Standards, Testing, & Accountability

I came to the world of public education late in my career, but through
a golden portal, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural
Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
, a book of such broad
intellectual depth and revolutionary import that it was a national bestseller
in 1987
Amazingly, more than twenty years later, very few educators have
read it (see here).  That’s too bad.  If they had, they would not make statements
like the one Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer for New York City’s
Education Department, gave to the New
York Times
just the other day:

The core problem of literacy in middle school is you’re
transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn.

Wrong. The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

Thomases means well. And he’s trying to clean up the anti-academic
middle school mess that has persisted for far too long (see my Ed Next story).  But like far too many educators (including
the authors of No Child Left Behind, who wrongly set reading up as a skill
divorced from content), he misunderstands the nature of reading.  As Hirsch writes in his second, and arguably more
important, book about education, The
Schools
...

The Northwest Evaluation Association recently surveyed parents and teachers to gauge their support for various types of
assessment. The
results
indicated that just a quarter of teachers find summative
assessments “‘extremely’ or ‘very’ valuable for determining whether students
have a deep understanding of content.” By contrast, 67 percent of teachers (and
85 percent of parents) found formative and interim assessments extremely or
very valuable.

I can understand why teachers would find formative and
interim assessments appealing. After all, teachers generally either create those
assessments themselves, or are at least intimately involved with their
creation. And they are, therefore, more flexible tools that can be tweaked
depending on, for instance, the pace of classroom instruction.

But, while formative and interim assessments are
critically important and should be used to guide instruction and planning, they
cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments, which play an
equally critical role in a standards-driven system.

Formative and interim assessments cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments.

Summative assessments are designed to evaluate whether
students have mastered knowledge and skills at a particular point in time. For
instance, a teacher might give a summative assessment at the end of a unit to
determine whether students have learned what they needed to in order to move forward.
Similarly, and end-of-course or end-of-year summative assessment can help
determine whether students mastered the...

The bold move by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in unveiling his “Plan for
Transforming Schools” is a significant step forward for Cleveland, its schools,
and, most importantly, its children. The Jackson Plan has the potential to make
Cleveland one
of the nation’s school reform leaders.

In time, it would help all of Cleveland’s
schools to better provide the high quality education that every child in the
city deserves. By focusing laser-like on school performance, regardless of
school type (district and charter alike), it would reward and encourage the
expansion and replication of great schools while putting much needed pressure
on those schools that don’t (district and charter alike) to improve or get lost.

Sal Khan at Web 2.0 Summit
 Mayor Jackson's plan offers Cleveland a chance to put children's interests first.
Photo by Joshua Rothhaas.

The Jackson Plan’s sense of urgency is well warranted. Despite laudable
school reform efforts in Cleveland
over the years - including a highly touted transformation plan in early
2010
put forth by then superintendent Eugene Sanders, and largely crafted
by current district head Eric Gordon – the city has struggled to educate its
children to a high standard. In fact, student achievement in Cleveland is...

Two weeks ago, Obama made waves in his State of the Union
address when he called for raising
the dropout age
and requiring all students across the country to stay in
school until they’re 18. One big solution to our educational crisis, he
explained, is to simply not let kids drop out. (Or at least to make it more
difficult for them to do so.)

If only it were that easy.

Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to
which all students are held.

The truth of the matter is, we have yet to develop an
education system that keeps students in schools, that holds them accountable to
rigorous standards, and that helps them meet those ambitious goals. Therefore,
by putting the focus on staying in school longer, without dealing with the very
real challenge of how you ensure that the time spent in school is meaningful,
Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to
which all students are held.

This is a truth that Al Shanker recognized two decades
ago. In the 1990 National Governors Association meeting, Shanker explained:

…if we had outstanding teachers and if
we were to require students to take a tough curriculum, and if we were to give
them homework to do and make sure that they did the homework, and if we didn't
...

What's Holding Back America's Science Performance?

What's holding back America's science performance?

While business leaders rue the lack of American workers skilled enough in math and science to meet the needs of an increasingly high-tech economy, the situation may be growing even grimmer. The latest installment of TIMSS showed stagnation in U.S. science achievement, and the 2009 NAEP science assessment found that only 21 percent of American twelfth-graders met the proficiency bar. Yet while the gravity of the problem is clear, the root cause is not. Is our science curriculum lacking? Is it being squeezed out by an emphasis on math and reading? Is there a problem with our pedagogy? Are our teachers ill-prepared? Or are we simply expecting too little of teachers and students alike?

Coinciding with its new review of state science standards, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute will bring together experts with very different perspectives to engage this crucial question: "What's holding back America's science performance?"

Watch the discussion with UVA psychologist Dan Willingham, NCTQ President Kate Walsh, Fordham's Kathleen Porter-Magee, Project Lead the Way's Anne Jones, and Achieve, Inc.'s Stephen Pruitt and join the conversation on Fordham LIVE!

The entire school reform movement is predicated on a
hypothesis: Boosting student achievement, as measured by standardized tests,
will enable greater prosperity, both for individuals and for the country as a
whole. More specifically, improving students’ skills and knowledge in reading,
math, and science will help poor children climb out of poverty, and will assist
all children to prepare for the rigors of college and the workplace. By
building the “human capital” of the American workforce, rising achievement will
also spur economic growth, which will lift all boats.

