Are Children Learning

Indiana rank continues to rise on the national NAEP test

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Indiana did as good or better than the U.S. average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the “nation’s report card,” this year compared to 2013, while many states saw significant drops.

For 2015, the state was ranked fourth in the nation in fourth-grade math and 11th for eighth-grade math, up from a ranking of fourth and 19th, respectively, in 2013. In reading, Indiana students ranked 10th for fourth-grade reading and 16th for eighth-grade reading, up from 15th and 27th. Back in 2013, the state made huge jumps in scores that some questioned the validity of at the time, said Mark O’Malley, the state’s NAEP coordinator.

“That was a big deal and that made the headlines,” O’Malley said. “As Indiana repeats again the fourth highest math score in fourth grade, it kind of validates the student performance that has happened, so that is exciting. It’s not a phenomenon, it didn’t happen by chance.”

 

Indiana students scoring at or above proficiency on NAEP math

 

Indiana students scoring at or above proficiency on NAEP reading

Data source: NAEP and National Center for Education Statistics, Graphics by: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

None of the change in this year’s score have “statistical significance” from 2013, meaning they don’t necessarily indicate student achievement is any lower or higher this year than last time — likely the change is due to chance, O’Malley said.

However he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the state’s more challenging academic standards and big changes to state tests that can cause some chaos in the classroom.

“Indiana held on and plateaued,” O’Malley said. “The state assessment is up and down, and in the classroom it’s just so chaotic and frustrating. The students were able to hold on to their student performance in the NAEP assessment, and all the other states around us, their scores went down dramatically.”

Compared to 2000, Indiana students have measurably improved in fourth-grade math and reading and in eighth-grade math over 15 years. Eighth-grade reading scores aren’t significantly different from 2000.

Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire outranked Indiana in fourth-grade math scores, yet the differences are very small. Indiana English-learners achieved scores 16 points higher than the national average among other students learning English as a new language.

In general, Indiana saw strong performance from English-learners and students with special needs. All states are required by the federal government to take NAEP, which is given to sample of students every other year. About 12,000 students took the test in Indiana, O’Malley said.

In some states, lower scores might be affected by having more students with special needs and English-learners taking the test, but Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said that shouldn’t be considered a problem.

“This is not a problem or a deficit, it’s a huge opportunity to change the lives of young people through educational opportunities,” Duncan said. “We should be proud schools are becoming more diverse, and we should be proud to hold ourselves accountable for the education of all students.”

Nationwide, fourth- and eighth-graders posted slightly lower scores on the math and reading tests than in 2013, the last time the tests were administered.

“We’re trying not to read too much in a decline in at this point,” said Peggy Carr, acting commission of the National Center of Education Statistics, which administers NAEP. “We understand it’s a pattern consistent across many states, but … we don’t know yet if these changes we’re talking about today are long term.”

Scores in both subjects have risen significantly over time, suggesting that the average American student’s skills have improved. Math scores have risen by 27 points out of 500 and reading scores have risen by 10 points since the first time the exams were given, but achievement gaps between black and white students have not narrowed substantially.

U.S. students have taken the NAEP exams for decades in an effort to provide a consistent measure of student performance at a time when states’ standards varied widely.

Now, many states are in the process of adopting new tests that reflect shared standards, potentially allowing for more detailed and frequent comparisons of students across the country. That means for some states, NAEP now serves the dual role of testing student performance across states and assessing whether states have achieved their goal of crafting more “accurate” measures of student achievement with their new exams.

Yet because Indiana abandoned Common Core for state-specific standards in 2014, such comparisons between Indiana’s standards and those in other states aren’t really possible. That makes NAEP even more valuable to educators and policymakers to keep tabs on how students are doing compared to the rest of the country, O’Malley said.

“This is one thing that every state takes in the same format, it’s administered the same,” he said. “It’s the only thing left that … can measure student achievement universally.”

First Person

I’m a principal who thinks personalized learning shouldn’t be a debate.

PHOTO: Lisa Epstein
Lisa Epstein, principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary, supports personalized learning

This is the first in what we hope will be a tradition of thoughtful opinion pieces—of all viewpoints—published by Chalkbeat Chicago. Have an idea? Send it to cburke@chalkbeat.org

As personalized learning takes hold throughout the city, Chicago teachers are wondering why a term so appealing has drawn so much criticism.

