Education Week - January 29, 2014 - (Page 15)

GOVERNMENT& POLITICS Turnaround Program Receives Makeover in Budget Deal Flexibility for states, districts may grow under SIG program By Alyson Klein After more than three years of a strong federal footprint when it comes to turning around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts may get a lot more say over how they spend millions in school improvement dollars-a consequence of the $1.1 trillion spending bill that rocketed through Congress this month. Lawmakers put language into the fiscal year 2014 budget measure that could amount to a major makeover for the School Improvement Grant program, which has been criticized for its rigidity and mixed results on student outcomes. Under the Obama administration, the program has received more than $5 billion in federal funding since 2009, but also has mandated four hotlydebated turnaround models, such as closing down a school or turning it over to a charter operator. The changes signed into law Jan. 17 as part of the budget bill will let states come up with their own interventions for long-foundering schools and submit them to the U.S. secretary of education for approval. Lawmakers also added another option to the ad- ministration's turnaround prescription list, called the "whole school reform" model, which would allow schools to try out interventions that have a moderate track record of success. They also included additional leeway for rural schools, and extended the length of the grants from three years to five. "Clearly, [lawmakers] have heard from the field. My interpretation is that they view the four models, which are based primarily on personnel and management changes, as too narrow," said Michele McLaughlin, who served as an aide to lawmakers on the Senate education committee when it approved similar language making changes to the SIG program as part of a stalled bill to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Puzzling Over Specifics But it's unclear just how much flexibility states are really going to get. More than a week after the release of the legislation, education experts are still puzzling over the specifics, in particular what the implications might be for states that have received federal waivers from aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the ESEA. The big question now facing SIG schools and states is: "Will these changes mean nothing if they don't change the waiver guidance?" said Diane Stark Rentner, the deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based group that has done extensive research on the SIG program. So far, the answer is unclear. The U.S. Department of Education is still considering how to proceed, said Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman. The SIG program was created under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, but wasn't funded by Congress until 2007, at just $125 million. Then, in 2009, lawmakers passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which poured some $100 billion into education and included $3 billion just for school turnarounds-an unprecedented sum for such a program. So far the program has yielded inconclusive results, with two-thirds of schools showing some improvement on test scores, and another third slipping backward. As a sign of its skepticism about the program, Congress kept SIG's funding stagnant at roughly $505.7 million for the 2014-15 school PAGE 19 > What we've learned from schools that have made progress ... is that there's no single way to turn around a lowperforming " school." DORIE NOLT U.S. Department of Education Some Waiver States Feeling Common-Core Test Pinch By Michele McNeil As states continue to debate their participation in the two large testing consortia associated with the common-core standards, those with No Child Left Behind Act waivers are getting a reminder from the U.S. Department of Education that dropping out requires an official Plan B. So far, federal officials are reviewing the testing plans of four waiver states that have announced they are not participating in either the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests: Kansas, Georgia, Utah, and Oklahoma. Alabama and Pennsylvania have also announced they won't be using the common tests, but their approved waiver applications already included alternative-assessment plans. To be sure, participating in a testing consortium is not a requirement for a waiver, and neither is adopting the common standards in the first place. For example, Virginia hasn't adopted the common core (and by extension the tests either), yet the state has a waiver. But doing both is the most direct, and perhaps easiest, way to satisfy federal requirements that standards be college- and career-ready, and that tests be aligned with them. Starting in September, Education Department officials began sending letters to the four states asking them to submit alternative plans since each of them had said they would use the common tests. Among other things, states are being asked their timeline for developing test questions, how they plan to make sure the questions are valid and aligned with a state's standards, and what the state's plans are for communicating the results to parents. "Under [waiver] flexibility, states committed to develop and administer high-quality assessments aligned with college-and career-ready standards by 2014-15," said Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "The department reviews state plans for developing and implementing high-quality assessments, but does not review the assessments themselves." Fallback Plans Utah is a common-core state, but dropped out of Smarter Balanced in 2012, in part to try to assuage critics who were railing against the state's adoption of the common standards. Utah then signed a $39 million contract with the Washington-based American Institutes for Research to develop its own test. (AIR is also working with Smarter Balanced.) Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Education, said that, even as his state awaits official approval from federal officials, students will take the new, computer-adaptive tests starting this spring in grades 3-12. For now, states only have to satisfy Education Department officials with their testing plans. But that's changing. Federal officials are revamping the longstanding peer-review process for state assessment systems, and, as soon as that work is complete, outside reviewers will be judging state testing systems, whether they are individual systems or multistate consortia tests. The goal, federal officials say, is not to approve the tests themselves, but to make sure they align with promises made in waiver applications, and with a state's standards. What's more, peer review of assessment systems is not new to NCLB waivers, but has been a requirement for nearly two decades under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In other words, all states-and not just waiver states-will eventually have to have their testing systems peer reviewed again. Tight Timetable For Georgia and Oklahoma, which dropped out of PARCC in mid-2013, and Kansas, which dropped out of Smarter Balanced in December, the timetable to get new tests ready for 2014-15 is a tight one. Last week, Kansas was planning to submit its plan to federal officials, which includes a new contract with the University of Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation to develop the state's new assessment. It will debut in 2014-15 and be tweaked each subsequent year to make sure it's aligned with the common core. In December, Oklahoma submitted its revised plan for testing after dropping out of PARCC five months earlier. At the time, state officials were greatly concerned that the computer-only PARCC tests, which were also longer than Oklahoma's current state tests, would be too technologically advanced for many of the state's districts. State education department spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said Oklahoma is still waiting on word from federal officials, but is forging ahead with its plans to adapt endof-course tests in high school to the common core. The state in December signed a new, $35 million contract with Measured Progress, a New Hampshire-based test developer, to create common-core-aligned tests for grades 3-8. Those will be piloted this spring, and will officially debut next school year. Georgia dropped out of PARCC in July, with Gov. Nathan Deal and state schools' chief John D. Barge saying they wanted more autonomy over tests. In addition, Mr. Barge was concerned that not all schools would have the technology to administer PARCC's computer-adaptive tests. The state's new test will be available in both paper-and-pencil and computer formats, and will debut no later than 2014-15. It will be a completely new test, with more open-ended questions, and require a significant increase in funding, state officials say. The tests will contain "norm-refer- enced" items that allow the performance of students in Georgia to be compared with students around the country. Spokesman Matt Cardoza said the only feedback the state has gotten so far from federal officials is that its plan is "under review." EDUCATION WEEK | January 29, 2014 | | 15 CRAFTING A PLAN B The U.S. Department of Education is asking states that do not participate in one of the two common-core testing consortia for more information about their assessment plans in order to keep their No Child Left Behind Act waivers. Among the key details: Timeline and process for setting college- and career-ready achievement standards, and the method and timeline to validate those achievement standards Timeline and process for development of test blueprints and individual questions Scaling and scoring procedures to be used Test-administration procedures, including selection and use of appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities Data analyses proposed to document reliability and validity of tests An independent evaluation of alignment of the assessments with the state's college- and career-ready standards Plans for communicating test results to students, parents, and educators SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 29, 2014

Education Week - January 29, 2014
Ruling Raises Internet-Access Concerns
Cheating Case Implicates Phila. Educators
Graduation Disparities Loom Large
Business Groups Defend Common Standards
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Common Science Standards Are Slow to Catch On in States
Surge in Charter Schools Stirs Concerns in North Carolina
Blogs of the Week
Turnaround Program Receives Makeover In Budget Deal
Some Waiver States Feeling Common-Core Test Pinch
Needy Students, Tech Disparities at Issue
Blogs of the Week
Advocates Welcome New Federal Aid Aimed at Youngest
Collective-Bargaining Case Takes Spotlight at High Court
ANNA E. BARGAGLIOTTI: Statistics: The New ‘It’ Common-Core Subject
BEN ZIMMER & DANIELLA ROHR: Funding Students, Not Bureaucracies, For Early-Childhood Education
CLARKE L. RUBEL: Talking About a Reformation
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LYNETTE TANNIS: Twice Punished: Education’s ‘Invisible’ Incarcerated Youths

Education Week - January 29, 2014