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1-8-15 National and State Education in the News

Education Week – Quality Counts Annual National Report Released A Fresh Approach to Ranking States on Education…This year's streamlined Quality Counts score card focuses on educational outcomes from early childhood on up (includes ranking states by three categories - The Chance-for-Success Index provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person's life. The school finance analysis assesses spending patterns and equity. Both categories have been updated for this year's report. The K-12 Achievement Index, last updated in 2014, rates states on current academic performance, change over time, and poverty-based gaps.)

January 8, 2015 in print - By The Education Week Research Center

The 19th annual edition of Education Week's Quality Counts takes a fresh approach to the state report card.

In 2014, Quality Counts took a hiatus from issuing summative grades in order to step back and reassess the education policy landscape. This year those grades return in a newer, leaner form that focuses on outcomes rather than on policy and processes.

The "State of the States" grading incorporates three key indices developed by the Education Week Research Center. The Chance-for-Success Index provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person's life. The school finance analysis assesses spending patterns and equity. Both categories have been updated for this year's report. The K-12 Achievement Index, last updated in 2014, rates states on current academic performance, change over time, and poverty-based gaps.


Highlights From the Report

Executive Summary: Playbook for Youngest Learners

Overview: Consensus is Just the Starting Point


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To score the states in all three of these areas, the center employs a "best-in-class" approach. For each indicator in a given category, the top state receives 100 points. All other states are awarded points based on their performance relative to that state. Category scores are calculated as the average of scores across indicators. A state's overall summative score is the average of the three graded categories.

For Quality Counts 2015, the nation as a whole receives an overall grade of C and a score of 74.3 out of 100. That marks a decline down from a C-plus and a 76.9 in 2013, when summative grades were last issued. Just as a student's first-semester grade may be based on a different mixture of assignments and exams than the second-semester grade, the 2015 summative scores are based on a different framework than those issued in 2013 so they are not necessarily comparable.

Massachusetts finishes first this year with a grade of B and a score of 86.2. A perennial high performer, the state has consistently finished among the nation's top five. Also earning grades of B this year are New Jersey (with a score of 85.5), 2013 front-runner Maryland (with 85.2), and Vermont (83.0). Wyoming (B-minus, 80.6) makes its first appearance in the top 10 since Quality Counts started issuing summative grades.


State Grading Data Download

Grading Summary


Chance for Success


School Finance


Mississippi ranks last this year, with a grade of D and score of 64.2. Also earning grades of D are New Mexico (65.5) and Nevada (65.0). Overall, the majority of states (31) can be found toward the middle of the "curve," earning grades from C-minus to C-plus.

Chance for Success

The 13 indicators that comprise the Chance-for-Success Index capture lifelong learning opportunities starting with early childhood, and progressing though the K-12 system to educational and workforce outcomes in adulthood.

The nation's C-plus grade remains unchanged from last year, although its numeric score rose very slightly, from 77.3 to 77.5 out of 100. Results improved slightly on indicators related to early educational foundations in childhood, but declined modestly in postsecondary participation.

For the eighth consecutive year, Massachusetts aces this indicator, receiving an A-minus with a score of 91.9. New Hampshire is the only other state earning an A-minus this year. Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, and North Dakota each receive a B-plus. The states with the highest overall grades—Massachusetts and New Hampshire—are near the top of national rankings on most of the index's measures.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi and New Mexico receive grades of D-plus, and Nevada receives a D. These three states also received the nation's lowest Chance-for-Success grades in 2014.

A total of 30 states increased their scores over last year's marks. Of those 30, seven gained at least a full point on the grading scale. Hawaii and Wyoming saw their results improve the most, with gains of 2.7 and 2.6 points, respectively. Delaware and West Virginia had the largest declines, both seeing their scores drop by 1.3 points.

School Finance

The school finance analysis examines two aspects of school funding. Half of the measures focus on school spending patterns, while the rest explore the distribution of education dollars within each state.

When assessing education expenditures, the Education Week Research Center does not base the evaluation on raw dollars spent. Rather, the center evaluates spending in relation to several benchmarks, such as regional cost differences and the national average for per-pupil expenditures. The finance indicators in Quality Counts 2015 are based on data from the 2012 school year, the most recent available.

The overall state of school finance holds steady this year. The nation's grade of C has remained virtually unchanged over the past several years. Wyoming ranks first in the nation for the seventh straight year but slips slightly, to a B-plus from its previous A-minus grade. While no state receives an A, seven states recorded grades of B-plus, compared with only three in 2014.

A total of 21 states hover in the C-minus to C-plus range, and 15 states earn a D-plus or lower. Idaho is the lone state to record an F in school finance. The District of Columbia and Hawaii do not receive finance grades because they are single-district jurisdictions.

The U.S. average for per-pupil spending stands at $11,735 after adjusting for regional cost differences. Vermont spends the most with $18,882 per student, while last-ranking Utah spends roughly one-third that amount with $6,688 per student.

States typically perform better on the equity aspect of the analysis, but disparities remain when it comes to patterns of spending within states. The Wealth Neutrality score identifies just one state, Alaska, that provides higher funding for property-poor districts than for their wealthier peers. However, Alaska also ranks last on the Restricted Range indicator, which measures the difference in per-pupil spending among districts at the 95th and 5th expenditure percentiles.

Few states perform strongly on both the equity and spending aspects of finance. For instance, Florida ranks second in the nation on equity but only 46th on school spending. Similarly, Vermont takes the number one spot in spending, but ranks 45th on equity.

K-12 Achievement

The K-12 Achievement Index, which counts for one-third of this year's summative grade, assesses states' performance on 18 indicators. These results were published in Quality Counts 2014, and remain unchanged because they rely heavily on National Assessment of Educational Progress results, which are released every other year. Other ingredients of this index include high school graduation rates and Advanced Placement exam scores. To score well on this index, a state must demonstrate strong academic performance, combined with improvements over time and progress toward narrowing the achievement gap.

The nation overall earned a grade of C-minus with a score of 70.2, showing a small improvement from its score of 69.7 in Quality Counts 2012. Massachusetts was the top performing state with a B and score of 83.7. Maryland, which also earned a B, was followed by New Jersey, which posted a B-minus. These three states were the only jurisdictions to score above the C range. In fact, 24 states and the District of Columbia earned a D-plus or lower. However, overall scores in 27 states and the District of Columbia did improve from 2012 to 2014.



NJTV - Forecast: State Aid to Schools Might Increase, But It Won’t Amount to Much…NJ Spotlight founding editor talks with NJTV about funding prospects and other statewide education issues

NJTV | January 8, 2015


Will New Jersey's schools see any kind of increase in state aid in the coming year?

Could be, according to NJ Spotlight education writer John Mooney, who says there isn't much money in the state budget -- but adds that political expediency might lead to a small boost in aid.

During an interview with Mary Alice Williams of NJTV, a content partner of NJ Spotlight, Mooney offered his insights into other statewide education issues, including the controversial new PARCC testing, the use of test scores as part of revamped teacher evaluations, and the continuing controversy over Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson and her "One Newark" education reforms.


NJ Spotlight - Paterson Schools Chief Earns Good Grades for State-Controlled District…In marked contrast with Anderson appearance, Evans earns kudos from state Board of Education

John Mooney | January 8, 2015

The superintendent of the state-controlled Paterson schools came before the Board of Education yesterday, and at least compared with the harsh reception his colleague from Newark received the day before from state legislators, it was a virtual love-fest.

Superintendent Donnie Evans presented the annual report for his district, a regular event for all four state-controlled districts.

Related Links

Paterson Annual Report, 2013-2014

And while there were plenty of concerns and challenges raised, Evans fared well and won plaudits from several board members, as well as the one person who may matter most, Education Commissioner David Hespe.

“The test scores are mixed, but we can see a trend line of improvement, and we can see a strategic plan for addressing the challenges he is seeing in some areas, particularly in math, and I thought that was very positive,” Hespe said.

The commissioner called it “absolutely” a vote of confidence for Evans, whose new three-year contract is under negotiation. “We think he is doing a good job,” Hespe said.

The appearance came a day after Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson appeared before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools to answer questions about her own tenure in the state’s largest district.

The four-hour hearing ended up a one-side affair, with Democrats in particular excoriating the beleaguered superintendent about mounting tensions over her One Newark district reorganization plan and often-antagonistic relationship with the community. Nonetheless, Hespe sat with Anderson yesterday as well.

Evans’ tenure hasn’t been without its own tensions, and the local activists and board members continue to press the state to cede control of the district after more than two decades of state operation.

But Evans also enjoyed support from some community leaders yesterday, several of whom made the trip to the Trenton meeting.

“I think bringing the team with him, and specifically the community groups supporting him, was really nice opportunity for him to show he has built consensus and forged coalitions throughout the community,” Hespe said.

Evans didn’t downplay the challenges, especially about staffing concerns and a tightening budget. And while showing slight improvement in some grades, test scores in others are taking significant dips.

Still, just 38 percent of Paterson’s elementary and middle-school students passed the state’s language arts tests last year; less than 60 percent passed the mathematics exam.

But high schools present a stronger picture, at least by the numbers, since graduation rates have continued to rise, nearing 75 percent last year after standing below 50 percent in 2009.

“Even though we have problems, we are addressing those problems,” Evans said after the meeting. “And there are many, many more good things going on in Paterson that you may never hear about.

“We are not great or excellent yet, but we are certainly not fair or poor,” he said. “We are good, we’re in a good place.”

Star Ledger - PARCC exams blasted by parents, teachers, students at open forum

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on January 07, 2015 at 7:00 PM, updated January 08, 2015 at 8:46 AM


TRENTON —When Colleen Martinez took a practice version of New Jersey’s new standardized math test for third-graders, she said she was stumped.

Martinez, a Montclair parent, couldn’t determine the answers for all of the questions on the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment. And for the ones she did figure out, she didn’t know how to properly enter her response on the computerized test.

Wearing a customized black shirt with “Opt-out” in yellow letters, Martinez told the state Board of Education on Wednesday she’s so worried about how students will respond the test that she won’t let her daughter take it.

“How else would a child feel besides dumb?” Martinez said.

Parents and teachers flooded Wednesday’s open public testimony session to complain about the new tests, which will be administered to all students in grades 3-11 in March and again in May. Some held “No PARCCING” signs. Others pulled their children out of class to have them testify.

Marie Corfield, a teacher in Flemington, said the combination of the new Common Core standards and the implementation of PARCC tests has teachers “overwhelmed, stressed to the breaking point.”

“I feel like I’m living in a bad dream and can’t wake up,” Corfield said.

Some teachers have said PARCC tests aren’t important, but others have told students their performance will impact their future.

“I’m more than positive that if I do decide to attend Princeton, they will not be asking about my PARCC scores,” Hartmann said.

Skyler Alpert, a sixth-grader from Mt. Pleasant Middle School in Livingston, told the board she isn’t planning to take the exams. PARCC takes time away from classes that teach students to be creative, original, intelligent and brave, she said.

“Unfortunately testifying in front of the State School Board isn’t all fun and games, because I will now have go write up a report about my experience here today and present it to my social studies class,” Skyler said. “There are no standardized answers for this kind of education. "

In an interview before the open session, Education Commissioner David Hespe said schools must educate parents about the value of the PARCC exams, which should provide more robust information about student performance than prior exams.

The value of the exams is that they focus more on critical thinking and strategies rather than content, state board member Dorothy Strickland said.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

Burlington County Times - NJ parents, teachers, students oppose new test

Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 8:36 am

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Some parents, teachers and students are telling New Jersey's Board of Education to slow down implementing a new standardized test scheduled to roll out in March.

They expressed their frustrations at Wednesday's meeting of the board that sets school policy.

They say the assessment designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has teachers stressed and students focused on tests rather than more meaningful learning. They also say that its administration on computers has meant that some school libraries have turned into computer labs.

Some parents are having their students skip the exam.

The new test replaces previous state exams and is to be a factor in teachers' evaluations.

Proponents say the new exams stress critical thinking more than the previous ones did.


NJ Spotlight - State Board of Education Members Put to the Test by Anti-Testing Turnout…Foes of switching to controversial PARCC exams enliven normally sedate monthly meeting in Trenton

John Mooney | January 8, 2015

They’re usually pretty sleepy affairs, but a small crowd descended on the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting yesterday. They came from a variety of places, but they had a common cause: protesting the state’s new regimen of student testing.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, promoted the meeting as a chance for its members to give public testimony about the testing --and even bought lunch for those who showed up.

Grassroots groups came out in force, too, from places like Montclair and South Brunswick.

It proved to be an interesting display of a small but growing protest movement that is starting to make its mark.

The turnout of close to 100 people was notable for a monthly state board meeting, albeit not unprecedented. But toting signs and buttons that protested the new testing, which has become a lightning rod nationwide, the crowd was large enough to grab the attention of state officials who stuck around to at least hear the concerns.

“We are all scared to death about PARCC,” said one teacher. “Children are not experiments.”

PARCC stands for the coalition of states participating in the new testing, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

One who indulged the conversation more than most was state board President Mark Biedron, who hosted one of four different venues for testimony in the state department’s Trenton complex. Usually, public testimony is greeted by silence from board members, but Biedron asked questions and entertained follow-up questions.

“This is what the process is about, we want to hear from you,” he said.

Much of the discussion in his room was with parents who said they plan to withhold their children from the testing. A few of those testifying said the state needs to send a clearer message about the rights of students who refuse to take the tests.

The Christie administration has sent an ambiguous message, saying that students are expected to participate in the testing, but that the consequences for those who don’t participate will be left to local school districts to decide.

Biedron said repeatedly that he could not speak for the department, but hoped the message on student rights would be clearer going forward.

“Nobody can force your child to put their hands on the keyboard,” Biedron said several times.

Still, he acknowledged that the State Board’s role is limited in addressing the issue, saying the public testimony would be relayed to the department. He said more significant change would probably need legislative approval at this point.

“If you are going to remove PARCC, you should go to the Legislature,” he said.

And he said changes for at least the next year were unlikely, either way. “The train is out of the station,” he said.

The PARCC protest movement has put the administration in a tough spot, as it presses students to participate in the testing while dealing with those who plan to have their children sit out the testing, either out of protest or for their own reasons as parents.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe took some criticism in the fall when the department issued guidance saying that students were expected to take the tests or face possible disciplinary action from their districts.

Yesterday, he focused more on the need for districts to communicate the value of the testing and less on the consequences on those who don’t take the tests.

“We’re trying to get across that the PARCC exams will be providing much more robust information,” he said.

As for those who refused to take the tests, Hespe said: “Every district should apply its own policies.

“If a student comes in and is disruptive, you should have a disciplinary policy for that,” he said. “If they re not disruptive, you should have a policy of what you do with that child. We should not automatically assume that coming to school and not wanting to take the test is a disciplinary problem.”


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608