Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Lisa Hansel

Having observed, and occasionally weighed in on, the Common Core standards debates, I’m sure of one thing: no one is paying enough attention to the good work educators across the country are doing as they attempt to bring these new standards to life. Journalists, op-ed writers, and bloggers are doing a fine job of gathering quotes from educators to represent pretty much every possible attitude toward the standards, but so far there has been little research or reporting on the day-to-day work of implementation.

So I was heartened to read Fordham’s new report, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers; it gets inside schools in Kenton County, KY; Metropolitan Nashville, TN; District 54, IL; and Washoe County, NV. Early adopters always face the greatest challenges. It’s much easier to sit back and let others do the hard work—but if everyone had that attitude, nothing would ever be accomplished. These districts should be congratulated for their willingness to lead the way and to serve as case studies for Fordham’s report. No doubt they expect to learn along the way, and our commentary on their work should be in the spirit of helping.

Reading this report, the one way I can help is by encouraging these districts to carefully consider the extent to which they are meeting the academic literacy goals of the standards. As best I can tell...

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Aaron Grossman

The recently released Fordham report on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards includes the work of Washoe County, my district. Naturally, a report like this cannot include every detail, and what follows is how my peers and I concluded that reorienting instructional practice, to emphasize building a coherent body of knowledge through content-rich nonfiction, was paramount.

If you can remember way back to the spring of 2011, you will recall that states and districts were developing their first implementation efforts around the CCSS. Popular approaches involved crosswalking previous state standards to the new standards. (e.g., personification was in the fifth-grade Nevada Standards and now could be found in the sixth-grade CCSS); employing the assistance of national experts who could describe strategies and schemes for implementation; and buying from publishers their new “CCSS materials.”.

It was against this backdrop that my colleagues and I in Washoe found a video of David Coleman, one of the contributing authors to the ELA CCSS, emphasizing something entirely different then the aforementioned. Instead of a strategy, a new set of materials, or crosswalking, he suggested that educators focus on the instructional shifts. The first of these encouraged teachers to build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.

In a particularly provocative moment from the speech, Coleman accurately describes what happens in too many elementary classrooms: the literacy block is extended to account for the reading tests, and because of this, little or no time is left for social studies, history,...

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Angelica Blanchette

If the latest Indiana draft standards for English language arts are any indication, rewriting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for reading seems to be an exercise in futility. I’m not claiming that the standards are perfect—no standards are—but they are strong, particularly in the early grades, where the Common Core Reading: Foundational Skills standards for grades K–2 clearly articulate the early reading skills that students must master to become fluent and proficient readers.

Unfortunately, a careful comparison between the Common Core Reading: Foundational Skills standards for K–2 and the new Indiana draft standards reveals little in the way of meaningful changes.

In short, if Indiana leaders wanted to use this standards review process to improve on the standards, they would have done better to create a companion guide to the CCSS that interprets and extends the standards in ways specific to the state.

The following issues are pervasive in the Reading K–2 standards of the Indiana draft.

·      To echo Kathleen Porter-Magee’s recent Common Core Watch post, one issue Indiana’s educators will face if these draft standards are adopted is weak organization. The CCSS make a distinction between higher-level “anchor” standards (e.g., “RF.2.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words”) and grade-specific supporting standards (e.g., “RF.2.3a Distinguish long and short vowels when reading regularly spelled one-syllable words”). The Indiana draft standards do not retain this distinction. Instead,...

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The Adele Dazeem edition

Mike and Dara “Let It Go” with student free speech, Obama’s federal budget request, and Louisiana’s CTE revamp. Amber confirms the obvious: location matters to prospective teachers.

Amber's Research Minute

New Evidence on Teacher Labor Supply,” by Mimi Engel, Brian A. Jacob, and F. Chris Curran, American Educational Research Journal 51(36): pp. 36–72.

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I vividly remember a seventh-grade English teacher telling our class, with great solemnity, “Small minds use big words.”

For years, this guided my writing.

Until I figured out how wrong, how profoundly wrong, she had been.

And that’s why I’m so concerned about the new SAT’s approach to vocabulary—namely cutting “obscure” and “arcane” words. According to the Times,The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary challenges will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, like ‘empirical’ and ‘synthesis.’”

Over the last 25 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that maximizing the words at one’s disposal is indispensable for two reasons.

First, words enable us to explain, and an infinitely complex world requires an expansive vocabulary so we can be clear and precise.

Jane Austen is known for her extensive vocabulary, which can cause eye rolling: “blowsy,” “solicitude,” “diffident,” “abstruse,” and “licentiousness.”

But as I read her books, dictionary always nearby, I found that every single time she used an unfamiliar word, it was because that word was exactly right; it captured the nuance she intended to convey.

For example, in one famous case, she might’ve used “shy” but chose “diffident” instead.

Why?...

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Discussions about current education-reform efforts are typically focused on three separate topics: the Common Core standards, the new tests, and the curriculum. The alignment among the three seems to receive little attention—though it is a critical matter, as the degree of alignment will determine the validity of student test scores. One may presume that the tests currently being prepared by the two consortia of states are closely aligned with the standards. But in cases where states are making or buying their own tests, there is less assurance.

