Tuesday, October 30, 2007


by Nancy Zuckerbrod, Associated Press

From AOL News | Posted: 2007-10-29 22:36:03

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: "Dropout Factory," a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That description fits more than one in 10 high schools across America.

"If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?" asks Bob Balfanz, the Johns Hopkins researcher who coined the term "dropout factory."

There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, about the same level as a decade ago.

While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, says Balfanz. The data look at senior classes for three years in a row to make sure local events like plant closures aren't to blame for the low retention rates.

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones - the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Utah, which has low poverty rates and fewer minorities than most states, is the only state without a dropout factory. Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentages.


South Carolina

Dropout Factories: 96 out of 185 schools (51.9 percent)

Rank: 50 out of 50

Dropout Factories: 163 out of 319 schools (51.1 percent)
Rank: 49 out of 50

Dropout Factories: 26 out of 59 schools (44.1 percent)
Rank: 48 out of 50

Dropout Factories: 124 out of 319 schools (38.9 percent)
Rank: 47 out of 50

New Mexico

Dropout Factories: 26 out of 98 schools (26.5 percent)

Rank: 46 out of 50


"Part of the problem we've had here is, we live in a state that culturally and traditionally has not valued a high school education," said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the South Carolina department of education. He noted that residents in that state previously could get good jobs in textile mills without a high school degree, but that those jobs are gone today.


4LAKids NOTE: THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS DID NOT PUBLISH THIS STORY IN ITS ENTIRETY - BUT INSERTED THE FOLLOWING HERE: Los Angeles Unified School District was not specifically mentioned in the study, but its dropout rate has been pegged at anywhere from 24 percent to more than 50 percent.

District officials said Monday that they do not have a system in place to track students if they move to another city and enroll in a different school district, district spokeswoman Susan Cox said.

"The Los Angeles Unified School District is a highly transient district and we are working aggressively to reduce our dropout rate through better data, new dropout prevention counselors, and expanded alternative-education programs," Cox said.

But LAUSD officials said they are focusing on outreach programs including a new campaign to reach at-risk students and re-enroll those who have dropped out.


Washington hasn't focused much attention on the problem. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, pays much more attention to educating younger students. But that appears to be changing.


Dropout Factories: 0 out of 100 schools (0 percent)
Rank: 1 out of 50


Dropout Factories: 1 out of 175 schools (.06 percent)

Rank: 2 out of 50


Dropout Factories: 1 out of 105 schools (1 percent)

Rank: 3 out of 50

▲South Dakota

Dropout Factories: 1 out of 78 schools (1.3 percent)

Rank: 4 out of 50

Dropout Factories: 1 out of 51 schools (2 percent)
Rank: 5 out of 50

Source: AP

House and Senate proposals to renew the 5-year-old No Child law would give high schools more federal money and put more pressure on them to improve on graduation performance, and the Bush administration supports that idea.

The current NCLB law imposes serious consequences on schools that report low scores on math and reading tests, and this fallout can include replacement of teachers or principals - or both. But the law doesn't have the same kind of enforcement teeth when it comes to graduation rates.

Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.

The legislative proposals circulating in Congress would:

Make sure schools report their graduation rates by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups and are judged on those results. That's to ensure that schools aren't just graduating white students in high numbers, but also are working to ensure that minority students get diplomas.

Get states to build data systems to keep track of students throughout their school years and more accurately measure graduation and dropout rates.

Ensure that states count graduation rates in a uniform way. States have used a variety of formulas, including counting the percentage of entering seniors who get a diploma. That measurement ignores the obvious fact that kids who drop out typically do so before their senior year.

Create strong progress goals for graduation rates and impose sanctions on schools that miss those benchmarks. Most states currently lack meaningful goals, according to The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for poor and minority children.

The current law requires testing in reading and math once in high school, and those tests take on added importance because of the serious consequences for a school of failure. Critics say that creates a perverse incentive for schools to encourage kids to drop out before they bring down a school's scores.


"The vast majority of educators do not want to push out kids, but the pressures to raise test scores above all else are intense," said Bethany Little, vice president for policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group focused on high schools. "To know if a high school is doing its job, we need to consider test scores and graduation rates equally."

Little said some students pushed out of high schools are encouraged to enroll in programs that prepare them to take the GED exam. People who pass that test get certificates indicating they have high-school level academic skills. But the research shows that getting a GED doesn't lead to the kind of job or college success associated with a regular diploma.

Loretta Singletary, 17, enrolled in a GED program after dropping out of a Washington, D.C. high school that she describes as huge, chaotic and violent. "Girls got jumped. Boys got jumped, teachers (were) fighting and hitting students," she said.

She said teachers had low expectations for students, which led to dull classes. "They were teaching me stuff I already knew ... basic nouns, simple adjectives."

Singletary said a subject she loved was science but she wasn't offered it, and complaints to administrators went unanswered. "I was interested in experiments," she said. "I didn't have science in 9th or 10th grade."

A GED classmate of Singletary's is 23-year-old Dontike Miller, who attended and left two D.C. high schools on the dropout factory list. Miller was brought up by a single mother who used drugs, and he says teachers and counselors seemed oblivious to what was going on in his life.

