Education Week - February 10, 2016 - (Page 14)

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Views Clash On K-12 Law Rulemaking Next steps on ESSA mulled SOUNDING OFF The U.S. Department of Education got more than 350 comments on how it should regulate under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some highlights: By Alyson Klein & Andrew Ujfiusa Everyone from governors and state lawmakers down to advocates and parents has an opinion on how the U.S. Department of Education should go about turning the sometimes-murky verbiage of the Every Student Succeeds Act into actual federal regulations-and more than 350 of them laid those opinions out during a quickturnaround written comment period. An Education Week review of selected comments found many respondents offering detailed-and often contradictory-advice when it comes to the law's provisions on accountability, test participation, assessment, teacher qualifications, and more. Some comments filed over the several-week period ending Jan. 21 were broad. For example, the California Federation of Teachers, the National Governors' Association, and others asked for a light federal touch in the still-tobe-written regulations. Others dove deep into the policy weeds. For instance, Disability Rights Arkansas, an advocacy group, asked the department to make sure states use research to back up their choice of 'n-size'-the term for the minimum number of students a school must have from a particular subgroup in order for that group to be considered for accountability purposes. " Regulation, guidance, and technical assistance must ensure that lowincome communities, communities of color, the disability community, immigrant communities, and tribes are included in decisionmaking." -The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with about three dozen civil rights, disability, and education redesign organizations " Parents, communities, and California educators are not interested in having highly prescriptive rules and mandates around pre-K-12 education from the federal government. This is especially true when it comes to requiring the use of standardized tests in making highstakes decisions in both school and educator accountability." " Recognizing each state's readiness to implement ESSA varies, the federal government should allow a flexible timeline to allow for early implementation or provide additional time for states to make necessary changes to state policy and improvements to state infrastructure." -National Governors Association " With regard to state accountability systems, the department should seek input from states and local school districts and provide explicit nonbinding guidance and best practices that can help states and school districts identify, set, and use a variety of student success indicators." -National School Boards Association -California Federation of Teachers SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education Still others dealt with practical questions. The Mississippi Department of Education, for example, asked for a list of which federal programs will continue under ESSA, so that the state can figure out its own staffing. In general, educators and the organizations that advocate for them favor a regulatory philosophy that puts a premium on local decisionmaking, while civil rights organizations and advocates for particular groups of students are pressing for a more stringent approach to accountability to maintain equity. It's clear that ESSA gives states much greater control over which low-performing schools to identify for improvement than they had under its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act. But there are questions about how far that new leeway goes. For instance, the law requires states to incorporate into their school-ratings systems both academic factors-such as test scores and graduation rates-and factors that get at school quality, such as teacher engage- ment and access to advanced coursework. And academic factors need to have "much greater" weight as a group than non-academic factors. It's unclear though, if the department will decide to provide more specifics on what "much greater" means. Guidance Sought Some commenters hope for federal guidance on the issue, including Mitchell D. Chester, the commissioner of education in Massachusetts. Without any sort of rules of the road, the interpretation of "much greater weight" is likely to vary widely, he reasoned-one state might think it means that academic factors need to account for 60 percent of a school's score, while another might decide it means 95 percent. But AASA, the School Superintendents Association, wants federal officials to give states as much leeway as possible in this area. One issue that came up over and over: testing participation rates. ESSA keeps in place the NCLB law's requirement that schools test 95 percent of students, both for the whole school and for subgroups of students. Under the NCLB law, schools that fell short of that threshold were considered automatic failures. Under ESSA, however, states get to decide what happens to those schools. The New York State Boards of Education, like other groups, finds that confusing. "This internal inconsistency only encourages parental refusal and places school districts throughout the country in an untenable position," the boards wrote. The NYSBE urged the department to make it crystal clear that states and districts can still pass laws that allow parents to opt out without penalties-and that school districts won't be punished if parents choose to exempt their kids from testing. 