Friday, June 20, 2014

KBOR Developmental Education Working Group Presents Findings

This morning at the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) Board Meeting, Gary Alexander; Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Susan Fish; Director of Adult Education, presented the findings of a Developmental Education Working Group established to:
Assess the level and types of remedial education at state community and technical colleges and make recommendations about: (1) state level policy and actions to promote effective remediation; (2) strategies that may be implemented locally, at the discretion of individual institutions; and (3) appropriate state level goals and local performance measures.
The working group was established in response to a noticeable decline in student successfully completing required remedial education.  The presenters noted that for the 2013-14 school year, of the 23,863 first-time degree-seeking students enrolled in Kansas Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs), 8,877, or 37% enrolled in remedial education, and 1,597, or 18% successfully completed remedial education courses.

The working group was made up of staff representing 14 community colleges, 3 technical colleges, and 3 state universities.  No one representing K-12 education at the state or local level participated.

The following are the recommendations they presented in the report:

Recommendations for State Action

  1. The Board seek funding in the amount of $2.8-3.3 million to support a three-year project enabling institutions to develop, scale, and implement research-based recommendations and best practices.
  2. The KBOR/KSDE Coordinating Council consider:
    • Development by joint groups of college and high school faculty of refresher courses for students identified by the 11th grade year assessment test or college placement test as deficient in mathematics and/or English language arts.
    • Development of a common understanding of college readiness around which to align high school exit and readiness for two-year colleges.
    • State-funded administration of college-ready assessments to all high school students in 11th and 12th grade years.
  3. A study group composed of members of the Developmental Education Working Group, two-year college administrators, and KBOR Data, Research, and Planning staff be convened to develop and recommend state and institutional level performance goals and measures for developmental education. 
  4. A group composed of members of the Developmental Education Working Group, administrators of local Adult Education programs, and KBOR Adult Education staff conduct a study and hold discussions in order to recommend components of an effective relationship between developmental education and Adult Education in Kansas.
  5. Developmental education courses and outcomes be articulated following pilot-testing and implementation of course and curriculum redesign.  The articulation should use a process similar to the Kansas Core Outcomes Group Project. 
Recommendations for State Policy
  1. Placement test cut-off scores and developmental education course content be aligned with the content of a gateway course which is aligned with a student's chosen pathway of study.
  2. Placement assessment test options and cut-off scores be standardized statewide. 
Recommendations for Local Implementation and Policy
  1. College review and appropriately reise their policies with regard to assessment, placement, and course design to provide students the most effective and efficient transitions from developmental to regular coursework.  
  2. Institutions consider implementing some or all of the strategies identified by the Working Group to accelerate the developmental course sequence and enhance student support services.  
KASB will continue to work towards collaboration with KBOR to ensure that our members are involved in the discussion and the implementation of strategies to improve students' post-secondary readiness statewide.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NCTQ Evaluation of Kansas Teacher Prep Programs

The following is a press release created by National Council on Teacher Quality related to their findings in the Second Annual Review of Teacher Preparation Programs:

Push for Quality Faces Uphill Climb for Kansas’ Teacher Preparation Programs
National Council on Teacher Quality Releases
Second Annual Review of Teacher Preparation Programs

Two Kansas Programs Earn ‘Top Ranked’ Status

Washington, DC—The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its 2014 Teacher Prep Review, with a much expanded and more comprehensive evaluation of 1,612 teacher preparation programs across the United States, and for the first time, a numeric ranking of programs. The elementary and secondary programs at Fort Hays State University earned national ‘Top Ranked’ status—a distinction awarded to 107 programs in the nation for overall strong performance.

Among the 26 Kansas programs that were fully evaluated, six elementary and six secondary programs were strong enough to receive a national ranking. Fourteen programs in Kansas did not receive a numeric rank because their performance was in the bottom half of the national sample.

To ensure that all teachers are well-prepared, state leaders and local school districts need to demand that programs improve and, if necessary, look across their state lines for the best sources of well-trained teachers. Districts are also advised to dig deeper into the NCTQ findings to identify programs which may not do well overall but do well on particular standards to meet specific district needs, such as teachers with strong preparation in reading instruction.

“Given the increasing knowledge and skills expected of teachers, it is indeed disappointing that we could not identify more exemplary programs in Kansas. However, Kansas is by no means unique,” noted Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The dearth of high-quality programs is a national problem that public school educators, state policymakers and advocates, working alongside higher education, must solve together.”

