Standards, Testing & Accountability

Special-education students, it turns out, may stand to benefit if accountability systems cease to treat them as particularly special. States around the country jumped at the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver offer this year for many reasons, but the opportunity to streamline that law’s accountability requirements by lumping different subgroups together was certainly a draw. The practice raised the ire of many special-education advocates, however, who fear that that the needs of students with disabilities (SWDs) may get lost in the shuffle with the rise of “super subgroups” that lump these youngsters in with ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic minorities. The data in a new IES report, however, suggest that viewing SWDs separately may actually do them a serious disservice. The study analyzes how well schools with substantial special-education populations educate their students and assesses whether NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements led schools to adopt improved practices, thus bumping educational outcomes for their SWDs. For the forty states with relevant data (2008-09), 35 percent of schools were accountable for SWD test scores—up ten percentage points since 2005-06—meaning that they had enough disabled pupils to qualify for accountability under NCLB’s Title I and “subgroup” rules. Further, in 2008-09, just 14 percent...

The central idea behind standards- and accountability-driven reforms is that, in order to improve student learning, we need to do three things:

  • Clearly define a minimum bar for all students (i.e., set standards).
  • Hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable for meeting those minimum standards.
  • Back off: Give teachers and leaders the autonomy and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
The push for greater accountability has often been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control.

It’s a powerful formulation, and one that we’ve seen work, particularly in charter schools and networks where teachers and leaders have used that autonomy to find innovative solutions to some of the biggest instructional challenges.

Unfortunately, in far too many traditional school districts, the push for greater accountability has been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control. That is a prescription for a big testing and accountability backlash. 

You needn’t look far for examples of how traditional districts have gotten the accountability balance all wrong. There are a host of stifling district practices that unintentionally hamstring, rather than free, our teachers and leaders. And that unintentionally encourage precisely the kinds of practices most testing critics loathe.

Many of these...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

In May, Achieve unveiled and solicited comments on the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, the product of months of work by a team of writers on behalf of twenty-six states. This review by Fordham provides commentary, feedback, and constructive advice that we hope the NGSS authors will consider as they revise the standards before the release of a second draft later this year.

Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center has released its 2012 graduate rate calculation and analysis. The researchers find three out of four (73.5 percent) of the national 2009 graduating class successfully graduated high school in four years. This is a 1.7 percentage point increase from 2008. The 2009 graduation rate represents the highest graduation rate since the late 1970s. When the author’s partition the data by race, they find that increasing Latino graduation rates, in particular, have contributed the most to the national improvement in the graduation rate. 

How did the Buckeye State do? Education Week and EPE report that in Ohio 76 percent of its 2009 class graduated high school on-time. This rate places Ohio three percentage points above the national average and toward the middle of the pack—17th out of 51 states, including Washington D.C. The researchers also compare Ohio’s 1999 graduation rate with its 2009 graduation rate and they report that the rate has increased by seven percentage points, which again tracks closely with the national ten-year graduation rate increase of seven percentage points.

The report here adds to the conversation about how well the U.S. and each...

It’s essential that great policies are not just created but also effectively articulated to those who must execute them. Policy implementation means putting theory into practice, wherein many logistic and technical complications can arise. This has happened in the case of teacher evaluation and accountability policies. Addressing these implementation issues is critical to education reform; as a result, the education reform organizations ConnCAN, 50Can, and Public Impact address questions and obstacles that arise in teacher evaluation in their May 2012 report, “Measuring Teacher Effectiveness: A Look ‘Under the Hood’ of Teacher Evaluation in 10 Sites”.

While many school districts have stuck with the same ambiguous methods of teacher evaluations, the report examines ten sites that include states, school districts, a charter school network, and a graduate school program (Delaware; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Hillsborough County, FL; Houston, TX; New Haven, CT; Pittsburgh, PA; Washington, DC; Achievement First; and the Relay Graduate School of Education in New York City). These institutions are all trying more rigorous, comprehensive approach to teacher evaluations; therefore, the report specifically focuses on their evaluation practices.

The authors consider the ways to measure student achievement and the value of nonacademic measures, like student perception and personal growth....

Louisiana schools Superintendent John White has plenty of freedom to write the rules that will govern what may become the most sweeping voucher program in the nation, but he has little time to do the job. The legislature has given White until August 1 to figure out how to hold private schools accountable for their voucher students, but the more dogged critics of the superintendent and the voucher program want assurances now that no student will leave a lousy public school for a lousy private school.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory. At least fifteen states have passed laws establishing vouchers or tax credit scholarships, but just a handful  now assess the academic or financial health of the private schools that participate. So it’s helpful to reflect first on what already sets Louisiana apart before suggesting more ways to make the voucher program accountable.

First, any private school accepting voucher students will have to submit an independent financial audit to the Louisiana Department of Education. Until now, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program had some of the most stringent fiscal regulations, requiring independent audits of private schools that received...

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I don’t love standards. I doubt any teacher does.

I love literature. History. Science. I love grappling with ideas. I’m excited to know how things work and to share what I have learned with others, especially eager-to-learn children. Standards, by contrast, are unlovely, unlovable things. No teacher has ever summoned his or her class wide-eyed to the rug with the promise that “today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives."

School events teach liberty, citizenship
No teacher has ever summoned his or her class to the rug with the promise that "today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives. Won't that be fun boys and girls?!"
Photo by Fort Rucker.

“Won’t that be fun, boys and girls?!”

Well, no, it won’t. Standards are a joyless way to reverse engineer the things we love to teach and do with...

Fordham's Mike Petrilli joined Education Sector's Susan Headden on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss how much the Common Core will actually change American education. The conversation includes why the Common Core hasn't gotten more headlines nationwide and what impact it will have on the states that adopt it. The replay is worth a listen: