Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Stefanie Sanford

This post is adapted from comments prepared by Stefanie Sanford for the Manhattan Institute event on Civic Education and the Common Core.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.” It was his strong belief in education as the bedrock of democracy that made Jefferson one of our earliest and strongest champions of public education.

In later writings, he elaborated that among the core functions of this education system should be to ensure that each student understands “his duties to his neighbors and country” and will “discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either.” He concluded, “The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

The Problem

We are gathered here for today’s conversation because of a growing concern that our schools have failed this basic test. As the invitation warned, “Most high-school students are unacquainted with the Gettysburg Address. Many cannot even identify the century in which the Civil War was fought.”

Results from the 2010 civics test showed fewer than a quarter of all students scoring at or above proficiency in eighth or twelfth grade. In U.S. history, the results are even worse: only 18 percent of eighth graders and 13 percent of twelfth graders scored at or above proficient.

Worse still, only 1 percent of eighth...

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It’s silly season for the Common Core debate, and I’m not referring to the latest outlandish claims from folks on the far right. It appears that Common Core Dystopia Disorder has infected some of our usually rational...

Ever wonder what separates a charter school sponsor (aka authorizer) from a non-profit governing board? A charter management organization (CMO) from an education management organization (EMO)? With so many characters treading the boards of Ohio's charter school stage, even Gadfly needs a little...

The D.C. Charter Board recently released its annual ranking of charter schools in the nation’s capital, showing that one-third of the schools it sponsors deserve a top-performing, or Tier 1, status. Five schools attained Tier 1 status for the first time this year, bringing the total number of...

While the Common Core has hogged the national spotlight of late, standards-based reform is just one of many improvement strategies coursing through our nation’s schools and classrooms today. But will educators’ and policymakers’ obsession with the Common Core hinder the rest of the reform agenda...

No matter what side of the ed-policy debate you fall into, getting effective teachers in front of disadvantaged students is a priority for almost everyone. Yet this new study from  Mathematica and AIR highlights just how far we are from ensuring that lower-income kids have access to the same...

The Philanthropy Roundtable's generally praiseworthy magazine hits a number of topical education-policy issues in its Fall 2013 issue. The first profiles Eli and Edythe Broad's...

The early holidays edition

After lamenting the fact that Hanukkah this year falls before black Friday, Dara and Brickman tackle Friedman’s argument against voucher-school accountability, the D.C. Charter Board’s updated rankings, and the brand-new pre-K bill. Amber gets jazzed about last-minute Christmas shopping—and an evaluation of the Reading Recovery program.

Amber's Research Minute

Evaluation of the i3 Scale-up of Reading Recovery by Henry May, et al., (New York: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, August 2013).

While the Common Core has hogged the national spotlight of late, standards-based reform is just one of many improvement strategies coursing through our nation’s schools and classrooms today. But will educators’ and policymakers’ obsession with the Common Core hinder the rest of the reform agenda? This volume from AEI’s Rick Hess and Michael McShane examines a wide swath of Common Core–related topics—the impetus behind the creation of the standards, potential long-term governance models, the prospects for the development of social-studies standards, and on—but the most consequential chapters are those that consider the interplay between the Common Core and other reform initiatives. There are chapters devoted to teacher evaluation, charter schools, accountability, and education technology, each addressing how said reforms might affect or be affected by the transition to the new standards. For instance, how should we set proficiency levels for Common Core–aligned assessments? And how should we tackle accountability and teacher evaluation in a way that’s fair to educators but, most importantly, promotes student learning? Rather than arguing for or against the standards themselves, this volume takes a pragmatic (though markedly cautious) approach. And if the Common Core standards are to reach their full potential on behalf of the nation’s students, all stakeholders—educators, advocates, and policymakers alike—would do well to ponder the issues posed in this volume.

SOURCE: Frederick M. Hess and Michael Q. McShane (eds.), Common Core Meets Education Reform: What It All Means for Politics, Policy, and the Future of Schooling (New York: Teachers College Press, 2013)....

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The D.C. Charter Board recently released its annual ranking of charter schools in the nation’s capital, showing that one-third of the schools it sponsors deserve a top-performing, or Tier 1, status. Five schools attained Tier 1 status for the first time this year, bringing the total number of high flyers to twenty-three among sixty-eight that were ranked (at least four schools dropped from Tier 1 status to Tier 2 this year). Most schools were in the middle, and eight dwelled at the bottom, where they risk getting shut down. Still, hurrah for the progress the Board can claim. And hurrah for D.C. kids, who can enjoy the fruits of this endeavor.