NCTQ fully evaluated 26 undergraduate and graduate programs housed in 15 Kansas institutions—more than double the number evaluated in 2013. In addition to elementary and secondary programs, NCTQ examined one special education program in the state.

Teacher Prep Review Results for Kansas
Programs earning ‘Top Ranked’ status in bold

Highest ranked elementary programs (national rank):

  • Fort Hays State University – Undergraduate (12)
  • University of Kansas – Undergraduate (63)
  • Kansas State University – Undergraduate (144)
  • Emporia State University – Undergraduate (165)
  • Pittsburg State University – Undergraduate (327)

Highest ranked secondary programs (national rank):

  • Fort Hays State University – Undergraduate (3)
  • Kansas State University – Undergraduate (127)
  • Pittsburg State University – Undergraduate (127)
  • Bethany College – Undergraduate (193)
  • Newman University – Undergraduate (193)

A complete list of Kansas rankings is available on the NCTQ website.

There were three institutions, all private but housing publicly-approved teacher preparation programs, which NCTQ was unable to evaluate. These institutions declined NCTQ’s invitation to participate and did not turn over course materials for the Teacher Prep Review. Nevertheless, the Review does provide some limited findings on these programs, including whether they are adequately selective about who is admitted to the program and the quality of content preparation they provide. A complete list of non-cooperating institutions is available online.

NCTQ’s review of teacher preparation programs focuses on the knowledge, skills, and academic attributes new teachers need to be classroom ready when they graduate. Drawing from a set of 18 standards, NCTQ applies the relevant standards to elementary, secondary or special education programs. Findings for Kansas include:

Selectivity: 21 percent of programs in Kansas fully meet this standard, compared to the national average of 28 percent. These seven programs select candidates above the 50th percentile in the population of college-attending high school graduates, a relatively modest bar compared to what other high-performing nations require.

Early reading instruction: 21 percent of evaluated elementary programs in Kansas meet or nearly meet this standard by preparing teacher candidates in effective, scientifically-based reading instruction, compared to 34 percent of programs nationally.

Student teaching: Four percent of programs in Kansas were found to ensure a high-quality student teaching experience, in which candidates are assigned only to highly skilled teachers and receive frequent concrete feedback. Five percent of programs nationally require such an experience.

Classroom management: Seven Kansas programs (47 percent) fully meet the standard by providing feedback to teacher candidates on specific classroom management strategies to improve classroom behavior. This is significantly greater than the national average of 15 percent.

Elementary content preparation: 17 percent of the elementary programs in Kansas were found to nearly meet this standard, compared to 11 percent of all elementary programs nationally.

Secondary content preparation: The results were better for subject matter preparation of secondary teacher candidates, with 33 percent of programs fully meeting the standard, compared to the national average of 35 percent.

In addition to analyzing colleges and universities providing traditional teacher preparation, NCTQ reviewed a sample of secondary alternative certification providers not managed by a university or college. The results for these 85 providers, none of which are located in Kansas, were even weaker than for traditional programs. NCTQ found their admissions standards to be too low, efforts to assess subject matter knowledge inadequate, and too little training or support provided to candidates who are asked to hit the ground running in the classroom. Only one provider out of 85 earned high marks (Teach For America, Massachusetts).

The widespread attention surrounding the Review has helped to precipitate considerable activity by policymakers to strengthen teacher preparation. Over the last two years, 33 states have made significant changes to laws and regulations to improve teacher preparation, and another seven states, including Kansas, have taken steps forward.

In April of this year, the federal government also made an important move to improve teacher preparation by announcing its intention to strengthen accountability measures for teacher preparation programs and restrict millions in grants to only high-performing programs.

“While we are encouraged by the action that has been taken by Kansas and other states, we have a lot more work to do to provide future teachers with the world-class training that both they and students deserve,” added Walsh. “We urge policymakers and higher ed leaders to make this issue priority number one so that teachers in this country get the best possible training for the classroom.”

The full 2014 Teacher Prep Review report is available on NCTQ’s website. NCTQ has identified steps Kansas can take to make meaningful improvements to teacher prep and has provided guidance to districts on how to identify the best trained teachers.

