stacking up

A few states, but not N.Y., see big gains on 'nation's report card'

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New York’s fourth grade reading scores didn’t see significant changes from 2011.

In a year when a few states posted across-the-board gains, New York State saw limited progress on the test known as “the nation’s report card,” according to new data released today about the 2013 tests.

Only fourth-grade math scores saw a statistically significant increase on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an assessment given to fourth- and eighth-graders across the country every two years. New York students’ scores in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, and eighth-grade math showed no significant changes from 2011.

That’s a better result than the scores two years ago, when New York was one of just two states to post significant declines. (New York City’s scores outpaced the rest of the state slightly.)

Across the country, Tennessee, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia saw the biggest gains across both grades and subjects, though scores for Washington, D.C. especially still rank among the nation’s lowest.

“You’d like to see some steady improvement across subjects, though generally seeing an increase in all subject-grade combinations is very rare,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. “It’s hard to move the needle on all four grades and subjects unless you’re really doing something.”

But he cautioned that the numbers themselves don’t point to specific successes. “There will be a flurry of people taking credit for their favorite policy and blaming their least favorite policy for why their scores didn’t go up,” he said.

Indeed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested that Tennessee and D.C. in particular had succeeded because of their “laser-like focus on teacher effectiveness” and rapid shift to new standards known as the Common Core. Duncan made adopting common standards and new teacher evaluations that weigh student performance a requirement for winning federal Race to the Top funds in 2010. Tennessee was one of the earliest winners, and D.C. joined New York in a second pool of grant recipients.

Duncan also emphasized that none of the first eight states to adopt Common Core standards saw statistically significant score decreases between 2009 and 2013 — though many of those states didn’t see see increases, either.

He attributed the variations among states to what he called “extraordinary leadership” at the state level, from officials who have “done some very difficult and courageous work” raising standards. He added, “Where people are more timid, you’re seeing less progress.”

Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, said the NAEP results validate the pace of change in Tennessee and D.C.

“That’s why this is so significant — there was huge pushback, particularly from current school personnel who liked the way things were going,” Hanushek said. “You wouldn’t want to get into a fight if it had no impact. But in fact — the improved performance is something that they should be proud about.”

Hanushek said the overall picture remained discouraging, with scores across the country improving less quickly than they have in the past.

Two years ago, New York State Education Commissioner John King said New York’s NAEP scores would increase once planned policy changes went into effect. The state’s first round of Common Core-aligned tests was last spring, after the most recent NAEP administration. And teachers in most of the state only recently got their first ratings that consider student performance; teachers in New York City won’t be evaluated that way until after this year.

“The scores on this NAEP report underscore a tough but necessary truth: Our students are not where they should be,” King said in 2011. “The reforms we’re implementing will help get them there.”

Some of the national results bucked recent trends. In the past, much of the score increases have been attributed to the lowest-performing students catching up with their peers. This year, Buckley noted that a big chunk of states’ gains came from high-performing students pulling further ahead. Gains have also been more common historically at the fourth grade level, but this year it was eighth-grade reading that improved most.

For years, NAEP has been the only way to compare student performance across states with vastly different standards for their own tests. But Buckley argued that the tests will remain relevant even as more states align their tests to common standards, given how many variations remain and the importance of NAEP’s long-term data collection.

“If everything is changing, we’re going to be the only time series people can use to make comparisons,” Buckley said.

New York City’s local results will come out in December along with data from other urban school districts. In the past, the city’s state test score gains have outpaced the state’s, but it would be hard for NAEP scores statewide to shift one way if the city’s scores moved the other way, given the city’s population.

Jaclyn Zubrzycki contributed reporting.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.