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...

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In the debate over Common Core, there may be only one certainty: Both advocates and opponents spend inordinate amounts of time trying to undermine their opponents by pointing to the perceived underhanded and manipulative actions of their foes. The hope, I suppose, is that if you can undermine the credibility of your opponents, you can win the day—facts be damned.

Unfortunately, by trying to make the conversation about intentions rather than about facts, important debates can be easily overlooked or obscured.

Take Jay Greene’s latest blog post, “Fordham and CC Backers Need To Get Their Stories Straight.” In it, Greene argues that we at Fordham were being inconsistent—perhaps even disingenuous—in our description of what Common Core standards are and are not. On the one hand, Greene argues, we’ve said that Common Core do not prescribe curriculum. But, he goes on,

“[those 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.”

It's an odd line of argument, particularly given the simple and straightforward position Fordham has taken on this subject from before the existence of the Common Core. In short, we have always said that the only way for rigorous standards to lead to higher achievement is for state and...

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William McCallum

Who I am and why I decided to work on the Common Core State Standards

I am a university-distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona. My doctorate in mathematics is from Harvard University, and I have been a fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In addition to mathematics research and university teaching, I have been involved in K–12 education for 20 years. For my work in this area, I was honored to receive the National Science Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars in 2005 and the American Mathematical Society’s Award for Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2012. I have come to be known in the mathematics and mathematics education communities as someone who can be trusted to care both about the rigor of the mathematics curriculum and about how children learn.

When I was asked to work on the standards, I decided to use that trust, knowledge, and experience to the utmost, to help build a world where all people know, use, and enjoy mathematics. I saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our children’s prospects for college and career, to give them the sort of mathematics education they deserve and need in order to prosper. Our children are no less capable than the children of other countries; they can meet high standards and they deserve the opportunity to do so.

How the standards were written

The Common

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

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

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After a week of insider chatter predicting that L.A. schools chief John Deasy would resign in...

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 ...

The “fifty-state review” of educational policies has proliferated into a literary genre of its own. Extant are fifty-state reviews of academic standards,...

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...

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...

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).

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

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...

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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 ...

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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...

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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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