Educators share successful practices—and how to avoid pitfalls—in new report

As states and districts revamp ineffective teacher evaluation systems, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) released a report today illustrating ten key recommendations for getting teacher evaluation right. The lessons are drawn from NIET's signature initiative, TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, and presented in the paper, More than Measurement: The TAP System's Lessons Learned for Designing Better Teacher Evaluation Systems. Education writer and researcher Craig Jerald worked with Kristan Van Hook at NIET to distill the findings.

"There are good reasons for policymakers and educators to pay close attention to lessons learned from TAP," said Dr. Gary Stark, president and CEO of NIET.

"TAP is the longest-sustained and most successful effort to radically transform teacher evaluation using multiple measures, including student achievement gains, in America today," said Van Hook, NIET's senior vice president of public policy and development. "What's more, TAP's teacher evaluation system has been tried and tested with thousands of teachers in real school settings over a significant period of time."

"While there are many ways to design and implement better approaches to teacher evaluation, there are also many ways to get it wrong," added Jerald, president of Break the Curve Consulting. "With new national momentum and resources behind redesigning the ways teachers are evaluated and supported, it is more important than ever to prevent past mistakes that have resulted in systems that do not accurately measure performance or provide feedback for improvement."

The lessons were announced during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., today, reinforced by TAP leaders and educators from South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, which all have created a state infrastructure to support TAP's comprehensive reform. They are:

1. Identify specific goals for teacher evaluation that can guide difficult system design decisions, for example, whether the system will not only measure performance, but also support professional growth;
2. Use multiple, complementary measures—including student achievement gains—to evaluate teachers;
3. Invest sufficiently in "wrap-around" quality control mechanisms, those that take place before, during and after the teacher is evaluated;
4. Train evaluators to conduct in-depth post-conferences that can help teachers improve their effectiveness;
5. Look for ways to provide teachers with targeted follow-up support;
6. Identify deliberate strategies for integrating evaluation and professional development;
7. Include teacher leaders as well as administrators among evaluators;
8. Use an evidence-based evaluation rubric that balances breadth and depth;
9. Attend to the "human side" of evaluation by offering teachers plenty of opportunities to understand how and why the new system works; and
10. Provide sufficient technical assistance to implement the system.

Monica Hills, principal of Lowery Intermediate School in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and Dedra Collins, master teacher at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Lancaster, Texas, discussed how TAP revolutionized their teacher evaluation process into a powerful vehicle to measure teacher effectiveness while providing them necessary support to improve.

"As a principal, I see how valuable it is to be able to accurately measure teacher effectiveness," said Hills, "but I could never handle all those evaluations myself. Having master and mentor teachers work with me to conduct evaluations and take the lead in providing support for teachers to improve has enabled us to make significant improvements in student achievement."

"Being observed by multiple evaluators and receiving ongoing support help teachers become more comfortable with the process," said Collins. "Teachers are well-prepared for their observations and they highly value the professional support we provide. Their support really increases when they see their students' achievement grow."

"TAP's comprehensive scope and use of data to drive teacher effectiveness have made it a key part of our state's efforts to drive overall teacher effectiveness through evaluation, mentoring and professional development," said Dennis Dotterer, executive director of South Carolina TAP at the state department of education. "TAP has produced promising and sustained increases in student achievement in our highest-need schools."

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching is an independent public charity committed to ensuring a highly skilled, strongly motivated and competitively compensated teacher for every classroom in America. Its signature initiative is TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a comprehensive school reform that provides teachers with powerful opportunities for career advancement, ongoing professional development, a fair accountability system and performance-based compensation.
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Handling Food Improperly Culprit of Many Gastrointestinal Outbreaks in Schools


In the confined space of a classroom, gastrointestinal illnesses can spread quickly, causing sufferers many painful and uncomfortable symptoms. But what is to blame for a school-based outbreak? In most cases, improper food handling is the culprit, says a Ryerson University public health expert.

Professor Marilyn Lee, Ryerson’s School of Occupational and Public Health, is the lead author of A Review of Gastrointestinal Outbreaks in Schools: Effective Infection Control Interventions. The North American-based study deals with the critical issue of food preparation in many schools from kindergarten through university/college. The National School Lunch Program, for example, provided low-cost or free meals to more than 30 million students across the United States in 2008.

Typically, gastrointestinal illnesses are short-lived and their symptoms – cramps, fever, vomiting and diarrhea – don’t require medical treatment. Some children, however, require hospitalization and even, in the case of E.coli contamination, can die from their condition.

Together with epidemiologist Judy Greig of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Lee searched documented reports published between 1998 and 2008 to identify a number of factors, including the cause of a gastrointestinal outbreak, how the infection was transmitted, the number of children affected, mortality rates, and control and prevention measures.

“The reports of documented cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” Lee says. “There are easily thousands of other outbreaks that aren’t reported to public-health authorities. So, to avoid future outbreaks, it’s important that people take lessons from this study.”

Among the 121 outbreaks cited from the reports gathered in the study, slightly more than half involved bacterial infections (51 per cent) or viral infections (40 per cent). The rest were caused by one or more parasites. In almost half of the cases, transmission was identified as being food-borne (45 per cent), followed by person-to-person (16 per cent), waterborne (12 per cent) and via animal contact (11 per cent).

The researchers found that the risk of food-borne illness was reduced when food handlers practiced effective hand-washing and received food-safety training and certification. In addition, student-training programs on hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning and disinfection of schools were effective strategies.

“Everyone has a role to play,” Lee says. “Many classrooms contain sinks, so teachers can model proper hand washing for their students. School administrators must ensure that students always have access to warm water, soap and paper towels; custodians must frequently check the cleanliness of bathrooms.”

Lee also says it is vital that educational officials notify public-health authorities at the start of an outbreak – a step that was not taken by many of the schools in the study.

“Public-health representatives are experts in disease control, and can take steps to stop an outbreak promptly.”

A Review of Gastrointestinal Outbreaks in Schools: Effective Infection Control Interventions was published in the December 2010 issue of the Journal of School Health.
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High school biology teachers reluctant to endorse evolution in class


The majority of public high school biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.

"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," write Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in today's (Jan. 28) issue of Science.

The researchers examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 public high school biology instructors. They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

In contrast, Berkman and Plutzer found that about 13 percent of biology teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." Many of these teachers typically rejected the possibility that scientific methods can shed light on the origin of the species, and considered both evolution and creationism as belief systems that cannot be fully proven or discredited.

Berkman and Plutzer dubbed the remaining teachers the "cautious 60 percent," who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives. "Our data show that these teachers understandably want to avoid controversy," they said.

The researchers found these teachers commonly use one or more of three strategies to avoid controversy. Some teach evolutionary biology as if it applies only to molecular biology, ignoring an opportunity to impart a rich understanding of the diversity of species and evidence that one species gives rise to others.

Using a second strategy, some teachers rationalize the teaching of evolution by referring to high-stakes examinations.

These teachers "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," Berkman and Plutzer said.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds.

This is unfortunate, the researchers said, because "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."

Berkman and Plutzer conclude that "the cautious 60 percent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments." As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

The researchers note that more high school students take biology than any other science course, and for as many as 25 percent of high school students it is the only science course they will ever take, even though a sound science education is important in a democracy that depends on citizen input on highly technical, consequential, public policies.

Berkman and Plutzer say the nation must have better-trained biology teachers who can confidently advocate for high standards of science education in their local communities. Colleges and universities should mandate a dedicated undergraduate course in evolution for all prospective biology teachers, for example, and follow up with outreach refresher courses, so that more biology teachers embrace evolutionary biology.

"Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the scientific literacy of future generations," they conclude.
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Food-Allergic Children May Feel Unsafe in Schools


New research shows young people who have experienced life-threatening anaphylactic shock from specific food exposures have significantly different views of the risks associated with their allergies based on their age and can benefit from discussing their perceptions of the safety of their school environment in improving their ability to cope.

A rise in the perception of food allergy risk parallels the increasing independence and empowerment that comes as children mature into their teen years, with teenagers feeling less confident of their surroundings and the level of information possessed by school personnel and parents than younger children. High schools were perceived as less safe because of the lack of homerooms, unsupervised lunch areas where food fights sometimes take place, and more uninformed staff. Elementary schools were considered safer because of the stronger presence of parents and consistent routines involving supervised lunch rooms, trained personnel, and communication strategies. Interviews revealed the greatest barrier to safe environments regarding food allergies stemmed from uninformed or misinformed friends, school personnel, and other parents. The research provides information for parents and allergic children to help inform school policies around risk management and coping.

