New Reports on Supplemental Educational Services and Testing Point to Major Opportunities for Fixing the Law's Problems
NCLB's Supplemental Educational Services: Good Idea, Bad Execution
When children are below grade level and struggling with their school work, one-on-one or small group tutoring that is closely aligned with the regular curriculum is an effective way to help them catch up. Ideally, the classroom teacher and the tutor would meet frequently to discuss the struggling children's needs and progress and to ensure that the extra help both reviews and builds on what has been covered in class.
This ideal is probably what lawmakers had in mind when they wrote into No Child Left Behind a requirement that supplemental educational services (SES), such as tutoring, be offered to all low-income students in Title I schools that do not meet their performance targets for three years. But it's just not happening.
According to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), only 19 percent of eligible students are receiving SES—and even for these children, their services may not be aligned with the school curriculum. Worse, GAO estimates that during the 2004–05 school year, "some, most, or all providers did not contact [the students'] teachers in about 40 percent of districts."
The report also notes that SES implementation has been troubled by everything from notifying parents, to finding SES providers for students who don't speak English, to figuring out how to evaluate SES providers' effectiveness.
As the AFT's Executive Vice President Antonia Cortese pointed out, "It is a waste of time and tax dollars when tutoring bears no relationship to a school's curriculum, fails to reach the students who need it most, and lacks any reliable evidence of success." The AFT is calling on Congress to make sure that SES are delivered in accordance with what experience and research have shown to be most effective—early, intensive intervention provided by a qualified educator, coordinated with the regular curriculum, and available to all students in need.
To read GAO's report, "No Child Left Behind Act: Education Actions Needed to Improve Local Implementation and State Evaluation of Supplemental Educational Services," go to www.gao.gov/new.items/d06758.pdf.
Missing the Mark: Most Tests Required by NCLB Aren't Aligned to Standards
The AFT has long been a strong advocate for high standards and meaningful accountability. For the last 10 years, since the AFT first published "Making Standards Matter," we've been committed to rating the rigor and quality of each state's core academic standards, and to other aspects of standards-based reform. A new report released by the AFT in July 2006, "Smart Testing: Let's Get It Right," examines how states are doing in aligning their standards and tests.
In brief, most states have made progress in developing clear grade-by-grade standards. But, many have not aligned their high-stakes math, reading, and science tests with a strong set of content standards—meaning the tests probably aren't measuring what teachers are teaching!
Only 11 states had strong content standards and, in a transparent manner, documented that state tests were aligned to those standards in all grades and subjects required by NCLB. At the other end of the spectrum, nine states did not align any of their tests to strong standards in grades and subjects required by NCLB.
Unfortunately, many states had problems not only with alignment between standards and tests, but also with the standards themselves. Just 18 states had strong standards for all grades and subjects required under NCLB. And, despite the national emphasis on reading, on average, states' reading standards are weaker than their standards for other subjects.
The report sums up the problem, and the only acceptable solution, this way: "Without strong, clear content standards and tests aligned to them, state-level testing is compromised and results are suspect. Unfortunately, this crucial alignment is too often assumed by politicians and pundits eager for bottom-line results. The AFT continues to call on states and districts to administer tests that are fair, transparent, and aligned to clear, specific, and rigorous state content standards. We also feel strongly that assessment programs should be efficient and not spawn redundant, duplicative testing within the system."
American Educator Updates
The Feds Weigh In: Public Schools Perform as Well As Private Schools
In the Spring 2006 issue, American Educator provided excerpts of a study in which Chris Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski reported that when important factors like students' socioeconomic status were taken into account, public schools did as well as—and in some cases, better than—private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics. In July 2006, the U.S. Department of Education released a study with a similar methodology—and similar results. The following excerpts provide a brief overview and the key findings. For the full report, "Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling," go to http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard//pdf/studies/2006461.pdf.
"The goal of the study was to examine differences in mean National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores between public and private schools when selected characteristics of students and/or schools were taken into account. Among the student characteristics considered were gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, [eligibility for free/reduced-price lunch,] and identification as an English language learner. Among the school characteristics considered were school size and location and composition of the student body and of the teaching staff....
The present report examined results from the 2003 NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics for grades 4 and 8. NAEP draws nationally representative samples of schools and students. In 2003, over 6,900 public schools and over 530 private schools participated in the grade 4 assessments. Over 5,500 public schools and over 550 private schools participated in the grade 8 assessments....
Results from Grade 4 Reading
After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means [between public and private schools] was near zero and not significant....
