Standards, Testing & Accountability

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).

I’m a big fan of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). They do great work to help charter authorizers significantly improve their practices. I speak from firsthand experience—they partnered with the charter office at the New Jersey Department of Education while I was there and substantially improved our work.

But NACSA is more than a provider of technical assistance. In important ways, they help advance reform thinking. The latest example is their excellent recent report on accountability for “alternative” charter schools (or “alternative education campuses”—AECs). Such schools serve very high-risk student populations, including those in the juvenile justice system, with substance abuse problems, who are persistently truant, and more. Accordingly, these schools often fail to perform well on standard measures of student achievement, making it difficult for authorizers to fairly and accurately assess their performance. AECs disproportionately fail to make AYP and are disproportionately represented in states’ bottom 5 percent of schools.

But it might be the case that, despite low test scores, lots of AECs are doing great work. For these schools, because they’ve been identified for attention via state accountability systems, they’re unnecessarily subjected to intrusive state interventions. Currently, only seven states have sought to remedy this situation, creating separate accountability systems for alternative schools. But the ball is most certainly in the court of state governments.

Since states are creating their own new accountability systems via ESEA waivers, they must tackle this issue if AECs are to...

Claim: Rolling back education reform will improve outcomes for students, especially poor students.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

The most frustrating thing about Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, isn’t the way she twists the evidence on school choice and testing, her condescending tone toward leaders trying to improve educational outcomes, or her clever but disingenuous rhetorical arguments. No, what’s most frustrating is that we education reformers have left ourselves exposed and vulnerable to her...

I’ve been in Asia for other reasons (looking into the education of gifted students), but while on the ground in Tokyo, I learned of a fascinating policy dispute that, in the U.S., would be even more controversial.

Compulsory education in Japan runs through ninth grade, but nearly everyone goes to, and graduates from, high school (twelfth grade). Admission to individual high schools, whether public or private, is competitive, and the competition is intense to get into the best and highest-status of...

After a week of insider chatter predicting that L.A. schools chief John Deasy would resign in February, the L.A. Unified Board of Education issued him a satisfactory evaluation—and his contract has been extended through 2016. It’s no secret that L.A.’s teacher union has no love of Deasy, due in part to his support for the parent trigger, his push for student-performance-based teacher evaluations, and his Breakfast in the Classroom program. Most recently, he has been criticized for his handling of the district’s $1 billion iPad rollout. For Dara’s analysis of what’s...

In the next school year, field testing of new Common Core assessments will be complete, and states will be faced with the weighty decision about which tests they will use to measure student learning going forward. Two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), are currently developing the leading options for Common Core–aligned assessments. But states in which anti–Common Core sentiment runs deepest have begun to back away from the consortia (to date, four states—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah—have officially withdrawn), leading to consternation among Common Core supporters and joy...

The “fifty-state review” of educational policies has proliferated into a literary genre of its own. Extant are fifty-state reviews of academic standards, charter school laws, a whole plethora of ed-reform policies, teacher-union strength, and even bullying laws. Add to this growing body of literature the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent fifty-state review of teacher evaluation policies. For NCTQ analysts, it’s not merely the teacher-evaluation tool per se that is important—it is also about how schools use evaluations in staffing decisions. The following are the three key takeaways from this study: First, teacher-evaluation policies...

The latest study by IES attempts to document how American eighth graders compare to their peers around the globe. Using NAEP scores to predict performance on TIMSS, an international test that examines what students know about math and science, analysts included thirty-eight countries and nine other educational systems in their inquiry. And the results? Not terrible. Eighth-grade students in thirty-six states outperformed the international TIMSS average in math, and those in forty-seven states did so in science. In the interest of naming names, the states that performed below that average in math included Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, and the...

New from a workgroup of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), this report maps an oft-overlooked space in the charter-accountability world: How charters that serve special populations, such as students who have dropped out, are held accountable for performance. Two key points emerge (which are really applicable to all charters): (1) Make the charter contract the central instrument of accountability and (2) be open to different yet detailed and rigorous approaches to evaluating academic success or failure. Interestingly, the report recommends not making significant changes to operational and financial indicators or methods of oversight for alternative schools. Approaches...

Dara attempts to understand why Brickman hates Halloween. In the meantime, they tackle Michigan’s legislative strategy for keeping the Common Core, John Deasy’s job status, and the cost of high-quality tests. The TIMSS-NAEP linking study isn’t all bad news for U.S. eighth graders, says Amber.

Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won't participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?

A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?

These are just some of the questions that David Stuit, author of the Fordham study, will discuss with a panel featuring John Kirtley of Step Up for Students (Florida), Larry Keough of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and Paul Miller of the National Association of Independent Schools.

In the next school year, field testing of new Common Core assessments will be complete, and states will be faced with the weighty decision about which tests they will use to measure student learning going forward. Two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), are currently developing the leading options for Common Core–aligned assessments. But states in which anti–Common Core sentiment runs deepest have begun to back away from the consortia (to date, four states—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah—have officially withdrawn), leading to consternation among Common Core supporters and joy among detractors. This has left remaining states in a pickle: If additional states withdraw, will the cost of consortia-developed assessments skyrocket as the fixed costs are spread over fewer states? This new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center sought out answers—and contains good news for those states choosing to stay the course. After calculating the projected costs for consortia-developed assessments, summarizing key differences between the two, and estimating the costs for non-consortia testing options such as ACT-developed assessments and vendor-developed, state-specific tests, author Matthew Chingos found that price fluctuations that could occur if more states withdraw would be relatively minor. For example, even when considering the possible departure of Florida, PARCC’s second-largest member, the price of PARCC’s tests would only increase by about 60 cents per student. If only the fifteen states currently field testing PARCC were to ultimately adopt the tests, test costs would increase by just $2.50 per...