The study, “Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child,” was conducted by Canadian researchers and appears in the January issue of the journal “Risk Analysis” published by the Society for Risk Analysis. The authors include Nancy Fenton of McMaster University, Susan J. Elliott of the University of Waterloo, Lisa Cicutto of the University of Toronto, Ann E. Clarke of McGill University, Laurie Harada of Anaphylaxis Canada, and Elizabeth McPhee of the Community Services Agency in Hamilton, Ontario. The research was funded by AllerGen-NCE, Inc., with the support of Anaphylaxis Canada.

Food allergy affects up to 6 percent of young children and results in an estimated 150-200 fatalities each year in the U.S. and 15-20 deaths in Canada. Accidental exposures are common and occur in homes, camps and restaurants in addition to schools. The study consulted directly with children about their experiences living with and managing a chronic medical condition that requires them to be keenly alert to their surroundings. The study involved 20 children and teenagers and is considered exploratory by the authors, who caution against broader conclusions because of its limited sample size. Ten children aged eight through twelve and ten teenagers, all of whom have potentially life-threatening food allergies, were selected from public schools in Ontario, Canada. Their conditions are severe enough many have to carry an injectable form of adrenaline to treat episodes should they begin reacting to an unanticipated exposure to a food allergen.

Both age groups identified environmental and social barriers that contributed to feelings of isolation, exclusion or being teased. Missing out on school activities, camps, or time with friends was common. “I feel left out because I can’t have everything, like my friends and the other people in my family,” one 16-year-old said. Close friends provide key support to allergic kids but the subjects identified the greatest barrier to safety as stemming from uninformed or misinformed educators and others.

Young children relied more on parents and teachers to cope, whereas adolescents often anxiously fended for themselves by avoiding risky foods, educating others, navigating confusing food labels and quickly escaping from unsafe places. Some felt disempowered and overburdened and even developed symptoms like constant hand washing or waiting to eat until an adult was present who was available to drive them to the hospital. For teenagers, one successful coping strategy was redefining what is “normal” given their potentially life-threatening reactions to certain food exposures such as tree nuts and some seafood. Lead authors Nancy Fenton and Susan Elliott said the study “provided insight into more effective ways of informing educational and interventional efforts in responding to risk in schools.”
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The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009


The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has just released The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009.

This report presents results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science at grades 4, 8, and 12. National results for each of the three grades are based on representative samples of public and private school students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense schools. State results are reported separately for fourth- and eighth-grade public school students from 46 states and the Department of Defense schools.

Student performance is summarized as average scores and as percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Results for student demographic groups (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, and type of school location) are included, as well as sample assessment questions with examples of student responses.

The Technical Notes and appendix tables provide information on NAEP samples, school and student participation rates, the exclusion and accommodation rates of students with disabilities and English language learners, and additional state-level results.

The NAEP science assessment was updated in 2009 to keep the content current with key developments in science, curriculum standards, assessments, and research. Because of the recent changes to the assessment, the results from 2009 cannot be compared to those from previous assessment years; however, they provide a current snapshot of what the nation’s fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders know and can do in science that will serve as the basis for comparisons on future science assessments.

Of the 47 states/jurisdictions that participated at the state level, scores for fourth-grade public school students in 24 states were higher than the score for the nation, and scores in 10 states were lower. At eighth-grade, scores for students in 25 states were higher than the score for the nation, and scores for 15 states were lower.

Highlights of the national results:|

• In 2009, 34 percent of fourth graders, 30 percent of eighth graders, and 21 percent of twelfth graders performed at or above the Proficient level.

• Seventy-two percent of fourth graders, 63 percent of eighth graders, and 60 percent of twelfth graders performed at or above the Basic level in 2009.

• Scores were higher than the nation in 24 states/jurisdictions at fourth grade and in 25 states/jurisdictions at eighth grade.

• Seventy-two percent of twelfth graders will have taken at least biology and chemistry by the time they graduate high school. Thirty-four percent will have taken biology, chemistry, and physics.
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Schools in rural communities spend more per student than non-rural schools


Rural communities face several challenges in providing educational services that suburban and urban areas do not. According to Do Schools in Rural and Non-rural Districts Allocate Resources Differently? An Analysis of Spending and Staffing Patterns in the West Region States, districts in rural communities spent more per student, hired more staff per 100 students, and spent more on overhead than did non-rural districts.

The report describes and analyzes 2005/06 school district data to understand how district spending and staffing patterns varied with three characteristics associated with rural areas—district enrollment, student population density, and drive time to the nearest urban area—and whether the relationship between these resource allocation patterns and regional characteristics differed across the study states.

The report’s main findings include the following:

• As expected, districts in rural and nonrural locales differed in enrollment, student population density, and average drive time to the nearest urban area. Districts in rural-remote and rural-distant locales had substantially lower enrollments and student population densities than did districts in other locale subcategories.

• Districts in rural locales spent more per student, hired more staff (especially teachers) per 100 students, and spent more on overhead than did districts in nonrural areas.

• Regional characteristics (district enrollment, student population density, and drive time) were more strongly related to resource allocation than were other cost factors studied (student needs and geographic differences in labor costs). Among these, district enrollment was the factor most strongly associated with spending and staffing patterns.

These findings may be useful to policymakers as they develop resource distribution formulas and policies.
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Science learning easier when students put down textbooks and actively recall information


Actively recalling information from memory beats elaborate study methods

Put down those science text books and work at recalling information from memory. That's the shorthand take away message of new research from Purdue University that says practicing memory retrieval boosts science learning far better than elaborate study methods.

"Our view is that learning is not about studying or getting knowledge 'in memory,'" said Purdue psychology professor Jeffrey Karpicke, the lead investigator for the study that appears today in the journal Science. "Learning is about retrieving. So it is important to make retrieval practice an integral part of the learning process."

Educators traditionally rely on learning activities that encourage elaborate study routines and techniques focused on improving the encoding of information into memory. But, when students practice retrieval, they set aside the material they are trying to learn and instead practice calling it to mind.

The study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying With Concept Mapping," tested both learning strategies alongside each other. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education.

"In prior research, we established that practicing retrieval is a powerful way to improve learning," said Karpicke. "Here we put retrieval practice to the test by comparing its effectiveness to an elaborative study method, specifically elaborative studying by creating concept maps."

Concept mapping requires students to construct a diagram--typically using nodes or bubbles--that shows relationships among ideas, characteristics or materials. These concepts are then written down as a way of encoding them in a person's memory.

The researchers say the practice is used extensively for learning about concepts in sciences such as biology, chemistry or physics.

In two studies, reported by Karpicke and his colleague, Purdue University psychology student Janell Blunt, a total of 200 students studied texts on topics from different science disciplines. One group engaged in elaborative study using concept maps while a second group practiced retrieval; they read the texts, then put them away and practiced freely recalling concepts from the text.

After an initial study period, both groups recalled about the same amount of information. But when the students returned to the lab a week later to assess their long-term learning, the group that studied by practicing retrieval showed a 50 percent improvement in long-term retention above the group that studied by creating concept maps.

This, despite the students own predictions about how much they would actually remember. "Students do not always know what methods will produce the best learning," said Karpicke in discussing whether students are good at judging the success of their study habits.

He found that when students have the material right in front of them, they think they know it better than they actually do. "It may be surprising to realize that there is such a disconnect between what students think will afford good learning and what is actually best. We, as educators, need to keep this in mind as we create learning tools and evaluate educational practices," he said.

The researchers showed retrieval practice was superior to elaborative studying in all comparisons.

"The final retention test was one of the most important features of our study, because we asked questions that tapped into meaningful learning," said Karpicke.

The students answered questions about the specific concepts they learned as well as inference questions asking them to draw connections between things that weren't explicitly stated in the material. On both measures of meaningful learning, practicing retrieval continued to produce better learning than elaborative studying.

Karpicke says there's nothing wrong with elaborative learning, but argues that a larger place needs to be found for retrieval practice. "Our challenge now is to find the most effective and feasible ways to use retrieval as a learning activity--but we know that it is indeed a powerful way to enhance conceptual learning about science."
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Return on Educational Investment


A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity

This report, from the Center for American Progress is the culmination of a yearlong effort to study the efficiency of the nation’s public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. The project measures the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat.
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Girls Who Are Bullied Are at Risk for Substance Use Through Depression


Both boys and girls who are victims of bullying, including bullying through e-mail and the internet, are at elevated risk for depression. However, according to a new study, adolescent girls may engage in substance use as a result of bullying-related depression.

