Flypaper

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that takes 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 prior four posts can be read here, here, here, and here.

When one of us was enrolled in a teacher education program umpteen years ago, one of the first things we were taught was how to use Bloom’s taxonomy. Originally developed in 1956, it is a well-known framework that delineates six increasingly complex levels of understanding: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. More recently—and to the consternation of some—Bloom’s taxonomy has been updated. But the idea that suitably addressing various queries and tasks requires more or less brainpower is an enduring truth (well sort of).  

So it is no surprise that educators care about the “depth of knowledge” (DOK) (also called “cognitive demand”) required of students. Commonly defined as the “type of thinking required by students to solve a task,” DOK has become a proxy for rigor even though it concerns content complexity rather than difficulty. A clarifying example: A student may not have seen a...

A new joint study from the University of Kentucky and Indiana University examines the potential effects of exclusionary school discipline polices—particularly school suspensions—on racial differences in reading and math achievement.

They use a hierarchical and longitudinal dataset drawn from the Kentucky School Discipline Study (KSDS) to create a final sample of 16,248 students drawn from grades 6–10 across seventeen different public schools with a demographic roughly representative of the southeastern United States. Data was collected over a three-year period between August 2008 and June 2011. Authors controlled for school-level variables (within-school variation on percent minority, percent free and reduced-price lunch, percent in special education, expenditures per student, school size, and total number of disciplinary offenses committed in a school in a given year), as well as student and non-school factors (race, socioeconomic status, the neighborhood in which the school is located, and a student’s likelihood of suspension).

They found that black students were nearly six times more likely to be suspended than whites, while other ethnic and racial minorities were over two times more likely. Schools with larger concentrations of black students had significantly higher rates of out-of-school suspension, while students who have been suspended in a given year scored...

America’s schools are staffed disproportionally by white (and mostly female) teachers. Increasing attention has been paid to the underrepresentation of teachers of color in American classrooms, with research examining its impact on expectations for students, referral rates for gifted programs, and even student achievement. This paper by American University’s Stephen Holt and Seth Gershenson adds valuable evidence to the discussion by measuring the impact of “student-teacher demographic mismatch”—being taught by a teacher of a different race—on student absences and suspensions.

The study uses student-level longitudinal data for over one million North Carolina students from kindergarten through fifth grade between the years 2006 and 2010. The researchers simultaneously controlled for student characteristics (e.g., gender, prior achievement) and classroom variables (e.g., teacher’s experience, class size, enrollment, etc.), noting that certain types of regression analysis are “very likely biased by unobserved factors that jointly determine assignment to an other-race teacher.” For example, parental motivation probably influences both student attendance and classroom assignments. The researchers conducted a variety of statistical sorting tests and concluded that there was no evidence of sorting on the variables they could observe, and likely none occurring on unobservable dimensions either. All of which is to say that students’...

A new set of four studies conducted by Pat Wolf and colleagues evaluate various aspects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The program, it’s important to note, prohibits participating schools from using their normal selective admissions process for their voucher kids and also mandates that they administer the state test, among other requirements.

The first study examines how the scholarships affect student achievement. It focuses on the 2012–13 applicant cohort, including those who took state tests in grades 3–6 in school year 2011–12. This provides student baseline scores for kids before entering the program. Students who applied to oversubscribed schools were randomly chosen to receive scholarships. The study found that the voucher program had a negative impact on participating students’ achievement in the first two years of operations, most clearly in math. Specifically, a voucher user who was performing at the fiftieth percentile at baseline fell twenty-four percentile points below their control group peers in math after one year. By year two, however, they were thirteen percentile points below, so at least they were on the upswing. (The results for reading impact can’t be presented with confidence.)

The second study measured the impact of the voucher programs on non-cognitive skills like...

Peter Sipe

One of my favorite pieces of writing is four sentences long. It’s the statement General Dwight Eisenhower drafted in the event D-Day ended in defeat:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

This noble declaration came to mind as I studied for the exams to become an elementary teacher in Massachusetts. I wondered how I should explain if I did not pass. And I still do, because I won’t learn until March 18.

You may be wondering how delusional one must be to compare failing a test to failing to liberate Western Europe. I think what you’re really asking, though, is an estimation question, and the answer would be best expressed using scientific notation. Hitting the books has hugely improved my math skills, you see.

Having been credentialed as an elementary teacher already—years ago, in a neighboring state I will identify only...

