Thursday, December 17, 2009
We are presently living in an age of increased accountability on the part of schools for student learning outcomes. Educators have a set of Core Content Curriculum Standards that must be followed in the teaching/learning process. These are a means by which policy makers want to ensure that students are learning and schools are doing their jobs. The manner by which the state has enforced that we accomplish this is by administering the NJ ASK, GEPA, and HSPA to measure achievement based on specific criteria. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with having a measure to gage student learning, but as with all testing, it needs to be done responsibly. Preferably, multiple measures need to be employed to establish a complete and balanced measure of student learning.
Standardized testing that is conducted appropriately should improve teaching processes and enhance student outcomes. A number of professional development opportunities would manifest themselves for schools that require assistance for helping student’s meet the established state averages on tests. As long as educators are open to these, I see this as advantageous. As a proponent of inclusive practices for students with special needs, I would offer that holding educators accountable would be a positive thing if teachers feel called to the mission of helping students become the most productive that they can be.
There are certainly drawbacks to highs takes testing. When interpreting results, educators and policy-makers should consider student exposure to curriculum. We know that curriculum differ between districts. We cannot allow students to be kept out of enriched educational experiences or even be retained because they happen to live in an area that has a different curricular focus. Unless high stakes results are used as one of several measures by which we gauge success, we may never close the achievement gap that exists between classes, races, etc.
Test developers need to redefine their understanding of special education. As it is right now, students with special needs are entitled to certain modifications for the state tests that ensure fairness and sensitivity to the needs associated with their disabilities. Certain students may need different modifications than the ones deemed acceptable by the state. If a testing scenario does not closely resemble the student’s learning experiences and day to day activities, how could it be perceived as a truly authentic measure of progress? Also, all students learn at different rates, and in different styles. A “one size fits all” approach as the sole measure for making high stakes decisions, is unethical and immoral. Unless we apply practices for measuring student outcomes that are aligned with the core democratic values and understandings that we are espousing to believe as citizens and policy-makers, our intentions are skewed. Without a balanced approach to testing, testing practices and administrative competencies are seriously flawed.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Schools accepting Title I funds must obey the laws set forth by the NCLB and AYP. Schools whom students do not meet the AYP standards face sanctions aimed to help the school improve the next year. Schools that do not meet AYP standards are required to inform their parents. Schools that fail to reach AYP standards two years in a row face harsher sanctions. These schools are labeled as needing improvement and enter level one of AYP. Within three months of notification from the state, schools must develop an improvement plan. Schools that fail to achieve AYP for a third consecutive year must make auxiliary educational services available and penetrate level two of AYP. In addition, are entitled to send their children to a different school within the district. Furthermore, the school district is required to take action if it is determined by the end of the first year of identification the school continues to fail in their attempts of making AYP. At this point the school district is obligated to utilize percentages of Title I money in certain areas. Level three of AYP consists of a school not achieving AYP standards over a four year period. Level three requires the school to identify a corrective action plan. These actions can encompass the replacement of school staff, implementation of a new curriculum, utilization of outside experts, extended school year/school day, and/or restructure of the internal organization of the school. AYP sanctions continue to affect schools who fail for a fifth year. AYP level four is considered the restructuring statute. The restructuring statute occurs during the fifth year whereupon the district faces sanctions that could include the state making plans to take over the school. At this point the school may open as a public charter school instead of a public school. Finally, by the six year schools continue to implement a new restructuring plan.
The goal in AYP is not to complicate the educational system, but to improve the system so every school operates as an excelling institution. While NCLB and AYP receive immense criticism, the main concept remains. Constructive criticism is imperative for improvement. Educators need to remember NCLB and AYP are designed to benefit the future citizens of America.
Dr. Dugan’s class lesson
The list below is a start. Most of these ideas come from the writings of W. James Popham in his book America's "Failing" Schools.
1. Change the evaluation Process:
a. Evaluate the school and use positives
b. Evaluate values
c. Evaluate affect (e.g., use of Psychometric Testing)
d. Evaluate sample work
e. Evaluate all content areas
f. Use teacher observations and anecdotal information
g. Measure the child against himself/herself (e.g., when the state opts for the Growth Model Pilot)
2. Reduce or prioritize standards
3. Add an item analysis to standardized tests
4. Use alternative assessments
5. Emphasize professional development
6. Reduce class sizes at the primary levels
7. Teach to the child’s strengths
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
NAEP testing is based on a subject-specific framework that covers subject specific content and thinking skills that are necessary for students to have in and outside of the classroom. The content of the NAEP tests must be flexible enough that they can be changed in response to changes made to educational curriculum. In addition, the assessments must be future-focused and balance what teachers are currently doing with what research suggests are the best practices.
NAEP provides a common “yardstick” that allows us to measure how the nation’s students are performing in different subject areas. The assessments also allows us to see how student performance has changed over time and allows comparison amongst other states in America. In order to be a comparable measure, NAEP testing is based on a representative sample of students. In other words, not every student in America will complete this assessment. NAEP selects the fewest possible schools and students that will provide an accurate picture of a state or the nation. That makes it very important that all of the students within the selected schools take part in the assessment to provide an accurate reflection of how they compare to other schools with similar geographic location, minority enrollment, and other similar characteristics.