Jeremy Luk of the University of Washington reported his findings in the December issue of Prevention Science, a journal of the Society for Prevention Research. His study is the first to identify depression as a possible link to the relation between victimization and substance use among adolescents. The findings are generalizable because they are based on data from a nationally representative sample of 1,495 tenth graders.

Luk's research was based on data on bullying from the 2005/2006 U.S. Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC). Luk analyzed that data while he was on a study program at NICHD.

"Bullying is a serious problem among adolescents. Previous research has shown that it is associated with loneliness, depression and suicide. But no previous national studies have identified depression as an explanation for the relationship between victimization from bullying and substance use," Luk said.

The HBSC survey measured depression by asking tenth graders: how often in the past 30 days they:

(1) were very sad;

(2) were grouchy or irritable, or in a bad mood;

(3) felt hopeless about the future;

(4) felt like not eating or eating more than usual;

(5) slept a lot more or a lot less than usual; and

(6) had difficulty concentrating on their school work.

Responses were coded one to five: "never," "seldom," "sometimes," "often," and "always."

Substance use was measured by asking number of occasions in the past 30 days that adolescents had

(1) smoked cigarettes;

(2) drunk alcohol;

(3) been drunk and

(4) used marijuana.

For each item, four categories were created: "never," "once or twice," "three to five times" and "more than five times."
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Report ranks nation's charter school law


The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) today released its second annual report which ranks the nation's charter school laws from the strongest to the weakest. Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws analyzes the country's 41 state charter laws and scores how well each supports charter school quality and growth based on the 20 essential components from the NAPCS' model charter school law.

The new report captures all the legislative moves states made to be more competitive under the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program. Overall, Minnesota's charter school law ranked the highest and Mississippi's new charter school law ranked the lowest.

As a result of positive policy changes made over the past year, Florida made the biggest jump from 2010, moving from number 11 to second place. Because of charter schools legislation passed in 2010, Massachusetts also made a jump, from number six to third place. And, the charter school legislation New York enacted in 2010 moved it from number eight to number five.

Conversely, the District of Columbia tumbled the furthest from 2010, dropping from second to eighth place. In addition, California fell from the third to the sixth position, Georgia fell from fourth to seventh, and Utah dipped from seventh to tenth.
As a new crop of governors and legislators prepares for the upcoming legislative sessions, the rankings provide clear indications of where some states excel and others come up short in charter school laws. They also offer a positive roadmap for how governors and legislators can take action to strengthen their charter school laws.

The 10 states with laws shown to best support the growth of high-quality charter schools are: Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, California, Georgia, District of Columbia, Louisiana and Utah.

The report also found that 24 states and the District of Columbia still have caps that impede the growth of charter schools. In nine of these states, such caps are severely constraining growth: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio. More than 420,000 students across the country are hoping for an additional seat at a charter school – and there is no correlation between caps and school quality or student achievement.

There are 10 states that have still failed to enact a charter school law: Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

See detailed state-by-state summaries and color-coded maps of how states measure against each component here.

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A second language gives toddlers an edge


Toddlers who learn a second language from infancy have an edge over their unilingual peers, according to a new study from Concordia University and York University in Canada and the Université de Provence in France. As reported in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the research team tested the understanding of English and French words among 24-month-olds to see if bilingual toddlers had acquired comparable vocabulary in each language.

"By 24 months, we found bilingual children had already acquired a vocabulary in each of their two languages and gained some experience in switching between English or French," says senior researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois, a psychology professor at Concordia University and associate director of the Centre for Research in Human Development. "We found the cognitive benefits of bilingualism come much earlier than reported in previous studies."

As part of the investigation, 63 toddlers were divided into groups of unilingual and bilingual infants. To assess levels of bilingualism, parents completed a language exposure interview and vocabulary checklists, while children completed five basic language and cognitive tests.

"Bilingual children outperformed their unilingual counterparts on tasks where they were distracted," says Dr. Poulin-Dubois. "The small bilingual advantage that we observed in our 24-month-old bilinguals is probably due to a combination of infants' experience listening to and using their two languages."

These new findings have practical implications for educators and parents, says Dr. Poulin-Dubois. "Exposing toddlers to a second language early in their development provides a bilingual advantage that enhances attention control."
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Students Are More Likely to Retake the SAT if Their Score Ends With “90”


High school students are more likely to retake the SAT if they score just below a round number, such as 1290, than if they score just above it. That’s the conclusion of a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which found that round numbers are strong motivators.

The work was inspired by a study that found that a car’s value drops suddenly when it passes a 10,000 mile mark—so a car that has 70,000 miles is worth markedly less than one with 69,900 miles. “We were talking about that and we started thinking about SAT tests,” says Uri Simonsohn of the University of Pennsylvania, who cowrote the study with Devin Pope of the University of Chicago.

Pope had a set of SAT scores from 1994 to 2001—before the SAT scoring system changed—when the maximum score was still 1600. These scores were only the last score attained by each student, so if they retook the test, their first score didn’t appear. The researchers found gaps just below 1000, 1100, 1200, and so on, indicating that people who got those scores were more likely to retake the test and have that just short of a “00” score replaced by something else.

The change in SAT scores probably doesn’t make a big difference in the students’ lives, Simonsohn says. “The SAT doesn’t matter nearly as much for admission as people think, so 10 points probably don’t make a difference.” (In fact, when Simonsohn looked at actual admissions data, he found that students who scored 1390 were just as likely to be accepted as students who scored 1400.) His only worry is that students might be wasting their time retaking the SAT to reach a pointless goal rather than doing something more productive.

In experiments, the researchers also found that people who imagined running laps were more likely to say they’d do another lap if they’d just finished 19 than if they had already run 20. A look at baseball stats found that that players are four times more likely to end a season with a .300 batting average than a .299 average—they manipulate their batting average by making decisions about whether to walk or swing, or whether to have a pinch hitter come in.

The research “tells you how important self-motivation is,” Simonsohn says. People are surprisingly driven by round numbers and will take major action—like sitting through a day of standardized testing, which hardly anybody enjoys—to reach these arbitrary goals. Economists in particular tend to focus on actual awards that come from outside, like money or another reward, he says, but this is a clear example of motivation coming from within.
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Teacher retirement benefit systems


A number of states are trying to deal with huge unfunded pension liabilities that threaten to absorb large shares of K-12 education budgets. Because this fiscal crisis may force policymakers to consider teacher retirement benefit system reform, the authors of a newly published journal issue suggest now is the opportune time to examine the consequences of these systems on school staffing and educator quality.

Michael Podgursky, a professor of economics in the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science, co-edited, with University of Arkansas Professor Robert Costrell, a special issue of the journal Education Finance and Policy, the official journal of the Association for Education Finance and Policy, which focuses on teacher retirement benefit systems. The issue is based on a 2009 academic conference held at Vanderbilt University and is the main source of research to date on teacher retirement benefit systems for state policymakers and researchers. The conference brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines – including economics, political science, law and public policy – from major research universities and research institutions across the country, to analyze the design and implications of teacher retirement systems used in the American K-12 public education system.

“Some economists estimate the unfunded liabilities of educator pension systems to be one trillion dollars or more,” Podgursky said. “In this issue of the journal, we’ve gathered leading economists, finance experts and political scientists and asked the simple question, ‘Is this money well spent?’”

Unlike teacher salaries, retirement benefits have been studied little until recently, despite their importance in school budgets, according to the journal. Retirement benefit systems have important effects on the teacher work force, school staffing and school finance. While states and districts face rapidly rising costs for their existing retirement benefit systems, districts also are looking for ways to recruit and retain high-quality teachers in their continuing efforts to raise student achievement and decrease achievement gaps.

Other papers published in Education Finance and Policy discuss whether existing retirement benefit systems are sustainable and whether there are better ways to spend the money to recruit, retain and motivate a high-quality teaching work force. Teacher retirement systems offer defined-benefit pensions, a structure that guarantees the participant a certain monthly payment after retirement, based on years of service and final salary. The private sector has moved away from the defined-benefit system in recent years in favor of defined-contribution plans that tie benefits to contributions by employee and employer or to hybrid systems such as cash-balance plans, which also tie benefits to contributions, but do not shift risk to employees.

