Standards, Testing & Accountability

Seth Rau

Nevada is a state of constant experimentation. From its founding in the days before the 1864 presidential race to ensure an additional three electoral votes for President Lincoln’s reelection to letting the state be turned into a nuclear site in the 1950s to the so-far dormant Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, many forces have used Nevada for their experiments. Knowing its history as a testing ground, Nevada should regulate its new, nearly universal education savings accounts, or ESAs, (current private school students are excluded to avoid a large cost to the state) in a fashion similar to another uniquely legal phenomenon in the state: prostitution. You may chuckle, but there are real similarities here.

Prostitution in Nevada has a few non-negotiables. First, the employees (most are actually non-unionized independent contractors, but that’s another analogy) participating in the work must be tested and examined regularly to ensure the customers’ safety and satisfaction. On the user end, the client must use protection in order to protect the employee’s safety per the state’s regulations. Once these details are in place, however, everything else is open to negotiation. The employee and the client can take part in both imaginable and unthinkable acts within...

In this research brief, Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and David Scott Yeager of the University of Texas compare three measures of students’ non-cognitive skills: student surveys (in which students self-report on their non-cognitive skills), teacher surveys (in which the teacher provides his or her assessment of a student’s skills), and so-called “performance tasks” (such as the famous "marshmallow test"). After comparing these measures, the authors discuss their suitability for various purposes, including individual diagnosis, improved practice, program evaluation, and accountability.

According to the authors, each measure has advantages and disadvantages. For example, although student and teacher surveys are cheap and reliable, they suffer from “reference bias,” which occurs when individuals or groups use different frames of reference in making a judgment. Consequently, schools that are best at promoting non-cognitive skills may score lowest on a survey measuring such skills.

Unlike surveys, performance tasks don’t rely on the subjective judgments of students or teachers. Yet they too have drawbacks. To be a valid measure of a non-cognitive skill, a performance task must be administered under carefully controlled conditions, which may be difficult to achieve at some schools. They are also expensive and time-consuming, with a single task taking...

Those of us who have hoped Common Core would hasten the demise of dry and deleterious skills-driven literacy practices at the elementary level can only be heartened by Education Week’s recent in-depth report on building early literacy skills. The package is deeply practice-based and will cheer those who have championed the cause of content knowledge and vocabulary development as a means of raising proficiency—particularly among low-income kids, for whom early reading success (or lack thereof) establishes a trajectory that is devilishly hard to alter.

Highlights include Catherine Gewertz’s first-rate dispatch on the transformation of early-grade read-alouds: Teachers increasingly ask “text-dependent” questions that can only be answered with “detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students’ own experience.” She focuses on a collaborative effort of more than three hundred teachers called the Read-Aloud Project, which was launched by the Council of Great City Schools and Student Achievement Partners.

One of the most important pieces in the package ever-so-slightly misses its mark. Liana Heiten’s report on vocabulary development correctly notes—heavens be praised—the limits of direct vocabulary instruction. (Do the math: there’s not enough time to grow the fifty-thousand-word vocabulary of a literate adult by memorization or word study...

Last week, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, announced that he’s running for president. He is the tenth Republican to join the crowded race—a group that still doesn’t officially include poll-toppers Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. He’s also the subject of the fourteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Perry has been involved in Texas politics since 1985. He started out as a state representative and went on to become commissioner of agriculture, lieutenant governor under George W. Bush, and governor, a role he assumed when Bush was himself elected president. This will be Perry’s second run for the White House, having also tried back in 2012. He’s said much on education. Here’s a sampling:

1. Common Core: “It’s a Tenth Amendment issue. If you want Washington, if you want to implement their standards, that’s your call....We certainly had higher standards than [Common Core], so it was a very easy decision for Texans, myself and the legislature included, to basically say we still believe that Texans know how to best run Texas.” August 2014.

2. Charter schools: “Not every child learns for the same purpose, not every child thrives in the...

The year was 2013. Bruce Springsteen was on the European leg of his “Wrecking Ball” tour. Seagulls squawked warily on the freshly rebuilt piers of the Jersey Shore. And here’s what Governor Chris Christie had to say about Common Core: "We are doing Common Core in New Jersey, and we're going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not.” Ah yes—rousing if uncharacteristically unprofane words from the state’s chief executive. But after countless years (actually, we counted; it was a little less than two) of study and consideration, Christie is now signaling his intent to abandon the Common Core standards he once championed. You can only imagine our shock at the sudden inconstancy of this resolute man, especially when New Jersey is only in the very first stages of implementing the CCSS-aligned PARCC tests. But at least we know that this reversal isn’t some cynical ploy to grab conservative support in the 2016 Republican primary. After all, what would be the point? His chances of seeing the Oval Office on anything other than a school trip are sinking faster than a fat guy thrown off the...

