Teacher evaluations no longer required, but useful with changes

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The nonprofit New Teacher Center recommends using evaluations as a tool for improvement

Armed with research about a teacher’s impact on student achievement, policy makers have required states and school districts to evaluate their teaching force, and the most readily available data has been standardized test scores. Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act effectively back-tracked on this accountability strategy. No longer is there a federal mandate that schools evaluate teachers. And those that do will not be required to base their analysis on scores.

But former superintendent, principal and teacher Lisa Andrejko does not believe such evaluations will become a thing of the past.

“With so much time and effort undertaken at the state level in the implementation of accountability measures such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), prescribed teaching standard frameworks or rubrics and student achievement data, I cannot imagine a scenario in which states would abandon their new methods for grading teachers,” Andrejko wrote for PeopleAdmin in May. She expects revisions, but not necessarily another overhaul.

Still, ESSA creates a level of freedom that some districts may find exciting. The law provides for the use of federal dollars to survey teachers about working conditions and offer professional development, professional growth and leadership opportunities. And, importantly, it offers an opportunity to recalibrate after the last 15 years of No Child Left Behind.
Anne Udall, executive vice president of program strategy at the nonprofit New Teacher Center, hopes district administrators stop and think carefully about where to take teacher evaluations in the coming years. NCLB attached accountability to test scores, primarily, and Udall says research clearly shows that is not a useful way to gauge educator effectiveness. “My hope with ESSA is that we’ve learned enough from what didn’t work that we’re going to try to find the more comprehensive, nuanced approach,” Udall said.

What, then, should this new approach entail?

Udall and Andrejko agree evaluations should be used to help teachers improve their craft. That means they have to come with more nuanced feedback and targeted professional development. While many advocates of test-based accountability demanded it to weed out the worst teachers, advocates of new teacher evaluation systems aim to use it as a tool for improvement.

How administrators can adapt

Administrators, in this new design, will need to sharpen a few skills of their own.

“You can know what great instruction looks like, but you may not have the skillset to mentor or coach a new teacher because you don’t know how to tell them what they’re doing well and what they’re doing poorly,” Udall said.
Professional development for administrators should cover strategies for recognizing high-quality instruction as well as providing useful feedback.

In many schools, even carving out the time for regular classroom observations will require a major shift. This is where district administrators come in. Central office leaders can provide the support that frees principals from other management duties, delegating administrative tasks to other staff members and leaving principals to focus on staff development.

One trend the New Teacher Center has identified is the formation of instructional leadership teams in schools. These groups bring together principals, vice principals, department chairs and teacher representatives into a learning community that focuses on how best to support teacher improvement, design evaluation systems and approach coaching

After years of watching evaluation be used as a tool to “sort and punish,” Udall is excited to see a new trend of using evaluations to support teacher growth.

A lot is still up in the air when it comes to ESSA. But as the Obama administration finalizes its rule-making and states decide how to proceed, school districts can set their own priorities for evaluation, at least. Now no longer required by federal law, it can provide the foundation for effective school improvement that focuses on bringing out the best in today’s teachers.

Tara Garcia Mathewson I September 14, 2016

How Marginalized Families Are Pushed Out of PTA

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How Marginalized Families Are Pushed Out of PTAs
Parents with socioeconomic resources are more likely to exert influence on school officials.
Rogelio V. Solis / AP

When Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, Maryland, told parents in the fall of 2014 that it would allow students to use Chromebooks as a way to bridge the digital divide between low-income families and affluent families, there were mixed reactions. The plan was aimed at helping students become more adept at using technology, but the affluent parents, most of whom were white, were apprehensive about their children getting more screen time.

Alison Risso, then the president of the school’s PTA, said she was frustrated by the complaints those parents expressed at a meeting. “Everyone who could pay for that Chromebook with the money in their pockets was in the room,” Risso said. As Risso recalled, one parent said to her, “I don’t need my daughter to learn to make a PowerPoint.”

