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Student & School Performance
May 24, 2011
Against the grain, a DOE employee advises on leaving school
Lisa Nielsen: Students should be free to opt out of school. The city Department of Education has adopted a laser-like focus on sending its graduates to college. But that doesn't mean all of its employees are on board. Lisa Nielsen, who works in the DOE's office of educational technology, is advancing the idea that not only is college not for everyone, neither is high school. In the Community section today, Nielsen explains why she put together a guide to help teenagers figure out how to "opt out" of high school and continue learning and developing on their own. She writes: Despite outdated constraints involving issues like seat time, student funding, and resource allocation, we are making progress toward bringing more personalized and engaging learning opportunities to students through a handful of efforts, such as the iSchool and the Innovation Zone. But while students are doing better in a more innovative climate, ultimately we are just using updated tools to meet narrow and outdated measures on which our students, teachers, and school leaders are judged. It is not enough to personalize learning for everyone to go down the same path — to college, without consideration of what comes next. Instead, schools need to embrace the many alternatives to the traditional college route that would better meet the needs of many learners today. What is missing at the DOE is the important work of letting students discover, define, and develop their own passions, talents, and interests and determine personalized, meaningful, and authentic measures of success. Nielsen, who writes the blog The Innovative Educator, told me she hears frequently from teachers who say they fear they are boring students by teaching a test-driven curriculum. But when she tries to talk about the issue with other administrators at the DOE, she told me, it's usually dismissed.
February 11, 2011
College-readiness may take even more than state's stats show
This week, state officials released some grim statistics: according to measures derived from a study conducted by a state committee last summer, just 23 percent of city high school graduates are well-prepared for college. But the college-readiness recommendations the City University of New York gives for its incoming students require even more achievement than the measures used by the state this week. And the city is preparing to judge high schools on how well they prepare students for college on a range of standards that city officials claim are more robust. For their data release this week, state officials examined students who earned at least a 75 on their English Regents exams and an 80 on their math A exams. Those cut-offs were based on an analysis of state test scores performed by Harvard University testing expert Daniel Koretz and assistant professor Jennifer Jennings last summer. That analysis predicted that students receiving those Regents exam scores would likely receive a C or higher in the college-level course. CUNY officials also recommend that students enter their classes having received at least a 75 on the English exam and an 80 on the Math A test. But in addition, they suggest that students also have scored at least a 65 on the Math B, the next test in the math sequence.
September 27, 2010
City wins $3 million Gates grant to increase college grad rates
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded New York City $3 million today to more than double the percentage of city college students who earn associate's degrees. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the city's goal is to have 25 percent of City University of New York students earn an associate's degree after three years of college. The city is giving itself until 2010 to reach that objective, and it's got a long way to go. Currently, only 10 percent of the students who enter CUNY complete enough coursework for an associate's degree in three years. Well-prepared students can typically earn this degree in two years. Walcott said the city would also use the grant money to align public high schools' curriculum with what's being taught at CUNY to prevent students from entering college unable to do the work. "One of the things we've been trying to do for a number of years in New York City and what this grant does for us, is make sure our K-12 and our CUNY system are constantly talking together and planning together," he said in a conference call with reporters today.
September 14, 2010
After years of SAT score declines, city students break the trend
SAT scores of city public school students rose slightly over last year's scores, bringing a four-year trend of declining performance to an end, according to data released by the Department of Education today. The average city SAT score was five points higher on the reading portion of the test, four points higher on the math, and two points higher for writing. The gains are statistically significant, but not yet great enough to cancel out several years of loses. Today, the city's average scores to roughly where they were two years ago. City students' average score was 439 out of 800 on the reading section, 462 on math, and 434 on writing. The score increases are mainly due to improved results from Asian, white, and Hispanic students. Black students' scores stagnated, except in the case of the writing SAT, where they fell by three points.
August 11, 2010
College-readiness reports useful, but not complete, city says
City schools are learning more about how their graduates fare in college. But parents aren’t getting the new reports, at least for now. That’s because the city knows how only a small fraction of graduates perform in college and doesn't want to suggest it has complete information about how well schools prepare their graduates. A data-sharing agreement between the City University of New York and the Department of Education means the city knows more than it ever has about high school graduates enrolled at CUNY schools. But they make up only half of all college-bound graduates, who in turn represent just 60 percent of high school students. The new reports explain whether graduates who enroll in CUNY colleges need to take remedial classes and whether they stay enrolled. But they don’t say anything about the 42 percent of graduates who go to private colleges and colleges outside of the city. And they also leave out the one-third of graduates who don’t go to college at all. Without that information, the reports aren’t terribly useful for parents trying to figure out how well schools prepare students for college, and they could give inaccurate impressions of how well schools compare to each other, said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the deputy chancellor in charge of accountability. “You could have really misleading information if you try to make a comparison [between schools], because there are variables missing,” he said.
July 29, 2009
An Obama nod inspires a recent grad to praise her city school
In a recent speech to the NAACP, President Obama name-dropped a New York City public high school, saying that more schools should emulate Bard High School Early College and push students to earn college credits in addition to their high school diplomas. A recent BHSEC graduate who now attends Williams College, Kesi Augustine, explains in a Huffington Post column what makes the small, super-selective school on the Lower East Side so special. (A replica opened last year in Queens.) It's not just that students can earn as much as two years of college credits before graduating, she writes: The most rewarding part of my experience at BHSEC, however, WAS more than just the Associate's degree. The school introduced me to critical thinking and writing about my place in the world. Our teachers did not give us the recipe for performing well on state-wide tests and SATs, although we performed well in that respect, too. Rather, our small classes thrived on student energy in open seminar discussions and debates about course material. ... If we are going to strive for the educational equality Obama calls for, every American student should have the education I did. I was more than prepared for success in "real" college, largely owed to what I learned at BHSEC.
