New York

No change in science testing climate this year

Example question from NY Intermediate Level Science exam.
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This year, the city is rolling out new science materials for grades 5, 7, and 8, building on the curriculum introduced last year in grades 3, 4, and 6. Yet new tests based on the curriculum have been delayed for the second straight year, the Post reported yesterday.

A 2004 report by the City Council Committee on Education stated, “The most striking aspect of science in elementary schools is how rarely it is taught. Students are fortunate to get 45 minutes of science once a week for half the year.” The report made a number of recommendations for recruiting highly-qualified science teachers, increasing the profile of science education, and holding schools accountable for science.

In response to this and other reports that accountability in reading and math was pushing aside science and social studies instruction, the city introduced its new scope and sequence for science, based on state standards. Schools across the city select from a kit-based approach, a textbook-based approach, or a “blended” model which combines the textbooks and kits, or they may use approved alternatives. Yearly testing based on the curriculum was supposed to push school administrators to increase time spent on science and support teachers’ implementation of the new curriculum.

The delay in introducing the new tests poses a catch-22 for teachers fighting for attention, time, and resources for science education, but hoping to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of yearly standardized testing. Although many educators and students are undoubtedly relieved to avoid adding another exam to the already-full assessment calendar, others see the test as necessary to raise the profile of science education. At an August 2007 professional development workshop related to the new curriculum, some science teachers reported that their principals said they’d increase time for science once science tests started to matter for school accountability.

Many teachers are also waiting to see what the tests emphasize. Will they focus more on content, reasoning skills, or laboratory skills? The state science exams currently given in 4th and 8th grade include multiple choice, constructed response (short answer), and performance (lab-based) sections. What will the new tests look like?

The DOE provides pacing calendars to guide teachers implementing the new curriculum, but a few teachers I spoke to were struggling to keep up with the suggested sequence of lessons, finding their students needed additional work on basic math and science skills necessary to understand the material. Many teachers would like to know more about the format and content of the tests as they make choices about how fast to move, which skills to emphasize, and how to balance depth and breadth in the curriculum.

If the delay in testing allows elementary schools to continue to neglect science, upper grades teachers will continue to have to make up for lost time. But as the City Council report pointed out in 2004, science educators shouldn’t have to rely on testing to get their subject into the school day:

Science test scores are one important means of judging a school’s science performance, but they should not be the only way. Schools should also be evaluated on the adequacy of science facilities, the share of instructional time devoted to hands-on science, the level of student interest in science clubs and fairs, faculty satisfaction, parental involvement, and use of volunteers from the scientific community.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit those recommendations.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.