Selecting the right school for kids can be one of the hardest things a parent has to do. If keeping up with the latest in education reform news isn’t enough, some days it seems like you need the Rosetta Stone to decipher exactly what principals and teachers are saying when they talk about their school’s offering and programs.
So you’re not left in the dark at the next school open house, click through the gallery to learn some of the most common education terms used to talk about schools and school reform.
Photo: Michelle Pedrone/Getty Images
Instructional scaffolding is a method teachers use to give students support and direction in completing their tasks. Similar to constructing a building, scaffolding is added to help students who may feel overwhelmed by accomplishing all of their schoolwork. Teachers support students in six different ways: recruiting student interest, reducing freedom by simplifying the task, maintaining direction, pointing out critical features, controlling frustration, and demonstrating ideal solutions.
Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty Images
A value-added assessment seeks to measure the impact of a teacher by comparing his/her students’ test scores with scores from the previous year. Value-added assessments do not take into account any factor other than the students’ test scores and are often used to identify effective and ineffective teachers and schools.
There is much debate about value-added assessments. While supporters feel that they are a helpful way to assess teacher effectiveness, many opponents disagree. For example, respected education expert Diane Ravitch thinks:
Value-added assessment should not be used at all. Never. It has a wide margin of error. It is unstable. A teacher who is highly effective one year may get a different rating the next year depending on which students are assigned to his or her class. Ratings may differ if the tests differ. To the extent it is used, it will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to tests. Teachers will be mislabeled and stigmatized. Many factors that influence student scores will not be counted at all.
Photo: Comestock/Getty Images
An at-risk student is a child whose prospects of becoming academically successful are inhibited by the less-than-ideal circumstances of his or her life. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at-risk children experience at least one of the following: poverty, dependence on welfare, one or two absent parents, an unwed mother or parents who have not received a high school diploma.
Photo: Cheyenne Montgomery/Getty Images
When you hear that a method or practice is research-based, it means that there is at least one study that supports it. Before accepting a research-based study as undeniable fact, you should always look at who the study is conducted by, and specifically their relationship to who or what their study endorses, in addition to the methodology. Checking to see if there are conflicting studies and doing your own research can also be helpful.
Photo: Brad Wilson/Getty Images
No Excuses School
A no excuses school is one that conforms to a strict set of rules for its teachers and students in which no variation from the established methods is accepted. No excuses schools are looking to achieve results; they set high demands for students, and an even higher bar for their teachers. Deviation from their methodology is viewed as a risk to achieving results, so they stay the course to hit their goals.
The first charges tuition; some even have an application process. If they are successful at delivering a product—for high school that might be sending kids to top universities or getting high SAT scores—they will attract students. There are no rules for how much they can charge or for their ability to raise rates. For-profit schools are very adaptable to change because they need to continually attract paying customers.
The second kind, according to NCSPE, “is an educational management organization (EMO) that contracts with school districts and charter schools to operate public schools. The most important difference between the two types of for-profit schools is that EMOs usually manage schools receiving public funds.”
Photo: Gary Conner/Getty Images
Common Core Standards
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced Commons Core Standards in 2010 as part of the Race to the Top plan. The standards in math and English-language arts are meant to give students across the country a high-quality education and teachers a specific set of standards. The hope is that mastering these common core standards will give every child a chance to be successful.
The common core standards are a state-led effort and states can choose whether or not to adopt them.
Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Individual Education Plan (IEP)
An individual education plan is composed jointly by students, their parents, and specialists to meet the student’s individual needs. For instance, a student with a speech impediment may have an IEP to specifically focus on improving his or her speech. Individual education plans are guaranteed for students with special needs defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
Photo: Digital Vision/Getty Images
Merit pay is the practice of rewarding teachers—either in their base pay or through annual added incentives—for improved student test scores.
While additional pay is no doubt a major financial incentive for improving student test scores, the impact merit pay has on student performance is still hotly debated.
Demand World-Class Standards For All U.S. Students
What kids are taught in one state is different from what kids are taught in another, better preparing some students for college and the job market than their peers. Stand For Children wants all U.S. governors to commit to implement the Common Core Standards so that all high school graduates will be ready to compete in the global marketplace.
Andrew Freeman is a California native with a degree in history from UCLA. He’s covered a wide range of topics for TakePart, but is particularly interested in politics and policy. Email Andrew |@natureofdabeast | TakePart.com