Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed (Sept 3, 2019)

September 02, 2019 8 min read
Lukas Hartley, who plays football for Paradise High School, runs up the stairs at the football stadium after practice in Paradise, Calif., last month. Students’ involvement in sports across the country has dropped, with the biggest decline coming in football.
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College Board Admits Mistake in Creation of ‘Adversity’ Score

Mea culpa. That’s the message coming from the College Board, which, despite good intentions, acknowledges it really flubbed up.

The company that administers the SAT college-admissions test is ditching its so-called “adversity” score and replacing it with a tool that will no longer reduce an applicant’s background to a single number.

“The idea of a single score was wrong,” David Coleman, the College Board’s chief executive, said last week. “It was confusing and created the misperception that the indicators are specific to an individual student.”

Amid growing scrutiny of the role wealth plays in college admissions, the College Board introduced its Environmental Context Dashboard about two years ago to provide context for a student’s performance on the SAT and help schools identify those who have done more with less. One formula used in a pilot program combined school and neighborhood factors like advanced-course offerings and the crime rate to produce a single number.

Critics called it an overreach.

Its new tool, dubbed “Landscape,” will provide a series of data points from government sources and the College Board that are seen as affecting education. Among them: whether the student’s school is in a rural, suburban, or urban location; size of the school’s senior class; percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch; and participation and performance in Advanced Placement courses.

Admissions officers also will see a range of test scores at the school to show where the applicant falls, as well as information like median family income, education levels, and crime rates in the student’s neighborhood.

The adversity tool’s creation was an acknowledgment of persistent criticism of the use of admissions tests in an era of growing concern about unequal access to advanced coursework and high-priced tutors. This year’s “Varsity Blues” scandal, which exposed allegations of affluent parents cheating the admissions system, has brought further scrutiny.

Colleges have for several years been acting on the concerns, with an increasing number no longer demanding SAT or ACT scores from applicants.

High School Students’ Participation In Sports Takes First Hit in 30 Years

High school sports received a dose of bad news last week when the annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed a decline for the first time in 30 years for the 2018-19 season.

Overall participation was 7.94 million, down 43,395 from 2017-18.

Leading the decline was football participation, with 11-man football falling by 30,829 to 1.01 million, the lowest mark since 1999-2000, when there were about 600,000 more high schoolers all told. It’s the fifth consecutive year of declining football participation.

Although there are lots of other physical activities that students can be involved in, the decrease in sports participation is still worrisome news when it comes to the obesity epidemic in this country. Health experts—and parents—fret that children spend too much time in front of screens and not enough moving around.

Many point to concerns about concussions as one of the reasons for the drop in football play. The younger the kid, the more likely concussions can lead to long-term ill effects.

“We continue to work with our member state associations, the nation’s high schools, and other groups to make the sport as safe as possible,” said Karissa Niehoff, the federation’s executive director. “Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practices, and every state has concussion protocols and laws in place, so we continue to believe that the sport is as safe as it has ever been.”

Those on the front lines—literally—see other reasons for the lack of interest as well.

Ed Croson, the veteran football coach at Chaminade College Prep in Los Angeles, cited the “privatization of youth sports” as one culprit. Plus, many students these days play a single sport.

“With the rise of social media and all the contraptions kids have ... kids are sedentary,” he said. “When we were young, our parents threw us out of the house to play. The world was more physical.”

Not all the news is bad. While some traditional sports such as football and basketball have remained steady or experienced declines in the past seven years, other sports have registered significant gains. Girls and boys lacrosse has increased 19 percent during that time, and girls and boys soccer rose 9 percent.

Industry Changes Spur AIR to Sell the Testing Side of Its Business

The American Institutes for Research is getting out of the testing business.

Instead, AIR plans to boost its focus on research, evaluation, and other work it’s already been doing with the money the nonprofit makes from selling off its assessment portfolio to Cambium Learning, a private-equity firm.

Much of that work in research and evaluation at AIR focuses on education, and that concentration will continue, said David Myers, its president and CEO.

