Dashboard June 2018

This Edition's Dashboard

Free college admissions exams minus the essay

A growing number of school districts now provide college admissions testing to high school juniors at no charge in an effort to help more students access college. But often these free exams, offered on select school days, do not include the optional essay-writing sections still required by some highly selective universities. In several Maryland districts, students can pay an optional fee to take the essay exams, the Washington Post reports. Although many colleges have dropped requirements for the SAT or ACT admissions tests altogether, the Post says that “most selective schools,” including the area’s flagship universities of Virginia and Maryland, “require a test score but not an essay score.”
State education offices in Connecticut and Idaho stopped paying for the essay portions of the admissions tests given during a school-day testing program, saying districts found the tests more time-consuming than valuable.

Theater’s role in early literacy

Can exposure to a live theater performance improve students’ early literacy skills? Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University are investigating the possibility in a research project involving 10,000 children from 116 schools across the country. For the study, groups of third-graders read the 1948 Newberry Honor book My Father’s Dragon. The students then attended a live theatrical production of the story, followed by a comprehension assessment within 48 hours. Control groups of students read the same story, took the assessment, and then saw the show. Researchers are examining how experiencing the performance impacts students’ understanding of the plot, characters, and vocabulary used in the book, the Virginian-Pilot reported. Publication of the study findings is expected by the end of 2018.

Free lunch program costs some Baltimore schools

Joining a universal free lunch program in 2015 provided every student in Baltimore City Public Schools with a healthy breakfast and lunch every day, regardless of income. But the move also cost some of the city’s high-poverty schools “hundreds of thousands of dollars in other federal funding — losses that have led principals to cut staff and programs from some of the buildings that need them most,” the Baltimore Sun reports. That’s because joining the U.S. Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision program required the district to move to a system that tends to undercount children from immigrant families. Schools with the largest immigrant populations, in fact, have been among the hardest hit. District officials say they are working to make up the funding discrepancies while also seeking assistance from the federal government and state to find a solution.

Student cellphone use restrictions easing

Most districts continue to ban student cellphone use during school hours, but restrictions are declining. Sixty-six percent of U.S. schools prohibited cellphones in 2015-16 — down from more than 90 percent in 2009-10, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. High schools saw the greatest drop. Roughly 80 percent banned the devices in 2009, down to 35 percent in the new analysis.

Although mobile devices are often used in schools as a teacher tool, critics cite concerns over cheating and class time distractions. Liz Kolb, an education technologies professor at the University of Michigan who has studied cellphones in schools, told the Associated Press there’s still a struggle to find a balance: “You see districts struggling with, now that we’ve lifted the ban, how do we manage this and create policy so that it isn’t distracting but it is still a useful communication tool or useful learning tool?”

Federal TEACH grants unexpectedly converted into loans

Thousands of college students who agreed to teach high-need subjects in lower-income schools in exchange for federal grants had the funds unexpectedly converted to loans, often for minor paperwork errors, NPR reported. The U.S. Department of Education has offered the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants since 2008. They provide up to $4,000 per academic year to students if they spend four years teaching subjects like math or science in schools that serve low-income neighborhoods. When students fail to meet the service or certification requirements of the program, the free grant money converts to a loan with interest.

But an Education Department review of the grant program shows that 1 in 3 participants—upwards of 12,000 participants—whose grants were converted to loans said they were likely or very likely to meet the program’s service requirements or had already met them. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is suing the Education Department and FedLoan, the loan servicer, over the handling of the TEACH grants, “citing a callous disregard for the needs of borrowers” and the improper taking away of the grant money.

California gives schools immigration guidance

A policy guide from California’s Office of the Attorney General offers advice on protecting students from immigration enforcement on school grounds. It details the steps K-12 school officials should take if federal immigration agents try to detain someone on campus, or if a child’s parents have been detained or deported. “In California, nearly half of all children have at least one immigrant parent,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement. “It’s our duty as public officials and school administrators to uphold the rights of these students so that their education is not disrupted.”

The guidance also instructs schools on how to shield the immigration status of students and their family members and illustrates the kinds of court records federal officials must present before entering campuses.

Decline in school bullying

The percentage of middle and high school students who report that they were bullied continues to decline, according to new federal data. It finds that nearly 21 percent of students say they were bullied in 2015 (the most recent data available), significantly lower than in 2007, when 31.7 percent reported being bullied. The data also show a decrease among students reporting being called a hate-related word, from 9.7 percent in 2007 to 7.2 percent in 2015.