The creation of a curriculum, the provision of instructional materials, and the training of teachers is the purview of the states. This will lead to what I call “the delivered curriculum”—what the students are taught in the classroom. The degree to which the delivered curriculum matches the standards, as well as the alignment of the test, will determine the degree to which the test results are valid. This would seem to be elementary, but getting it to happen is a daunting challenge.

It is daunting because the standards are considered higher than those now in most states. New pedagogies are required. The training is expensive and time consuming—and there is a question of how many qualified instructors are available to provide the training, as well as how much time already-busy teachers are being allocated for the training. Another question concerns what funds can be made available in cash-strapped states. The degree to which teachers are prepared will inevitably vary among states and school...

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Warnings have been issued. Schools, both district and charter, are scurrying to get prepared. This spring, Ohio’s third-grade students will take a reading assessment, and those students unable to achieve a minimum score will have one more chance to remediate and pass in the summer—or repeat third grade.

This policy, known in Ohio as the “third-grade reading guarantee,” was adopted in 2012 as a result of Senate Bill 316 and was expected to generate some controversy when implemented. That prospect for most, however, was little more than an expected storm on day ten of a ten-day weather forecast. It could be bad, but who knows! Maybe the storm would miss us.

In October, the state administered a reading assessment to third graders across the state. The results weren’t good, with more than one-third of students failing to reach the score necessary to advance to the fourth grade. The ten-day forecast grew into a storm “warning” overnight, but the correctness of the prediction is not a cause for celebration. As with most storms, it’s important to follow a few simple steps.

First, stay calm. There have been times when the reaction to a storm is almost as intense and as big of a story as the storm itself. In some places, this buildup has begun with stories questioning the ability of districts to implement the third-grade reading guarantee. It’s important to focus on the facts of the situation. KidsOhio.org released a report last week that does just that....

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Ohio has the third-largest number of students enrolled in virtual education in the country. And many of the purveyors of online education are, apparently, not producing strong results for their students. It seems imperative that parents, legislators, taxpayers, and virtual-schooling advocates take action to ensure accountability for these schools, which are now expanding again in Ohio after a moratorium borne out of previous quality concerns. Public Impact has published a new report suggesting that what is needed is not anything new or unusual in terms of accountability measures—in fact, the same sorts of accountability mechanisms and processes we insist upon for brick-and-mortar schools can easily be adapted to help assess virtual schools, as well. And it may even be easier with virtual schools, as electronic data is readily available and easily portable in most areas of measurement and reporting. Where it seems that accountability for virtual schools does break down is in their unique structure. For example, on the input side, many teacher-prep programs don’t deal with the needs of virtual education, yet teachers are licensed the same for online and brick-and-mortar schools. Fully online schools are uniquely unsuited to site visits, a staple element of best practice for charter-school authorizing. Student enrollment, grading, and tracking processes may be very different for virtual schools, but they may also represent new ways that brick-and-mortar schools could address these very same issues. In the end, the authors’ findings include a need to focus accountability for all schools on outcomes; to...

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Cole Farnum

I started teaching seven years ago, and I have worked in four different schools in three different states. I’ve always sought schools and environments with higher standards for what students should know and be able to do, as well as higher expectations for what teachers can accomplish.

What I’ve learned, though, is that the definition for these goals varies not only across states but also within school districts—and that’s is a problem for our students.

We need to ensure that regardless of their zip code, our students receive the core instruction that will lead them to successful careers in school and life. The need for a clear standard for what students know and when are why I believe the Common Core State Standards are essential.

Before launching into the now-familiar debate around the new state standards, consider this experience.

In my first week as a sixth grade math teacher at a high-performing New York City school, I met Ethan, a student recognized for his strong math skills. When asked to show me his skills, he beamed at his ability to correctly find the area of an irregular polygon.

I was surprised, not because Ethan could solve the problem but rather because I had taught it to my fourth grade students in Massachusetts years earlier. Still, in New York, that lesson was a part of the state’s curriculum for Ethan’s sixth grade level.

No, I did not lead my former students in math lessons two years ahead of their grade level....

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As the debate over education reforms like the Common Core rage across the country, policy makers, advocates, pundits, and wonks clamor to have their views heard. In the din, the voices of teachers—upon whose shoulders the success of education reform ultimately lies—are sometimes drowned out. The third iteration of Scholastic’s Primary Sources survey (the first two were released in 2009 and 2011) provides powerful insight into teachers’ attitudes towards their profession, Common Core implementation, and teacher evaluations. Of the 20,000 teachers who participated, most showed enthusiasm for the new Common Core standards. Indeed, 57 percent of teachers in Common Core states believe that the standards will have a positive impact on students, outweighing those who believe the opposite by an impressive seven-to-one ratio; 35 percent say they will not make much of a difference. (It’s interesting to note that this view contradicts the impression given by the National Education Association last week.) However, teachers do remain cautious: 73 percent reported that implementing the standards will be challenging, and the same proportion noted that it will force them to make changes to their current teaching practices. It is therefore unsurprising that almost all respondents asked for additional time to find curricular materials and quality CCSS-based professional development (this syncs with our new study). Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from this study is that fewer than 10 percent of teachers believe their voices are heard at the national and state level. Yet 98 percent see teaching...

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