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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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July 25, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Teacher quality and test scores: Recent studies raise questions

As we reported earlier this week, the standoff continues between our state and the feds over the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

The U.S. Department of Education continues to insist that test scores should play some role in teacher evaluations. Washington lawmakers have refused to require school districts to do so and, as a result, lost the state’s waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

This week, the feds refused Washington’s request to get back a piece of that waiver — the part that would have saved schools from having to send letters home saying they have failed — as most other schools in the nation have failed — to ensure that all students were proficient in reading and math this year.

So what about the substance of the argument? Are test scores a valid indicator of a teacher’s effectiveness?


Comments | More in News | Topics: teacher evaluation, teacher quality, test scores

July 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Uncool in middle school? That might be a good thing

Remember the cool kids in middle school? The ones classmates admired and longed to befriend? The ones whose rejections sent many of us into a funk?

If you’re still not over it, take heart. Turns out, as adults, the popular kids tend to slip to the other end of the social spectrum.

In a study published in Child Development, researchers from the University of Virginia found that by the time they reach their early 20s, many popular seventh-and eighth-graders are often viewed as socially inept.

The researchers tracked 184 students from 13 to 23. As young teens, they were all in the popular crowd, judged by interviews with peers and the students themselves.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Child Development, middle school, popularity

July 23, 2014 at 5:00 AM

How are the kids? Improving in some areas, suffering in others

Housing starts and employment reports give us one picture of the state of our economy, and our nation.

But what about the state of our children and the indicators of their well-being — the percent without health insurance, for example, or the percent of families without even one securely employed adult?

For 25 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has tracked such numbers, which it argues are just as important to the nation’s future as our minute-by-minute watch of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

“Far more attention should be paid to child well-being indicators because everyone else’s future is wrapped up in theirs,” said Lori Pfingst, of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, one of the groups that works with the foundation to collect data in Washington state.

So how are the nation’s 74 million kids doing?


Comments | More in News | Topics: Annie E. Casey Foundation, child well-being, Kids Count

July 21, 2014 at 5:03 PM

No go: Feds deny state request to reinstate part of No Child waiver

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn (Photo by Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Randy Dorn

As we reported earlier today on the Today File blog, the U.S. Department of Education has denied Washington state’s request to reinstate one piece of the state’s former No Child Left Behind waiver.

As a result, most schools in the state will be required to send letters to parents before school starts this fall, telling them their schools are falling short of the federal test-score requirements. By 2014, the No Child law had required a 100 percent passage rates on state tests in reading and math in grades 3-8 and 10.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn had asked that schools be spared the need to send those letters, but the U.S. Department of Education said no.


Comments | More in News | Topics: No Child Left Behind, Randy Dorn, waiver

July 17, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Starting early: IB program moves down to elementary schools

Courtesy Clover Park School District

Courtesy Clover Park School District

The well-known and highly respected International Baccalaureate (IB) program is offered in 21 public and private high schools in Washington state.

But middle schools and even elementary schools can offer a younger version of the IB program, too, and a handful of Washington schools are starting to do so.

The most recent is Idlewild Elementary in the Clover Park School District south of Tacoma, the first IB elementary school in the greater Seattle area and the third in the state.

So what does an IB program look like for such young children?


Comments | More in News | Topics: Idlewild Elementary, International Baccalaureate

July 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

State board protects 17 core graduation credits from waivers

When the state’s new graduation requirements go into effect in 2019, school districts won’t have as much flexibility as some wanted in waiving credits for students facing unusual circumstances.

The state board of education voted Thursday to protect 17 of the 24 required credits from waivers, essentially limiting any waivers to elective classes.

The 17 protected credits include four in English, three in math, three in science, three in social science, two in health and fitness, one in the arts, and one in career/technical education.

The 8-5 vote followed a lot of debate about what the Legislature actually meant when it passed the new graduation law last spring. That law increased the number of credits that students must earn from 20 to 24. It also gave school districts the ability to waive up to two of those credits in unusual circumstances.