At Rolling Terrace, 68 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Sixty-three percent of its population is Hispanic, 15 percent is black, and another 15 percent is white. But the parents of that sliver of the student population that is white and affluent—most of whom were drawn to the school’s Spanish-immersion program—have outsize influence over what happens in the school

Risso explained to parents why it was important for the lower-income children to have access to the Chromebooks. Many of the school’s parents—mostly low-income people of color who didn’t attend the PTA meeting—were excited about the computers.

Despite the differences in priorities, the school’s parents are expected to make decisions as a community. That kind of unity rarely happens in gentrifying neighborhoods, however. When white, affluent parents come into a school that has a high percentage of less-affluent students of color, the more advantaged group tends to take over parent organizations and unintentionally marginalize the parent community that was already there. Ultimately, Rolling Terrace proceeded with its plan to use Chromebooks, but not all such issues are resolved in ways that give low-income parents a voice.

That’s unfortunate because parental engagement can greatly improve adolescents’ academic and emotional functioning, according to a 2014 study published in Child Development. A substantial body of research also indicates that parent involvement at home and school is an important factor in improving young children’s literacy and math skills. PTA membership was also associated with student achievement in a 2006 School Community Journal study authored by researchers at the University of West Florida.

Allyson Criner Brown, the associate director at the nonprofit Teaching for Change, said she has seen small groups of advantaged parents, many of them members of parent organizations, wield great influence on school policy. They often push for programs that would benefit their own children and not necessarily the kids of less means. When these parents don’t get what they want, they often make calls to someone higher up than the principal, such as the superintendent, to flex their muscle—something lower-income parents rarely do.

“[Affluent] parents are much more likely to think they have the right to tell principals what they think.”
The influence of the PTA depends a lot on the given school’s culture and in part on how big a role parents play in fundraising. It can be challenging for a busy principal to seek input from parent groups, especially when those organizations aren’t financially supporting a cash-strapped school.
“If the principal knows that the PTA is not a source for fundraising, depending on the principal they might not go to the PTA and ask parents if [a particular project] is a priority,” said Alexandra Freidus, doctoral candidate in urban education at New York University. In wealthy or socioeconomically diverse communities, on the other hand, “principals frequently count on parents to fill in budget gaps. Those parents are much more likely to think they have the right to tell principals what they think, to believe their opinions matters to the school, and they’re much more likely to be a dominant voice.” And while it’s true that kids of all backgrounds benefit from attending integrated schools, affluent and white parents tend to think they’re the ones bringing value to their school, according to research released earlier this year.

The imbalance of power has become especially clear in recent years as parents with means in gentrifying neighborhoods look for schools that will enrich their kids’ lives—schools with diverse student populations, for example, and supplemental-learning opportunities. Schools serving high numbers of poor children often offer Spanish-immersion or gifted-and-talented programs that attract affluent families, which often bring with them the ability to fundraise. (Although Spanish-immersion programs were initially meant to serve children who spoke Spanish at home and were still learning English, they have become increasingly popular across the country with non-Latino parents whose children speak primarily or only English at home, according to a 2015 dissertation for the City University of New York’s urban-education program.) But the ability can also mean wealthy families wield disproportionate influence on campus and in the PTA.

According to Freidus, the current body of research on parent engagement in gentrifying schools shows that schools tends to accommodate those parents’ interests and concerns. Freidus analyzed a decade of posts in a listserv for parents new to the school and neighborhood and discovered how quickly one unidentified Brooklyn school and its ostensible priorities evolved as the student population became whiter and more affluent. The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch fell from 90 percent in the 2003-04 school year to 65 percent in the 2011-12 year. At the same time, the school spent much of its resources on the playground and other facilities rather than efforts to get classroom computers and support for the student prom.

Criner Brown said she has seen similar issues play out in Washington, D.C., schools. In some cases, according to Criner Brown, white and affluent parents begin advocating for their children before they even attend the school. “Yes, it is parent advocacy, but a more forceful and entitled version that is more of a demand than a request,” she said.

Kelly Wickham Hurst, an education advocate and former guidance dean at Lincoln Magnet School in Springfield, Illinois, said PTAs rarely discuss race directly, instead using words that “refer to race while not referring to race” out of fear that they’d otherwise appear racist. When disadvantaged parents do try to speak up, they’re often dismissed by other parents or by administrators, Wickham Hurst said. Parents of color, she said, bring up concerns about testing and how to help students who are underperforming, but are sometimes brushed off. As one parent spoke, she recalled, a white PTO member who is considered an education expert by parents because she works in the district, sighed and rolled her eyes.