Although NAEP tests allow comparison amongst the states, they are not the same as individual state assessments. State tests measure performance within their own states standards according to what they consider is and is not important for their students to know. State tastes can allow for monitoring of progress over time but not as a benchmark or comparable unit of measure nationwide.
NAEP results are reported as scaled scores and achievement score. Scaled scores are derived from the overall level of performance of groups of students on assessment items. NAEP subject area average scale scores are typically expressed on a 0–500 for reading, mathematics, history, and geography or 0–300 for science, writing, and civics. When used in conjunction with interpretive aids, such as item maps, average scores provide information about what a particular aggregate of students in the population knows and can do.
NAEP assessments may be favored because they do not require teachers to teach to the test or provide incentives to teachers who do so since there are not individual scores reported for students, teachers, or schools. In addition, the assessment requires 90 minutes of testing time and can be administered within the classroom setting. The obvious disadvantage pointed out by many critics is that the test items lack instructional validity, where the items must be based on objectives which are taught to every student.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Psychometric testing refers to the field of study concerning educational and psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of personality traits, abilities, attitudes, and knowledge. The field revolves around the construction of instruments and procedures and the improvement of theoretical approaches to measurement. Measurement instruments include tests and questionnaires, and most psychometric tests assess cognitive ability or test personality. Some popular examples include the Stanford-Binet IQ test, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Psychometric testing has often been designed to select and recruit individuals. In terms of employment, research shows that job performance relates strongly to high cognitive ability. Personality tests have been used to see if a candidate is a good match for the organization. These types of tests assess for factors such as extraversion, introversion, reliability, motivation, and so forth. According to a recent poll, over 90% of employers use some sort of psychometric testing to recruit employees. In education, psychometric testing is frequently used as part of student assessment. In fact, IQ tests are used along with other measures to determine whether a student needs special education or should be placed in the gifted/talented program.
Since psychometric testing plays an important part in the selection and recruitment of employees and a crucial role in student placement, it’s natural to question the accuracy of these tools. Three things to look for are reliability, validity, and test standardization. Reliability means that the test provides consistent results over repeated tests. Validity refers to whether the test measures what it was intended to measure. Test standardization ensures that the conditions are as similar as possible for all individuals taking the test.
To ensure reliability and test standardization, individuals giving out psychometric tests need to be properly trained. Organizations, especially larger ones, train human resources departments to use these types of measurements for recruitment. In education, school psychologists are the ones who receive extensive training in using IQ tests. I am now being trained through Rowan to give out IQ test to students. I find it difficult to provide reliable results and consistent test environments for all students. This will improve in time, but I think regardless of the administrator’s experience, there will continue to be some degree of error. In terms of validity, some factors that affect it include social desirability and culture bias. Social desirability has been identified as the tendency for individuals to alter their answers to impress management or the tendency to alter answers to simply present themselves in a more positive way. In terms of culture, there has been extensive research addressing whether questions on the IQ tests are culturally-bias.
I believe psychometric testing should be used with caution. I consider it a quick, helpful tool in selection and recruitment. You can use a computer to score the test and a formal interview process may not even be needed as a result. I also believe that it provides less bias in the selection process. In fact, the administrator judges the employees’ cognitive ability and personality through a standardized test without using his own judgment. School psychologists use the IQ test to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. I don’t believe that an IQ test should be the single measurement used to determine a child’s ability. In other words, a child should not be placed in a specific curriculum based on one score on one test. However, I do think that it provides an unbiased tool for assessment. Teacher and parental observations are used to determine a child’s strengths and weaknesses – a psychometric test prevents personal bias in the assessment process.
Educators agree that there needs to be a form of assessment to evaluate if students are learning and progressing academically and developmentally. The debate over what form that assessment should take has been on going. Currently schools are using high stakes testing to assess their students and also to report at the state and federal level if their students are progressing. High stakes testing has been receiving negative reviews for many reasons.
High-stakes testing affects the curriculum being taught in schools, it affects how teachers teach their students, and usually affects how much meaningful learning takes place in a classroom. It is a common misconception that what is taught in a classroom and what is tested are the same thing. It is also wrongly thought that what is tested is what is taught in the classroom. Unfortunately, what students are tested on, don't always match up with the instructional content and objectives of the classroom. This is what is known as "testing-teaching mismatches". In a study done at Michigan State University almost 20 years ago, researchers found that as many as 50% of the items on a nationally standardized achievement test may cover topics that students wouldn't cover in the classroom. This disconnect between what the standardized tests are assessing and what the curriculum assesses needs to be cohesive in order for students to learn effectively.
When students are given a test, teachers often know beforehand what is going to be on that test or they have some kind of general idea of the concepts to be covered. They obviously want their students to do well, so they spend a lot of time covering those topics that are on the test. This is called "teaching to the test". This isn't so bad, but becomes a problem when teachers are forced to discard other topics they had planned on covering in order to spend more time on the concepts they know will be on the test. There is so much accountability for low-test scores that teachers do everything in their power to raise them. They drill students on what they will be tested on and they go beyond the curriculum only to teach test-taking skills, or what is called "testwiseness". When the curriculum is narrowed in such a fashion, students obviously lose out on a rich and full education.
