Standards, Testing, & Accountability

This Fordham Institute publication—co-authored by President Chester E. Finn Jr. and VP Michael J. Petrilli—pushes folks to think about what comes next in the journey to common education standards and tests. Most states have adopted the “Common Core” English language arts and math standards, and most are also working on common assessments. But…now what? The standards won’t implement themselves, but unless they are adopted in the classroom, nothing much will change. What implementation tasks are most urgent? What should be done across state lines? What should be left to individual states, districts, and private markets? Perhaps most perplexing, who will govern and “own” these standards and tests ten or twenty years from now?

Finn and Petrilli probe these issues in “Now What?” After collecting feedback on some tough questions from two-dozen education leaders (e.g. Jeb Bush, David Driscoll, Rod Paige, Andy Rotherham, Eric Smith), they frame three possible models for governing this implementation process. In the end, as you’ll see, they recommend a step-by-step approach to coordinate implementation of the Common Core. Read on to find out more.

 

 

Responses from several of our contributors:

It's official: Federal policymakers across the political spectrum are finally willing to admit that Congress overreached when it passed No Child Left Behind and put Uncle Sam in the driver's seat on education accountability. First there was (Republican) Senator Lamar Alexander's proposal to get the feds out of the business entirely, save for requirements around the worst five percent of schools. Then there was (Democratic) President Obama's waiver package, which allows states to make a pitch for their own approach to accountability. And, this week, there's the (bipartisan) Harkin-Enzi bill, authored by the chairman and ranking member (respectively) of the Senate education committee, which, well, it's hard to tell exactly what it does, but it surely reduces the federal footprint around accountability. (Try making sense of the convoluted bill yourself. And quick?the mark-up is next week.)

[pullquote]Could we be watching the beginning of the end for the accountability movement in toto?[/pullquote]

But if the debate around the federal role in accountability is coalescing, a much bigger question remains wide open: Could we be watching the beginning of the end for the accountability movement in toto?

One harbinger might be California Governor Jerry Brown's veto of a bill to tweak his state's accountability system by adding ?multiple-measures? to a test-score laden index. Brown's complaint wasn't the multiple measures per se, but the notion of data-based accountability writ large. ?Adding more speedometers to a broken car,? he wrote, ?won't turn it into a high-performance...

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Representatives from twenty states are hard at work developing Next Generation Science Standards—and using as their starting point the National Research Council’s recently released Framework for K-12 Science Education. This review of that framework, by Paul R. Gross, applauds its content but warns that it could wind up sending standards-writers off track. This appraisal finds much to praise in the Framework but also raises important concerns about a document that may significantly shape K-12 science education in the U.S. for years to come.

Last week, Fordham released a groundbreaking new study on high-achieving students, titled Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. In a series of Flypaper posts that followed, we examined the report's main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall; and third, that high achievers maintain the same pace as middle and low achievers over time in math, but grow more slowly than middle and low achievers in reading.

For those readers interested in more nuanced findings, I encourage you to poke around the report's data gallery, hosted by the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association. Through the data gallery, you can break down these findings by grade range, subject, year, and even demographics?gender, ethnicity, poverty status, and location.

The future of our country rests on the shoulders of those high achievers in our schools today. While this study suggests that they are not in short supply, it also demonstrates that we could expand our pool of high achievers by identifying and supporting students with potential?many of those students above the 70th percentile overall?and by intervening before other students fall out of the high-achieving ranks. While this study has shed new light on the progress, missteps, and success of our nation's high flyers, it begs the...

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Fordham's new report released on Tuesday, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, examines individual high-achieving students to find whether the same students remain high-achieving throughout their school years, or whether the high-achieving ranks see lots of turnover. Over the last two days, we've examined two main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; and second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall.

As a group, however, high achievers will by definition always perform better than the vast majority of their peers. But do they further outpace their low- and middle-achieving students each year? Or do those students gain ground on high achievers? (Here we define high achievers as those at or above the 90th percentile; middle achievers as those between the 45th and 54th percentiles, inclusive; and low achievers as those below the 10th percentile.)

The answer: High flyers grew academically at similar rates to low and middle achievers in math, but grew at slightly slower rates than low and middle achievers in reading.

In other words, the gaps between low, middle, and high achievers remained relatively stable over time in math. But in reading, the gaps shrank between high achievers and their low and middle counterparts...

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The Obama administration's new waiver plan (officially here, and covered extensively here, here, and here?and elsewhere, I'm sure) doesn't officially repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is tantamount to making large-scale amendments to it. Which it does unilaterally, without even a thumbs-up from Congress.

Though the specific conditions that the White House and Secretary Duncan are attaching to statewide ?flexibility waivers? are consistent with the Administration's long-standing ?blueprint? for reauthorizing NCLB, and also happen to be conditions that I think generally have merit, they amount to changing the law, not just waiving it. This raises Constitutional as well as statutory issues?though the administration's response, not surprisingly or implausibly, is that ?if a do-nothing Congress won't act to solve problems, we'll solve them ourselves as best we can.?

Yet the changes themselves?at least their timing and high-profile release?are motivated at least as much by election-year political considerations as by policy. This is not the first example, and surely won't be the last, of appealing to key constituencies by undoing, suspending, or waiving government practices that they find onerous and unpleasant. Consider the non-deportation of illegal aliens who haven't committed crimes. Hispanic (and other immigrant) voters will surely applaud this move and likely thank the administration in November 2012.

Today's announcements mean that teachers and parents (and school-board members and administrators) will also breathe...

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