Press Room NEWSLETTERS
October 30, 2015

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...
Graduation Rate Data
Testing Action Plan
Early Learning Reports
Educator Equity Plans
NAEP 2015: Reading and Math
Supporting Undocumented Students Guide
Odds and Ends
Upcoming Events

Graduation Rate Data

According to new, preliminary data reported by states for the 2013-14 school year, states continue to increase high school graduation rates and narrow the gap for traditionally underserved students. The vast majority of states (36) saw increases in overall graduation rates, while six states saw decreases and eight states saw no change since the 2012-13 school year. A majority of states also closed the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students (28 and 32, respectively), as well as low-income students (23), English learners (23), and students with disabilities (21).

The states that saw the biggest overall gains were Delaware, Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia, and Illinois.

The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) is expected to release final graduation rate data—including the nation's overall graduation rate—in the coming months. The country has posted record graduation rates the last two years. Back in February, NCES announced the highest-ever national graduation rate of 81% with improvements across all student subgroups.

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Testing Action Plan

Over the preceding weekend, President Obama issued an open letter to parents and teachers and Facebook video about student testing. "I've asked the Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that any tests we use in our classroom meet three basic principles," he said. "First, our kids should only take tests that are worth taking—tests that are high quality, aimed at good instruction, and make sure everyone is on track. Second, tests should not occupy too much classroom time or crowd out teaching and learning. Third, tests should be just one source of information, and we should use classroom work, surveys, and other key factors to give us an all-around look at how students and schools are doing."

A corresponding fact sheet outlines core principles for fewer and smarter assessments, Administration actions to reduce over-testing, and examples of state and local leadership in reducing over-testing and calls on Congress to reduce over-testing via reauthorization the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Then, at the National Press Club on October 26, Secretary Duncan and incoming Acting Secretary King joined a panel hosted by the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS). The event featured the release of "Student Testing in America's Great City Schools: Where Do We Go From Here?"—CGCS's two-year study on the frequency of student testing. CGCS released recommendations with the report that call for retaining current annual tests in core subjects but eliminating tests that are either redundant or low quality (video).

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Early Learning Reports

This week, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released a report showing Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge states are rapidly improving the quality of early learning programs while enrolling more children, especially from low- and moderate-income families, in the highest-quality programs. The report comes from the annual performance reviews for the 20 states that have received more than $1 billion in Race to the Top grants since 2011. These reviews capture the successes achieved and obstacles overcome by states in the last year.

Highlights from the report:

  • More than 72,000 early learning and development programs are now evaluated under their states' Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (TQRIS)—an 87% jump since the states applied for their grants.
  • Nearly 14,000 programs are in the highest-quality tiers of their states' rating system—a 63% jump since the states applied for their grants.
  • Some 200,000 children with high needs are enrolled in the highest-rated state-funded preschool programs, 230,000 children with high needs are enrolled in the highest-rated child care programs that receive federal child care subsidy funds, and 150,000 children with high needs are enrolled in the highest-rated Head Start/Early Head Start programs.

Secretary Duncan discussed the report at the annual grantee meeting for the 32 states implementing the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge or Preschool Development Grants or both.

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Educator Equity Plans

Last week, the Department announced the approval of plans by 17 states and the District of Columbia to ensure equitable access to excellent educators. All of these states are taking promising steps to eliminate the gaps some students face in access to strong teaching by implementing strategies and innovative solutions to challenging problems that meet local context and needs. Each of these states engaged a variety of stakeholder groups to ensure their plans comprise of strategies that will actually be effective.

The strategies that states are implementing include, for example, working to support, strengthen, or modify teacher preparation programs so that all teachers are ready to provide high-quality instruction to their students and prepared for success in high-need schools; increasing data-driven decision-making to help ensure that schools and districts have access to accurate, timely information necessary to make constructive decisions; providing financial incentives designed to reward teachers for exceptional work and encourage great teachers to remain in the highest-need schools; and publicly reporting progress to hold themselves properly accountable for meaningful improvement in eliminating identified equity gaps.

The plans themselves and the Department's determinations can be found here. Earlier, the agency approved 16 states' plans. Staff are currently reviewing the remaining state plans to determine whether they meet all the requirements set in ESEA and will approve them on a rolling basis.

