Federal Grant Helps 4,000 Students Pay for AP Exams

The U.S. Department of Education announced $28.4 million in grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C to defray costs of taking the Advanced Placement (AP) fees for low-income families.

From the U.S. Department of Education:

The grants are used to help pay for students from low-income families taking approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The grants included $362,985 awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education for the 2016 fiscal year, which means the department has already had the money and used it for students taking exams this past spring.

The Department had this to say:

More Tennessee students than ever before are taking AP exams and — more importantly — scoring high enough to become eligible for college credit. That’s key. One of our top priorities for the 2016-17 school year is strengthening pathways for students to be able to seamlessly transition into college and careers, and in order to do that, we have to provide more opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit and industry certifications while in high school.

Sometimes these opportunities carry a price tag that may prohibit some of our students from being able to attain the college credit and/or certification they could otherwise earn if they were able to afford to take a specific exam. And in Tennessee, we want every student to be as equipped as possible when they graduate from high school. The funding announced today provided exam fee assistance on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams for about 4,000 economically disadvantaged students.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

Interview with Dyslexia Expert Dr. Tim Odegard

Odegard, Tim 11-2015We welcome Dr. Tim Odegard to the blog to discuss dyslexia. Dr. Odegard is a dyslexia expert and is currently the Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies and a Professor of Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University.

He is a cognitive psychologist and received his PhD from the University of Arkansas. He speaks locally and nationally on the process of reading and dyslexia.

What are the signs and symptoms of someone with dyslexia?

Students do not have to present with underachievement or difficulties in all of these areas to be said to have characteristics of dyslexia.

  •   Difficulty reading words in isolation
  •   Difficulty accurately decoding unfamiliar words
  •   Difficulty with oral reading (slow, inaccurate, or labored)
  •   Difficulty spelling
  •   Segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  •   Learning the names of letters and their associated sounds
  •   Holding information about sounds and words in memory (phonological memory)
  •   Rapidly recalling the names of familiar objects, colors, or letters of the alphabet (rapid naming)

We hear that 1 in 5 students have dyslexia. Is that fact or fiction?

It is a number based on study documenting the prevalence rate of dyslexia. The prevalence rate ranges from 5 – 20 % depending on the nature of the sample included in the study.

The reality is that when schools are required to report the identification rates of dyslexia the identification rate is less that 3%. This reality suggests that we do not have an issue of over identification in our country but one of under identification.

The data on the identification rates of Specific Learning Disability in our public schools also suggests that we have an issue in some states of under identification of specific learning disability. Dyslexia is just one form of specific learning disability.

When identified as having dyslexia, what type of intervention do students need to improve their reading ability?

These students struggle to read words accurately and or quickly. This can limit their ability to comprehend written material and learn new vocabulary from written material. These students need direct instruction that systematically teaches them how to read words.

Advocates say that OG (Orton-Gillingham) intervention is what is needed for all students with dyslexia. Has the OG method been proven to work with students with dyslexia?

Yes, there were several controlled studies conducted to test the impact of various Orton-Gillingham based programs. The results of these studies were summarized in a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Dyslexia. Due to the age of these studies they were not included in the What Works Clearinghouse.

Do all students who struggle with reading have dyslexia?

No, a small number of students with a specific learning disability in reading struggle with comprehension in spite of being able to accurately and efficiently read words and text passages. A specific comprehension problem is not dyslexia.

What are the two biggest misconception when it comes to dyslexia?

Many people still think that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis that must be tested and diagnosed by a health professional. This is not true. The reality is that dyslexia is not a medical condition and does not require a medical diagnosis.

Many people still think that school personnel cannot identify characteristics of dyslexia or dyslexia.

This is not true. The reality is that school psychologists in our public schools are often the best equipped to identify dyslexia. The 2016 Say Dyslexia law helps to clarify this for schools, and the Center for Dyslexia is working to provide educators and parents with valuable resources to aid in the identification of dyslexia.

What does the MTSU Center for Dyslexia offer parents and students?

The Center for Dyslexia has a small staff of experts in dyslexia and literacy dedicated to providing resources to parents, student and educators. We offer assistance to parents in understanding how they can work with their child’s schools in support of school based identification of dyslexia.

We also offer monthly parent workshops of different topics of dyslexia and supporting students with dyslexia. We have a limited capacity to provide testing services to students in the state.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

Federal Report Shows TFA Teachers As Good As Or Better Than Traditionally Trained Teachers

The Institute of Education Sciences’ What Works Clearinghouse recently released a systematic review of all the research on Teach for America (TFA).