He would have liked for someone to sit him down and say, "'You really need to go to class. We're going to work with you. We're going to help you'," Miller said. Instead,"I had nobody."

Teachers and administrators at Baltimore Talent Development High School, where 90 percent of kids are on track toward graduating on time, are working hard to make sure students don't have an experience like Miller's.

The school, which sits in the middle of a high-crime, impoverished neighborhood two miles west of downtown Baltimore, was founded by Balfanz and others four years ago as a laboratory for getting kids out on time with a diploma and ready for college.

Teachers, students and administrators at the school know each other well.

"I know teachers that have knocked on people's doors. They want us to succeed," 12th-grader Jasmine Coleman said during a lunchtime chat in the cafeteria.

Fellow senior Victoria Haynes says she likes the way the school organizes teachers in teams of four, with each team of teachers assigned to a group of 75 students. The teachers work across subject areas, meaning English and math teachers, for example, collaborate on lessons and discuss individual students' needs.

"They all concentrate on what's best for us together," Haynes said. "It's very family oriented. We feel really close to them."

Teachers, too, say it works.

"I know the students a lot better, because I know the teachers who teach them," said 10th-grade English teacher Jenni Williams. "Everyone's on the same page, so it's not like you're alone in your mission."

That mission can be daunting. The majority of students who enter Baltimore Talent Development in ninth grade are reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level.

To get caught up, students have 80-minute lessons in reading and math, instead of the typical 45 minutes. They also get additional time with specialists if needed.

The fact that kids are entering high schools with such poor literacy skills raises questions about how much catch-up work high schools can be expected to do and whether more pressure should be placed on middle schools and even elementary schools, say some high-school principals.

"We're at the end of the process," says Mel Riddile, principal of T.C. Williams High School, a large public school in Alexandria, Va. "People don't walk into 9th grade and suddenly have a reading problem."

Other challenges to high schools come from outside the school system. In high-poverty districts, some students believe it's more important to work than to stay in school, or they are lured away by gang activity or other kinds of peer or family pressure.

At Baltimore Talent Development, administrators try to set mini-milestones and celebrations for students so they stay motivated. These include more fashionable uniforms with each promotion to the next grade, pins for completing special programs and pizza parties to celebrate good attendance records.

"The kids are just starved for recognition and attention. Little social rewards matter to them," said Balfanz.

Balfanz says, however, that students understand the biggest reward they can collect is the piece of paper handed to them on graduation day.

Without it, "there's not much work for you anymore," he said. "There's no way out of the cycle of poverty if you don't have a high school diploma."

FRONTLOADING FOR FAILURE: 4LAKids finds it interesting that a John Hopkins University researcher and not a pundit comes up with the pejorative "Dropout Factory". This rings about as authentic as last year's charter school community funded study of charter schools by USC; as John Arbuckle said: "You get what you pay for."

The "study" and "analysis of education department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for the Associated Press" referred to in the story and Daily News insert apparently consists of this newspaper article and some charts, graphs, maps plus an audio slide show that seems skewed in a pro charter school bias - specifically advocating for the Johns Hopkins Talent Development School model. Most charter schools - because of their size - are omitted from the "study".

In LAUSD a couple of large charter schools are included - and are named as "dropout factories": national Academic Decathlon champion Granada Hills Charter High School and Palisades Charter … as well as AcaDecca perennials Canoga Park and Taft HS!

The Hopkins study statistically frontloads failure in two ways.

  • It creates an artificial model by counting all the 9th graders - including the previous years retained students ("second year freshmen") in the mix. While second year freshmen are the population most a risk for dropping out, most make up their lost credits and rejoin their class. Statistically they need to be included with the class they entered 9th grade with when calculating that grade's graduation rate.
  • Most charter schools have a population of less than 500 students, that is key to the independent charter/small school model. The Hopkins "Promoting Power" model does not count schools with less than 125 graduates - so only a maxi-sized charter high school of 500 students that graduates every incoming freshman qualifies under the criteria!


Rena Havner, staff reporter for the Birmingham Alabama Press Register reports on Wednesday that Alabama school officials said that a report released Monday by Johns Hopkins University listing 11 local schools and 31 other schools statewide as "dropout factories" is inaccurate and unfair.

"We don't know where they're getting their numbers from and what formulas they're using," said Gloria Turner, director of student assessment for the state.

In its report, Johns Hopkins researchers wrote: "Official 'dropout' statistics neither accurately count nor report the vast number of students who do not graduate from high school, and the multiple ways that states calculate their graduation rates produce misleading figures."

So the researchers at the Baltimore university based their study on a whole new calculation they've termed "promoting power," which compares the number of freshmen enrolled at a school three years ago to the number of its seniors three years later.

"Promoting power" is neither a graduation rate nor a dropout rate, according to the study. It's more of a "check-engine" light to alert schools that they have a problem.

In the study, about 1,700 public schools nationwide -- where less than 60 percent of the freshmen become seniors during that time -- were dubbed "dropout factories."

