Education

Briefly Stated: April 17, 2024

April 16, 2024 8 min read
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Asst. Principal Faces Felony Neglect Charges Arising From Shooting

An assistant principal at a Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old shot a teacher last year was charged last week with eight counts of felony child neglect—one for each of the bullets fired.

Fresh details of what occurred emerged in a grand jury report released the day after Ebony Parker was charged.

The report says the former assistant principal at Richneck Elementary School showed a “shocking” lack of response to multiple warnings that the student had a gun in the hours before he shot his teacher.

“The child was not searched. The child was not removed from class. The police or [school resource officer] was not called,” the report says.

Teacher Abby Zwerner was seriously wounded in the shooting in her Newport News classroom.

The 31-page report catalogues missed opportunities to provide more resources to the often-misbehaving student, as well as tools Parker could have used to remove him from class in the months before the shooting.

“Dr. Parker’s lack of response and initiative, given the seriousness of the information she had received on Jan. 6, 2023, is shocking,” the grand jury report says. “This is only heightened by the fact that she was well aware of the child’s past disciplinary issues and had been involved in the decisions to address his behavior” in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

The report accuses Parker of criminal responsibility because she “neglected to take any action” the day of the shooting after receiving reports that the boy may have had a gun.

Parker, 39, did not yet have an attorney listed for her.

The grand jury report provides a granular accounting of each time the special grand jury said Parker disregarded concerns. For instance, one teacher spoke of a “visibly scared and shaking” child who reported seeing bullets from the boy’s 9mm handgun during recess.

A counselor then told Parker the same story, according to the report.

But she refused to let the boy be searched after his backpack was examined, the report says, describing the child sitting at his desk with “a loaded firearm tucked into his jacket.”

In the weeks after the shooting, the district announced that Parker had resigned.

PISA Poised to Take Steps Toward Bringing Artificial Intelligence to Standardized Testing

Many educators worry that students will use AI to cheat on tests. Well, the next offering of PISA wants students to use an AI-powered chatbot to complete their work.

“We are going to incorporate giving them tasks to learn and we’re going to track how they approached” the assignment to get a sense of how students think critically and creatively, said Andreas Schleicher, a special adviser to the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the international exam.

This could be a step toward figuring out how AI can help educators create a new breed of assessments that helps inform teaching and learning in real time, he said.

Students would be able to ask the bot basic questions about a topic so that the test—the Program for International Student Assessment—could focus on their thinking capability, not whether they possess background knowledge of a particular subject.

AI would also score the tasks, at least in part.

OECD administers PISA to 15-year-olds every three years in reading, math, and science, with a special focus on a different subject each time. Some 620,000 students in 38 mostly developed countries participated in the most recent PISA, in 2022.

Unlike the annual reading and math tests that U.S. states are required to administer, PISA is only given to a sample of students and is not used for accountability purposes. The test doesn’t generate scores for specific students or even schools.

Because PISA “doesn’t matter for individual students, … we have a lot more freedom to be more innovative,” Schleicher said.

Getting AI to gauge students’ thinking skills—how they approach learning and process information—could be a game-changer not just for assessment but for teaching and learning, said Scott Marion, the executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment.

It could start a conversation “maybe on a countrywide basis, maybe just globally at first [about] how kids are approaching problems. And what does that portend for instruction?” Marion said.

There’s a Cost to Holding Back Struggling Readers, and It Often Falls on Districts and Those Students

School districts can end up footing most of the bill for implementing state “read by grade 3” mandates, new research suggests, but in the long run, struggling students may pay a heftier price for being held back.

Michigan is among 25 states and the District of Columbia with statewide reading initiatives that require schools to retain students who do not read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, though several states, like Michigan, have relaxed or suspended the retention provisions of their laws.

A forthcoming study presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy conference last month looks at the short- and long-term costs of Michigan’s law. It calls for districts to support struggling readers in early grades through literacy coaches, “evidence-based” curricular materials and assessments, and developing individual reading-improvement plans for students.

The study found Michigan districts spent about $2,600 per student per year to implement the reading initiative, including interventions like tutoring and summer school.