The fourth round of the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative has concluded with twenty-five applicants in the winner’s circle. Seven are validation grants (larger awards for ideas with the strongest evidence base) and eighteen are development grants (smaller awards aimed at supporting up-and-coming ideas). The grantees ranged from teacher-collaboration ideas to ed-tech groups, from proposals creating free Common Core instructional resources for teachers to parental-engagement plans. For a take on a past grantee, the Reading Recovery program, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

On Wednesday, Rep. George Miller and Sen. Tom Harkin introduced legislation in the House and Senate to expand access to pre-K programs for four-year-olds. The bill largely adheres to President Obama’s proposal (states will have to promise to link pre-K data to K–12, provide state-funded Kindergarten, and ensure that early-education teachers have bachelor’s degrees)....

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It’s been a long and twisty road since the Common Core State Standards were first released in June 2010. What began more than three years ago as a highly technical debate over the details of the expectations themselves has evolved into a far-reaching philosophical and political debate over the value of setting K–12 academic standards at all.

After two decades of broad bipartisan agreement in the education-reform community on the importance of standards as part of a comprehensive approach to improving our schools, many opponents—bolstered by the work of analysts such as Tom Loveless, Russ Whitehurst, and Eric Hanushek—now oppose the Common Core on grounds that standards don’t really matter anyway, so it isn’t worth expending political capital on a bruising fight to install new ones.

The drumbeat began even before the Common Core standards were finalized, in October 2009, when Russ Whitehurst published a paper in October 2009 challenging the importance of state standards. In brief, Whitehurst compared the “effect sizes” of a variety of reforms—on charter schools, standards, preschool, teacher quality, and curriculum—and found that curriculum had a greater impact than any other reform. He also found that there was no statistically significant correlation between the quality of a state’s standards, as judged by the grades that Fordham assigned, and that state’s student achievement, as measured by NAEP. Rick Hanushek ran a similar analysis using standards ratings...

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It’s silly season for the Common Core debate, and I’m not referring to the latest outlandish claims from folks on the far right. It appears that Common Core Dystopia Disorder has infected some of our usually rational and levelheaded friends in the think-tank community, too.

Jay Greene, I’m talking first and foremost about you. Jay thinks he’s found a smoking gun, proof that we supporters of the Common Core, especially those of us at Fordham, have been dishonest when we’ve claimed that the standards don’t “prescribe” a particular curriculum, because of a recent report in which we fret that educators aren’t embracing the “instructional shifts” promoted by the Common Core:

Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance” and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”

Also,

These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune. No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum. Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing ”instructional shifts—ways in which...

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This second annual report on Common Core implementation in forty-eight of the country’s largest urban districts covers a range of topics: professional development, strategies for measuring and collecting data, communication efforts, and the inclusion of ELL students and students with special needs. The survey found that districts are struggling to handle special populations and integrate technology in the classroom and that implementation is lagging, particularly at the middle and high school levels. But not all is gloomy; the results also show promising trends. Nearly all districts reported that CCSS will be fully implemented by the 2014–15 school year, and about half said the standards will be fully implemented by the end of this year, indicating that districts are rolling along, and perhaps even speeding up, their implementation plans. While the authors of the report acknowledge that districts have improved by leaps and bounds since last year’s survey, they reiterate that there is much ground left to cover.

SOURCE: Moses Palacios, et al., Implementing the Common Core State Standards: Year Two Progress Report from the Great City Schools (Washington, D.C.: Council of the Great City Schools, October 2013).
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Does slow and steady win the race? That’s what education analysts are hoping after digging through the newly released math- and reading-achievement scores on the bi-yearly National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The test, administered to around 400,000 fourth-grade and 350,000 eighth-grade public school students, showed the nation’s school kids making slight gains since 2011, continuing a constant climb over the last decade. In math, the average fourth grader scored 242 and the average eighth grader scored 285, both groups up by one point since 2011. In reading, fourth graders did not make any statistically significant gains, but eighth graders improved three points in the intervening two years, going from an average score of 265 to 268. However, the average scorer in both grades did not score at or above the “proficient” level in either math or reading: Fourth graders came closest, with 42 percent reaching or exceeding the mark in mathematics. Meanwhile, the achievement gap between white and black students persisted, and the gap between white and Hispanic students did the same (though the eighth-grade Hispanic cohort is steadily closing the gap in reading scores). But if the average state played the turtle in this fable, there were a few states that played the hare: Tennessee, the District of Columbia, and Defense Department schools were the only entities to produce statistically significant gains across both subjects and grades (Tony Bennett’s Indiana also did well, posting significant gains in fourth-grade math and reading). As to whether or not the gains...

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The follicly defeated edition

Mike and Brickman celebrate the miraculous survival of skydivers whose plane crashed in midair—but they were never in any danger, since the hot air emanating from Bill de Blasio’s campaign would have saved them anyway. Safely on the ground, they discuss the future of the Common Core in Florida and Mike’s anti-poverty strategy, while Amber considers the merits of bribing teachers to retire early.

Amber's Research Minute

Early Retirement Incentives and Student Achievement,” by Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Michael F. Lovenheim, NBER Working Paper No. 19281 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2013).

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