April 23, 2009
Panel: NYC public school grads not starting college prepared
More city public school graduates are enrolling at City University of New York Colleges, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and CUNY President Matt Goldstein boasted at a press conference last month. But whether the students are prepared for the college experience, both in and outside the classroom, is much less clear. Only 7.5% of students take all of the high school courses that CUNY recommends, and more than 70% of the first-year students in CUNY's junior colleges must take remedial courses to catch up on basic skills, according to John Garvey, who was until recently the dean in charge of CUNY's College Now program, which allows high school students to take college-level courses. Garvey presented the information at an event Tuesday held by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which is developing a set of recommendations for how to boost student achievement. One major problem is that the most advanced high school courses, called Regents courses to match the exit exams students must pass, do not approximate the style or difficulty of college classes, Garvey said. CUNY freshmen are exempted from remedial courses if they score a 75 on the math and English Regents exams. But the tests focus on material that should be learned in middle school and the first years of high school, Garvey said. "They don't align with the real needs of college courses," he said.
April 21, 2009
At a city school, Stephen Colbert earnestly reports on new grant
Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies. The comedian Stephen Colbert took time out from his regular ranting to conduct a polite, earnest interview at a Manhattan high school this morning, in an appearance meant to announce a new "citizen philanthropy" project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is giving $4.1 million to a Web site that connects private donors with classroom teachers who need extra supplies, DonorsChoose.org, . Colbert, who sits on the site's board, made the announcement in the style of his televised interviews, before an audience of students at Manhattan Bridges High School, but without any of his usual mean comments. (He did draw laughs with an awkward attempt to use Spanish, the native language of many Bridges students, to explain that he was a "perdedor gigante," or giant loser, when he was in high school.) The panel he interviewed included Vicki Phillips, the head of Gates' education division; DonorsChoose founder Charles Best; and a Manhattan Bridges English teacher. The Gates money will be disbursed to teachers who apply for small grants through DonorsChoose's existing "Double Your Impact" program, which allows foundations and companies to earmark donations for specific kinds of projects. When a DonorsChoose user views projects that fall into that category, they appear as already being 50 percent funded. The Gates Foundation money will go to support as many as 17,000 projects that are identified by DonorsChoose as boosting students' readiness for college, one of the new goals the foundation adopted after it re-considered its mission last year.
February 27, 2009
A teacher's second thoughts after struggling seniors graduate
Pissed Off Teacher has mixed feelings about her successful effort to use a credit-recovery-like program to help a group of struggling high school seniors…
February 5, 2009
More blacks, Latinos took AP exams, but more failed them, too
Both the mayor and the chancellor have now issued statements boasting about gains on Advanced Placement exams, the rigorous tests that are considered a good indicator of whether students are prepared for college. But the picture is more complex than they suggest, and if anything the evidence adds to concerns raised yesterday about college preparedness, particularly among black and Hispanic students. More students are definitely taking the exams than were in 2002, whether you look at the sheer numbers — a total of 23,600 students took the tests in 2008, up from less than 17,000 in 2002 — or at proportions — in 2008, about 23% of eleventh- and twelfth-graders took AP exams, up from 21% in 2002.* But, as I suggested yesterday, the increased participation has led to a lower pass rate:
July 10, 2008
Do better readers do better on tests of reading?
Yesterday, I took an initial look at the Manhattan Institute's study, "Building on the Basics." Today, I want to look at Florida's state science exam, the focus of the study. A common criticism of standardized tests is that they all, to some degree, test reading ability. What does the Science FCAT look like? What skills would you need to perform well on it? I've only seen the NYS Science exams, so I decided to download a Florida sample test and take a look. The first thing that surprised me about this test was the reading level, which seemed high. Many of New York City's fifth graders would (for better or for worse) stumble over sentences like, "Florida has many limestone caves containing formations called stalactites." I tracked down a site of readability analyzers and entered text from test items. Question 1: Melissa’s school rings a bell to alert students that it is time to start class. When the bell rings, it vibrates. The use of vibrations to send messages is an example of which type of energy? This one ranged from 4.72 to 10.07 in estimated US grade level required to understand it, which certainly calls into question the reliability of the readability analyzers, but also the ability of average 5th graders to understand this question.
June 23, 2008
NYC students post double-digit test gains; statisticians are dubious
No one was surprised when Chancellor Klein announced today that the city's students posted dramatic gains on state test scores this year. Charting a clear trajectory of improvement has been fundamental to his reforms. This year, he announced, nearly 80 percent of 4th graders and 60 percent of 8th graders passed the state math test, and about 60 percent of 4th graders and 40 percent of 8th graders passed the state English test. Gains in the last six years, the DOE points out in its press release, range from about 15 points in 8th grade English to more than 30 points on math tests at all levels. Even before the mayor made his announcement this afternoon, discussion had begun over whether this year's test scores are a sign of victory, as the mayor believes, or of score inflation and manipulation. In today's Sun, Elizabeth Green speaks to statisticians who warn that, for many reasons, large-scale score increases are not always to be believed.
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