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The New SAT

It's not your father's SAT anymore. Come spring of 2005, high school students will be sitting down to take an SAT that is much different from anything their parents, or even their siblings, ever faced.

The College Board is in the midst of revamping the test. What's out? The analogies. What's in? Essays.

"We heard from universities that writing was so critical for success in college. We felt we could influence K-12 education by making it part of the test,'' says Peter Negroni, senior vice president of the College Board and a former New York City school superintendent.

The board has also eliminated quantitative comparisons on the math portion and added Algebra II questions. The board is hoping the changes will influence school curriculums, Negroni says.

"I don't think it is a question of teaching to the test,'' says Negroni. "It's insuring that kids need to know certain things to be a success in college."

The SATs, dating back to 1926, were designed to predict how well a student would perform in college. But the new changes, say education experts, nudge the test away from aptitude and more toward gauging student achievement or mastery of certain subjects.

"The new SAT is definitely a step in the right direction for essay writing, grammar and advanced math, and for getting rid of analogies and quantitative comparisons that just don't show up any place other than the SAT. By adding writing and advanced math, it raises the bar,'' says Jon Zeitlin, director of the new SAT program at Stanley Kaplan, a national provider of educational services, including test preparation.

Zeitlin says Kaplan is working with schools to help students prepare for the new test by helping students focus on the new areas. They are working with some poor districts to hone students' skills in essay writing and math. Some in education worry that students in poor schools might lose out in the SAT shift because their schools may not focus on the writing or grammar or higher math curriculum included on the test.

"Kids that don't have access to preferred curriculum, who don't go to good schools, aren't going to do as well on this test as they would do on one that is more a measure of aptitude,'' says David Lohman, professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, who has studied different forms of testing.

Negroni says the new SAT, while moving toward testing achievement in certain subject areas, will still measure aptitude. "It is still a reasoning test, no doubt about that,'' he says. "But it is more reflective of what kids should be learning in school."

Lohman says it is very difficult for one test to measure both intellectual capabilities and mastery of subject matter. "The main problem is that they are trying to accomplish diverse and contradictory purposes with a single test.

I think it's really hard to get one score for both of those things,'' he says. "I would not argue that they shouldn't be doing what they are doing, but Patrick Moynihan (the late U.S. senator from New York) once said that the great enemies of our age are simplifiers. This is a complex issue."

--Fran Silverman

Colorado Considers Axing Senior Year

Colorado legislators are studying the option to ax 12th grade and include a year of preschool instead. The idea is that students would start out early, and hopefully, on a better foot for success in college.

The plan, if implemented, would be the first in the nation. Florida has adopted a plan to let seniors skip their senior year by graduating with 18 credit hours instead of 24.

An Ounce of Prevention, A Pound of Paperwork

Dropout discussion is all the rage in Texas these days. A new report finally has some good news for the Houston Independent School District. The district has been criticized recently for artificially lowering its dropout rate through misclassifying how students left school. But a report from the watchdog assigned to check the district's record-keeping, Texas Education Agency's Marvin Crawford, concludes that if the district follows its new procedures, considerable improvements should occur in the reporting of dropout rates. In August, Houston was given six months to improve its record-keeping on dropouts or face having its state rating lowered.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry has unveiled a new statewide dropout prevention program. The $130 million public-private initiative is getting financial assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Grants will be set aside for special programs at high schools where more than half of sophomores have failed the first administration of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Name-Calling A No-No

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit." This line from James Howe's The Misfits (Simon & Schuster, 2001) sums up how it feels to be teased. The novel has inspired 30-plus organizations--including New Moon Publishing and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network--to designate March 1-5 No Name-Calling Week. Aimed at students in grades five to eight, the event will feature activities to help stop name-calling and verbal bullying of all kinds.

www.nonamecallingweek.org

Skank and Tramp Remarks = Free Speech

Both sides are claiming victories in a federal court ruling involving Alexander Smith, a former Michigan high school student who made lewd and vulgar remarks about school personnel over lunch one day in the school cafeteria.

U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan says the Mount Pleasant school district's "verbal assault" policy that Smith was accused of violating, and a state law on which it was based, were "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad."

That pleases the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit against the Mount Pleasant Public Schools on behalf of Smith and his parents. They contend Smith's conduct was protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

But Lawson also says the school system had a right to discipline Smith for his conduct, which it did, and does not have to delete the incident from his school record. That satisfies Mount Pleasant Schools Superintendent Gary Allen, who says, "We feel we won."

