Standards, Testing & Accountability

Vladimir Kogan

The dire findings on the performance of Ohio’s charter schools published by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) have provided the badly needed political impetus to reform the state’s charter school laws. Now, however, it appears that not only are these reforms at risk, but lawmakers are actually considering steps to weaken one of the few aspects of the existing accountability system that works.

If existing measures show that charter schools are underperforming, it seems that some charter operators have decided that it would be easier to change the yardstick used to assess them than to improve student achievement.

As the Columbus Dispatch reported recently, at least one charter school operator is pushing Ohio lawmakers to replace the state’s current “value-added” accountability framework with a “Similar Students Measure” (SSM), similar to metrics used in California. Doing so would be a gigantic step back in accountability and would make charter school student achievement look better than it really is.

Here is some background: The state of California ...

  • Defined benefit pension packages: Love ‘em if they’re sending you a check each month, hate ‘em if you have to think too hard about their consequences. That’s probably the reason we just don’t give them much consideration (well, part of the reason; they’re also slightly less gripping than you may have been led to believe). Good thing the National Council on Teacher Quality put together an informative, concise fact sheet on the realities of our teacher retirement processes. The short version isn’t pretty—backloaded plans with lengthy vesting periods typically penalize teachers who leave the profession early, enter it late, or move to a different state mid-profession. Their escalating costs are also threatening to overwhelm cash-strapped districts. Painful though it may be, we may have to start dedicating more thought to the subject.
  • The Foundation for Excellence in Education has released a fantastic tool that accomplishes two purposes: explaining what we actually mean when we talk about student “proficiency” and clarifying which jurisdictions actually measure anything close to it. Users can see how students are performing in their states, and whether those states’ reporting practices give a picture that resembles reality—or just an illusion.
  • It wasn't
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In the last four years, thirty states have transformed their teacher evaluation systems to improve student outcomes—and fourteen more are expected to follow suit by 2017. Too often, however, states focus more on the design of the systems than on how schools will and should implement them. This report from Education First argues that this is a mistake. We ought to also provide teachers the feedback and support they need to succeed. The report identifies five districts (Aldine, Texas; Greene County, Tennessee; Salem-Keizer, Oregon; Fulton County, Georgia; and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana) that seem to be doing this right—a collection that’s diverse enough in location, racial makeup, and student body size to be applicable to myriad locales across the country.

The authors pinpoint a handful of essential teacher evaluation practices that hold the promise to improve student outcomes. First, schools need to make feedback and support a top priority and treat it as an ongoing process, including regular conversations centered on teachers’ professional development goals. Educators must be an integral part of the process, which creates an environment in which feedback is an expected and positive aspect of the job rather than a punitive one. For example, teachers and evaluators...

Lisa Hansel

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at the Core Knowledge Blog.

Education Week noted recently that there is an increasing demand for bites of curriculum, as opposed to comprehensive programs: Instead of selecting one comprehensive program, “districts are asking to...mix and match with selections from other content providers, material that teachers and students have created, and open educational resources.” That’s awesome—and a disaster.

It’s awesome for schools that have a coherent, cumulative, grade-by-grade, topic-specific curricula. Teachers will have the curriculum as a scaffold, and they can search for materials that best meet their students’ needs on each topic. Assuming that scaffold is well developed, the topics will build on each other, giving all students an equal opportunity to acquire broad knowledge and skills.

It’s a disaster for schools that don’t have such curricula. In schools that aim to instill skills without realizing that a broad body of knowledge is necessary to cultivate them, a tapas-style curriculum will only lead to malnutrition. No matter who is choosing the small plates, we’ll end up with some students getting bacon-wrapped sausage and others getting mostly sautéed spinach and grilled chicken.

A well-rounded education is much like a well-balanced diet....

In the reauthorization debate, civil rights groups are pressing to have ESEA force states to "do something" in schools where students as a whole are making good progress but at-risk subgroups are falling behind. Their concerns are not unreasonable, to be sure. Schools should ensure that all students, especially those who are struggling academically, are making learning gains.

Yet it’s not clear how often otherwise good schools fail to contribute gains for their low-achievers. Is it widespread problem or fairly isolated? Just how many schools display strong overall results, but weak performance with at-risk subgroups?

To shine light on this question, we turn to Ohio. The Buckeye State’s accountability system has a unique feature: Not only does it report student growth results—i.e., “value added”—for a school as a whole, but also for certain subgroups. Herein we focus on schools’ results for their low-achieving subgroups—pupils whose achievement is in the bottom 20 percent statewide—since this group likely consists of a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from minority groups.

