Flypaper

Nancy Doorey

Editor’s note: This is the first 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.

Debates about testing—and state tests in particular—have reached new levels of intensity and rancor. While affecting only a fraction of the U.S. public schools population, the opt-out movement reflects a troubling trend for state and district leaders who rely on the tests to monitor their efforts to prepare all students to successfully transition to higher education or the workforce.  

The recently adopted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), like its NCLB predecessor, requires annual standardized testing in English language arts/literacy and mathematics in grades three through eight and once in high school. While ESSA contains some new flexibilities and even encourages use of much more than test scores to evaluate performance, states will continue to use—and the public will continue to debate—state tests.

And that’s exactly why Fordham’s new study and the companion study by HumRRO are so important. In a time of opt-out initiatives and heated debate, state decision-makers need to know whether a given test is worth fighting...

Reading

PARCC, Smarter Balanced get high marks for content and depth, fidelity to college and career readiness standards; ACT Aspire and MCAS score well for depth of knowledge but fall short on measuring some of the priority content on Common Core, according to Fordham Institute study.

Washington, D.C. (February 11, 2016)—The Thomas B. Fordham Institute today released the results of the first-ever comprehensive analysis of next generation assessments of English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) and mathematics, which examined secure, un-released items from actual student test forms.

The study, Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, found that PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments have the strongest matches to the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Criteria for Procuring and Evaluating High-Quality Assessment in both ELA/Literacy and mathematics. While ACT Aspire and MCAS both did well regarding the quality of their items and the depth of knowledge assessed, the panelists found that these two programs did not adequately assess—or may not assess at all—some of the priority content reflected in the Common Core standards in both...

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been evaluating the quality of state academic standards for nearly twenty years. Our very first study, published in the summer of 1997, was an appraisal of state English standards by Sandra Stotsky. Over the last two decades, we’ve regularly reviewed and reported on the quality of state K–12 standards for mathematicsscienceU.S. historyworld historyEnglish language arts, and geography, as well as the Common CoreInternational BaccalaureateAdvanced Placement and other influential standards and frameworks (such as those used by PISA, TIMSS, and NAEP). In fact, evaluating academic standards is probably what we’re best known for.

For most of the last two decades, we’ve also dreamed of evaluating the tests linked to those standards—mindful, of course, that in most places, the tests are the real standards. They’re what schools (and sometimes teachers and students) are held accountable for, and they tend to drive curricula and instruction. (That’s probably the reason why we and other analysts have never been able to demonstrate a close relationship between the quality of standards per se and changes in student achievement.) We wanted to know how well matched the assessments were to the standards, whether they were of high...

New York State education officials raised a ruckus two weeks ago when they announced that annual statewide reading and math tests, administered in grades 3–8, would no longer be timed. The New York Post quickly blasted the move as “lunacy” in an editorial. “Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits,” the paper thundered. “Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.” Eva S. Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy charter schools had a similar reaction. “I don’t even know how you administer a test like that,” she told the New York Times

I’ll confess that my initial reaction was not very different. Intuitively, testing conditions would seem to have a direct impact on validity. If you test Usain Bolt and me on our ability to run one hundred meters, I might finish faster if I’m on flat ground and the world record holder is forced to run up a very steep incline. But that doesn’t make me Usain Bolt’s equal. By abolishing time limits, it seemed New York was seeking to game the results, giving every student a “special education accommodation” with extended time for testing. 

But after reading the research and talking to leading psychometricians, I’ve concluded that both...

Detroit Public Schools recently made national headlines for the heartbreaking conditions of its school facilities and a widespread teacher “sick-out.” For Detroit, these are sadly just the latest hurdles to overcome: The public school system has been in dire financial straits for many years, while national testing data indicate that the district’s students are among the lowest-achieving in the nation.

A report from the Lincoln Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on land use and tax policy, provides a fascinating angle on the Detroit situation. It highlights the massive problems that the Motor City encounters when trying to finance public services, including education, through its local property tax system. Consider just a few bleak statistics reported in this paper: 1) The property tax delinquency rate was a staggering 54 percent in 2014; 2) roughly eighty thousand housing units are vacant—23 percent of Detroit’s housing stock; 3) and 36 percent and 22 percent of commercial and industrial property, respectively, sat vacant.

The report also highlights ways that property tax policies exacerbate the school system’s revenue woes. First, property tax abatements—tax breaks aimed at spurring re-investment—have reduced or exempted the tax liabilities of more than ten thousand properties. Whether the benefit of these reductions outweighs...