About NCTQ

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization located in Washington DC. Founded in 2000, NCTQ is committed to restructuring the teaching profession, led by our vision that every child deserves effective teachers. NCTQ is committed to lending transparency and increasing public awareness of the four institutions having the greatest impact on teacher quality: states, teacher preparation programs, school districts, and teachers unions.

Funding for the second edition of the Review is provided by 54 foundations, located in 22 states.

For more information, contact Graham Drake, or 202-393-0020 x113.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How Partisan is Kansas?

Last week, the Washington Post published a blog post describing a tool created by the Sunlight Foundation based on data provided via the Open States project that shows how liberal or conservative lawmakers in each state are; along with the success of sponsored legislation and a wealth of other information.

Here is the chart for the Kansas Senate:

And for the Kansas House:

The Success of sponsored legislation axis "estimates each legislator's effectiveness in terms of the success of their primary-sponsored legislation." It seems the House is much more uniform on this scale than the Senate; indicating that all the representatives with a dot along the middle of the graph (between 6.00 and 7.00) were each able to get a single bill they sponsored passed into law.  

The ideal point estimates axis "analyzes the voting history of a group of people and yields a set of values that locate each person on two axes, with the distance between each unique pair of people proportionate in some way to the frequency with which they vote together relative to others in their chamber."  The scale goes from more liberal on the left to more conservative on the right.  These charts effectively show the more conservative makeup of both the House and Senate currently.  

For more details, visit The Sunlight Foundation and try the tool for yourself.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Per Pupil Spending versus Per Inmate Spending in Kansas

At the KASB Advocacy meeting in Kansas City, Kansas yesterday, the group discussed the potential impacts that students who do not graduate could have on the Kansas economy.

As part of this discussion, a question was asked regarding the average per-pupil spending in Kansas compared to the average per-inmate spending.  A fact sheet produced by the Vera Institute of Justice indicates that in 2010, the average spending per inmate in Kansas was $18,207; compared to the $12,330 we spent per pupil that same year.

One could argue that increases in per-pupil spending that lead to more successful students could decrease the number of Kansas students served by the corrections system, and therefore could lead to overall savings for the State. 

Food for thought.  

SAT and ACT Announcing Major Changes

In March, the College Board announced plans to redesign the SAT in light of the Common Core.  This month ACT, Inc. announced that it would be enhancing the ACT test also.

Changes for the SAT starting in the Spring of 2016 include "substantive shifts aimed at making the exam more 'focused' and 'useful,' including an emphasis on having students justify their answers with textual evidence, shunning 'obscure' SAT words, making the essay optional, and covering fewer math topics but in greater depth."

Also, the SAT will no longer penalize students for wrong answers; instead only providing a score based on the number of correct responses.  This will remove one of the main differences between the ACT and the SAT in terms of scoring; as the ACT does not penalize students for wrong answers either.

For more details on the SAT changes, click here.

The ACT results will be changing in the Spring of 2015 to include indicators of career readiness and information on test takers' ability to understand complex tests.

The writing test will be split into four sub-scores:

  • ideas and analysis
  • development and support
  • organization
  • language use
The career-readiness indicator will be linked to ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate; based on their WorkKeys job skills assessment system.  

Based on research indicating that students' ability to comprehend complex pieces of writing is a key predictor of college and career success, student results will include a "text complexity progress indicator," as well.

Because of the increased focus on STEM education and careers, ACT will also combine the math and science scores to produce a STEM score, as well as an English/language arts score based on the combined English, reading, and writing scores.

For more details on the ACT changes, click here.

Also of significance is the fact that both tests will also begin being offered in electronic format rather than strictly on paper; allowing students the option of taking these exams on computers in much the same format as they are used to for state assessments and other tests.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

KSDE Commissioner Search Focus Group

Last night I attended one of eleven focus groups sponsored throughout the state by KSDE with the purpose of obtaining "constituent feedback as to what they believe to be the most critical education issues in Kansas, and the experiences and skills they feel are essential for this leadership position."

There were thirteen attendees in the session I attended in Topeka, facilitated by Carolyn Campbell; KSDE board member representing District 6.  The group was a mix of teachers, parents, school administrators, and representatives from groups such as KNEA.

The agenda for the focus group included three questions:
  • What are the good things about education in Kansas?
  • What are the most critical issues for education in Kansas in the foreseeable future?  
  • What experiences, skills, and background are necessary for the next Commissioner of Education to be successful?
I found the hour and forty minute discussion very interesting, and thought it worthwhile to list the items raised by the group in response to each of the questions.  They provide a good cross-section of the thoughts and opinions of stakeholders within the Kansas education system.  

