High-Poverty Schools Must Have Poor Test Results? New York Data Show That’s Not the Case

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Posted:
May 03, 2021 11:50 am

Despite the U.S. Department of Education removing some of the so-called “high stakes” attached to standardized tests by waiving accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for a second straight year, many states have continued to seek federal waivers from ESSA’s statewide assessment requirements, reflecting the ongoing debate over whether states should administer the annual tests during the pandemic given the logistical challenges, in particular, of administering assessments when so many students are learning remotely.

At All4Ed, we’ve acknowledged the challenges with administering statewide assessment this year and are pleased to see that the Department of Education has provided some flexibility for states. Yet beyond pandemic-specific obstacles, opponents have made broader arguments against statewide testing, ignoring the unique purposes that state assessments serve, compared to local assessments, such as providing results that are comparable across districts. Some opponents have suggested that state and local leaders, educators, and families do not need the data from statewide assessments—even for the purpose of allocating resources—because test results are strongly linked to students’ demographic characteristics and do not provide any new, meaningful information. For example, a letter from Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and five other members of Congress to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona argued that “this type of assessments more reliably measures socioeconomic status than student achievement.” Instead of giving statewide tests, they argued, education leaders can look at other types of data, such as attendance and access to high-speed internet, to “readily identify those most at risk of learning loss.”

States and districts certainly should look to many different types of educational data when making decisions about how to support students’ academic, social, and emotional recovery from the pandemic—including the opportunity to learn data cited by Rep. Bowman and his colleagues. However, data from statewide assessments are an important piece of the puzzle, especially when it comes to allocating funding intended to improve students’ academic success, such as the 7% of state Title I funds dedicated for school improvement and the new 5% set-aside of state funds and 20% set-aside of district funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to address learning loss. In spending the new ARPA funds, states and districts need comparable, high-quality assessment data on student learning to figure out where learning loss is most severe, as opposed to guessing which students are most at-risk academically.

It is unfair to assume that poverty, or any other student demographic characteristic, is inextricably linked to lower academic achievement. To demonstrate this point, we looked at enrollment and achievement data from the 2018–19 school year for 3,144 elementary and middle schools in New York state. First, we sorted schools into quartiles based on the percentage of students in each school who were proficient in English language arts (ELA). We then sorted schools into quartiles again based on the percentage of students in the school who were from low-income families.  

We found that New York schools serving a large share of students from low-income families were not necessarily the lowest-performing ones. Specifically, among schools that ranked in the top poverty quartile and served the most students from low-income families, nearly half (44%) were not in the bottom quartile for ELA performance, contradicting the idea that high-poverty schools can be automatically categorized as low-achieving. Additionally, two in five schools with the lowest percentage of students from low-income families did not rank in the top quartile for ELA achievement. Therefore, assuming low-poverty schools do well academically may deprive low-achieving students in these schools the opportunity to get the resources they need.

Although many types of student-related data can provide insights into the factors that impact students’ academic success, data from statewide assessments tell us exactly which students are falling behind. That’s why academic assessment data has to be part of the conversation to guide the COVID-19 recovery, even as states and districts have been rightly collecting data on different aspects of student learning during the pandemic. In order to build an equitable recovery for students, states and districts need assessment data along with other educational data to make decisions free from false assumptions and biases. It is not either/or, it is both/and.

Categories:
Assessments, Every Student Succeeds Act

Federal Flash: Biden’s American Families Plan—Four Additional Years of Free Public Education

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Posted:
April 30, 2021 10:41 am

Marking his first 100 days in office, President Biden unveiled the American Families Plan, which would extend free public education by four years through universal pre-K and free community college. It also invests in college access and affordability, training and diversifying the educator workforce, and school nutrition programs. Plus, all the details on the new application and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education to support states in spending funds under the American Rescue Plan equitably, including millions to support youth experiencing homelessness.

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Categories:
coronavirus, Federal Education Budget, Federal Flash, Higher Education, Pell Grants, Teachers and School Leaders

Federal Flash: Biden’s Budget—A Generational Investment in Students, Schools, and Families

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Posted:
April 15, 2021 11:09 am

President Biden released a preview of his proposed federal budget for the 2022 fiscal year, which includes $20 billion in new funding for Title I, $2.6 billion to support students with disabilities, and another $1 billion in new funding for students’ social and emotional wellbeing. It also increases Pell Grants and expands Pell eligibility to DACA recipients. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education made another round of waiver decisions related to state assessments, published guidance for educators and administrators in its second COVID-19 handbook, and opened a review of Title IX regulations finalized by the Trump administration.

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Assessments, Federal Education Budget, Federal Flash

Federal Flash: Biden’s American Jobs Plan—Billions for School Buildings and Broadband

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Posted:
April 07, 2021 10:46 am

President Biden released his American Jobs Plan, which includes investments in school construction and modernization, childcare facilities, community colleges, and broadband infrastructure. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education issued a first batch of waiver decisions to states related to statewide testing requirements, and the House of Representatives held a hearing on charting a path toward equity in education following the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, graduation rates reach an all-time high nationally, with the greatest gains among students with disabilities. But will the pandemic wipe out states’ progress?

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Categories:
Assessments, Federal Flash, High School Graduation Rates and Secondary School Improvement

Federal Flash: Grand Reopening! How the Federal Government Is Supporting Students’ Return to School

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Posted:
March 26, 2021 10:09 am

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) convened the National Safe School Reopening Summit to share strategies and guidance to help schools return to in-person instruction quickly and safely. Also, President Biden announced $81 billion in education relief funds is already on its way to states as new, national survey data shows that millions of students only attend school remotely and receive little live instruction. Plus, the public comment period on new E-rate funding is open, and the Senate held its confirmation hearing for Cindy Marten to be the deputy secretary of education.

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Federal Flash

Testing, Testing? New Federal Guidance on State Assessments

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Posted:
March 02, 2021 03:24 pm

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) waives accountability requirements, but questions remain on whether state assessments will go forward as planned this year. Plus, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launches the biggest federal program ever to close the digital divide, the House advances President Biden’s plan for COVID-19 relief, and Dr. Miguel Cardona is officially the new Secretary of Education.

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Categories:
coronavirus, Federal Flash