Teachers integrate technology into classrooms with help from ISU online master’s program

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ISU’s online Master of Education degree program in curriculum and instruction technology has helped 67 educators in the last decade to incorporate technology into their classroom. The online program is part of ISU’s School of Education, and offers the same curriculum as another on-campus program at the university.

“The growing use of technology in the schools was really picking up. We realized that we needed to make available professional development,” said Clyciane Kossatz Michelini, the program coordinator. “Technology is everywhere, most people use technology. But what is effective or a way to really make a difference in their teaching? We don’t want to get technology for the sake of technology. It has to be meaningful, has to be motivating the students, has to be making an impact while they’re teaching.”

The program is offered every two years, with the next cohort beginning next summer, and students are in the program for three years. Students learn about trending uses of technology in the classroom, how to teach courses online and, because most participants are already teachers, students get to conduct their research in their own classrooms.

One course is offered each semester, and Michelini said it makes it convenient for full-time teachers, as they are not required to be on campus for their coursework.

Denise Schmidt Crawford, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, said students are asked to visit campus just twice a semester—once at the beginning of the program and once to present their final oral exam. Those who cannot attend are also able to use a video conference set-up to meet the requirement.+

Michelini noted that because the coursework is available online, the program has reached students even outside of the state, and working with teachers across the country has “really brought in another perspective.”Michelini said students leaving the program are entering new jobs that give them leadership roles in technology, and teachers are now “confident in what decisions they make and how they can help other teachers to step up and use more technology in a more effective way.”“Just because you have computers in the classroom, that doesn’t mean you’re making that better for the students,” Michelini said. “You have to really understand how to integrate that to the content and your teaching style and the way kids learn
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STEM in a Chaotic Classroom

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Lydia Withrow uses a CSI-themed project, creating a mock crime scene to incorporate STEM into her English curriculum

Not many people would think to compare STEM and English to cops and robbers. Most see the two roles as total opposites in personality, goals, and demeanor, but without the “bad guys,” where would the cops fit in? In a way, the same can be said for STEM and ELA. While most teachers know the subjects as poles apart, when they are combined, their differences create a balanced learning environment that is not only educational but fun—what we like to call “organized chaos.”

As we shift into a new age of education, students are no longer sitting at their desks filling in bubble sheets and reading out of textbooks. Although there is a need for direct instruction in all classrooms at some point, my fellow teachers and administrators at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, West Virginia, believe in—and have seen the benefits of—student-centered classrooms and project-based learning. After seeing a dramatic drop in face-to-face interactions with our youth thanks to social media and gaming, we must engage these young, impressionable minds in learning and explore new topics through teacher-guided self-discovery in a nontraditional classroom.

For an outsider looking in, my classroom might seem a bit chaotic, which I happen to love and embrace. Here, students are walking around, talking loudly, and asking each other questions, which is the exact opposite of what we’re used to as teachers. Handing students the reins isn’t letting go of control, and being a bit more hands-off doesn’t make me any less of a teacher. It’s a different style of classroom management that works by keeping students from falling asleep and zoning out during important lessons.

During our secondary education, teachers are conditioned to believe students must be sitting with their feet on the floor, eyes up front, and smiles on their faces for teachers to be in control. In other words, students should be silent and passive. That teacher-led classroom is missing the components that allow students to work together, a skill today’s employers see as necessary for all employees. While there is a time for both silent and passive, classrooms that are humming with excitement and action are often the most productive. Students who are engaged are involved. Involvement, to us, means action and application of learning.

Rotating Classes Are a “Win for Both Sides”
At Horace Mann Middle School, we have a rotating basic skills class built into our curriculum. As part of the daily schedule, each teacher chooses a performance task from the hundreds of cross-curricular, career-focused projects offered by Defined STEM, an online curriculum supplement. Each class spends three weeks focused on a holistic project that not only tests students’ cognitive ability, but also teaches them life skills and allows for hands-on career exploration. After three weeks, when students complete the task, they rotate and start a new project with a new teacher. In 18 weeks, students complete six in-depth projects, and we (the teachers) perfect our skills and save valuable lesson-planning time by teaching the same lesson six times to different groups of students.

