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Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, American education has focused in recent decades on ensuring that all children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, attain a minimum level of academic achievement. Yet our focus on the performance of students “below the bar” has been accompanied by a neglect of girls and boys who have already cleared it, and especially those who soar over it. While it’s true that "federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students," as the group Chiefs for Change has stated, our high-performing students deserve an education that meets their needs, and maximizes their potential. Far too few of them, especially the poor and minority children among them, are getting that kind of education today.

We must persuade our educators and policy makers to attend more purposefully to the schooling of our brightest kids. To that end, Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli recently nominated two worthy individuals for the Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee: M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, and Jonathan Plucker, inaugural Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University. “They have the knowledge...

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts taking a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first three posts can be read herehere, and here.

It’s historically been one of the most common complaints about state tests: They are of low quality and rely almost entirely on multiple choice items. 

It’s true that item quality has sometimes been a proxy, like it or not, for test quality. Yet there is nothing magical about item quality if the test item itself is poorly designed. Multiple choice items can be entirely appropriate to assess certain constructs and reflect the requisite rigor. Or they can be junk. The same can be said of constructed response items, where students are required to provide an answer rather than choose it from a list of possibilities. Designed well, constructed response items can suitably evaluate what students know and are able to do. Designed poorly, they are a waste of time.

Many assessment experts will tell you that one of the best ways to assess the skills, knowledge, and competencies that we expect students to demonstrate is through...

I’m appalled that The Donald might actually win the Republican nomination running on a “platform” of bombast and xenophobia. But like many of you, I’ve also been trying to understand his appeal. A booming cottage industry—shall we call it Trumpology?—is emerging to explain his supporters to the rest of us. Is it the strength that he projects? His image as a “winner”? Is he tapping the anger of the white working class and finally showing them some respect? Or is a significant slice of America still simply, and secretly, racist?

The part of his message that resonates most broadly, it seems to me, is his war on “political correctness.” Some on the Left see this as simply giving tacit approval to prejudice or poor manners. I don’t think so. It’s bigger than that: It’s about our fatigue with politicians and other leaders sticking to their talking points rather than speaking the whole truth. Here’s how the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart put it this week

In the professional conservative world, “political correctness” is confined to the Left. But for Trump’s supporters, who are less doctrinaire, it means something broader. It refers to the things that elites won’t admit but “ordinary people” (or at...

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first two posts can be read here and here.

The ELA/literacy panels were led by Charles Perfetti (distinguished professor of psychology and director and senior scientist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center) and Lynne Olmos (a seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade teacher from the Mossyrock School District in Washington State). The math panels were led by Roger Howe (professor of mathematics at Yale University) and Melisa Howey (a K–6 math coordinator in East Hartford, Connecticut).

Here’s what they had to say about the study.

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Which of the findings or takeaways do you think will be most useful to states and policy makers?

CP: The big news is that better assessments for reading and language arts are here, and we can expect further improvements. Important for states is that, whatever they decide about adoption of Common Core State Standards, they will have access to better assessments that will be consistent with their goals of improving reading and language arts education....

For some, the ivory tower of academia is “ivory” in more ways than one.

Events over the last year showed us that within our educational spaces, racial tension can quickly bubble to the surface. Protests erupted across the country, and college campuses became hotbeds for a new wave of student activism that helped deliver a powerful, inescapable message: As a country, we have failed to address how race fits into American education, and communities of color feel a lack of representation. Whether it was the absence of diversity among faculty members or outright instances of racism, student activists cited myriad reasons for their discontent. Children of color will make up 52 percent of K–12 students by 2021. Will this spike in non-white Americans feel the same alienation from, and even anger toward, what is perceived as a mainstream American education? What can be done today to bridge the gap in achievement—and the gap in classroom representation? We might start with culturally responsive school curricula.

As many have said before me, education plays a major role in framing American culture and identity. Through our schools, we reflect on which “ideas, phrases, and principles...are woven into the fabric of the nation,” argues my...

M. René Islas

A new study, Public Pre-K and Test Taking for the NYC Gifted & Talented Programs: Forging a Path to Equity, released by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, discovered a positive side effect of participating in New York City's public pre-Kindergarten programs: more interest in gifted and talented programs by parents and their children. This unintended outcome is particularly promising because it increases the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that want access and compete for a chance to be in advanced academic programs.