Most standardized tests are multiple-choice. This focus on multiple-choice format limits teaching and learning to knowledge, at the expense of skills and abilities, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving. If we continually encourage students to think in an "A,B,C, or D-None of the above" manner, they will never go beyond Piaget's Concrete Operational Thought into Higher-level thinking.
High stakes tests do not take into consideration the students with diverse backgrounds. Students with disabilities, test anxiety, non-English speakers, are culturally diverse, and of low socio-economic status struggle with these high-stakes tests. High-stakes tests are biased against all students. Test creators pick items for a test that will create score spread instead of items that measure something students are actually or should be taught. Most standardized tests are designed so that only half of the students taking the test will respond correctly to most of the items.
The behaviorist theory underlying high-stakes accountability oversimplifies how human behavior is conditioned by rewards and punishments. Decades of research has shown that extrinsic sources of motivation such as stars, stickers and grades actually undermine natural curiosity and a student's enjoyment of learning. Punitive consequences achieve temporary compliance at the cost of demoralizing teachers and students. The fundamental criticism of high-stakes accountability systems is that they rely excessively on extrinsic motivation at the expense of intrinsic motivation. Some of the negative consequences of high-stakes accountability systems include higher dropout and retention rates, lower motivation, teaching to the test, unethical test preparation, etc. Some reports of gains have been discredited as test-polluting practices such as excluding students or higher dropout rates.
High stakes testing have an obvious negative effect on students, teachers, curriculum, and schools. With all of the advances in technology today, there should also be advances in how was assess our students. I understand that there needs to be a way to make students, teachers, and parents accountable for their education and progress, but I do not believe that high stakes tests is the way to accomplish this goal. I do not have an alternative answer, let’s hope that new educators and test creators will create an assessment that matches curriculum and core content standards so that our students can prepare for the tests of life, not a life full of tests.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Adequate Yearly Progress
Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is a series of annual academic performance goals specified for each school, and the state as a whole. If the goals are met and/or exceeded, the school is considered to have met AYP for that year. AYP is required under the Title I Act of No Child Left Behind(NCLB), which is the program that helps to educate low income children. The primary goal is for all students to be proficient in language and math by 2014, according to state assessments. Those schools that do not meet these criteria two years running are considered high priority, and overall, are not achieving academic progress.
One of the obvious benefits of AYP is that it is holding schools accountable to provide the best possible education for students. Educational expectations, in the form of standards, are established as objectives and schools are meant to meet them to be considered academically successful. AYP provides a mechanism for identifying and helping schools that need help, based upon these fixed criteria. As a school’s primary objective is the success of its students, AYP is a way to make sure schools are on the ball working toward this goal. As AYP has been put in place to help lower achieving schools, it is serving to decrease the achievement gap. Many minorities are in schools that are potentially considered high priority. Having a system in place to identify and remedy these schools and increase the students’ success is serving to level the playing field, so to speak. Also, parents are informed of AYP and their school’s success rate. This gives parents and the community at large a better understanding of how their school rates nationally, and could involve them in potential reforms.
AYP, and the NCLB Act overall, have considerably more critics than supporters. First of all, AYP simply identifies the schools that need help. If these schools do not make AYP two years consecutively, they start a process that can take up to 7 years, depending on if they keep missing AYP, to put into place a plan for restructuring. It can be an incredibly slow process. These standards and assessments, developed to measure AYP, are the single accountability system for a school to track performance. We are always taught that you should not base your diagnosis on one form of assessments, and a wide variety is needed to get the entire picture. AYP is based upon the one assessment, and either a school makes it or does not. AYP is measuring a school or district’s proficiency. They developed one type of assessment, and it is distributed to all learners, regardless of their background. All subgroups are assessed the same way, which is unfair, considering some are clearly more disadvantaged than others. Additionally, if schools do not make AYP two consecutive years, regardless if there have been improvements made, they have to face the sanctions. Schools are also feeling pressured; the deadline for proficiency assessed by AYP is 2014, which is right around the corner. It is not realistic to expect that every school, and every subgroup within each school, will make AYP while utilizing the assessments we are currently using. The idea behind AYP is a good one; it is serving to make schools responsible for giving each student the education that they deserve, and if they can’t, providing the tools for them to do so. However, AYP is a signaling system; it is bringing to light the schools that require improvement and the existing achievement gaps. The data provided by AYP is what improvements are based on, and until these assessments are made fair, the real improvement is still out of reach.
“The ABCs of AYP: Raising Achievement for All Students”, Education Trust, Spring
“Stronger Accountability: Adequate Yearly Progress”, U.S. Department of Education,
Friday, December 4, 2009
Closing the Achievement Gap
The achievement gap has been a difficult issue for many years and under constant debate about where the discrepancy truly lies. The achievement gap has been defined as a significant difference in academic performance between students from different economic, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. For reasons that have remained unknown, students of minority backgrounds, including African American, Hispanic, and Asian, seem to be at a disadvantage and do not perform as well as students who are not from a minority background. A similar academic disparity also exists between students from low-income and well-off families. The achievement gap becomes apparent in grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college-completion rates.
