New York

On early ed tests issue, agreement on everything but a solution

First grade teacher John O'Hickey, of Brooklyn School of Inquiry. Part of O'Hickey's evaluation will be based on state test scores from students in higher grades in the school. When it comes to getting rid of standardized testing in early grades, the city and the teachers union are on the same page — both want them eliminated from their teacher evaluation plans. But the two sides, whose toxic relationship seems to have reached new highs in Mayor Bloomberg's final year in office, are taking different approaches toward achieving the same end goal. The United Federation of Teachers ratcheted up its latest critique of teacher evaluations today by joining a statewide coalition that wants to ban standardized tests in any class below third grade. UFT President Michael Mulgrew first raised the issue two weeks ago, arguing that they are developmentally inappropriate because some students can barely hold a pencil, let alone fill in bubble sheets. "To be using it at these young ages is just ridiculous," Mulgrew said today on a conference call with reporters. In New York City, a small fraction of the city's roughly 800 elementary schools is supposed to administer the bubble tests this year because of how the city's evaluation plan was written, though parents at some schools are rebelling against the mandate. Officials at the Department of Education agree with Mulgrew, but they are hoping a quieter discussion with state education Commissioner John King will lead to a solution. There is optimism that the strategy is working. "The commissioner has indicated a willingness to look at this issue and consider some flexibility for the current school year," Polakow-Suransky said. 

In Shelby County Schools, pride about NAEP results, concerns about gaps

Students at Ford Road Elementary School, in Shelby County Schools' Innovation Zone, walk down the hallway on Thursday. The school's test scores have gone up dramatically since it entered the I-Zone. Last Thursday, as state politicians and educators celebrated the state's performance on the NAEP, or National Assessment of Educational Progress, 6th graders at Colonial Middle School, an arts-focused school, were discussing data day, a regular part of the school's cycle during which students in the middle school graph and track their performance in all of their classes. "We can keep up with our grades," said Ariel Amos, one of the students. "The graphs help." Each student has a folder with a chart for each course; high scores were colored in with green colored pencil, while lower scores were colored in with yellow or red. That focus on data and accountability was one of the policy emphases state officials cited to explain Tennessee students' growth on on the 4th and 8th grade math and reading tests: Scores went up more than in any other state in the country this year. While NAEP scores aren't broken down by school or by district, educators in Shelby County schools said they'd seen improvements in many local schools that lined up with the increase in NAEP results. "NAEP is a good measuring stick to compare Tennessee to other states," said Antonio Burt, the principal at Ford Road Elementary School. "Tennessee has put emphasis on Common Core and teacher work. By Tennessee starting early and being proactive, now you're seeing dividends."

Indiana's big test score gains prompt debate over cause

Indiana fourth graders made big gains on a national test, which released scores today. Indiana fourth graders made big gains on a national test of reading and math known as the "nation's report card," according to data released today. Indiana's 2013 gains were top five among the 50 states on both fourth grade reading and math. Eighth graders posted smaller gains in both reading and math. Hoosier test takers scored above the national average on all four exams administered. "“I am encouraged by the gains that Hoosier students showed on these tests, particularly their gains in the fourth grade," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a statement. "This is yet another sign of the hard work and dedication exhibited by our educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students every day in our schools.” The state's success instantly renewed debate about reforms pushed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and ex-state Superintendent Tony Bennett over four years beginning in 2008. Bennett was defeated in the 2012 election in a stunning upset by current state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, said Bennett's fight for reform may have cost him his job but it appears to have yielded improvements. "I think we're starting to see results," said Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. "These battles are hard-fought, and if we didn't see any results, then we might wonder if it's worth it." Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, attributed the gains to standards reform in the early 2000s, specifically rejecting Bennett and Daniels' policies as a reason for the improvement.
New York

New York City looks for a way out of its "bubble tests" problem

UFT President Michael Mulgrew testifies at a state senate hearing in New York City. At right, Senator John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, listens. The city wants to get rid of unpopular "bubble sheet" tests that some of its youngest students are required to take this year, a top Department of Education official said on Tuesday. "There are better ways to do assessments of early childhood and I think that we can find a better way to do it," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told lawmakers in testimony at state Senate hearing. The hearing was planned by Senator John Flanagan in large part as an opportunity for people to air their frustration with the state's new standards and the tests associated with them. The math tests in question, called Discovery Education Assessment, are being given to small portion of students in kindergarten through second grades as part of their teachers' evaluations, a portion of which must measure student learning over the course of a school year. Discovery's tests include elements, like No. 2 pencils and standardized bubble answers, that teachers and experts have panned as developmentally inappropriate. Polakow-Suransky echoed that criticism on Tuesday and vowed to offer an alternative student learning measure soon to take effect for this school year. It represents a somewhat sudden reversal for the city, which bought the Discovery tests from a vendor in August for this school year after declining to use its own elementary math assessments, an option that Commissioner John King preferred when he crafted DOE's new teacher evaluation rules. Polakow-Suransky's comments come as push back against testing policies from parents and teachers have escalated statewide in recent weeks, prompting the State Education Department to make a series of its own changes to curtail the role of testing requirements.