Dara and the Halloween Grinch

Dara attempts to understand why Brickman hates Halloween. In the meantime, they tackle Michigan’s legislative strategy for keeping the Common Core, John Deasy’s job status, and the cost of high-quality tests. The TIMSS-NAEP linking study isn’t all bad news for U.S. eighth graders, says Amber.

Amber's Research Minute

U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study by National Center for Education Statistics, (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, October 2013).

Louisiana recently released A-to-F school grades for the 2012–13 school year. These are the first results from the state’s new accountability system.

I take away three big things from the release. First, states are getting increasingly sophisticated about accountability systems. Second, the changes made by Louisiana’s leaders show that there’s no such thing as a perfect system—to have an accountability system is to make subjective, and therefore debatable, decisions. Third, the early indications are that, as was the case in Massachusetts and Florida over the last decade plus, Louisiana’s strong accountability system is contributing to improved student results.

Here are the facts. Schools are now scored on a 150-point scale (down from the previous 200-point scale), and several changes were made to the measures comprising the rankings. Attendance no longer counts toward scores at elementary schools, and high school scores take into account student performance on the ACT—Louisiana recently became the 10th state to have all high school students take the ACT. The education department no longer gives schools points for students who score below grade level, and schools can qualify for bonus points for improving the performance among their lowest-performing students.

For comparison purposes, the state released letter grades based on the old system in addition to the new ratings. The former criteria would have resulted in both more A-ranked schools and more F-ranked schools. The ...

Senators and Representatives: It’s an honor to be with you today. My name is Mike Petrilli; I’m the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also does on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush Administration; my boss, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration. Perhaps most importantly, I was raised in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s great to be back in the heartland. (Go Cardinals!)

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of the Common Core, I’m here to urge you to stay the course with these standards and with the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Still, unlike some other Common Core supporters, I’m glad that you are holding this hearing and debating the issue of whether Wisconsin should stick with the Common Core. These standards were developed by the states, and to be successful, they need to be owned by the states. Our educators are all too familiar with the “flavor of the month”—reforms that come and go. They are wondering if they should wait this one out too. By having this open debate on the Common Core, you can settle the issue once and for all—and either change course or move full speed ahead.

It’s also true that when states, including Wisconsin, adopted these standards three years ago, there wasn’t nearly enough engagement of parents, teachers, or policymakers. I believe a lot of the resistance...

America’s early teenagers are adept at many things, but when it comes to math and science, they struggle—especially compared to their peers from industrialized Asian countries. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that eighth-grade students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore outright clobber U.S. eighth graders in math and science, as measured by the 2011 TIMMS exams (and to a larger extent in math). Nevertheless, American students outperform the international average, which includes a number of students from developing nations. Meanwhile, this report also cuts the U.S. data state by state. To do this, the researchers exploit states’ eighth-grade NAEP results to predict their TIMMS results.[1] The upshot: We can compare, for example, Ohio’s TIMMS results to thirty-eight other nations from around the globe. (Unfortunately, mainland China, India, France, and Germany did not participate in the 2011 TIMMS.) As with all U.S. states, Ohio’s students, on average, trail behind the “big four” East Asian countries referenced above in math and science. But Ohio does outperform the U.S. and international average. Massachusetts, the leading state in math and science, comes closest to these Asian countries in math, and it even slightly outperforms three of them in science. Well then, kudos to America’s—and Ohio’s—students for blowing away their peers from Morocco and Syria (as one would hope). But at the same time, shame on us all for allowing our students to dawdle behind the likes of Korea and Japan.



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In June, NPR wondered if “Michigan Might Provide a Template for States Hoping to Leave Common Core,” but now things seem to have changed. Has Michigan found a winning legislative strategy for keeping the standards?

At the risk of speaking too soon, it's possible that Michigan has struck the right balance to allay concerns (mostly, but not entirely, concerns on the right) about the Common Core with a resolution that just passed the House after modifications were made by the Senate to the original House version. Following a “pause” of the standards that effectively defunded their implementation beginning October 1st, State Representative Tim Kelly sought—and seems to have found—a workable solution. The deal passed via a voice vote (no one officially registers a vote in support or in opposition) in the Senate on October 24 and in the House today. This development should make most proponents happy: A state has successfully defended the standards while—perhaps—calming many of the criticisms.

To be clear, though, Common Core aficionados will not be entirely pleased. For while the standards themselves seem safe for now, whether Michigan will actually administer the Smarter Balanced assessments seems far from certain. The House-approved language directs the State Board of Education and the Education Department staff to issue a report by December 1st that will essentially contain a menu of options relating to student assessments for the Legislature to consider when...

David M. Steiner

Given the highly favorable reviews and rave blurbs from such diverse figures as former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, one might expect Amanda Ripley's new book on international educational practices, The Smartest Kids in the World, to offer arresting revelations about how to improve America's education system.

Currently, at least as measured by the Program for Student International Assessment (PISA), America's students from each level of family income perform more poorly than students in the most educationally successful countries. Ripley thus sets out to draw lessons from Finland, South Korea, and Poland, which have achieved strong educational gains for their students. Certainly, as we digest—year after year—data on our own students that attests to their middling performance on international comparisons, tragic and persistent learning gaps among different segments of the population, and depressingly high college remediation rates, lessons from the best-performing countries in the world could not be more welcome.

What is thus surprising about Ripley's book is how little it contains that is really news; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven't acted on what we already know. Education systems work when

  • Students are challenged with demanding and coherent curricula;
  • Teachers are recruited from the top echelon of college graduates;
  • We tell the truth to students about their performance; and
  • Teachers, students, and parents are all committed to the difficult work of constant educational progress.

I over-simplify, but...

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