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NAEP 2015: Reading and Math

According to data from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), since 2013, national average reading scores have held steady for fourth-graders but decreased for eighth-graders, and national average mathematics scores have decreased for both grades. NAEP 2015 also provides data for states/jurisdictions and participating urban districts. In fourth-grade, 13 states/jurisdictions improved in reading and three states/jurisdictions improved in math, yet no state had improvements for both grades in both subjects. Meanwhile, of 21 districts that volunteered for NAEP's Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), six districts improved in at least one grade and one subject. Reading scores increased in five districts and decreased in three districts in at least one grade, while math scores increased in four districts and decreased in 10 districts in at least one grade.

To learn more, check out a series of infographics and watch the explanatory video.

Addressing the data on a national press call, Secretary Duncan noted test scores in this period of significant transition in schools will "bounce around" but should not detract from the nation's progress on high school graduation rates and college-going rates. "The fact is, over the past several years of this move to higher standards, America's educators have put the pieces in place for generational change," he stated. "That's a long term play—one that we should expect to take a little time to pay off."

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Supporting Undocumented Students Guide

Also last week, the Department released a resource guide to help educators, school leaders, and community organizations better support undocumented youth—including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

The guide includes resources aimed at high school and college students and features:

  • an overview of the rights of undocumented students;
  • tips for educators on how to support undocumented youth in high school and college;
  • key information on non-citizen access to federal financial aid;
  • a list of private scholarships for which undocumented youth might be eligible;
  • information on federally funded adult education programs at the local level; and
  • guidance for migrant students in accessing their education records for DACA.

Incoming Acting Secretary King announced the guide during a roundtable discussion with undocumented students at San Francisco State University, which is a leader in supporting the success of undocumented youth, while Secretary Duncan sent letters to K-12 education leaders and college and university leaders referencing the guide. The agency plans to release a resource guide for early learning and elementary school settings in the coming months.

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Odds and Ends

  • The Department announced a new partnership with Medium to create a vibrant online community for Investing in Innovation (i3) grantees, entrepreneurs, and educators to share what they are learning about innovation in education. Secretary Duncan contributed to the conversation with an entry titled "Moving Innovation in Education Forward," in which he asked, "What if we thought of educators in the same way that we look up to leading innovators?"

  • The Department also announced the publication of two regulatory packages to protect students and borrowers in the rapidly-changing college debit and prepaid card marketplace and add a new income-based repayment plan so more students can limit the amount of their federal loan payments to 10% of their income (blog post).

  • And, the Department announced its intent to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to prepare proposed regulations for determining which acts or omissions of an institution a borrower may assert as a defense to repayment of a loan and the specific consequences of such borrower defenses for borrowers, institutions, and the agency.

  • This week, as part of National Principals Month, Department staff had the opportunity to shadow principals for a day in 85 schools across Washington, D.C., and 10 states. Following the shadowing, principals were invited to talk about the experience with Secretary Duncan, incoming Acting Secretary King, and agency staff who participated.

  • Secretary Duncan announced seven principals from 2015 National Blue Ribbon Schools as this year's recipients of the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership.

  • The Secretary also announced that ASCD is joining the Department and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as the third partner in Teach to Lead, which is focused on expanding opportunities for teacher leadership in ways that enhance student learning and make it possible for teachers to stay in the classroom while leading in the profession.

  • Yesterday, the Administration announced that nine communities will receive new flexibility and start-up grants of up to $700,000 to implement programs to improve outcomes for disconnected youth. Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth are a collaboration of six federal agencies to respond jointly to common challenges faced by communities.

  • Also yesterday, at an Open Education Symposium, the Department and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage states, districts, and educators to use openly licensed educational materials. As part of the campaign, the Department is proposing a new regulation that would require all copyright-able intellectual property produced with federal grant funds to have an open license (fact sheet).

  • Targeting young people ages 14-19, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a public awareness campaign, "Better Make Room," to celebrate students like we celebrate athletes and celebrities (fact sheet).

  • The Department has made available monthly reports from Zenith Education Group, a non-profit provider of career school training that purchased more than 50 Evert and WyoTech campuses from Corinthian Colleges.

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Upcoming Events

Next month, the Administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students.

Schools are encouraged to invite U.S. military veterans into their classrooms around Veterans Day (November 11). Veterans can share their experiences and teach students lessons about the history and significance of the federal holiday, helping students reflect upon the importance of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. (Note: A teacher resource guide is posted online.)

On November 19, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Department's Offices of English Language Acquisition (OELA) and Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) will sponsor the latest in a special series of webinars from the White House Task Force on New Americans. The topic is "Investing in Young Leaders." (Note: Previous webinars are archived here.)

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Last Modified: 11/13/2015