In the final version of news this week, I want to start by taking one final look at testing and educational standards. On the heels of President Obama’s call for increased funding and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) taking a look at the states who are currently granted NCLB waivers may provide some insight into exactly how far we need to come in order to meet the President’s goals. The first article this morning, by Lesli Maxwell, takes a look at how each state with an NCLB waiver plans to revamp its English Language education with a focus on non-native (ELL) speakers. While educators all over agree with the importance of STEM, the lack of literacy skills in many under-performing areas, due to language or economic barriers, needs to be addressed first. It is this connection between literacy and other academic skills that New America’s Lisa Gurnesy talks about in this morning’s second article excerpt. Gurnsey, along with many other educators, actually contends that the increased focus on STEM may be able to help children struggling with literacy, but that the problem needs to be addressed through early education (remember, the president’s plan included increased funding for science at the pre-k level). Finally, to change the tone a bit, I found an interesting news brief from just outside of Los Angeles in the Chino Valley Unified School District. A special needs student and his family are suing the district after the high school baseball team refused to let him play. After joining (and playing) on Ayala High School’s freshman team last year, the boy, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy was cut from the JV squad. Though the boy understands his limitations, his desire to physically participate, if not play, is what is at stake. The question: does the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate that this student be given the opportunity to participate, even if he failed to meet the JV cut-off? Most Waiver-Winning States Revamped Plans for English Learners By Lesli Maxwell, writing for Education Week’s Learning the Language It appears that just about every state that applied for—and won—an escape from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act had to tweak its plan to better demonstrate how it would address the needs of English learners. A weak spot for nearly all of them was how they would guarantee that ELLs could fully access the more rigorous coursework and curriculum expected to emerge from adoption of the common standards. Of course, this is a pressing issue in every state, waivers or not. Here's a quick rundown, gleaned from each state's documents posted on the U.S. Department of Education's website. COLORADO: The state added more detail to its plan to make sure ELLs and students with disabilities would have full access to the more-rigorous common-core standards. That included laying out professional development plans to include a wide swath of school staff, such as content teachers, language teachers, and literacy coaches. FLORIDA: This state's waiver was conditionally granted on the basis that the state will revise how it includes ELLs and students with disabilities so that their performance is fully reflected in the state's A through F grading system. INDIANA: Like Colorado, Indiana also laid out in more detail how it would make sure that ELLs and students with disabilities access the common-core standards and are fairly assessed on them. The state has technical assistance centers that will support districts to do this. KENTUCKY: Another state that needed to beef up the details on how it would ensure that ELLs would get access to the more-rigorous common standards, Kentucky said it will partner with the University of Louisville to provide professional development to all teachers who work with ELLs. MASSACHUSETTS: This state provided more detail on how it will include academic growth of ELLs and students with disabilities into its guidance for school districts that are developing teacher- and leader-effectiveness measures. MINNESOTA: This is yet another state that had to address how it would train teachers to make sure ELLs and students with disabilities don't miss out on the rigor of the common-core standards. (We are officially beyond the old newsroom standard that "three is a trend" and have moved into the "four is a theme" territory) NEW JERSEY: And our count goes up to five. New Jersey, too, had to show how its professional development plan for moving teachers to the common-core standards will address the needs of ELLs and students with disabilities. OKLAHOMA: Make it six. Oklahoma also addresses the common core for ELLs by requiring each school that receives interventions to include a "Language Instruction Educational Plan" for each ELL and provide training for all teachers on improving achievement for ELLs. TENNESSEE: The final tally is seven. Tennessee joins the other six states in having to pledge more to ensure that ELLs will access the common standards. This state also added more detail on how it will factor the performance of ELLs and students with disabilities into its teacher-evaluation system. Notably, Georgia was the only waiver state that didn't appear to have to address any ELL-related issues in its revised plan. In the Push for Better STEM Education, Don’t Forget these Two Pieces By Lisa Gurnesy, writing for New America’s Early Ed Watch This week and next, the STEM acronym will get some major airtime, as the Obama Administration tries to drive home the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in its new budget proposals. The President kicked off the conversation in his State of the Union Address, and