Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's 2014. All Children Are Supposed To Be Proficient. What Happened?

It was a bi-partisan bad idea with flawed assumptions, beginning with the idea that we can use a limited instrument to measure "proficiency."  Quote from within:

The biggest downside of the law, she said, was the games that states played with the definition of proficiency.

"By letting every state set their own benchmark, define their own standard and use their own assessment, combined with the requirement of 100 percent proficiency, they basically incented states to keep dumbing down and lowering their cut score in order to get more kids across the bar," Weiss explains. "And that has done a huge disservice to our educational system. Huge."

True, but I think an even bigger downside was how the law was and is still being used to demonize public education, weaken the unions, and pave the way for the corporatization and privatization of all things education—a neoliberal agenda that is still getting fueled by this system.  If not an honest, we need a deeper, conversation and understanding of the devastating consequences meeted out to schools attended by low-income, children of color under NCLB.


It's 2014. All Children Are Supposed To Be Proficient. What Happened?

President George W. Bush, seated, signs No Child Left Behind into law at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio. i
President George W. Bush, seated, signs No Child Left Behind into law at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio.

Take yourself back to those highly emotional, patriotic months after the 9/11 attacks.
In the midst of war, terrorism, fear and mourning, one bill passed 87-10 in the Senate and by a similar margin in the House — with equal support from both sides of the aisle. It was signed into law in January 2002 by George W. Bush, with the liberal lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, by his side.
The law set a simple if daunting goal: All of the nation's students would perform at grade level on state tests. Every single one. 100 percent. Or as the name of the law put it, there would be No Child Left Behind. Here's the formal language:
"Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year, all students ... will meet or exceed the State's proficient level of academic achievements on the State assessments ..."
So here it is, 12 years later, 2014. And the law, NCLB, is still in effect. All children, under federal law, are supposed to be at grade level.

Spoiler alert: They're not.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "Nation's Report Card," "proficiency" rates last year were below 50 percent for every racial and ethnic group, in both reading and math, in both 4th and 8th grade. The exceptions? Asians, in all subjects (51-64 percent) and whites in 4th grade math only (54 percent).

So, what is proficiency, anyway? Did the 100% goal ever make sense? What were the impacts of setting such a goal, positive and negative? And where do we go from here?

Proficiency, as defined by the law, ain't nothing but a number. Morgan Polikoff, an education professor at the University of Southern California, calls it a "crude gauge of student performance."
It's a particular score on a particular test of reading or math given by states to students each spring in grades 3 through 12. Change the test, or the passing score, and you change the definition of proficiency.

"I've called proficiency a 'weasel word,' " says Andrew Ho at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "It inspires consensus where there really is none."

Did The Goal Make Sense?

Sandy Kress was a lawyer and school board president in Dallas, Texas in the 1990s when he got interested in the role of tests in ensuring educational accountability. As a top education advisor to President George W. Bush, he became one of the chief architects of No Child Left Behind. He says the inspiration for the 100 percent goal was simple.

"This was a bipartisan consensus. The Democrats, under [California Congressman] George Miller in particular, with involvement from the Education Trust, along with President Bush and Republicans, essentially asked themselves in 2001: What's our vision? Do we want to get a few kids performing better? Most kids? Which kids don't we want to get better? Which kids don't we want to make it to the bar of grade-level proficiency?"

It sounds convincing. Harvard's Andrew Ho says that's the problem.

"Leaving no child behind is the right rhetorical goal. It generally resonates with educators, students, teachers, administrators, and the public. We don't want to leave a child behind, and the standard we want them to achieve should be high."

The law required that states report more than just average test scores. It made them report, separately, the scores of traditionally disadvantaged subgroups: ethnic and racial minorities, disabled students, low-income students and English learners.

Ho, like most observers, agrees that this focus on the achievement gap is NCLB's most important and positive legacy.

But, he adds, "I think it's safe to say, and we anticipated this early on, that policymakers erred. They turned an aspirational goal that inspires support, into a target for accountability, meant for consequences."