A mother of color also told Wickham Hurst that she and another nonwhite parent were dropping out of the PTO because their concerns were always left in the “parking lot” to be discussed another time—time that never came. “I’ve been cussed out many times in my career by a very frustrated parent who has never been listened to in school systems who would like to be heard but they never say it in the ‘right way,’” said Wickham Hurst, adding that black parents tell her they never hear from the school unless it’s about student discipline. Students of color are suspended at disproportionate rates, with some studies indicating teacher bias plays a role in determining discipline.

Alina Adams, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten, works with many parents of color who are trying to get their children into New York City-area elementary schools; she also helps parents adjust to the schools once they’re there. According to Adams, many parents of color express concern that they won’t be listened to at the school. “[Reluctance to speak up] gets magnified when it’s someone of a different race than you or different ethnicity or different economic background,” she said. “Maybe you don’t speak English so well and you feel intimidated by that. How do I challenge this person on this issue when I know that she’s a lawyer and I [just] have a high-school diploma?”

The data bears out some of Adams’s points about disadvantaged parents’ lack of involvement. Lower educational levels are a factor in their limited engagement, as is having a lower socioeconomic status and being an underrepresented minority, a 2013 study on Parental Readiness Empowerment Programs shows. Meanwhile, a 2014 paper that analyzed black parents at an urban middle school found that perceptions of racism and hostile parent-teacher interactions were significant barriers to their engagement at school.

“I get questions about how things work rather than complaints about why things are happening.”
Meanwhile, Myra Rivera-Blanco, the fundraising co-chair of the Rolling Terrace PTA, said that Latino parents tend to ask different questions about family engagement because, culturally, they see school participation differently. “I get questions about how things work rather than complaints about why things are happening,” she said. Many Latino parents believe they should trust the school to handle their child’s education appropriately and are less inclined to question teachers and administrators.

Rivera-Blanco is the main contact for many Latino families as one of few Latina members of the PTA; she also serves as the de facto translator at meetings. Rivera-Blanco said many of the school’s lower-income parents don’t have access to laptops and even cell phones, which makes communication especially difficult.

When schools are cash-strapped, the priorities of the members of the parent organization often become the priorities of the school as a whole. Rivera-Blanco says she sees this dynamic play out often at Rolling Terrace with the Spanish-immersion program, which is populated largely by students with means. For example, parents of kids in the program ensure that its teachers receive gift cards at the beginning of the year and during Teacher Appreciation Week to pay for supplies. “There are parents in our school that can’t put enough cents together to get a coat much less give their teacher their supply list,” Rivera-Blanco said. “That imbalance is huge. You can walk into a classroom and know which is a Spanish-immersion classroom and which one isn’t.”

The history of the PTA shows that these race and class dynamics have always been an issue. Christine A. Woyshner explores this context in her 2009 book The National PTA, Race, and Civic Engagement, 1897-1970, exploring how white affluent women who founded what is today known as the National PTA used their influence to achieve reforms. The “black PTA,” or the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, on the other hand, was more concerned with ensuring their schools had the basics.

school is diverse, the parents’ goals are usually too different. “It’s very hard in those situations to create an equitable school engagement and school governance model because ideally what you want in an integrated school is people are fighting together for all of their children,” Potter said. A model where all students are challenged and their particular talents are developed through similar approaches to gifted classes, otherwise known as a “schoolwide-enrichment model,” may be the best way to pursue true diversity, she said.

Parents, teachers, and administrators should state their goals clearly and work on fostering trust between low-income parents and parents of color, according to a 2013 paper from SEDL out of the Institutes for Research and the U.S. Department of Education. Schools could also increase communication through home visits, such as those made at William W. Henderson School.

As Potter said of Blackstone Valley Prep Academy, school administrators have to do more than hope families will get along. “They had to make sure that they were intentional about shared leadership,” Potter said.

