Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Hearings on House Bill 597, the latest attempt to repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core in math and English language arts), started August 18 and will continue this week. We’ve already discussed how similar HB 597 is to the Common Core. This should be a major issue for Common Core opponents—who should be mortified to find the fingerprints of Common Core all over their championed bill—but also for everyone else.  HB 597 doesn’t specifically demand much of Ohio’s to be developed standards, but what it does demand is already in the Common Core. That should leave most of us wondering why we’re even holding these hearings if what proponents want is already in place. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem with HB 597. Let’s take a look at some others.

The most troublesome aspect of the bill appears right at the beginning of the changes: It could all but end state oversight of public schools. The bill text reads: “no state funds shall be withheld from a school district or school for failure to adopt or use the state academic content standards or the state assessments.” Basically this means that even if the proponents of HB 597 get what they want, and Ohio goes through the grueling process of forcing teachers and students to abide by three sets of standards in four years, schools face no consequences if they choose to ignore those standards and their accompanying assessments. In other words, school districts...

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I have a complicated relationship with testing. I refuse to pretend that it’s caused no mischief in our schools—narrowing curriculum, encouraging large amounts of ill-conceived test prep, and making school a joyless grind for too many teachers and students alike—but neither can any fair-minded analyst deny that there have been real if modest gains in our present era of test-driven accountability, especially for low-income black and Hispanic children, particularly in the early grades.

What to make, then, of Secretary Duncan’s widely heralded concession that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and his offer to states of a year-long delay in making test scores part of their evaluation systems?

“There’s wide recognition that annual assessments—those required by federal law—have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus,” Duncan wrote in a lengthy blog post Thursday.

We at Fordham have been among those pleading for some reasonable flexibility in this area, particularly as new standards and assessments kick in, so the secretary’s message is welcome. Some states don’t want to shift gears, but others crave a breather while curriculum and pedagogy catch up with newly rigorous expectations. (We’ll save for another day an examination of the constitutional aspects of all this, as Duncan’s department evidently will be offering states waivers from conditional waivers, the statutory...

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photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

Results from the annual Education Next poll are out this week, and the news is not good for us proponents of the Common Core. Support among the public dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (from June 2013 to June 2014); Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue, with 43 percent in support, and 37 percent opposed. What’s more, the new PDK/Gallup poll (out today) corroborates these trends and offers even worse news, finding that a majority of the public, and three-fourths of Republicans, now oppose the Common Core. Finally, Education Next found that support from teachers plummeted from 76 to 46 percent in just twelve months.

Nobody who has been following the public debate should be particularly surprised, at least when it comes to the overall numbers or those for Republicans. (The results for teachers are another matter; more on that in a bit.) After two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a bit of a miracle that the numbers aren’t even worse. (Still, let’s be honest: these numbers are plenty depressing.)

I see two silver linings for those of us who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education:

  1. While the Common Core “brand” is
  2. ...
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Hearings began this week for House Bill 597 (HB 597), the latest attempt to repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which includes the Common Core in math and English language arts). The first of several days of proponent testimony began Monday. Sitting in on the hearings has offered me a chance to develop a better understanding of the opposition to the standards, and if it wasn’t clear to me before then it is now: These folks don’t want anything that even resembles the Common Core to be used in Ohio schools.

They could be in for a surprise then, because the language of HB 597 borrows, in some significant ways, from the Common Core. During testimony on the August 18 hearing, Rep. Andy Thompson explained that he wanted to avoid the “sleight of hand” he saw in Indiana, which infamously repealed Common Core only to replace it with standards that were remarkably similar. Judge for yourselves if Ohio’s lawmakers are proposing to break new ground in HB 597 or simply recycling.

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What House Bill 597 wants

What the Common

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Results from the annual Education Next poll are out today, and the news is not good for us proponents of the Common Core. Support among the public dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (from June 2013 to June 2014); support from teachers plummeted from 76 to 46 percent. Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue, with 43 percent in support, and 37 percent opposed.

Nobody who has been following the public debate should be particularly surprised, at least when it comes to the overall numbers or those for Republicans. (The results for teachers are another matter; more on that in a bit.) After two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a bit of a miracle that the numbers aren’t even worse. (Still, let’s be honest: These numbers are plenty depressing.)

I see two silver linings for those of us who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education:

  1. While the Common Core “brand” is damaged, the concept is still popular. Education Next (where I’m an executive editor) ran an experiment, asking half of respondents to provide their views on the “Common Core,” and the other half to respond to a description of the reform without the label. Asked the latter way, support jumps from 53 percent to 68 percent; Republican support in particular bounces way up, eliminating any partisan divide.
  2. Misperceptions are driving down support; fix those
  3. ...
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David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University, recently released his seventh-annual evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The study uses scholarship students’ results on national assessments, like the Stanford Achievement or Iowa Test of Basic Skills, to examine whether they are making year-to-year gains. (Elsewhere in this issue, I review the study in greater detail.) The Sunshine State’s program, which enrolls nearly 60,000 students, is akin to Ohio’s EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship (a.k.a., “voucher”) programs.

