Standards, Testing & Accountability

Rick Hess opens his book, The Same Thing Over and Over, by asking readers to imagine the following scenario:

How would you respond if asked for a plan to transform America’s schools into a world-class, twenty-first century system?

Then imagine that there is one condition: you must retain the job descriptions, governance arrangements, management practices, compensation strategies, licensure requirements, and calendar of the existing system.

Hopefully, you would flee just as fast as you possibly could.

Red tape stifles innovation, dynamism, and entrepreneurship in public schooling, while creating a culture of risk aversion and defensiveness. These latter two are hardly the features of nimble organizations that can adapt to a changing world; rather, they are the marks of decaying institutions.

Here in Ohio, state leaders are taking note. On several occasions, both Governor John Kasich and Senate President Keith Faber have expressed their desire to “deregulate” public education. That is great news. Yet the task of deregulation is not a simple one. It requires carefully distinguishing the areas where the state has a valid regulatory role from those where it should defer to local, on-the-ground decision making.

The regulatory framework that we at Fordham have advocated...

This post has been updated with the full text of "A troubling verdict."

This is how it starts: You work with these kids all year. You teach them how to do fractions or find the main idea. They struggle; they make mistakes. They get it. They forget it. You keep at it. Some days you go home with tire tracks on your back, but you come back the next day. They’re your kids, even the ones who push your buttons. Especially them.

On test day, you look over their shoulders while proctoring. You cringe. A careless mistake. Another one. You know they know this stuff. You’ve been over it enough. The one kid, he’s bright enough, but unfocused. Always rushing; always has to be done first. Use the remaining time to check your answers, you suggest. “I did,” he says.

Your finger comes to rest on his answer sheet. "Check this one."

This is how it ends: In an Atlanta courtroom, with eleven educators convicted of criminal charges in a cheating scandal dating back to 2001. Forty-four schools, 180 educators, thirty-five indictments. The ones convicted Wednesday face up to twenty years in prison. They were all found guilty under...

In his proposed budget , Governor John Kasich calls for the creation of a competency-based education pilot program. Competency-based education is premised on the idea that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills after they master simpler ones. While that sounds somewhat negative at first blush, it also means that mastering current content quickly leads to advancing sooner than the standard march from grade to grade. Kasich’s proposal would provide grants to ten districts or schools that were selected through an application process created by the Ohio Department of Education to pilot the program.

The competency-based model goes by different names in different places. In Ohio, there are schools that already utilize it but call it something different: mastery grading. (Be sure to check out how schools like Metro Early College School and MC²STEM high school, as well as districts like Pickerington, make it work.) Mastery grading assesses students based on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. Instead of an overall grade that takes homework completion, daily assignments, class participation, and test grades that cover multiple standards into account to formulate an average, mastery grading breaks down a student’s...

It may not be obvious at first blush, but the political fight happening in New York right now over teacher evaluations has implications for Ohio. Governor Cuomo has proposed increasing the weight of a student’s test scores to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, made possible by a proposed decrease in the weight of a principal’s observations. Ohio Governor John Kasich hasn’t proposed any significant changes to teacher evaluations this year, but consider this: both Ohio and New York do a poor job of objectively evaluating teachers  who don’t have grade- and subject-specific assessments, both states allow the unfair option of shared attribution, and stakeholders in each are questioning whether teacher evaluations give rise to extra hours of assessments that aren’t meaningful for students. This leads to a big question: Is there a way to fix these problems?    

Enter Educators 4 Excellence  (E4E) and their alternative teacher evaluation framework. E4E is an organization comprised of former and current teachers. Its mission is to magnify teacher voices in policy and legislative arenas where educator views are often overlooked—despite the fact that ensuing decisions significantly impact the day-to-day lives of teachers. E4E supports teacher evaluations...

There used to be a wry and mildly provocative blog called “Stuff White People Like.” Briefly popular in its heyday, it was described by the New Republic as a “piquant satire of white liberal cultural mores and hypocrisies.” The site’s creator stopped updating it a few years back after landing a book deal. But if it were still active, “opting out of tests” might have been right up there with craft beer, farmers’ markets, NPR, and Wes Anderson movies on that list of mores. Maybe hypocrisies, too.