What are the good things about education in Kansas?

  • How high Kansas rates nationally. 
  • Teachers; their passion, knowledge, etc.
  • Collaboration at all levels.
  • Local control following the state and local school  board model rather than state-level appointees.
  • Families value education, boards are compassionate, and communities rally around schools.
  • Strong curriculum.
  • Good leadership in the schools.
  • Vision, planning, and longevity.
  • Belief in leadership.
  • Strong, highly-trained teacher workforce.
  • Support of public schools rather than focus on private and charter schools.
  • Retained professional development despite budget cuts via consolidation of resources.
  • Still have arts, language, drama, debate, etc.; programs which have been eliminated from other states.
  • A long reputation for being able to do more with less.
  • Families and students willing to sacrifice for education.
  • High standards that are taken seriously.
  • The work that KSDE does and their efforts to seek input from educators.

What are the most critical issues for education in Kansas in the foreseeable future?  

  • Adequate supply of highly trained educators.
  • Funding education
    • Teacher salaries
  • Balancing quantifying and maintaining quality.
    • "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron
  • Public perception that public education is failing.
  • People not seeing the importance of programs like school breakfasts, etc. - not understanding how much the world has changed since they went to school.
  • Mental health issues for students - closing of state hospitals, lack of medicaid support, parents' issues, etc.
  • Lack of professional development and mentoring for new educators serving a diverse student population. 
  • Some children in the state are valued more than others.
  • The haves versus the have-nots. 
    • Focusing on the needs of a small number of districts
  • Dying counties - areas with elderly populations that outnumber the school-aged children.
  • Changing cultures
    • Over 100 languages being spoken in Kansas schools
    • Must engage families in new ways.
  • The ability to ensure students can be productive citizens after high school.
    • More than just preparation for a job.
  • All teachers should be highly qualified in the subjects they teach.  
    • Require educators to have education degrees
  • Big gap between high schools and colleges.
  • Uninformed electorate
    • Education must take responsibility for the fact that the same legislators keep  getting elected
  • Should hold parents to the same level of responsibility we expect of the students
    • We feed their children, clothe them, maintain their health, etc. - we enable the parents to be negligent.
    • Family engagement
  • Teacher, principal, and administrator burnout.
  • Opponents using a divide and conquer strategy to get education groups to work against each other.
  • "Pay to play."
  • Maintaining science standards
    • Presenting creationism as religion
  • Recommendation for targeted focus groups on topics mentioned above.
  • Must be able to walk in the shoes of the people you are working with.
    • Once upon a time, most teachers lived in the same community as their students.
    • "In order to teach a kid, you must first befriend their parent(s)." 

What experiences, skills, and background are necessary for the next Commissioner of Education to be successful?

  •  Be and educator - understand the motivation, willingness to give above and beyond, etc.
  • Being able to build relationships with people - building credibility and trust.
  • Be committed to public education
  • Understand the purpose of education is more than to be able to get a job
    • Produce productive citizens with a sense of values and responsibility
  • Understand the complexities of all the system's moving parts
  • Someone with experience with the feds - diplomacy and educating legislators
  • Experience in diversity, understand achievement gaps, be able to work with districts of all sizes, etc.
  • Not too innovative
    • "You sometimes have to go slow to move fast."  
    • "Think outside the box but work within it."
  • Bring a consistent vision to KSDE staff.
  • Someone who can help move change forward.
  • Must have a presence when they speak.  
  • Someone who has served as an administrator.
  • History of success.
  • Not necessarily from Kansas.
  • Need to be aware of the Legislature.
  • Need to experience Kansas.
  • Charismatic and impressive.
  • Desire to get out there and see education in action.  
    • Balance time spent at the national, state, and local level.
  • Honesty.  

