Standards, Testing & Accountability

Morgan Polikoff

Of all the current political threats to the Common Core, the most dangerous is the brewing backlash from the teachers' unions. To be sure, the GOP-Tea Party rebellion against federal intrusion is also threatening and holds the possibility of leading to repeal in several states. However, I don't view that threat as particularly solvable—there's no policy tweak or line of argument that would convince those folks to change their minds in any major way. In contrast, the threat from teachers and the unions is relatively easily solved.

Both major unions have been vocal advocates of the Common Core so far, including conducting polls showing most teachers support the standards and building partnerships with tech companies to spur implementation. However, there are signs that support is wavering. In particular, Randi Weingarten (head of AFT) has been treading an increasingly fine line on Common Core—supportive of the standards, but also saying their implementation is 'far worse' than the Obamacare rollout and bashing teacher-evaluation policies in the same breath as she critiques Common Core. (Just yesterday, the NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel piled on with harsh words of his own.)

Let's be clear—the growing union pushback is to some extent about teacher evaluation. (How much one thinks it's really about evaluation probably depends on where one stands on the unions more generally.) But there is no inherent reason why Common Core and new teacher-evaluation policies have to be linked with one another. One need not have common standards to redesign teacher evaluation, and vice versa. The major unforced...

Oops, he did it again. Eric Owens, the infamous Daily Caller “reporter” who has never seen a silly math problem he wasn’t willing to ascribe to the Common Core (the truth be damned!), has published yet another howler deploring a math problem purportedly of Common Core lineage. But this time he trades his trademark dishonesty for mathematical ignorance.

This flawed “front-end estimation” method wasn’t invented by the people behind Common Core. The concept—which refers to the correct answer to an addition problem as merely “reasonable” and allows students to be off by over 22 percent in their estimation—has been around for decades.

At the same time, the methodology is aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which attempts to standardize various K–12 curricula around the country.

This math lesson is just one more in the constantly burgeoning inventory of hideous Common Core math problems.

Being mathematically ignorant myself, I asked Jason Zimba, a lead author of the Common Core standards, if the standards do in fact promote this approach. Here’s what he had to say:

State standards have always set expectations for estimating the results of computations. Here for example was one of the previous California standards from grade 3:

“Use estimation to verify the reasonableness of calculated results.”

And here was one of the previous Indiana standards from grade 2:

“Use estimation to decide whether answers are reasonable in addition problems.”

And here was one of the previous Massachusetts standards from grade

...

If you want to understand why supporters of the Common Core are frustrated—OK, exasperated—by some of our opponents’ seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate, consider this latest episode.

On Monday, EAG News published an article entitled, “Common Core math question for sixth graders: Was the 2000 election ‘fair’?

Would you ever consider the question ‘Whom do you want to be president?’ to be asked of your third grader during a math class (or any class)?

Would you expect your fourth grader to be asked to create a chart of presidents along with their political persuasions? Or, how about a discussion on whether the 2000 presidential election resulted in a “fair” outcome? Or, what if the teacher for your sixth grader was advised to “be prepared” to discuss the “politically charged” 2000 election - all during math.

Common Core aligned, of course.

This was picked up by the Daily Caller’s Eric Owens on Wednesday, who piled on via his article, “Common Core MATH lesson plans attack Reagan, list Lincoln’s religion as ‘liberal’”

Another week has gone by and, like clockwork, some more hilariously awful Common Core math lessons have oozed out of the woodwork.

And the story jumped to cable news this morning on a Fox segment, “Common Core lesson lists Abraham Lincoln as a liberal.”

So this is pretty damning for the Common Core, right?

Wrong.

Let’s...

The fancy-footwork edition

Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures.

Amber's Research Minute

Choosing the Right Growth Measure,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, Education Next 14(2).

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

Mr. President: please, please, please, please, please, please don’t mention the Common Core.

A tribute to the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

A tribute to the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

Learn about E. D. Hirsch in this short video that follows his career, how he came to develop the Core Knowledge curriculum, and his thoughts on the future of the Common Core. Featured in the video are prominent education reformers such as David Coleman, Joel Klein, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Tom Birmingham, Randi Weingarten, Valarie Lewis, Sol Stern, Kati Haycock, and Dan Willingham.

The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

Our slim new book Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core has three large aims. First, it pays tribute to three decades of scholarship and service to American education by E. D. (Don) Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy (and three other prescient books on education reform) and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. Second, it restates the case for a sequential, content-rich curriculum for America’s elementary and middle schools. Third, it strives to chart a course for the future, a future in which many more schools embrace Hirsch’s Core Knowledge program—or...

Pop quiz! Which of the following statements is in the Common Core State Standards?

(a) Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge.

(b) By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas.

(c) At a curricular or instructional level, texts—within and across grade levels—need to be selected around topics or themes that systematically develop...

While presenting his 2014–15 budget for New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his education priorities, proposing (among other things) a $1.5 billion pre-Kindergarten expansion to be funded—without a tax increase (as per his repeated pledges to reduce taxes). That didn’t satisfy New York City’s new super-liberal mayor Bill de Blasio, who said “no dice”; he too wants to expand pre-school, but insists on doing so by raising taxes on the wealthy (as per his own campaign promise). It’s all about the kids, right?

In Texas, opening statements were made on Tuesday in the...

As the Common Core debate rages on in blogs and statehouses, educators are getting on with the business of putting these standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them and their schools. (For example: “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does...

Does the poverty level of a school impact how much a teacher improves (or not) over time? Analysts at CALDER sought the answer by studying elementary-school math teachers (at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels) in self-contained classrooms in North Carolina and Florida over time (eleven years for North Carolina and eight for Florida). The bottom line: They found no systematic relationship between school-poverty rates and how teachers performed over time as measured by value-added scores. In both high-poverty schools (over 60 percent students receiving a free or reduced-price lunches) and lower-poverty schools (fewer than 60 percent), teacher performance improves fastest during...

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

Learn about E. D. Hirsch in this short video that follows his career, how he came to develop the Core Knowledge curriculum, and his thoughts on the future of the Common Core. Featured in the video are prominent education reformers such as David Coleman, Joel Klein, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Tom Birmingham, Randi Weingarten, Valarie Lewis, Sol Stern, Kati Haycock, and Dan Willingham.

With all the controversy regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it’s easy to forget that there is another piece to the puzzle: the new standards are surely important and an improvement for most states, but in addition to strong state standards, the assessments aligned to the standards need to be of high quality if the standards are to achieve their aim of graduating students ready for college or a career. This fact sheet from Education First provides state policymakers and education advocates with a wealth of information on the tests being developed by the two leading test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, as well as the competing test offered by ACT Aspire. The first half of the primer uses a combination of maps, tables, and infographics to systematically present the similarities and differences between the assessments. The compilation of this information into a single, easily readable document should prove to be a valuable resource to anyone looking to learn more about the next generation of assessments being adopted alongside the CCSS. The rest of the document explores a variety of topics, including what constitutes a high quality assessment; how assessment items on each test vary (with examples); the use of assessments for college readiness, admissions, and placement; and factors to consider when evaluating an assessment. Overall, the information in this primer nicely frames the testing options and allows state leaders to move around the assessment...

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