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is a place where educators can go to determine if programs are scientifically proven to work. It’s a helpful tool for all those educators who wondered, “Does this actually work?”

From their website:

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?”

WWC doesn’t just review any type of research reports that are thrown out there. Studies have meet certain scientific requirements to be added into a systematic review of the subject at hand.

This current review looked at TFA’s effectiveness in math, science, English, and social studies achievement.

Overall Effectiveness 

Let’s start out with an overall look at the effectiveness of TFA teachers. Afterwards, I will break down the individual subjects achievement data. As you can see below, TFA teachers are better than traditionally trained teachers in math achievement, potentially better in science achievement, and are the same in social studies achievement and English achievement. The systematic review did not find a pattern of TFA teachers being worse than traditionally trained teachers in any subject.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-18-31-amscreen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-34-28-am

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-54-40-am

Math Achievement 

According to this systematic review, TFA teachers see the great achievement with math. The studies involved look at over 65,000 students and found TFA teachers had a statistically significant positive effect on math achievement. The review found a medium to large amount of evidence for this claim. screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-38-48-amScience Achievement 

For science achievement data, the one study included over 36,000 students and found a positive and statistically significant effect of TFA teachers on science achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-44-41-amSocial Studies Achievement 

The one study included in this section found no statistical significant effect on TFA teachers in regards to social studies achievement. This means that TFA teachers were the same as traditionally trained teachers when it came to their student’s social studies achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-48-54-amEnglish Achievement

For English achievement, the systematic review looked at 5 studies that included over 53,000 students. They found that there was no statistically significant effect of TFA teachers compared to traditionally trained teachers. TFA teachers and traditionally trained teachers were the same when it came to English achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-51-54-amWhat are the takeaways? 

TFA teachers do better in math and science achievement, but do no worse in English and social studies achievement compared to traditionally trained teachers. The takeaway is that TFA teachers, with limited amount of training, are doing the same or as better as teachers who spend years in training.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

 

 

How Did MNPS High Schools And Subgroups Do On The ACT?

I recently wrote about the release of ACT scores for the state and specifically for Nashville. We learned that only 11% of MNPS students were college and career ready according to the ACT. 

Today, MNPS released more in depth information on the individual high schools as well as information on specific subgroups in Nashville. 

According to MNPS, 4,376 seniors took the ACT with the average score of 18.2. Seniors need to have a composite score of 21 or above to qualify for the HOPE scholarship. While the percent of high school students qualifying for HOPE scholarship decreased, the number of students qualifying for the scholarship actually increased from from 1,131 to 1,219 students.

Achievement Gap

Before we look at the scores of individual high schools, I want to look at the ACT scores based on subgroups. Below we see the gap between Black (16.7), Hispanic/Latino (16.9), and White (20.7) students. That’s a 4 point different between Black and White students and a 3.8 point difference Hispanic/Latino and White students.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-2-46-12-pm

How did individual high schools do?

The top traditional high schools for ACT achievement are Hume-Fogg (26.8), MLK (26.3), and Nashville School of the Arts (20.5). The lowest traditional high schools are Pearl Cohn (14.5), Whites Creek (15.7), and Maplewood (15.7). Obviously, the top three schools are all magnet schools.

MNPS points out a few things about this year’s data:

Stratford tested many more students in 2016 and had an increase of 0.5 points. East Nashville, Whites Creek and Metro Nashville Virtual School saw test score increases while having modest increases in the number of test takers. LEAD Academy tested slightly fewer students but saw an increase in scores.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-2-51-38-pm

How do we improve?

MNPS is working with Alignment Nashville to give free ACT preparation classes to students who cannot afford them. Last year, Alignment Nashville worked with Hunters Lane, Hillsboro, Maplewood, and Overton. Additional schools may be added this year.

I am so glad that Alignment Nashville is partnering with our schools to prepare our students for the ACT. We are doing a disservice to our students who graduate from high school not prepared for college or career. It breaks my heart that thousands of students are missing out on the HOPE scholarship. More must be done to help these students, and all of that shouldn’t be left to our high school teachers.

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

MNPS Sues The State

MNPS has now officially filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in regards to underfunding for English language learners.

The petition, which was filed Thursday, comes after the school board voted to sue in June and a recent letter that 30 Metro Council members signed in favor of the lawsuit.

Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene:

The lawsuit argues that the state should follow code, which outlines that “funding shall be provided by the state at a ratio of 1:20 for teachers and 1:200 for translators.”