The statistics, from the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, are published every other year and contain data among 12- to 18-year-olds. Findings show that the percentage of students who reported being bullied most frequently (almost every day) decreased, and the percentage reporting that they had told a teacher or other adult about being bullied increased.

High school diplomas often don’t match local college admissions requirements

In 46 states, earning a high school diploma is not enough to qualify for admission to a local public university, a study by the Center for American Progress finds. The report examined coursework requirements in math, English, science, social studies, foreign languages, art, physical education, and electives for both graduation from a public high school and entrance to a public university in each state, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. According to the audit, just four states— Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, and Tennessee — have aligned requirements to receive a basic diploma with admissions eligibility for the state public university system, The 74 reported.

Vaping in the boys room?

A 2016 surgeon general’s report labeled electronic cigarette use among adolescents and young adults as a major public health concern, and now the vaping trend is showing up in classrooms. Massachusetts high school teacher Jennifer Walden told CNN about students “seated in the back two desks in the corner. They had their hands kind of up ... and they had a blue light coming in between their hands.” (An LED light on the battery-operated inhalers signals that it’s ready for use.) Because of the elevated levels of nicotine in many e-cigarettes, health experts are concerned that they may be extremely addictive for teenagers.

Majority of teachers favor gun control over carrying guns in schools

Nearly three-fourths of U.S. school teachers (73 percent) oppose the idea of training certain teachers and staff to carry guns in school buildings as a safety measure, with 63 percent “strongly” opposing the idea, a Gallup poll finds. Just 20 percent strongly or somewhat favor the idea, while 7 percent are neutral. When asked to name one thing that could be done to prevent U.S. school shootings, 33 percent named gun control or stricter gun laws, the most popular response; 22 percent cited bans on specific guns; 19 percent suggested enhanced mental health services; 15 percent favored “better school security.” Just 7 percent mentioned arming teachers. The nationally representative poll surveyed nearly 500 K-12 teachers.

School counselors work to ‘stay afloat’ to help students

At a time when student mental health is of growing concern, school counselors are commonly viewed as a first-line resource. A recent NPR report noted that school counselors are often stretched to the limit with their day-to-day responsibilities of helping students with academic goals, social and personal development, and career development. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1, but on average, school counselors across the country manage caseloads of about 482 students each.

In California, where the average ratio is 760 students per counselor, the second highest in the nation, Riverside counselor Yuridia Nava told NPR that she and her colleagues just try to “stay afloat” and get through each day: “Our caseloads put such a hindrance on what we’re capable of doing.”

Data exposed in Florida Virtual School security breach

The personal information of more than 350,000 students, teachers, and parents was compromised in a data breach involving the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), the nation’s largest state-run online K-12 school.

Forensic analysis of the incident revealed that sensitive data was left “unsecured for almost two years” on an FLVS server, Education Week reported. Leon County Schools reported that “more than 50,000 individuals” connected to its district, including students and teachers, may have been affected. The breach likely occurred between May 2016 and February 2018, according to FLVS, but it wasn’t reported until mid-March. A spokesman told the Miami Herald that no financial information was stolen.

ESSA school spending rule poses challenges

A mandate that requires school districts to report per-pupil spending by school building “has the potential to revolutionize how state and local lawmakers distribute their education dollars,” Education Week reports. But the requirement also could present major challenges, the publication reports, from how to categorize “potentially hundreds of education costs as either school-level costs or district-level costs,” to data software that may be “incapable of categorizing school-level funding amounts,” to spending disparity debates that “pit parent groups, board members, and neighborhoods against each other.” Public disclosure of the school-level data is required by December 2019 as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Student test score improvements linked to food stamp arrival

Students’ test scores spike about three weeks after their families receive their once-a-month food stamp benefits, a study of North Carolina families shows. The findings, published in the American Educational Research Journal, are the latest to suggest that access to healthy food helps students do better in school. According to Chalkbeat, researchers expected to see the spike in test scores immediately after benefits were distributed—when food supplies at home were the highest. However, the modest, but significant improvement in test scores came mid-month, perhaps because “the academic benefits of better access to food, like improved nutrition and reduced stress, take some time to accrue,” the research suggests.

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