Some of those consequences were intended, and others were unintended.

The reason we're still talking about No Child Left Behind is that it included an "or else." Schools that failed to make 'Adequate Yearly Progress' toward the 100 percent proficiency goal for each subgroup would face sanctions, such as reorganization or closure.

There were far fewer provisions for positive incentives, either to reward schools that did well or to help the students that weren't doing as well.

"We tried to push that, and it never really got done because I don't think anyone understood how the federal government could create carrots," says Kress, pointing out that the feds contribute a small portion, about 12 percent, of the public school budget. "That's a fair criticism of the law."

What Was The Impact?

No Child Left Behind coincided with real gains on national tests. A widely cited NAEP analysis shows statistically significant gains in math attributable to NCLB, but no evidence for such gains in reading. According to other analyses, the achievement gap narrowed too.

Kress says he'll take those numbers "to meet my maker."

But the structure of the law, with an aspirational goal married to real punishments, brought with it a wide range of unintended negative consequences.

Here's a little thought experiment to illustrate:
Let's say, for some reason, you came to work tomorrow and were put before a group of 10 kindergartners. By the end of the month they all have to be playing the piano proficiently. No exceptions. Or you lose your job.

The kids are from a wide variety of backgrounds. Four of them come from families that struggle economically. Two of them are already Suzuki-trained, but others are far behind.

What do you do?

You could define "proficient" as playing a single scale with one hand.

You could ask that the slower kids be left out of the test.

You could spend all day, every day, practicing.

You could simply ask for more time to meet the goal.

The evidence shows that states and schools, to varying extents and in various ways, did all these things.

"At least in the academic community, it was well know that 100% proficiency wasn't going to happen without gamesmanship, and the amount of improvement that was needed in some states was not plausible," says USC's Polikoff.

In response, he says, schools gave more and more tests to prepare students to take the state tests. They practiced "educational triage," focusing more resources on students who were just below passing, to the detriment of both higher and lower achievers. They classified more students as disabled to get them out of taking the tests. In certain cases, they cheated.

As the years passed and the "adequate yearly progress" targets grew, he says, more and more schools in more and more states fell into the category of "failing" — 50 percent, 60 percent, even 70 percent. "By setting up an unattainable target, states stopped paying attention," says Polikoff. They just gave up.

Joanne Weiss inherited No Child Left Behind as chief of staff to President Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. The biggest downside of the law, she said, was the games that states played with the definition of proficiency.

"By letting every state set their own benchmark, define their own standard and use their own assessment, combined with the requirement of 100 percent proficiency, they basically incented states to keep dumbing down and lowering their cut score in order to get more kids across the bar," Weiss explains. "And that has done a huge disservice to our educational system. Huge."

By the time Weiss, Duncan and Obama arrived on the scene, NCLB was already overdue for reauthorization.

Political realities made passing any large piece of legislation through Congress difficult, so the Education Department came up with another solution. They would write permission slips, known as waivers, to each state that wanted to change their accountability formula. Essentially those states make up a new definition of "adequate yearly progress."

Where Do We Go From Here?

Almost every state is currently operating under an NCLB waiver.

They have constructed what Ho calls "Rube Goldberg" accountability formulas, specifying different targets for different groups. A big change seen in about half the states is a focus on growth — how fast test scores are moving and in which direction, not just how many kids have passed a specific score on the tests.

"If you focus on growth you can see which schools are improving," says Weiss, who is now an independent consultant. High-achieving schools won't stagnate. Schools full of poor kids won't be unfairly punished if they're making progress. "It makes sure the kids at the top are being served as well as the kids at the bottom."

Some states, such as Massachusetts and Kentucky, as well as the CORE group of districts in California, are including new indicators alongside test scores: graduation rates, college readiness and even school-climate surveys.

