Posts published in March, 2010

College Board Launches New Grade 8 College Readinesss Assessment

The following comes form a College Board news release:

Designed for eighth-graders, ReadiStep™ provides early feedback on academic strengths in reading, writing and mathematics. The assessment is formatted in three multiple-choice sections, and the results provide Skills Insight™ — information on the skills that students possess and the skills they need to develop, and advice on how to further develop those skills.

The content and skills measured by the ReadiStep assessment are based on the English Language Arts and Mathematics College Board Standards for College Success™,  national models of rigorous academic content standards. Schools, districts and states can use ReadiStep in combination with the SAT® and PSAT/NMSQT® assessments to monitor progress and gauge student readiness on skills that are important for success in college.

“By constructing a new assessment from clearly articulated standards like the College Board’s Standards for College Success, and providing feedback that students and teachers can act on, we have created a new assessment for learning that can support student readiness for college and help educators in their efforts to close the achievement gap,” said Glenn Milewski, the College Board’s executive director for PSAT/NMSQT as well as product manager for ReadiStep.

The ReadiStep program has been in development for about three years, utilizing a team of educators and experts from across the country to continually improve the assessment. Field trials were conducted in 2008 and 2009, which included 220 schools and more than 22,000 students.

“We engaged educators from the very beginning and throughout the process,” said Vicki Cabrera, associate director of the ReadiStep program. “We wanted the assessment to be easy to administer as well as effective in its goals to provide feedback to schools, parents and students.”

Following the initial implementation in Texas this spring, the national administration dates will be Oct. 4–Nov. 12, giving schools a broad window to arrange testing.

Secondary Students Take More Science Courses But Achievement Does Not Increase

A new study from the Consortium on Chicago School Research finds that although a 1997 Chicago Schools policy that increased the number of college-preparatory science courses that students took and passed, it also kept students from taking higher-level science courses and did not increase the college-going rate, according to Education Week. The policy made it mandatory that all freshmen take three years of science as part of a curriculum that also expanded requirements in English, social studies, mathematics, and foreign languages. Researchers found that the increase in science course-taking did not translate into higher grades. Many students passed with C’s and D’s, both before and after the policy was implemented, suggesting a low level of learning and engagement. Only 15 percent completed three years of science with a B average or higher. According to co-author Nicholas Montgomery, prior research shows that students who are truly gaining knowledge in courses earn grades of A or B. “Before the policy, most students received C’s and D’s in their classes,” he said. “If they weren’t being successful with one or two years of science, why would we think they would be successful with three years of science, if we don’t pay attention to getting the students engaged?” The study tracked nearly 168,000 Chicago school students in 75 schools who entered 9th grade each year from 1993 to 2001

Study Finds Big Differences Between Similar Colleges In Latino Completion

A new American Enterprise Institute analysis digs more deeply into the data surrounding Latino college graduation rates, and confirms the overall reality that Latino students trail their white peers at all types of institutions. The report also reveals wide variation in the relative success of institutions with similar student bodies. The analysis found that 51% of Latino full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 59% of white students. The study also breaks down the data by the level of selectivity of the institutions. We need to understand what causes these college completion  differences, but there are few studies of this.

Massachusetts Creates New System To Measure College Effectiveness

State education officials plan to overhaul the way Massachusetts colleges and universities measure and report student achievement, in an effort to make the public system more relevant to the state economy and to ensure that students of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are being served. The ambitious plan – the Vision Project – would collect data in key areas that are relevant to the economy. The plan reflects a national push toward more accountability in higher education amid concern that the United States is losing ground competitively

Obama’s American Graduation Initiative Ends Up In The Health Bill

Last year the President proposed a multi-faceted 12 billion dollar proposal to improve community colleges. The Congress could not pass this ambitious bill, so it was attached to health care with a 2 billion appropriation. Moreover, the purposes were restricted to job training, rather than more fundamental approaches to college completion and transfer to 4 year colleges. But something is better than nothing in this partisan political context.

University Expenditures Per Pupil Are Over Four Times Higher Than Community Colleges

California Community College students are mostly lower income and many are first generation students. About 70% are in remedial courses. University of California (8 campuses) students are wealthier and well prepared. Below is the funding per Full Time Equivalent student

University of California                $22,920

California State University            $11,722

K-12 education                            $ 7,417

California Community Colleges     5,376

California needs a high quality flagship system like UC. But the amount spent on Community Colleges is ridiculously low and inadequate. California Community Colleges have the lowest fees in the USA ($26 per credit), and this should be increased.  But state aid should be increased substantially.

Girls Exceed Boys In Reading And College Completion

Last year girls were 58% of college graduates up from 35% in 1961. Below is one of the major reasons why this happened.