Many reasons have been suggested for this discrepancy, including a lack of resources, lack of parental involvement, race, and socioeconomic status; however, it is still not certain which, if any, of these reasons is truly the cause of this gap. On page 586 of The Achievement Gap: Myths and Reality, Singham (2003) states, “There are no genetic or other immutable traits that could conceivably be the cause of the gap. Thus the problem is manifestly one that can and should be solved.” The Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, found that many minority students attend inner-city schools, which are often underfunded and tend to receive poorer-quality instruction, have fewer high-caliber teachers, and have access to fewer resources (The Education Trust, 2002). This could play a large role in why these students do not perform as well as students who do have the resources to help them improve.
School districts have been trying to close the achievement gap between Caucasian students and African-American and Hispanic students for many years. Many schools have started after-school tutoring sessions and remedial programs to help minority students perform better academically. However, for the gap to actually narrow minority students must learn at an extremely fast pace in order to “catch-up” with their white peers. Other schools have started “de-tracking” their students or tracking by ability groups to provide the same quality education for all students, regardless of race. By de-tracking schools, students are more likely to have equally qualified teachers, expectations, curriculum, and resources. Abbott District funding is also being implemented in many New Jersey schools that give funds to the lowest performing schools in the lowest socioeconomic areas of the state. This law allows these districts to gain access to better supplies, materials, teachers, and other resources that can help the students gain a better education.
In the article, The Achievement Gap: Myths and Reality, Singham mentions a study conducted by Alan Schoenfeld in Pittsburgh. This study analyzed students performance in schools that had teachers who were considered to be “strong implementers” and schools that had teachers who were “weak implementers.” These schools initiated a new form of curriculum that focused on standards-based education. The results of this study showed that all students greatly improved in the “strong implementation” schools and the “weak implementation” schools. Not only did all students improve in these schools, but minority students’ performance significantly increased contributing to a narrowing of the achievement gap. This study reveals that it is possible to narrow the achievement gap through educational measures that address all students in general.
The achievement gap in this country is a serious issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Parents need to become more involved in their child’s schooling, school districts need to provide the tools and resources needed for students to learn and grow, and children of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds need to be given the opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
November 17, 2009
Closing of the Achievement Gap
The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic performance between groups of students. The gap has been an issue seen within the educational system pertaining to the effects of class and race. According to many, some excuses and explanations for this disparity include: family and health conditions, teacher expectations and experience, school spending and changing student exclusion rates, television viewing, and hip-hop culture. Many believe that the achievement gap is best defined by the difference between success rates of minorities or disadvantage students versus their white counterparts. Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service describes fourteen home and school conditions that place low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. The home conditions are: low birth weights, exposure to lead poisoning, hunger and malnutrition, guardians who rarely read to their children, heavy television viewing, single-parent households, high student mobility rates, and minimal parent participation in school matters. The school conditions are: easier courses, teachers with less experience, teachers who are inadequately prepared or unlicensed, fewer computers in school and less Internet use at home, larger class sizes, and unsafe schools.
There are several ways of measuring the achievement gap. One useful is to compare academic performance among African-American, Hispanic, and white students on standardized assessments. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that reading scores for 17-year-olds narrowed dramatically for both African-American and Hispanic students from 1975 through 1988. From 1990 to 1999, however, these gaps either remained constant or grew slightly in both reading and mathematics. Another form of measurement is to compare the highest level of educational attainment for various groups. Hispanic and African-American high school students are more likely to drop out of high school in every state compared to their white counterparts. Furthermore, of those students enrolling in college, Hispanic and black young adults are only half as likely to earn a college degree as white students.
To overcome these deficits, many states have taken a proactive approach to closing the gap. For example, Texas requires schools to show each year a minimum proficiency level (percent proficient) in each student subgroup. In the five years since this legislation was enacted, the percentage of African-American students passing statewide exams rose by 31%, and the percentage of Hispanic students passing the exam rose by 29%. Meanwhile, the percentage of white students passing the exam grew by only 18%. This means the achievement gap in Texas closed by 13% and 11% for African-American and Hispanic students, respectively. Also, in Missouri a state task force on K-16 issues released a report early in 2002, which concluded that improving teacher quality is the single most important factor in eliminating the achievement gap. The report recommends raising teacher quality through increased accountability, better understanding of urban issues, and financial incentives for teachers in low-performing schools. Other methods for closing the gap would include, early childhood care and education, improving teacher quality, early intervention for college, and extra learning opportunities like after school programs.
The debate is one-sided, popular belief supports the importance of closing the gap. In my opinion, since the importance of closing the gap is undisputable there are no pros or cons—closing the gap is of critical importance. However, the methods by which schools and educators are using to close the gap have their strengths and weaknesses. Some of these methods include, class sizes, creating smaller schools, expanding early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, improving the quality of teachers provided poor and minority students, and encouraging more minority students to take high-level courses. Since the importance of closing the gap is undeniable, I will focus on the pros and con of smaller class sizes. Some of the benefits of having fewer classes include:
- Students receive more individualized attention and interact more with the teacher.