It was clear that each district would be able to define what “unusual” meant, but debate erupted over which credits could be waived.


Comments | More in News | Topics: graduation requirements, waivers, Washington State Board of Education

July 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Kindergarten catch-up program yields results in Lake Washington

Photo by Caitlin Moran / The Seattle Times.

Photo by Caitlin Moran / The Seattle Times

Two years ago, the Lake Washington School District started a small experiment to see if it could help struggling kindergarten students catch up with their peers.

It was based on a common-sense idea: To improve, the kindergartners needed more time at school.

Kelly Pease, the district’s director of intervention programs, realized that students who were the furthest behind often were the ones who attended only a half day of kindergarten. That’s likely because many of their parents couldn’t afford the full-day programs that Lake Washington, like many school districts, offers for a fee.

Half-day programs, which the state funds, are free.

So district leaders decided to offer those students the chance to attend a free program for the second half of the day, designed specifically for them.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, early-childhood education, kindergarten

July 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Is preschool effective? Some good signs for incoming class of 2028

For the 9,800 children in Washington who attended the state’s preschool program this past school year, the challenges went well beyond learning to count and identify letters.

Nearly half  4,112  live in families with incomes that are half of what the federal government considers the poverty line. Roughly 10 percent are homeless, 13 percent have at least one parent with mental health issues, and for 12 percent of them, one or more of their parents never finished middle school, much less high school.

But a report from the state’s Department of Early Learning suggests that the Washington Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is making a big difference in these 3- and 4-year-olds’ lives – emotionally, physically, and academically.

The report looks at the results from a new tool that the preschool teachers are using to rate everything from how well their students follow directions to how well they know the alphabet.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, ECEAP, preschool

July 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Debate heats up over flexibility in new graduation requirements

Last spring, the Washington State Legislature voted to raise the number of credits that students must earn to graduate from high school from 20 to 24. The bill passed by a large majority, and the change will go into effect for the class of 2019.

But in the last few months, debate over one part of that bill has risen as sharply as this week’s temperatures.

The law says school districts can waive up to two of the 24 credits in “unusual circumstances,” a term that each school district would define for itself.

So far, so good.

The argument centers on which credits could be waived. While some argue that school districts should be able to decide that, too, others contend that 17 “core” credits  mostly in math, English, science and social studies  should be off-limits.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Excellent Schools Now, graduation requirements, Washington State Board of Education

June 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Don’t call them dropouts: a report on the nation’s nongraduates

"Not all dropouts give up. Lots of us think every day, 'Man, I do want to go to school, ' especially in this economy," says says Selena Jiles, a student in a Kent-based dropout re-engagement program called iGrad. Jiles spends some of her time caring for her cousins including, Gladys Duncan, 5. IGrad was the focus of a January Education Lab story.

“Not all dropouts give up. Lots of us think every day, ‘Man, I do want to go to school,’ especially in this economy,” says Selena Jiles, a student in a Kent-based dropout re-engagement program called iGrad. Jiles spends some of her time caring for her cousins, including Gladys Duncan, 5. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

This is the time of year for celebrating graduates, loudly and happily. Yet we shouldn’t forget the students who left school without a diploma weeks or years before their classmates crossed the stage.

There are a lot of them — 19,000 in Washington’s class of 2013, or about 24 percent of the nearly 80,000 who started high school as freshmen four years before.

Nationally, the number of students who don’t graduate on time stands at about 800,000, according to a new, national report from America’s Promise Alliance, a national coalition of nonprofits, businesses, communities, educators and policymakers.

The Alliance titled its report “Don’t Call Them Dropouts” because many of the 200 young people it interviewed asked it to stop using that term.

They may not have graduated, the interviewees said, but they haven’t given up. Many are enrolled in high-school completion programs or have returned to school.



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