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, joined the presidential race this week. He’s currently competing against eight other Republicans for the party’s nomination—a number that promises to grow as the year goes on. He’s also the subject of the thirteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Graham has served in the Senate since 2003. Before that, he was a four-term representative in the House and served one term in the state legislature. This, however, is his first time running for the White House. Over his long political tenure, he’s said much about education. Here are some of his views:

1. Common Core (2014): “The Obama administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core....Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama administration should be handling education policy.” February 2014.

2. Common Core (2013): “What's Common Core?...I'll address it. I don't know what it is. Sounds like a bad idea. I'll tell my staff, and I'll try...

On May 18, another bill aimed at repealing Common Core in Ohio was introduced. House Bill 212 is far more troublesome than its many predecessors, mainly because it aims to do far more than repeal Common Core. Legislators should put this bill out to pasture, and here’s why.

The war on assessments

HB 212’s worst offense is that it declares war on a rigorous assessment system. First, the bill’s text calls for the adoption of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core standards. (We've talked before about why Massachusetts decided to move away from its previous standards in favor of Common Core, and questioned why Ohio would want to pick up another state’s standards when that state has already decided they were no longer good enough.) In an effort to align standards with assessments, HB 212 also calls for the use of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core tests—which is logical in this circumstance and definitely not the worst option as far as tests go. (This past year, Massachusetts allowed districts to choose between the state test, MCAS, and PARCC). Unfortunately, HB 212 also allows for the adoption of another test—the state assessments administered in Iowa prior to 2010. Currently, Iowa is...

When it comes to the raucous debate over standardized testing, cooler heads might just prevail. In a recent move, PARCC announced changes to its exams starting in 2015–16. PARCC is a consortium of states working to design assessments aligned to the Common Core standards in math and English language arts; Ohio and ten other states administered PARCC for the first time in the 2014–15 school year. Dr. Richard A. Ross, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, sits on its governing board.

On May 20, the governing board voted in favor of two key changes that should alleviate some of the logistical burdens schools faced when administering these exams: eliminating one of the two “testing windows” and reducing the amount of testing time by roughly ninety minutes in all tested grades.

Collapsing two testing windows into one

The spring 2015 testing window for PARCC extended from mid-February to mid-May. That’s a long time. Of course, schools were not required to administer exams throughout the full testing window—they could use as few or as many of the days within the window as they needed. But for students, parents, and educators, the three-month window probably made “testing season” feel unusually long...

George Pataki, the former three-term governor of New York, announced today that he’s running for president. He’s the eighth Republican to do so and the second in two days (Rick Santorum declared yesterday). He’s also the subject of the eleventh installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Pataki defeated Mario Cuomo back in 1994 to win the governorship of the Empire State, an office he held until 2006. In fact, he’s never lost an election. In 1982, he won the mayoral seat in Peekskill, NY. He was elected to the state assembly two years later, and to the state senate in 1992. He’s had a long, successful career—so long that if he wins in 2016, he’ll be the oldest American president in history. And during that time, he’s formed some strong opinions about education:

1. Common Core: “I oppose Common Core. I think it's a terrible idea.”...

  • Like raucous pep rallies, autumn school-supply binges, and despising every page of Ethan Frome, there’s something comfortingly banal about multiple choice tests. But there have always been doubts about the benefits of having kids choose between four potential antonyms for “circumscribe.” As a corrective, the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature sections devoted to “performance tasks”—longer, in-depth assignments designed to evaluate strategic and critical thinking. The new approach combines a short classroom activity with complex individual components, such as argumentative essays or multi-step math problems. While advocates claim that the exercises give a fuller picture of students’ mastery over the material, some teachers lament lost instructional time and fret about the difficulties of implementation. We’ll know which side was right later this year, when Fordham releases its review of the next-generation assessments; until then, it’s usually safe to fill in “All of the above.”
  • In life, unlike in multiple choice exams, the correct answer isn’t always presented as part of a menu of options. You either know the quadratic formula or you don’t; either you can make a persuasive argument or you can’t. It is therefore critical to teach kids valuable skills for their future lives, and
  • ...

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