Attempts to reach Johns Hopkins researchers Tuesday were unsuccessful.


Friday, October 19, 2007

The news that didn't fit from Oct 21st!

► In FIVE ASSESSMENT MYTHS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES - a commentary in EdWeek, Rick Stiggins gives us a list of five myths about standardized testing. Webster's Online says a myth is "a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence" - hardly the bedrock for scientific assessment.






Rick Stiggins is the founder of the Educational Testing Service's Assessment Training Institute, in Portland, Ore. - Stiggins is the father of Tests if not of Testing and a Trainer of Testers - he knows of which he speaks.

He concludes: Sound assessment is not something to be practiced once a year. As we look to the future, we must balance annual, interim or benchmark, and classroom assessment. Only then will we meet the critically important information needs of all instructional decisionmakers.

Of greatest importance, however, is that we acknowledge the key role of the learner in the assessment-learning connection. We must begin to use classroom assessment to help all students experience continuous success and come to believe in themselves as learners.



By Vaishali Honawar | Edcation Week

California has given the nod to a rigorous assessment created by teacher colleges that requires aspiring educators to show students are learning before they earn their preliminary licenses.

Starting next school year, all teacher-candidates will have to pass a performance assessment before they can get their teaching credentials. A state law passed in 1998 requires such evaluations take place, but a lack of state funding delayed implementation.



By Barbara M. Stock/Ed Week

Our national obsession with standardized-test scores is dangerous. The idea that there is only One Right Answer, the answer to the test question, plants the seeds of authoritarian rule. Standardized tests encourage a standardized way of thinking. If there is only one right answer, there is no need to think, to question, to discuss. We breed compliance and complacency. We see challenges to authority as disloyal. The foundations of democracy break down. I was shocked into this realization when my grandson phoned with a homework question. “What did you learn in school that helps you be a good citizen?” he asked. His question stopped me. A good citizen?



By David J. Hoff/Ed Week

As Congress works toward reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush has said for the first time that he’s willing to reject any bill he doesn’t like. “Any effort to weaken No Child Left Behind Act will get a presidential veto,” Mr. Bush said on Oct. 15 at a town-hall-style meeting in Rogers, Ark. “I believe this piece of legislation is important, and I believe it’s hopeful, and I believe it’s necessary to make sure we got a [sic] educated group of students who can compete in the global economy when they get older.” The next day, Senate aides distributed draft language of large sections of a potential NCLB bill, the first such specific reauthorization language put forth by key lawmakers in that chamber.



By Linda Jacobson/Ed Week

As soon as they apply for it, California school districts will be eligible to receive a share of more than $70 million for supplemental instruction and counseling services targeting students who have reached the end of senior year without passing the state’s high school exit exam, under legislation signed this month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The measure allowing students to receive up to two years of extra help beyond the 12th grade year brings to an end a lawsuit against the state, Valenzuela v. O’Connell, filed by students who had repeatedly failed the test, but had met other graduation requirements. ("California Seniors Sue Over High School Exam," Feb. 15, 2006.) In addition, the Republican governor included more than $188 million in the current fiscal year’s budget for summer and after-school programs to help students prepare for the mandated test.




WHATEVER ELSE he accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, during his topsy-turvy governorship, Arnold Schwarzenegger has served two interrelated and worthy causes very well — raising the standing of community colleges and bringing vocational training out of the educational attic. Schwarzenegger went through such training as a salesman when he was a high school student in Austria and later attended Santa Monica Community College. High school-level voc-ed, as it used to be known before being renamed "career technical education," and community colleges have been given short shrift by politicians, the education establishment and other policymakers in recent decades.



American School

A few years ago, a fourth-grade teacher in central Maine brought photographs of her classroom to our graduate research course. She’d recorded rainwater seeping through the ceiling and dripping into plastic buckets, and she’d taken close-up pictures of bare wires, broken electrical sockets, cracked tiles, and exposed insulation. I decided to see the school for myself, so I arranged a walk-through with the teacher and principal. They pointed out structural problems and health hazards throughout the school. And they introduced me to teachers who managed to teach and students who struggled to learn in those appalling conditions. A third-grade teacher and her students, suffering from burning, watering eyes, had evacuated to a makeshift classroom in a corridor.



By Cassie M. Chew/Diverse Online

Black males are discovering that they don’t need to ‘hit the books’ in order to make a living, and this is the reason behind recent statistics that report that as many as half of them drop out of high school and don’t pursue a college education. “There was a time when we were always taught that education was for us to get a good job, buy a house, raise a family — education doesn’t play the necessary role in those things any longer to young Black men,” according to poet, writer and filmmaker Malik Salaam.



Science Daily

Reducing the number of students per classroom in U.S. primary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions, according to a study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Virginia Commonwealth University.The study indicates that class-size reductions would generate more quality-adjusted life-year gains per dollar invested than the majority of medical interventions. The findings will be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.