Previous research by Costrell and Podgursky shows that teacher pension plans provide strong incentives to teachers who follow a specific career path that may be well-suited to some teachers but not others. Benefits are typically structured to “pull” teachers to work until their early or mid-50s and then “push” them into retirement. Some teachers in their 40s may find themselves better suited to a career change but hang on for their pensions, while some in their 50s may still have good years to offer but retire prematurely, Costrell and Podgursky wrote.

In their contribution to this special issue, Costrell and Podgursky show that the distribution of pension benefits is highly unequal: approximately half of an entering cohort’s pension wealth is often redistributed from those who leave prior to their 50s to those who retire in their 50s, as compared to the uniform distribution under cash-balance plans. In addition, current systems impose large penalties – worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – on teacher mobility between states.

“The simple fact is that educator pay and retirement benefits are the chief expenditures of school districts nationwide,” Podgursky said. “No one has done the type of analysis we’ve done on pension benefits, and until we re-examine these policies, our school districts will face increasingly severe fiscal challenges.”
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Talent Management in Portfolio Districts


One of the most important things a school district can do to improve student achievement is ensure that students have effective teachers. Recognizing that human resource management systems are often not up to the task, some urban school districts are reforming how they recruit, hire, develop, and retain teachers by streamlining processes and procedures and aligning them with the district's broader reform strategy.

This paper looks at how such reforms are playing out in two portfolio school districts: New York City and Washington, D.C. Though the districts’ reform efforts differ, together they highlight four courses of action that portfolio—and perhaps traditional—districts can take to transform talent management from a bureaucratic staffing system into a core leadership function:

1. Assign talent strategy to a senior reform executive

2. Distinguish strategy from routine transactions

3. Redesign policies and practices to support flexibility and performance

4. Change the culture to focus on performance

The courses of action outlined in this report are not easy, yet they appear to be critical levers for transforming long-standing bureaucratic staffing systems into a more strategic and crosscutting approach to talent management to better ensure that all students have effective teachers.
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Layoffs of Teachers in the State of Washington Are Unrelated to Effectiveness


A recent study by researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald of the Center for Education Data and Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington Bothell found that layoff decisions within the teaching profession are disproportionally determined by seniority and other factors unrelated to teaching effectiveness. This seniority-driven system flies in the face of the widely understood fact that teacher effectiveness is the single most influential school-based factor affecting student learning.

The recent economic downturn resulted in extensive layoffs of teachers. Nationally that figure is estimated to be as many as 72,700 teachers, and in the state of Washington, a statewide database reveals that about 2,500 teachers were under threat of losing their jobs, having received a layoff notice in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

Seniority-based layoff decisions can be largely attributed to policies set by collective bargaining agreements, which overwhelmingly require that decisions should be made based on seniority. Indeed, many say that seniority should be the sole determinate. But, based on the analysis of the state of Washington’s database, the researchers at CEDR found that a significant proportion of the teachers receiving a layoff notice were more effective than the average teacher in the state.

As a further step, the researchers modeled a more progressive option in which effectiveness rather than time-in-seat would drive the layoff decisions of school districts. Simulation of this model suggested that implementation of an effectiveness-based system would result in a substantial improvement in the state’s schools. A layoff system based on effectiveness would result in roughly 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 additional months of learning progress each year by the students in the affected classrooms. As Goldhaber and Theobald point out, “The model we investigate would result in more effective teachers in our schools. Our findings strongly suggest that a seniority based layoff system is not in the best interest of student achievement.”
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State High School Tests: Exit Exams and Other Assessments


State High School Tests: Exit Exams and Other Assessments, CEP’s 9th annual report on high school exit exams discusses new developments in state high school exit exam policies and how students enrolled in school in states with these policies are affected. This year’s report finds that 28 states required high school exit exams in the 2009-10 school year (up from 26 in 2009), and public schools in those states enroll 83 percent of the nation’s students of color and more than three-quarters of the country’s low-income pupils. For the first time, this year’s report also includes information about graduation requirements in states that do not require exit exams.
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Student Achievement Gaps by Race, Ethnicity, Income, and Gender Remain Large


Progress in Narrowing Reading and Math Gaps Is Slow and Uneven

Gaps Shrinking Faster for Latinos, Slower for Native Americans and Boys

New research by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) finds that while student performance has risen overall on state exams, the test score gaps between student groups remain large and will take many years to close at current rates—even in the states making the most progress.

State Test Score Trends through 2008-09, Part 2: Slow and Uneven Progress in Narrowing Gaps provides a detailed look at student performance on state tests and examines whether state-level results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) confirm the trends found on state tests. The report tracks data for all states and the District of Columbia in math and reading for grades 4, 8, and high school by student race, ethnicity, income, and gender from as early as 2002 through 2009, where three or more years of comparable data are available.

African American, Asian, Latino, Native American, and white students, as well as lowincome students, boys and girls, made gains on state reading and math tests in twothirds or more of the states with sufficient data. When analyzed using both the percentages of students scoring proficient and average scores on state tests, more states posted gains than declines or flat trends for each student subgroup in reading and math at grades 4, 8, and high school. For most subgroups, achievement gaps on state tests have also narrowed since 2002 in the majority of the states studied.

The report’s comparison of the direction of trends on NAEP and state tests between 2005 and 2009 at grades 4 and 8 presents a mixed picture. In a majority of the states studied, NAEP results confirm gains in reading and math for most subgroups. But trends in achievement gaps on NAEP differ often enough from gap trends on state tests to raise caution about how consistently gaps are narrowing, the report finds.

Despite progress in raising achievement and narrowing gaps, achievement gaps by race, ethnicity, and income remain large and persistent. In many states, the percentage of African American students scoring proficient on state tests was 20 to 30 points lower in 2009 than for white students. Similarly large gaps in percentages proficient were evident between Native American and white students and between students from lowincome families and more advantaged students, the report finds.

In some grades and subjects, Native American-white gaps have widened or stayed the same as often as they have narrowed. Moreover, the gaps between Native American and white students have narrowed at a slower pace than gaps for other groups.

The report also highlights the gaps between boys and girls in reading. In 2009, girls outperformed boys in reading in every state and D.C., with gaps in percentages proficient exceeding 10 points in some states. Gender gaps are closing more slowly than other gaps, the report warns.

One point of optimism in the report is that gaps on state tests between Latino and white students in percentages proficient have narrowed at a greater rate than gaps for other groups. In grade 8 reading, for example, the gap in percentages proficient between Latino and white students narrowed at a median rate of 1.4 percentage point per year across all the states with sufficient data. Overall, Latino-white gaps often amounted to 15 to 20 percentage points.

Although gaps have narrowed more rapidly for some groups than for others, at the current rates of progress it would take many years—often one or two decades or more— to close most gaps. For purposes of illustration, closing a gap of 15 percentage points between Latino and white students in high school math would take 12.5 years if the median rate of progress remained the same. Gaps for most other subgroups are shrinking at a slower pace and would take much longer to close.

The report includes tables with performance trends by state as well as more detailed overviews of the findings.

Also available:

State Test Score Trends Through 2008-09, Part 1: Rising Scores on State Tests and NAEP

This report compares state math and reading proficiency scores in grades 4 and 8 to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) basic scores for the period of 2005 to 2009. The study found that scores on state tests and NAEP have increased in most states with sufficient data. Also included with the report are profiles for the 23 states that are included in the research because they did not have breaks in their testing data for the years studied.
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About One-Third of U.S. Schools and Districts Do Not Make Adequate Yearly Progress Under NCLB


The Center on Education Policy (CEP) has released a report on the
number of schools and districts who have failed to make adequate yearly
progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). How Many Schools
and Districts Have Not Made Adequate Yearly Progress? Four Year Trends

looks at the trends in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., from the 2005-
2006 school year to the 2008-2009 school year (the most recent year for
which data are available). According to the report:

o One-third (33 percent) of the nation’s schools did not make AYP in
2009. This was an increase from 29 percent in 2006, but a decrease from
the high point of 35 percent in 2008.

o The percentage of districts that did not make AYP in 2009 also
increased from 29 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2009.

o The percentages of schools and districts that did not make AYP
often fluctuated from year to year within the same state and varied
greatly across states. While the report does not determine the reason
for these variations, it does suggest that changes in state’s tests or cut
scores, rising achievement objectives, other state and federal policy
changes, and differences in student demographics, in addition to changes
in student performance, may be responsible for the variation.

