Attacking inequity in gifted ed. Bad news for online charters. A new, in-depth Advanced Placement program. And send us your biggest questions about public education.

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TALKING ABOUT THE TESTS

Standardized tests dominated education news this week – from the slight dip in scores on a test known as the Nation’s Report Card to President Obama’s call to cap the number of tests students take.

Obama’s announcement came just as the Council of the Great City Schools – far from an anti-test group – released a report that criticized the national testing landscape, saying schools give a mishmash of required federal, state and district tests that are often redundant, incoherent and uninformative.

A few days later, the federal government announced that student performance dropped on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, given to a sample of students in each state every few years.  The  biggest surprise was the decline in math, which was the the first dip since 1990 for fourth- and eighth-graders. That set off a lot of reaction and analysis, with some blaming the new Common Core learning standards, and others arguing that, over the long term, scores are still way up.  Education Trust also released an analysis of scores for different ethnic groups and students living in poverty.

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The Urban Institute argued that the scores by themselves are misleading if they aren’t adjusted for the number of disadvantaged students in each state.  Matthew Chingos, the author of that report, made those adjustments for the NAEP reading and math tests given in 2013, and found that  some states moved way up in the rankings – especially Florida and Texas.  (Washington, however, was one of the states that looks better unadjusted than adjusted.)  Among the factors Chingos considered: the number of students living in poverty, those who speak English as a first language, and those who are in special education programs.

What will happen next?  Not clear.  The federal government doesn’t control how many tests states and districts require.  So far in the Puget Sound area, no districts have announced they’ll be cutting any tests – although the Council’s report noted that Seattle recently decided to give one test to its youngest students (kindergarten to second grade) once a year rather than twice.

YOU HAVE QUESTIONS? WE’LL GET ANSWERS

What are you curious about when it comes to education?  Please let us know.  We’ve just launched Education Lab IQ (Interesting Questions). We’re asking readers to submit questions,  then vote on the ones they like best.  Education Lab reporters will find the answer to the winning submission.

MORE LOCAL HIGHLIGHTS

  • A NEW KIND OF AP:  Everett Public Schools hopes to be the first in Western Washington to offer a new AP curriculum at all of its high schools.  Called AP Capstone, it offers students the opportunity to earn a stamp of distinction on their diplomas if they pass four AP exams as well as two new Capstone courses, AP Seminar and AP Research. Spokane was the first school district in the state to offer those new classes at all its high schools.  The new curriculum is also offered at about 14 other high schools around Washington.
  • THE ONE-YEAR MARK:  Sadness and pain a year after the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
  • MORE HELP FOR COLLEGE COSTS:  Washington State University rolled out a program that offers about 400 students the chance to open a savings account with an interest rate of up to 400 percent to help them pay for college.
  • NOT TRYING TO BE TRANSPARENT:  WSU doesn’t plan to name finalists  before it selects a new president to replace the late Elson Floyd.

ACROSS THE NATION

  • BAD NEWS FOR ONLINE CHARTERS:  As supporters of charter schools in this state try to persuade our Supreme Court to rethink its ruling that bans charters here, a new national study shows that students at online charters across the nation do significantly worse academically than students in regular public schools.  There are about 200 online charter schools, the study said, with about 200,000 students from kindergarten through high school.  (Washington has no online charters, although it does have a number of online schools.)
  • EQUITY IN GIFTED ED: A few weeks ago, we mentioned an effort in Florida to address racial imbalance in gifted programs.  This week, Education Week reported on another – in Elk Grove, Calif. – where the district spent $860,000 overhauling the way it identifies and admits students into gifted and advanced courses.  Five years ago, that district was censured by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for not providing equal access to gifted programs.  One problem:  District leaders found that even though test scores weren’t supposed to be the only way students were admitted to gifted programs, that’s not what was happening.
  • A CHEER FOR NUMBER SENSE:  Despite all the criticism of Common Core math, here’s a call by one teacher for parents to embrace it,  saying it’s not “new math,” just an important focus on number sense.

ON THE AGENDA

  • Save the date: On Dec. 12, Education Lab, the Road Map Project and Seattle Jobs Initiative will host a screening of “Paper Tigers,” a film that explores how one Washington alternative high school used what its staff learned about trauma’s effect on kids to to curb misbehavior.
  • On Wednesday:  The Seattle School Board is scheduled to decide whether to start high schools later and some elementary schools earlier.  Under the superintendent’s proposal, 10 elementary and K-8 schools also would start later – at 9:40 a.m., which many parents are not happy about.  The board also is scheduled to vote on whether to sever or significantly alter its relationship with the Alliance for Education, a nonprofit group that raises money for the district.  The Alliance and the district have not been able to agree on a new working relationship since their memorandum of understanding expired last March.

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