One of the study’s findings was particularly striking: Private schools in Florida, especially Catholic ones, appear to have a relatively larger impact on scholarship students’ reading scores than math. Across all schools, Figlio found that voucher students made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but posted a loss of -0.7 percentiles in math. The overall math-reading difference may or may not be trivial—there is no test of statistical significance across the subject areas. But larger differences in reading-to-math gains appear when gains are disaggregated, for example, by religious affiliation:[1] Consider the large annual gain in reading for voucher students attending a Catholic school (1.98 percentiles) versus the slight loss in math (-0.25). True, the larger reading gains don’t hold across all school types—non-religious schools seem to make a fairly big difference in math—but it does seem like many of Florida’s private schools are having greater success boosting reading scores.[2]

Table 1: Average reading and math gains of Florida scholarship students by...

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Morgan Polikoff

Nearly all American K–12 students are exposed to it every day. It decides, in large part, what students will learn in school and how they will learn it.[1] It is never evaluated for quality in any serious way, but when it is rigorously evaluated, its impact on student achievement is significant.

No, this isn’t another blog about teachers. I’m talking textbooks. We need good textbooks in front of kids just as badly as we need good teachers. However, from a research and policy perspective, improving textbook quality is a lot easier.[2]

A little-noticed report last week in Education Week described a new initiative to be the Consumer Reports of textbooks. A new nonprofit called EdReports plans to post “free online reviews of major textbooks and curricula that purport to be aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” If they’re careful, credible, and diligent, this initiative could turn the lights up on a largely ignored factor in student outcomes that is ripe for analysis and improvement.[3] And it could even blunt some of the more heated criticisms of the Common Core. Here’s why I think EdReports, and textbooks in general, matter:

First, textbooks aren’t people. There is no union seeking to protect the interests of textbooks. They don’t need due process protections, and it’s unlikely that the choice to replace an old textbook with a new one will result in onerous court cases....

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Neerav Kingsland

David Kirp had a piece in The New York Times on Sunday: Teaching is not a Business. You should check it out. 

My take on his piece:

  1. Language: Dan Willingham has written about how the education debates often use one of two types of rhetoric: either Romantic era words (nurture, relationships, whole child, etc.) or Enlightenment era words (rationality, logic, evidence, etc.). Kirp leans on Romantic era language in a manner that I find overly loaded, though perhaps he would make a similar critique of my writing.
  2. Straw men: As Ryan Hill noted on twitter, Kirp sets up many straw men (arguments he imputes to reformers that few reformers make), as well as just false assertions, such as: high stakes testing should be single metric of success; market or technology based reforms are “impersonal” and disregard educators; firing teachers and coaching teachers is mutually exclusive; challenging curriculum goes undiscussed (common core standards and associated curricula are many things, but undiscussed is not one of them). One could go on. I found this to be the weakest part of Kirp’s piece.
  3. Charter School Data: Kirp notes that charter schools perform at about the same level for traditional schools. What Kirp does not mention is that, in 2013, CREDO conducted the nation’s largest quasi-experimental charter school study. The study covered twenty-seven states and covered 95 percent of students that attend charters school in the entire nation. It found
  4. ...
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Can’t get enough Common Core? The Center on Education Policy’s got you covered with this hefty compendium of over sixty CCSS-focused studies, including several from Fordham. CEP summarizes each, providing brief overviews of the focus, the findings, and the methodology (only methodologically sound studies were chosen). It’s handy one-stop shopping, covering a wide range of Common Core–related topics. Want to know whether the standards are likely to be effective? William Schmidt and Richard Houang’s study concluded that states with math standards most similar to the Common Core made greater gains on NAEP, and the Brown Center for Education Policy’s follow-up, which saw “no clear trends” in student achievement with regard to the adoption of standards, still found that “states with the strongest implementation of the CCSS had the highest achievement gains on NAEP between 2009 and 2013.” Curious whether students were college-and-career-ready before the standards? Check out the 2010 ACT study, which found that a measly one-third of students were ready for life after high school. Other topics addressed by the studies include Core-related teacher training, state and district implementation, and assessment adoption. The biggest take-way is that, so far, the Common Core holds up remarkably well to rigorous academic research.

SOURCE: A Compendium of Research on the Common Core State Standards (Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Policy, August 2014)....

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After more than two years  of community-wide and bipartisan struggles to raise the bar for everyone in Cleveland schools, a sudden and incongruous shift has dropped expectations to a new low, at least for some of its freshman, just in time for the start of a new school year today.

The Freshman Fresh Start was recently approved by the school board of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The resolution allows incoming freshmen to participate in extracurricular activities (sports and clubs) despite low grades that, under the current regulations for all other grades, would make them ineligible. Instead, incoming freshmen are now only required to pass (receive a “D” or higher) a minimum of five subjects in the preceding grading period. (For the first quarter of the year, eligibility would be based on the last quarter of the preceding year.) Formerly, the policy required that students a) not receive a failing grade in the previous grading period, b) maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher in the previous grading period, and c) maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 throughout the year.

It sounds innocent enough, but upon closer inspection, the implications are far-reaching and appalling. Incoming freshmen are now eligible for extracurriculars even if they fail one of their classes—never mind if that class is English language arts or math—in the preceding quarter. Thus, incoming freshmen qualify for extracurriculars even if their fourth quarter report card has all D’s and one F, thereby finishing with a.83...

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