Until a few years ago, the school that I lead, Richard H. Lee Elementary on the Southwest Side, was on a path toward failing far too many of our students. We crafted curriculum and identified interventions to address gaps in achievement and the shifting sands of accountability. Our teachers were hardworking and committed. But our work seemed woefully disconnected from the demands we knew our students would face once they made the leap to postsecondary education.

We worried that our students were ill-equipped for today’s world of work and tomorrow’s jobs. Yet, we taught using the same model through which we’d been taught: textbook-based direct instruction.

How could we expect our learners to apply new knowledge to evolving facts, without creating opportunities for exploration? Where would they learn to chart their own paths, if we didn’t allow for agency at school? Why should our students engage with content that was disconnected from their experiences, values, and community?

We’ve read articles about a debate over personalized learning centered on Silicon Valley’s “takeover” of our schools. We hear that Trojan Horse technologies are coming for our jobs. But in our school, personalized learning has meant developing lessons informed by the cultural heritage and interests of our students. It has meant providing opportunities to pursue independent projects, and differentiating curriculum, instruction, and assessment to enable our students to progress at their own pace. It has reflected a paradigm shift that is bottom-up and teacher led.

And in a move that might have once seemed incomprehensible, it has meant getting rid of textbooks altogether. We’re not alone.

We are among hundreds of Chicago educators who would welcome critics to visit one of the 120 city schools implementing new models for learning – with and without technology. Because, as it turns out, Chicago is fast becoming a hub for personalized learning. And, it is no coincidence that our academic growth rates are also among the highest in the nation.

Before personalized learning, we designed our classrooms around the educator. Decisions were made based on how educators preferred to teach, where they wanted students to sit, and what subjects they wanted to cover.

Personalized learning looks different in every classroom, but the common thread is that we now make decisions looking at the student. We ask them how they learn best and what subjects strike their passions. We use small group instruction and individual coaching sessions to provide each student with lesson plans tailored to their needs and strengths. We’re reimagining how we use physical space, and the layout of our classrooms. We worry less about students talking with their friends; instead, we ask whether collaboration and socialization will help them learn.

Our emphasis on growth shows in the way students approach each school day. I have, for example, developed a mentorship relationship with one of our middle school students who, despite being diligent and bright, always ended the year with average grades. Last year, when she entered our personalized learning program for eighth grade, I saw her outlook change. She was determined to finish the year with all As.

More than that, she was determined to show that she could master anything her teachers put in front of her. She started coming to me with graded assignments. We’d talk about where she could improve and what skills she should focus on. She was pragmatic about challenges and so proud of her successes. At the end of the year she finished with straight As—and she still wanted more. She wanted to get A-pluses next year. Her outlook had changed from one of complacence to one oriented towards growth.

Rather than undermining the potential of great teachers, personalized learning is creating opportunities for collaboration as teachers band together to leverage team-teaching and capitalize on their strengths and passions. For some classrooms, this means offering units and lessons based on the interests and backgrounds of the class. For a couple of classrooms, it meant literally knocking down walls to combine classes from multiple grade-levels into a single room that offers each student maximum choice over how they learn. For every classroom, it means allowing students to work at their own pace, because teaching to the middle will always fail to push some while leaving others behind.

For many teachers, this change sounded daunting at first. For years, I watched one of my teachers – a woman who thrives off of structure and runs a tight ship – become less and less engaged in her profession. By the time we made the switch to personalized learning, I thought she might be done. We were both worried about whether she would be able to adjust to the flexibility of the new model. But she devised a way to maintain order in her classroom while still providing autonomy. She’s found that trusting students with the responsibility to be engaged and efficient is both more effective and far more rewarding than trying to force them into their roles. She now says that she would never go back to the traditional classroom structure, and has rediscovered her love for teaching. The difference is night and day.

The biggest change, though, is in the relationships between students and teachers. Gone is the traditional, authority-to-subordinate dynamic; instead, students see their teachers as mentors with whom they have a unique and individual connection, separate from the rest of the class. Students are actively involved in designing their learning plans, and are constantly challenged to articulate the skills they want to build and the steps that they must take to get there. They look up to their teachers, they respect their teachers, and, perhaps most important, they know their teachers respect them.