- Teachers have more flexibility to use different instructional approaches.
- Fewer students are less distracting to each other than a large group of children.
- Teachers have more time to teach because there are fewer discipline problems.
- Students are more likely to participate in class and become more involved.
- Teachers have more time to cover additional material and use more supplementary texts and enrichment activities
- The costs for reducing class sizes are too high for what they call the slight benefits
- Critics believe that popular (and political) support for class size reduction causes that approach to prevail over other, more effective reforms
- Smaller classes require additional classrooms, calling for construction or renovation
- Smaller class sizes are most effective when there are sufficient numbers of quality teachers—fewer students in a classroom with an inadequate teacher may be even less beneficial than more students with a qualified teacher
- Another concern of critics of class size reduction is whether the achievement benefits for children in smaller classes are temporary or lasting
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
Position Paper #2 Growth Model Pilot
On January 8, 2002, the whole world of education would never be the same. Congress passed No Child Left Behind, a program spearheaded by then President George Walker Bush. The implications of this legislation sent shock waves throughout school districts. Wholesale changes needed to be made in order to achieve AYP for state standardized testing. Essentially schools were now being held accountable for how well their students did on standardized testing. If they didn’t make AYP, there would be a series of actions that would be taken to help the school make AYP or penalize the school for it failure.
The concept of leaving a child behind is horrifying and that is why the bill was made into a law with bipartisan support. The premise of making sure that all children will receive a quality education and trying to narrow the achievement gap was a great idea, but the government gave education the goals, no map/plan to achieve those goals and punished the schools if they didn’t attain the goals even if they were improving. This changed on November 21, 2005 when U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a pilot program, Growth Model Pilot. According to nclb.gov, spellings claimed that this program “Growth models give schools credit for student improvement over time by tracking individual student achievement from one year to the next”.
The pilot program was initially approved to be done by four states (North Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, Arkansas) and a fifth, Florida was eventually accepted into the pilot. Currently there are fifteen states participating in the program. The state participating in the pilot must adhere to the seven core components of NCLB. According to Ed.gov, these principles include the following:
1. Ensure that all students are proficient by 2014, and set annual goals to ensure that the achievement gap is closing for all groups of students;
2. Set expectations for annual achievement based on meeting grade-level proficiency, not on student background or school characteristics;
3. Hold schools accountable for student achievement in reading / language arts and mathematics;
4. Ensure that all students in tested grades are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student subgroup, and include all schools and districts;
5. Include assessments in each of grades 3-8 and in high school for both reading/language arts and mathematics, and ensure that they have been operational for more than one year and receive approval through the NCLB peer review process for the 2005-06 school year. The assessment system must also produce comparable results from grade to grade and year to year;
6. Track student progress as part of the state data system; and
7. Include student participation rates and student achievement on a separate academic indicator in the State accountability system.
The positive aspects of the pilot are its corrective nature in regards to the pitfalls of the 2002 NCLB doctrine that turned the education world upside down. First of all, it has a more reasonable method for holding schools accountable for the previously mentioned seven core components. This achieved by tracking individual student improvement as a method of achieving AYP instead of reaching a specific percentile. This is a much more precise way to indicate student progress and also ensures that school who are making headway are not being penalized. If a school in an inner-city with a population with low SES and history of low test scores is making changes and improvements they should not get the book thrown at them. For example, if Lincoln High School has ten percent of their students in the desired percentile and the next year twenty percent of the students score in the desired percentile, the students have improved by one hundred percent. Under previous stipulations they would have failed to reach AYP. Under the growth model pilot each students score would have been analyzed and show each performed. Schools should be judged on improvement not be mandated to some seemingly unobtainable goal.
When the pilot is implemented, a focus is then shifted to individual growth. Teachers can design assessments and learning experiences that are authentic to each student which would allow for more individualized education. The shift in focus on teaching to a test and more to improvement and growth of each individual would lead to a swing educational philosophy. Along with tracking individual growth, the schools which are excelling will stand out, while other who are either maintaining the status quo or digressing will also stick out like a sore thumb. This leads to healthy competition between schools to become better at what they do, which should be a focusing on developing students prepared for the future.
The final positive aspects to the pilot are the lack of need for new assessments or data collection. Each state will continue to use the existing assessments and methods for data collection; they will just be judge on a different interpretation of the data which is being collect. Every students score will be analyzed and kept on file to ensure that they are improving.
Essentially NCLB was a program with excellent principles, but with several quirks to the program. Schools where asked to reach a percentile regardless of what their starting point was and that just was not fair. Individual progress must be rewarded and applauded and if the education system is ever going to narrow the achievement gap, programs like the Growth Model Pilot should be used to focus on individuals in the group, not the group as a whole. In fact a goal of achieving a certain percentile goes against the ultimate goal of leaving no child behind. Individualization in education, testing and data collection is the wave of the future and will lead to progress for years to come.
