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American High School Students Fall Behind Other Countries

While U.S. students in low grades are faring about average or better in mathematics and science compared with those in other countries, high schoolers are outperformed in both subjects, according to a new federal report.

The Condition of Education 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics painted a mixed picture after analyzing tests administered internationally in reading, science and math.

Three different tests were administered internationally for students, each targeting different age groups and subjects.

Nobody quite knows what goes into [the tests], and so nobody knows what to make of it. -Bruce Hunter, associate executive director, AASA

The results are important for political and business leaders but are of little meaning to district administrators, says Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "Nobody quite knows what goes into [the tests], and so nobody knows what to make of it," he says.

The tests' focus also is somewhat at odds with U.S. curricula, he says. The international tests probe a few academic skills in-depth, he says. "Our curriculum promotes broad coverage, so kids get a wider exposure in math, but it's not as deep," Hunter says.

The results could ultimately influence what's taught in the U.S., he says, as policymakers deepen the curricula. And that means districts may be asked to spend more time on a narrow range of content areas in a subject, such as Algebra, he says.

"I think it already has had an effect," he says. "I think that the curriculum has changed over the last 15 years, narrowing and going more in depth, and that's reflected in our standards." -Kevin Butler

One System for One Graduation

A new report explains what some educators and policymakers have been saying for years: The nation needs one system to measure graduation rates.

Who's Counted? Who's Counting? Understanding High School Graduation Rates, by the Alliance for Excellent Education, notes needed changes:

-States should calculate comparable, accurate and disaggregated graduation rates, and use them for NCLB reporting;

-Longitudinal data systems should track individual students over time;

-The U.S. Department of Education should mandate schools to report the number of diploma recipients, ninth grade repeats, and those who transfer in and out.

Open Ed Technologies

The U.S. needs to catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to open technologies

in education. And the Consortium for School Networking is doing just that, having launched a new Web site as part of its K-12 Open Technologies Leadership Initiative.

The site is designed to help chief technology offi cers and educators adopt and use open technologies-from planning, evaluating, decision-making and implementing.

"This is CoSN's leadership initiative," CoSN's chief executive offi cer Keith Krueger says. "We need to increase the capacity and understanding of chief technology officers in school districts to understand the value of involving their networks to be more 'open.' "

Jim Klein, director of Information Services & Technology at the Saugus Union School District in California, says, "This [site] is one-stop shopping for educators" interested in knowing about open technologies."

An aspect of "openness" is open content-or when a student or teacher creates information and then allows others to add information or context, such as at the Wikipedia site. When it comes to blogging or podcasting, for example, teachers can share educational content. "It [open content] builds a culture of open collaboration," which will increase student learning, Klein adds.

Rae Ann Alton Cooper of IBM Global Education, one of the site's sponsors, says this is about enabling educators to innovate and building on top of open standards. IBM says this model lowers the total cost of ownership and allows customization to meet student needs, she adds.

Test-Makers Wanted

There are plenty of tests these days, but not enough experts to ensure they are fair and accurate, a more common issue recently.

Psychometricians, or trained specialists who create and evaluate tests, are entering the workforce at a trickle and those who do are often choosing high-paying jobs over ones serving the public sector.

"We are seeing a game of musical chairs in which the best and brightest are being lured from one state to another, and also from the public sector to higher-paying jobs in the private sector," says Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest.

The work of psychometricians is highly technical, affecting millions of people. A shortage could lead to flawed measurement tools.

Thomas Toch, co-director of the independent think tank Education Sector, noted the problem in his report Margins of Error: The Education Testing Industry in the No Child Left Behind Era. Toch highlighted data from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago showing that only about a dozen doctoral degrees are awarded in psychometrics each year. A few dozen are awarded in educational assessments/testing/measurement.

Toch says the U.S. Department of Education should fund training 1,000 psychometricians in the next five years. He also recommends funding university-based research on test quality, which could pique student interest in psychometrics.

