Standards, Testing & Accountability

Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman—together with their colleagues at the Heinemann publishing house—have just released a new book entitled Pathways to the Common Core. The book sounds like a useful resource that ELA teachers can use to figure out how to align their instruction to the new standards. Unfortunately, it misses the mark. Part ideological co-opting of the Common Core (CCSS) and part defense of existing—and poorly aligned—materials produced by Heinemann, the book is the leading edge of an all-out effort to ensure that adoption of the new standards requires very few changes on the part of some of the leading voices—and biggest publishing houses—in education.

On page one, the authors explain the book’s mission:

Pathways to the Common Core will help you and your colleagues teach in ways that will bring your students to the Common Core State Standards’ level of work in literacy. This book will illuminate both the standards themselves and the pathways you can take to achieve those ambitious expectations. It will help you understand what is written and implied in the standards and help you grasp the coherence...

Louisiana’s capital newspaper reported this week that two private schools that originally opted into the state’s new voucher program have changed their minds after the teachers union threatened them with legal action. One school is a non-denominational Christian school in suburban Baton Rouge that enrolls about 800 students. It initially set aside four kindergarten seats for the voucher program. The other, a Roman Catholic school in a rural parish ninety miles outside Baton Rouge, set aside six seats in its 200-student school.

So far, not many schools have taken the union’s “offer” to drop out of the voucher program and avoid litigation.

Most Louisiana private schools that chose to participate in the voucher program share these characteristics. They are faith-based and they have reserved a handful of seats for voucher-bearing students. They’ll derive the overwhelming majority of their revenues from tuition-paying students.

The state’s Department of Education had to take this into account when it drafted regulations to hold “voucher schools” more accountable. It decided, sensibly, that private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. If the state imposed the...

Rigorous academic standards and high-stakes accountability for schools and educators alike are important for school improvement efforts. The states where students have made the most significant academic gains over the last decade (for example, Massachusetts and Florida) have had high academic standards, assessments aligned to those standards – complete with high cut scores, and transparent systems for sharing school and student results through district and school “report cards.” The fact is standardized testing has proven to be the best, most objective tool for measuring both student and teacher success.

This is important to remember as Ohio deals with a widening scandal around allegations of “data fudging” and “manipulation of attendance records” to improve test scores and school report cards. Some Buckeye State educators and lawmakers have suggested that the underlying problem here is accountability, or that the state’s report card has taken on “way too much importance.” Accountability, however, is not the problem. The Columbus Dispatch editorial board got it exactly right when writing:

It’s true that the report card is short of perfect; it is an attempt to tell an extremely complex story – how effective a school district is, allowing for all of its advantages...

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Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF

The testing-and-accountability movement can be proud of its accomplishments under No Child Left Behind, but the strategy has run out of steam. What we need now are breakthrough ideas on holding schools accountable—approaches that will encourage instructional excellence instead of curricular narrowing, cheating, and gaming.

NCLB waivers preclude much state innovation in measuring student achievement.

The Obama administration’s waivers to NCLB have freed schools from the infamous “Adequate Yearly Progress” metric that unfairly labeled too many as “failing.” But the waivers don’t go nearly far enough. They preclude much state innovation in measuring student achievement.

States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students—whatever their race—don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes—like how many students go on to graduate from college—instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology—it can pinpoint...

Since the release of the Common Core state math standards two year ago, math textbook writers and publishers have fallen over themselves to release new or “updated” curriculum resources that they declare to be “aligned” with the new expectations. Unfortunately, until recently there have been scant resources available to educators seeking to determine whether any of these ballyhooed instructional materials have truly been aligned with the content and rigor of the new expectations.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly.

Enter the lead authors of the CCSSM and their just-released “K-8 Publishers Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” While ostensibly aimed at publishers earnestly struggling to align their resources with CCSSM, the ten criteria (and accompanying rubric) can also be used by math teachers, department heads, instructional specialists, principals, and superintendents who are wading through and trying to judge the quality and alignment of materials for their schools and classrooms. They can, in fact, be treated as a “buyer’s guide” that helps show which publishers have made the necessary changes for this big shift in math education. And here is hoping that is one way they get used.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly. For...

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Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance - Download the PDF

Louisiana broke new ground this week with a sensible plan for holding “voucher schools” accountable. State Superintendent John White will put into practice a “sliding scale” of accountability (an idea we first floated three years ago): Private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. Specifically, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. A lower score could keep a school from enrolling students in the program, and it could, over time, trigger a quality review by the state Department of Education. Transparency around student-achievement results can be found in the voucher programs of other states (including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio), but only Louisiana will have the authority to banish from the program schools that show consistently poor performance. This is a common-sense policy that can make vouchers more politically sustainable—and work better for kids, to boot.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Choice Words blog.

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The introduction to the Common Core English language arts standards explains that the standards cannot possibly “enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn,” and need to be “complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum.” That last bit recently caused the City Journal’s Sol Stern to applaud the return of content-based curriculum to American education, from whence it has been AWOL for most of the past half century. And where it firmly belongs: Results from a three-year pilot study in New York City indicate that shifting from process- and skills-driven reading programs to E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge content-based curriculum did wonders for student learning. Reading-achievement gains at schools that implemented Core Knowledge were five times greater than in “demographically similar” schools that continued to employ a more conventional literacy program. Still, proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice because, while the standards hint at this important restoration, they alone can’t deliver on it. Instead, it will be up to state and district leaders and teachers to wade through the morass of new and updated curriculum materials and select those that put the focus squarely on content over process. Only...

Last week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around Common Core implementation. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2015 that many communities, schools, and families are in for a rude awakening.

Running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future.

Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and their going to be running fast.”

But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two-day conference argued, running away from the Common...