Are Children Learning

New state standards will be ready for review this month

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board member Gordon Hendry at an Indiana State Board of Education meeting in February. (Scott Elliott)

Committees crafting new Indiana state academic standards expect to have a working draft by Feb. 14, state officials said today.

Molly Chamberlin, chief assessment and accountability officer for Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, told the Indiana State Board of Education teams are reviewing Common Core, Indiana’s prior standards and other standards, expecting to borrow from several of them to create new standards intended to go into effect next fall.

Indiana was one of the earliest adopters of Common Core standards in 2010. But lawmakers passed a bill last last year to “pause” implementation and reconsider those standards. Over the past month it became clear Pence, Ritz, legislators and state board members were moving to replace them with new ones.

The Common Core, adopted by 45 states, was designed to assure high school graduates are prepared for college or careers. But Indiana critics have pushed back, saying adopting national standards cedes too much control over what is taught in Indiana to policymakers outside the state. Others argued the standards are not as strong as standards Indiana created in 2009.

The Senate this week passed a bill that would void Common Core as Indiana’s standards by July 1, in anticipation of the state board adopting new standards by that date. Ritz said she expects to present new standards to the board to adopt at its April 2 meeting. Gov. Mike Pence told reporters earlier today he was pleased by the the move to write new standards.

“There has never been, in the state of Indiana, a more rigorous review of education standards in the state before,” Ritz said.

The standards review team is going through Indiana’s current Common Core standards and assigning a plus, a minus or zero to each, Chamberlin said. A plus means the standard meets the team’s definition of “college and career ready;” a minus means it doesn’t. A zero means the standard needs more discussion.

Standards that team members consider “biased” or as having “embedded pedagogy” — an ingrained philosophy of how the standard should be taught — are given a zero and set aside for discussion, Chamberlin said. Some Common Core critics have raised concerns that the national standards go beyonds stipulating what should be taught to essentially prescribing how it is taught.

By month’s end, Chamberlin said, public feedback meetings will begin. All will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. The first will be Feb. 24 at the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Sellersburg, near Clarksville in Clark County. On Feb. 25, a public meeting will be held at the Indiana Government Center South in Indianapolis, next to the statehouse. On Feb. 26, a third meeting will be held at Plymouth High School in Marshall County near South Bend.

State board member Brad Oliver praised the state’s approach to setting new standards and the cooperation between CECI and the Indiana Department of Education, which at times have been at odds when Ritz has clashed with the state board.

Oliver said critics of Common Core should not expect all of the national standards to be expunged by the process. Likewise, he said, Common Core supporters cannot count on most of the standards being maintained and simply “rebranded” as Indiana standards.

“That’s really not fair,” Oliver said. “We have a good process. Now we have to let them do the process.”

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.

research report

Three years in, some signs of (slight) academic growth at struggling ‘Renewal’ schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Mayor Bill de Blasio at Brooklyn Generation School — part of the Renewal program

When Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an aggressive and expensive campaign to turn around the city’s lowest performing schools, he made a big promise: Schools would see “fast and intense” improvements within three years.

Almost exactly three years later, and after flooding 78 schools with more than $386 million in new social services and academic support, there are signs that the Renewal program has generated gains in student learning. The evidence is based on two newly updated analyses of test score data — one from Marcus Winters, a fellow at the conservative-learning Manhattan Institute, and the other from Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College.

But the researchers caution that those improvements are modest — when they exist at all — and don’t yet match the mayor’s lofty promises.

The results may have implications far beyond New York City, as a national and political test case of whether injecting struggling schools with resources is more effective than closing them.

The two researchers previously reviewed the first two years of test score data in elementary and middle schools in the Renewal program: Winters found a positive effect on test scores, while Pallas generally found little to no effect.

Now, as the program reaches its third birthday, the pair of researchers have updated their findings with new test score data from last school year, and largely reaffirmed their earlier conclusions.

“We’re not seeing large increases” in student achievement, Pallas said. “And the reality is it’s hard to get large increases in struggling schools.”

Some advocates have argued that it is too early to expect big shifts in test scores, and that infusing schools with extra social services like mental health counseling and vision screenings are valuable in themselves. But de Blasio’s promise of quick academic turnaround has invited questions about Renewal’s effectiveness and whether resources can be more effective in improving low-performing schools than shuttering them.

To assess the program’s academic effect, Pallas compared changes in Renewal school test scores to other schools that had similar test results and student demographics when the program started, but did not receive extra support.

The biggest gains Pallas found were concentrated at the elementary level.

Over the past three school years, 20 elementary schools in the Renewal program have made larger gains on average in math and reading than 23 similar schools that didn’t get extra resources. The proportion of elementary school students considered proficient in reading at Renewal schools increased from 7 percent in 2014 to 18 percent last year — an 11-point jump. Meanwhile, the comparison schools also saw gains, but only by seven percentage points, giving Renewal schools a four percentage point advantage.

At the middle school level, the results are less encouraging. The 45 Renewal middle schools did not collectively outperform a group of 50 similar schools outside the program in reading or math.

In math, for instance, Renewal school students improved from 5 percent proficient to 7 percent. However, the comparison schools outside the program improved by roughly the same margin — increasing proficiency from 6 to 9 percent (and still far below city average). In reading, Renewal middle schools showed slightly less growth than the comparison group.

City officials have argued that Pallas’ findings are misleading partly because Renewal schools and the comparison schools are not actually comparable. Renewal schools, they say, were designated based on a range of factors like school climate or teacher effectiveness, not just student demographics and test scores.

“The schools included in the study are neither similar nor comparable in quality and a comparison of the two dissimilar groups is unreliable at best,” Michael Aciman, an education department spokesman, said in a statement. Aciman added that Renewal schools have made larger gains in reading and math than similar schools across the state, and have made progress in reducing chronic absenteeism and improving instruction.

Pallas notes that there are some limitations to his approach, and acknowledges that he could not account for some differences between the two groups, such as the quality of a school’s principal. He also does not use student-level data, for instance, which would allow a more fine-grained analysis of whether the Renewal program is boosting student achievement. But Pallas, and other researchers who have previously reviewed his data, have said his model is rigorous.

The Manhattan Institute’s Winters found more positive trends than Pallas, consistent with his earlier findings. Using an approach that evaluates whether Renewal schools are outperforming historical trends compared with schools outside the program, Winters found that the Renewal program appeared to have a statistically significant effect on both reading and math scores — roughly equivalent to the difference in student achievement between charter schools and traditional district schools in New York City.

Asked about how to interpret the fact that his results tended to be more positive, Winters said either interpretation is plausible.

“It’s hard to tell which of these is exactly right,” he said. But “neither of us are finding results that are consistent with what we would expect if the program is having a large positive effect.”