The government is exploring solutions. A grant program that funds dissertations centered on National Center for Education Statistics data will encourage more applicants, says David Thomas, a department spokesman. It's also considering a joint program in psychometrics that would allow states and districts to send staff members, who already create tests, for certificates and advanced degrees. -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

Fueling Fridays

Rural and remote school districts, where bus routes can take hours and many miles, are shortening the school week to four days to save money on gasoline, according to CNN. The school day in those areas has been extended by more than an hour. Critics say it puts a greater burden on working families and it may adversely affect student performance.

More Money = Higher Achievement?

Documented increases in spending does not do enough to improve student achievement, according to Report Card on American Education: A State by State Analysis: 1984-2004.

The 2005 report card, released by The American Legislative Exchange Council, shows that to improve education, the debate must start and end with student performance, not money. "Student achievement over the years has improved at snail's pace-if at all -and meanwhile, public education expenses have increased at lightning speed," stated Lori Drummer, education task force director for ALEC.

Only fewer students per school and a lower percentage of a state's total budget received from the federal government have a positive impact on achievement, but results are weak.

Housing Subsidy Helps Teachers

Teachers of math, science and special education in New York City are being lured to work in challenging schools with an offer of housing subsidies up to $14,600.

Teachers must have at least two years' experiences. Offi cials hope to hire an additional 100 teachers for September.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration plans to pay upfront up to $5,000 to the recruits for housing expenses including the cost of moving to the area, a down payment on buying a home, or broker fees and security deposits for renters, according to The New York Times.

80% of Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew's goals were  accomplished last year, meaning he likely gets another $45,000 added to his $305,000 base salary.

No Diploma? No Problem

In an era of strengthened K-12 academic standards and graduation requirements, some education officials are concerned that some students are enrolling in public and private colleges without a high school diploma or equivalent degree, such as a GED.

About 2 percent of college students nationwide were enrolled in colleges without possessing a diploma or equivalent degree in 2003-04, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Education. That's up from 1.4 percent four years earlier.

About 1 percent of students at four-year colleges, 3 percent at community colleges and 4 percent at private, for-profit colleges fell into that category.

Before receiving federal financial aid, such students must first pass an independently administered, federally approved test to show that they can benefit from college-level work-referred to as an "ability-to-benefit" test.

States have split on the question of whether such students should receive state financial aid. Some, such as New York, provide state tuition grants to students, while others, like California, do not.

" What makes us think that students who don't
get a diploma or a GED are ready to do collegelevel
-Dane Linn, director, education division,
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

Allowing the admission of such students sends the wrong message in light of states' heavy focus on accountability standards and assessments, says Dane Linn, director of the education division of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Allowing "students who haven't demonstrated that they hold the requisite skills to be successful in college is not only unfair to those who do stick it out and work their way through high school, but it's somewhat contradictory to the policy objectives we see a number of states focusing on," he says.

Given that data show many high school graduates aren't ready for college-level work, "what makes us think that students who don't get a diploma or a GED are ready to do college-level work?" he asks.

John Marinovich, assistant superintendent of secondary education at the Fresno Unified School District in California, says he's not worried about community colleges' accepting such students, but is troubled that four-year colleges and universities would admit them. "It smacks to me of lowering their standards on accepting students to a college or university," he says.

Like many other California districts, Fresno has been advising high school seniors who have not passed the high school exit exam of their options, including attending community college without a diploma or GED, he says. But, he notes, "we go back to discuss with each individual student the importance of goal number one"-earning a diploma.

Nevertheless, community college remains a viable option for some, Marinovich says. "I don't believe that we ever want to say to a student, whether they are 18 years old or older, that now is a dead end, that you shouldn't further your education," he says. -Kevin Butler

Voucher Void

A recent vote in Florida all but kills any chance that a voucher question will appear on the November ballot, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has pushed for voucher programs even after the state Supreme Court in January discarded the nation's first statewide voucher program, saying it violated a constitutional prohibition on spending state money on private schools. Meanwhile, students displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last summer will receive federal support via aid to public schools, rather than school vouchers that puts more money in private schooling. "This marks the end of the national voucher program," states Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association.

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