A new study from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) that analyzes state assessment data by gender finds good news for girls but troubling news for boys. According to CEP’s study, the lagging performance by boys in reading is the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools. In some states, the percentage of boys performing at proficient in reading is more than 10 percentage points below that of girls. And that trend is consistent at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, the study finds.

The story is different in math, however. At the proficient level, the number of states in which girls outperformed boys was roughly equal to the number of states in which boys outperformed girls. At the advanced level, 4th-grade boys outperformed girls in most states.

The study, State Test Score Trends Through 2007-08: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?, analyzed trend lines that began in 2002, where available, and ended in 2008. Trend data were included only where at least three years of comparable test data for a particular subject, grade, and achievement level were available. The study includes data for all 50 states and is the fifth in a 2009-10 series of CEP reports on student achievement results.

“Our analysis suggests that the gap between boys and girls in reading is a cause for concern,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Much greater attention must be paid to giving boys the reading skills they need to succeed in early grades and throughout their education.”

Overall in reading, the CEP study finds that many states have made progress in narrowing gaps between male and female students. For example, gaps in elementary school reading have narrowed in 24 states though they have widened in 14 states. The findings in grade 4 reading also find that while both boys and girls have made progress since 2002, more girls than boys reached all three achievement levels—basic, proficient, and advanced—in 2008.

In math, there was no significant gender gap in 2008. Rather, there was rough parity in the percentage of boys and girls reaching proficiency at all three grade levels and no state had a difference in math between girls and boys of more than 10 percentage points. In grade 4 math, states tended to have greater shares of girls reaching the basic level and greater shares of boys reaching the advanced levels.

Individual state profiles allow for closer analysis of results. For example, in Indiana, girls led boys in the percentage reaching proficiency in reading at all three grade levels in 2008. The gaps between girls and boys was 9 percentage points in 4th grade, 13 percentage points in
8th grade, and 10 percentage points in 11th grade. Mirroring national results, roughly equal percentages of boys and girls performed at proficient on Indiana’s math assessments in all three grades.

Looking at the results since the 2002 enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for both boys and girls at all three grade levels, more states had gains in reading and math proficiency between 2002 and 2008 than had declines. Across all states and grade spans, 84 percent of trend lines for male students showed an increase in performance on state reading tests. A similar trend was found for female performance on state math tests at 83 percent.

Although the gaps–particularly in reading—are not nearly as large as those found between racial/ethnic and income subgroups, they are telling and have serious implications for the futures of all our students.” Jennings said. “The college attendance and completion rate for males continues to decline, and these data strongly suggest that those patterns could be altered with a greater focus on male reading skills at the earliest stages of education.”

The full national report as well as individual state profiles of achievement trends for males and females are available on CEP’s Web site,

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Based in Washington, D.C. and founded in January 1995 by Jack Jennings, the Center on Education Policy is a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The Center works to help Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. The Center does not represent any special interests. Instead the Center helps citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create conditions that will lead to better public schools.

How To Design Successful Early College High Schools


Since 2004, North Carolina has started over 100 innovative high schools, including 70 early college high schools that serve nearly 10,000 students. The schools’ outcomes—including grade-to-grade dropout rates and higher scores on end-of-course exams—are better than those of high schools in the state with comparable student compositions. A substantial number of early college students complete college courses before high school graduation. Particularly impressive is that many of these students would typically not be expected to start or complete college, perhaps not even graduate from high school.

Policies Paved the Way, by Joel Vargas with Jason Quiara from Jobs for the Future, describes how North Carolina has spurred and supported this successful educational innovation, told from the perspective of leaders of early college schools. It is primarily a success story, one that should encourage North Carolina to hold its course and that illustrates how other states can support the creation of better pathways through high school and college.

The brief can be found at the following link:

Middle Grades Crucial For College Success But Often Overlooked

By Trish Williams & Michael Kirst- This post is reprinted from Educationweek on line

As expectations for a more highly educated American citizenry rise, what happens in the middle grades matters more now than ever. The middle grades are the last, best chance to identify students at risk of academic failure and get them back on track in time to succeed in high school. Moreover, success in key subjects in the middle grades is a prerequisite to being able to enter high school academically prepared for a college- and career-ready path.

In recent years, educators and policymakers have debated about what should be done to improve performance in the middle grades. In the absence of solid research evidence about what works, school districts have reshuffled grade configurations (for example, extending elementary school to K-8, or beginning middle school in grade 5), bolstered their focus on “academic rigor,” and worked to ensure that their 11- to 14-year-old students are engaged in school while they go through the turbulence of puberty. Educators have argued for these and other approaches—all based on theory and philosophy, because there has been little student-outcomes-based research available.