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
Position Paper #1 Class Size
As a young teacher with only three years of teaching experience to his name, I have come to see the difference you can make when your roster size is of a manageable number. The larger the class gets the more individualized programs for the multitude of learners get neglected. In today’s educational setting with laws like IEP’s it is much easier to ‘dumb’ down your assessment strategies in order to ensure greater success with the twelve lower level students than to provide academic rigor to the four advanced students in the class of thirty-five. I know it may seem very callus, but class size plays an integral role in how an educator plans their assessments as well as their overall presentation of material. The fewer students one has in class, the obvious more individualized attention each student receives.
According to the Northwest Education Magazine, “evidence is considerable and compelling: Especially in early grades, smaller classes do make a difference”. This makes sense that if students start school in small groups with individual attention focused on each one of them in small manageable classes, the more chance they well have to grow. The same article claims that less time will be spent on disciplinary issues and more time on facilitating individual learning plans. If Johnny and Jake are at two polar opposite levels and in the same small class, the teacher will be able to manage providing challenging work for the one student, while providing remediation for the other.
After interviewing Dr. Kyriakos Evrenoglou, Principal of Millville Alternative High School and former Assistant Principal of Discipline at Millville Senior High School, I found unique perspective as it pertains to class size. As an administrator and teacher for many years he has seen the impact of small class sizes can particularly have on emotionally disturbed students. In Alternative School, there are students who have various emotional, mental and social disorders, who could not adhere to the rules of the regular school. The students are separated into extremely small class sizes and discipline issues for these students who were typically the disruptive force in the regular school setting can thrive. Students in these situations have an easier time establishing healthy relationships with staff and peers. The less discipline issues lead to more time for qualitative instruction, where authentic assessments can occur. Teachers in this setting provide more feedback and develop greater parental contacts. It has been said over and over again that in order to have a successful educational experience, all stakeholders (staff, students, parents, community) should be involved in the educational process. If teachers develop stronger parental contacts, the goals of the classroom may in fact be reinforced in the home, which makes it that much more powerful.
In Tennessee, Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) found several requirements in order to receive the benefits of small class size. Classes must have good teachers in abundance. The increased number of classes requires more classrooms and more teachers. If there is not an ample supply of qualified motivated teachers, it won’t matter whether or not you have small numbers in the classroom because the facilitator is insufficient. The other requirements include sufficient space, diverse classes and access to materials. If the school is too small, additional space must be somehow produced or reallocated. Another issue is diversity and access to materials. Both require careful planning in the scheduling department. When determining who will be each class, the ethnicity, SES and academic performance level should be taken into account, not to track students, but rather to ensure a diverse classroom where students can learn from the various levels of intelligence and cultures. If students are homogeneous, the students will miss the experience of learning from their peers and developing into well-rounded culturally aware individuals. Materials could also become a concern without carefully scheduling. Textbooks and technological access could be shared among classes with a rotating schedule would maximize resources without sacrificing educational time.
Along with all of the previously mentioned concerns, the underlying concern has to do with the bottom line, what is the price tag. The need for more space, qualified teachers, and supplies is going to increase the per pupil expense. Some ways to alleviate the expense are not necessarily scene immediately, but will end up lowering the financial burden in the long run. As mentioned earlier, resources could be shared from classroom to classroom, so that the number of texts and computers can be maximized. The other cost reductions could be done through consolidations of classrooms. Special subjects like the practical arts (music, foreign language, ect.) could share a classroom on a rotating basis or even go into the regular education classroom. This would allow the rooms utilized by these “Specials” to be converted into regular classrooms. Another cost reduction would be from the lowered need for classroom aids at the Secondary level. In special education mathematics courses, an aid is required when the class size is 12 or more students. The lowered class sizes would cut down on the need for that support staff.
The final reason why the cost is not worth preventing the implantation of smaller classes is tied in with the lowered need for special education aids and teachers. Smaller classes sizes enhance performance. Students receive more individual attention. According to the Rouse Study, when the class size is an average of seventeen to one, students made “substantially faster gains in reading. The SAGE program in Wisconsin found that students with extremely low SES performed better on standardized tests after being put into classes of an average fifteen students. There are also various studies done in Israel and California that have found similar results. The underlying message is this lower class sizes equal enhanced student performance. Students performing at higher level equates to higher graduation rates and students better prepared for post secondary endeavors. The more students that get a college degree, the higher their income will be after they graduate college. When the lower SES population rises up out of poverty they enhance our society. They could be the next inventors of the next big thing that improves quality of life. The more money made by each individual, the more each person will pay in taxes which means the cost of the implementation of small class size could be deferred. Less money will be spent on Welfare and more on education. In the world of health, primary prevention simple things like practicing good hygiene, exercising and getting immunizations lowers the chances of developing disease or infirmity. This lowers insurance costs, so why do we not do the same in the world of education. Small class sizes mean a better individual education for each student. The more educated each individual is the less time and money well be spent later on remediation problems in school and adult life. Small class size is primary prevention for our youth, society and wallets.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Reforming Schools and/or Reinventing Schools
What is school reform?