"I took popular hallway gossip about actual events and turned it into a Jay Leno-like monologue." -Alexander Smith

Smith, then a junior at Mount Pleasant High School, was eating lunch with friends in October 2000 when he read aloud a three-page commentary criticizing his school's policy on tardiness. He named some "teacher gestapos," who, he believed, supported it. He also called the school principal a "skank" and "tramp" while alleging that she had an affair with another principal, whom she later married. Smith made other remarks about an assistant principal's sexuality.

The principal charged Smith with verbal assault and suspended him for 10 days, later reduced to eight. The Mount Pleasant Board of Education upheld the suspension, and the ACLU initiated the court challenge.

"It's unfortunate that our client isn't going to have his record expunged, but we won on the big issue," declares Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU in Michigan. She says the case presented "some classic First Amendment questions."

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, suggests that generally, "if a student disagrees with a school policy and communicates so in an appropriate, non-disruptive forum and manner, it would be hard to justify suspending the child." He agrees, however, that the language Smith used is "clearly separate from a professional, tactful disagreement over a school policy" and "would appear to merit some type of discipline."

Allen says the school district is rewriting its verbal assault policy to give it "more definition." Smith, meanwhile, graduated from Mount Pleasant High School in June 2002 and now attends Michigan State University.

--Alan Dessoff

Picture Phones Pose Problems Without Clear District Policies

Denis Biagini, associate principal at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., is among several administrators concerned about the latest fad that teens are buying into--picture phones. Among the concerns are privacy issues, potentially disrupting classes, and cheating. Student could take pictures of test answers or of the test itself, or even type an answer into the phone and hit send, thus passing the answers on to students taking the same test in the same class, or the next period.

Paul Houston, director of the American Association of School Administrators, agrees that new technology offers challenges for administrators, but does not feel camera phones are a big issue--yet.

"There was a large turnaround after Columbine and September 11 with districts starting to allow cell phones on campus," Houston says. "But most outlaw cell phone use during class. I would think that the camera cell phones would also not be allowed for reasons of disruption."

At Wayzata, camera cell phones are causing headaches outside class. Between classes, students interrupt traffic in hallways as they crowd around to show friends photos they've taken with their picture phones.

Celia Lose, associate director of public affairs for the American Federation of Teachers, offers this solution. "The only reason for students to have any kind of a cell phone in schools is in case of an emergency," she says. "If students are allowed to carry cell phones in school, they should be required to have them turned off during the entire school day.

"School administrators have to be vigilant about enforcing their policies governing the appropriate use of technological and communication devices on school grounds."

--Nicole Rivard

Scarlet Letter Web Site for Vermont Misconduct Cases

Want to find out about discipline cases regarding school officials? Well, in Vermont, anybody can with just a click. A new Web site will tell visitors if any school official who is seeking a job or office was suspended or had their license suspended due to disciplinary measures.

Citing data back to 2000, the Web site lists 37 instructors who had sanctions against them. Using public information, the site was created to make it easier for the public and other school officials to discover disciplinary action levied against educators, according to William Reedy, general counsel for the Vermont Education Department. The impetus came in early 2003, when a former school teacher, Wayne Nadeau, sought office for the National Education Association. It was later discovered that Nadeau's license had been suspended and reinstated after he was suspended for having sexual relations with a colleague in a classroom when students were present in the building, Reedy says.

www.state.vt.us/educ/new/html/licensing/disciplinary.html

Feds Uncover A New Digital Disconnect

Think Internet access engages students and facilitates a higher level of learning? Think again. Access is a necessary building block, but not the answer. John Bailey, director of education technology at the Department of Education, says schools need to consider who uses technology and how it is used.

A recent survey of students shows that most schools fail to implement higher-level strategies, such as using the Internet to connect with experts and collaborate with other learners. "My sense is that there are a number of areas where technology brings improved engagement and learning that schools aren't taking advantage of," says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. Publishing student work online, for example, could motivate students to complete higher quality projects.

The Bush Administration aims to provide states and school districts guidance via the National Education Technology Plan. The Department of Education has solicited input from students, parents, educators and others as it drafts the nation's third plan. The next version of the National Education Technology Plan will establish a national strategy supporting the effective use of technology to improve academic achievement and prepare students for the 21st century. Administrators can view a draft of the plan this spring.