Along the way, we’ve found that students respond favorably when adults treat them as individuals. When teachers make important decisions for them, they see learning as a passive exercise. But, when you make it clear that their needs and opinions will shape each school day, they become invested in the outcome.

As our students take ownership over their learning, they earn autonomy, which means they know their teachers trust them. They see growth as the goal, so they no longer finish assignments just to be done; they finish assignments to get better. And it shows in their attendance rates – and test scores.

Lisa Epstein is the principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary School, a public school in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood serving 860 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Richard H. Lee Elementary School serves 860 students, not 760 students.

Facilities

These 102 schools failed latest round of ‘blitz inspections’

PHOTO: Tim Boyle / Getty Images
Taft High School is one of 102 schools that will have to be reinspected.

Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday that 102 schools will require reinspection for cleanliness before students return to class in the fall. The district has been conducting “blitz inspections” at schools to help address widespread concerns about filthy conditions, including rats and rodent droppings.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier in the year that complaints of a rodent infestation at a South Side elementary school had spurred an initial round of investigations, and that 91 of 125 schools failed them. The story brought citywide attention to the issue and raised questions about CPS’ decision to transition the work of keeping schools clean to two private contractors: Aramark, which is based in Philadelphia, and SodexoMAGIC, which is a joint venture between the French company Sodexo Inc. and Beverly Hills, California,-based Magic Johnson Enterprises.

Since 2014, the district has spent more than $400 million on contracts with the two companies.

CPS said in a statement Tuesday that it is “committed to carrying out a multi-pronged plan” that includes adding 200 additional custodians who are deep cleaning schools this summer. Of those, 100 custodians will remain with the district once the new school year begins. A district spokeswoman said monthly inspections will continue and that a “stronger facilities services structure” that employs one building manager to oversee janitorial and engineering services at each school will yield better results.

Jesse Sharkey, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said that the additional custodians do little to make up for the mess. “(Mayor Rahm) Emanuel made a token commitment to increase full-time custodial staff by 100 next fall—about a tenth of the staff that was cut when (he) moved to privatize janitorial and facilities management services for CPS, and a fraction of what’s needed,” Sharkey said in a statement.

Schools that have not yet passed an inspection have received orders for actions, structures, and timelines for improvement, the district said. CPS does not inspect charter, contract, alternative, or options schools that operate outside of district-managed facilities.

Here’s a list of the schools that require reinspection.

ADDAMS
ALCOTT ES
ALDRIDGE
ASHBURN
AZUELA
BARTON
BELMONT-CRAGIN
BENNETT
CAMERON
CANTY
CARDENAS
CARROLL-ROSENWALD
CASTELLANOS
CHICAGO AGRICULTURE HS
CLINTON
COOK
COONLEY
CORLISS HS
CURTIS
DAVIS M
DUBOIS
DUNNE
DURKIN PARK
EARHART
EARLE
ELLINGTON
ERICSON
FAIRFIELD
FORT DEARBORN
FOSTER PARK
FRAZIER PROSPECTIVE
GALLISTEL
GARVY
GOETHE
HALEY
HARVARD
HAUGAN
HEARST
HEFFERAN
HOLMES
HOPE HS
HOPE INSTITUTE
HURLEY
IRVING
JACKSON M
JOPLIN
JORDAN
KENNEDY HS
KERSHAW
KIPLING
LANE TECH HS
LANGFORD
LAVIZZO
Lee Elementary
MARSHALL HS
MASON
MAYS
MCDOWELL
MCKAY
MORGAN PARK HS
MORRILL
MULTICULTURAL HS
NOBLE – COMER
NORTHSIDE LEARNING HS
NORTHSIDE PREP HS
NORTHWEST
OGLESBY
OTIS
OWENS
PARKER
PARKSIDE
PENN
PETERSON
POE
PRITZKER
PULLMAN
REVERE
RICKOVER MILITARY HS
RUDOLPH
RUGGLES
SCAMMON
SKINNER West
SMITH
SOUTH SHORE ES
SOUTH SHORE INTL HS
SPRY ES
SULLIVAN HS
SUTHERLAND
TAFT HS
TARKINGTON
TAYLOR
TELPOCHCALLI
THORP J
URBAN PREP – WEST HS
VOLTA
WASHINGTON H ES
WASHINGTON HS
WEBSTER
WELLS ES
WESTINGHOUSE HS
WHITNEY
WILDWOOD