribution plans are a requirement. And states can certainly take effectiveness into account when they write their teacher-equity plans, if they want to. Still, it appears to be something of a policy mismatch with all the Obama administration's other initiatives. Would this guidance might have had more teeth if it had been directly linked to the waiver process, which was the department's original aim? More on that question below.] 


The equity plans are due by June 1. That gives states a longer time frame than they were initially expecting. The equity plans were originally supposed to be due in April 2015, to align with waiver-renewal applications. But the department is pushing this time frame back a month and half. The extra time is supposed to help states consult with "stakeholders" including teachers' unions, according to a letter to state chiefs sent Monday by Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.


But the delay means that states can get their waivers renewed even if they wind up submitting a relatively skimpy or insufficient teacher distribution plan. 


To help states do this work, the department is also releasing data (aka "equity profiles") to states to give them a picture of what their current teacher distribution patterns look like. States don't have to use this data, however, if they feel that they have stronger, more recent information at their fingertips.

And importantly, it doesn't appear that these equity profiles will be released publicly, at least not initially. Instead, state chiefs will get to review them for about a month before the public can see them. That means it will be harder for researchers (and, ummm, reporters) to say now which states are doing well when it comes to teacher equity and which states have a ways to go.


Some other key takeaways from the guidance:


•At a minimum, state plans have to consider whether low-income and minority kids are being taught by inexperienced, ineffective, or unqualified teachers at a rate that's higher than other students in the state. That's not really a new or surprising requirement: It's something that state were supposed to have been doing the past 12 years under NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002.


•States aren't required to use any specific strategies to fix their equity gaps. They can consider things like targeted professional development, giving educators more time for collaboration, revamping teacher preparation at post-secondary institutions, and coming up with new compensation systems.


•States have to consult broadly with stakeholders to get a sense of the problem and what steps should be taken to address it. 


•States also have to figure out the "root causes" of teacher distribution gaps, and then figure out a way to work with districts to address them. For instance, if a state decides that the "root cause" of inequitable teacher distribution is lack of support and professional development for teachers, it would have to find a way to work with institutions of higher education and other potential partners to get educators the help they need, by hiring mentors or coaches, for example. States can consider the "geographical" context of districts when making these decisions. (In other words, states may want to try a different set of interventions on rural schools as opposed to urban and suburban schools.) 


•In speaking with reporters about the plan, department officials said they have a number of levers at their disposal to be sure that states come up with good teacher distribution plans and follow through on them, including putting a state's waiver on high-risk status, or placing a condition on it. They can also use the authority of the Office of Civil Rights, which can investigate district practices. Do you think they'll actually pull any of these levers? 


This isn't the first time that the feds have asked states to outline their plans on teacher distribution, but the results so far haven't been anything to brag about. Fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department. Most of those plans are at least several years old, and the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that advocates for poor and minority kids, found them to be pretty weak in key areas in this 2006 report.


What's more, the department initially wanted teacher equity plans to be part of the bar states had to jump over to renew their waivers from the NCLB law. But the Obama administration abandoned this idea last fall, ostensibly so it could come up with a broader "50 state" strategy that would impact all states, not just those with waivers. 


So what do advocates think? 

The proposal has already gotten the thumbs-up from the American Federation of Teachers, which has been highly skeptical of the idea of holding teachers to account based on student test scores. That's a policy that's been a core piece of many of the Obama administration's K-12 initiatives, including Race to the Top and waivers, but it's not really a major feature of the guidance.


Here's a snippet from a statement by Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT:

"We must address not simply what the data tell us today, but ask what strategies should be adopted to recruit, retain, and support great teachers, especially at hard-to-staff schools. We can start by ensuring teachers at these schools have the tools and conditions they need to do their jobs well—supportive, collaborative leadership; high-quality teaching materials; lower class sizes; up-to-date technology and facilities; and professional-development opportunities."


Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, is also pretty happy:

"States, like the U.S. Department of Education, care deeply about ensuring that every child has access to great instruction. These solutions don't come from Washington, D.C., but from local communities and states working diligently to improve instruction for every child. We look forward to working with states and districts to address inequities in the system, and these plans are a good place to start."

The Education Trust is optimstic, but says the ball is in states' courts at this point: 

"Today's guidance creates an opportunity for widespread action on behalf of low-income students and students of color. It's now up to leaders at every level—in Washington and in statehouses, at board meetings and community meetings—to take advantage of this opportunity."