By Vaishali Honawar | Edcation Week

October 17, 2007 - California has given the nod to a rigorous assessment created by teacher colleges that requires aspiring educators to show students are learning before they earn their preliminary licenses.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing this month approved the Performance Assessment for California Teachers , or PACT, developed by a consortium of 30 teacher education programs in the state. Led by Stanford University, the group includes colleges in the University of California and California State University systems, and other private and independent schools.

Starting next school year, all teacher-candidates will have to pass a performance assessment before they can get their teaching credentials. A state law passed in 1998 requires such evaluations take place, but a lack of state funding delayed implementation.

Teacher programs, which can choose from either PACT or another, state-generated assessment called the California Teacher Performance Assessment, or CA-TPA, have, in many cases, already been piloting one of the two.

The colleges that have piloted PACT have helped shape and improve the model over the past four years, said Raymond L. Pecheone, the director of the assessment and the co-director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford.

“Some of these universities are very small and some very large, and they all have very different issues. We took all of that into account,” he said.

P. David Pearson, the director of the state’s teacher-credentialing commission and the dean of the graduate school of education at UC-Berkeley, lauded PACT as a grassroots effort by the colleges. “This and the CA-TPA assessment put California in a position of national leadership in teacher assessment,” Mr. Pearson said.

Daily Analysis

Connecticut has for several years had a teacher-performance assessment in place that has won critical acclaim. Arkansas and Ohio have also used versions of Praxis 3 to move teachers from an initial license to a continuing one.

But because of its size and the number of teachers involved, as well as their diversity, “California has the potential to have a larger national impact,” said Carol Smith, the vice president for professional issues and partnerships at the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Jerry DeLuca, the director of client relations for the Educational Testing Service, said his nonprofit organization will highlight performance-based assessments, including those in California, at a teacher-quality symposium at its campus in Princeton, N.J., later this month to representatives from at least 10 states that are working on such assessments or want to.

CA-TPA, which the ETS helped develop, requires teachers to carry out specific tasks, including demonstrating subject-specific pedagogy, designing instruction, and assessing learning. Candidates carry out a teaching experience toward the end of the course in which they are expected to put in practice what they have learned.

PACT, on the other hand, occurs mainly during student-teaching, when candidates are expected to put together extensive, subject-specific portfolios, similar to those that teachers seeking national-board certification create, though on a smaller scale.

“In their [lesson] plans, they have to describe how to take the needs of special education students and English-language-learners into account,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford and one of the founders of the consortium.

Every day, candidates reflect and write about the day’s teaching experience, analyze what students learned, what they didn’t, and consider changes to help students who didn’t master the materials.

“It is a much more holistic assessment, a deeper assessment of teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy, a deeper assessment of student learning and teacher response to student learning,” said Ms. Darling-Hammond. Signature assignments that focus on the candidates’ knowledge of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and student learning are also embedded through the coursework, although right now those are not considered during the credentialing decision, Stanford’s Mr. Pecheone said.

‘Way We Do Business’

A handful of studies have been conducted on the PACT pilots, and results so far have been positive.

Mr. Pecheone, who co-wrote one study, said teacher-candidates found the assessment requires a significant investment of time, especially because teacher programs in the state typically are just a year long. Still, he said, “what pleased us was that a significant number of students said that their engagement in doing the portfolio was a critical learning experience.”

So deep is the interest in PACT, Ms. Darling-Hammond said, colleges that piloted it have continued to participate for years, spending their own money to do so even in the absence of state funding.

Mr. Pearson said he believes most colleges are prepared for next year, when the assessments become mandatory. “Will everyone be prepared to do it? Yes and no, but they don’t have any choice,” he said. “Most people will accept the challenge because it is these kinds of adjustments that bring out the best in the profession.”


...kinda sounds like a Robert Ludlum Novel, doesn't it?

Los Angeles Unified School District

Budget Services and Financial Planning Division

Date: October 18, 2007

To: Board Members

From: Roger Rasmussen

Subject: 2007-08 NORM DAY ENROLLMENT

Every October, LAUSD counts the number of students enrolled in our schools. This year, LAUSD’s official “norm day” for K-12 schools was October 3. 1

For schools that are not fiscally independent charters, school staffing is adjusted based on their norm day student enrollments.

This year’s total norm day enrollment for LAUSD K-12 schools was 694,288. Of this total, 653,215 students (94%) were enrolled in regular LAUSD schools and 41,073 students (6%) were enrolled in fiscally independent charter schools.

The attached table shows 2007-08 enrollments by grade level and compares 2007-08 enrollments to the prior year (2006-07). Overall, LAUSD lost 14,173 students (2.0% of total enrollment). Enrollments in regular LAUSD schools were down 20,285 students, while enrollments at charter schools were up 6,112 students.

Losses at regular LAUSD schools were proportionally greater at elementary and middle schools than at high schools.

Enrollments are actually higher than last year in grades 11 and 12.

Norm day enrollments for regular LAUSD schools are a bout 2,500 students higher than we projected in the 2007-08 Final Budget.

This is in contrast to 2006-07 when norm day enrollment was lower than we had projected.

In the next few weeks, we will be developing new multi-year enrollment projections based on 2007-08 norm day.

The most powerful predictor of K-12 enrollment is birth data.

