test scores

New York

Arne Duncan's push to change teacher laws posts Hoosier victory

Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues. The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget. But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it. "We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said. Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
New York

Robert Jackson takes a last, passionate stand on mayoral control

City Council Member Robert Jackson at an Assembly hearing on mayoral control earlier this year. (Via GothamSchools Flickr) A City Council hearing today on mayoral control became a chance for a chief critic of the power structure to lay out his concerns — a kind of last stand as top lawmakers and advocates move to a more moderate compromise. The state's top two lawmakers have embraced keeping a majority of power with the mayor, and their statements led union president Randi Weingarten to back away from a push to yank that majority. But Council member Robert Jackson, who chairs the education committee and served on his district's community school board for 15 years, did not appear to be affected by the changing tide at today's hearing. For more than six hours, he fielded testimony from people explaining how they have been hurt under mayoral control: schools phased out without consultation from the Department of Education, charter schools operating with better supplies than traditional public schools, and the powerless feeling of serving on the new generation of school boards, Community Education Councils. Few expressed support for the current system. During cross examinations, Jackson offered his own criticism of mayoral control. At times, he could barely restrain his frustration. “Talk is cheap,” he told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, saying he had requested information from the DOE several months ago and had yet to obtain it. “I wish you’d pick up the phone and call me,” Klein responded. “I should not have to pick up the phone! It’s a continuous problem,” Jackson shot back.
New York

State officials herald "moderate" progress on English test

A screenshot (including a caption) from today's online press conference about state test scores, featuring State Education Commissioner Richard Mills and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. More students across New York State scored proficient on the state reading and writing test this year than ever before, and gains by black and Hispanic students drove the improvements. The difference between white and black students' average scores is now at 18 points, down from 28 in 2006. More students in New York City scored proficient, too; proficiency rose 18 percentage points to 69 percent from 51 percent in 2006. According to the city Department of Education, the difference between the percentage of black and Hispanic children who scored proficient on the test and the percentage of white students who did now stands at 22 percentage points, down from more than 29 three years ago. State school leaders described the gains across New York as "moderate" because much of the increases were driven by a greater proportion of children just squeaking past the proficiency cutoff, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills explained during a press conference this morning. The difference comes from looking at the actual scale scores students received, rather than the percentage of students deemed proficient. Scale scores are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains. (Aaron Pallas has written about this on GothamSchools.) Mills explained the distinction by providing three ways to look at this year's sixth-grade scores. The first is by looking purely at what proportion of students in the grade tested at basic proficiency. According to that metric, 81 percent of this year's sixth-graders met proficiency, compared to 60.4 percent of sixth-graders in 2006, the first year of a new statewide curriculum and testing program. Looking at proficiency over time, 69 percent of children in 3rd grade in 2006 met standards; those are the same children who posted an 81 percent proficiency rating as sixth-graders this year. But the scale scores of that same cohort of children actually dropped slightly over the same period, from 669 to 667.
New York

After a DOE official tries to rebut her, Diane Ravitch responds

The Department of Education and Diane Ravitch, a former supporter who has emerged as one of the department's most vocal critics, have for years sparred over how to interpret DOE data. In their latest skirmish, the department and the historian have each issued memos refuting the other's claims about how well the city schools are performing. The DOE's memo went out by e-mail to all principals; Ravitch's appears for the first time in this post. The newest dustup stems from an op/ed Ravitch wrote for the New York Times earlier this month, in which she argued that data show the DOE is incorrect to say schools have improved significantly since Mayor Bloomberg took control of them. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein immediately fired back against Ravitch in a letter to the editor. But apparently some principals needed more convincing, because Klein wrote in a recent Principals Weekly newsletter that he had heard from "a number" of them with questions about whether Ravitch's op/ed was accurate. To answer the principals' questions, Klein said he asked Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior DOE official who oversees testing, to fact-check Ravitch's claims. Bell-Ellwanger produced an 8-page memo, dated April 28, rebutting Ravitch point by point. Klein linked to the memo in his most recent e-mail newsletter to principals; I've also posted it in full below the jump. After I shared Bell-Ellwanger's memo with her, Ravitch composed a long response of her own, noting that her Times op/ed was thoroughly vetted before publication. "The editor at the Times required documentation for every single fact in the article, and I supplied it," she writes in her response, which I've posted just after Bell-Ellwanger's memo below.
New York

Report: Test score gains predate Bloomberg and mayoral control

A graph from Assemblyman James Brennan's report shows that test score increases began before 2002, when mayoral control was enacted and Mayor Bloomberg took office. A Brooklyn lawmaker is throwing doubt on two key arguments in both Mayor Bloomberg's re-election campaign and his effort to keep the mayor in charge of the public school system: The idea that Bloomberg's leadership is responsible for city students' rising scores on standardized tests — and the extent to which achievement actually improved under Bloomberg. In a paper released earlier this year, Assemblyman James Brennan points out that city students' test scores were rising steadily for four years before Bloomberg took office, and, in some cases, at a faster pace than they have under Bloomberg. He also argues that a list of changes in the schools that are unrelated to the Blooomberg administration or mayoral control (a near quadrupling of early childhood programs, for instance, and a dramatic increase in state funding that dates back to 1998) are the real reason for the gains the system has made. "I generally don’t view their success to be credible," Brennan, who could play a significant role in the mayoral control discussions this spring, said in a recent interview. "I do not believe that some of the recent improvements in the school system are directly related to policies of Klein." Brennan's stance directly challenges the mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who declare in speeches, billboards, television advertisements, and interviews that their changes to the school system are responsible for a battery of improvements, including higher test scores. A Department of Education spokesman, Andrew Jacob, defended this point of view in a short memo disputing Brennan's conclusions. The memo argues that the city's test scores are rising more steadily than scores across New York State, and accuses Brennan of ignoring several Bloomberg administration policies, including the opening of hundreds of new schools and transfers of funds to schools from the bureaucracy. It also points out an indisputable rise in the graduation rate, which soared by 10 percentage points under Bloomberg, compared to a change of just one-tenth of a percentage point in the entire decade before he took control of the schools. Below the fold, I'll walk through each part of the dispute.