Category Archives: college career ready

Postsecondary Remedial Math Data

The Iowa Department of Education announced a new website today, Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports, which, among other things, is meant to report student enrollment in remedial math and English courses at two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. The website offers information by individual Iowa high school and by demographic groups.

Radio Iowa reports:

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says the report provides “more precise information” to help craft new policies and spending priorities.

But, as always, details matter, because the definition of remedial math is non-credit bearing math courses. Remedial math is not defined as retaking math courses already passed for credit at the high school level. Remedial math is not defined as having to take math courses that are pre-requisites for first year math courses for your major. Parents paying college prices for math courses already taken in high school might disagree with the State’s definition of “remedial.”

At the University of Iowa, credit bearing course work begins with College Algebra, even though many majors require students to be prepared to start with a pre-calculus or a calculus course. Only students placing into Basic Algebra will be counted as enrolling in a remedial math course. Consequently, the “more precise information” in these reports, don’t actually help school districts understand whether their students are having to retake math courses already passed at the high school or whether their students are really prepared to start with the first year math courses required for their selected majors. In short, the remedial course enrollment percentages will look the same for Iowa high schools that are preparing the majority of their students well for placement in calculus courses and those that are preparing the majority of their students for placement in College Algebra and Trigonometry courses.

This statistic, like high school graduation rates, isn’t difficult to game. We could drive remediation rates even lower by pressuring four-year institutions to grant credit for Basic Algebra, too. Despite all the talk about the importance of STEM education in Iowa, we still aren’t collecting (sharing?) the information we need to assess how well schools are preparing students for first year college math courses.


Curriculum Review and the School Board

Over at another blog about school, Chris asks what’s curriculum got to do with [the proficiency gap]?

I don’t know what the curricular options out there are, though, and I don’t pretend to have any special expertise in evaluating them. But at some point, if we are continually unhappy about the gaps we’re seeing in our students’ proficiency data, how should the board go about assuring itself that our curricular choices are not playing a role in the problem?

It seems to me that the board is in a difficult position. I don’t see how the board can independently reassure itself about curricular–and instructional–choices not playing a role in the problem of persistent proficiency gaps. The information and data the board needs to make that assessment, to the extent the district is collecting it, is entirely within the hands of the administration.

This means that it is the administration that must reassure the board that curricular and instructional choices are not playing a role in a proficiency gap. Is the administration providing adequate reassurance on this issue through the curriculum review process?

Consider the science curriculum review report presented to the board earlier this fall. Ask yourself how many of the listed strengths of the program have anything to do with whether students are actually learning science? [Hint: student enjoyment, activity, collaboration, and technology use are poor proxies for learning.] Ask yourself why there are proficiency gaps when teachers and administrators are in agreement that instruction is being differentiated to meet the needs of students in the classroom and what that means for the likelihood of them effectively evaluating whether curriculum and instruction plays a role in the proficiency gaps? Ask yourself whether there is any attempt to evaluate whether outside tutoring or parental help plays a significant role in determining how much science students are learning?

Whether or not you think the administration is providing adequate reassurance, this issue presents an interesting oversight problem for the board. How can the board effectively evaluate and direct the efforts of the superintendent with regard to curriculum and instruction if it is dependent upon the superintendent and his staff for information about the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction decisions made by the superintendent and his staff?

The most important thing for directors to do, I think, is to independently read up on curricular and instructional trends so that they can think critically and ask questions about the information presented to them by the administration. Directors won’t have time to become curriculum and instruction experts, but I don’t think they need to be experts to represent the community and hold the superintendent accountable for results. They just need to be willing to keep asking questions until they get the answers they need.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 30

Cut scores and proficiency labels.

SBAC announced cuts scores for each of the four achievement levels that will be used for reporting student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessments earlier this week.

Education Week has coverage of the cut score announcement, the process used for setting the cut scores, and concerns raised about whether cut scores should have been set using only field-test data (PARCC will set cut scores after administering the operational test).

“It’s really bizarre to set cut scores based on field-test data,” said one state education department psychometrician. “You can’t possibly project” accurately what proportions of students will score at the four levels of the test. He and other assessment experts said that field-test data are not good predictors of performance on the operational test because students are unfamiliar with the test, and often, teachers have had less experience teaching the material that’s being tested.

