testing testing

City schools to act as pilot sites for new national standard tests

Students at 100 New York City schools will be among the first to take early versions of the new standardized tests being built with federal dollars.

The schools will test early versions of new third- through eleventh-grade exams that a consortium of 26 states — New York included — is creating. The same schools will get extra funding this year to pilot the new common core standards in their classrooms.

Because New York is a “governing state” in the consortium, its education officials have already agreed to begin using the new tests by the 2014 school year. It also means that New York officials, including city Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky, are helping design the new tests.

The PARCC group — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — won a $170 million federal grant yesterday, which it will use to build the tests.

The new exams will complement the new national education standards that New York has also agreed to take on. They will also completely overhaul the form that state standardized exams take, and when they’re given, Suransky said today.

Right now, New York students sit for state standardized tests once a year, and the state reports results months later, over the summer. The tests consist mainly of multiple-choice questions, along with several free-response questions.

The new state test will be designed with four separate parts that students take over the course of the full school year, Suransky said. The first two parts, which students will take earlier in the year, will be shorter assignments that cover material the students should have learned up to that point. The third assignment will be longer and more complex. The fourth will be a comprehensive exam measuring a year’s worth of learning and will be given at the end of the school year.

And the consortium intends to dispense with much of the multiple-choice testing that students currently sit through, Suransky said. Instead, the assessments might take the form of a research paper or long-form math problems, for example.

“Those kinds of assignments are actually closer to the kinds of tasks that teachers are using in classrooms anyway,” Suransky said. “These will function as a way to test some of the new, higher-order skills that are in the common core standards.”

Suransky and other test designers are trying to meet a federal goal to create tests that better reflect student learning. “By far the number one complaint I’ve heard from teachers, from parents, from students themselves is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn’t really measure what matters,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters yesterday when he announced the grant funds.

At the end of the year, students’ four test scores will be combined into a single score. And teachers will also receive reports of their students’ performance on each of the individual sections weeks after they take them, so that they can use the results to adjust their teaching over the course of the year.

In that way, the new tests are designed to replace both the annual state tests and the diagnostic tests that many city schools already give students over the course of the year to track their progress, Suransky said. Suransky and federal officials said the new exams could lessen or roughly equal the amount of time students currently spend hunched over exams.

“I would argue we actually over-test now, in many places, in ways that aren’t helpful to the child and to the school and to the teacher,” Duncan said.

There’s also the possibility that the consortium’s tests for high school students will eventually replace the state’s current Regents exams. The state’s Board of Regents have not made a decision on the fate of the high school exams yet, though Suransky said he expects them to take up the question in the next few years.

The consortium is currently in the earliest stages of designing the new tests and will likely evolve over the next three years as designers build the new exams and test their validity.

Read the PARCC Consortium’s full grant application, which lays out its plans for building the new assessments in detail, here. Section A(3), which begins on page 43, gives a good description of what the new tests will look like.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.