For the past few years, Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution has ranked the nation’s hundred largest school districts based on the amount of school choice they give to families and the degree to which they promote competition between schools. In many ways, these rankings are similar to Fordham’s own choice-friendly cities list, though the unit of analysis and metric differ somewhat. As in prior years, five of Brookings’s thirteen indicators concern the availability, accessibility, comparability, clarity, and relevance of information about school performance—a far heavier emphasis than one finds in Fordham’s metric. The other eight indicators deal with topics such as school closure, transportation, and the existence of a common application for district schools, several of which are common to both reports.

Though not one of the nation’s largest districts, the Recovery School District in New Orleans is again included in the Brookings rankings because of its unique status within the school choice movement. Once again, it ranks first overall. Yet in the report accompanying this year’s rankings, Whitehurst argues that because of its unique circumstances, New Orleans isn’t a realistic model for other districts. He points instead to Denver, now listed second overall and first among large school...

Chris Hoffman

Editor's note: On Tuesday, February 2, Fordham hosted the ESSA Acountability Design Competition, a first-of-its-kind conference to generate ideas for state accountability frameworks under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Representatives of ten teams, each from a variety of backgrounds, took the stage to present their outlines before a panel of experts and a live audience. We're publishing a blog post for each team, comprising a video of their presentation and the text of the proposal. Below is one of those ten. Click here to see the others.

A Design Proposal
For Accountability Under ESSA
By Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows

As a group of high-performing teachers who teach in high-poverty schools, we have learned from our experiences in classrooms across America that the learning gaps among subgroups of students are not the result of differences in the abilities or talents of students, but rather the result of a broken public education system—with differences in expectations, access to effective teachers, access to purposeful school cultures, and access to enriching learning opportunities. These differences

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Ronald F. Ferguson

Editor's note: On Tuesday, February 2, Fordham hosted the ESSA Acountability Design Competition, a first-of-its-kind conference to generate ideas for state accountability frameworks under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Representatives of ten teams, each from a variety of backgrounds, took the stage to present their outlines before a panel of experts and a live audience. We're publishing a blog post for each team, comprising a video of their presentation and the text of the proposal. Below is one of those ten. Click here to see the others.

ACCOUNTABILITY DESIGN PROPOSAL FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS FOR THE THOMAS B. FORDHAM INSTITUTE ACCOUNTABILIY DESIGN COMPETITION

Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.
Harvard University and Tripod Education Partners, Inc.
January 24, 2016

DESIGN OBJECTIVES

Schools prepare children for citizenship, economic productivity, parenthood, and self-realization. For each of these, foundations for success include basic academic skills in reading, math, and reasoning on the one hand, and factors associated with personal agency on the other hand (Figure 1). By personal agency, we mean the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the disposition to actually do the things that...

Susan Dulong Langley

Despite English language learners being the fastest growing population of students in the United States, their representation in gifted and talented education continues to lag behind all other types of learners, including other underserved populations. This raises an important challenge for equity and merits attention.

In The Beginning

As a bit of context for this challenge, culturally and linguistically diverse populations have been underrepresented from the beginning of research in the field of gifted and talented (GT), emerging from Sir Francis Galton’s 1869 Heredity of Genius assertion that intellectual eminence was the domain of the white upper class. This myth persisted for decades, despite such efforts as Howard Knox’s work in 1912–1916 to overcome the limitations of intelligence testing at Ellis Island due to immigrants’ language barriers, potential trauma from the emigration process, and unfamiliarity with local social conventions. However, Louis Terman’s (1925) research in developing the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales continued to perpetuate the myth given his sample of primarily white, affluent males. In addressing the below-average IQ scores for the few Italian, Portuguese, and Mexican individuals in his sample, Terman concluded that he could not say how much of their below-average scores was due to what he categorized as...

Richard J. Wenning

Editor's note: On Tuesday, February 2, Fordham hosted the ESSA Acountability Design Competition, a first-of-its-kind conference to generate ideas for state accountability frameworks under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Representatives of ten teams, each from a variety of backgrounds, took the stage to present their outlines before a panel of experts and a live audience. We're publishing a blog post for each team, comprising a video of their presentation and the text of the proposal. Below is one of those ten. Click here to see the others.

Seizing a Rare Opportunity: Design Considerations for Accountability under ESSA
Richard J. Wenning
January 24, 2016

INTRODUCTION

ESSA provides a vital and timely opportunity to recast educational accountability, repair and build trust, and generate the public will necessary to embrace a hopeful, modernized vision of public education and its purpose. This opportunity is particularly auspicious for school leaders, superintendents, and commissioners of education now beginning their tenure.

The overarching goal of the accountability system proposed in this paper is dramatic improvement in student outcomes and in closing performance and opportunity gaps....

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