A list compiled by the teachers’ union in New Jersey, where PARCC testing began earlier this month, claims that there have been more than thirty-five thousand test refusals statewide. On the order of one million young New Jerseyans are supposed to take the test, yet the state data documenting how many of them opted out won’t be available for at least a month. An informal analysis of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)’s list, however, shows that the highest numbers of test refusals are concentrated in communities that are affluent, left-leaning, and heavily white. 

A blue state with a Republican governor, New Jersey features a mix of affluent suburbs...

Last week, I complained that Eva Moskowitz and other reformers weren’t being fair when they described schools as “persistently failing” because they didn’t get many of their students to the ambitious levels built into the Common Core. This is how I concluded:

The move to higher standards means that we need to recalibrate our rhetoric and, more importantly, our approach to school accountability. In the low-standards days, it was perfectly legitimate to call out schools that couldn’t get all or most of their students to minimal levels of literacy and numeracy. It simply doesn’t work to similarly defame schools that don’t get all of their students “on track for college and career.” It’s a much higher bar and a much longer road.

But reform critics aren’t any better when it comes to playing games with the new standards. Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, for example, continue to peddle the notion that the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate because it expects all students to be able to read simple passages by the end of kindergarten. Perhaps without knowing it, they’re making the same mistake as Moskowitz and...

Since its birth in 1990, Teach For America (TFA) has been one of the most scrutinized education reform programs on record. Not without reason: TFA takes a bold, innovative approach to teacher selection and preparation. Instead of having aspiring teachers slog through the conventional education school coursework before setting foot in a classroom, TFA recruits young people from selective universities, provides a five-week training program, and places them in high-need schools, including in Northeast and Southwest Ohio. The research evidence on TFA teachers’ impact has been mainly positive—particularly in math in the higher grades. But somewhat less known is the impact of TFA in the earlier grades. This study analyzes TFA teachers’ effectiveness in grades PK–5, employing “gold standard,” random-assignment methodology. Researchers randomly assigned 2,153 students to 156 teachers—sixty-six TFA and ninety comparison teachers—in thirty-six high-poverty schools, most of which were located in the urban South. The study compares students’ reading and math outcomes from the 2012–13 school year along the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test for grades PK–2 and state tests for grades 3–5. The main finding: Across grades PK–5, no differences in average math and reading outcomes were detected between students taught by a...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together a nice primer on accountability for private school choice programs. Twenty-three states, one Colorado school district, and the District of Columbia presently have such programs, including “traditional” tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and personal tax credits or deductions. Accountability requirements for schools participating in such programs vary. Most states require: 1) a measure of school quality (whether via student assessment data or outside accreditation), 2) determination of financial strength and sustainability, and 3) meeting minimum seat-time requirements. Once private schools are permitted to accept voucher students and public dollars begins to flow, the gamut of accountability measures—and the consequences of failing to meet them—broadens. Programs can differ by testing requirements for students (same-state assessments as their public school peers or tests of their own choosing), how and to whom test results are reported, whether outside accreditation can substitute for testing, and the level and timing of sanctions related to low performance. NCSL’s report provides an overview of the varying ways these accountability measures function in Louisiana, Indiana, and Wisconsin. While Ohio is not spotlighted, it could have been. Ohio law has some meaningful accountability built into its private...

Discussion of charter schools is everywhere in the Ohio news. Everyone has an angle, including a few unexpected ones:

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the full text of "Don't know much about history."

Pop quiz! Try to answer the following questions without Googling: What is one right or freedom named in the First Amendment? We elect a U.S. senator for how many years? Who is the governor of your state? Easy, right? Here’s a tougher one: How much confidence do you have in your fellow citizens who cannot answer these questions as voters and participants in our democracy?

These are among the hundred questions about history, civics, and government on the U.S. citizenship test, which immigrants must pass as part of the naturalization process. It’s not a particularly challenging exam. Would-be citizens are asked up to ten of the questions; a mere six correct is a passing score.

In January, Arizona and North Dakota became the first two states to make passing this test a high school graduation requirement; South Dakota and Utah have followed suit this month. Similar bills have been introduced in more than a dozen other states.  

“I would submit that a minimal understanding of American civics is of real value and therefore worthy of measurement,” said Arizona State Senator Steve Yarbrough. I...

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