'Proficiency' Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward By Catherine Gewertz States are raising their expectations for student "proficiency" on tests of math and English/language arts, and making their tests tougher to pass. That's the conclusion of two new studies released late last month. They found that states have been adopting more difficult academic standards-in many cases, the common core-and then choosing or designing assessments that are more challenging as well. States are setting cut scores on those tests that produce much lower rates of proficiency than did their previous tests. One study was published Jan. 27 in the journal Education Next. The other was released Jan. 28 by Achieve and the Collaborative for Student Success, two groups that push for higher standards. Both reports mirror the trend reported by Education Week last fall, when it published its national database of states' 2014-15 test scores alongside their previous year's test scores. That database shows big drops in proficiency rates in many states as they adopted tests aligned to new academic standards. The Education Next study found that since 2011, 45 states have raised the performance levels for proficiency. Thirty-six of the 45 did so within just the last two years. The report is the seventh in a series that examines states' proficiency rates over the past decade. The newest analysis, by researchers from Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance, compares states' test scores from 2014-15 with the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, in grades 4 and 8. It assigns each state a letter grade to reflect how closely its proficiency rates mirror those on NAEP, which is widely considered the gold standard in academic assessment. Twenty-four states earned A's overall for closely reflecting NAEP's definition of proficiency in 2015. In a 2011 version of the EdNext study, only three states earned A's. In the 2005 version, only six states did. Eighteen states' ratings jumped by two letter grades or more since 2013. "In short," writes researcher Paul E. Peterson, with co-authors Samuel Barrows and Thomas Gift, "standards have suddenly skyrocketed." The trend is "a hopeful sign that proficiency standards have moved in the right direction. If student perfor- 14 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 10, 2016 | mance shifts upward in tandem, it will signal a long-awaited enhancement in the quality of American schools," they write. Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia got particularly low marks-C's and D's in 4th and 8th grade reading and math-for continuing to produce high proficiency rates on their tests, in contrast to NAEP's findings. Sixteen states got A's in both subjects and at both grade levels. Closing the 'Honesty Gap' The report by Achieve concluded that more than half the states have made their tests harder to pass, bringing proficiency rates more in line with NAEP. That means that proficiency rates in many states have dropped from the 70 percent and 80 percent ranges into the 20s and 30s. For some activists, that's a sign that education is being distorted by meaningless ways of gauging student learning. For others, the drop in proficiency rates paints a more honest picture of how well schools are serving students. Achieve is in that latter camp, and welcomed a narrowing of what it calls "the honesty gap" between what state tests have reported and what the NAEP shows. The Achieve report is an update of its work last May, when it reported that, in more than half the states, the proportion of students scoring proficient on 2013-14 state tests was 30 points higher than it was for the 2013 NAEP. The new report compares proficiency rates on state tests in 2014-15 to those on the fall 2015 NAEP in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. Its study found that 26 states narrowed those gaps by 10 percentage points or more in either 4th grade reading or 8th grade math. Sixteen states erased, or nearly erased, the gaps between their own proficiency rates and those on NAEP in one or both subjects by narrowing the gaps to 5 percentage points or less. Three states-Massachusetts, New York, and Utah-earned praise for having NAEP-like expectations in both subjects. New York's expectations are even higher than NAEP's: Proficiency rates on its 4th grade reading and 8th grade math tests are 3 percentage points to 10 percentage points lower than those rates on the NAEP, Achieve reports. The report calls out four states with particularly big gaps between their definition of proficiency and the NAEP's: Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Texas was the biggest offender, with gaps of 40-plus points between its own proficiency rates and those on the NAEP. (Texas officials did not return a call seeking comment by deadline.) Since 2011-12, Texas has been planning to phase in higher cut scores on its state tests, but delayed that move until 2015-16. Georgia is a state that has drawn praise for raising its proficiency standards. In 2014-15, it switched to tests that required students to explain their thinking rather than answer only multiple-choice questions. Proficiency rates dropped from the 90s into the 30s and 40s, close to the state's NAEP proficiency rates. "I used to refer to Georgia as the land of proficiency: Come to Georgia and you, too, will be proficient," joked Melissa Fincher, Georgia's assessment chief, referring to the old test's high proficiency rates. "But really, we needed to make a change. It was time to recalibrate our expectations and be very thoughtful about what we wanted our students to achieve." Visit the CURRICULUM MATTERS blog, which tracks news and trends on this issue.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 10, 2016

Education Week - February 10, 2016
Federal Trade Regulators Target Brain-Training Product Claims
In States Hungry for Teachers, Policy Menu Expands
PARCC Scores Lower On Computer Exams
Equipping Parents on Spec. Ed.
News in Brief
Report Roundup
In Chicago, Schools’ Financial Crisis Deepens Divisions
Advocates’ Report Hits States For Overtesting, Other Policies
Blogs of the Week
Digital Directions: Partnership Boosts Data Privacy
Kindergarten: Less Play, More Academics (infographic
‘Proficiency’ Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward
Views Clash On K-12 Law Rulemaking
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept. CIO Grilled By Oversight Panel
State of the States
America’s ‘Edu-Masochism’
I’m Tired of ‘Grit’
Why Small Steps Are Better for Small Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
In Low-Income Schools, Teachers Need Guidance

Education Week - February 10, 2016