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Replication of a high school career academy model in Georgia


With the increasing importance of integrating academic, career, and technical instruction, career academies have sprung up to meet the academic and career preparation needs of students across the United States. Currently, more than 2,500 career academies of different types are in operation in communities throughout the United States.

This REL Southeast report, Replication of a Career Academy Model: The Georgia Central Educational Center and Four Replication Sites, describes the replication of a popular model in Georgia, the Georgia Central Educational Center (CEC). It finds that key features of CEC have been adopted by several career academies in other communities in Georgia. The report describes the similarities and differences among the original CEC and four replication sites in Georgia.

The study finds that the replicated career academies have involved community partnerships with local businesses and other groups from the beginning of program development. The replicated career academies emphasized the importance of the CEC model’s flexibility for enabling career academies to tailor their programs to community needs.

Key features of the CEC model include:

• Initial needs assessment, of community and business needs, used as a basis for curriculum development.

• Establishment of joint ventures, through key partnerships with the business community, local technical colleges, and other community stakeholders.

• Seamless integration of academics with career and technical education and of secondary with postsecondary education, emphasizing opportunities for students to earn course credits at technical colleges through dual enrollment courses
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New Data Shows That NJ Charter Schools Consistently Outperform Their In-District Counterparts


Comparative data released by the NJ Department of Education today shows the majority of charters in urban areas last year outperformed other public schools in their host districts on required standardized testing.

The charters, located in former Abbott districts, scored higher on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge and the High School Proficiency Assessment tests in 2010. For eighth-grade students, 79 percent of the charter schools in former Abbott districts scored higher than their home district in Language Arts, while 69 percent of the charter schools scored higher than their home district in Math.

“The data shows us that the innovation and creativity that drove the charter movement in the first place are getting real results for our children,” said Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. “High-quality charters in New Jersey are shining examples of why we can no longer accept that zip code equals destiny. It’s critical that we act immediately to strengthen and expand charter schools in the state by implementing Governor Christie’s education reforms.”

In Newark, all but two of the nine charter schools outperformed the district average for Math and all but two out-scored the district average in Language Arts. Four charter schools -- Discovery, Gray, Robert Treat Academy and North Star -- bested the state average in Language Arts. In Math tests, Discovery, Gray, Greater Newark, North Star Academy and Robert Treat Academy scored higher than the state average. In Camden, all four charters outperformed the district averages in Language Arts and Math.

“These charter schools are living proof that a firm dedication to students and a commitment to best education practices will result in high student achievement in some of New Jersey’s lowest-income areas,” said Carlos Perez, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Charter School Association. He pointed to NJASK data for third grade Language Arts, where more than half the charters outperformed the schools in their home districts, and of those, more than 75 percent were located in former Abbott districts.

“With charters – as with all schools -- accountability is critical. Charters are not permanent and must be renewed on a regular basis, helping ensure accountability,” said Newark Charter School Fund CEO Mashea Ashton. “The data shows that charter schools are working hard and successfully providing a high quality education for their students.”

Two Newark charters were recently given the prestigious national Blue Ribbon award; five total New Jersey charters have received the award, considered the highest honor an American school can achieve. The federal Blue Ribbon School Program honors public and private elementary, middle, and high schools, in operation for five or more years, that are either high performing or have improved student achievement to high levels, especially among disadvantaged students.

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Measuring Student Engagement


Measuring Student Engagement in Upper Elementary through High School: A Description of 21 Instruments, presents the results of a literature review of available instruments for measuring student engagement (behavioral, emotional and cognitive) in upper elementary through high school. The study describes 21 instruments that include student self-reports, teacher reports, and observation measures.

The report is a useful resource for educators, school psychologists, researchers, and other education professionals interested in measuring student engagement.

The report summarizes what is measured, instrument purposes and uses, and available technical information. In addition, instrument abstracts describe the main features of each instrument, including the developer, population, method, background, administration, constructs measured, scoring and reporting, reliability and validity, and use. References are listed for each instrument. The report is descriptive and is not intended to assess the quality of each instrument or identify strengths or weaknesses.
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Enhanced early childhood education pays long-term dividends in better health


Intensive early education programs for low-income children have been shown to yield numerous educational benefits, but few studies have looked more broadly at their impact on health and health behaviors. A new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health examines this issue, using data from a the well-known Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC), a randomized control study that enrolled 111 infants in the 1970s and continued to follow them through age 21. Researchers found that individuals who had received the intensive education intervention starting in infancy had significantly better health and better health behaviors as young adults.

The study is only the second to explore the relationship of early childhood education and adult health benefits. The first study, based on the Perry Preschool Program, also was conducted by Columbia professors Peter Muennig, MD, and Matthew Neidell, PhD, on a similarly small cohort of children, and found behavioral benefits, but no overall health benefits. The current study is the first randomized control study to definitively show the health benefit of education. Findings are online in the American Journal of Public Health.

The original study enrolled infants from 1972 to 1977 at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in Chapel Hill, NC, where they received an age-appropriate curriculum designed to enhance cognition and language development starting in infancy. Researchers had found that infants enrolled in the program had higher IQ by age three and higher reading and math achievement by 15 years of age, lower rates of teen depression and greater likelihood of college enrollment compared with a control group.

The current study expands on the original study to examine the impact of ABC on three health measures and 11 measures of behavioral risk factors. The health measures were the number of self-reported health problems since 15 years of age, a depression index score, and the number of hospitalizations in the past year. Behavioral risk factors concerned traffic safety, drug use, and access to primary care. Researchers found that participants had significantly better health and health behaviors and that these findings were independent of IQ, educational attainment or health insurance status.

The original study was small, but it had a very strong effect on education. Until it came along, the benefit of education had never been proven using the gold standard in research methods-the randomized controlled trial. What we have found is that this educational intervention also reduced health risks like smoking and improved health outcomes as early as age 21," said Dr. Muennig, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's Mailman School and principal investigator of the new study. "The health benefits were quite dramatic."

"While much remains to be learned about both the pathways linking education to health and the overall effect sizes of education on health, our study provides causal evidence in support of the hypothesis that early education enhancements may improve income, reduce crime, and even enhance the global competitiveness of the American workforce," suggests Dr. Muennig. "These interventions may be more cost effective than many traditional medical and public health approaches to improving population health.
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How well does NAEP match up with the Common Core standards in mathematics?


A special advanced release of a Brown Center report on NAEP and the Common Core standard tackled this question by analyzing NAEP items from the eighth-grade assess­ment. The full version of the 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education will be published at a later date.

NAEP items are periodically released to the public to give an idea of the content of the test. For the current study, researchers coded all public release items from the algebra and number strands based on the grade at which the Common Core recommends teaching the mathematics assessed by the item. The 2009 NAEP Framework in Math­ematics calls for number and algebra items to comprise half of the eighth-grade assess­ment. A total of 171 items were available, 98 from the number strand and 73 from algebra.

The mean fourth-grade NAEP item registered at 3.2 and the mean eighth-grade item at 3.7, suggesting that the typical item could be answered using arithmetic taught by the end of third grade. Primarily, this finding stems from NAEP’s reliance on whole number arithmetic in word problems. Researchers found that approximately 70 percent of the eighth-grade items focused on whole numbers. Problems with fractions, decimals, or percents—forms of rational numbers taught after third grade—are not common on NAEP.
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Systems Perspective Provides Insights into Effectiveness of Early Intervention


Developmental Systems Approach Helps in Understanding How Early Intervention Works—and How to Make It More Effective

Viewing early childhood intervention through a systems perspective ties together the wide range of strategies offered to young children facing developmental delays—and may help in developing more effective policies and strategies to help vulnerable children and their families, according to a special article in the January/March issue of Infants & Young Children: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Early Intervention.

Michael Guralnick, Ph.D., outlines the Developmental Systems Approach (DSA) as "an overarching vision capable of organizing and analyzing the many diverse approaches and accomplishments of early intervention within a common framework." Dr. Guralnick is Director of the Center on Human Development and Disability at University of Washington, Seattle.

The early childhood intervention system has evolved to identify and provide services to infants and young children who have or are at risk of children who at risk of developmental delays or disabilities. These children vary widely in the causes and characteristics of their developmental problems, and in the services they require. There's a need for some consistent framework to guide assessment and services for vulnerable children and their families.

Key to Dr. Guralnick's work is the DSA, which he proposed in 2001, which provides an integrated perspective on the needs of children facing developmental delays. In this perspective, the focus is on scientific understanding of how children develop—and the family's critical role in supporting that development. The DSA is thoroughly integrated with the latest work in developmental science.