And students might lack motivation to do their best on a field test, experts said.

Education Week also has coverage about the debate over use and reporting of test scores, particularly reporting test scores in performance (achievement-level) categories as opposed to reporting scale scores. Vermont abstained from voting to set SBAC cut scores and outlined concerns about the use of performance categories, and the lack of empirical evidence for the cut scores, in a memo to SBAC governing states. SBAC covered similar ground in a document titled Interpretation and Use of Scores and Achievement Levels.

Even though the predictions about student performance on the operational assessments may be flawed (based on field-test data only, Iowa students may outperform–or underperform–the multi-state averages), I thought it would be interesting to compare predicted performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessments to reported proficiency data from the Iowa Assessments.

I used SBACs performance predictions for Levels 3 and 4 (proficient) and Level 4 (college content ready at 11th grade) and Iowa Assessments intermediate and high performance levels (proficient) and the high performance level from the 2011-13 biennium (the most recent data reported by the state of Iowa). I chose grades four, eight, and eleven because those are the levels reported in The Annual Condition of Education Report (see pages 176-181).

Here’s how reading proficiency rates could change (predicted SBAC performance versus 2011-2013 Iowa Assessment performance):

Reading 2

Here’s how math proficiency rates could change (predicted SBAC performance versus 2011-2013 Iowa Assessment performance):

Math 2

Have Iowa proficiency standards been set too low? Are the Smarter Balanced Assessments proficiency standards set too high? Are the predictions grossly inaccurate? Who knows, but if the Iowa Legislature chooses the Smarter Balanced Assessments we had better be prepared for much lower reported proficiency rates, at least in the early years.

Just for fun: draft assessment tasks for the Next Generation Science Standards from Achieve (HT: Education Week). Iowa is expected to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. If the Iowa Legislature chooses the Smarter Balanced Assessments, Iowa will need to choose a separate science assessment.

Just for fun 2: the State Board of Education will be submitting a recommendation about assessments to the Iowa Legislature. In a demonstration of minimal transparency, the State Board agenda for the November 19th meeting lists “assessment” as an agenda item. Tab M adds the following helpful background description:

This is a continuation of the conversation on the State Board’s priority on assessment. Possible ideas for Board positions and recommendations on assessment will be provided. Opportunities for interaction around these topics will be provided throughout.

I guess we’ll just have to wait for the minutes to be posted following the January 22, 2015 meeting to learn more.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 28

College Content Readiness

While preparing to draft yet another long overdue and perhaps forthcoming soon Smarter Balanced Assessments post, I stumbled upon Comments on Revised Achievement Level Descriptors dated February 21, 2013. This document contains comments from faculty at the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and Hawkeye Community College regarding the SBAC achievement level descriptors.

I have no idea if any of these comments have been, or will be, adequately addressed by SBAC as they work on setting cut scores for achievement level descriptors this fall, but they raise important issues about the value of the SBAC “college content readiness” designation.

The comments indicate that there is a significant mismatch between the SBAC definition of college content readiness in math (prepared for College Algebra, designated as Math:1005 (22M:008) at the University of Iowa) and Iowa regents institutions, at which many majors have higher level mathematics courses as expected entry-level, first year coursework (see a listing of here for the University of Iowa). The college content readiness mismatch is so great that UNI suggested that the term “high school fluent” be used instead (Comments, p. 9); ISU suggested that students be designated “proficient for 12th grade work” rather than college ready, at least until Smarter Balanced Assessments have been in use long enough to determine whether the assessments are in fact accurately predicting readiness for entry-level, credit bearing coursework (Comments, p. 18).

Another issue highlighted in the comments is that the Smarter Balanced Assessments will not be assessing the “Plus Standards”, which are the additional Common Core standards intended to prepare students for coursework in calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics (SBAC Math ALDs, p. x). Even if the Smarter Balanced Assessments level 3 and 4 achievement level descriptor cut scores accurately predict readiness for college algebra (which remains to be seen), they will provide no guidance to parents and students as to whether the student is adequately prepared for the higher level mathematics courses STEM/business majors are expected to be prepared to take their first semester in order to graduate in four years.