The initial statistics, surveys and focus groups reveal a frustrated digital generation even while 99 percent of schools are connected to the Internet. The Department of Education's surveys point to a second-generation digital divide between schools that use the Internet and those that don't. And many students responding to the call for student input indicated a desire for a more challenging, technology-rich learning environment. "We've learned that kids are motivated with regards to educational technology," Bailey says. "The question we need to answer is how schools should respond to deliver the rigor that resonates with this group."

While the National Educational Technology Plan is still in development, Knezek and Bailey agree the solution will require a commitment to online learning, data-driven decision-making and teacher training. For example, districts might try to replicate or incorporate the challenges of virtual instruction. Districts should use data-driven decision-making to develop technology programs targeted to their students' needs instead of adopting another school's technology program. And effective teacher training addresses technology how-tos and helps educators understand how the digital generation uses technology.

--Lisa Fratt

Accounting for NEA Dues, or Not

Has the National Education Association violated federal tax law? The Internal Revenue Service has launched an investigation to find out whether millions in tax-exempt membership dues are being spent on unreported political activities. In a September Fox News Channel special, NEA President Reg Weaver said he was confident the association will come out with "a clean bill of health." Mark R. Levin, president of the nonprofit Landmark Legal Foundation, says his firm "provided the IRS with a chapter and verse road map into the union's political expenditures."

Oklahoma Teen Exonerated After Violent Tale

The case of the Oklahoma student on trial for writing a violent short story about attacking his school officials has been dismissed by a judge, who said prosecutors failed to prove the student intended to carry out the act, according to Wired News.

Brian Robertson, of Moore, Okla., was charged in April 2001 with a felony of planning to cause serious bodily harm or death because of a story he wrote on a classroom computer. The story mentioned shooting a principal and blowing up the school. He was arrested and suspended from school for a year.

Under Oklahoma law, if a case carries on for more than a year, a felony charge remains on the defendant's record, even if the case is dismissed, which occurred in his case.

A Big Boost for LA's Small Schools

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been eyeing school reform efforts made by Los Angeles Unified School District. According to The Los Angeles Times, the momentum created by the district in raising test scores and relieving overcrowding is part of the reason behind a $900,000 Gates Foundation planning grant. The grant will aid the district in creating smaller high schools, a focus of its plans to build 120 new schools during the next 10 years. More significant funding from the foundation is expected once the district has established a clear implementation plan.

Most Kids Fail Running and Stretching

About one million California kids, or 75 percent, of the 1.3 million students who took an annual fitness test at school last spring, failed to meet six basic fitness categories, including running, lifting and stretching, according to SFGate.com.

Fewer than half of the state's ninth-graders, or 49 percent, could run a mile in 9 to 12.5 minutes.

On the positive end, students did improve since the first test was given four years ago, when 80 percent of the students failed to meet all six fitness standards.

Holding onto Teachers that Flee

When more teachers leave the field rather than stay, it poses a big problem. Experts say that specialized professional development, mentor teachers and formative assessments for beginning teachers are just some ways districts can retain more new teachers.

The U.S. has plenty of teachers, they're just not in the classroom, mainly because they fled after two to five years, according to Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. About one-third of new teachers leave after three years and 46 percent leave after five years, national statistics show.

The biggest hit came in the late 1990s when those leaving the profession outpaced the entrants--primarily due to school conditions, Carroll says. Teachers felt no support from school leaders, had little time to collaborate with colleagues, and faced disruptive students. They also complained of a lack of control in the organization and instruction in school.

"Teachers need a stronger voice and a strong principal leader who works with teachers on effective instructional strategies, clear goals, and school environments around teaching and learning, and to end disruptive environments," Carroll says.

Strong teacher preparation is also key to keeping teachers. A teacher from a four-year program is more likely to stay in the profession than those certified in a four-week alternative program.

School districts must process resumes for teacher vacancies quickly so qualified candidates are contacted on time. A recent report shows that large urban districts were missing out on qualified math and science teachers because the hiring process was so burdensome, Carroll says.

And mentor teachers, which are common in Columbus, Ohio, and Rochester, N.Y., are key. Mentor and novice teachers can discuss instructional strategies, give feedback and observe each other's classes to address weak links and improve instruction. It might cost a district $3,000-$5,000 for a mentor teacher bonus, but it costs a lot more if the new teachers leaves, Carroll says.

In the Santa Cruz New Teacher Project at the University of California, more than 10,000 beginning teachers in the past 16 years have reaped benefits, according to Ellen Moir, executive director of the New Teacher Center. The center grew out of the project. "We release exemplary teachers on a full-time basis to support a caseload of 15 beginning teaches," Moir says.