Births in Los Angeles County have declined sharply since 1990 but are presently stable.

Enrollment growth at fiscally independent charters reduces enrollments in regular LAUSD schools by
about 1% per year.

Economic conditions also affect K-12 enrollment.

The availability of jobs and the availability and cost of housing in the Los Angeles area can encourage families to move here or to move elsewhere. That is why we are usually able to predict the general direction of enrollment changes, but rarely able to predict exact student enrollments from year to year.

[digitally signed] Roger Rasmussen


1 Enrollment is counted earlier for tracks at multi-track year-round schools that start in July.





The following is a summary of active enrollment for Norm Day, 2007-08.

The norm enrollment for single track schools is as of October 3, 2007

The norm enrollment for multitrack schools reflects the various norm dates applicable to specific tracks

Five Assessment Myths and Their Consequences

Published Online: October 16, 2007
Published in Print: October 17, 2007

America has spent 60 years building layer upon layer of district, state, national, and international assessments at immense cost—and with little evidence that our assessment practices have improved learning. True, testing data have revealed achievement problems. But revealing problems and helping fix them are two entirely different things.

As a member of the measurement community, I find this legacy very discouraging. It causes me to reflect deeply on my role and function. Are we helping students and teachers with our assessment practices, or contributing to their problems?

—Bob Dahm

My reflections have brought me to the conclusion that assessment’s impact on the improvement of schools has been severely limited by several widespread but erroneous beliefs about what role it ought to play. Here are five of the most problematic of these assessment myths:

Myth 1: The path to school improvement is paved with standardized tests.

Evidence of the strength of this belief is seen in the evolution, intensity, and immense investment in our large-scale testing programs. We have been ranking states on the basis of average college-admission-test scores since the 1950s, comparing schools based on districtwide testing since the 1960s, comparing districts based on state assessments since the 1970s, comparing states based on national assessment since the 1980s, and comparing nations on the basis of international assessments since the 1990s. Have schools improved as a result?

The problem is that once-a-year assessments have never been able to meet the information needs of the decisionmakers who contribute the most to determining the effectiveness of schools: students and teachers, who make such decisions every three to four minutes. The brief history of our investment in testing outlined above includes no reference to day-to-day classroom assessment, which represents 99.9 percent of the assessments in a student’s school life. We have almost completely neglected classroom assessment in our obsession with standardized testing. Had we not, our path to school improvement would have been far more productive.

Myth 2: School and community leaders know how to use assessment to improve schools.

Over the decades, very few educational leaders have been trained to understand what standardized tests measure, how they relate to the local curriculum, what the scores mean, how to use them, or, indeed, whether better instruction can influence scores. Beyond this, we in the measurement community have narrowed our role to maximizing the efficiency and accuracy of high-stakes testing, paying little attention to the day-to-day impact of test scores on teachers or learners in the classroom.

We have almost completely neglected classroom assessment in our obsession with standardized testing.

Many in the business community believe that we get better schools by comparing them based on annual test scores, and then rewarding or punishing them. They do not understand the negative impact on students and teachers in struggling schools that continuously lose in such competition. Politicians at all levels believe that if a little intimidation doesn’t work, a lot of intimidation will, and assessment has been used to increase anxiety. They too misunderstand the implications for struggling schools and learners.

Myth 3: Teachers are trained to assess productively.

Teachers can spend a quarter or more of their professional time involved in assessment-related activities. If they assess accurately and use results effectively, their students can prosper. Administrators, too, use assessment to make crucial curriculum and resource-allocation decisions that can improve school quality.

Given the critically important roles of assessment, it is no surprise that Americans believe teachers are thoroughly trained to assess accurately and use assessment productively. In fact, teachers typically have not been given the opportunity to learn these things during preservice preparation or while they are teaching. This has been the case for decades. And lest we believe that teachers can turn to their principals or other district leaders for help in learning about sound assessment practices, let it be known that relevant, helpful assessment training is rarely included in leadership-preparation programs either.

Myth 4: Adult decisions drive school effectiveness.

We assess to inform instructional decisions. Annual tests inform annual decisions made by school leaders. Interim tests used formatively permit faculty teams to fine-tune programs. Classroom assessment helps teachers know what comes next in learning, or what grades go on report cards. In all cases, the assessment results inform the grown-ups who run the system.

But there are other data-based instructional decisionmakers present in classrooms whose influence over learning success is greater than that of the adults. I refer, of course, to students. Nowhere in our 60-year assessment legacy do we find reference to students as assessment users and instructional decisionmakers. But, in fact, they interpret the feedback we give them to decide whether they have hope of future success, whether the learning is worth the energy it will take to attain it, and whether to keep trying. If students conclude that there is no hope, it doesn’t matter what the adults decide. Learning stops. The most valid and reliable “high stakes” test, if it causes students to give up in hopelessness, cannot be regarded as productive. It does more harm than good.

Myth 5: Grades and test scores maximize student motivation and learning.