The reading interventions accounted for about 17 percent of the average per-student spending in districts from 2019-20 to 2022-23 school years (when the law was fully implemented), and local districts ate more than 90 percent of that cost, the study found.

New funding accounted for only about 8 percent of spending on the reading supports.

“When we have these big statewide literacy reforms, they’re primarily leveraging existing resources,” said David Knight, one of the researchers and an associate professor at the University of Washington. “It’s not clear if that really is doing what will ultimately drive success” for readers.

Only about a third of the cost of the reading law came from expenditures on new teachers or support staff; more than 60 percent came from rearranging existing teachers’ instructional time.

Knight and his colleagues also used data to estimate that students retained under Michigan’s law would have to complete an average of another 0.63 of a school year to graduate and would be about 4.8 percentage points more likely to drop out. Prior labor data studies show students lose an average of $40,000 in lifetime earnings for every year they are held back.

State Teachers of the Year to Be Feted at State Dinner

They’re usually reserved for visiting foreign dignitaries, and now, the White House will elevate teachers to that lofty position. This year’s corps of state teachers of the year have been invited as guests of honor to their own state dinner this spring.

First lady Jill Biden, herself a teacher, made that announcement this month when she surprised Missy Testerman, the newly anointed National Teacher of the Year, during a segment on CBS Mornings.

An English-as-a-second-language teacher in Rogersville, Tenn., Testerman taught 1st and 2nd grades at Rogersville City School for three decades before earning her ESL endorsement three years ago. She was chosen for the national honor, which is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers, for her focus on inclusivity and connection in rural Appalachia.

Being an ESL specialist is different from being a classroom teacher, Testerman said: “In addition to just teaching content, it is figuring out which community resources families need or what I can do to help them.”

Just recently, Testerman said she helped the mother of one of her students find tax documents in her native language. She will also schedule doctor’s appointments for her students or help their parents contend with utility companies and government bureaucracies.

She also hopes to advocate for her students and their families on a larger scale, by calling for policymakers to maintain civility as they discuss immigration. Too often, she said, politicians will speak negatively about immigrants or rely on stereotypes.

“It emboldens other people to feel as though it’s appropriate to also say those things, and children are a reflection of what they hear,” she said. “Sometimes, that language makes it back into the school day, and it’s hurtful. ... If politicians would tone down the rhetoric and just stick to the issues that are at hand regarding immigration, ... it would be very helpful.”

L.A. School District Bets Big on AI Platform, AKA ‘Ed’

Just call him “Ed.” The Los Angeles Unified school district has invested heavily in the AI-powered learning tool designed to serve as a “personal assistant” to students and their parents.

The tool can provide students information about their grades, attendance, upcoming tests, and suggested resources to help them improve their academic skills on their own time, according to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Students can also use the app to find social-emotional-learning resources, see what’s for lunch, and determine when their bus will arrive.

Ed, which is available 24/7 and in multiple languages, is part of the 420,000-student district’s effort to catch students up on any unfinished learning from the pandemic. It uses artificial intelligence to report on key academic metrics for each student and then creates individualized plans based on that information.

LAUSD developed Ed through a public-private partnership with AllHere, a developer of AI-powered digital applications.

For now, Ed will be available to 55,000 students at select schools, Carvalho said. It will be launched for all students after the district is confident of the platform’s success, he added. Only students 13 and older who have completed the district’s digital citizenship course on AI will be able to access Ed’s chatbot features.

Carvalho noted some safeguards that have been established: Ed is not meant to replace teachers, counselors, or other staff members; ongoing reviews will be conducted to flag concerning content; filters are in place to ensure students are not exposed to violent or inappropriate content; and all the data that Ed receives will remain within the district’s system.

Still, experts say they have a lot of questions. For instance:

“There’s no transparency about what data from students has been brought into this tool and how the AI is using that data to make recommendations,” said Torrey Trust, a professor of learning technology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “What kind of biases is this tool going to perpetuate?”

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Lauraine Langreo, Staff Writer; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; and Madeline Will, Senior Staff Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2024 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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