Call this the Test
Score Hypothesis.

Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic
outcomes for nations?

It explains reformers’ enthusiasm for test-based
accountability; for “college- and career-ready standards”; for teacher
evaluations based, in significant part, on student outcomes; for “data-based
instruction”; and for much of the rest of the modern-day reform agenda. After
all, if reading, math, and science knowledge and skills are so directly linked
to the life chances of individual kids, and of the livelihood of the country as
a whole, why not get the education system focused like a laser on them?

But is this hypothesis correct? Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic
outcomes for nations?

In a word: yes. As Kevin Carey noted
recently, the big Chetty et...

After years spent rebutting skepticism and criticism, proponents
of the small-schools movement have reason to rejoice (at least in the Big Apple).
This MDRC policy brief—an update of its larger 2010
report on small high schools of choice (SSCs) in New York City
—finds continued
evidence that attending an SSC boosts one’s odds of graduating. Some
background: Between 2002 and 2008, New York City replaced twenty-three large, failing
district schools (graduation rates under 45 percent) with 216 new smaller
schools—including 123 academically non-selective “small schools of choice.” These
are brand-new schools with hand-picked staff, close student/faculty
relationships, and strong community partnerships. Starting them entailed a
stringent application process (which needed specifically to address how the
schools would serve disadvantaged youth) before opening. The brief adds to the
original report with an additional year of data (tracking over 21,000 Gotham students)
and finds that the average four-year graduation rate was 8.6 percentage points
higher for students enrolled at oversubscribed SSCs than for students in
traditional public schools who had applied—but not gotten into—their small high
school of choice. What’s more, these findings hold true across all achievement,
income, and racial subgroups. While this brief (and its precursor) offer great
fodder for aficionados of small-schools of choice, it is important to remember:
In New York City, at least, SSCs are not just mini-versions of traditional public
high schools, but instead new models...

Since
Sputnik shot into orbit in 1957, Americans have considered science and
science education to be vital to our national security and economic
competitiveness. That imperative has continued
in the half century since the Soviet satellite launch. Indeed, a 2011
survey reports that 74 percent of Americans think STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Math) education is “very important,” while only two percent
say it’s “not too important.”

Yet
this strong conviction has not translated into strong science achievement. The
2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress found barely one-third of U.S.
fourth graders “proficient” in science, slipping to 30 percent in eighth grade,
and a woeful 21 percent in twelfth. International comparisons are even more
disheartening. The most recent PISA assessment, for example, showed American
fifteen-year-olds ranking a mediocre twenty-third out of sixty-five countries. 

Meanwhile,
U.S. companies continue to send jobs overseas in no small part because they
cannot find enough Americans with the requisite STEM skills and knowledge.

Add
it up and you should be alarmed, very alarmed. Seems the United States does a
great job of talking the talk about getting science education right but we’re a
long way from walking the walk.

Why? How can it be that Americans have voiced so much
concern about science education for such a long time yet made so little
progress...

Since
states began to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards en masse, the big
question was how well those standards would really be implemented. As I’ve mentioned
before
, there isn’t yet a clear consensus about what Common Core
implementation should mean for instruction. Nor are states necessarily targeting
their implementation efforts on the highest-impact activities
.

Enter
the GE Foundation. In the hopes of providing a big boost to the Common Core
implementation efforts, the foundation announced a 4-year, $18 million grant to
Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by CCSS architects David
Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Sue Pimentel. According to GE, the grant will support
several implementation efforts, including:

  • Direct collaboration with teachers
    to produce and share examples and best practices of excellent instruction
    aligned with the Standards;
  • A website, www.achievethecore.org, to distribute
    free resources designed to support teacher understanding and implementation;
  • Standards Immersion Institutes
    designed to cultivate teacher experts who can build knowledge in their
    districts and states;
  • The development of tools to track
    implementation and evaluate the quality of student work; and
  • Partnerships with a network of
    non-profits to provide ongoing technical support to district and state leaders
    guiding implementation.

Of
course, the pressure is now on to deliver on these lofty goals. There will
certainly be other investments in nonprofit groups looking to provide school-
and district-level implementation support, but this...

The entire school reform movement is predicated on a
hypothesis: Boosting student achievement, as measured by standardized tests,
will enable greater prosperity, both for individuals and for the country as a
whole. More specifically, improving students’ reading, math, and science
knowledge and skills will help poor children climb out of poverty, and will
help all children prepare for the rigors of college and the workplace. And by
building the “human capital” of the American workforce, rising achievement will
spur economic growth which will lift all boats.

Call this the Test
Score Hypothesis.

It explains reformers’ enthusiasm for test-based
accountability; for “college and career-ready standards”; for teacher evaluations
based, in significant part, on student outcomes; for “data-based instruction”;
and for much of the rest of the modern-day reform agenda. After all, if
reading, math, and science knowledge and skills are so directly linked to the
life chances of individual kids, and of the livelihood of the country as a
whole, why not get the education system focused like a laser on them?

But is this hypothesis correct? Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic outcomes
for nations?

In a word: yes. As Kevin Carey noted
recently, the big Chetty et al
study
didn’t just demonstrate the importance of teacher effectiveness. It
also offered strong support for the Test Score Hypothesis.

If
...

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