Most of us grew up in schools that left lots of students behind. By the end of high school, we were ranked based on achievement. There were winners and losers. Some rode winning streaks to confident, successful life trajectories, while others failed early and often, found recovery increasingly difficult, and ultimately gave up. After 13 years, a quarter of us had dropped out and the rest were dependably ranked. Schools operated on the belief that if I fail you or threaten to do so, it will cause you to try harder. This was only true for those who felt in control of the success contingencies. For the others, chronic failure resulted, and the intimidation minimized their learning. True hopelessness always trumps pressure to learn.

Once-a-year assessments have never been able to meet the information needs of the decisionmakers who contribute the most to determining the effectiveness of schools.

Society has changed the mission of its schools to “leave no child behind.” We want all students to meet state standards. This requires that all students believe they can succeed. Frequent success and infrequent failure must pave the path to optimism. This represents a fundamental redefinition of productive assessment dynamics.

Classroom-assessment researchers have discovered how to assess for learning to accomplish this. Assessment for learning (as opposed to of learning) has a profoundly positive impact on achievement, especially for struggling learners, as has been verified through rigorous scientific research conducted around the world. But, again, our educators have never been given the opportunity to learn about it.

Sound assessment is not something to be practiced once a year. As we look to the future, we must balance annual, interim or benchmark, and classroom assessment. Only then will we meet the critically important information needs of all instructional decisionmakers. We must build a long-missing foundation of assessment literacy at all levels of the system, so that we know how to assess accurately and use results productively. This will require an unprecedented investment in professional learning both at the preservice and in-service levels for teachers and administrators, and for policymakers as well.

Of greatest importance, however, is that we acknowledge the key role of the learner in the assessment-learning connection. We must begin to use classroom assessment to help all students experience continuous success and come to believe in themselves as learners.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bad Testing Drives Out Good Learning

Published: October 10, 2007

If we substitute "education" for "money," we can apply this adaptation of Gresham's Law to the situation American public schools now find themselves in. Our government, through No Child Left Behind, has made standardized test scores the "coin of the realm"—the legal tender by which teachers and schools are judged and evaluated. In a recent exchange on the blog "Teaching in the 408," veteran teacher Nancy Flanagan offered this perspective: "NCLB has put the bright lights on some pretty awful schools...but stops short of pushing 21st Century learning skills (synthesis, analysis, creativity, collaboration) in favor of the multiple-guess and fact regurgitation. NCLB has settled for rote presentation and narrowed curriculum, a disservice to kids who deserve more and better of everything—resources, teaching, attention, depth, etc."

Blog author TMAO replied: "There's nothing here that says ONLY teach basic skills. The law says AT LEAST teach those skills. If we can't handle the AT LEAST, of what value is the MORE?"

Does this logic hold up? I believe Gresham's Law sheds light on the question. Standardized tests measure skills in a specific way. If one is under the gun—facing the loss of funding, or even employment—one is likely to shift teaching to emphasize the form of learning that most efficiently yields the greatest gains on these test scores. This explains the burgeoning industry in test-preparation materials, and a curriculum that looks and behaves more and more like the tests.

The curriculum that results in deeper learning, as described by Nancy Flanagan, requires a greater investment of time and resources, and does not produce a corresponding return in terms of test score results. Good instruction is being driven out by bad, because the bad is more highly valued.

Gresham's Law also applies to decisions that are made within a school about who should receive attention and assistance. NCLB's accountability mechanism rewards schools that devote the most time and attention to students who are "on the bubble" in meeting basic standards and are therefore most likely to have a positive or negative effect on a school's Adequate Yearly Progress results. Recent research has revealed that as many as 3.4 million higher-achieving students in lower-income families are falling into an "achievement trap." They meet the basic goals but are not being pushed beyond that level to excel. Under NCLB, there's no payoff for doing so. These bright students start school achieving at high levels, but fall behind as they get older and wind up not fulfilling their potential.

The same might also be said about middle-class students who come to school far above average in readiness and achievement. They can meet the basic goals without any special effort by the school. Again, there's no NCLB payoff in challenging them at the highest levels. It's little wonder many ask as they get older, "Why do I need school?" Using the Gresham analogy, the mechanisms of NCLB force schools to overvalue basic goals and undervalue achievement beyond the basics.

A New Gold Standard

To rescue our schools from this devaluation of our education currency, we need to redefine that which is highly valued. Flanagan has made a start, with her list of 21st century skills: synthesis, analysis, creativity, and collaboration. Those defending standardized tests point out that their tests are efficient and "cover" the basic subjects. But in these times, when knowledge is expanding geometrically, "coverage" of a subject is an illusion. Students have to be developed as self-learners with the critical skills necessary to discern the value of information and build understanding using the skills Flanagan and others have identified.

Policymakers and the public want proof that teachers are making a positive difference in student learning. They want accountability. It's a reasonable expectation. So it becomes incumbent on educators who want society to value the best teaching and learning to go beyond pointing out the limitations of standardized tests, and offer a new "gold standard" by which student achievement can be and ought to be measured.