According to Ying Lu, the study's lead author, "whether a student attends a public pre-k program is the strongest predictor of whether the student takes the gifted and talented test." Lu continues, "there is a compelling need to create public awareness of educational opportunities to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access to them.”

While participating in pre-K may not be the silver bullet for increasing the equitable participation in gifted and talented programs among high-potential disadvantaged youth, it does point to the importance of educating parents about quality options for their children and the power of access to outstanding content, instruction, and expectations in helping students achieve their full human...

It’s well known that students of color are underrepresented in gifted programs compared to white and Asian students. Attempting to understand why, a new study from Vanderbilt University investigates how student, teacher, and school characteristics affect pupil assignment to gifted programs in reading and math.

Researchers derived a data sample of approximately 10,640 pupils from the NCES Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 (ECLS-K). The ECLS-K data tracks pupils from kindergarten through the eighth grade nationwide, collecting descriptive information on student, family, school, and community factors with questionnaires administered to parents, teachers, and school administrators. The authors used this study to extract information on student demographics and achievement, as well as school environment, classroom environment, and teacher qualifications and demographics during the first, third, and fifth grades—times when most gifted students are identified in elementary school. Finally, researchers measured the probability of gifted assignment based on each characteristic.

Overall, the odds of black and Hispanic children being referred to gifted programs are 66 percent and 47 percent lower than white students, respectively. Moreover, when student, teacher, and school characteristics were averaged, white students had a predicted probability of 6.2 percent of gifted—whereas black students had only a 2.8...

A new study from the University of Arkansas examines the relationship between Milwaukee’s citywide school voucher program and students’ criminal behavior.

Controlling for factors such as family income, parental education, and the presence of two parents in the home, the authors used data from Wisconsin court records to compare the criminal behavior of voucher students with non-voucher students. The groups, comprising some two thousand students, were enrolled in eighth or ninth grade in 2006 as part of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system.

The study first analyzed only pupils who were enrolled in MPCP and MPS in 2006, regardless of how long they stayed in the program, and found no statistically significant results. Next, the researchers measured the effects of a “full dose” of voucher program treatment (i.e., students who were enrolled in 2006 and stayed through the twelfth grade). These students were found to be 5–7 percent less likely to commit a misdemeanor, 2–3 percent less likely to commit a felony, and 5–12 percent less likely to be accused of any crime as young adults. (Participants were between twenty-two and twenty-five years old at the time the data were analyzed.) In other words,...

Way back in the days of NCLB, testing often existed in a vacuum. Lengthy administration windows created long delays between taking the test and receiving results from it; many assessments were poorly aligned with state standards and local curricula; communication with parents and teachers was insufficient; and too much test preparation heightened the anxiety level for teachers and students alike. These issues largely prevented assessments from being used to support and drive effective teaching and learning. That doesn’t mean just state tests, either, but rather the full range of assessments given during the year and across curricula.

But the new federal education law creates a chance for a fresh start. While ESSA retains yearly assessment in grades 3–8 and once in high school, the role of testing has changed. States are now empowered to use additional factors besides test scores in their school accountability systems, states may cap the amount of instructional time devoted to testing, funding exists to streamline testing, and teacher evaluations need no longer be linked to student scores. These changes may mean less anxiety, but that won’t equate to better outcomes unless significant reforms occur when states design their new assessment systems.

A new report from the Center...

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first post can be read here

Few policy issues over the past several years have been as contentious as the rollout of new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). What began with more than forty states working together to develop the next generation of assessments has devolved into a political mess. Fewer than thirty states remain in one of the two federally funded consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced), and that number continues to dwindle. Nevertheless, millions of children have begun taking new tests—either those developed by the consortia, ACT (Aspire), or state-specific assessments constructed to measure student performance against the CCSS, or other college- and career-ready standards.

A key hope for these new tests was that they would overcome the weaknesses of the previous generation of state assessments. Among those weaknesses were poor alignment with the standards they were designed to assess and low overall levels of cognitive demand (i.e., most items required simple recall or...

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