We Need a Strategy—Not a Silver Bullet—for Student Success

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We Need a Strategy—Not a Silver Bullet—for Student Success

By Karen Vignare Sep 8, 2016

There is no disagreement that a great liberal arts education can be of value in the medium and long-term. However, the students from lower socioeconomic statuses do not have the financial resources to wait long enough to see the return.

As a pioneer of online, blended and emerging technologies within higher education, I know many of the people within higher ed leveraging new tools are looking for a silver bullet to help more students be successful. It is just as clear that it is going to require multiple tools or new digital pedagogy to improve student success for those students underserved in both of the lower socioeconomic quartiles.

Research from the Pell Institute and Institute of Educational Statistics shows the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between the highest and lowest income groups has widened since 1970. Despite frequent attempts by politicians, regulators, educators and edtech to improve degree attainment for lower middle and lowest SES groups; nothing has changed.

Is there any hope for change? It is time to be more systemic and strategic. As most of us start a new academic year, we need to organize our thinking around multiple process improvements and innovations. Here are four places to start:

1. Create an innovation pipeline for teaching and learning.

Right now little innovation exists on the teaching and learning side of the university. If it exists at all, it is ad hoc—aided only by internal or external one-time grants. In “Creating a Learning Society,” authors Stiglitz and Greenwald explain the economics and incentives of innovation. The industry of higher education suffers under multiple inefficiencies to create a conducive environment for innovation. The inefficiencies on the teaching and learning side include: not enough sharing of best practices, a continued reliance on average practices (what has worked), lack of a competitive environment at the local level, and lack of R&D dedicated to improving teaching and learning.

2. Connect learning to jobs.

Lower SES students lack the time and funds, and are at constant risk from multiple potential setbacks (e.g., illness, loss of family income, transportation complications, lack of child/parent care) of having to withdraw, pause or drop out completely. Connecting the learning pathway to applicable job skills is critical. These connections can include institutions taking in prior learning, offering authentic projects that demonstrate evidence of business related skills, and virtual and physical internships. Virtual internships could be a better solution for lower SES students who cannot afford to participate in low or unpaid internships.

3. Improve the learner experience.

The learner experience starts with multiple interactions for students across services that often exist in silos. Even when best practices of marketing, usability and design thinking are applied, students will inevitably encounter the legal language of statutory regulation, which is always confusing to understand. This language is a barrier for students to be able to understand costs and fees, nuances of financial aid or even predictability of classes being scheduled. Adding to the learner burden is that best practices from the other fields aren’t regularly applied across campus websites.

Learners also need personalization. Most educators recognize that relationships with faculty help students stay motivated, but even relationships with any staff member can help students feel involved. Advisors will need to be trained and will need tools like early warning systems, customer/learner management systems and scheduling tools. Tracking students’ interactions amongst departments can provide critical insight into what is not working well for students and when and where institutional staff and faculty should intervene to help. The students who will benefit the most from advising are those who do not have a network of folks with successful college experiences.

It is equally important to improve learner experience in courses—especially gateway and early courses. One of the most promising aspects of personalization are that the tools help faculty identify through a dashboard struggling students and how to communicate in an empathetic and positively motivated way. Faculty may have to adjust to different cultural and economic backgrounds. Knowing when and how to communicate is critical to improving student success and we need to give faculty tools that will enhance the relationships they have with students.

4. Get better at lowering student costs.

Since students in the lower SES are continuously under pressure due to scarce resources, the reduction of education costs is critical to their success. Actions like lowering textbook costs through the use of open educational resources (OER) or digital courseware is a great start. Georgia State University recognized that students often need more financial help getting from one semester to the next. GSU can now prove that helping students with small loans is a better longer term return on investment, since more of these students then completed their degrees. Universities need to apply more return on investment and cost efficiency tactics to student success.

For students in the lowest SES who show ambition in high school by taking dual credits or AP courses, let’s really lower their costs by maximizing the transfer credit toward the degree. Along with strengthening dual credit, the streamlining of transfer credit is critical. The supply chain for students is broken. At best it works when a strong one-to-one relationship exist between two institutions (e.g. within CUNY or as mandated within the state of Florida), but for the most part students’ transfer credits depend on the registrar who depends on faculty to articulate the value in credit of a course. When credits are transferred they are often used as electives and not applied to a degree. Students are often acquiring more credits than they need.

