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September 2, 2011

Student growth percentiles are problematic too

Editor’s note: This piece is cross-posted from Bruce D. Baker’s School Finance 101 blog. Baker is a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. He recently testified for the plaintiffs in the Lobato Colorado school funding trial.
In the face of all of the public criticism over the imprecision of value-added estimates of teacher effectiveness, and debates over whether newspapers or school districts should publish VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness, policymakers in several states have come up with a clever shell game. Their argument?

We don’t use VAM… ‘cuz we know it has lots of problems, we use Student Growth Percentiles instead. They don’t have those problems.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Put really simply, as a tool for inferring which teacher is “better” than another, or which school outperforms another, SGP is worse, not better than VAM. This is largely because SGP is simply not designed for this purpose. And those who are now suggesting that it is are simply wrong. Further, those who actually support using tools like VAM to infer differences in teacher quality or school quality should be most nervous about the newly found popularity of SGP as an evaluation tool.

August 30, 2011

From the publisher: EdNews site enhancements

Today, we are introducing some enhancements to the Education News Colorado website.

As time goes by, we learn more about gaps in information that a site like ours can fill. We also study data from Google Analytics and elsewhere to see which of our offerings are most popular with readers. We’re committed to being responsive to what our readers want and need.

Here is a list of what’s new on the site, all of it easily found through our new, secondary menu bar, which sits under the main menu bar, just below the EdNews logo:

  • Easy access to databases. Our searchable databases of information on subjects including test scores, remediation rates, state ratings and drug offenses by schools are now grouped conveniently under a new heading on the secondary menu bar. Click on the EdNews’ databases item under the Data Center heading to find the list of databases.
  • In-depth issues. Another new secondary menu bar item highlights a current education issue to which we’ve dedicated extensive coverage. This item debuts with a link to all EdNews stories on the Lobato funding adequacy trial.
  • Timely topics. Here is the place to go if you want to sound like an education wonk. Read our CliffsNotes-like summaries and descriptions of complex education topics and you’ll be able to spout off on issues like those on the site today — state testing, school funding and vouchers. Over time we will add additional topics pages. Do you have a topic in mind you’d like to see summarized in an accurate, objective fashion? Drop us a line.
  • Easier access to education law and bill tracker features. The secondary menu bar now provides easy, one-click access to this popular and useful feature. The tracker allows you to read new education law and, during the legislative session, bills that are working their way through the system.

August 30, 2011

Why won’t DPS spread ELL success to innovation schools?

The following article was submitted to EdNews by Denver school board member Andrea Mérida. It is also posted on her blog

While the politics of education reform swirl all around us, it’s important to keep clear on what works and what doesn’t. The good news is that the Denver Public Schools is actually doing very well in supporting a particular segment of our student population, English learners.

The confusing part is that we seem ready to ignore that fact and follow a path that is completely divergent from real, lasting reform. The right path to close the achievement gap and provide opportunity for all Denver’s students is clear, and we would do well to heed the evidence.

In 1999, the Department of Justice won a decision on behalf of the Congress of Hispanic Educators which asserted that the Denver Public Schools lacked adequate programs for students of limited English proficiency. DPS was ordered to allow parents to choose either full Spanish-language instruction, sheltered instruction (English with instructions in Spanish) or complete English immersion for their children (Click here to read those court documents).

Around 35 percent of DPS students are classified as English language learners (ELLs). Not all these students come from Spanish-speaking homes; they also speak Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, Nepali, and Karen/Burmese. Spanish-speaking students represent around 57 percent of DPS’ ELL population.

The CSAPs taken in March 2011 show that “exited” ELLs, or those students who now are proficient enough to be placed in English-only classrooms, outperform district averages. Keeping in mind that these standardized tests are only an indicator of performance, these students also have surpassed Asian/Pacific Islander and Anglo students in many categories. These exited ELLs now take the CSAP in English.

The following graphs show the percentages of elementary-aged ELLs scoring at or above proficiency in subjects tested by CSAP. ELLs outperform their Anglo counterparts in reading, writing and math and are very competitive with Asian students in science.

August 23, 2011

From the publisher: Some random thoughts

Having stayed out of the fray for several months working on the business end of EdNews, I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the flashpoints that have been dominating the education reform debate. From a freshly detached point of view, a few things seem clear to me. In no particular order:

*** Granted, it makes no sense to evaluate educators solely on how students perform on standardized tests, imperfect instruments at best. It makes even less sense, though, to escalate this to a generalized anti-testing frenzy, as some have done. Measuring progress and achievement is essential to improvement. So by all means, find some others measures to augment testing, and throttle way back on the test-prep and test-score obsession. But keep testing.

*** Both “sides” in the reform debate like to use Finland as an example of a country that has solved the public education puzzle. On one side, advocates point out that Finnish teachers are unionized, effective and well prepared. They are a respected and admired pillar of Finnish society. Advocates on the other side point out that the teachers in Finland have had to clear some high bars to get into the profession. It takes more than a pulse and an inflated grade point average to get a Finnish teaching license. Until we can figure out how to make teaching a true profession in this country, and attract a larger number of highest caliber applicants, our education system will not match Finland’s results. What can we do to make teachers feel efficacious? How do we make  teaching a career as appealing as engineering, law or medicine? And then what do we do about current teachers who wouldn’t be able to clear the Finnish bar?

July 27, 2011

Opinion: Campaign launches; funders unknown

The One Chance Colorado education reform advocacy campaign officially launches today with a 30-second TV ad on five stations, a website and social media presence.

Here’s a look at the campaign’s first ad:

I wrote about the campaign last week, and there’s not a lot more detail to offer than what leaked out then. Look for billboards, signs at bus-stops, and a presence on Twitter, Facebook and the web.

The statewide campaign has been in the works for over a year. The timing of its launch corresponds with the start of a new school year, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien said yesterday. The campaign is tentatively scheduled to last through September, but could go longer depending on the success of fundraising efforts.

July 21, 2011

Opinion: High-octane ed reform campaign coming

National education blogger Alexander Russo broke news yesterday about a new and well-funded education reform advocacy campaign that will launch in Denver next week.

Called “One Chance Colorado,” the eight- to 10-week campaign will use billboards, slick, political campaign-style TV ads, bus stop posters and web-based strategies to push for “accountability at every level;” recruiting and supporting strong teachers and getting rid of weak ones; investing in good schools and “rapidly addressing” underperforming schools; and putting education ahead of politics.

There will also be a “field organizing” component to the campaign.

People involved in the campaign were reluctant to discuss it ahead of next week’s official launch. But here’s what I’ve learned:

July 20, 2011

“Using the indefensible to defend the status quo”

Interesting thoughts from Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle on how some standardized testing critics are using the Atlanta scandal to overstate their case. Here’s a highlight:

Plenty has already been said about the cheating scandal at the Atlanta school district. And, as one would expect, education traditionalists such as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Diane Ravitch proclaimed that the mess proved that standardized testing leads to perverse incentives that force teachers to behave unethically, provide low-quality instruction, and ultimately, poorly serve the children in their care…

July 7, 2011

National ed blog highlights: July 7

Here’s a sampling of interesting blog posts from around the country over the past several days.

June 22, 2011

National ed blog highlights: June 22

More education opinion and commentary from across the country.

June 15, 2011

National ed blog highlights: June 15

Here is our weekly roundup of interesting posts from education blogs around the country.