Daily News Roundup, November 12, 2013

Perspectives: News You Can Use
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Some of the News Fit to Print


In the past, teachers were judged solely on their level of education and the number of years they had spent in the classroom—neither of which tells you whether their pupils are learning anything. But this is changing. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a research group, finds that most states now demand that student achievement should be a significant factor in teacher evaluations. The expansion of teacher evaluation is broadly good news. Work published in 2011, from Columbia and Harvard, showed that pupils assigned to better teachers are more likely to go to college and earn decent salaries, and less likely to be teenage mothers. If teachers in grades 4 to 8 are ranked according to their ability to add value (ie, teach) and those in the bottom 5% are replaced with ones of average quality, a class’s cumulative lifetime income is raised by $250,000. The article is in The Economist.

Esther Cepeda writes this commentary in the Wisconsin State Journal: Considering how reluctant our public education system is to change, the swiftness with which reform has spread in teacher evaluations is nothing short of breathtaking. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s “State of the States 2013” report, 35 states and the District of Columbia now require that student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. Additionally, 44 states and D.C. require classroom observations to be incorporated into teacher evaluations and 19 states and the district require policies to ensure that teacher evaluation results are used to inform and shape professional development for all instructors. Thankfully, more school systems are instituting rigorous evaluations to understand how both students and teachers are performing. But, as in teaching, there is also always room for improvement in evaluation methods. Though some prefer to focus on value-added and merit-pay schemes that so far haven’t definitively improved classroom performance, I want to key in on one recommendation the report makes for making the best use of teacher evaluations: evaluating all teachers.



William G. Tierney and Julia C. Duncheon share this commentary in Inside Higher Ed: Remedial education in higher education has become a target for reformers. Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well. Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework. Proponents of the reforms say they want to help students save money and earn college credits earlier, worthy goals at a time when student debt is mounting and colleges and universities are under pressure to graduate more students. But a “one size fits all” approach to the problem – making remedial courses optional, for example -- is likely to fail. Researchers point out that studies on the effectiveness of remedial work predominantly focus on students who came close to passing placement exams.  They judge kids who score abysmally on the tests as too different from college-ready students for inclusion in the studies. That remedial coursework may not benefit a subgroup of students is not a solid justification for eliminating it. So before putting remedial work on an optional footing, or abandoning it altogether, there are innovative approaches worth trying to improve students’ college readiness and graduation rates.

In New Mexico, nearly half of all recent high school graduates find they need some sort of refresher courses when they start college, according to the state Higher Education Department. Two years ago, the rate was 46.2 percent. Among first-year students at community colleges, the rate is higher. A 2013 report by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, says that 60 percent of incoming community college students need remedial classes. Throughout the country, many high school graduates are failing college placement tests and are forced to enroll in remedial courses. Yet remediation is expensive, discouraging and can force students to delay taking the courses they need to graduate from college. Recent reports estimate that remediation costs states, taxpayers, colleges, and students anywhere from $2.5 billion to about $7 billion a year. The article is in The Santa Fe New Mexican.