Lisa Hansel

Last week, we encouraged state policy makers and educators to rethink what it takes to develop strong readers and the signals sent to schools by accountability measures. The bottom line: reading comprehension is a slow-growing plant, and the demand for rapid results on annual tests may be encouraging poor classroom practice—giving kids a sugar rush of test preparation, skills, and strategies when a well-rounded diet of knowledge and vocabulary is what’s really needed to grow good readers. Assessment and evaluation policy must ensure that these long-term investments in the building blocks of language growth are rewarded, not punished. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have the opportunity to do exactly that.

States also have the freedom to rethink teacher accountability. Because broad, general knowledge builds broad, general reading comprehension ability, school-wide accountability for reading makes far more sense than individual teacher accountability. Every school subject builds the knowledge base that contributes to a child’s reading comprehension ability (you need to know some science to make sense of a science text; history to make sense of a history text, etc.).

Take the comparatively simple task of teaching students to decode. At a minimum, it requires K–2 teachers. For...

If you’re at all interested in Washington, D.C. schools, you should read this excellent report by David Osborne. It serves as a quick and comprehensive history lesson on the city’s last two decades of reform. It also offers valuable analysis of the current state of play and makes a compelling argument about why things landed where they did.

But I think the report’s most valuable contribution is the implicit question it raises about the future. That question—related to the evolution of urban K–12 systems with district and non-district charter sectors—is being faced by cities from coast to coast. How the District (and other places) answers it will shape the next decade of urban school reform. In fact, because of D.C.’s work over the last twenty years and its strong leadership today, it could become the nation’s most important city for systemic reform.

Much of the report proceeds chronologically. If you know nothing about the recent history of D.C. schools, this is a great primer. But even if you’re familiar with the city, you’ll gain a new appreciation for how events and initiatives built on one another. There are many interrelated storylines: turnover in city government, shifting demographics, the creation of...

By Norm Augustine and Rudy Crew

Talk is cheap.

For decades, elected officials, education leaders, and others have consumed much oxygen talking about the challenges facing our nation from countries doing a much better job developing their academic talent.

Despite this the reality is that we have largely failed to address this concern as many of our most talented children are being overlooked and uncultivated.

Across America today, data indicates that a tremendous number of minority and low-income children who have untapped giftedness are languishing academically and might never be challenged to reach their full potential.

This is a result of two dangerous fallacies: that gifted students “do just fine on their own”; and that gifted students don’t exist among impoverished or minority populations. These myths are devastating and push our nation in a dire direction.

The National Association for Gifted Children’s Turning a Blind Eye: Neglecting the Needs of Gifted and Talented highlights an uneven delivery system with fragmented policies and limited funding that inhibit access to gifted and talented programs, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report reveals that few states fully or adequately fund gifted education services and that many have laws or policies that impede access to gifted services. Most...

On the campaign trail, Senator Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to "repeal every word of Common Core." It's a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (which words shall we repeal first? "Phonics"? "Multiplication"? Or "Gettysburg Address"?), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards are now a deeply entrenched feature of America's K–12 education landscape—love 'em or hate 'em.

Common Core has achieved "phenomenal success in statehouses across the country," notes Education Next. In a study published last month, the periodical found that "thirty-six states strengthened their proficiency standards between 2013 and 2015, while just five states weakened them." That's almost entirely a function of Common Core. 

Education Next began grading individual states’ standards in 1995, comparing the extent to which their state tests' definition of proficiency aligned with the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment (often referred to as "the nation's report card”). That year, six states received an A grade. As recently as four years ago, only Massachusetts earned that distinction. Today, nearly half of all states, including the District of Columbia, have earned A ratings....

Any teacher worth his salt can recognize that there are differences among students that must be taken into account in the classroom. Why, then, can’t we acknowledge that the same is true for teachers?

Every time I’ve taken part in a teacher’s professional development activity, I’ve asked myself this same question. Too often, they are deathly boring, tedious examples of how not to engage in the learning process. Such efforts are rarely built on the strengths and weaknesses of individual teachers, and they fail to make the most out of new developments in technology.

So here are five ways to prioritize real professional development (PD) as an important issue and stop wasting everybody’s time.

1. Admit we’ve got it wrong

Two recent reports demonstrate that the United States is underperforming internationally in its commitment to teacher PD. They show how more successful countries tend to promote a robust system of collaborative professional learning that is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders.

This is no small thing: More than two decades of research findings show that the teacher quality is the most significant contributing factor to student success. State-funded PD systems in America are falling drastically behind in this...

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