Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Tom Vander Ark

NOTE: This is a repost of a blog that originally appeared on the Getting Smart website on July 16, 2014.

Accountability is a gift. We don’t often think of it that way but, done right, it’s a bargain that provides autonomy, resources, and supports in return for a commitment to a set of desired outcomes. That’s how it’s supposed to work with your kids; that’s how it’s supposed to work with schools. At work accountability provides role and goal clarity like when your boss explains, “Here’s what I expect and how I’ll support you; if you don’t achieve desired results, here’s how the situation will be remedied.

The University of Toledo and and its designee to authorize schools, The Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS), hosted a  school leaders conference today to discuss the next generation of accountability. As the Fordham Institute Ohio staff noted, there were a number of changes made to Ohio testing and accountability system in the last session including accountability provisions.  Following is a discussion of how accountability should work–from students to universities–with a few comments about where Ohio is on the curve.

Outcomes. Let’s start with the question, “Accountable for what?”  I’ve come to believe that instilling an innovation mindset is at least as important as teaching basic skills. However, I’m not comfortable with states incorporating grit and curiosity and the like into an accountability framework. Schools and districts should embrace these important career-readiness skills and dispositions and provide regular feedback...

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Since the inception of standardized tests in our schools, many debates have raged regarding their value. Critics often contend that schools are “testing students to death”, while supporters argue that testing allows for accountability at the student, teacher, and school level. The dispute may continue, but for now, let’s examine whether standardized test results provide any indication of the future educational attainment of the students who take them. It turns out that in districts across Ohio, proficiency on standardized tests (in both reading and mathematics) correlates moderately well with high school graduation and college remediation rates.

First, let’s examine the relationship between proficiency and high school graduation. Figure 1 represents the eighth-grade proficiency and graduation rate for each Ohio district as a point on the graph. Proficiency data from 2007-08 are paired with 2011-12 graduation rates, since eighth-grade students in spring 2008 were scheduled to graduate in spring 2012 under the conventional pathway to graduation.[1] For the most part, we observe a positive correlation between the two variables—the line that best fits the points trends upward.  Our R-squared values[2] (the measure of the “goodness” of the trend lines’ fit through the points), and the correlation coefficients[3] indicate that this link is moderate in strength.

Districts with higher proficiency rates tend to have higher graduation rates and vice-versa. Generally speaking, this suggests that test results are linked to high-school graduation. Yet a district’s proficiency rate isn’t the only factor...

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One of the great misconceptions in education is that the reform movement is monolithic. There have always been competing camps, often defined on ideological grounds. Conservatives and libertarians tend to stress school choice, for example; liberals are much more comfortable with an intrusive federal role.

But the divisions feel more rigid today than at any other time that I can recall, the rivalries more heated. This is a big problem, one we need to get a handle on lest school reform go the way of Syria, with rival factions spending more time clobbering each other than fighting a common foe.

I was reminded of this on Friday, when I had the honor to speak to the nation’s state superintendents. During a panel session on the Common Core, I made an off-hand comment that riled several of those in attendance. “Let’s be careful about the happy talk,” I said, “about Common Core and teacher evaluations peacefully coexisting.” I went on, “It’s not hard to understand why teachers are nervous when we tell them that we expect them to teach to new, higher standards but that their heads are on the chopping block if they don’t succeed.” We should allow for a pause in the consequences associated with the evaluations, I argued, echoing a recent statement from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Not surprisingly, this rankled the handful of state supes who are pushing hard on the teacher accountability agenda. And upon reflection, I can...

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Articles of the week from the Education Gadfly

Whither the NEA?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | July 9, 2014 | Flypaper

On school discipline, let’s not repeat all our old mistakes
Michael Petrilli, @MichaelPetrilli | July 8, 2014 | Flypaper

Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
Jessica Poiner, @jpoiner17 | July 7, 2014 | Ohio Gadfly Daily

Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teacher unions
Andy Smarick, @smarick | July 7, 2014 | Flypaper

Fordham in the news

Public schools like KIPP are most powerful as a “direct retort to people who say we must first end poverty before we can do anything to improve education.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | New York Post | July 9, 2014

"Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role."
Lacking Leaders report | StateImpact Ohio | July 7, 2014

Sweet Tweets

I’ve never been to the annual conference of the National Education Association and I’ve never regretted it http://gadf.ly/U5r6GW
@educationgadfly | July 10, 2014

I love this piece so much I'm posting it twice. "The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy’" http://nyti.ms/1ku4SFi #reading ...

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Balanced literacy is off balance

NEA saber rattling, a teacher-quality decree from the White House, and balanced literacy crawls from the grave yet again in NYC. Amber spills about TFA spillover effects.

Amber's Research Minute

Examining Spillover Effects from Teach For AmericaCorps Members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools by Michael Hansen, Ben Backes, Victoria Brady, and Zeyu Xu (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

Common Core watchers out there have probably heard this one before: All the teachers I know hate the Common Core.

There are undoubtedly some teachers who dislike the Common Core, but recent polls suggest that most teachers support the new standards. During my three years of teaching (completed a month ago), most of my colleagues and I liked the Common Core. One reason we supported the new standards was because they gave us more freedom. Detractors claim that standards tell teachers how to teach. But I taught Common Core after teaching Tennessee’s state standards, and while Common Core did give me expectations for what my students should know and be able to do by the end of the year (just like the previous standards did), it allowed me to decide what and how to teach.

Let’s consider, for example, the first literature standard for ninth graders (the grade I taught), which states, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” Most would agree that using evidence to support the analysis of a text is crucial. Students ought to know how to cite evidence instead of simply writing about their opinions and feelings.

That’s all the standard says, though. Nothing more, nothing less.

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The standard didn’t tell me when in the year I should teach the skill. I could spend as much...

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Bad ideas in education are like horror movie monsters. You think you’ve killed them, but they refuse to stay dead.

A generation ago, the infamous “reading wars” pitted phonics-based instruction in the early grades against “whole language,” which emphasized reading for meaning instead of spelling, grammar, and sounding words out.

In 1997, the National Reading Panel was tasked to settle the fight once and for all. Phonics won. That should have been the end of it, but whole language never really died. It morphed, grew a new head called “balanced literacy,” and lived on. In New York City, it grew even stronger.

Finally, last year, there was hope: Balanced literacy was left for dead yet when the city Education Department recommended two reading programs for elementary schools as they prepare to meet the rigorous new Common Core State Standards in English: New York State’s Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum and Pearson’s ReadyGen.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project—the balanced-literacy program developed by Prof. Lucy Calkins, which had dominated city classrooms for more than a decade—notably failed to make the cut.

Why? Under the shift to Common Core standards, reading programs are explicitly expected to teach strong foundational skills, including phonics in the early grades, while building background knowledge and vocabulary, which are especially important for low-income children most at risk of reading failure.

To match the Common Core, reading programs must also encourage students to grapple with challenging texts that are worth reading.

None of these is emphasized in...

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Last week, I had the privilege to speak in front of a group of education journalists convened by the Poynter Institute and the Education Writers Association about identifying strengths and weaknesses in curriculum.

This is a heavy lift for journalists. It’s simply asking too much for even the most seasoned education reporters to develop a discerning eye for curriculum; it’s not their job, and it makes their job covering the instructional shifts taking place under Common Core uphill work.

I referred my listeners to a recent NPR effort to get “super-specific about what makes a good Common Core–aligned lesson.” The reporter enlisted the aid of Kate Gerson, who works with EngageNY, a New York State Education Department’s web site. She’s one of the leaders of New York State’s transition to Common Core; NPR asked her to walk through a supposedly exemplary ninth-grade lesson—a close reading of a short story by Karen Russell entitled, “St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves.”

Great idea! I’m all for reporting that sheds light on Common Core. I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with Russell or this particular story, but no matter. Standards are not curriculum. Common Core isn’t top-down and lock step. Local control and teacher choice rules! This is gonna be great!

NPR’s report continues,

Russell’s work meets recognized benchmarks for literary quality—her debut novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and she’s the winner of a 2013 MacArthur grant. Being new is good, too. “The phrase ‘contemporary authors’ is

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In which Mike offers/threatens to kiss Joel Klein

Mike and Brickman talk poor-quality math instruction and the ramifications of this week’s Supreme Court decision on union dues. Mike pitches a new bumper sticker: “Keep NCES boring.” And Amber is psyched about New York’s tenure reforms.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City,” by Susanna Loeb, Luke C. Miller, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 115 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

USA! USA! USA!

Brickman and Victoria talk principal hiring, Common Core moratoriums, and charter accountability. Dara tells us about barriers to improving schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What's Real and What's Imagined? by Lawrence J. Miller and Jane S.Lee, (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, June 2014).

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