Standardizing AP Credit

A proposed change to Illinois state law would make more college credit options available to high school students through AP testing. The parameters for granting AP credit are inconsistent and often vary by subject from campus to campus. There is no standard. The state wants to make mandatory that universities and colleges give credit for AP scores of 3 or better (on a 5 point scale). The law would allow students to place out of college courses that teach the equivalent knowledge they’re tested on before entering higher education programs. At an average of $426 per credit hour the 116,00 AP tests that were awarded  scores of 3 or better last year would have saved test takers $148 million in college course fees. Student rigor is increased by offering college level experience before college with AP courses made available for all students interested in continuing their education. Ideally students would spend less and be better prepared for college. There is some backlash from higher education because there could be financial impact on state colleges and universities which would loose tuition revenue if the law were to be set in motion. Good public policy should outweigh academic arrogance on this matter.

Education Data Shaping School Operations

Some schools are really embracing data and analyzing available information on school operations. A School near Dallas suspended instrument rentals fees after noticing a drop in marching and concert bands, which caused band participation to jump. Collecting data in the classroom can give concrete evidence of which instructional strategies work. As a super independent, Patricia Greco introduced a data driven approach to schools in her district. She encouraged teachers to not just look at numbers and scores, but also ask students for input on what kind of instruction works best for them.

Youth/Police

The Invisible institute in conjunction with the University of Chicago law School’s legal-aid clinic created the program Youth/police that works with schools’ media programs to provide students an outlet to talk about their interactions with police officers on Chicago’s South Side, an area with tense police-civilian relations. The program provides a forum for teenagers to talk about how their lives have been affected by the character of police presence in their neighborhoods. The aim of the group is to allow for discussions of personal experience to act as an outlet for teens who may be frustrated by issues like police profiling. Participants communicate a sense of powerlessness in their everyday encounters with law enforcement. These concerns aren’t unique to Chicago or cities where police incidents have sparked unrest and protests. Among concerns raised by the program are a lack of adolescent development understanding caught in police academies, which could help to diffuse inner city youth and police tensions.

#Educolor

Educolor, a grassroots collective of teachers, advocates and scholars are behind the #educolor hashtag in an effort to spotlight racial inequalities. They recently launched a website, educolor.org, that offers teaching resources. Education inequality tied to race and class is the source source of the most alarming statistics about public schools.

Socioeconomic Isolation And Upward Mobility

By educating children from all around a city rather than strictly keeping poor students socioeconomically isolated within designated neighborhood schools, charter schools disrupt the poverty cycle. By opening up schools enrollment through lotteries or merit rather than location, students have a greater chance at upward social mobility. A report from the Center for American Progress highlights how socioeconomic isolation handicaps student learning.

Prison to School Pipleline

This infographic captures the harsh reality of the school to prison pipleline that exists for black and latino students and children in the foster care system. A quick look at the numbers and we realize the bleak reality for black, latino and students of color who receive harsher punishment starting in preschool. Among the figures a staggering 68% of all men in prison do not have a high school diploma. 61% of the incarcerated population is black or latino, but only 30% of the total US population is black or latino.

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New Uses of Educational Technology

The American Educational Research Association presented academic research exploring the new uses of educational technology earlier this year. Connected Gardening is a curriculum and garden design iPad app connected to sensor-based “probware” technology that provides a constant stream of realtime data about temperature, soil-moisture levels and sunlight exposure. Student learn about data visualization, data analysis, and plant-growth cycles giving them the skills and information to design, develop and operate their own living gardens as they go. Another example is MEteor, a simulation game where students interact with a room sized simulation environment. The lesson are about physics concepts like gravitational acceleration. They involve students predicting trajectory by physically moving along the path they think a meteor (projected on the floor) will travel.

Vocabulary Instruction

Critical for vocabulary instruction is how words are introduced and context is key, according to the writers of the Common Core State Standards. Giving students lists of words to look up in the dictionary and then write into context isn’t an effective teaching strategy. Instead focusing on a topic that provides context for vocabulary words helps students learn effectively, and can be a way of incorporating interdisciplinary learning. The book Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, explains there are three tiers of vocabulary words. Tier-one words are the most common of all and are used in everyday speech (but, they, know.) They’re generally not the focus of classroom discussion. Tier-two words are the most common words used in everyday speech and are transferable across disciplines (layers, solid, surface.) Tier-two words are considered common core material because they’re academic, but also applicable in a variety of contexts. Tier-three words are domain-specific and they’re uncommon outside of particular academic or topical contexts (molten, magma, lava.)

The Tech Divide

Across the country 63% of schools don’t have broadband speeds required for digital learning and online standardized tests. Schools in rural and low-income areas often have the problem of administering 21st century learning in a 20th century classroom. Some schools test their students in small groups limited by the minimal tech and broadband capacity available to them. Even then students are can be regularly logged offline from a lack of bandwidth while learning or taking tests. Other students are bussed to schools with better connectivity for testing.

Fortunately the Federal Communications Commission approved a $1.5 billion spending cap increase for broadband and wifi in schools last year. In addition, there are state grants linked to Common Core implementation and collaborations with tech and business leaders to help close the gap.

The shift to online testing has revealed how wide the digital divide is between rural and low-income students and their more affluent peers. Students who don’t have computers or Internet at home are at a often at a disadvantage because they have less time and familiarity with computers in an education landscape where computer and technology are paramount. The current tests gauge more than the ability to bubble in the correct answer. They can test more skills and students can be asked to demonstrate abstract concepts, approach questions with more creativity, or how they would conduct a science experiment.

The Problem with Opting-out

The growing movement of opting-out of standardized testing has received official criticism from a dozen civil rights groups who recently issued a statement explaining how the opt-outs sabotage important data. The goal of standardized testing is to measure students’ grasp of concepts taught in their education. If students haven’t mastered certain subjects, the tests serve to identify that and help schools to make adjusts to ensure students are college and career ready by high school graduation. The data is skewed by allowing some students to opt out, making it more difficult to gauge achievement gaps which primarily effect disadvantaged communities. Without accurate testing data the testing efforts are of diminished accuracy. What cannot be measured cannot be fixed. Though students who refuse tests are a small minority, their numbers are growing. Earlier this year about twice as many civil rights groups jointly asked congress to maintain annual standardized tests.

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