The DSA highlights the interrelated processes by which infants and young children develop "social and cognitive competence." These processes are strongly dependent on specific categories of family interactions—each of which promote the child's emerging competence if present, or hinder it if absent.

The family's ability to provide the needed interactions is affected by certain types of resources, such as the parents' personal characteristics, material resources, and social support. If any of these resources are lacking, children with developmental vulnerabilities have problems adapting. Compounding the problem, the parents may have difficulty adjusting to their children's characteristics, setting up a cycle of "reciprocal influence of stressors" that increases the child's vulnerability over time.

"For early intervention practices to be comprehensive, it is essential to address as many risk factors as possible at the level of family patterns of interaction resulting from stressors created at the level of child development or due to limited family resources," Dr. Guralnick writes. He believes that the DSA meets the need for an integrated perspective focusing on the critical factors influencing the child's development, and the family's ability to support it.

A critical first step will be reorganization and redesign of tools for assessment of vulnerable children. Using these tools will provide early intervention professionals with basic knowledge of children's developmental characteristics and behavior, which can be translated into well-designed interventions. For example, if the parents are experiencing difficulties in appropriately adjusting to their child’s developmental characteristics and behaviors, interventions can be developed to address parent-child transactions, family orchestrated child experiences, and the health and safety of the child. The result is a "coherent and systematic process" to guide selection of early intervention strategies for children and families.

"The DSA provides a framework for understanding why early intervention works in its current form as well as how to proceed in order to create even more comprehensive and effective early intervention programs," Dr. Guralnick concludes. The DSA also focuses on protective factors in assessment and intervention. By providing a systems perspective on the entire field, he believes it can provide "a conceptual and structural framework that can serve as the basis for the design and re-design of community-based early intervention systems."
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Middle school is when the right friends may matter most


Academic success is boosted by way of pro-social friends and avoiding deviant peer, researchers say

As adolescents move from elementary school into their middle or junior-high years, changes in friendships may signal potential academic success or troubles down the road, say University of Oregon researchers.

A new study, appearing in the February issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence, found that boys and girls whose friends are socially active in ways where rules are respected do better in their classroom work. Having friends who engage in problem behavior, in contrast, is related to a decrease in their grades. Having pro-social friends and staying away from deviant peers proved more effective for academic payoffs than simply being friends with high-achieving peers.

The middle school/junior high years are a major transition for children, as students move away from grade-school classrooms led by one teacher every day into an environment of multiple classes with different teachers and opportunities to make new friends. This new study -- conducted by Marie-Helene Veronneau and Thomas J. Dishion of the UO Child and Family Center -- focused solely on the role played by friendship on academic achievement.

Their findings emerged from data collected in a longitudinal study of 1,278 students -- 55 percent of them girls -- done previously by center researchers. In that study, students named their three best friends. Instead of relying on student reports of their peers' behaviors and grades, researchers in the new study looked specifically at behavioral and academic records of the friends.

A surprise discovery was that girls who already were struggling academically in sixth grade actually suffered later when their chosen friends were already those making the highest grades, Veronneau said. "We don't know the mechanisms on why it is this way for girls, but we can speculate that girls compare themselves to their friends and then decide they are not doing very well. Perhaps this affects their self-efficacy and belief in their own abilities."

For girls already doing well in sixth grade, however, there was an opposite influence. "It could be for these girls, having friends who also are getting good grades, school is challenging and stimulating, and they end up doing better than expected," she said.

The study's findings clearly show that in the middle school years "a great deal of learning is taking place that is not being attended to," said Dishion, director of the Child and Family Center and professor of school psychology. "Puberty is taking place. The brain is changing rapidly. Kids' brains are almost wired to be reading the social world to see how they fit in, and the school is the arena for it."

These transitional years may be pivotal, Dishion said. In a previous longitudinal study, he said, he and colleagues looked at the impacts of peer relationships of young people at ages 13, 15 and 17 to look for predictive indicators of life adjustments at age 24. Those influences at age 13 -- going back to middle school -- were the most influential, he noted. While instruction is school is vitally important, he said, it may be that more eyes should be looking at shifting peer relationships.

In their conclusions, Dishion and Veronneau suggested that responsible adults -- at school and at home -- "should pay special attention" to changes in friendships and encourage students to pursue and participate in adult-supervised activities to promote pro-social relationships.

"Parents should pay attention to what their kids are doing and with whom they hang out," Veronneau said. "If parents notice that there is a shift in a child's friendship network, they should try to get to know those kids, talk with teachers and communicate naturally with their own child about where they are going and when they will be coming home."
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Writing about worries eases anxiety and improves test performance


Students can combat test anxiety and improve performance by writing about their worries immediately before the exam begins, according to a University of Chicago study published Friday in the journal Science.

Researchers found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear, according to the article, "Writing about Testing Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom." The article appears in the Jan. 14 issue of Science and is based on research supported by the National Science Foundation.

The writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties before taking the test and accordingly freed up brainpower needed to complete the test successfully — brainpower that is normally occupied by testing worries, explained the study's senior author, Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University.

In other research, Beilock has shown that pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain's processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental scratch pad that allows people to "work" with information relevant to the task at hand. When worries creep up, the working memory people normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. People lose the brain power necessary to excel.

Beilock is one of the nation's leading experts on "choking under pressure" — a phenomenon in which talented people perform below their skill level when presented with a particularly challenging experience. Her recently published book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, gives advice on how to avoid choking in situations ranging from high-stakes exams to important business presentations and athletic competitions.

"Despite the fact that people are often motivated to perform their best, the pressure-filled situations in which important tests, presentations and matches occur can cause people to perform below their ability level instead," Beilock said.

Joining Beilock on the study was her graduate student Gerardo Ramirez, an Institute of Education Sciences predoctoral fellow at UChicago.

Other research has shown that expressive writing, in which people repeatedly write about a traumatic or emotional experience over several weeks or months, is an effective technique for decreasing worries in depressed individuals.

In the current research, the scholars wanted to determine if students could benefit from writing in the classroom, so they first tested college students to determine if writing about their anxieties improved their performance on a mathematics test.

"We reasoned that if worries lead to poor test performance, and writing helps regulate these worries, then giving students the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about an impending examination would enhance test performance," Beilock said.

The researchers also predicted that just one round of writing immediately before a big event would be sufficient to curb choking and boost students' test scores.

To test those ideas, researchers recruited 20 college students and gave them two short math tests. On the first test, students were told simply to do their best. Before the second test, researchers created a situation designed to produce stress, by saying students who performed well would receive money and that other students were depending on their performance as part of a team effort. Students also were told that their work would be videotaped, and that math teachers would review it.

Half of the students then received 10 minutes to write expressively about their feelings about the upcoming test (expressive writing group), and the other half was told to sit quietly (control group).

"The expressive writing group performed significantly better than the control group," the authors write. "Control participants 'choked under pressure,' showing a 12 percent accuracy drop from pre-test to post-test, whereas students who expressed their thoughts before the high-pressure test showed a significant 5 percent math accuracy improvement."

In another experiment researchers showed that it wasn't just the act of writing that inoculated students against choking; rather, specifically writing about test-related thoughts and feelings had helped.

The researchers also conducted two experiments involving ninth-grade biology students taking the first final exam of their high school career .They tested the students for text anxiety six weeks before the final exam by asking students to rate items such as "During tests, I find myself thinking about the consequences of failing."

Before the biology finals, the students were given envelopes with directions to either write about their feelings on the test, or to think about topics that wouldn't be on the test. When researchers looked at students' final scores, they found that students who hadn't written had higher test anxiety and a worse final exam score — even when accounting for the student's grades throughout the school year.

However, for students given the opportunity to write before the exam, those highest in test anxiety performed just as well as their less anxious classmates. "Writing about your worries for 10 minutes before an upcoming exam leveled the playing field such that those students who usually get most anxious during exams were able to overcome their fears and perform up to their potential," Beilock said.

Indeed, students highly anxious about taking tests who wrote down their thoughts before the test received an average grade of B+, compared with the highly anxious students who didn't write, who received an average grade of B-.

Even if a teacher does not provide a chance to write before an exam, students can take time to write about their worries and should accordingly improve their performance, Beilock said. "In fact, we think this type of writing will help people perform their best in variety of pressure-filled situations — whether it is a big presentation to a client, a speech to an audience or even a job interview," she explained.

