Monday, August 14, 2017

A Look At TUSD's AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
The state has released scores on the AzMERIT tests given this spring, meaning we can compare TUSD's 2017 scores with its scores two years ago when students took the first AzMERIT tests, and with the state scores. I'll lay out the results the numbers first, then I'll try to figure out what they mean, and don't mean.

But first, let me repeat my intense dislike of our obsession with high stakes, standardized tests. They only test what's testable in a fill-in-the-bubble format. They're susceptible to being gamed, meaning the better teachers are at teaching to the test, the better their students' results. That means the reliability of the results as a measure of student achievement is questionable. Also, the emphasis on the tests distorts the curriculum at the same time it stifles teachers' creativity and their ability to tailor their teaching strategies to their students' needs. The yearly tests make the education we give our students worse, not better. Nonetheless, the tests are out there, and people will talk. So with these caveats in mind, I'll talk too.

Here's a summary of the AzMERIT results, without analysis or interpretation. Statewide, fewer than half the students passed the test in every grade. The passage rates range from 25 percent to 48 percent. However, the average passing rate rose about 4 percentage points since the first test was given in 2015. TUSD's passing rate is considerably lower than the state's, averaging 11 points lower in Language Arts and 13 points lower in Math. The district's average passing rate didn't change in Language Arts from 2015 to 2017 and went up one percent in Math, meaning TUSD's scores showed less improvement than the state as a whole. White and Asian students scored considerably higher than Hispanic, Native American and African American students at the district and the state level.

Now, some analysis. First, the passing rates. As any teacher knows, you can create tests that are easier and harder, and you can move the grade curve up or down depending on where you set the cut scores. The old AIMS test was thought to be too easy and too many students passed it, so the state created a harder test and set the passing scores at a level that fewer students passed. So the fact that far fewer students passed AzMERIT than AIMS doesn't mean our students know less than they did a few years ago. It just means we have a tougher curve on a tougher test.

Fewer TUSD students passed than the state average, and at both the TUSD and state levels, White and Asian students scored higher than Hispanic, Native American and African American students. That information is about as surprising and revelatory as saying the yearly temperature in Tucson is higher than it is in Seattle. Of course Tucson is warmer, that's how the global climate is structured! Of course Whites and Asians outperform Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans on standardized tests, that's how the households' economic and educational status is structured! And of course the state outperforms TUSD on standardized test scores, the district has a lower percentage of high scoring White and Asian students and a higher percentage of Hispanic, Native American and African American students than the state as a whole.

None of this is a judgement on any group. Far from it. It's a judgement of our society's shameful economic, racial and ethnic inequality. If we lower the levels of inequality, the gaps in student scores will close as a result. It's overstating things, but not by much, to say we could learn as much about student achievement, and save ourselves a whole lot of money, by getting rid of the tests and just looking up students' zip codes.

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Tucson Peacefully Protested White Supremacy!

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 12:32 PM

"All this organization in less than a day—no sirens, no helicopters." - CURTIS ENDICOTT
  • Curtis Endicott
  • "All this organization in less than a day—no sirens, no helicopters."

Sunday, Aug. 13: We were late. Ten minutes behind the hundreds of marchers, and a four-year-old in tow. The photographer offered us a shaded seat until they circled back. But this was no time to sit still. Hate and intolerance had once more surfaced on a national level at the Charlottesville, Virginia white nationalist march. We paused to remove a rock from my son's shoe, and that's when we met Faith. She is pregnant and tired. But it feels too isolating and helpless to stay at home today. We stop for water and a hug at one of three aid stations along the route. All this organization in less than a day—no sirens, no helicopters. Then we hear the chant, "Through love, not hate, let's make America great." Black and gay, Mexican and Muslim, all were walking in unison.
But this was no time to sit still. - CURTIS ENDICOTT
  • Curtis Endicott
  • But this was no time to sit still.

As we passed frat row, six white guys hung together jeering, "Blue Lives Matter." An angry student paused to take their picture. "So that's what privilege looks like," he yells back. Then the black man beside me lays a hand on the marcher's shoulder, "They've just never had something bad happen in their lives yet." A woman up front starts to sing, "And you will know that we are family by our love, by our love." When we hit the 4th Avenue tunnel, our collective voice resounds through the streets. "And you will know that we are family by our love."
A woman up front starts to sing, "And you will know that we are family by our love, by our love." - CURTIS ENDICOTT
  • Curtis Endicott
  • A woman up front starts to sing, "And you will know that we are family by our love, by our love."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Results-Based Funding. The Inequity Will Increase After This School Year

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 1:15 PM

My last post was about the likely distribution of the new results-based funding which will go to 17 percent of Arizona's schools. The details are in the earlier post. Here's the short version: Only 35 percent of the state's district schools cater mainly to higher income students, but they represent 65 percent of the schools getting results-based funding for the 2017-18 school year. The economic inequity is even greater for charter schools.

Results-based funding is a very big deal. The lucky schools getting the money will boost their teachers' pay by between $2,000 and $4,000 a year and still have lots left over to buy educational extras other schools can't afford.

Thanks to results-based funding, increased educational inequity will be added to our growing income inequality. But as bad as things are the first year, they'll be far worse after that, with an even bigger piece of the pie going to schools in high rent areas. The details of how this works get a bit complicated, but they're important. Without knowing what the future will bring beyond year one, people will underestimate how truly awful the new results-based funding law is.

When results-based money is given out this school year, 2017-18, it will be based on schools' average AzMERIT scores. Since the standardized test scores correlate so closely with students' family incomes, that could mean that nearly all the money would go to schools in higher rent areas, but an added stipulation guarantees that about a third of the schools are in lower rent areas. According to the current projection from the Arizona legislature's Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 114 district schools with higher income students and 61 schools with lower income students will get the funding.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Economic and Educational Inequity of Results-Based Funding

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 9:00 AM

We have a fascinating new document out of the Arizona legislature's Joint Legislative Budget Committee. It's a projection of which schools will get results-based funding this year. No surprise here. As predicted, schools with higher income students make out like bandits, but now it's been confirmed. The numbers are only projections, since they're based on 2016 data and the money will be disbursed based on the 2017 AzMERIT test scores, but since most schools' scores don't change much relative to other schools, the projection is likely to be pretty accurate.

About 17 percent of schools will get the results-based funding. Here's a quick breakdown.
   • 114 district schools with higher income students — fewer than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 61 district schools with lower income students — more than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 73 charter schools with higher income students — fewer than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.
    • 16 charter schools with lower income students — more than 60% on free/reduced lunch — will get results-based funding.

To put those numbers in perspective, only 35 percent of Arizona's public schools are in the higher income category, yet they make up 65 percent of the schools getting the funding.

The numbers become even more dramatic when you look at the number of students in public schools getting the money: 72 percent of the students are in higher income schools, 28 percent are in lower income schools.

The disparity is even greater with charter schools. 82 percent of the schools are higher income while 18 percent are lower income. In terms of the number of students in those schools, 88 percent are in higher income schools, 12 percent are in lower income schools.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Here's What a Skills-Based Curriculum Means In Finland

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 8:26 AM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
Somehow or other, Finland's schools have skyrocketed into the educational stratosphere in recent years, though it shouldn't have happened if you buy the usual U.S. view of how young people should be educated. The schools don't teach reading formally until the kids turn seven. Elementary schools give their students hours of recess. The teachers decide how they're going to teach their students with minimal guidance from above. And they don't give any standardized tests until high school students have almost graduated. Oh, and there are no private schools, with a few exceptions. Yet Finland tops all other European countries in its scores on international tests. The scores compare favorably with the highest scoring Asian countries as well.

Maybe it's something in the water (or Finlandia vodka?). It can't be simply a matter of demographics, since neighboring countries don't score nearly as well (Fun fact. Since Finland's neighbor Sweden went to a school choice model like the one loved by U.S. conservatives, complete with private school vouchers, its scores on the international tests have fallen). Finland must know something about education we don't. It could have something to do with teachers having such respect and status in society that Finland has a glut of applicants to its teacher education programs. Only the top ten percent are accepted. Maybe it's the three years of full time teacher education and training before teachers get classrooms of their own, which is not only tuition free, it comes with a stipend for living expenses, The generous non-classroom time teachers have to work with their colleagues could be part of the Finnish secret as well.

But for all its success, Finland isn't resting on its laurels. It introduced a new national curriculum last year which is "skills-based." Take a moment to think what "skills" might refer to. Reading skills maybe? Math skills? Research skills? Time's up. Here's a sample of what "skills" mean in Finland's schools.
There are seven skills the curriculum is based on, including cultural competence, multiliteracy, entrepreneurship, and "thinking and learning to learn." Instead of being expected to cover certain content, teachers are expected to weave those skills into their lessons. It's not "content versus skills, but content with skills," [Petteri Elo, a Finnish teacher and educational consultant] said.
The only skill on that list you might hear emphasized in U.S. schools is "thinking and learning to learn," though these days that's had to take a back seat to learning how to answer questions on multiple choice, standardized tests.

The world is full of educational models other than ours. We certainly haven't seen impressive results from our national insistence that No Child [Be] Left Behind. Adopting the Finnish model probably doesn't make sense here, but the rigid standardization which comes from teaching to the test doesn't make much sense either. Maybe if we try to figure out how to recruit our best college graduates into teaching, then give them a demanding teacher education curriculum, followed by giving each of them the freedom to create their own curriculum best suited to their skills and the needs of their students . . . that might be a good place to start.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Is the Strong Start Tucson Initiative a Good Idea?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
Tucsonans will be voting on an initiative, Strong Start Tucson, which, if it passes, will provide money to make preschool more available and affordable for the city's children. It will be funded by a half cent sales tax. That sounds like a wonderful idea to me, but some people have voiced strong objections to the details of the initiative, including people I generally agree with. So which side should I be on? Is the upside of the initiative greater than the downside, or is it the other way around?