That’s why a team of researchers from our respective institutions, EdSource and Stanford University, decided to look into the “black box” of middle school performance, to systematically analyze what district and school policies and practices are linked to higher student performance. With funding from Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix and a former president of the California state board of education, we spent 18 months conducting the most extensive study to date of middle grades.

The work included detailed surveys of nearly 4,000 California teachers, principals, and superintendents about a wide range of middle-grades practices. To see what higher-performing schools did, we then analyzed the responses against school-level 2009 student outcomes on standards-based state tests in English/language arts and mathematics, controlling for student background.

Our findings were surprising in their consistency. What is startling was how absolutely coherent the results were, no matter which analysis we ran. Districts and schools with practices that reflect an intense focus on improving middle-grades student outcomes are higher-performing, whether they are serving primarily low-income students or primarily middle-income students.

In higher-performing middle-grades schools, an intense focus on improving academic outcomes is reflected in two ways. The schools are oriented to the future and take every opportunity—and an all-hands-on-deck approach—to get all of their students on track to succeed in high school and prepare for college. In addition, they place a high priority on ensuring that every student does well on the state’s standards-based exams in math and English/language arts. Doing well on these tests helps ensure that the students can easily pass the state’s high school exit exam, and also prepares them to begin a college-prep curriculum as they enter high school.

To accomplish this intense focus on improving student outcomes, higher-performing schools establish a shared schoolwide culture with the following strategies as driving forces:

• Set measurable goals for improving student scores on standards-based tests for all students, at all levels, in every grade and subject;

• Evaluate superintendents, principals, and teachers, based in part on student outcomes; and

• Communicate to students and their families that they, too, are responsible for student learning and outcomes by attending class, turning in homework, trying hard, and asking for help when needed.

The research shows clearly that higher-performing districts and schools commit to this priority by including student outcomes in evaluations and asking families and students to accept their share of responsibility. The district’s role is to set the standard and provide the resources; the principal’s role is to drive the focus on student outcomes and manage and orchestrate the school improvement process; the teachers’ role is to improve their own practice, but also work collectively to identify the students needing help and get them the intervention they need.

With a focus on the state’s academic standards, the district and the school make sure that curriculum and instruction are tightly aligned with those standards. They also focus on diagnostic and benchmark assessments aligned with the standards, and use their common planning time to review student progress and either adapt instruction or develop interventions. This is an example of “what gets measured gets done.” At the same time, these higher-performing schools also maintain a school environment that is safe and orderly and have a high proportion of students participating in a wide variety of electives and extracurricular activities.

Higher-performing middle-grades schools implement comprehensive and targeted programs—both required and voluntary—to intervene with students who are two or more years behind grade level, English-language learners, and students at risk of failure in the current year. They also work proactively to review the cumulative folders (test scores, course grades, attendance reports, and behavior reports) of every entering student, flagging those with warning signs, talking with the elementary teachers, and setting up plans to get struggling students back on track.

While new federal policy initiatives are fueling a vigorous national debate about how best to evaluate teachers in ways that reflect student performance, this study suggests there should be a similar debate about education leadership. We found, for example, that principals and superintendents in the higher-performing middle-grades schools serving both lower- and middle-income students reported that improvements in student outcomes were factored into their evaluations. And in the higher-performing schools that served primarily low-income students, teachers reported that improving student outcomes was part of their evaluations as well.

What our research did not show, however, was that grade configuration and internal organization of instruction had much impact on improving student outcomes. Of the 303 schools we studied, half were grades 5-8, one-quarter were grades K-8, and one-quarter were organized into grades 7-8. There was no consistent and clear association between higher student performance and any one of these grade configurations. Similarly, our study did not confirm that any particular school organization of instruction was superior to another in its association with improved student outcomes. There may be other good reasons for a district to choose a particular grade configuration or a particular way to organize its teaching and instruction, but improvement in student outcomes is not one of them.

We can improve student outcomes in low-performing middle-grades schools, whether they are in middle- or low-income communities. With strong leadership, the effective practices found in our study can be implemented by any middle-grades school, regardless of the grade configuration or the organization of teaching and instruction.

Trish Williams is the executive director of the Mountain View, Calif.-based EdSource and Michael Kirst is a professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University.

Obama’s NCLB Proposal Features College Readiness

  NCLB is essentially a program for grades 2-10, and never had a postsecondary orientation. President Bush tried to change this in 2007, but Congress ignored him. Now Obama proposes to make college readiness part of the core of NCLB. Presumably, this will work through the common core standards, and other incentives. His proposal makes me wonder how postsecondary education will participate in the NCLB reauthorization. Colleges had little input when NCLB was passed, and tend to ignore these kind of k-12 political battles. This would be a mistake, and we need to recreate NCLB as a k-16 initiative. For example, California”s only high school test for NCLB compliance is an exit exam with standards set at the grade6-8 level.