Kindergarten (and Career) Readiness Rat Race

I am conflicted about the push for universal preschool. My kids had a terrific experience with Montessori preschool, however, it seems unlikely that universal Montessori preschool is in the offing and I find it difficult to disagree with the sentiment Chris expresses here:

I can’t say that I remember much from my Kindergarten days beyond Elmer’s paste and safety scissors, but it was hardly an academic pressure cooker. So the concern about Kindergarten readiness has me wondering, just how ready could kids really need to be for the first year of formal schooling (beyond the obvious of having had a fifth birthday prior to September 15 of the year)?

A local district website offers some clues to Kindergarten expectations. There are the Iowa Core standards for Kindergarten language arts and mathematics and the district Student Learning Standards for Kindergarten language arts, mathematics, and social studies.

Once you get past the bizarre Kindergarten employability skills–honestly, would we really be all that less “globally competitive” if Iowa five-year-olds spent their Kindergarten days learning to share, take turns, stand in line, and stay on task rather than learning to “use different perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work”, “use interpersonal skills to influence and guide others to a goal,” “use time efficiently to manage workload”, and “deliver quality job performance on time”?–it isn’t at all clear to me that kids should require much in the way of preparation to meet expectations by the end of their Kindergarten year.

The language arts standards are a bit unhelpful in some places. Note to standards writers: it doesn’t really illuminate anything to say that Kindergarten students are expected to be able to read “Kindergarten level” books or know and apply “grade-level” phonics.

In any case, most of the expectations seem pretty reasonable, though I can’t tell exactly how high the decoding expectations are. So, I suppose there is some possibility that expectations for decoding skills are higher than they used to be.

Interestingly, it just now strikes me that there are no expectations that children will learn to write their names, learn about colors, or develop any particular motor skills (cutting with scissors, holding pencils correctly for writing)–I hope I just missed them.

Again with mathematics, the standards look pretty reasonable: count to 100 by ones and by tens; write numbers from 0 to 20; compare groups of objects (greater than, less than, equal to); add and subtract within ten, with fluency expected for addition and subtraction within five; understand that the numbers 11-19 are made up of ten and some number of units; measuring and comparing objects (longer/shorter, heavier/lighter); sorting objects; and some knowledge of 2-D and 3-D shapes.

My working hypothesis is that there isn’t so much a problem of absolute readiness as there is a problem with relative readiness. Some kids arrive the first day of Kindergarten with all or many of these expectations mastered, while others have not. I suppose we could try to resolve that problem by making mastery of the Kindergarten curriculum, in a preschool setting, a prerequisite of “Kindergarten readiness”–though what the purpose of Kindergarten would be at that point, I couldn’t guess. Alternatively, I suppose we could place children prepared to benefit from first grade work in first grade, quit comparing the rest of them to each other, and stop putting increasingly higher economic competitiveness academic expectations on younger and younger children.

Business Education Summit

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is co-hosting the second annual Business Summit for Education Excellence this afternoon.

The purpose of the Summit is to create a strong and united business voice from across Iowa and to take a leadership role in advocating for transformative reform in education. The summit will feature national and local experts who have successfully created business coalitions that are achieving results through improved education systems.

Attendees are being referred to this Achieve website which includes an Iowa specific page.

Follow along at Twitter hashtag #iaedsummit.

I am not excited about Iowa education policy being driven by the narrow focus of public education as a means to economic development. Children are much more than future employees and there are lots of really interesting things worth learning even if no one will ever pay you a single penny to know them.

So far, speakers have defended the Common Core and pushed for new tests.

I just want to comment generally that I find the following notions unpersuasive: that the authors of the Common Core have found the exact combination of knowledge and skills to guarantee success to be unpersuasive; that a non-Common Core education would necessarily result in failure; and that bubble-tests are incapable of assessing college readiness (see the ACT, SAT, LSAT, MCAT, GRE).

Note also the talking points encouraging the acceptance of paying more for assessments that result in lower scores for Iowa students: