Press Room NEWSLETTERS
October 24, 2014

ED Review ... ...a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

What's inside...
Getting Assessment Right
Public Health Concerns
School Bullying Guidance
Keeping Campuses Safe
Strengthening PLUS Loans
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Upcoming Events

Getting Assessment Right

This summer, in remarks and a conversation with teachers and school leaders and in a blog post, Secretary Duncan initiated a dialogue on standardized testing, noting "testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools—oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more" and pledging the Department will be "part of the solution."

Last week, moving the dialogue forward, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools jointly released "Commitments on High-Quality Assessments," a series of established principles to guide state and school district leaders in making sure every assessment administered is high-quality, coherent, and meaningful to students, parents, and teachers. Specifically, the Chiefs will: increase transparency by publishing an easily accessible list of all state assessments; evaluate the quality and coherence of state assessment systems; work with stakeholders to eliminate redundant assessments; and partner with districts to review their benchmark and formative assessments. And, large city superintendents will: review all assessments administered to determine alignment, appropriateness, and technical quality; convene a task force to review findings from a survey of district testing and make recommendations for improvement; streamline and/or eliminate assessments found to be low quality, redundant, or inappropriately used; and improve the use of assessment results to enhance instruction and curtail counterproductive test preparation practices (view webinar recording).

In response, the Secretary stated the Department's support. "Assessments must be of high quality and must make good use of educators' and students' time," he said. "Yet, in some places, tests—and preparation for them—are dominating the calendar and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators. I welcome the action announced today by state and district leaders, which will bring energy and focus to improving assessment of student learning." The Secretary also penned an op-ed, and President Obama issued a statement.

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Public Health Concerns

In a recent letter to local superintendents, the Department shared a number of informational resources on the Enterovirus and Ebola virus. For the latest updates, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Enterovirus and Ebola web pages. Also, the Department's Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) has made materials available via its Readiness and Emergency Management of Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center to keep parents and community partners updated on the Ebola situation. The center is a hub of information, resources, services, and training, including federal guidance, webinars, online courses, trainings (by request and downloadable), publications, and a Communities of Practice portal facilitating the exchange of ideas among school emergency management practitioners.

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School Bullying Guidance

As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America's 6.75 million public school students with disabilities. The guidance, in the form of a letter to educators, details schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and, as necessary, take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring (see fact sheet).

The guidance builds upon anti-bullying guidance issued in recent years by OCR and the Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) concerning schools' legal obligations, including:

  • a 2000 letter by OCR and OSERS explaining that bullying based on disability may violate civil rights laws enforced by OCR, as well as interfere with a student's receipt of special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • a 2010 letter by OCR elaborating on potential violations when bullying and harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability; and
  • a 2013 letter by OSERS clarifying that when bullying of a student with a disability results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit under IDEA, the school must remedy the problem, regardless of whether the bullying was based on the student's disability.

Visit StopBullying.gov for additional information on bullying prevention and remedies.

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Keeping Campuses Safe

On October 17, the Department announced the publication of the final rule implementing changes made to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. The Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to comply with certain campus safety and security-related requirements as a condition of participating in federal student financial aid programs. The Violence Against Women Act strengthens the Clery Act to more effectively address—and ultimately reduce—sexual violence on college campuses, including domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

Other provisions of the rule require institutions to:

  • add gender identity and national origin as two new categories of bias that serve as the basis for a determination of a hate crime;
  • describe each type of disciplinary proceeding used by institutions in cases of sexual violence, including the steps, anticipated timelines, and decision-making process for each, and how the institution determines which type of disciplinary proceeding to use;
  • include in their annual security report a statement of policy regarding the school's programs to prevent sexual violence, as well as the procedures that the schools will follow when one of these crimes is reported; and
  • provide that an institution will afford the accuser and the accused the same opportunities to have others present during the institutional disciplinary proceeding, including the opportunity to be accompanied to any related meeting or proceeding by an advisor of their choice.

To support the higher education community, the Department has created a resource list with examples of best practices, information, and strategies institutions to inform and tailor sexual violence training and prevention efforts.

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Strengthening PLUS Loans

On October 22, the Department announced the publication of the final rule to strengthen the federal Direct PLUS Loan Program. The rule both expands student access to postsecondary education and safeguards taxpayer dollars by reflecting economic and programmatic changes that have occurred since the program was established more than 20 years ago. Indeed, the rule updates the definition of "adverse credit history" for PLUS loan applicants and implements a streamlined application process for borrowers to obtain a PLUS loan.

The agency is also taking action to provide families with clear, customized information about the loan obligations to support their college financing decisions and ensure their loan debt stays manageable. To ensure families are aware of, can fully understand, and are comfortable with their loan obligations, the Department is developing a new loan counseling tool that would provide customized information to assist PLUS borrowers. While PLUS borrowers with an adverse credit history determination would be required to complete counseling, the tool will be made available to all PLUS borrowers (listen to audio recording).

And, to provide more transparency in the PLUS loan program, the agency will collect and, where appropriate, publish information about the performance of PLUS loans, including default rate information based on the credit history characteristics of PLUS borrowers and individual institutional default rates.

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Odds and Ends

  • Earlier this month, Secretary Duncan participated in a Connected Educator Month Twitter chat about the importance of connected learning and the Future Ready Pledge.

  • Also, the Secretary joined education and juvenile justice organizations at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education's (OESE) Summit on School Discipline and Climate, stressing the importance of comprehensively supporting students.

  • On the Department's Progress blog, one can read about how New Jersey created its model curriculum, aligned to college- and career-ready standards, with the help of teachers and how the curriculum is providing support in implementing the higher standards while still allowing teachers to be creative.

  • Everyone is invited to learn about the accomplishments of this year's National Blue Ribbon Schools, conveniently captured in a series of one-page profiles.

  • A blog post highlights the Green Strides Best Practices Tour visit to Boulder Valley School District in Colorado.

  • Another blog post, by Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, spotlights the First in the World grant program.

  • A fact sheet provides history, funding, and summary information about the federal TRIO Programs over its 50 years, including maps of TRIO projects and stories from alumni.

  • A shout-out to the Mather School in Boston, North America's oldest free public elementary school, on the occasion of its 375th birthday.

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Quote to Note

"Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools, and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving, and struggling. A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps. However, many have expressed concern about low-quality and redundant tests. And in some places, tests—and preparation for them—dominate the calendar and culture of schools, causing undue stress.... To be clear: I strongly believe in using high-quality assessments, including annual tests, as one (but only one) part of how adults improve instruction and hold themselves responsible for students' progress. With my own children, I know parent-teacher conferences, grades, and other feedback round out the picture of whether they're on track."

        Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (10/17/14), in an op-ed on testing published in the Washington Post

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Upcoming Events

The White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education and OCR have announced additional locations for the first-ever School Environment Listening Tour to hear from schools and communities on ways to better meet the unique educational and culturally-related academic needs of Native American students (see more information here).

Nominations for the 2015 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are now open. Principals, teachers, students, parents, and the public may nominate exceptional math or science teachers who are currently teaching grades 7-12. Teachers may also self-nominate. The President bestows up to 108 awards each year. Since the program's inception in 1983, over 4,300 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.

December 2-4, Global Youth Justice will host its Global Youth Justice Training Institute in Las Vegas. Participants will learn strategies to establish or enhance local youth justice diversion programs through student and peer courts and peer juries.

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Credits, Subscribe & Unsubscribe

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Last Modified: 10/24/2014