School reform in the public school system includes a number of programs and policies that are established by policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels. Reforms are procedural changes that relate to how the school operates. Many reform proposals have focused on smaller class sizes, high teacher pay coupled with improved teacher training, more preschool programs, and more technology in the classroom. (www.theheartlandinstitute.org). However, based on A Nation at Risk report (1983) some advocates felt that an emphasis on more required credits in academic courses, more testing, longer school year and an increase in teacher salaries did not produce the results expected. By 1990 a second wave of school reform was put in place, only this time the emphasis was based on performance outcome and accountability, hence, the NCLB law 2002.
Why are public education schools all ways in the process of reform? Clearly, we haven’t significantly closed the achievement gap between black and white students, and rich and poor students. The NCLB Act mandates that all states receiving Title 1 funding (currently all 50 states) must report annual yearly progress (AYP) on the academic performance and progress of students particularly in low-performing schools. Each state must develop content and academic standards in language arts, mathematics and science grades 3-8 and high school. Other provisions were made which could be reviewed on (www.publiceducation.org).
Researcher Frederick Hess believes that reform exist in two ways, the “status quo reformer,” and the “common sense reformer.” Excerpts from his book Common Sense School Reform reveals that the public school education system is indeed in need of great reform and that the practices applied in the industrial era have become obsolete today. For example, treating teachers like assembly line workers, providing mandated training with little value, no rewards for excellence and no opportunity for career advancement. His spin on “status quo reformer” although it may not apply to all school districts has become a serious problem for many and includes some of the following:
· Lack clear objectives and tools for authoritative leadership.
· Believe that by providing more money, and more spending will fix many problems.
· Shy away from job security and accountability
· Believe that educators are already doing all they can, and that improvement is just a matter of mending a curricula, changing school or class size or tossing in a dash of training.
On the other hand, Hess believes the “common sense reformer” has a more practical, no nonsense approach which focuses on accountability and flexibility. His form of reinventing schools includes some of the following:
· People will do their best when goals are clear and they know how they are being evaluated.
· School culture is one of great expectation, excellence is rewarded and failure in not tolerated.
· Great schools are a product of hard work, genius, commitment and skill and not legislated into existence.
· True reform requires transforming “can’t do” culture into one of competence, and students mastery of essential material.
· Flexibility requires managing schools and education effectively, providing rewards for excellence, and serving community needs and being fiscally responsible.
· School choice and competition is good because it will produce accountability.
According to Marty Nemko’s article, Reinventing the High School Curriculum, school reform is needed because schools have “managed to leach the life out of so many kids.” His suggestions for reinventing high school curriculum is as follows:
· Replace one year of the four years required English to Language for Life. This course would focus on newspapers/magazines, voter handbooks, consumer contracts, employee and product assembly manuals and how-to books.
· Replace one year of History/Government to Psychology for Life. The focus would be on conflict resolution, coping with anxieties, teasing/cliquishness, self-esteem, drug abuse and sexuality.
· Replace one year of math to Math for Life, creating real-life scenarios such as how to calculate and estimate mortgage payments etc.
· Replace one year of Science to Information Literacy and allow students to gain optimal use of Internet, libraries, and interviewing to obtain desired information.
Reforming and or/reinventing schools requires more than just making fundamental changes to the school environment. True reform involves a commitment from administrators, teachers, students, parents and policy leaders. It is promoting a school culture that is flexibility in its operational procedures and accountable in delivery of its instructional programs. Perhaps, periodic follow-ups may help to remedy failure.
Friday, November 13, 2009
The New Jersey Department of Education has stated several goals regarding the NJCCS. First, the NJCCS “defines what all students should know and be able to do by the end of their public school education”. This criterion gives schools a tangible goal to achieve for all grade levels within all curricular content areas. Next, “It describes the knowledge and skills all NJ students are expected to acquire by benchmark grades”. This criterion provides the teachers an idea of where the student stands in their content area and where they should be in their knowledge and understanding of the material. Once the teachers are aware of the student’s level of knowledge, then they can begin to develop and implement strategies to help the student improve and meet the benchmark standards.
However, the teacher cannot do this alone. They need the support and direction from a positive administration and curriculum team. The following goals of NJCCS are legal requirements developed for the purpose to hold the teachers and schools accountable. NJ state law dictates that “These standards are established for the provision of a thorough and efficient education pursuant to N.J.S.A 18-A: 7F-4 and for the basis for evaluation of school districts in accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:30-1.4”. Also, “NJAC 6A: 8 – requires districts to align all curriculum to the standards to ensure teachers provide instruction according to the standards, to ensure student performance is assessed in each content area and to provide teachers with opportunities for professional development that focuses on the standards.”