"Choking is a serious problem, given that poor exam performance affects students' subsequent academic opportunities," she said. "It also limits potentially qualified students from participating in the talent pool tapped to fill advance jobs where the work force in dwindling, such as those in science, technology and engineering."
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New State-Level Data on State Education Reforms Website


New state-level data on state adoption of the Common Core State Standards and compulsory school attendance laws and exemptions are now available on the State Education Reforms website, hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences.

The State Education Reforms website, which draws primarily on data collected by organizations other than NCES, compiles and disseminates data on state-level education reform efforts in five general areas: 1) accountability, 2) assessment and standards, 3) staff qualifications and development, 4) state support for school choice and other options, and 5) student readiness and progress through school. Examples of specific reform topics within these areas are school report cards, student and teacher assessments, high school graduation policies, and professional development.

The “Student Readiness and Progress through School” section of the website had one table updated, and one table was added to the “Assessment and Standards” section. To locate these tables on the SER website, please look for the "Updated!" and “New!” tags next to the table titles.

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Milwaukee Voucher Program Boosts Student Graduation Rates


Student participants in the Milwaukee school voucher program have graduation rates that are 18 percent higher than those of students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), according to a new report released by John Robert Warren, an education expert and professor at the University of Minnesota.

Data gathered since 2003 show clearly the benefits of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—which allows students from low-income families to attend participating private schools in Wisconsin's largest city. Had graduation rates for MPS matched those of the MPCP, nearly 4,000 additional students would have graduated from 2003 to 2009. Job-related productivity from those additional graduates would have also resulted in approximately $4.2 million in additional tax revenue.

The findings from Milwaukee echo those from the voucher program in Washington, D.C. Dr. Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas professor was the principal investigator in a U.S. Department of Education study on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which last year found that graduation rates for OSP participants were 21 points higher than for non-OSP students. The program, which began in 2004, awards scholarships to low-income families in the nation's capital so they can attend the school of their choice. Despite a host of data showing that the OSP has delivered positive results, Congress has so far failed to reauthorize the program.

The MPCP is the longest-running school choice program in the United States. The program, which now boasts more than 20,000 participants, costs taxpayers $6,442 per student. By comparison, Milwaukee Public Schools spending is $15,034 per student, more than twice the cost of the MPCP.
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Nearly half of school social workers feel unequipped to handle cyberbullying


Instances of cyber bullying continue to make news nearly every day, and while it's recognized as a problem among most school-aged children, a new study published this month in Children & Schools and coauthored by Temple University social work professor Jonathan Singer finds that nearly half of school social workers feel they are ill equipped to handle it.

"School social workers provide more crisis intervention services than any other school staff member – more than counselors, nurses, teachers, or psychologists," said Singer. "As a result, school social workers are a very important component to school-based mental health services, yet there is little research that looks at their perceptions of cyberbullying."

In a survey of nearly 400 school social workers at the elementary, middle and high school levels who were members of the Midwest School Social Work Council, the researchers found that while all respondents felt that cyber bullying can cause psychological harm, including suicide, about 45 percent felt they were not equipped to handle cyber bullying, even though they recognized it as a problem. Further, only about 20 percent thought their school had an effective cyberbullying policy.

"If there's no policy in place to guide them, staffers are flying solo in this area, and that can be a liability," said Singer.

In addition, respondents felt that instances of cyberbullying were much more severe in middle school than in either elementary school or high school, leading researchers to call for training that differs in content and approach based on school level.

"These findings show a clear need to account for grade level when designing cyberbullying trainings, and for the inclusion of social workers in developing cyberbullying policies that are accurate and effective," said Singer.

Most bullying prevention programs rely on school staffers actual seeing or hearing bullying prior to intervening, but Singer notes that this approach can't work with cyberbullying because it is obscured by personal technology. Therefore, he says trainings need to include ways that school staff can effectively educate students and their colleagues about cyberbullying, and learn new ways to intervene.

"The good news is, many schools have started a conversation between staff and administrators as to what their role should be in these instances," he said. "Things like holding in-service trainings or bringing in experts to talk about the issue can lead to an increase in information and knowledge on how to handle instances of cyber bullying."
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Majority of States Receive Below Average Grades on Education Reform Laws


New report finds that even with federal prodding, most laws fall flat

Only 11 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws that do not require significant improvements in order to allow for the effective creation and growth of these innovative school options, according to a new study and legislative blueprint released today by The Center for Education Reform (CER). Of the rest, 14 states received a grade of 'C,' and 15 a 'D' or 'F' for their laws governing charter schools in CER's Charter School Laws Across the States.

According to the report, excitement over charter schools—which dramatically increased after both 'Race to the Top' and the release of 2010's critically-acclaimed film Waiting for Superman—has not been matched by substantive improvements to state-level public policy related to these schools. The result, CER says, is increased waiting lists at charter schools and lost years for far too many children who seek access to better learning environments.

"In November, voters across the nation voted overwhelmingly for dramatic and immediate change in state legislative bodies, and a key component of their choices was education reform," said Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform. "As lawmakers across the country map out their legislative agendas for 2011, they should match their election-year promises with policy improvements that will allow for the true expansion of charter schools across the nation."

In the 12th edition of Charter School Laws Across the States, CER identifies three specific priorities that lawmakers must incorporate into their 2011 law changes:

Authorizer Reform. One of the hallmarks of a great charter school law is the ability for multiple entities—including universities, mayors, and independent state charter school boards—to allow for the creation of charter schools. Far too many states place authorizing power solely in the hands of local school boards, which have no incentive to allow charter schools.

Cap Removal. In many states, random and arbitrary caps—or limits—are placed on the number of schools that can operate or the number of students who can access charter schools. CER said that eliminating these capricious caps—along with authorizer reform—is a healthy blueprint for charter law improvement.

Funding Equity. Despite the fact that charter schools are public schools, the average charter school receives more than a thousand dollars less, per student, than a conventional public school. This historically inequitable funding formula—embraced by many states—immediately places charter schools, which face higher accountability measures, at a disadvantage.

"By introducing legislation that permits multiple charter school authorizers, eliminates unnecessary caps that only serve to punish children and provides equitable funding for charter schools, the country can witness a new renaissance in American education flourish in this next decade," Allen said.
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College students lack scientific literacy, study finds


Most college students in the United States do not grasp the scientific basis of the carbon cycle – an essential skill in understanding the causes and consequences of climate change, according to research published in the January issue of BioScience.

The study, whose authors include several current and former researchers from Michigan State University, calls for a new way of teaching – and, ultimately, comprehending – fundamental scientific principles such as the conservation of matter.

"Improving students' understanding of these biological principles could make them better prepared to deal with important environmental issues such as global climate change," said Charles "Andy" Anderson, MSU professor of teacher education and co-investigator on the project.

The study was led by Laurel Hartley, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver who started the work as a postdoctoral researcher at MSU. Co-researchers include Anderson, Brook Wilke, Jonathon Schramm and Joyce Parker, all from MSU, and Charlene D'Avanzo from Hampshire College.

The researchers assessed the fundamental science knowledge of more than 500 students at 13 U.S. colleges in courses ranging from introductory biology to advanced ecology.

Most students did not truly understand the processes that transform carbon. They failed to apply principles such as the conservation of matter, which holds that when something changes chemically or physically, the amount of matter at the end of the process needs to equal the amount at the beginning. (Matter doesn't magically appear or disappear.)

Students trying to explain weight loss, for example, could not trace matter once it leaves the body; instead they used informal reasoning based on their personal experiences (such as the fat "melted away" or was "burned off"). In reality, the atoms in fat molecules leave the body (mostly through breathing) and enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and water.

Most students also incorrectly believe plants obtain their mass from the soil rather than primarily from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "When you see a tree growing," Anderson said, "it's a lot easier to believe that tree is somehow coming out of the soil rather than the scientific reality that it's coming out of the air."

The researchers say biology textbooks and high-school and college science instructors need to do a better job of teaching the fundamentals – particularly how matter transforms from gaseous to solid states and vice-versa.

It won't be easy, Anderson said, because students' beliefs of the carbon cycle are deeply engrained (such as the misconception that plants get most of their nutrients from the soil). Instructors should help students understand that the use of such "everyday, informal reasoning" runs counter to true scientific literacy, he said.

The implications are great for a generation of citizens who will grapple with complicated environmental issues such as clean energy and carbon sequestration more than any generation in history, Anderson said.