Currently the state is only funding ELL at an estimated ratio of 1:25 for teachers and 1:250 for translators.

Before the lawsuit was filed, the state agreed about the code and ratio, but referred Metro Legal to another section of the code, which says “the changes in components or factors of the BEP implemented by this at shall be implemented in accordance with funding as made available through the general appropriations act.”

In response to the lawsuit, Nashville Mayor Barry commended the school board.

I commend our School Board for seeking to use every tool available to them to ensure that our teachers have enough resources to provide a world-class education for our students. We have the opportunity to be a leader in the nation for providing high-quality ELL services for our students, but we need to ensure that the State of Tennessee is providing Davidson County with our fair share of tax dollars as required by law.

You can read the lawsuit here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

 

More Needed For Gifted Students

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Tennessee scores low on tracking accountability for gifted students. Tennessee received one out of four stars in the report. Grace Tatter and Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat:

To improve accountability, Tennessee should give additional points to schools that boost student scores to the highest possible level on state tests, the report said. It also should report gifted and talented students’ scores separately, as it does for racial minorities, English language learners, and other subgroups of students.

Fordham’s report asserts that an unintended consequence of previous accountability systems is that high-performing students, especially those at struggling schools, were left without support to push them even further in their academic pursuits.

Specifically, the report says that Tennessee “includes high-achieving students in its growth model but does little else to encourage schools to pay attention to them.”

You can read the full report here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow@TNEdReport.


 

Rocketship Claims MNPS Took Too Long To Act on Appeal and Schools Should Have Been Automatically Approved

Rocketship Tennessee is appealing to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school in Nashville after Metro Nashville Public Schools denied their application on appeal earlier this month in an 8-1 vote.

But in a letter to the State Board of Education, Rocketship Tennessee claims that Metro Nashville Public Schools took longer than the 30 day period to act on the appeal, which would mean the two schools should have been automatically approved. The Tennessee Public Charter School Act of 2002 clearly explains how the appeal works.

The local board of education shall have thirty (30) days either to deny or to approve the amended application. Should the local board of education fail to either approve or deny the amended application within thirty (30) days, the amended application shall be deemed approved.

Rocketship Tennessee claims they submitted their amended application on July 7th. Based on the 30 day rule, Rocketship Tennessee says the Metro Nashville School Board had until August 8th to deny or approve the appeal. The school board did not meet until August 10th, outside of the 30 day time limit, which Rocketship says should mean both of their applications should have been approved.

That is just a small portion of the appeal to the State Board of Education. Rocketship Tennessee currently has over 1,100 students in their two Nashville locations. Unlike most charter schools, Rocketship opened a full K-4 school at once instead of the grade by grade expansion that other charter schools do. Rocketship Tennessee has a waitlist of over 200 students for their Nashville schools.

With the lack of TNReady assessment data, Rocketship is providing their own normative assessment data to show that the school should be approved.


Our confidence in our Rocketeers’ continued growth is grounded in their performance on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally norm-referenced exam that evaluates both math and reading/language arts proficiency. On MAP last year, 63% of our students moved up one or more quartiles (or remained in the top quartile). Our first-year Rocketeers in Nashville grew 1.5 years in math and 1.4 years in reading.

This is powerful proof that our personalized learning model is meeting the unique needs of each and every student. By meeting students where they are academically, we are putting them on the gap-closing path.

This is the second time that Rocketship Tennessee has appealed to the State Board of Education, with the original appeal being rejected in October 2015.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

The ACT Results Are In. How Did We Do?

Tennessee tracks if students are career and college ready by requiring all students to take the ACT. On the ACT, college and career ready is determined by a score of 21. A score of a 21 allows students to qualify for the HOPE scholarship, and students will be able to skip remedial courses in college.

How did the state do? Chalkbeat has the answer:

Tennessee held steady with an average score of 19.4 out of a possible 36, increasing its standing from eighth to seventh among the 18 states that require students to take the ACT. The national average score was 20.8, down from 21 last year.

Even so, state officials celebrated that nearly 1,300 more Tennessee public school students hit the college-ready mark this year than last.

In 2016, only one-fifth of Tennessee public school students taking the ACT met all four subject benchmarks for being considered college-ready. English drew the best showing, with about 55 percent meeting that benchmark, followed by 34 percent in reading, and 27 percent each in math and science

What about individual districts? In Nashville, only 11% of students are college and career ready. The Tennessean has the Nashville numbers:

Metro Schools tallied an 18.4 composite score, marking a 0.3 point drop over the 2015 year‘s 18.7 composite score across all students tested, according to 2016 ACT numbers released to districts Tuesday. Only 11 percent of all Metro Schools students are ready for college, a three-point dip over last year.

