Education

State program evaluators find focus on early childhood education the key to closing achievement gap

Program Evaluation Division of the N.C. General Assembly

What will it take to close the state’s stubborn achievement gap?

That was the question put to Program Evaluation Division (PED) of the N.C. General Assembly, which studied 12 school districts – five in North Carolina – to see what those schools are doing right to close the persistent achievement gap that exist between white children and their brown and black peers.

A part of the answer calls for a laser-like focus on early childhood education to begin to attack the achievement gap before students reach third grade.

Evaluators found the small group of “high-performing, disadvantaged districts” studied by PED are already achieving “average or better” test scores by third grade.

Much of the achievement gap that follows disadvantaged students throughout their K-12 careers is already present by third grade, program evaluators said.

“Students in predominately disadvantaged districts are learning from third-to eighth-grade and doing so at nearly the same rate as students in more advantage districts, so the problem is not a lack of learning in predominately disadvantaged districts from third-to eighth grade it’s that they’re so far behind at third-grade.” Jeff Grimes, principal program evaluator, said in a video that accompanied the report.

So, ensuring students receive a sound, basic education in their early years is the way forward in stamping out the achievement gap, Grimes and his colleagues said.

“Thus, the main pathway to higher performance for predominantly disadvantaged districts is by securing high student achievement in the early education years instead of focusing primarily on achieving above average academic growth after third grade,” evaluators wrote in the report titled “North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts.”

The evaluations were part of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee’s work plan for 2018.

The report was released Monday with little discussion.

State Rep. Craig Horn, a committee co-chairman, said the report would be more broadly discussed at the committee’s June meeting.

In an interview, Horn explained why the report and the work that follows it are critical to the success of public schools in North Carolina.

“Like everyone else in the state, I’m frustrated with persistent low performance scores and how early education impacts those,” Horn said. “We need a better strategy because what we’ve been doing is obviously not working.  The schools are not improving and the kids are not getting the education they deserve.”

State program evaluators found that school districts that are closing the achievement gap share these six characteristics:

  • A focus on early education.
  • They increase student learning time.
  • They attract, develop and retain high-quality teachers.
  • The schools use data and coach to improve instruction.
  • They seek additional outside resources/
  • They promote the local school board’s focus on policy and academic achievement.

The 12 school districts studied for the report include these five in North Carolina: Alleghany County Schools, Hickory Public Schools; Jones County Public Schools, Wilkes County Schools and  Whiteville City Schools.

The seven out-of-state school districts were Casey County School District, Kentucky; Durant Independent School District; Oklahoma; Fayette County School Corporation, Indiana; Henderson County School District, Tennessee; Johnson County Schools, Kentucky; Steubenville City Schools, Ohio and Whitley County School District, Kentucky.

Evaluators made two broad recommendations:

  • Require low-performing school districts to create an early childhood learning improvement plan as a part of their regular, require plans for school improvement. Strategies to improve early childhood learning could   include expanding Pre-K program participation among disadvantaged students, improving the quality of Pre-K and providing instructional coaching focused on Pre-K through third grade.
  • Require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for district. DPI should begin including early childhood learning assessments as part of its comprehensive needs assessment program no later than July 1, 2020.

 

Education

A ‘handful’ of NCPTA convention attendees walked out during Superintendent Mark Johnson’s speech

Susan Book

A handful of people attending the N.C. Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA) Convention reportedly walked out during a speech by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Some members of the organization were critical of the organization for allowing Johnson to speak at its 100th Convention held in Charlotte last week.

The walkout follows an online petition signed by more than 100 people disappointed that Johnson was allowed to speak.

Susan Book, a member of the NCPTA’s Special Education Inclusion Committee, started the petition.

Book said Monday that she walked out on Johnson’s speech because she doesn’t believe he stands up for “public education in North Carolina.”

“To be a keynote speaker, an elected official should have more than just a title,” Book said.  “They should be a champion for the cause.  I haven’t seen this from Mark Johnson.”

Johnson could not be reached late Monday afternoon for comment.

However, Linda Crandall, a member of the NCPTA Special Education Inclusion Committee and the organization’s board of directors, wrote N.C. Policy Watch to clarify how Johnson became a convention speaker.

Crandall contends Johnson was not invited to speak, but reached out to NCPTA to ask how he could help during the convention.

She said neither Book’s statements critical of Johnson nor those made by her supporters reflect the views of NCPTA.

“Our organization is strictly non-partisan. We interact with elected officials — and others — equally, on the basis of respect and looking for ways to work together to serve students in our state with one voice,” Crandall wrote. “We also treat speakers at our events with equal respect, regardless of status, political party or any other parameters.”

Meanwhile, Book said she was inspired to walkout by the thousands of teachers who took the day of May 1 to advocate for public schools.

“Compared to their work, walking out on Mark Johnson is nothing,” Book said.

Book tweeted this message from the Convention:

“A handful of us walked out and refused to be an audience for Mark Johnson at the #NCPTACon2019.  Since he refuses to respect teachers and NC Public Education, I feel he should not get a podium at NCPTA convention.”

Dozens of people, many of them educators, weighed in on social media about Johnson and the NCPTA Convention.

Jennifer L. Bourne, an educational equity advocate who lives in East Charlotte attended the convention. Here’s what she posted on her Facebook page:

“Yesterday, in Charlotte, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson stood in front of a room of betrayed parents from across the state, and talked about “urgency… innovation… and support[ing] teachers.” He is truly a magician, who talks about the “American dream,” while simultaneously, intentionally, and actively failing to protect the strong public schools where the dreams of our most vulnerable children grow. I have never been more publicly angry. Time to step it up, North Carolina PTA!!!!! #LiarLiarPantsOnFire.”

News

Colleges will soon be able to factor SAT ‘adversity score’ into admissions decisions

This story was updated 5/17/2019 to include comments from David Coleman, CEO of the College Board.

A student’s socioeconomic status will soon come into play when they take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The College Board has created a new Environmental Context Dashboard that allows colleges to gauge a student’s so-called “adversity score” when weighing whether to admit them.

The adversity scores will be based on more than a dozen factors, including crime rates and poverty levels. Housing values, high school course rigor, free lunch rates and family income will also be factored.

Students will earn scores of 1 to 100. A score of 100 indicates hardship while lower scores indicate socioeconomic well-being.

The College Board sees adversity scores as a way to level the playing field between low-income students and their more affluent peers during the college admissions process.

” There is talent and potential waiting to be discovered in every community – the children of poor rural families, kids navigating the challenges of life in the inner city, and military dependents who face the daily difficulties of low income and frequent deployments as part of their family’s service to our country,” David Coleman, CEO of the College Board said in a statement. “No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context.”

Studies have shown that students who have college-educated parents and who come from affluent backgrounds generally outperform students from low-wealth families.

Coleman said the dashboard will shine a “light on students who have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less.”

The “Wall Street Journal” reported that 50 colleges used the adversity score in a beta test last year, and the College Board plans to expand the program to 150 institutions this fall.

The adversity score will be widely available in fall 2020.

Colleges will be able to see the number when considering applicants, but students won’t be told their scores.

Some universities that took part in the pilot program contend it helped their diversity efforts.

“We are proud that results from our pilot of the tool show that using the Environment Context Dashboard makes it more likely that students who demonstrate strength and resourcefulness in overcoming challenges are more likely to be admitted to college,” Coleman said.

One SAT critic said the new score is the College Board’s attempt to “defend” the use of the exam in the college admissions process.

“Promotion of adversity scores is the latest attempt by the College Board to defend the SAT against increasingly well-documented critiques of the negative consequences of relying on admissions test results,” said Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

Schaeffer said the score is a concession that the SAT is not needed to make good admissions decisions.

“More than 1,025 accredited, bachelor-degree institutions now will evaluate all or many applicants without regard to test scores,” Schaeffer said.

Education

NCAE issues statement opposing controversial ICE bill

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) issued a statement Monday strongly opposing House Bill 370, which would require local sheriff’s to cooperate with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and assist federal authorities in deportation hearings.

If the bill becomes law, the NCAE said it could have a chilling effect on school children and their families.

“This bill would make children from the immigrant community more fearful of attending school, and needlessly inject more anxiety and stress into their lives,” the NCAE said.

The education advocacy group also said HB 370 has the potential to further damage relationships between local law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities.

“Those living in mixed-status families who are victims of crime, have witnessed crimes, or otherwise would wish to access law enforcement services, will be less willing to interact with law enforcement agencies that are sworn to protect and serve them,” the NCAE said. “We can scarcely afford to sow greater mistrust and fear in our communities, and we adamantly oppose any bill that seeks to do so.”

HB 370 has been stalled in the Senate since early April. It was referred to the committee on rules, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Education

Should Superintendent Mark Johnson speak at the NCPTA’s annual convention? Nearly 100 people don’t think so.

Susan Book

Nearly 100 people have signed a petition urging the North Carolina Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA) to rescind an invitation to State Superintendent Mark Johnson to speak at the organization’s annual convention.

“Superintendent Mark Johnson is welcome to come and listen to panels, workshops, and parents,” the petition states. “However, due to his own past actions and in-actions he should not be given the privilege of addressing the convention.”

The petition was started by Susan Book, a public schools advocate best known for her work with Save Our Schools NC. She serves on NCPTA’s special education inclusion committee and is active in Wake County PTA.

Book knows there’s little chance the NCPTA will rescind the offer to Johnson to speak. But she hopes the petition will raise awareness about Johnson and his views on public education.

“We have a superintendent who isn’t a champion for public education,” Book said. “PTA is for public education. There are some members who don’t appreciate him being asked. This was not a decision that everyday members approve of.”

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

NCPTA had not returned phone calls by late Friday afternoon.

Johnson could not be reached late Friday afternoon.

Book’s petition cites numerous instances in which she believes Johnson has not acted in the best interest of public education.

The most recent example was Johnson’s new N.C. School Finances website, which has been widely criticized for misleading and inaccurate data.

Johnson was taken to task because the website compares average teacher salaries to median household income and wages across the state.

Book also noted Johnson’s support for a plan to give teachers $400 to purchase school supplies. Teachers have been critical of the proposal because it doesn’t come with any new money attached.

“I believe it’s important for someone like [Superintendent] Mark Johnson to listen to everyday parents and our struggles with public education, but I think asking him to speak is going too far as an endorsement to his policies,” Book said.

Book said she hasn’t made up her mind whether to boycott Johnson’s appearance.

The convention takes place May 17-18 at UNC Charlotte-City Center.