"One of the things I'm interested in," he said, "is students' understanding of environmental problems. And probably the most important environmental problem is global climate change. And that's attributable to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And understanding where that carbon dioxide is coming from and what you can do about it fundamentally involves understanding the scientific carbon cycle."
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SHUT OUT OF THE MILITARY: More Than One in Five Recent High School Graduates is not Academically Qualified to Enlist in the U.S. Army

Too few of our nation’s recent high school graduates – particularly young people of color – have the math, reading, science and problem-solving skills necessary for enlistment in the U.S. Army, according to a study released today by The Education Trust. This report is the first-ever public analysis of data from the Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the test that determines if applicants qualify to enlist in the military.

According to the report, “Shut Out of the Military”:

- More than one in five young people do not meet the minimum standard required for Army enlistment, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) comprised of four academic subtests of the ASVAB.
- Among applicants of color, the ineligibility rates are even higher: 29 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of African Americans are ineligible, based on their AFQT scores.
- Minority candidates who do gain entry do so, on average, with lower scores than do their white peers. This excludes many of them from higher level educational, training and advancement opportunities offered by the U.S. Armed Forces.

The ASVAB is the most widely used multiple-aptitude test battery in the world, assessing abilities for the full range of occupations available throughout the military. Because those jobs closely mirror occupations available in the civilian workforce, young people who fall short on the ASVAB are likely unprepared for many civilian jobs, too.

“Too many of us, including educators, have comforted ourselves with the notion that kids who aren’t ready for college can find a place in the armed services. These findings shatter that myth and strip away the illusion of opportunity available to underprepared students,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “Our economy, our democracy and our national security demand much more than our schools are delivering now. The question is when we will step up to ensure that all of our students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be ready to take on any challenge they – and the nation – may face.”

Using data from the nearly 350,000 high school graduates aged 17-20 who took the ASVAB between 2004 and 2009 to qualify for enlistment in the U.S. Army, the report sheds light on national and state-by-state performance on ASVAB, both overall and by racial and ethnic subgroups.

Though the sample is self-selected, rather than representative, state-to-state comparisons reveal vast differences in performance. The states in which more than 30 percent of applicants scored too low to enlist were Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Washington, D.C. In Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Wyoming, on the other hand, the rate of ineligibility among Army hopefuls was less than 15 percent.

Roughly speaking, states with greater numbers of minority applicants had higher overall rates of ineligibility, but there often are striking differences between groups within the same state. In Illinois, for example, 24 percent of the state’s nearly 12,000 ASVAB test-takers were not eligible for enlistment. However, ineligibility rates among Illinois’ young people of color were significantly higher than those of their white peers: 41 percent of African Americans and 29 percent of Hispanics were ineligible whereas 16 percent of white applicants were ineligible.

Differences also exist between states. In New York, for example, the ineligibility rate among African-American applicants was 29 percent. Yet the ineligibility rates among African-American high school graduates in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin were even higher, ranging from 41 percent to over 47 percent.

And in Massachusetts, 40 percent of Hispanics were ineligible for enlistment, close to twice the failure rate among Hispanic applicants from Georgia and North Carolina. Indeed, Hispanic students in those two states had similar rates of qualification to white applicants in Vermont.

“Report after report from national and international assessments demonstrates patterns of student learning similar to those we found on the ASVAB: overall performance that is low, and particularly dismal results for young people of color. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that our K-12 education systems are not meeting the needs of our students nor those of the nation as a whole,” said Christina Theokas, author of the report and director of research at The Education Trust. “How many studies will it take, or how poor do the results have to be, before we act decisively?”

Other state findings from the Ed Trust report include:

- In five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin – the ineligibility rates among African-American test-takers were at least five percentage points above the national average for African Americans.
- In Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, ineligibility rates among Hispanic applicants were similarly higher than the national average for Hispanics.
- Ineligibility rates also vary by state for white test-takers from a low of about 10 percent in Indiana to a high of 27 percent in Maryland.

But earning a qualifying score is only a first step. For enlistees, the higher the score, the more options available. Highly skilled jobs, such as those in technical fields, require above-average scores on the AFQT and on the relevant subtests. High-scoring enlistees may qualify for additional education, training and skills development, providing access to higher level career paths and active-duty pay, and ultimately more opportunities for success in civilian life after their service is completed.

Among those who enlisted, over 43 percent of white recruits scored in the top two categories on the AFQT, providing them with the greatest choice of careers within the Army. Meanwhile, fewer than 25 percent of Hispanic enlistees scored in this range, and fewer than 18 percent of African-American enlistees were similarly qualified.

“The tragic irony here is that the desire of so many young people to serve our nation is being thwarted by our nation’s refusal to serve them well in school,” said Amy Wilkins, vice president of The Education Trust. “As a country, we have to find the will to give them as much as they are willing to give to us.”
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Momentum Building for Common Core State Standards,

Few States Have Plans to Link Standards to Higher Education Policy While Most See Budgets and Teacher Evaluation as Major Challenges

States that have signed onto common core state standards in English language arts and math are moving forward with little resistance, though full implementation is several years away for most of them, a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) released today finds.

Most states plan major changes to assessments, curriculum materials, professional development and teacher evaluation as part of the new standards. Many of these changes, however, are years away. For example, 23 of the 31 states that plan to require school districts to implement the common core standards do not expect to fully institute the requirements until 2013 or later.

States' Progress and Challenges in Implementing Common Core Standards is based on a confidential survey of state deputy education secretaries. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia responded to the survey between October and November 2010. The goal of the survey was to learn more about state progress toward adopting and implementing the voluntary K-12 common core state learning standards.

"States are making progress and see strong support for common core standards, but this is going to take a long time and a sustained effort to see through," said Jack Jennings, CEP's president and CEO. "It's also noteworthy that states vary on approaches to higher education policy and on how much they will require districts to do to support the new standards."

At the time of the survey, 32 states had adopted the standards; four had provisionally adopted the standards, which means that further action is necessary, such as legislative approval; one state decided not to adopt them; and five of the six undecided expected to reach a decision this year while the other was unsure when a decision would be reached.

Officials in 36 states said that the rigor of the common core state standards and whether they would serve as a foundation for statewide education improvement were very important or important considerations in their decision to adopt the standards. By contrast, 30 states said they decided, in part, to adopt core standards because they felt it would improve their chances of winning federal Race to the Top funding. (States could cite multiple reasons for adopting the standards.) "The federal incentive of Race to the Top funding clearly played a role in states' decisions to adopt common core state standards," Jennings said. "But, the improvement of education was a more important factor for the states."

Many states said it will take until 2013 or later to fully implement the more complex challenges associated with the common core standards. Most states expect to make changes in professional development by 2012 or sooner, but it will take until 2013 or later to fully implement major changes in assessment, curriculum, and teacher evaluation and certification. Of the 27 states that plan to change student assessments by 2013 or later, six gave 2015 as the timeline. "Given the time it's going to take to fully implement the standards and the policy changes necessary to support them, it's going to be important that states continue to make progress on other immediate but related efforts to improve schools," Jennings said.

The survey found that states lack solid plans to coordinate with higher education on linking college admissions requirements or curriculum to the common standards. Just seven states plan to align first-year undergraduate core curriculum with the standards while 26 states did not know if this change would be implemented, and three said it would not. Twenty-four states did not know if undergraduate admissions requirements would be aligned to the standards, while eight said they would, and four said they would not. "Supporters hope that the common core standards will encourage a seamless system of education from elementary school through college," Jennings said. "This is far from being realized."

Many challenges remain for states implementing the common standards. Twenty-one states said that developing a teacher evaluation system that holds teachers accountable for the standards is a major challenge, and 19 states said that finding adequate funding was a major challenge. A total of 21 states expected to face a major or minor challenge aligning teacher preparation programs with the standards. "The challenge states expect to face with teacher preparation programs seems to reflect a disconnect between K-12 education and higher education around the standards," Jennings said.

Although most adopting states will require school districts to implement the common core state standards, the majority are not requiring districts to change curriculum and teacher programs to support the requirement. The district activities that are being required by the greatest numbers of states include providing professional development to support the standards (13 states), implementing evaluation systems to hold educators accountable for students' mastery of the standards (11 states), and developing new curriculum or instructional practices aligned with the common standards (10 states).

"The movement toward common state standards clearly has momentum that can help states navigate through the hard work ahead," Jennings said.
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