“It’s a win for both sides,” said Shandon Tweedy, our assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School. “Students are always gaining new experiences, and teachers get the rare option to choose to teach lessons they are enthusiastic about. And they save valuable time by not reinventing interactive lessons every three weeks.”

As students rotate, we often hear conversations between students about how much fun the project was and what they learned. As teachers, we know we’ve done a good job if classroom conversations are happening outside the classroom.

This format is exciting for the teachers because it plays to our individual strengths. For example, the algebra teacher may choose a prebuilt Defined STEM lesson on creating a bakery, which includes the math and business skills students need to become entrepreneurs. A science teacher who is passionate about fish might choose a lesson about building a fish tank, which teaches ecology, physics, and design.

The Classroom Is a Crime Scene
As an English teacher, you would think my task of choice would involve research followed by a report and presentation, but that’s not the case. I’m constantly trying to think of ways to incorporate STEM skills like problem-solving, formulas, and tech into my word-filled classroom.

For example, I love CSI and the detailed processes that go into solving a crime, so I chose a lesson called Crime Scene Investigator. I thought, “What is the best way to give my students hands-on experience when they obviously can’t go to a real crime scene?” Soon, the stairway of our school turned into a life-size crime scene complete with caution tape, splattered fake blood, and a lone shoe next to a body outlined with spray paint. I’ll never forget my students’ faces when they walked into the elaborate scene.

“I was super excited because I knew the kids were going to be totally sold on the lesson, and they sure were. The reality TV that the kids see, and the mysteries they have read laid the groundwork for huge enthusiasm with the students,” said Tweedy. “I loved the creativity that Lydia brought to the project with her personal touches, such as the book our ‘victim’ was reading. Our seventh grade looked at the stairwell staged for the class with envy, realizing it was part of an eighth-grade lesson. They immediately got excited thinking about the lessons to come their way.”

Students were transformed from eighth-graders into forensic scientists tasked with solving a murder. Using graph paper, students had to draw the scene to scale, placing each blood splatter and piece of evidence in the correct area. Using the Defined STEM task materials, each group of students became experts in areas including bite-mark analysis using paper plates, lifting fingerprints using a fingerprint kit from the local police department, and collecting DNA samples. Each specialist group then presented its findings to the class so every student was able to learn different aspects of analyzing a crime scene. The class prepared its evidence as a full crime report as if it were going to be analyzed in court. To solve the crime as a team, they used skills from all areas of study, including collaborative problem-solving, making precise measurements, creative writing, and presenting their research and findings to the class.

Setting up a crime scene may seem like it required a lot of prep time, but it didn’t. At Horace Mann, project-based learning isn’t viewed as a dreaded part of the curriculum or “one more thing,” because teachers see firsthand the benefits to students. It also doesn’t have to be hard or drain a teacher’s personal pocketbook. In fact, if done right, it’s pretty easy, cheap, and fun for not only the students, but the teacher, too.

I live by the phrase “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” I tell my students to go through their junk drawers to find things to use in their project, because buying new supplies won’t get them a better grade. Once grades are handed out and the projects are over, I deconstruct them and put everything in a box to use next time.

Experience Can’t Come from a Textbook
During the lesson, many students share what they’ve learned in my class with friends and family. Many go home and critically watch crime-scene shows on TV, pointing out “mistakes” producers make and debunking the “made-for-TV” reenactments. Becoming forensic scientists like the investigators on TV boosts the students’ confidence and empowers them to apply what they’ve learned in every situation.

Their biggest discovery? It takes a lot longer than 60 minutes to solve a crime. And while they are having fun trying to find an alleged murderer, they are actually refining 21st-century skills that textbooks can’t teach.

“Taking notes and reading about a crime scene, for instance, is nowhere near as powerful as creating a crime scene, and it is definitely not as engaging,” said Tweedy. “Plus, students have to work alongside others, which is a 21st-century skill they will carry with them far beyond high school. While the process isn’t always clean and quiet, the reward is cross-curricular career exploration and thinking in ways students never thought were possible.”