We must do better in preparing our students for college and career state-wide, but especially in Nashville. The average MNPS student will need remedial courses if they go to college. That means MNPS students and their families will be paying more money to take courses that may not even count towards their post secondary degree. That’s a disservice to our students.

How does MNPS with the rest of Middle Tennessee?

  • Cheatham County: 19.6 composite; 17 percent college ready
  • Dickson County: 19.4 composite; 16 percent college ready
  • Metro Nashville: 18.4 composite; 11 percent college ready
  • Robertson County: 19 composite; 14 percent college ready
  • Rutherford County: 20.2 composite; 21 percent college ready
  • Sumner County: 20.8 composite; 23 percent college ready
  • Williamson County: 23.8 composite; 45 percent college ready
  • Wilson County: 20.3 composite;  19 percent college ready

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

 

Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

Breaking Down the 2016 Educator Survey Results

The Tennessee Department of Education released the results of their annual educator survey. The 2016 Educator Survey was taken by over 30,000 educators across the state, which is about half of the state’s educators. This large sample of teachers allows us to see what teachers are really feeling out in the trenches, and the vast majority of teachers feel appreciated.

Working Conditions

Throughout the country we hear that many teachers do not feel appreciated as a teacher. But Tennessee’s classroom climate is different. 78% of teachers say: “I feel appreciated for the job that I am doing.”

The graphic below shows that Tennessee’s teachers give high ratings to their working conditions and to their colleagues.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.28.52 PM

It should be noted that “we still see about 10 percent of schools across the state where the majority of staff report that they are dissatisfied with their work environment.” I hope that those schools are aware of their teacher’s views on the work environment. In Nashville, the district uses the TELL survey data to get a glimpse of how teachers view their working environment and administration.

My middle school in Nashville reviews the TELL survey results each year, discusses those results with their teachers, and makes necessary adjustments based that feedback. It’s a process that I hope all schools are doing in Nashville.

Student Discipline

The next area of the Educator Survey was about student discipline. This was the area that teachers and administers really disagreed on, as you can see below. Teachers also believe that we need to be spending more professional development on how to address student’s non-academic needs.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.46.41 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.55.19 PM

As a teacher, I can really understand the disagreement between administrators and teachers on this issue. Chalkbeat easily breaks down the issue:

Tennessee teachers are more concerned than principals about discipline at their schools, according to a new survey that shows a similar disconnect over the amount of feedback that teachers get from their administrators.

About 69 percent of teachers surveyed say their schools effectively manage student behavioral problems, while 96 percent of administrators say their schools handle discipline just fine.

The gaps in perception suggest that school administrators may not be aware of their teachers’ concerns on discipline.

The findings come as high suspension rates for poor students and students of color are getting more national attention. They also indicate that Tennessee needs to start making discipline policies a bigger priority, says Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“This points to specific areas where we need to take more concrete actions,” McQueen said during a conference call with reporters. She added that teachers are asking for more support to meet their students’ non-academic needs.

Teacher Evaluation

More teachers than ever before say that the teacher evaluation system is improving teaching and student learning. That’s great to hear.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.53.10 PM

 

The results show that 71% of teachers saw improvement in teaching thanks to the teacher evaluation process. Personally, I had a great evaluator last year and my teaching skills grew because of it. I have really grown as a teacher over the last two years thanks to the teacher evaluation system.

This year’s result is a huge increase from 2012.

Seventy-one percent of teachers report that the teacher evaluation process has led to improvements in their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012. Similarly, two- thirds of all teachers report that the process has led to improvements in student learning, up from about one quarter in 2012.

What do teachers want more of? Collaboration, of course! I work at a school with a really collaborative nature, and it shows both in the teachers and in the students. 

Change Over Time

I really enjoyed looking at the chart below to see how the teacher’s responses have changed over time on the evaluation process. This chart shows that a over two-thirds of teachers believe that the teacher evaluation improves their teaching and student learning.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 6.00.52 PM

 

Tennessee is on the right course toward making teachers feel appreciated, and it’s great to see the teacher evaluation process improving teaching performance. Let’s not stop now. I hope the Department of Education will use these results to continue to improve the teaching environment for Tennessee’s teachers.

 

You can read the full report here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport