Daily News Roundup, November 21, 2012

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


The use of testing in school accountability systems may hamstring the development of tests that can actually transform teaching and learning, experts from a national assessment commission warn. Members of the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, speaking at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Education here Nov. 1-3, said that technological innovations may soon allow much more in-depth data collection on students, but that current testing policy calls for the same test to fill too many different and often contradictory roles. The nation's drive to develop standards-based accountability for schools has led to tests that, "with only few exceptions, systematically overrepresent basic skills and knowledge and omit the complex knowledge and reasoning we are seeking for college and career readiness," the commission writes in one of several interim reports discussed at the Academy of Education meeting. The article is in Education Week.

For educators who teach subjects outside the state’s longstanding testing system, like foreign language, music, and art, the adjustment to the new teacher evaluation system has been particularly jarring. They are unaccustomed to worrying about high-stakes testing, much less having the results determine whether they can keep their jobs. In English, math, science, and social studies, teachers will be measured on their students’ progress on existing state tests. But Louisiana school districts have broad latitude when selecting the exams that will be used in subjects without standard state tests. In some cases, district officials are letting teachers choose or design the assessments on which they will be judged. In other cases, school boards, superintendents, or principals are picking the exams without consulting or even notifying teachers. The article is in The Hechinger Report.

Since New Jersey first started talking about revamping teacher evaluations, the biggest point of contention has always been the use of student performance in the equation. The argument goes that so many factors go into a student’s grade on a test or other assessment that it is an unreliable gauge of a teacher’s effectiveness. Conversely, those pushing for the greater use of student data maintain that ultimately the goal of every teacher must be improved student learning and that schools have been remiss in not counting it enough. That debate came to the fore in NJ Spotlight’s Roundtable on Saturday during discussion of New Jersey’s new teacher-tenure law and the development of a statewide teacher-evaluation system. In a panel discussion held at Rutgers-Newark, state policy-makers, district administrators and school staff weighed in balancing student performance and teacher performance. Several of the panelists work in districts that are now piloting the new evaluations, the testing ground for when the systems will go into effect statewide in 2013-14. The article is in the NJ Spotlight.



Brian C. Mitchell, Director of the Edvance Foundation, writes this commentary in The Huffington Post: College access is a national imperative. Once first in the world, the United States now ranks 12th among 36 developed nations in the percentage of the population with a college degree. Projections indicate that by 2018, as many as sixty million Americans will lack the skills and credentials to join the knowledge economy. Meanwhile the pool of applicants to four-year colleges and universities in America continues to shrink, largely because of rising tuition costs. The cost barrier, combined with shifting demographic needs, has increased the attractiveness of community colleges -two-year public and private institutions - for students wishing to continue their education beyond high school. Enrollment at these schools as of 2009 represented 44 percent of all U.S. undergraduates. As enrollment at two-year colleges is on the rise - and often becoming over-subscribed -there is a pool of talent from these institutions yet to be fully utilized. The vast majority of community college students enter with the intention of transferring to a four-year school. Despite that intention, just 29 percent ultimately transfer - and only 16 percent of students who began their education at two-year colleges go on to earn a bachelor's degree or higher. Compare that with the average 60 percent graduation rate among students who originally matriculate at four-year institutions. We can quickly see how the dream of advancement through higher education remains elusive for many.

Educator Larry Cuban writes in his blog, Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice: MOOCs have soared in popularity as the “disruptive innovation” that will revolutionize higher education. Called the “Most Important Educational Technology in 200 Years” by the head of a new consortium of Harvard and MIT offering MOOCs, forecasts of fundamental changes in higher education are as common as iPads in a Starbucks. Stanford University President John Hennessey says “there’s a tsunami coming.” Right before our eyes we are experiencing the very beginning of the hype cycle. For many academic entrepreneurs deeply dissatisfied with the cost of higher education and the traditional teaching that occurs, the onset of MOOCs is exhilarating. It is an unexplored frontier where plunging into the unknown and taking risks could lead to exciting  returns. The promise of a college education taught by stellar teachers delivered free to anyone in the world who has the smarts and grit drives higher education reformers.  In 2012. MOOCs are at the very beginning of the Hype Cycle.



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