The basic skills rotation allows students to explore new careers they may have never known about. For example, when we started the crime scene lesson, students had no idea solving a crime involved so many people, from investigators to local police officers to the FBI to the BCA to forensic scientists and ballistics specialists. In their minds, everyone was a cop. By actually acting out each part in the scene, students were able to envision themselves as adults working in a careers. Because of the lesson, they can truly say they have as close to hands-on experience as they can get (as an eighth graders.)

While we don’t want our children growing up too fast (that’s the mom in me talking), we do want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible so they’re able to choose the path that fits them best. We also want students to be thinking about their futures far before they’re seniors in high school.

“I cannot tell you how many students have remarked to our teachers that they had no idea that some of the activities they are seeing with this program are actually options for a career,” said Tweedy. “To be able to inspire a student in that manner is, indeed, life changing, and that is what it is all about: inspiring the future.”

Teaching is not about theoretical knowledge. It’s about using everything at one’s disposal to accomplish one’s goals. Knowing the correct answer on a test or writing an essay doesn’t necessarily mean a student has mastered the content. Years of studying how to be the best cop on the force, or how to successfully rob a bank, doesn’t mean a person actually knows how to put those studies to use. He won’t know until he applies what he has learned and does it. The same goes for STEM and ELA: You can read all you want about combining the two in project-based learning, but until you actually try it, you’ll never know the outcome. So what are you waiting for?

Lydia Withrow is an eighth-grade English teacher at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, WV

From Language Magazine OnLine.

School Testing 2016: Same Tests, Different Stakes

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It has been a high-stakes year for high-stakes standardized tests.

The debate over renewing the big federal education law turned, in part, on whether annual testing would remain a federal mandate. Republicans initially said no, Democrats said yes. Ultimately the overhaul passed with tests still in place.

On the other hand, this fall President Obama addressed parents on Facebook and released a “Testing Action Plan.” He wanted states to cut down “unnecessary testing” that consumes “too much instructional time,” creating “undue stress for educators and students.”

Meanwhile some parents, notably in New York state, opted out of the tests and made a lot of noise about it. The use of test scores in teacher evaluations was a big bone of contention. And many states dropped out of PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two Common Core test consortia, in favor of giving their own state tests.

The arguments for annual student testing come down to accountability and equity. If we have accurate data on the academic progress of each and every student, testing advocates say, we’ll be able to compare results and highlight gaps, whether between rich and poor kids or across states. That information, presumably, can spur effective, targeted action to improve.

The outstanding question is whether it’s possible to reform school testing in a way that gets schools, parents and leaders the data they need, while avoiding the problem the president is talking about: an overemphasis on testing.

And moreover, is that reform likely? Here’s what we’ve learned about testing in the past year, and some predictions of what’s to come.

Federally mandated testing is likely to increase, not decrease, next year.

Despite what the president said, the Every Student Succeeds Act still requires states to test at least 95 percent of students each year in reading and math for grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Not only that, a higher percentage of students in special education will have to take the tests. The percentage who are given an alternative test because of cognitive disabilities can’t be higher than 1 percent.

The stakes will be lower, though.

Instead of a federally mandated (and widely seen as unrealistic) “100 percent proficiency” goal, each state will set its own targets and decide on its own path to improvement.

The opt-out movement may have some of the wind taken out of its sails.

According to two national polls last year, most Americans don’t support the opt-out movement.

The 95 percent testing rule continues to give school leaders a reason to try to hold the ceiling on parental opt-outs, which reached above 50 percent in some schools and districts last year. More important, one political justification for the movement may be fading: ESSA leaves room for states to de-emphasize test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations.

There’s been so much test turnover recently, most districts can’t track progress.

Chalk this up to an unintended consequence of the Common Core. According to a report this year by the Council of the Great City Schools, a full 65 percent of the biggest school districts in the country saw a change in their big state tests between 2011 and 2015. These changes, the districts said, made it near-impossible to track student achievement over time. And forget about comparing test scores across states: With all the states dropping out of the two Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and PARCC, we’re back to a patchwork of tests and cutoff scores nationwide.

Many people agree there is too much testing, but where to cut back is not clear.

In a national poll last year, two-thirds of the American public agreed there was too much testing in schools. The Council of the Great City Schools study showed students take an average of eight standardized tests per year, often in overlapping subjects and at overlapping times. The director of the CGCS, Michael Casserly, called school testing “redundant and uncoordinated.”

The federal government’s “testing action plan” promises resources for districts and states to audit and streamline their testing programs.

But how, exactly, to cut back? Four out of 10 districts in the CGCS survey reported having to wait between two and four months before receiving their state test results. That lag makes it near-impossible to make decisions — like grouping students by ability or signing them up for special tutoring — before students pass on to the next grade.

So, if schools want timely data-informed decisionmaking, they’ll still need to give their own diagnostic tests. And if districts want to know how they’ll do on the state tests, they still need to give their own benchmark and practice tests.

States will turn to new forms of accountability.

Under the ESSA, states create their own accountability formulas. Along with test scores, which are mandatory, these may include graduation rates, measures of student engagement, teacher engagement and school climate (such as attendance or behavior). Some states and districts are also including student projects and surveys that try to measure noncognitive skills.

Leaders and Moral Courage

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One of the most difficult things to do is to let go of the familiar, of the terrain you have crossed and mastered.  It is, for some, frightening to ask if habits and practices that have developed over time and served well are still the right answers for the present problems and purposes. Personally, some of these habits helped us learn and grow; some of them guided us through professional and personal hard moments. Professionally, all of us have habits and practices that contributed to our success at our jobs.  We even wonder if we are wasting time to reexamine those well-worn paths to success. But…these past few decades are unrelenting with daily challenges and unanticipated demands.

Two Right Options
The educator’s dilemma arises within the domain of what’s good enough. An “acceptable” number of students graduate, and an “acceptable” number of students go on to college or join the work force.  Where did that “acceptable” number come from and whose hand moves it when we glance away? We lead schools, institutions that exist at the core of our society; they are expected to both keep pace with change and hold true to tradition. We choose often between two right options, trying to find which one is the better one or which serves a higher good.

Finding Moral Courage
Enter the need for moral courage. Nearly every decision or action is accompanied by some degree of risk, however small.  Here, from Rushworth Kidder:

So it is with moral courage, where danger is endured for the sake of an overarching commitment to conscience, principles, or core values.  Here too, the key lies in properly assessing the “measure” of peril.  Underestimating the danger, and our moral courage will be written off as imprudence.  It will be seen as pointless self-sacrifice, doomed from the outset because we never understood the difficulties we would encounter.  But overestimate the danger by inflating mundane annoyances into fantasies of fright-and then riding bravely out against them in battles we’re sure to win-and the world will credit us with nothing more than bluster, bravura, and rant. (pp. 109-110)

In another book read a long time ago, with a title and author long forgotten, a compelling story about a well-liked Superintendent’s generosity reveals the real dangers that lurk for leaders.  It was Christmas Eve and the Superintendent, who lived in the district with his family, was getting ready to head home and decided to offer the custodian, who had been suffering hard times, the Christmas tree that had been decorating the office. Following the holiday, a Board member accused the Superintendent of stealing district property. Those in the district who had some disagreements with the Superintendent joined in the attack. It was on the front page of the local newspaper, was embarrassing to him and his family. Ultimately the accusations continued. He lost his ability to be effective as trust was eroded. He left the job and the people he loved working with and for.

From Where Do Our Dangers Emanate?
It is plain common sense that if the ways schools are organized and operate, if teaching and learning continue as they were in the century past, can we state with confidence that we are serving our students well?  A danger exists in ignoring the danger in remaining with habits and practices from years past. If following one’s heart to offer someone in need the opportunity give away a tree rather than discard it is a simple and quick decision before schools close for a week or more. Yet the fallout strongly impacts a well-intentioned leader’s life.  We wonder if the tree created a family memory for the custodian and that in the long run, that human exchange of a gift during the giving season enriched both men’s lives. But, who knows?

Know Yourself and Be Yourself
Leading in this century will always happen under the cloud of urgency. And, criticism is always just around the corner.  So as the days grow shorter and we light trees and our homes, families gather and we think about the important things in life. Our message is: Leaders, know yourself and be yourself.

Change is something we talk about so much it becomes an abstract, academic exercise. But, every decision and every change leavens possibilities, some we plan and others surprise us. The most important thing is that we can live with whatever arises because our hearts were clear and true to our calling.

By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers

School-Leader Standards to Get More Revision

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Amid sharp criticism from experts and practitioners in recent weeks, a key set of professional standards that guide the training and professional development of the nation’s school leaders will now explicitly address equity, social justice, and ethical behaviors. An  was chided for downplaying the role of principals and other leaders in addressing those issues.

The about-face is a departure for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which owns the copyright to the standards and is partnering with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration to revise them. It also follows a 19-day public comment period in which nearly 300 people provided feedback in an online survey and others submitted written responses to the CCSSO.

When a draft of the seven standards was released last month, Chris Minnich, the CCSSO’s executive director, defended them against critics, saying that social justice, equity, and ethics were addressed in the document’s introduction and embedded throughout the standards. Mr. Minnich said at the time, however, that the CCSSO was open to revising the benchmarks based on feedback from the field.

The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, set the benchmarks for what school leaders are expected to know and do. They are used across the country to help guide leadership preparation programs, including those for principals and superintendents. They are also used to set policies and regulations around school leaders’ hiring, evaluations, and professional development.

Multiple Drafts

Equity and cultural responsiveness had been a discrete standard among 11 that were part of a September draft issued by CCSSO. Under that standard, principals were expected to advocate for children and families, attack issues of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and limit assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status.

So when CCSSO released its May draft, the removal of that standard caused strong pushback in the education leadership community, especially given the ongoing national conversation about poverty and race and the shifting demographics in American public schools to a student body that is increasingly nonwhite, low-income, and in need of English-language instruction. School leaders are also responsible for creating safe and welcoming learning environments for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Without explicit standards to address equity and social justice issues, leadership training programs would graduate students “without ever challenging them to be aware of their own presumptions around race, much less make their schools equitable and inviting places for children of color and children of all kinds of differences that characterize our society today,” said Bradley W. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Mr. Davis was among six education leadership professors and education school deans who wrote a letter to the CCSSO seeking changes. More than 500 people, including professors, principals, and teachers, signed the letter. The September draft also contained a separate standard on ethical principles and professional norms, which was removed from last month’s version.

Mary-Dean Barringer, the strategic initiative director of workforce development at the CCSSO, said “there was a lot of encouragement” in the most recently public comment period to put functions related to equity and social justice into a separate standard. Similar comments were provided on ethical behaviors, Ms. Barringer said.

Process Revised

In what appears to be another effort to appease critics—who claimed that the tail end of the revision process had been cloaked in secrecy—a committee of education professionals, possibly including principals or representatives from principals’ associations and convened by the national policy board will hammer out the final standards.

The new set of final standards are now scheduled for release in the fall, Ms. Barringer said.

“There was clearly a lot of pressure put on [the CCSSO],” said Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of education leadership at Vanderbilt University and the author of the original standards, who was a critic of the May draft. “And I think they reflected on that, and I think that that pressure was effective in this case.”

Mark A. Gooden, the director of the Principalship Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said he understood the CCSSO’s goals in attempting to “weave” matters of equity through all standards, as it had done in the May draft. But Mr. Gooden, an associate professor, said that he’d rather see a two-pronged approach that would weave equity throughout all the standards and explicitly set it apart as a concrete standard.

Putting concepts such as race and gender in the standards pushes educators to name the problem and it increases the likelihood that they would tackle it head on, he said. And given the cheating scandal in Atlanta and its major fallout, addressing ethical behavior is critical, said Mr. Gooden.

Other education groups also weighed in. The ASCD wrote in a June 4 letter that the standards captured well the competing responsibilities of principals as instructional leaders and operational managers, but it also noted concerns about the absence of equity and ethical principles. Ms. Barringer, from the CCSSO, said the final revisions would reflect feedback and comments from the variety of education organizations that responded.

