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November 30, 2012 ED Review
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 November 30, 2012
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School Improvement Data
Graduation Rate Data
Race to the Top
Civil Rights Report
International Strategy
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

School Improvement Data

Last week, the Department released an early snapshot of student performance data at schools that have received federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) funding, a basic component of the agency's blueprint for helping states and school districts turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools. This data provides the first overview of performance for the first cohort of schools after one year of implementing SIG. The data spans from the 2009-10 school year to the 2010-11 school year—the initial year schools received SIG funds.

In three main areas, these early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools:

  • Schools receiving SIG grants are improving. Two-thirds of schools showed gains in reading. And, two-thirds of schools showed gains in math.
  • A larger percentage of elementary schools showed gains than did secondary schools, suggesting it is easier to improve student performance at a young age than to intervene later. Fully 70% of elementary schools showed gains in reading. And, 70% of elementary schools showed gains in math.
  • Some of the greatest gains were recorded in small towns and rural communities.

Because the snapshot covers only a single year of SIG implementation, and because many factors contribute to student proficiency, it is too early to establish a causal connection between SIG funding and school performance. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is conducting a long-term evaluation of the SIG program with student-level longitudinal data that will also compare to similarly situated schools that did not receive SIG funds. Furthermore, at least one rigorous study, by Professor Thomas Dee at Stanford University, already found positive results in SIG schools compared to similarly situated schools that did not receive SIG funds. (Note: The Department is also collecting data on other leading indicators that will give a more complete picture of SIG performance, including student attendance, teacher attendance, and enrollment in advanced courses.)

Meanwhile, for research purposes, the Department is making available three years of state assessment data on all schools nationwide through restricted-use files. These files include performance data for the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 school years, disaggregated by subgroup. The agency plans to release all school-level assessment data—including state-by-state SIG assessment data—in January 2013, once protections to ensure privacy of students are finalized and put into place.

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Graduation Rate Data

This week, the Department released data detailing state four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-11. That school year was the first year for which all states used a common, rigorous measure. Previously, the varying methods used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable. The new, uniform rate calculation is also not comparable in absolute terms to previously reported rates. Therefore, while 24 states reported increased or unchanged rates and 26 states reported lower rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot.

The transition to a common, adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate reflects states' efforts to create greater uniformity and transparency in reporting high school graduation rate data, and it meets the requirements of October 2008 federal regulations. A key goal of the regulations was to develop a graduation rate that provides parents, educators, and community members with better information on their school's progress while allowing for meaningful comparisons of graduation rates across states and school districts. The new metric also accurately accounts for students who drop out or who do not earn a regular diploma.

Last year, states began individually reporting 2010-11 high school graduation rates, but this is the first time the Department has compiled these rates in a single public document. These graduation rates are preliminary, state-reported data. The Department plans to release final rates in the coming months. Beginning with data for the 2011-12 school year, graduation rates calculated using this new metric will become a critical element of state accountability systems, including for states that have been approved for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility. (Note: 2010-11 graduation rates are also available through ED Data Express.)

Moreover, to guide states that have requested ESEA flexibility and support continuous improvement in states that have received ESEA flexibility, the Department issued highlights of how some states have included graduation rates and related indicators in their approved systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support.

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Race to the Top

Also this week, the Department announced 61 applications as finalists for Race to the Top-District grants. The finalists, representing more than 200 school districts, were selected from 372 applications received earlier this month, demonstrating how districts could truly personalize education for students and provide teachers and school leaders with key tools that support them to meet students' needs. Race to the Top-District applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each application, with scores averaged to determine an applicant's score. The agency then arranged applications in rank order—from high to low scores—and determined the strongest proposals to move on based on natural breaks—scoring gaps in the rank order. Consistent with the agency's plan to award high-quality proposals from applications across a variety of districts, these 61 finalists represent rural and non-rural districts from both Race to the Top and non-Race to the Top states. Again, the Department expects to select 15-25 winning applications for four-year awards ranging from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. Awards will be announced no later than December 31, 2012.

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Civil Rights Report

The Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released a report describing its progress and activity over the last four years on civil rights enforcement and educational equity. The report describes how OCR has transformed its enforcement approach to promote and advance educational equity for all students, while maximizing the office's efficiency and impact, even as the number of complaints received by OCR has grown by almost a quarter over the last four years. OCR both received and resolved over 28,500 complaints during this time period, a record figure compared to past four-year periods.

The report also discusses OCR's work to:

  • support the equal rights of students to a safe school environment and to resources and programs they need to be prepared for college and careers;
  • revamp the Civil Rights Data Collection to provide educators and the public with a clearer picture of the "equity health" of schools; and
  • align its efforts with President Obama's goal of restoring America's position as a global leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020, by improving educational equity and excellence.

In addition to investigating and resolving complaints, OCR has protected students' civil rights by launching over 100 proactive, systemic investigations at schools and colleges. In its investigations, OCR has placed a priority on developing remedies that attack discrimination at its roots. OCR has also catalyzed improved compliance across the education community by issuing policy guidance on questions regarding the civil rights laws OCR enforces, such as the obligations of schools and colleges to prevent and address bullying, harassment, and sexual violence; the equal rights of students to a public education regardless of their race, national origin, and citizenship; and the obligation of schools and colleges to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to new technologies that are playing a role in classrooms.

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International Strategy

In honor of International Education Week, the Department released its first international strategy document, "Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement," affirming the agency's commitment to preparing today's youth, and the nation more broadly, for a globalized world and engaging with the international community to improve education. It is fully integrated with the Department's domestic agenda and thoughtfully designed to simultaneously attain two strategic goals: strengthen U.S. education and advance the nation's international priorities. It reflects ongoing work in implementing international education programs, participating in international benchmarking activities, and working with other countries and multilateral bodies to engage in strategic dialogue. The strategy, which the Department has already begun to implement, will be used to guide the agency's core activities and allocation of resources to reflect the highest priority and most strategic topics, parts of the world, and activities.

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Odds and Ends

  • A new blog entry summarizes Secretary Duncan's November 27 trip to Dallas, where he observed students and teachers in action at a local high school, addressed business and civic leaders focused on preparing students for college and careers, and met with reporters and editors.

  • Then, on November 28, the Secretary delivered the closing keynote speech at the Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform. (Note: Video from the conference will be posted here.)

  • The Department has announced a new, nearly $1 million grant that will invest in innovative programs preparing incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter society with education and workforce training. This announcement came during an agency-hosted Correctional Education Summit that gathered outside experts engaged in developing innovations to improve educational opportunities for youth and adults in secure confinement facilities. In conjunction with the summit, the agency also released a new "Reentry Education Model."

  • To provide assistance for ongoing recovery efforts following the deadly shooting at the premiere of the movie "The Dark Knight Rises," the Department's Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded Aurora Public Schools in Colorado a Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant totaling nearly $50,000.

  • The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) supports tuition-free summer programs for school and college and university educators. Participants receive stipends to help cover travel and living expenses. These one- to five-week study opportunities are held across the nation and abroad. They focus on major topics, texts, and questions in the humanities; enhance the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; build a community of inquiry and provide models of excellent scholarship and teaching; and promote connections between teaching and research in the humanities. The deadline for applications is March 4, 2013.

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Quote to Note

"A regular high school diploma is a gateway credential for college and careers in the 21st century and helps in ensuring that students are prepared to obtain the postsecondary education and training required for successful participation within our competitive global economy. Raising high school graduation rates for all students and all subgroups of students is essential to reaching the President's goal of ensuring that, by 2020, the U.S. will once again have the highest proportion in the world of adults who are college graduates. In this context, better, more accurate graduation rate data should propel us to redouble our efforts to target attention and resources where they are most needed and can significantly affect student progress."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (11/26/12), in a letter to Chief State School Officers on uniform high school graduation rate data

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Upcoming Events

On December 6 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the National Assessment Governing Board (NABG) is offering a live webinar to explore students' knowledge and sense of word meanings, as recently revealed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading.

On December 11 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is offering a live webinar (RSVP) to discuss the results of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the 2011 Progress in International Reading and Language Study (PIRLS).

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Last Modified: 12/04/2012