It’s a student success strategy, not a silver bullet.

The need to leverage analytics is intrinsically tied to our improvements. There are huge amounts of data available. Leveraging it and using it to change the culture within an organization is still only practiced well by a handful of institutions, including St. Petersburg College, Sinclair Community College and Capella University, to name only a few institutions. What are they doing differently? The key differences are that their data is transparent and available, their leadership is collaborative with faculty and staff, and change is measured and successful interventions are scaled. We can only be more cost efficient if we know what interventions cost and are able to measure the success.

There is no one silver bullet for student success. Improved student success will need to be comprehensive and be a fit for the students at your institution. The big “aha!” is that improvement must be a coherent set of best practices, making student success a strategy.

Karen Vignare is a researcher and administrator leveraging emerging technology within higher education.

Classroom Wearable Report: What it means for K-12

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Digitizing education content and learning processes has  changed the way students learn and interact during classroom sessions, according to Technavio’s report, “Classroom Wearables Technology Market in the U.S., 2016-2020”.

So classrooms emphasize collaborative learning and visual learning, says Technavio analyst, Jhansi, Mary J.

Using wearable technology will significantly increase student engagement levels and improve content absorption abilities.

And K12 educators believe that by using these devices, they can effectively monitor potential health issues arising from obesity and even attempt to arrest them by designing suitable physical education initiatives.

BYOD will also increase demand for wearables in classrooms driving up significant curricular changes.

Potential applications of wearables in K12 classrooms are:

  • Virtual reality and augmented reality learning deceives that enable virtual learning.\, and also document videos from a student and faculty perspective.
  • smart watches to share information and alerts.
  • fitness bands in hopes or producing healthy eating habits and physical education activities.
  • headbands like Muse which track brain sensing activities, including each student’s response to a particular classroom session.

The most important advantage of using wearable tech in  the classroom will be flexible access to education content and amplifying learning processes.

With mass adoption and the right PD initiatives for faculty within the  next three to five years, says Jhansa, Mary J. educators could identify wearables and map them to integrate into respective subjects and learning models in K12 classrooms avross the nation.

 

New Bill Offers a Good Start on Defining Professional Development

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December 4, 2015 4:14 PM

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act by a 359-64 vote. While there is much to explore and discuss in the bill, Learning Forward’s advocacy efforts related to the reauthorization of ESEA have concentrated solely on professional development.

We believe that ensuring a clear and specific definition of professional development in federal policy, one that aligns with our Standards for Professional Learning, lays the groundwork for states, districts, and schools to create professional learning that has impact. The definition of professional development that appears in the bill is important because it applies to every example of professional development mentioned in the bill.

Overall, we are satisfied with the definition that is included in Every Student Succeeds Act, though we believe that effective professional learning requires more than what the bill describes.

We’re pleased with the first part of the definition. It begins: Professional development means activities that “(A) are an integral part of school and local education agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in the core academic subjects and to meet challenging State academic standards; and

(B) are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom-focused….”

While there are additional ways to improve upon this part of the definition — it would be ideal to move away from thinking of professional development as “activities” rather than a continuous learning journey — it is affirming that the key words included within it tie directly to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Congress has affirmed that educators’ professional development must be collaborative, job-embedded, sustained, classroom-focused, and data-driven. The definition is also significant because it so clearly focused on school- and classroom-level professional learning.

The legislation continues with this phrase: Professional development “may include activities that …” followed by a long list of professional learning elements, experiences, and topics. For example, professional development may include activities that “improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach.”

The placement of the “may” is significant. Everything before “may include” is essential and officially part of the definition. Everything after “may include” is dependent on the context and needs of the local educators planning and implementing professional learning. To define professional learning too tightly would overlook the differentiated needs of educators and could contribute to schools and systems addressing adult learning through one-size-fits-all solutions. We trust educators to use the key words before the “may” to assess their needs and design their learning objectives and processes, then identify the priorities that best fit their circumstances among those listed after the “may.”