The Record - Christie appoints members of panel to study school tests

November 10, 2014, 8:51 PM    Last updated: Monday, November 10, 2014, 9:12 PM



The Record


Governor Christie has appointed members of a new commission that will study the effectiveness of standards-based tests amid growing criticism from parents and teachers that schools are overrun with tests.

The governor signed an executive order creating the commission in July, but the members were not appointed until Monday. Recommendations are due at the end of the year, and a final report is due seven months later.

The commission, which includes teachers and school chiefs, will look at the redundancy of tests, their impact on students and school instruction, and possible ways to consolidate testing. It will also review the use of the Common Core standards on which the new state tests are based.


The members include New Jersey Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe; Raymond Yannuzzi, president of Camden County College; Dana Egreczky, senior vice president in charge of workforce development at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce; and Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey Schools Boards Association.


Also appointed were Catherine Lindenbaum, a Parent-Teacher Association representative from Ocean County; Nicole Moore Samson, an elementary school principal in Burlington County; Marcia Lyles, Jersey City schools superintendent; Tracie Yostpille, a social studies teacher in Monmouth County; and Matthew Stagliano, an English teacher who was on the state’s educator review team for the new state tests.


Critics have complained that the new tests, called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, take up too much instruction time, put too much stress on students, and push teachers to “teach to the test.”


Students in grades 3 to 11 are required to take the tests in math and language arts starting in March. The tests take 10 to 11 hours to complete and will be given twice a year. They are intended to measure students’ readiness for college and careers and to provide data that can measure student progress. The tests are aligned with the Common Core standards that the state adopted in 2010.


Janellen Duffy, executive director of JerseyCAN, an education nonprofit that has supported the standards, said the governor had appointed a “strong group” and hoped they would make recommendations on streamlining tests.


But parents on the Save Our Schools group’s Facebook page criticized the appointments. Julia Sass Rubin, a founding member of the education activist group, said some appointees were supporters of a test-based approach to schooling and feared they would “rubber-stamp” the governor’s agenda.


She also was concerned, she said, that they were appointed so late. “It certainly doesn’t fit the kind of process we had in mind, which is a lot of public input and public discussion,” she said.


Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, said he was concerned about the short timeline to review the testing.

“The NJEA urges this commission to provide parents, educators, and students with multiple avenues for comment and input, including public hearings that are scheduled at times that are convenient for them to attend,” he said in a statement.


The teachers union fought successfully to minimize the impact of the new tests on teacher evaluations. When he announced the commission, Christie also unveiled a compromise in which student performance on tests would count for 10 percent of teacher scores this year instead of the planned 30 percent. It will count for between 10 percent and 20 percent in the following two years.


Outcry about testing has grown across the United States and several states have repealed or delayed the use of standardized tests as graduation requirements or cut back the number of exams. Others, like New Jersey, have reduced or delayed the impact on teacher evaluations.

Email: adely@northjersey.com


Star Ledger - - New Jersey school test results: How did your school score? (INTERACTIVE got to Nj.com/education)

By Carla Astudillo | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on November 10, 2014 at 12:35 PM, updated November 10, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Last week, state officials released new numbers on how students performed in their 2013-2014 standardized tests .

The data released by New Jersey Department of Education determines how students performed using scores for language arts and mathematics tests (NJ ASK) taken by third- through eighth-graders and 11th graders (HSPA).

DOE used the student scores to calculate three benchmarks for each school: the percentage of students who were rated "partially proficient", "proficient" and "advanced proficient" in that subject area. To be "proficient", students had to score within a certain range. Students who were "partially proficent" performed below that range while those who were "advanced proficent" scored higher.

It also includes the scores for the science assessments taken by fourth and eighth graders.

Statewide, scores were about the same compared to last year. About 66 percent of third through eighth grade students were rated either proficient or advanced proficient in the language arts, compared to 67 percent last year. In math, scores were the same as last year at about 74 percent of student are proficient or higher.

Overall, the high schoolers fared better than their younger counterparts. However, the high school math scores were one percent lower than last year at 84 percent while the language arts scores remained steady at 93 percent.

How did your school perform? Was it higher or lower than the overall statewide average? Find out using our interactive database to search for your school below.

(see nj.com/education)