The focus groups continue tonight and tomorrow night.  The State Board is currently targeting November to have a new Commissioner in place.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

AASA Survey: Superintendents Support Common Core, Urge Slow Down in Implementation

A new survey conducted by the American Association of School Administrators (a.k.a. the School Superintendents Association) indicates that "a majority of America’s superintendents are optimistic about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)... However, time and money are must haves to 'ensure that schools and teachers have the resources they need to successfully implement the standards and aligned assessments in a way that bolsters student learning,'"

Key findings, as described on AASA's website, are:

  • Superintendents overwhelmingly (92.5 percent) see the new standards as more rigorous than previous standards.
  • More than three quarters (78.3 percent) agree that the education community supports the standards, but that support drops to 51.4 percent among the general public.
  • Nearly three quarters of the respondents (73.3 percent) agree that the political debate has gotten in the way of the implementation of the new standards.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) say their input was never requested in the decision to adopt or develop new standards or in planning the implementation.
  • More than half (60.3 percent) of the respondents who had begun testing say they are facing problems with the tests.
  • Just under half (41.9 percent) say schools in their states are not ready to implement the online assessment, while 35.9 percent say they lack the infrastructure to support online assessments.

Monday, June 2, 2014

STEM-Focused Schools and Mixed Research Results

Today, EdWeek posted a blog entry entitled "Research on STEM-Focused Schools Shows Mixed Results."   The article presents some interesting results related to the effectiveness of STEM programs, but it also serves as a cautionary tale related to research and how it should be interpreted.

I encourage readers interested in STEM programs to take a look at the article.  However, rather than summarizing the findings, I want to highlight a few "yellow flags" that I noticed.

  •  The first article cited was written by a researcher employed by the American Institutes for Research; which is a nonprofit company that offers a wide variety of services and products including technical assistance and evaluation services to schools, districts, and state departments of education.  Because AIR is a company interested in increasing revenue, there is a greater chance for bias in the approach and presentation of research done by its staff than would be in research done by universities or other more independent entities.  That is not to say this bias is certainly present in anything presented by AIR staff, but it is something to consider. 
  • The first article is also cited as using "so-called 'value-added' methods."  Such methods, which involve using student learning gains as measured by test scores to evaluate effectiveness of teachers, schools, and/or districts, are controversial at best.  The Institute of Education Sciences indicates that value added estimates "are likely to be noisy using the amount of data that are typically used in practice" - meaning that they should not be considered absolute and foolproof measures of effectiveness.
  • The second article cited also employed value-added methods, and found that STEM magnets did not significantly improve student achievement in STEM courses, but that STEM charter schools did.  However, almost as an afterthought, the blog post notes the researcher's "analysis was limited in that  he did not have data on science, technology or engineering achievement—just math."  In other words, the researcher used only math scores to evaluate the effectiveness of programs designed to improve learning in science, technology, engineering, and math.  
  • The third article cited looked at STEM programs in New York City, and concluded that "once the researchers accounted for demographics and prior test scores, most of the STEM-focused schools' advantages disappeared, suggesting that the schools were disproportionately attracting higher-achieving students who were interested in STEM."  In other words, the STEM program advantages are discredited because these program attract a) higher-achieving students who are more likely to make an active choice in the programs in which they wish to participate, and b) STEM programs attract students who are interested in STEM topics.  Both of these factors mean that the groups being compared are not equal based on their existing characteristics and therefore there is a bias in the "experimental design," but in terms of the program design, it would seem the STEM programs are doing exactly what they are expected to do; attracting the students who are most likely to succeed in STEM.  
The "yellow flags" I note above are just things to consider when looking at this particular research.  I present them because it is important to look at any research with a critical eye, and consider the source of the research and how it has been analyzed and presented.  Often the articles and blog posts we see only give us a small portion of the overall picture, so readers should never take them as absolute fact.  

2014 NCES Condition of Education report available

The 2014 edition of the Condition of Education Report, published annually by the National Center for Education Statistics, is now available.

According to NCES, "the Condition of Education 2014 summarizes important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 42 indicators on the status and condition of education. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available."

For more information, and to download either the full report or the Indicator Highlights, click here.

School Spending Increases Linked to Better Outcomes for Poor Students

On the same day Mark Tallman posted last week about "Mapping student achievement, poverty and school funding," EdWeek published the following:

"In districts that substantially increased their spending as the result of court-ordered changes in school finance, low-income children were significantly more likely to graduate from high school, earn livable wages, and avoid poverty in adulthood.

"So concludes a working paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, a private, nonpartisan research organization with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass."
For more info, visit EdWeek.  

EdWeek Kansas Page

Did you know that EdWeek provides a page for Kansas-specific news and information?  Click here to explore!