As education leaders and policymakers make sense of the bill once it moves into law, which is expected to happen next week, we are hopeful that in implementing the definition of professional development, they will also consider the following:

  • Evaluation of impact must be a part of any professional learning, as it is part of so many other school improvement elements outlined in the legislation.
  • The cycle of continuous improvement is the ideal vehicle for making so much of this definition come to life in schools. Through collaborative, continuous problem solving, teachers examine data to understand what student and adult learners need, set professional learning goals and determine learning strategies, apply their new learning with ongoing support, and assess the impact of what they’ve applied in their classrooms.
  • Clearly defining the professional learning roles and responsibilities of educators throughout the system helps ensure meaningful implementation and collective accountability for results.
  • While the definition of professional development in the bill describes that educators gain “knowledge and skills,” intentionally addressing changes in practice is essential to achieving better results for students.

Defining professional learning meaningfully in policy is one key step. But the definition doesn’t equate to implementation. The hard work of planning, facilitating, implementing, sustaining, and evaluating professional learning happens every day in states, districts, and schools.

As always, Learning Forward is eager to provide educators the support they need to create learning that meets this definition and aligns to the Standards for Professional Learning. Please let us know how we can continue to do so.

Stephanie Hirsh – Executive Director, Learning Forward

Survey: Social, cultural barriers discourage STEM pursuits among girls, minorities

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By on September 30th, 2015 | Comments (0)

Are corporations and associations doing enough to help build an inclusive workforce? Join us October 23 to hear a panel of STEM experts discuss ways companies and professional organizations can step up their efforts to address this issue. Come ready to share your ideas with our panel and your peers. We’ll ensure attendees leave with actionable best practices for preparing students for the 21st century workforce.

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Businesses and trade associations can help foster a more diverse workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields through outreach programs with schools, according to a recent month-long STEM survey from SmartBrief on EdTech. Sixty-seven percent of readers polled said they would like to see more career events, mentoring, internships and job training programs on STEM opportunities open for females, minorities and students with disabilities

SmartBrief on EdTech’s STEM survey, which presented a different poll question to readers each Wednesday in September, found that 34% of respondents reported that STEM skills are a primary focus for their school or district. Forty-three percent indicated that STEM skills are somewhat important for their school or district.

When it comes to cultivating interest in STEM among girls and minorities, 51% of respondents stated that their schools/districts have programs in place designed for this purpose. Yet, social and cultural protocols prevent many of these students from pursuing STEM opportunities, according to 41% of respondents.

Here are the full results of the survey:

How much importance is placed on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills in your school or district?

  • STEM skills are a primary focus in my school or district: 34%
  • STEM skills are somewhat important in my school or district: 43%
  • STEM skills are not a focus in my school or district: 23%

Does your school/district have efforts in place aimed at generating more STEM interest among girls and minorities?

  • Yes: 51%
  • No: 49%

How can businesses and trade associations in the STEM fields help foster diverse, inclusive workforces? What kinds of outreach would you like to see would you like to see for girls, students with disabilities and students from minority backgrounds?

  • Events that shed light on careers students may not know exist: 6%
  • Mentoring opportunities: 8%
  • Partnerships that include internships and job training programs: 19%
  • We need it all!: 67%

What factors do you think contribute to STEM gaps among girls, minorities and students with special needs?

  • Low student interest: 10%
  • Lack of knowledge about the broad range of careers included in these fields: 10%
  • Lack of exposure to role models: 15%
  • Not enough programs targeting these students: 14%
  • Social and cultural barriers that discourage students from pursuing these fields: 41%
  • Curriculum geared toward the general student population: 10%

According to projections from the US Department of Commerce, by 2018, more than 1.2 million STEM jobs will go unfilled for lack of skilled workers.

Dispelling Myths about Improving Student Achievement # 8

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Myth: Ability grouping is effective.

Some believe grouping students by ability allows teachers to customize learning to student’s learning pace, but the opposite is true — it has little impact on achievement. The greatest negative effect is that students from minorities are more likely to be in the lower groups and such equity issues should raise major concerns.

From District Administration Magazine by John Hattie, Educational Researcher at the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

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