The deal between AIR and Cambium touches a lot of school districts and students. AIR administered online tests in more than 20 states and delivered assessments to more than 60 million students last year.

AIR’s decision to sell off its assessment division was driven partly by overall shifts in the testing market, Myers said. There is increasing demand, and market opportunity, in district-level assessments, such as formative assessment. But AIR’s leadership questioned whether the organization should make that transition.

The overall number of major vendors working in the state testing market with the staffing and expertise to deliver high-stakes tests has fallen in recent years, said Scott Marion, the executive director of the consultant company Center for Assessment.

Fewer companies means fewer options for states and an erosion in the number of vendors who can meet states’ myriad demands, he said.

“There’s a crisis in the large-scale testing industry,” he said. “This stuff is technically tricky, to do it well. … You need that capacity.” Without it, he said, “something’s going to break.”

Flipped Classrooms, as Predicted, Reveal Their Pros and Cons

Back in 2012, the flipped classroom was all the rage. Pundits took it on, as did educators. Some were tantalized by the instructional method, while others were wary.

Simply put your lectures online, the model’s promoters explained to educators. Students can access them from home, and students and teachers can use precious classroom time for group practice and projects normally relegated to homework.

How’s that been working?

A study out last week finds results mixed, as some had predicted. It cautions that the model could trade short-term gains for wider achievement gaps.

Elizabeth Setren, an assistant economics professor at Tufts University, and colleagues at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point randomly assigned more than 1,300 cadets to one of two versions of their required introductory math and economics courses. In the flipped version, students were assigned a video lecture before each class and engaged in interactive problem-solving during the class. In the standard version, teachers gave a standardized lecture during class that covered the same material as the video and assigned as homework the problems that the flipped-class students had worked on in class.

The researchers found no differences in economics classes. In math, students in the flipped classes scored on average a third of a standard deviation better than those in the traditional classes on the unit quiz—but by the end-of-course test, both groups performed equally well.

The short-term math improvements were driven by white and male students and those who had scored in the top quarter of ACT math scores before entering the academy. Women, black and Latino students, and cadets who had performed in the bottom 25 percent at the start of school saw no benefit from the flipped model. This led to wider racial gaps between white and other students and between low- and high-performing students in flipped math classes and in traditional ones.

A Year in, New York City’s Schools Chancellor Discovers Politics of Desegregation Not for the Faint of Heart

Desegregating public schools appears to be a lot tougher than Richard Carranza thought when he took over the nation’s largest district last year.

It now looks like he’s dialing back expectations for the New York City schools, based on a New York Times article.

“If I integrated the system, the next thing I’m going to do is I’m going to walk on water,” says the man who pledged in multiple venues during his first year as schools chancellor “we will not wait to integrate our schools.”

Some strides have been made under Carranza’s leadership. The city, for instance, has set aside funds to help desegregate schools in some of New York’s most racially mixed neighborhoods.

But other efforts, in particular a plan to change the entrance requirement for the system’s prestigious specialized high schools, ran into deep opposition. Asian students make up the bulk of the student body in those elite schools, and those families led the opposition to a proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a multifaceted admissions process. Plans to change the single-test admission standard appear dead—at least for now.

A new recommendation, from an advisory group commissioned by de Blasio in 2017, would eliminate the fast-track, and popular, program for gifted elementary children and replace it with magnet schools. That plan, out last week, is already catching heat. Critics contend it would remove a tested high-performing school option without providing a clear alternative.

City gifted programs “do not serve a 21st-century educational mission and unfairly block educational opportunities for students who are black, Latinx, low-income,” says a report by the panel.

It has to be pointed out that New York City is trying to tackle the incendiary issue voluntarily. No court order or federal fiat is forcing desegregation. A million students—nearly 70 percent of them Latino and black—are waiting.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Associated Press, Sean Cavanagh, Christina A. Samuels, Sarah D. Sparks, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the September 04, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed


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