Overall, the feedback from the online survey was positive, with 77 percent of the 271 individuals who commented deeming the standards to be “good to excellent,” Ms. Barringer said, citing language from the survey.

Feedback also suggested that the language in the May version was clearer than the September draft, she said. And many appreciated the preamble on “transformational” school leaders who focus on student learning, continuous improvement, and creating inclusive school communities, she said.

Of the respondents, about 20 percent worked in higher education, some 60 percent were school-level administrators, and 11 percent were teachers, she said.

The May feedback was more constructive than what CCSSO heard last year, with many respondents following up with extensive comments and suggestions, she said.

Related Blog

Rob Larson, the director of the Oregon Leadership Network, for example, provided the CCSSO with examples of how Oregon since 2012 has embedded equity and cultural competency across all licensing and preparation standards. Mr. Larson said in an interview that meeting the needs of all students was part of the essential and important work of school leaders and that Oregon would continue to focus on cultural competency and equitable practices.

As a result of the delay in releasing the ISLLC standards—they were originally set to be published this spring—the first-ever set of standards for principal supervisors will also be pushed back, according to Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the CCSSO.

Ms. Barringer said the CCSSO will try to work concurrently on both the ISLLC standards and principal-supervisor standards to ensure that there is not a significant lag time between the publication of the two documents.

“We are going as fast as we can,” Ms. Barringer said, “but only as fast as we can get it right.”

Report: Schools Should Focus More on Soft Skills

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A new study from Wainhouse Research finds that a large minority, 39 percent, of education stakeholders say their schools should be doing a better job of preparing students for the workforce.

Among more than 1,000 administrators, teachers, students and parents surveyed from North America and the United Kingdom, “many” said they “believe that schools are doing a decent job focusing on the 3 R’s: reading, writing and mathematics, but are not doing as good a job focusing on other aspects of education essential to preparing learners for entering the workforce,” according to the report.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said too little emphasis is placed on collaborations with other learners outside the classroom, while 46 and 40 percent, respectively, said there should be more emphasis on group achievement and working in teams.

The two soft skills respondents said were important most often were problem solving, at 96 percent, and the ability to collaborate, at 95 percent.

“A total of 58 percent of those surveyed believe schools are placing too much emphasis on teaching to mandated tests,” according to a news release. “In order to change that, many responders say schools should improve professional development, offer new methods of assessment, provide greater leadership and adopt new approaches to teaching.”

The full report, which was sponsored by Smart Technologies, is available at downloads01.smarttech.com.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

Which State Has the Best K-12 Public Education School System?

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Which states are doing the best job in maintaining strong public school systems?

According to data compiled by SmartAsset, a technology and data company, good schools are in the northeast, and the west can do better.

In order to find this data, “SmartAsset looked at ten across-the-board metrics of education, placing a special emphasis on how well states are preparing students for college,” the article said. For each state, we considered the percentages of students taking the SAT, ACT and AP tests, and the average scores for those tests. We also looked at the state-level funding-per-student, the student-teacher ratio, the high school dropout rate and the percentage of high school graduates attending college after graduation.

” One of its key findings was that good schools are in the northeast.”

“Led by Connecticut, each of the top four states in our study is located in the northeast, and seven of the top ten are on the east coast,” the article said. “Most notable among these states was the high rate of college-attendance. In New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut, over 70 percent of high school graduates attend college within 12 months of graduating.”

SmartAsset also found that “the west can do better.”

“The west is home to all four of the lowest-grading states in our study, and six of the eight states that received an overall F are west of the continental divide,” the article said. “Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada all have below average college-attendance rates, below average per-student spending levels and higher-than-average student-teacher ratios.”

The article also ranked the states according to “SAT Testing Percent”, “ACT Testing Percent”, “College Attendance Rate”, “Dropout Rate”, “Funding per Student”, “Student-Teacher Ratio”, and “Grade”. Connecticut made the top of the list with Nevada at the bottom.

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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