Education Week - May 7, 2014 - (Page 1)

Education WEEk VOL. 33, NO. 30 * MAY 7, 2014 AMERICAN EDUCATION'S NEWSPAPER OF RECORD * © 2014 Editorial Projects in Education * $4 BREAKING NEWS DAILY Early Reports Suggest Few Field-Testing Snags Exams By Catherine Gewertz aligned with the common core are seen as harder than state assessments Field-testing of two multistate online assessments is going more smoothly than many educators had expected, despite technological glitches in the coastto-coast experiment. And even though the exams, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, are still in the tryout phase, they are proving tougher than the ones students are used to taking. Those are the two major themes that emerged from an Education Week reporting project that examined the experiences so far of a collection of school districts across nearly half the states with the trial run of tests designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or parcc. The field-testing, designed to find problems with the assessments before their designs become final, began in late March and runs through early June. Participation varies widely; a few states are giving the exams to nearly all students, while in most places, students in only some classrooms, at some grade levels, are involved. Although potential technological problems with the move to large-scale online testing have topped educators' list of concerns, district and school leaders reached for this article, with only one exception, reported relatively minor problems. "We had our reservations going in, but it's not the nightmare that some people predicted it would be. So far, there have been no big problems," said Paul Richter, the director of assessment in Nevada's Washoe County district, which is fieldtesting the Smarter Balanced exams. The reporting conducted in late April by Education Week is not based on a nationally representative sample, but rather reflects a snapshot of experiences drawn from teachers, principals, and district assessment and curriculum officials in 29 school districts in 24 of the 36 states participating in the field-testing. It shows key themes that are likely to shape the tests' final designs and inform education leaders as they make decisions about which tests they'll use to gauge learning under the common core. The new standards, in English/language arts and mathematics, were unveiled in 2010 and are being put into practice in all but five states. Not surprisingly, familiarity with online testing tended to make the fieldPAGE 20> POLITICAL RIFTS: Feuding over the common core saps state-level testing support. PAGE 27 Spotty Data Push From Stimulus Aid By Michele McNeil In the midst of the Great Recession, the U.S. Department of Education handed out more than $50 billion in economic-stimulus aid to prop up K-12 budgets, with the condition that states must publicly report data on dozens of key education indicators-from the performance of charter schools to the percentage of high school graduates who complete college courses. Five years later, you'd be hard pressed to find all of that information in one place. State implementation of those indicators, required by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has varied widely. Federal officials ended up waiving some of the requirements, delaying others, and ultimately looking the other way as states struggled to comply with the strings attached to billions of dollars PAGE 31> DIGITAL DIRECTIONS Students walk across a soaked playground during recess at the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum, Idaho. Like many rural charters, the school has found it difficult to acquire adequate space for its growing enrollment. Charter Schools Grab Rural Toehold But Their Challenges Differ From Those of Counterparts in Urban Centers By Katie Ash Rathdrum, Idaho The North Idaho stEm Charter Academy operates here out of seven portable buildings that house the school's offices, classroom space for 317 K-8 students, and a "cafegymatorium." Although the school may not boast state-of-the-art facilities, it took three years of searching and negotiations to acquire the four-acre campus on which the school sits, said Scott Thomson, onehalf of the husband-and-wife duo who opened the school in fall 2012. "Facilities is a huge issue, especially for a rural school," he said. In fact, rural charters face a host of challenges that set them apart from their urban counterparts, charter experts say. Besides a lack of suitable facilities, they have smaller budgets and fewer support services than urban charters; a smaller pool of students, teachers, and administrators to draw from; and, often, particularly tense relationships with their local school districts as they compete for limited resources and relatively few students. Such difficulties may help explain why the proportion of charters serving rural communities, though growing, is still small: Rural charters make up about 16 percent-785 schools-of the total number of charter schools across the United States. And only 111 of those schools operate in remote rural areas. But proponents of charters say those independent public schools can breathe new economic life into rural communities with dwindling populations by adding jobs and attracting families to a town, even as they provide an alternative to local schools that, like big-city schools, may be struggling. In some cases, rural charters have been founded to stave off consolidaPAGE 22> Screen Reading Poses Learning Challenges By Benjamin Herold Comprehension may suffer when students read on the digital devices now flooding into classrooms, an emerging body of research suggests. In response, some academics, educators, and technology vendors are pushing to minimize the distracting bells and whistles that abound in high-tech instructional materials. They're also trying to figure out how best to help students transfer tried-and-true print reading strategies into new digital learning environments. "We have to move into the 21st century, but we should do so with great care to build a 'bi-literate' brain that has the circuitry for 'deep reading' skills, and at the same time is adept with technology," said Maryanne Wolf, the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Schools have experienced a huge influx of digital learning tools in recent years, with nearly 1 in 3 public and private school students in the United States now using a school-issued mobile computing device, such as a laptop PAGE 24> Jerome A. Pollos for Education Week

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Education Week - May 7, 2014