Scientific research shows the project's work is paying off, Moir adds. Studies show a district that uses the intensive mentoring model has 74 percent of its new teacher classes make achievement gains, compared with 47 percent and 41 percent in two districts with a less intensive novice teacher support model.

www.newteachercenter.org

L.A. Bans Junk Food

Considering a million California kids can't run or stretch up to typical standards, the Los Angeles Unified School District is kicking out candy bars as of July and replacing them with nuts, baked chips, pretzels and fruit snacks.

The Board of Education wants to slim down many overweight students and plans to put strict limits on the amount of fat, sugar and sodium in any snacks sold on school grounds, according to The Los Angels Times.

N.Y. Loosens Grad Requirement

Following the debacle of the Math A Regents exam last June, New York is loosening testing requirements for high school graduation.

A report, created by a panel appointed by the Regents and New York Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills, showed that the state's push to establish rigorous math standards was flawed and needed to be overhauled. The panel discovered that the state had given math teachers only vague ideas of what to teach and produced exams that were poorly field-tested and focused too much on some areas while excluding others.

In June, only about 37 percent of 11th- and 12th-graders who took the Regents Math A exam passed. The year before, 61 percent passed. Mills stated he would narrow the range of math concepts that students would need to know to get diplomas.

Head Start's Fate is Uncertain

Congress is still dabbling with the federal Head Start program and is already getting unhappy reviews.

A bill from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, proposed last fall, increases funds for Head Start and is to be debated soon in the Senate. Democrats claim the Senate bill is a step above the House of Representatives bill because it preserves direct federal funding of early education programs, as opposed to channeling money through states, according to The Washington Post.

The latest bill comes after the Bush administration proposed to revamp the Head Start program last year. Head Start has served more than 21 million poor preschoolers since its birth in 1965. The Bush administration supports the House bill.

Meanwhile, the National Head Start Association is unhappy with both bills because the group says neither bill increases teacher salaries while mandating B.A.'s for teachers. The average Head Start teacher's pay was $21,000 in the 2000-01 school year, compared to $43,000 for public school teachers. "Everyone supports the goal of higher degrees for Head Start teachers, but it is a cruel trick on Head Start teachers to create a mandate for higher educational achievement and then not provide the money to achieve it," says NHSA President Sarah Greene.

Study: Nurture Plays Huge Role in Education

It's not just genes that make or break a child's academic achievement and IQ. Disputing a popular notion, two studies say good nutrition and a solid education can help create success.

The studies show early childhood health is key and indirectly imply that early childhood programs, such as Head Start, good nutrition, reading at a young age, and proper medical care for prenatal mothers and young children are worthy goals to improve academic achievement among all children. One study examined data from twins in the U.S., the second study studied Guatemalan girls into adulthood.

"What our study shows is that early childhood nutrition is important for adult educational achievement, but that this benefit becomes greater with more schooling," says Reynaldo Martorell, chairman of the international health department at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University and the lead author of the study. "Our message to ministers of health and ministers of education is that yes, it's important to promote schooling, but for best results, early childhood nutrition should be improved as well."

In Eric Turkheimer's study, taking data from studies of twins in the U.S. in the 1960s, the main results show that among the group of children raised in poverty, most of the variation in their IQ scores seemed to be based on differences in their rearing environments. "In the poorest children, environment accounts for everything about IQ scores. As you move up, from the poorest to the richest children, the contribution of the environment goes down and the contribution of genetics goes up," says Turkheimer, who works in the psychology department at University of Virginia.

"Yes, it's important to promote schooling, but for best results, early childhood nutrition should be improved as well."

In Martorell's study, pregnant women in Guatemala in the late 1960s and early 1970s were given two different supplements with vitamins and minerals. Women in two villages were given high protein, energy supplements while women in other villages took a no protein, low-energy supplement.

The children, born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, received the same supplements as their mothers in early years. Children receiving the more nutritious supplements had better child growth and less malnutrition in the first three years. However, motor and mental performances were only modestly better for those receiving more nutritious supplements. The participants were tested again as adolescents and then adults, and results showed major differences in tests of educational achievement, such as reading, vocabulary and general knowledge, in favor of those taking more nutritious supplements. The most recent follow up was on 130 women from the study. In those who finished primary school, women taking nutritious supplements achieved more in education than those with less nutritious supplements.

--Angela Pascopella


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