This is not a simple task. To measure student achievement using the parameters suggested by Flanagan, we will need deeper standards, a more nuanced (and more costly) approach to measuring student progress, and educators who are capable of doing skillful classroom-based assessments that have wide credibility and acceptance. The beauty of this approach is that it pushes teachers to become highly knowledgeable about the daily effects of their teaching—and therefore expands student learning rather than narrowing it.

Ultimately, the only way we can defeat the low quality education currency now in circulation is to thoroughly discredit it, and offer something in its place that everyone can agree has greater value.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The news that didn't fit from Oct 14th!


A former union leader takes on the conventional wisdom that the Teacher's Unions Are What's Wrong with Public Education in general and LAUSD in specific. Maybe it's the conventional wisdom that's wrong?


The nerds, techies and bloggers at ZDNet weigh in on everyone's favorite IT Project Disaster. The writer obviously went to public school, addressing the Superintendent/Admiral as: "Dude". But why not? These are the dudes who'll have to fix the mess.


Preston Manning in the Toronto Globe and Mail thinks that Alberta's educational grass is greener than Ontario's. It's an old story in a new setting and when conservatives are for "Choice" they mean "Vouchers"!


Speaking of the "greener grass": As LAUSD slips further and further down the political slippery slope and deeper and deeper into the educational quicksand – and some dream about how much better/simpler/whatever it would be if we only broke up LAUSD into more manageable parts – there might be some value into looking at how the next school district up the 101 is faring.

HOW HIGHER ED CAN FIX K-12 from Inside Higher Ed

A UCI assistant professor writes that the Ivied Halls of Academe have the answer: The grass is greenest in Texas! Texas - those wonderful folks who brought us NCLB! Some folks are best locked in their ivory tower and the key conveniently tossed.

Podcast - BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Sub-Districts in the LAUSD

From Patt Morrsion | KPCC | Wednesday October 10

School Board Member Emeritus David Tokofsky holds forth on the Superintendent's New Clothes …er: Reforms – and Jaime Regalado, executive director of Cal State L.A.'s Edmund G. Brown Institute holds forth on what David said!


October 11 - Garfield High School, best known to the outside world as the setting for the 1988 film Stand and Deliver – starring Edward James Olmos as real-life math teacher and tough-love mentor Jaime Escalante – has always been an integral part of the East L.A. community. “It is the only high school in the unincorporated territory of East Los Angeles,” says Garfield Principal Omar Del Cueto. “So in this neighborhood, when you say old school, the only old school that comes to mind is Garfield High School.”

GARFIELD BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURING LOS LOBOS. Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, (818) 626-4440. Sun. at 5:45 p.m. Tickets from $39.75. Info: Ticketmaster.com or Garfieldhs.org.

Podcast - BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Sub-Districts in the LAUSD

From Patt Morrsion | KPCC | Wednesday October 10 | [ Listen ]

Debates over education policy in the Los Angeles Unified School District never lack for political intrigue or drama, and yesterday's announcement by Superintendent David Brewer was no exception. Superintendent Brewer is proposing a radical idea to overhaul LAUSD's lower-performing schools by creating a separate, targeted district for 44 of the neediest schools. The plan is still lacking details, but the idea would be to give these under-achieving schools special attention by giving this sub-district its own rules of governance, separate curriculum and instructional planning. When this plan is coupled with Mayor Villaraigosa's attempts to take control of several failing LAUSD schools, could this mark the beginning of a gradual carve-up of the huge
Los Angeles public school system?

smf's 2¢: Tokofsky makes some interesting points - including that the superintendent is responding to last year's overheated rhetoric of 'district failure' from the mayor's attempted takeover.

  • He argues that Brewer is proposing a "ghetto district within the District"
  • when he should be responding to the state mandates of API (Academic Performance Index) over the Federal NCLB/PI (Program Improvement.).
  • He maintains that LAUSD has met 43 of 46 Federal NCLB benchmarks - and two of the others are caused by California's better-than-federal program in Special Ed.
  • NCLB by it's nature focuses the federal government's small investment in K-12 education (and forces local school districts to focus their limited assets to get the federal money) on underperforming schools at the expense of good ones.
  • What David doesn't consider is that the mayor's adjudged unconstitutional takeover via AB1381 is underway by other means …and that Brewer is doing the best he can to maintain a charade of independence with the cards he's been dealt.


by David Macaray | from CounterPunch.org

There was a time when public school teachers plied their trade in relative anonymity, content in the knowledge that their noble profession was respected (if not adequately compensated) by their community. Teachers were seldom mentioned in the media; and when they were, it usually involved a commendation or warm "human interest" story.

Today, we read about teachers being arrested for sexually molesting their students, and, increasingly, being charged with gross incompetence -- being accused of a level of ineptitude that renders them "unqualified" to teach. In the first instance, the guilty teachers are stripped of their credential and carted off to prison, in the second, they continue teaching. Why? Well, if one believes the myth, it's because their big, bad union won't allow them to be fired.

Union obstructionism is cited by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as a major cause of the startling decline in student performance. Despite so many obvious factors -- staggering shifts in demographics, increased transience, language barriers, the breakdown of the nuclear family, and a lack of state funding for education -- the chief culprits have been narrowed down to incompetent teachers and the evil union that "shelters" them. Take Ariana Huffington, the liberal pundit and self-promoter. She's swallowed the trumped-up charges and gone on record, blaming the union for the state's low test scores.