The other big change, of course, is the Common Core State Standards. In theory, by setting out a common definition of what students should know and be able to do, the Common Core takes some of the "weasel word"-ness out of proficiency.

Plus, states are using a smaller number of different tests: PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and a few privately created tests. This makes it easier to compare results.

But the "new accountability" lacks something No Child Left Behind had: simplicity.

"It's harder to have a clear easy talking point for people to rally around," acknowledges Weiss. On the other hand, this approach "acknowledges the complexity of the real world." And she says, it also allows states to experiment with different approaches to find out what works best.

For Sandy Kress, though, the loss of a clear goal brings a loss of urgency: "I feel very sad because rather than fixing and advancing accountability, we seem to be weakening and abandoning it."

Why important education research often gets ignored

Regarding college students, this sounds plausible:

The message from their [Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa] research was that if we want students to do well they must have a more academically demanding curriculum. Arum and Roksa even quantify what this means: students must read more than 40 pages a week and write more than 20 pages a semester.
 Not sure about Michael Young's perspective contained in his book,
Bringing Knowledge Back In where he calls for “powerful knowledge” in the curriculum that is subject-based, but I do agree that knowledge that emerges from discussion and debate is what deepens interest, subject-matter competence, and real-world applicability.  That's why I like policy.


Why important education research often gets ignored

Not just for gathering dust. Man blowing dust via Luis Louro/Shutterstock
Teachers’ professional development is “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”. These were the conclusions of a recent British Educational Research Association (BERA) and Royal Society of Arts inquiry into the issue in the UK. It also found that the most effective teachers were those who used research in their teaching.

It will come as no surprise then that this report is likely to be ignored, like much of the research available to teachers. As a member of the reference group to the inquiry, I tried to explain the reason for the limited take-up of even the best educational research, and drew on an argument put forward by American historian Christopher Lasch:
What democracy requires is vigorous public debate, not information. Of course, it needs information too, but the kind of information it needs can be generated only by debate … When we get into arguments that focus and fully engage our attention, we become avid seekers of relevant information. Otherwise we take in information passively – if we take it in at all.
We can replace “information” with “research” here and argue that educational researchers put the cart before the horse. Get into debate and relevant research will follow and be taken up. I was told that the BERA research would be a cataylst for debates among educators and politicians. Time will tell whether this is right, but in the period since the report came out there has been little debate.

Debunking ‘learning styles’

Here are two examples of good educational research that is ignored and why. The first is the 2004 Coffield Report into learning styles. Frank Coffield at the Insitute of Education and colleagues examined the research into the 13 most popular learning styles, including for post-16 learning. They showed the idea of learning styles to be conceptually confused; not one of the models they reviewed passed all of the “good test” criteria of reliability and validity. They also had no effect on teaching.

All pretty damning and you would have thought that, on the basis of this research, the idea of children and young people having identifiable “learning styles” would have passed into the dustbin of intellectual history. But since Coffield’s report came out, “learning styles” have gone from strength to strength. Schools happily label their pupils as “concrete” or “kinaesthetic learners”. As early as a year after the report they were held to be the cornerstone of good teaching and were widely used by schools inspectorate Ofsted to the annoyance of those who knew of their weaknesses. Many students even come to university seemingly stuck with the idea that they can only learn in one way.

Behind this lies an idea that comes from the wider political world: that ordinary people are limited in many ways. The educational version of this is that children and young people have restricted potential so need to be taught via a particular “learning style”. In reality, students can adapt to a many “learning styles” depending on what subject they are studying, and one of the many things Coffield criticised was the abstraction of “learning styles” from subjects.

How not to create critical thinkers

The second example comes from a rigorous 2011 study by American sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa on the ways college students learn. They found that at least 45% of the students they surveyed did not demonstrate any significant improvement in their ability to think critically during their first two years of college. Although these students went on to graduate, they failed to develop the critical thinking and complex reasoning expected from being at university. This does not mean, however, that students need courses in “critical thinking.”

Arum and Roksa identified the reason: the students did less academic work. They also engaged in a lot of social activities, including studying with their peers, something that the findings show had either “no consequences or negative consequences for learning”. Undertaking “projects” and entertaining “active learning” techniques had no impact on learning.

These results challenge the current direction of university education with its focus on varied forms of learning and development of the student experience. The message from their research was that if we want students to do well they must have a more academically demanding curriculum. Arum and Roksa even quantify what this means: students must read more than 40 pages a week and write more than 20 pages a semester.

Demands to be non-demanding

This doesn’t sound too demanding to me. But there was no widespread discussion of this aspect of their findings. Instead, universities in the US and UK have taken up the notion of the “student experience”, something criticised in Arum and Roksa’s new book. Since the book was published even more varied forms of group, blog-based and online learning have been introduced globally, the most hyped of which are Massive Open Online Courses.

The reason is the dominance of anti-intellectual culture in wider society. The education version of this is all sorts of therapeutic activities at university from counselling and stress-busting sessions to courses such as the one at the London School of Economics about “Overcoming Perfectionism”.

This dominance also exists in the daily interactions between students and staff which are too nice and intellectually non-threatening. All of this creates students who don’t expect demanding work that might upset their beliefs, ideas and assumptions and staff who are so “student-centered” they would never think of setting it.

Some research getting through

While much good research is being ignored, some challenging theoretical work is receiving attention in some quarters. An example is a book by the Institute of Education’s Michael Young, Bringing Knowledge Back In. He makes the case for “powerful knowledge” in the curriculum and the need to teach all children, particularly working class and disadvantaged children, a subject-based curriculum. He continues to debate and discuss his ideas outside of the narrow sociological world.

Young regularly addresses trade unionists, think tanks and groups of teachers to present his ideas and arguments. His work is having real impact on educational thought because of this. In some schools, such as Pimlico Academy in London, he is helping to bring knowledge back in through participating in debates and staff development.

The message to academics and researchers is a simple one – they have to get out more and engage in public debate and discussion if they really want to find out what needs to be researched and thought about. If they do this, education research will contribute not only to education but to democracy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

42,000 Texas students graduate in 3 years with no record of TAKS test

We need more "local control" of "compliance monitoring."  Hmmmm.


 42,000 Texas students graduate in 3 years with no record of TAKS test

By Andrew Kreighbaum / El Paso Times

Students study during class in the Dumas ISD, which had 23 percent of... (Special to the Times)
 10/11/2014 11:16:05 PM MDT

Andrew Kreighbaum
›› Texas School Districts TAKS Participation

›› Texas Education Agency: STAAR system minimizes issues revealed with previous testing regime