To better comprehend the makeup and rationale of the NJCCS, one needs to understand the foundational principles and design of curriculum. Ralph Tyler can be considered the father of modern curriculum design. His approach is straightforward and rationale. It allows the user to understand curriculum design in a non-threatening and less confusing manner compared to earlier models or theories. According to Ralph Tyler, his model works because it is “Reasonable and workable with many people and the approach works regardless of context or one’s philosophical orientation.” Tyler provided a model for the masses which propelled education in the United States to a higher level of effectiveness and understanding. The Tyler Model is founded on four basic principles which are “to determine the schools purpose, to identify educational experiences related to those purposes, to ascertain how the experiences are organized and to evaluate the purpose. (Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues. Ornstein. 2009)” These principles are the driving force of any curriculum and are still used by modern curricular design experts like Wiggins and McTighe.
The “Backward Design Model “is the creation of curricular experts Wiggins and McTighe. These individuals are responsible for the task of redesigning the New Jersey Core Content Standards. The “2009 Standards Revision Project” is structured using the “Backward Design Model”. Wiggins and McTighe content that the designer needs to “consider possible contents” that they want to incorporate in their curriculum. Then they need to “narrow choices to the important contents” because the selected content material needs to fit the culture and overall objectives of the school. Last, the designer “selects the final enduring contents”. They achieve these criteria by “identifying expected end points, determining evidence, and then planning the learning experiences”.
The 2009 New Jersey Core Content Standards Revision Project is being designed to propel New Jersey education to the next level of excellence. Our society is constantly changing and evolving with the advent of incredible technologies and challenges both domestic and international. It appears the NJCCS are trying to address this change by creating a more modern and realistic design that takes into account the new skills and knowledge required for our students to succeed in the 21st Century. The NJCCS revision project has created a website that identifies and emphasizes these essential skills. You can access this website by going to http://www.21stcenturyskills.org in order to understand how “technology integration, Interdisciplinary connections, and the Infusion of global perspectives” are going to be used for the benefit of New Jersey teachers, administrators and students.
This is a time of change and development in our educational system. I believe that the NJCCS will greatly assist our school in achieve the high goals and standards set for by President Obama and the New Jersey Department of Education. However, in the end, it is up to the individual New Jersey school districts to embrace this change and rationale and to effectively implement the revised NJCCS into their schools. If the schools are successful in their implementation, then New Jersey school could lead the charge of achieving President Obama’s vision that “by 2020, the USA will have the largest percentage of college graduates in the world.”
President Barack Obama is quoted in saying that “Achieving a quality education for children is the civil rights issue of our generation. (p.25, Quality Education is our Moon Shot)” If education is such a vital part of our society, where is the action from the Obama administration? I agree with the majority of the educators I work with and interact with that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 is severely flawed and punishes school districts and teachers based on a snapshot of performance from the schools standardized tests. What will the new administration do to make the necessary changes to our education system in order to effectively and realistically evaluate student learning and not punish the students?
The best person to answer this question is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He is the primary spokesperson and leader in the Obama administration on education. In an interview by Phi Delta Kappa, Secretary Duncan states that by 2020, President Obama wants to again have the largest percentage of college graduates in the world” (p24, Quality Education is our Moon Shot). They plan to achieve this goal through the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This Act was instituted in 1965 and has seen many versions including NCLB in 2002. The changing or reauthorization of this Act appears to be the Obama Administration’s attempt to separate themselves from the Bush Administration and NCLB. Also, this change may bring education front and center allowing President Obama to focus on this ‘civil rights issue’.
The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan have made many promises since taking office in January, but no action has occurred. Another education promise is that they want “common, career-ready standards that would be internationally marked” (p25, Quality Education is our Moon Shot). This initiative is repeated in many articles I have researched. A common question being asked regarding the Obama administration’s educational plan is “how you think you can change NCLB from what many perceive to be a test-and-punish law to a law that is really focused on improving student learning? Secretary Duncan replied in saying “I will always give NCLB credit for exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes, rather than inputs”. (Reauthorization of ESEA: Why we can’t wait) However, the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that they are “more interested in gain and growth than in absolute test scores.” (pg. 26; Quality Education is our Moon Shot)
To achieve these goals, President Obama has pledged to provide federal funding to the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary education Act (ESEA), which he believes will improve our national education system. The reforms the Obama Administration wants to achieve with these funds are four fold: 1) Adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace. 2) Recruit, develop, retain, and reward effective teachers and principals. 3) Build data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.4) Turn around the lowest-performing schools. (pg. 26; Quality Education is our Moon Shot)
Unfortunately, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama have other national priorities to focus on before implementing their idealistic education plan. According to Secretary Duncan in a speech he made in October stating “the work of reauthorizing ESEA begins in states and districts across America—among educators and policy makers, parents and community leaders. This work is as urgent as it is important. In the coming weeks, our task is to unite education stakeholders behind a national school reform movement that reaches into every town and city—and we need your help to do it.” (Reauthorization of ESEA: Why We Can't Wait, October 23, 2009). These efforts are going to take a considerable amount of time and effort, especially from Secretary Duncan. In the meantime, President Obama’s priorities are focused on the Economy, Healthcare, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very concerned that Education reform will not be fourth on the priority list, but pushed further down the line of bureaucratic and legislative red tape. What happens if President Obama does not get reelected and unable to fulfill his promises? I am hoping for President Obama to fulfill some of his educational promises in the near future, but as of right now, he is just kissing the proverbial “baby”.