Standards, Testing & Accountability

Though hardly the only issue to be debated during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act, annual testing has taken center stage in discussions so far. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP committee, put forth a bill that leaves open the possibility of removing the federal requirement that states test students annually in reading and math from grades three through eight—a possibility that has thoroughly freaked out much of the education-reform community.

But as Alexander has explained, he is merely trying to respond to what he and every other member of Congress are hearing from their constituents: There’s too much damn testing in the schools.

But is that true? And if so, is it because of the federal requirements?

A new report from the Ohio Department of Education provides some timely answers, at least for one state. (A bellwether state, mind you.) State Superintendent Dick Ross charged his department with collecting information about the number of hours Buckeye State students spend preparing for and taking tests (not including tests developed by their own teachers). The findings are illuminating (most of this language is verbatim):

  • The average student spends approximately
  • ...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News and City Journal.

Last week, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña demanded that dozens of New York City’s lowest-performing schools adopt and implement a widely criticized literacy curriculum with which she has long been associated. It was the most recent of a growing list of decisions she has made while running the nation’s largest school system that seem to be based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.

In November, the city unveiled its School Renewal Program, a $150 million plan to turn ninety-four chronically low-performing schools into “community schools.” A concept paper inviting community-based organizations to partner with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) noted the approach “is based on a growing body of evidence” showing that “an integrated focus” on academics, health and social services, and other community supports are “critical to improving student success.”

What growing body of evidence? The paper didn’t say—not even in a footnote. Perhaps because the evidence is scant to nonexistent. New York’s initiative is modeled on a similar program in...

The one about ESEA

Cellphones in schools, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, universal community college, and charters without lotteries.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Atila Abdulkadiroğlu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull, and Parag A. Pathak, "Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper  20792 (December 2014).

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at RegBlog.

Most public policy issues fit roughly into one of three categories. The first contains fundamental matters of principle—what we generally call “social issues,” such as abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights. The second bucket includes topics that are more technical in nature: how to make various systems or sectors work better. Here we might put nuts-and-bolts issues like infrastructure or procurement reform. The third category is for issues that have elements of the first two, both fundamental matters of principle and technocratic questions of implementation. Health care reform certainly belongs there.

Category three is also where education reform in general, and Common Core in particular, belongs. There are clear matters of principle: Should all American children have equal access to challenging coursework? Do states have the right, perhaps even the responsibility, to set standards for their public schools, or should all such control remain with local school boards, educators, or parents? But technical questions are important too: Are the standards high enough? Are the tests properly aligned with them—and also psychometrically valid and reliable? Who is responsible for helping schools develop the capacity to teach to the new...

Ohio’s Quality Counts Rating – Poverty Gap Change

In Monday’s post, we examined the achievement gains Ohio has made on the NAEP exams from 2003 to 2013. Needless to say, Ohio’s gains were not all that impressive. In this post, I look at how Ohio fares along the “poverty-gap closing” measure used in EdWeek’s Quality Counts report. (This metric is the difference in NAEP achievement between low- and high-income students—and how that gap has changed over time.) The achievement gap between poor and well-off children is substantial across the entire nation, Ohio included, and thus minimizing the differences in achievement levels is a worthwhile policy objective (preferably, by lifting the achievement of poor students, not through reductions in wealthy-students’ performance). The chart below displays the “poverty gap” trend in Ohio, along with several other states: four other Midwestern states, the four most-populous states, and the national average. Among these states, Ohio had the largest increase in the achievement gap; its gap grew 3.3 points from 2003 to 2013. The state also ranked near the bottom nationally on this indicator—38th in the nation, taken as an average of its math and reading ranks. Meanwhile, New York was the U.S....

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

As I wrote last week, with the ESEA reauthorization process heating up, lots of advocates are now trying to influence the congressional deliberations. Secretary Duncan weighed in this morning. Here are ten things you should know about his speech.

  1. It was fifty years ago today. The initial frame of the speech harkens back to the original ESEA (1965) and its raison d’être. Duncan even cited Robert F. Kennedy. This is a civil-rights issue for the secretary; indeed, he repeatedly used words like “equity,” “fairness,” and “justice” in his speech. But to many, LBJ’s Great Society is also synonymous with the excesses of federal activity; it is the voracious, technocratic, disconnected, wasteful, ineffective, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy. Conjuring up this era will motivate many…but not in the same way.
  2. Civil rights legislation? Given this framing and the news of Duncan’s having been deeply affected by the Garner and Brown cases, I was prepared for the secretary to be explicit that ESEA is civil rights—not just education—legislation aimed at righting longstanding racial wrongs. I also wondered if he would suggest that a vote against strong K–12 federal accountability would be in the same vein as
  3. ...
Jason Zimba

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on the Tools for the Common Core Standards blog.

Standards shouldn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy. But there has been some criticism recently that the implementation of the Common Core State Standards may be effectively forcing a particular pedagogy on teachers. Even if that isn’t happening, one can still be concerned if everybody’s pedagogical interpretation of the standards turns out to be exactly the same. Fortunately, one can already see different approaches in various post-CCSS curricular efforts. And looking to the future, the revisions I’m aware of that are underway to existing programs aren’t likely to erase those programs’ mutual pedagogical differences, either.

Of course, standards do have to have meaningful implications for curriculum, or else they aren’t standards at all. The Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) is a rubric that helps educators judge high-level alignment of comprehensive instructional materials to the standards. Some states and districts have used the IMET to inform their curriculum evaluations, and it would help if more states and districts did the same.

The criticism that I referred to earlier comes from math educator Barry Garelick, who has written a...

You may have missed it over the holidays, but NPR ran a fascinating profile of Jason Zimba, one of the primary architects of the Common Core math standards. The piece, by the Hechinger Report’s Sarah Garland, an exceptionally thoughtful education reporter, traces Zimba’s career from Rhodes scholar and David Coleman’s business partner to “obscure physics professor at Bennington College” and unlikely standards bearer for the math standards that he had so much to do with creating.

Garland makes much of the fact that Zimba spends Saturday mornings tutoring his two young daughters in math. We’re told he feels the math his kids are getting at their local Manhattan public school is subpar, and that’s even after the school began implementing Common Core. “Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent,” Garland notes. “He's one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.”

Some will surely see irony in Zimba feeling compelled to supplement what his kids learn in school with breakfast-table math lessons—more schadenfreude for Common Core critics—but there is no irony. As my Fordham colleague Kathleen...

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form as an op-ed in the Washington PostIt was subsequently republished in the Denver PostTampa Bay TimesSalt Lake TribuneTampa TribunePhiladelphia InquirerCommercial AppealPost and CourierPost-StandardNews TribuneNews Journaland Capital Times.

In November, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush suggested to hundreds of lawmakers and education reformers gathered for his foundation’s annual summit that “the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum.” Furthermore, he said, to “those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: That’s fine. Except you should be aiming even higher and be bolder and raise standards and ask more of our students and the system.” Several Republican politicians, including Louisiana Senator (and gubernatorial hopeful) David Vitter and Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, promptly took up his suggestion, calling on their states to replace the Common Core with standards that are even more challenging.

In theory, this position is exactly right. Academic standards are the province of the states; it’s within their rights to have their own standards if that’s what their leaders and residents want. Furthermore, though there are benefits to having common standards...