he provided some memorable visuals two days ago when he gleefully launched marshmallows from student-invented cannons at the second-annual White House Science Fair. All this talk of science and innovation might lead one to think that literacy and early education are sliding down a notch on the Administration’s priority list. Let’s hope not. In fact, this is an opportunity to demonstrate how tightly linked these three pieces are. We won’t create smart scientists without helping students develop rigorous reading skills, and those reading skills will be hard to develop without giving children a strong foundation of early learning, starting long before kindergarten and continuing unabated throughout the early grades of elementary school. A recent forum at the American Enterprise Institute, perhaps timed to ensure that the literacy problem isn’t forgotten, highlighted the urgency of improving reading instruction. “It is my belief that if we don’t figure out how to teach reading and writing better,” said Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark Public Schools and a panelist at the event, “any kind of school reform will be ornaments on a dead tree.” Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent for Chicago Public Schools, offered his city as an example of failed approaches so far, recounting 20 years of literacy initiatives including the Chicago Reading Initiative and Reading First. Despite it all, he said, the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows “flat” achievement over the years, and a recent analysis of reading scores showed that only 17 percent of students in the city are reading proficiently. The situation across the country isn’t much better. Only one-third of fourth-graders are reading proficiently (often denoted as “at grade level”), according to the latest NAEP scores. This is the impetus for several state-wide reading initiatives. It is also what prompted the nation-wide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading started last year by a group of philanthropies, steered initially by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. For those of us in early education policy, the roots of the literacy problem stare us in the face every day. They are born out of the dearth of high-quality language and literacy experiences for young children, especially those whose families struggle to afford preschool and have little access to good childcare. A growing body of early education studies – including a 2009 case study from the Early Education Initiative on the Intensive Early Literacy program in several of New Jersey’s school districts – show the benefits of a PreK-3rd grade education that includes research-based literacy instruction and is soaked with oral language experiences and rich content deriving from well-stocked book shelves and engaging storytimes. What does this have to do with STEM education? When children enter school with the bare minimum of language skills and little awareness of print, they are likely to struggle in learning to read. If remediation programs and interventions don’t work by the time they reach middle and high school, those struggles can become a huge impediment to their progress in all courses, including science and math. Disabled Student Barred from Baseball Team Sues Chino Valley Unified School District By Will Bigham, writing for Inland Valley Daily Bulletin RANCHO CUCAMONGA - A disabled student has filed a lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District alleging that he's been barred from Ayala High School's baseball program due to his disabilities. The student, David Barker, is deaf and has cerebral palsy and controlled seizure disorder. Despite his physical limitations he's played baseball since he was 9, according to court documents. The boy is seeking a judge's order to force the school to allow him to participate with the baseball team, said his attorney, Jason Ryan Thompson. "They don't want to let him physically participate with the team at all," Thompson said. "They feel he didn't score high enough in tryouts, and that's that." School district spokeswoman Julie Gobin said the district cannot comment on pending litigation. In court documents, the boy's attorney writes that the boy played with Ayala's freshman baseball team, but in December 2010 he was told by coaches that he could not participate on the school's junior varsity team. The notice came after the boy fell short in team tryouts, Thompson said. The boy and Thompson allege the district's actions violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. The boy hopes to be able to participate in practices, winter games and summer games, but not in games during the traditional season, Thompson said. A hearing on the boy's request is scheduled for Feb. 29 at West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, Thompson said. At the hearing the boy will seek a temporary restraining order to force the district to accommodate him, Thompson said. If the boy prevails at the hearing, Thompson said he believes the district will be more open to a settlement allowing the boy to participate on the team full-time. The boy and his family decided to sue to the district because in settlement discussions the district refused to allow the boy to participate with the team, Thompson said. "Because they didn't offer anything by way of compromise," Thompson said. "They refused to compromise." Thompson said the district has rejected a settlement offer that carried no requirement that any money exchange hands. They boy isn't seeking damages, attorney's fees or court filing fees, Thompson said.
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