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August 25, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | High School & Beyond

PARCC Sets Cutoff Scores For High School, Sort Of

So what’s up with PARCC’s work to set cutoff scores for its tests? The best update we can bring you right now is to say they’re making progress.

During a meeting in Washington this month, the board of governors of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers voted to adopt the high school cutoff scores that panels of educators recommended when they met in Denver last month. K-12 and higher education representatives from each state in the consortium voted to approve the approximate number of points that students need to score at each of the five performance levels on tests in English/language arts and math in grades 9, 10, and 11, said PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

This is where it gets wonkier: PARCC officials wouldn’t say how many points students need to earn to reach each level, or the scale score they need. That’s because they’re still working to determine the precise number of points that would translate into a scale score between 650 and 850 at each grade level, in each subject.

Because one test form varies slightly from another, the superwonks need to figure out a conversion for each form that translates points properly, said PARCC’s assessment chief, Jeff Nellhaus.

So all we know right now is that PARCC representatives adopted “threshold” scores for nine tests: grades 9, 10, and 11 English/language arts; Algebra 1, 2, and 3; and Integrated Math 1, 2, and 3. They’ll adopt threshold scores for grades 3-8 math and English/language arts on Sept. 9.

But we’ll have to wait until later that month to find out what proportions of students scored at each level of the test last spring. That’s because states are still finalizing their data, Nellhaus said.

The threshold scores for each high school performance level were recommended by panels of teachers who were nominated by their states. They examined test questions, analyzed their difficulty, and suggested cutoff points that would place students in the five performance levels, which describe how ready they are for college. The “mid-range” recommendations of those teachers were the levels that were adopted by PARCC.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Civics Test as a Graduation Rule: Coming Soon to a State Near You?

Eight states—Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin—passed laws this year that require high school students as a condition of graduation to pass some version of the test given to immigrants applying to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

And the Joe Foss Institute, the Arizona nonprofit that has led the effort to pass such laws, plans to lobby to bring that requirement to every state by 2017. What’s more, 17 states’ legislatures considered such laws in their 2015 sessions.

The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vera traces the institute’s shift from a more personal approach to encouraging civic-mindedness in students—introducing them to veterans—to a remarkably successful lobbying effort for requiring testing in schools. The institute says this is a way to address a national crisis in civic literacy.

The campaign hasn’t been without critics. Utah teachers raised concerns about introducing a new test just as the legislature was resolving to reduce the number of high-stakes standardized tests. The directors of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University wrote in an Education Week blog that the civic-literacy crisis may be overblown, and that deeper conversations are a more effective way to foster civic engagement in young people than requiring them to memorize facts for a test.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require some civics education, and a few states have required students to pass an American history or civics test distinct from the test given to those hoping to become naturalized citizens.

All the states that have passed the citizenship-test-as-graduation-requirement law so far tend to favor right-leaning political stances, but the institute hopes to have civics tests in 20 states next year—including a few more-liberal states.

–Jaclyn Zubrzycki

| NEWS | Rural Education

Hispanic Children in Rural Areas More Vulnerable Than City Peers

Hispanic children who are born into rural families are more likely than their urban peers to grow up in poverty, lack access to health care, and lose out on participating in federal and state programs, according to Stateline news service.

Nationwide, rural schools are becoming increasingly diverse and low-income, and as of the 2010-11 school year, minority students accounted for more than 90 percent of the new rural-student population. Rural children are more likely than their urban peers to suffer from food insecurity and rely on federal food assistance and are also more likely to lack access to health care.

According to Stateline, 47 percent of Hispanic babies in rural areas are born into poverty, compared with 41 percent of those in urban areas. If rural Hispanic children are born to parents who work in agriculture or other industrial jobs, they may be more likely to lack access to decent housing, child care, and health care. These problems are magnified if parents are undocumented and are too fearful to enroll in federal programs or seek out health care.

“This is a very hard-to-reach population,” Brenda Eskenazi, a professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, told the news service. “This is an underserved population whose needs aren’t being documented.”

–Jackie Mader

| NEWS | Politics K-12

As Congressional Budget Battle Looms, Duncan Warns Against Early-Ed. Cuts

The U.S. Department of Education has gone on the offensive to protect federal education programs ahead of looming spending battles in Congress to stave off a government shutdown prior to the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Specifically, the department took aim last week at the appropriations bills that passed through the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would slash funding for federal education programs by $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively.

Those bills, which passed through appropriations committees this summer, have not been voted on by the full chambers.

In a press release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan blasted the Republicans’ intention to slash the Obama administration’s Preschool Development Grant program, arguing it would pull funds away from states in the last two years of the grant.

Eliminating the pre-K program would jeopardize state and local plans to serve nearly 60,000 additional children, the release said. The cuts would leave another 43,000 children to attend preschool in programs in need of important quality improvements. Though both bills would nix the Obama administration’s pre-K initiative, they would both pump more than $100 million into Head Start, an early education program for low-income families, over current funding levels.

Republican appropriators in both chambers have said repeatedly that they’d prefer to put even more money into early-childhood-education initiatives if there was more to spend. And that’s the bigger issue at play here—limited federal resources.

Both chambers’ funding plans were largely pegged to the congressionally mandated across-the-board spending caps, known as sequestration. But President Barack Obama has said he’d veto any appropriations plans that lock in sequester-level funding.

When lawmakers return to Washington in September, they’ll have just 10 legislative days to hash out a spending plan before the end of the fiscal year.

–Lauren Camera

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Ed. Dept. Aiming to Accelerate Process For Evaluating Educational Technology

The U.S. Department of Education is asking for bids to design a prototype system to quickly evaluate ed-tech in K-12 schools, in hopes of making it easier for educators to figure out what works in products they buy with federal funding.

The research and implementation team chosen through the department’s Aug. 12 request for proposals will tackle those and other questions in its design of one- to three-month tests of ed-tech software. Beyond getting feedback on technology purchased with funds available under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the department wants to help schools and parents “make evidence-based decisions when choosing which apps to use with their students,” according to its announcement.

School leaders look for research-based evidence about what works, but they are often skeptical of studies underwritten by the companies that are trying to sell the products.

Ultimately, the department is interested in moving the field forward from a “kicking the tires” approach to piloting products, to taking educational apps for “a real test drive,” according to Katrina Stevens, a senior adviser in the department’s office of educational technology.

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | High School & Beyond

Illinois Law Requires State College Credit For Those Scoring 3 or Better on AP Exam

Illinois has joined a growing group of states that require all their public colleges and universities to use one method of awarding students college credit for Advanced Placement or other advanced coursework.

A new law signed earlier this month by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner requires the state’s higher education institutions to award credit for scores of 3 or better, on a scale of 1 to 5, on AP exams. Like many colleges and universities around the country, those in Illinois vary widely in their policies for accepting AP credit. Some permit scores as low as 2, while others demand that students score a 5 to earn credit.

According to the Education Commission of the States in Denver, 16 states currently have statewide policies for awarding college credit for AP work (and other advanced work such as International Baccalaureate) in high school.

–Catherine Gewertz

A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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