In 2006, Swift & Co. Packing in the Panhandle town of Cactus, Texas, became a target of federal immigration raids — raids that would have a serious ripple effect on the area's education system.
School officials were left with mostly Hispanic students who lost one or both parents to deportation and then with the challenge of educating the children of Burmese immigrants who moved in to fill the meat-packing jobs.
The district adjusted policies for those students in part by tying grade promotion to their performance on ninth-grade state standardized tests. The requirement was designed to make sure students were prepared for upper grade levels.
And from 2010 to 2012, it meant more than 23 percent of graduating students left with no record of taking the 10th-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test that determined federal accountability ratings.
"I don't think there was ever anything to do except give the kids a fair chance," said Dumas interim Superintendent Larry Appel.
The El Paso Independent School District under former Superintendent Lorenzo García used a number of policies involving student retention and credit recovery to improperly manipulate the 10th-grade testing population and boost federal accountability ratings.
García will soon complete a federal prison sentence for his guilty plea to defrauding state and federal accountability measures by controlling which students were tested. The FBI continues its investigation into other EPISD employees who might have been involved in a cheating scheme. Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams removed the EPISD's elected school board for its failure to prevent the cheating scandal.
At the heart of the EPISD cheating scheme was an effort to control which students took the 10th-grade TAKS that would be used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether schools and districts met the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Investigations by the El Paso Times and the FBI showed district employees altered transcripts to reclassify 10th-graders as ninth-graders, placed international transfer students in ninth grade regardless of how many credits they had accumulated and allowed thousands of students to take so-called "minimesters" in which they quickly piled up credits that allowed them to jump from ninth to 11th or 12th grade.
In all, about 10.6 percent of EPISD graduates between 2010 and 2012 got their diplomas with no record of ever being tested for federal accountability purposes, according to Texas Education Agency analyzed by the El Paso Times.
But in that same time, 19 Texas school districts had higher percentages of students graduating with no record of being tested for federal accountability compliance, topped by Dumas' 23 percent. Those school districts were concentrated along the Mexican border and in the Texas Panhandle, but also included Bryan ISD between Austin and Houston and Waller ISD near Houston, the Times analysis showed.
Few school districts have 100 percent participation rates on standardized tests, and records could be absent for reasons including poor record keeping, a withdrawal from school prior to the spring test administration or legitimate district retention policies.
But the numbers bring into question federal accountability results for multiple districts that didn't test many of their most struggling students. And the student test participation remains a concern for federal officials who investigated failures to detect cheating at the EPISD.
Across Texas, more than 42,000 students — about one in every 20 graduates — got diplomas between 2010 and 2012 without taking the 10th-grade test for federal accountability. That figure does not include students who transferred to Texas from other states after beginning high school.
There is no indication in the data — provided to the El Paso Times through a public information request — that other districts were engaging in the sort of orchestrated cheating that took place in the EPISD.
But the exclusion of tens of thousands of students from accountability testing could have affected federal accountability ratings for districts and campuses across Texas. And experts say the numbers and the state's explanations point to a problem with how much education policy is based on flawed data.
District policies
At several districts, policies affecting student grade retention, grade classification of foreign transfer students, and accelerated instruction impacted participation on the 10th-grade test.
At Dumas, more than an hour north of Amarillo, almost a quarter of graduates over three years had no record of taking a 10th-grade TAKS test. That's largely because until 2012, a district policy tied promotion of ninth-grade students to their performance on state standardized tests.
Those who flunked the ninth-grade TAKS test were retained in the ninth grade the following year, regardless of whether they had accumulated enough credits to be classified as 10th-graders.
After a second year of high school, students often accumulated enough credits to move straight to 11th grade, bypassing the 10th grade test that determined federal accountability ratings.
Dumas interim superintendent Appel, who returned to the district earlier this year after several years in retirement, wasn't at the helm of district when the policy was implemented. But he said it wasn't added to game the system or improperly influence accountability ratings.
"It was never a philosophy or policy within the district to circumvent anything, but more of a policy to say, if we have kids who are failing grade nine, then let's leave them in grade nine and they can repeat some of those classes that they failed," he said.
Passing standardized tests wasn't a promotion requirement for students in higher grades. Students were required to pass the 11th-grade TAKS to receive a high school diploma, but those test results weren't used for federal accountability ratings.
The 10th-grade test was used for federal accountability measures, but was not a graduation requirement.
"I guess the rationale back then might have been at some point you run out of time for these kids because they start taking the other tests in grade 11 to satisfy graduation requirements," Appel said. "That's my assumption on that part."
Appel said the Texas Association of School Boards, which advises local school districts on policy, never raised any concerns regarding that policy to Dumas.
A spokeswoman for TASB said no staff members were able to comment on the policy at Dumas specifically, or in general terms on policies tying promotion to performance on state assessments.
Data concerns
Scholars who study school accountability say it's hard to draw conclusions from aggregate numbers without knowing the individual story at each school district. Some of those students might have no testing records because of data matching errors or because they were retained in ninth grade for their second year of high school and promoted to 11th grade in their third year.
Others might have withdrawn from school prior to the spring TAKS administration — the period measured in the TEA data — or simply were not tested.
"You can see numbers, but you won't know what caused those numbers unless you know anecdotally," said Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus of education at Arizona State University.
But he said the high number of students who apparently weren't tested does raise questions about conclusions drawn from test results. Potential efforts to influence the student testing population were scrutinized in a federal Department of Education audit report last year that examined the failings of the TEA to detect cheating.
The audit report found a district could avoid counting students as 10th-graders for test-taking purposes so low-performing students would never take the TAKS test.
"Because the (districts) would classify them as ninth-grade students for their entire second year of high school, these students would not be given the 10th grade TAKS at any time during their second year of high school," the report read. "By the beginning of their third year of high school, the students might have earned enough credits for the (district) to classify them as 11th grade students. The students never would have been classified as 10th grade students at any time during high school and never would have been given the 10th grade TAKS test that TEA used to determine (adequate yearly progress)."
At the Weslaco Independent School District, more than 12 percent of graduates over those three years, or nearly 330 students, left with no record of a 10th-grade test. Administrators cited policies designed to help students who struggled in the ninth grade to help them quickly make up ground quickly.
"At the high school level, we don't go by promotion or retention, we go by credits," said Claudia Alanis, assessment coordinator at the district. "Either in the summer (after ninth grade) or during the year they got enough credits and they leap-frogged into the 11th grade."
At least 120 students in Weslaco never took the TAKS under those circumstances. For those "repeating freshmen," the district's focus became making sure they graduated in four years — whether or not they took a 10th-grade TAKS test. Alanis said data indicates students who don't graduate high school in four years are much more likely to drop out.
She said the district also serves a high number of at-risk and economically disadvantaged students who are more likely to struggle in the classroom.
"When you consider that, you're going to think we're going to have a lot of second-year ninth-graders, and basically that's what we found," she said.
English learners
Most of the districts with the highest proportion of graduates who left without any record of a 10th-grade TAKS test had high numbers of Hispanic students and English-language learners.
In the three years of data analyzed by the Times, just over 5 percent of Texas high school graduates had no record of a math or English 10th-grade TAKS test. But for students who had ever been classified as English-language learners, that number rose to about 15 percent statewide.
At the Brownsville Independent School District, more than 11 percent of graduates between 2010 and 2012 had no record of the 10th-grade TAKS test. Pam Van Ravensway, Brownsville's administrator of assessment, research and evaluation, said the district — just across the border from Matamoros — serves a significant number of foreign transfer students each year.
She said in that context, the district's numbers actually sounded positive.
"Those numbers don't look too bad to me," she said. "They look pretty good."
In some cases, Brownsville students may fail to qualify for promotion after their ninth-grade year but attend summer school courses and take accelerated courses the following fall to qualify for 11th grade.
Ravensway also noted the high number of students who often come to the district from across the border in Mexico before each school year.
"We may start them in ninth grade, but once those credits come back from the UT System, we promote them to whatever level they're supposed to be at," she said. "That's why we do reclassification."
Such reclassification policies at Socorro Independent School District received scrutiny last fall after an external audit report found the district inappropriately retained immigrant transfer students in ninth grade. A separate investigation commissioned by the school district later found no intentional wrongdoing by any administrators at Socorro.
But it's unlikely that EPISD was the only school district that has manipulated testing populations to influence test scores, said Greg Cizek, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Education.
"I wouldn't be surprised that there are a large number of campuses where the same thing was going on," he said.
_district scores of August 2013 records as investigations like this which is the result was the demonstrators excluded thousands of students protesting population but what if you are testing positive for the 10% of students at her daughter graduated from 2000 after 2012 with a record of its equity interest" the associate Commissioner for assessment and accountability Hecate said the fact the student to take a temporary test doesn't mean that you have taken is available from ocean potential decisions made at the local level the Texas education agency doesn't have the administrative procedure for monitoring local policy he said local school to have the authority to make those determinations the individuals also points out that will support the ticket status meeting students who were unfortunate reasons such as illness when the test was minister of visitation rights with its data part of the problem with the testing regime is a reliance on imported schedule is highly educational leadership health status of dollars of mortgages years while at the University of Texas at Austin the data is just not good all sorts of problems with it I will make these quick decisions make a lot of important policy decisions based on data that is very imperfect despite those concerns taxes and the federal government continue to move forward with counseling systems can become more s visitor to talk to your local school district will notice an important resources and tools such as good announces total course completion March 5 letter to school leaders education Commissioner Williamson expects to restrict themselves to address any issues with more credits for classification of students of different abilities and sufficient snippet: keeping with tradition of local control by elected school board resolved locally identified issues relating to the requirements for appropriate replacement base compliance will

Texas Education Agency: STAAR system minimizes issues revealed with previous testing regime

This piece suggests that Texas' shift to the new system (from the TAKS to the STAAR test) still doesn't eliminate the chance that schools will still game the system to produce higher test scores in any given year.  Nor does it consider in the first place the lack of validity and fairness to begin with.  Of course, the TEA defines and implements policy and actually doesn't create it.  That's the job of the legislature.


Texas Education Agency: STAAR system minimizes issues revealed with previous testing regime

By Andrew Kreighbaum / El Paso Times
Posted:   10/11/2014 11:15:14 PM MDT

›› Texas School Districts TAKS Participation

›› 42,000 Texas students graduate in 3 years with no record of TAKS test

Officials at the Texas Education Agency believe a new testing system, introduced in 2012, will mitigate issues with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test revealed by investigations into cheating at El Paso Independent School District and other districts.

Andrew Kreighbaum
State law previously required only that students pass the 11-grade TAKS test in order to graduate, meaning districts could manipulate student grade classification for the 10th-grade test that determined federal accountability ratings without affecting graduation rates.
No such opportunity exists in the new testing system which replaces those grade-level tests with five subject matter "end-of-course" tests — U.S. history, biology, Algebra, English I and English II — that students must pass at some point in their high school career before graduating.
The high school tests are part of a testing program now known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, used to measure student performance at elementary, middle and high school levels.
TEA Associate Commissioner for Assessment and Accountability Criss Cloudt also said tying graduation in the STAAR testing regime to passage on subject matter tests will address issues connected to improper promotion or retention of students.
The federal Department of Education audit report last year of TEA's internal controls over student test data raised questions about whether the state was doing enough to protect against manipulation or cheating on the new STAAR system.
"Although TEA eliminated the potential impact of grade-level reclassifications on test results for students who were ninth-grade students beginning with school year 2011–2012, it had not assessed the possibility that (local education agencies) and schools might influence STAAR test results in other ways," the audit found. "For example, a school potentially could improve its test results in a given year by either preventing low-performing students from taking these courses during that year or encouraging high-achieving students from multiple grades to take these courses during that year."
In a response to the concerns raised in that audit, Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams said the agency agreed it should do more to identify how districts and schools could improperly influence the results of the new test. Identifying the specific steps the agency will take would apparently come later, however, after the state reviewed the implementation of new testing policies this school year.
"While any additional policies or controls may be implemented as soon as winter 2013 or spring 2014, it is likely these activities will be ongoing as other components are added to the accountability system over the next several years, and as changes are made to the state assessment system as a result of legislation passed during the most recent Texas legislative session," Williams wrote.
Cloudt said the state is using new indicators to track how many students complete a given course each year at districts and campuses and how many take the associated test.
TEA is also taking steps to ensure students don't reach their senior year without passing the appropriate subject level tests. The agency is also working with some local districts to tie grade level promotion to specific subject tests like Algebra I.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How to Respond to Ebola? Nurses Have a Plan | The Nation

This piece merits posting.  Hospital un-preparedness is  widespread throughout the U.S. and this is unfortunate because by the time a person infected with Ebola walks through their doors—such as when Thomas Eric Duncan entered Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 2nd—risk to healthcare workers is significant.

Duncan, the first person in the U.S. to die of Ebola, passed away on October 8th.

Glad to see the NNU, the nation's largest nurses union step up to the plate.



How to Respond to Ebola? Nurses Have a Plan | The Nation

How to Respond to Ebola? Nurses Have a Plan

That’s appropriate, as is the growing sense of urgency with regard to
the level of readiness not just for the potential spread of Ebola but
for other disease outbreaks.

This is not a time to panic. It is a time to get things right.

“Ebola is dangerous, and our No. 1 responsibility is to keep our people safe," says Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor
and Pensions. "But we want to be very careful that we are following the
recommendations of the scientific community. We want to use best
science here. That’s how we’ll keep ourselves safe. So for me, part of
this is the reminder it is powerfully important to make long-term
investments, particularly in medical research."

Warren has not been shy about noting that "with all the spending
cutbacks and all the pressure on the National Institute of Health, much
of that research has been shelved."

Warren is right;  according to The Hill,
"the sequester resulted in a $195 million cut that year to the National
Centers for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, a CDC program
that tries to prevent illness and death from infectious disease."

Research is essential, but so too is basic preparedness.

The best way to determine if our hospitals are ready to respond is by asking a nurse. Or, to be more precise, nurses.

The answer, unfortunately, is that our hospitals are not up to speed.

"We are seeing that hospitals are not prepared,” warns Bonnie Castillo, a RN who directs the Registered Nurse Response Network of National Nurses United.

Describing training and preparations as "woefully insufficient,” Castillo says.
“We have to continue to sound the alarm. There is the potential for
many more Dallases if hospitals are not mandated and do not commit to
more vigorous standards. We see potential gaping holes for this to

Those gaps need to be closed. Resources must be made available to do
the address real concerns, and budgets cannot be nickled-and-dimed by
austerity-obsessed officials.

“The time to act is long overdue,” says RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of NNU, the nation's largest nurses union.

NNU leaders have from the start of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
been outspoken regarding the need to provide immediate support for
health-care personnel in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries. The
union has raised money and offered support for those initiatives.

At the same time, the union has focused attention on the need for greater preparation by US hospitals.

Weeks ago, NNU leaders and members began to sound the alarm -- highlighting what Castillo
described in September as  “the critical need for planning,
preparedness and protection at the highest level in hospitals throughout
the nation.” And the union took action, launching a national survey of hospital preparedness.

So far, 2,000 registered nurses at more 750 facilities in 46 states
and the District of Columbia have weighed in, providing evidence of
serious gaps in readiness.

 To wit:

•   “76 percent of those surveyed say their hospital has
not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of
patients infected by Ebola”

•   “85 percent say their hospital has not provided education on
Ebola with the ability for the nurses to interact and ask questions”

•   “37 percent say their hospital has insufficient current supplies
of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) for daily
use on their unit; 36 percent say there are insufficient supplies of
fluid resistant/impermeable gowns in their hospital”

•   “39 percent say their hospital does not have plans to equip
isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and discard
all linens after use; only 8 percent said they were aware their hospital
does have such a plan in place.”

NNU leaders have also outlined a response agenda

The “full emergency preparedness plan” they propose includes a call for:

• “Full training of hospital personnel, along with proper
protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks, with the
ability for nurses to interact and ask questions.”

• “Adequate supplies of Hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment.”

• “Properly equipped isolation rooms to assure patient, visitor, and staff safety.”

• “Proper procedures for disposal of medical waste and linens after use.”

The emphasis on the need for rigorous training is echoed by other unions that have a major presence in the nation's hospitals. Service Employees International Union occupational health and safety director Mark Catlin told Politico that, even when medical facilities have protocols, “it’s not clear how well facilities implement them."

This lack of clarity is the issue that must be addressed.

NNU's DeMoro warns that: “There is no standard short of optimal in protective equipment and hands-on-training that is acceptable."