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April 12, 2016 8 min read
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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Grant Program Aims To Recast Testing

A new project that seeks to “fundamentally rethink” the role that assessments play in student learning has issued 12 grants to schools, districts, and other awardees to help them fashion makeovers of testing systems.

The awards from the Assessment for Learning Project are collectively worth $2 million, with each grantee receiving between $50,000 and $225,000.

The project is focused on reimagining assessment in a number of ways. A core goal is to boost student control or “agency” over testing, moving away from assessment that’s passive or something that is simply “being done to students,” said Sarah Lench, the director of the project.

Other areas of exploration include strengthening the uses and design of formative and performance-based assessment and developing the use of “learning progressions,” basically academic frameworks based on an understanding of how students learn and the knowledge they bring with them to school. The project also will support trials of culturally responsive assessments and the cultivation of “competency based” tests in science and engineering.

Grantees include the Henry County, Ga., school system, which will try to incorporate feedback from teachers and students into assessment; WestEd, which is piloting personalized, video-enabled professional learning for educators; and Del Lago Academy, a California school that is creating a competency-based assessment system for students.

The project comes into focus as standardized tests are taking a beating from many policymakers and parents wary of what they see as overtesting and exams that promote rote learning. It is being supported by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (both of which have financially backed Education Week reporting).

–Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | Inside School Research

Tough Tasks Lie Ahead For New Federal Panel

President Barack Obama has signed a bipartisan bill creating a 15-member commission to figure out how to coordinate and use federal data without risking personal-information privacy.

The commission could help to give broader and more permanent approval to the White House’s push to use more tiered-evidence systems—like those to be used under the new Every Student Succeeds Act—to evaluate federal programs. It could also provide a context to hash out long-standing arguments over protecting data privacy that have complicated moves to update the 40-year-old Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

What exactly will the commission do, and what does it mean for education?

Foremost, it will take a massive inventory of data as well as tax-spending information from all federal programs.

The group must come up with ways to integrate rigorous evaluations of effectiveness—including randomized controlled trials—into the design of federal programs. At the same time, members must figure out what structures and policies must be in place to protect personal data during those evaluations.

Then the group will decide whether and how to create a clearinghouse of federal data across agencies and how the data could be released to public or private researchers.

All 15 commissioners will be expected to have expertise in economics, statistics, program evaluation,data security, confidentiality, or database management.

Obama will appoint three members. The speaker of the House, the House minority leader, and the Senate majority and minority leaders will each appoint another three commissioners.

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | Time and Learning

Does More Playground Time Equal Classroom Success?

Some schools in Texas are going against the grain when it comes to recess. Instead of cutting it out, as many districts do, to spend more time on core subjects, they’re adding recess periods.

Six elementary schools are taking part in LiiNK (Let’s Inspire Innovation ‘N Kids), a research study on the effects of students’ having multiple recess periods a day.

Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth implemented the program this academic year for kindergartners and 1st graders, who get four 15-minute recess periods a day—far from the norm across the country.

“We are sitting our students in the seats way too many hours of the day, so we’re creating very sedentary kids,” said Debbie Rhea, a professor of kinesiology and the associate dean for research and health sciences at Texas Christian University, who runs the LiiNK Project.

Participating schools offer recess that is unstructured, outdoors, and kid-centered.

“When they come back to the classroom, they’re much more focused, much more on point, and ready to take in material,” said Rhea. “They do better on tests. They do better on everything when they have that.”

Principal Bryan McLain said office referrals at Eagle Mountain are down, and instructional time is up. “The time that might have been focused on redirecting students or reteaching because of misbehavior now we don’t have to do ... because the kids are more focused.”

–Marva Hinton

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

School Districts’ Electoral Maps Within Scope of High Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously last week that states and local jurisdictions—including school districts—may use total population to draw their electoral districts, rejecting an argument that the “one person, one vote” principle required them instead to draw lines based on voter population.

“As the framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for six members of the court in Evenwel v. Abbott (Case No. 14-940). “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies.”

The April 4 decision rejected a challenge brought by a group of Texas voters, backed by a conservative group, to the state Senate redistricting map after the 2010 census that drew district lines based roughly equally on total population, including nonvoters and even noncitizens.

The challengers said the state Senate districts “grossly malaportion” the citizen-voting-age population, with the result being that there are voters or potential voters in some districts whose votes are worth as much as 1½ times those in other districts, which violated the one-person, one-vote principle established by the high court in the landmark 1964 case of Reynolds v. Sims.

The method favored by the challengers would tend to boost the electoral power of rural voters and diminish that of urban areas. Thus, the case heldimplications for the representation of children’s interests in state legislatures. The principles also apply to elected school boards that have single-member voting districts.

Her opinion was signed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. both wrote separately.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Rules For Engagement

N.C. Law Curbing Restroom Access Subject of Lawsuit

A group of advocacy organizations has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to stop a new North Carolina law that includes restrictions on which restrooms transgender students can use in public schools.

That law—introduced, passed, and signed into law in a whirlwind one-day special session late last month—prohibits local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances, like one set to go into effect in Charlotte, and requires public agencies and public schools to set policies limiting access to multistall restrooms. Under those policies, patrons and students will be required to use the restroom that corresponds with the biological sex indicated on their birth certificates, even if that sex differs from their gender identity.

The suit, by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Equality North Carolina, claims that the law violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, putting the state’s schools at risk of losing the more than $4.5 billion in federal education funding that North Carolina is expected to receive this year.

After the enactment of the new law, “some school officials that had been respecting their students’ gender identity without any problem called parents to say that their children would be forced out of the single-sex facilities that match their gender identity,” the suit says.

The U.S. Department of Education has held that Title IX’s protections against sex discrimination also apply to gender identity, a claim that some states have contested.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Seize ‘Opportunity’ Under ESSA, Ed. Secretary Urges State Chiefs

In a wide-ranging talk, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. last week told an audience of state superintendents to move swiftly and methodically to build new school accountability systems under the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to think differently about how we define educational excellence,” he said at the annual legislative conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington.

For an hour King fielded questions from state chiefs about how to prepare for the transition to the next presidential administration, the testing opt-out movement, and the ESSA regulation and approval process.

He encouraged states to start convening task forces to identify and intervene in struggling schools and provide supports for poor and minority students, English-language learners, and those with disabilities.

“Make sure parents, civil rights communities, employers, higher education people are at the table on decisionmaking,” King said. Among the questions to ask, he said: “How do we ensure accountability systems are broadened but still focused on equity?”

–Daarel Burnette II

A version of this article appeared in the April 13, 2016 edition of Education Week as Best of the Blogs


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