Pulse of the public

Union poll finds negative public attitudes on testing

Coloradans are concerned about the amount of testing in the state’s schools, according to a poll commissioned by the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

“The survey confirms the actual experience parents and teachers are having all over Colorado – there is simply too much testing and not enough funding,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman. The CEA supports trimming back the state’s testing system.

Here are some key results from the poll:

  • Level of testing: Less testing was supported by 63 percent, same amount 28 percent, more 5 percent.
  • Primary purpose of testing: Assessing student progress was listed by58 percent, assessing of district and school performance 24 percent, assessing teacher effectiveness 13 percent.
  • Effectiveness of testing in measuring student progress: Somewhat effective 52 percent, not effective 34 percent, strongly effective 11 percent.
  • Appropriate amount of class time on testing: 0-10 percent – 45 percent of respondents, 10-20 percent – 38 percent, 20-30 percent – 12 percent, more than 30 percent – 2 percent.
  • Parental opt out: Under special circumstances 43 percent support this, never 28 percent, support for any reason 25 percent.

Asked how familiar they were with the standardized tests in their school districts, 34 percent of respondents said they were very familiar, 45 percent somewhat familiar and 21 not very familiar.

On the question of how many standardized tests their children take each year, 50 percent of parent respondents said two to five and 10 percent said six to 10. Asked if they felt their children were adequately supported by technology in their schools, 71 percent said yes and 20 percent said no.

Other issues

The CEA’s poll also asked respondents to choose the “top problem” facing education and about their opinions on the Common Core State Standards.

Some 29 percent identified school funding as the single most important problem facing public schools, with standardized testing and parental involvement tied at 13 percent for the next most-cited problem. Teachers unions and administrators each were mentioned as the top problem by 12 percent each.

On Common Core, 32 percent of respondents supported the language arts and math standards, 34 percent opposed them and 34 percent weren’t sure of their opinions. The survey also asked respondents if they were aware of the state’s Colorado-only standards in other subjects – 59 percent didn’t know about them.

The poll surveyed 706 adults, including 600 registered voters and 219 parents of school-aged children. Interviews were done Sept. 12-16, primarily by telephone. The poll was done by SurveyUSA. See questions, demographic tabulations and full results here.

Testing task force chips away at issues

Monday also was the fourth meeting of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a 15-member appointed group that is studying state and local testing systems and that is supposed to make recommendations to the 2015 legislative session.

Up to now the group has been heavily involved in information-gathering and organizational issues, and it has only three more meetings scheduled before it’s supposed to complete its report.

The task force represents a broad spectrum of education interests, from cut-it-back parent representatives to education reform group leaders who want to preserve key elements of the current system. Some of those divisions started to surface during discussion at the group’s September meeting (see story).

One exercise the task force did on Monday was to start narrowing down issues it wants to research and discuss further. Those issues include:

  • Shortening the time taken by tests
  • Cutting back state testing to the minimums required by the federal government
  • Aligning and combining local, state and federally required tests
  • Excusing students who are performing at top levels from testing
  • Allowing districts to continue giving paper-and-pencil tests
  • Letting districts choose from a state-approved menu of tests
  • Delaying the use of results from new tests for accountability and educator evaluationuntil those tests have been fully validated
  • Changing the timing of the new science and social studies tests to reduce the crush of testing every spring

The group also was briefed on a recent memo from the U.S. Department of Education that detailed the fairly limited options that state has in changing the testing system. (See this story for background.) But that report prompted little significant discussion.

On Monday evening four members of the task force held the first in series of public meetings on testing. About two-dozen people showed up at Denver’s North High School, some raising familiar concerns about testing distracting from classroom instruction, the costs of testing and infringements on state and district autonomy.

The task force plans a series of such meetings around the state – see the schedule here.

Testing reboot

ACT do-overs pay off for 40 percent of Tennessee high school seniors who tried

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Tennessee’s $2 million investment in helping high school seniors retake the ACT test appears to be paying off for a second year in a row.

Almost three-fourths of the class of 2018 took the national college entrance test last fall for a second time, doubling the participation rate in Tennessee’s ACT Senior Retake Day for public schools. State officials announced Wednesday that 40 percent of the do-overs resulted in a higher overall score.

Of the 52,000 students who participated in the initiative’s second year, 2,333 raised their average composite to a 21 or higher, making them eligible for HOPE Scholarship funds of up to $16,000 for tuition. That’s potentially $37 million in state-funded scholarships.

In addition, Tennessee students are expected to save almost $8 million in remedial course costs — and a lot of time — since more of them hit college-readiness benchmarks that allow direct enrollment into credit-bearing coursework.

But besides the benefits to students, the early results suggest that Tennessee is inching closer to raising its ACT average to the national average of 21 by 2020, one of four goals in Tennessee’s five-year strategic plan.

After years of mostly stagnant scores, the state finally cracked 20 last year when the class of 2017 scored an average of 20.1, buoyed in part by the senior retake strategy.

(The ACT testing organization will release its annual report of state-by-state scores in August, based on the most recent test taken. Tennessee will release its own report based on the highest score, which is what colleges use.)

Tennessee is one of 13 states that require its juniors to take the ACT or SAT and, in an effort to boost scores, became the first to pay for public school seniors to retake their ACTs in 2016. Only a third of that class took advantage of the opportunity, but enough students scored higher to make it worth expanding the voluntary program in its second year.

Last fall, the state worked with local districts to make it easier for seniors to participate. The retake happened during the school day in students’ own schools, instead of on a Saturday morning at an ACT testing site.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the expanded access has paid off tenfold. “Now, more Tennessee students are able to access scholarship funding, gain admission to colleges and universities, and earn credit for their work from day one,” she said.

Of the state’s four urban districts, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, which serves Davidson County, increased its average composite score the most (up .5 to 18.4), followed by Hamilton County (up .3 to 19.4), and Shelby County Schools, (up .2 to 17.1). Knox County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District, which operates high schools in Memphis, saw slight drops from their retakes and will retain their higher average scores taken earlier.

Statewide, 10 school systems logged a half point or more of growth from their junior test day to the senior retake:

  • Anderson County, up .6 to 19.3
  • Arlington City, up .6 to 22.5
  • Collierville City, up .6 to 24.3
  • Davidson County, up .5 to 18.4
  • Franklin County, up .6 to 20.1
  • Haywood County, up .5 to 17.5
  • Henderson County, up .5 to 21.2
  • Humboldt City, up .8 to 17.4
  • Maryville City, up .5 to 22.1
  • Williamson County, up .6 to 24.1

Tennessee set aside up to $2.5 million to pay for its 2017 Retake Day, and Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to fund the initiative in the upcoming year as well. The state already pays for the first ACT testing day statewide, which it’s done since 2009.

Correction: January 17, 2018: This story has been corrected to show that, while the state set aside $2.5 million for its ACT retake initiative, it spent only $2 million on the program this fiscal year.

double take

Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Students work on assignments at Indianapolis Public Schools Center For Inquiry at School 27.

Imagine a scenario where Indiana schools get not just one A-F grade each year, but two.

One grade would determine whether a school can be taken over by the state. The other would comply with federal law asking states to track student test progress and how federal aid is spent. Both would count, but each would reflect different measures of achievement and bring different consequences.

This could be Indiana’s future if a state board-approved plan moves ahead at the same time the state is working on a conflicting plan to comply with a new federal law.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it probably would be, said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Originally, A-F grades were intended to be an easy way for parents and community members to understand how their school is doing.

“It’s extremely confusing to have multiple accountability systems with multiple consequences,” McCormick told board members last week. “All along our message has been to get as much alignment as we can.”

Indiana would not be the first state to consider dual accountability systems — Colorado operated separate systems for years under No Child Left Behind and is now doing so again. Virginia, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have also had two models in years past. But this move would be a big departure from Indiana’s efforts over the past several years to simplify accountability, and education officials warn it could create more problems than it would solve.

Dale Chu, an education consultant who previously worked in Indiana under state Superintendent Tony Bennett, said it’s actually not common for states to have multiple systems, and doing so for political reasons, rather than what helps students and families, is concerning.

“We all know how confusing accountability systems can be when you just have one,” Chu said. “To create a bifurcated system, I don’t see how you gain additional clarity … I would certainly hope that if that’s the direction the state is going to move in, they are very thoughtful and intentional about it.”

The changes come as Indiana works to create a plan to comply with a new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. McCormick’s education department has been working to align the federal system with Indiana’s grading system, and is struggling to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, most notably in the area of graduation requirements and diplomas.

At the same time the Indiana State Board of Education is negotiating this alignment, it is also revamping the A-F grade system.

A new grading proposal approved by the state board last week would put more emphasis on student test scores than the A-F system that now unifies state and federal requirements. Those new rules would include extra categories for grading schools, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan.

While that proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

Officials were already expecting to issue two sets of A-F grades to schools in 2018 — one state grade, and one federal — as the state continued to work all of Indiana’s unresolved education issues into the new federal plan. Figuring out how to ensure state graduation rates don’t plummet because of other federal rule changes dictating  which diplomas count and incorporating the new high school graduation requirements, for example, will take time — and legislation — to fix.

Read: Indiana has a curious plan to sidestep federal rules — give schools two A-F grades next year.

But ultimately, officials said, if some of the state board-approved changes make it into final policy, and Indiana’s federal plan doesn’t change to accommodate it, the state and federal accountability systems could remain at odds with each other — meaning schools would continue to get two grades after 2018.

The original intent was to have all Indiana’s state grading system line up with federal requirements before the plan was sent to federal officials in September. Then, once the federal government gave feedback, the state A-F revamp could continue.

But just this past fall, after the federal plan had been submitted, some members of the state board began adding in additional measures, some of which reflect their personal interests in how schools should be rated.

Those measures were added after board members had multiple chances to discuss the federal plan with the education department, conversations that were held in an attempt to ward off such changes this late in the game. Yet even last week at the state board’s monthly meeting, where the new grading changes were approved, some board members didn’t seem to realize until after the vote that the A-F systems would not match up.

David Freitas, a state board member, said he didn’t see the conflicting A-F grade rules as a problem. The board can make Indiana’s state A-F system whatever it wants, he said, and there will be plenty of time to iron out specifics as the rulemaking process unfolds over the next several months.

“We’re not banned from having two different systems,” Freitas said. “But we need to consider the implications and consequences of that.”

Read more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.