(The other subgroups with growth results are gifted and special needs students, who may not be as likely to come from disadvantaged families or communities. The state does not disaggregate...

It wasn't cool to be a "no-excuses," tough-love teacher for poor minority kids in the 1970s. That was the era of access centered "equity" for one and all, and most educators fretted more about kids struggling in school than about boosting their achievement. So academic standards (to the extent that there were any) were dumbed down, and lots of folks just took for granted the idea that environment was destiny. Kids from tough backgrounds, some thought, couldn't be expected to do all that well in school. 
 
Marva Collins thought otherwise. She believed—and said—that "kids don’t fail. Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures—they are the problem.”
 
Then she put her own money and reputation on the line to prove that it didn't have to be that way. Along with a handful of other education renegades of the era (Jaime Escalante comes immediately to mind), she demonstrated that poor minority kids from inner-city environments could succeed just fine if given the right kinds of expectations, encouragement, and instruction. Today, we have plenty of these "proof points" in programs like KIPP, Achievement First, Success Academy, and many more. Most educators now understand that...
  • Teachers have been complaining about it for years: American students are just too hopelessly infatuated with Sophocles, Shakespeare, and George Eliot to buckle down and read nonfiction. Oh wait, no one ever actually complained about that. But schools are nonetheless attempting a shift in reading instruction away from fiction and toward journalism, essays, legislation, and speeches. The move is a signature feature of the Common Core State Standards, which set out to shift the classroom focus to the kinds of informational texts that students will be faced with in college and beyond. Though pairing Romeo and Juliet with articles about teen suicide may seem quixotic, the new method has its proponents. Susan Pimentel, who helped author the standards, claims that “there is enough great literary nonfiction out there that there shouldn’t be a forced fitting” between novels and newspapers. And traditionalists can take heart in the fact that eighth graders will hate reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as much as they used to hate reading Silas Marner.
  • When it comes to all the really sweet gigs, high school ends up being a little like Highlander—there can be only one prom queen, one first-chair piccolo, one class treasurer,
  • ...
Adam Peshek

This is the tenth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav KingslandLindsey M. Burke, and Jason Bedrick.

Believe the hype. The creation of a universal education savings account (ESA) program in Nevada is the most momentous event in the history of the school choice movement. Soon, parents of all K–12 public school students in the state will have the ability to direct their children’s state education funds to the schools, programs, courses, and services of their choice. Along with Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, nearly one million students will be eligible for an ESA in 2016. Despite their massive promise, education savings accounts require a much-needed evolution in the role of the state in education. 

The challenges in implementing ESA programs will be twofold. The first will be similar to any startup: securing funds, setting up infrastructure, creating processes and workflows, etc. The second set may prove to...

A push by some charter advocates resulted in a last-minute amendment to House Bill 2 which may introduce the “California Similar Students Measures” (CSSM) into Ohio’s school-accountability system. This is an entirely unnecessary effort, and CSSM should not be implemented in the Buckeye State.

The California Charter Schools Association developed CSSM, a simple regression model that uses school-level data, to approximate a value-added student growth model. The reason: California does not have an official student growth measure. CCSM is an improvement over using only a school’s raw proficiency results to evaluate schools, and the organization deserves credit for implementing it in California. However, a CSSM-like analysis should only be used in the absence of a proper student growth measure—and as such, it has no place in Ohio.

Ohio legislators should read very carefully CCSA’s own caveat emptor (emphasis added):

While CCSA believes these metrics [CSSMs] are an improvement on the existing measures in law for charter renewal, longitudinally linked, individual student growth data is the ideal source for most appropriately assessing a school’s performance. Because the Similar Students Measure is calculated with aggregate school-level data, it is an approximation of value-added modeling. True value-added modeling requires individual student data connected to the schools...

What is the role of authorizers in charter school policy? It’s a question that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) dive into in this new brief. Based on the assumption that authorizers should be accountable for the quality of schools they authorize and that “authorizer accountability and school accountability are inextricably linked,” NAPCS and NACSA examine recent developments in four states: Colorado, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Fordham’s beloved Ohio (sometimes called the Wild West of charter schools).

In Ohio, a 2012 law mandated that every authorizer would receive an annual performance rating—we were judged an “exemplary” authorizer—based on three components: academic performance of the authorizer’s charter schools, adherence to quality practices, and compliance with laws and regulations.

 Policy recommendations include sanctioning and terminating authorizers that fail in essential duties, defining more clearly what happens when a state terminates an authorizer, and detailing the fate of schools “orphaned” by authorizer termination. These policies are critical and ensure that parents and students are not left in the dark when a charter school loses its authorizer; they also help prevent “authorizer hopping,” whereby schools set for closure (either by their...

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