The Tucson Sentinel has two columns about Strong Start Tucson, one for and one against the initiative. Both of them are informative and well written. If you're interested, they're worth your time.

Let me cut to the chase. My answer is yes, Tucson should vote for Strong Start Tucson. Now, let's discuss.

The argument for Strong Start Tucson is direct and straightforward. Most Tucson children don't have the opportunity to attend a quality preschool. The programs are very expensive, out of the reach of most families. Yet the vast majority of research agrees that the benefits of early childhood education starts when the child enters school and continues into adulthood. Comparing similar children, especially low income children, who attended a preschool with a strong educational foundation (basic daycare doesn't count, it's a different thing altogether) and children who didn't, studies conclude that the children with a strong preschool experience graduate high school with greater frequency, are less likely to need government assistance, earn more money as adults, are more likely to have stable families and are less likely to get in trouble with the law.

That's a heady list of positive effects with significant personal and economic consequences. People who went to preschool are more likely to have stable, fulfilling lives and less likely to be social and economic burdens on society. With most educational programs, the long term benefits outweigh the short term costs. It may be the preschool experience has the biggest bang for the buck.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Arizona's Un-Credential. Is It the Beginning Of the End Of Teaching As a Profession?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 2:44 PM


I've written a number of posts about SB 1042, which created a new Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate. But recently I realized I was so wrapped up in the details of the bill, I missed the big picture, which is that, thanks to the new law, education courses, teacher training and student teaching are now optional for public school teachers. You could even say they're even a waste of time and money. Teaching in Arizona has been officially de-professionalized. People can now get a standard teaching certificate with nothing more than a bachelors degree in a subject taught in middle or high school. Or if they've worked in a relevant field for five years, all they need is a high school diploma or a GED, or less. If a school district is willing to hire them, they immediately become full-fledged teachers who can work until retirement without ever taking an education class or having their subject matter proficiency formally assessed.

The standard definition of "profession" is a paid occupation that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Doctors fit that definition. So do lawyers. Teachers also make the cut when they're required to take relevant coursework and go through training in the field of education along with demonstrating a proficiency in the subject matter they will be teaching. But when all Arizona teachers need is a bachelors degree, or a high school diploma or GED plus some work experience, they no longer qualify as professionals.

But we had to do something to combat teacher shortages, right? That's what Ducey and Republican state legislators tell us: necessity was the mother of the new certification rules. The problem is, that's simply not true. The mother of SB 1042 is the conservative desire to devalue, degrade and dismantle public education.

Before the new law, Arizona's public schools already were able to hire teachers with minimal education and training if they needed to. People could teach with nothing more than a bachelors degree by getting an Emergency Teaching Certificate, which is good for a year and can be renewed by taking a few education courses. People could also teach with nothing more than a high school diploma or a GED by getting an Emergency Substitute Certificate, though with that certificate they can only teach 120 days, not a full school year. It can be renewed with a little coursework in any subject.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Meritocracy, System Justification and Mexican American Studies

Posted By on Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 11:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
With Mexican American Studies back in the news, the discussion over whether the program helped or hurt its students has been reopened. Were minority students better off for being taught ways Hispanics have gotten a raw deal in this country, or does that just make them angry and discouraged, leaving them worse off than if their history of second class citizenship wasn't emphasized in MAS classrooms?

According to a recent study, programs like MAS help improve minority students' self esteem and their chances of success in school. The study looked at a group of middle school students in a majority-minority middle school in Arizona—55 percent Hispanic, 18 percent black, 11 percent Native American. Researchers asked students if they believed America is a place where people who work hard have an equal chance of succeeding—in other words, if they believed the U.S. is a meritocratic society. When they were sixth graders, students who believed they lived in a meritocracy had relatively high self esteem and were less likely to indulge in risky behavior than other students. But by the end of the seventh grade, those students had lower self esteem and increased risky behaviors compared to students who didn't buy into the idea that they lived in a meritocracy.

The cautious conclusion the researchers draw from their results is that "system justification," the belief that social, economic and political systems around them are inherently good, cause minority students to internalize the discrimination directed at them and view their low societal status as their own fault. As one teacher put it,
“[Minority] students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”

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Staff Pick

The Producers by Mel Brooks

Arizona Onstage Productions presents the popular and widely successful The Producers. The Biggest Hit Broadway Musical Comedy… More

@ Berger Performing Arts Center Sat., Aug. 19, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sun., Aug. 20, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Sat., Aug. 26, 2:30-4:30 & 7:30-9:30 p.m. and Sun., Aug. 27, 2:30-4:30 p.m. 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.

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