But these are the same unionized teachers who ran the classrooms at the same unionized schools back in the glory days when California's public school system (K to 12) was the envy of the nation, routinely ranked among the top two or three in the country. How can it be the union's fault? How can the same teachers who were credited for California's success now be identified as the root cause of its failure?

The LAUSD isn't helpless. They find a snake in the woodpile, they can get rid of it. The District can fire its teachers at any time, for any reason, without explanation---for up to two full years from their date of hire (compare that to the standard 60 or 90-day probationary periods found in most industries). After two years, they are required to show cause for terminating a teacher. What's so wrong with that?

Union members in this country get fired every day, for infractions ranging from absenteeism to insubordination to DOJ (drunk on the job). The notion of a union contract containing language that would somehow "exclude" an employee from the disciplinary process is nutty.

Think about it. Even if a union negotiator were arrogant or twitchy enough to request such "immunity," what company would ever agree to it? What management team would sign a contract that, effectively, abrogated its right to manage? Yet, the myth persists; people go around saying that all a union worker has to do is sweat out his/her probationary period, and they're home free. After that, management can't touch them.

The record will show that AWPPW Local 672 is no candy-assed union. Over the years, the local has filed hundreds of grievances, dozens of ULPs (Unfair Labor Practice charges), and half a dozen lawsuits. Twice they went on strike, shut it down and sent everyone home. By post-Reagan, west coast standards, Local 672 was militant .Yet, diligent and prickly as the union was, people were still fired. They were fired because management, unlike the LAUSD, was neither spineless nor lazy. Rightly or wrongly, the managers did what they thought had to be done, and the union executive board responded in kind. Someone needs to remind the LAUSD that you're not supposed to whine about the other guys; you're supposed to act. That's why you sign a contract, to delineate the boundaries.

At Local 672, discharges were treated as economic homicide. All terminations were appealed, no exceptions. When an appeal was denied, the local had to decide whether to accept the verdict, or send the case to arbitration, the final step in the process. Employees whose grievances weren't sent up had no choice but to stay fired or sue the union. While a handful of members threatened legal action, only two actually did it. Both lost. As for arbitration rulings, the union's record was spotty: Some grievants won reinstatement; the overwhelming majority did not.

Yes, it's harder to get fired from a union shop than a non-union shop, but that's one of the sterling virtues of a union. A boss can't just walk up and fire you because he wants to give your spot to his wife's nephew, who's looking for a summer job before returning to college. In a union shop there have to be grounds for dismissal.

It was unions, after all, not congress, the church, or philanthropic organizations, who first outlawed child labor, mandated equal pay for women, and introduced industrial safety codes to the workplace. Heroically, unions beat everybody to the punch. Protecting workers is what unions strive to do.

Finally, if unions are the ones responsible for preventing management from firing its deadbeats, how do we explain the conspicuous incompetence found in so many non-union facilities? The truth is, like it or not, the woods are full of marginal workers. Having a union to blame simply gives a weak employer an excuse. If there were Moslems to blame, instead of unions, they'd blame the Moslems.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net


by Saharra White - LA CityBeat

October 11 - Garfield High School, best known to the outside world as the setting for the 1988 film Stand and Deliver – starring Edward James Olmos as real-life math teacher and tough-love mentor Jaime Escalante – has always been an integral part of the East L.A. community. “It is the only high school in the unincorporated territory of East Los Angeles,” says Garfield Principal Omar Del Cueto. “So in this neighborhood, when you say old school, the only old school that comes to mind is Garfield High School.”

That community rallied around the school when its auditorium burned down last May, allegedly at the hands of an angry student. Concerned residents called the Los Angeles Unified School District to help in the rebuilding of the historic local landmark, built in 1927. Now, the LAUSD, the Garfield Alumni Foundation, and others have teamed up to organize a benefit concert to raise reconstruction funds. The concert will take place Sunday at the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal CityWalk. Performers include Garfield graduates Los Lobos and Chicano artists such as Little Willie G, El Chicano, and Tierra.

The old auditorium hosted everything from the principal’s mass meetings with students to plays and award ceremonies. Politicians also used it as a venue to address neighborhood concerns. “It really is the heart of the community. So many things have happened here,” Del Cueto says. For the time being, the school has moved such functions to its gymnasium and cafeteria.

The cost to rebuild the auditorium is estimated between $20 and 40 million, most but not all covered by insurance. So far the school has received $80,000 in donations from the public. Donations can be made at Bank of America to the “Fund to Rebuild Garfield Auditorium,” created by the LAUSD.

“Who knows how many times someone has held hands with their sweetheart for the first time or stole a kiss when the lights went down, just the memories that were formed in that auditorium are difficult to describe,” Del Cueto says.


GARFIELD BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURING LOS LOBOS. Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, (818) 626-4440. Sun. at 5:45 p.m. Tickets from $39.75. Info: Ticketmaster.com or Garfieldhs.org.