Results from Grade 4 Mathematics
After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was –4.5 and significantly different from zero (Note that a negative difference implies that the average school mean was higher for public schools)....
Results from Grade 8 Reading
After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was 7.3 points and significantly different from zero....
Results from Grade 4 Mathematics
After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was nearly zero and not significant."
To summarize, fourth-graders in public schools did slightly better in mathematics, and eighth-graders in private schools did slightly better in reading. Based on this new report and on the previous study by the Lubienskis, we can be reasonably certain that the conventional wisdom on the general superiority of private schools is false.
Summer Program Prevents Learning Loss
In the Summer 2005 issue of American Educator, Tiffani Chin and Meredith Phillips documented the enormous differences in summer learning, enrichment, and fun experienced by children from higher- versus lower-income families. They found that "disadvantaged children are less likely than their middle-class peers to read over the summer, go on vacations, go to summer camp, or get music and art lessons" and that these differences "resulted largely from differences in their families' financial resources, knowledge, and time—but not from a lesser desire to expose their children to enriching educational experiences." Naturally, one of their recommendations was to "establish summer programs that are free (or inexpensive), provide transportation, accommodate parents' work schedules, and last for most of the summer."
As a companion to Chin and Phillips' article, we highlighted a summer program called BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a six-week, full-day program that is targeted toward children from low-income families and combines academics, the arts and other enrichment opportunities, and weekly field trips. Last summer, our confidence in BELL's effectiveness was based on several evaluations conducted by BELL staff. This summer, the Urban Institute (an independent, highly regarded research organization) published a rigorous evaluation of three BELL sites (two in Boston and one in New York City). Because these BELL sites had nearly 2,000 applicants and just 750 spaces, researchers were able to 1) get parental permission for children to participate in the study; 2) use random assignment to determine which applicants would get a space; and 3) still have plenty of children leftover to make up a "control" group to which the BELL participants could be compared. Because of time and cost considerations, reading was the only academic outcome that was assessed—but the results were impressive. The researchers "estimate that participating in the BELL summer learning program improves test scores by around two months." Other findings of note were that BELL participants spent less time watching TV and their parents were more likely to read to them (which is encouraged by BELL staff).
The Urban Institute's evaluation, "Impacts of a Summer Learning Program: A Random Assignment Study of Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL)," is available at www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411350_bell_impacts.pdf.
Worthwhile Web Sites
The International Children's Digital Library Brings Books in 38 Languages to Your Classroom
Whether you are an English language arts teacher with students who recently immigrated and cannot yet read in English, or a foreign language teacher looking to expand your classroom library, you'll find what you need in the International Children's Digital Library. This new, Web-based library is building a collection of more than 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is freely available to children around the world via the Internet. Currently, the library has over 1,500 children's books in 38 languages. And, users of the Web site can choose among 11 languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Filipino/Tagalog, French, German, Hebrew, Persian/Farsi, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai) in which to read the navigation and search options.
The main goal of the project is to make sure that all children have books to read—but the creators of this library are looking for particularly high-quality books that, in their words, provide "all children with direct access to the resources that are essential to enlightened citizenship: literature, knowledge, and information." They believe that, "Literature is one of society's means for exposing young hearts and minds to new and foreign ideas. Engaging stories help children grow intellectually and emotionally, understand who they are, and inspire them to explore the world around them."
A project like this is a major undertaking; the digital library is being built—with special focus on making it child friendly—by the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab. Its main funding comes from the Library of Congress, National Science Foundation, and several other big donors—but donations of money, books, translation skills, and knowledge of children's literature are all essential. The site's donation page has many ideas for how you can contribute. The library is online at www.childrenslibrary.org.
Children's Writing Contest—Winning Entries to Be Animated and Posted Online
After reading books online through the International Children's Digital Library, your students may wonder how they can get their stories online for others to enjoy—SillyBooks.net has the answer. During the 2006–07 school year, SillyBooks.net is having a writing contest for children ages 4 to 16. Entries can be fiction or nonfiction and cover any topic, but they must be under 300 words. One winner is being chosen each month—and each winning entry will be professionally illustrated, read and recorded by actors, put to music, animated in Flash, and posted on SillyBooks.net. Then, over the summer, readers can vote for their favorite book as the Grand Prize winner. In addition to having their books professionally published online, monthly winners will receive $25 and the Grand Prize winner will receive $200.
For inspiration, check out the professionally recorded and animated children's books and songs on SillyBooks.net. The site is very child friendly (no inappropriate content or ads), and both the books and songs support beginning readers by highlighting each word as it is being read or sung aloud.