Standards, Testing & Accountability

Two main takeaways emerge from this latest College Board report on the most recent SAT scores: 1) Participation rates are at an all-time high; and 2) as more adolescents sit for the three-hour exam, average scores decline. First, a bit about participation rates: This past spring, roughly 1.66 million students took the SAT, about 52 percent of the Class of 2012 and 6 percent more than in 2008. Of that number, 45 percent were minority students (up from 38 percent in 2008). Twenty-eight percent reported that English was not their exclusive first language (up four percentage points from 2008). And 36 percent reported that their parents’ highest level of education was a high school diploma or less. In sum, the 2012 testing cohort was the College Board’s most diverse to date. That’s the good news. Now for the scores. (Recall that there are now three parts of the SAT: To the traditional critical reading and mathematics sections, College Board added a writing section that was first tallied in 2006. Each section is scored from 200 to 800, with a perfect score [obviously] of 2400.) The mean subject scores...

Common Core implementation portends vast, intimidating changes in the ways we manage American K-12 education. Included in these shifts are the handling of promotion and graduation requirements and assessments. This Center on Education Policy report—the organization’s eleventh annual look at high school exit exams—offers a glimpse of how states are currently tackling these issues at the secondary level. Twenty-five states administer high school exit exams, be they comprehensive (assessing multiple subjects at the end of a given grade, usually tenth) or end-of-course, which are gaining popularity. These states house nearly 70 percent of American high schoolers, and even higher percentages of disadvantaged youth. While all of them allow retakes (up to a dozen in Maryland and Oregon), the vast majority of students (70-90 percent) pass their exit exams on the first go-around. Yet most states with exit exams do not align them to career-and-college-ready standards (and only one state—Nevada—aligns its exam to content taught through the twelfth grade). This will have heavy implications for CCSS roll-out as eighteen states plan to align their exit exams to the Common Core—or replace their current assessments with those developed by...

In 2005, Achieve and the National Governors Association hosted a National Education Summit on High Schools where forty-five governors came together with business leaders to address an ongoing challenge in American education: the gap between what students need to master to earn high school diplomas, and the knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for college and careers. Every year since, Achieve has released its annual “Closing the Expectations Gap” report, aimed at highlighting the progress states have made—and need to make—to better align K-12 and postsecondary education expectations.

The challenge is that tracking implementation is tricky.

The first report, released in 2006, focused primarily on whether high school academic standards and graduation requirements were aligned to “college and workplace expectations.” (In all but two states, they hadn’t been, though as many as thirty-five states were working towards it.) This year, the landscape has obviously shifted dramatically: Thanks in part to the Common Core, schools in every state and the District of Columbia are guided by standards that are aligned to College and Career Ready (CCR) expectations.

Of course, that means that the report must shift to match the changing landscape. To that end, this year’s report has,...

It’s well established that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—adopted in principle by forty-six states—won’t get any real traction unless they’re comprehensively and faithfully implemented at the state and local levels. (They also have implications for federal policy and programs, of course.)

iceberg
What we've heard about the Common Core's impact is just the tip of the iceberg .
Photo by Natalie Lucier.

But what is comprehensive implementation? True, we’ve heard much palaver about what the Common Core portends for assessment, for teachers’ professional development, and for curricular/instructional materials. All true, all crucial, and all probably the most urgent. But these issues are also just the tip of the CCSS iceberg, most of which remains invisible under water. What I haven’t seen yet is clear recognition that the Common Core, taken seriously, eventually changes everything in American education and that implementation, done right, must be comprehensive.

Which means what? Start with a substantial analogy: World War II. A new book profiles General Albert C. Wedemeyer, who was...

Valentina is a legislative analyst for StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement working to improve the nation’s schools. 

Every year, Ohio’s public schools are responsible for educating 1.8 million students. To ensure that all students are making learning gains and meeting academic expectations, the Buckeye State needs a system in place to hold schools and school districts accountable for student performance. The Ohio Department of Education is currently redesigning Ohio’s accountability system, and lawmakers have promised to put a new Report Card system into law by the end of December.

In its ongoing efforts to improve student achievement, the Ohio General Assembly can benefit by understanding A-F accountability reforms in other states. Whereas Ohio’s current school rating system uses ambiguous terms like “effective,” “academic watch,” and “continuous improvement” to report on school and district performance, other states are moving towards easier-to-understand, A-F summative ratings. We at StudentsFirst recommend that states issue annual letter grades for all schools and districts based on student achievement. Implementing a letter grading system holds schools and districts accountable for the results they produce, provides parents with understandable information about the schools their children attend, and encourages school improvement efforts.

Done well, A-F rating systems place...

The Pioneer Institute released a report last week entitled How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness At Risk. As the title suggests, this is the latest in a series of Pioneer broadsides against the Common Core. Readers who find their way through the reflexive criticism and confusing presentation will be rewarded with some genuine insights into how to get implementation right. Unfortunately, because that guidance is buried deep amidst a sea of misrepresentations and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric, it is unlikely to further the discussion of how best to implement the CCSS.

The authors hammer home their message with all the subtlety of a wrecking crew.

The authors hammer home their message with all the subtlety of a wrecking crew: The Common Core English language arts expectations are poor—far lower in terms of content, clarity, and rigor than the Massachusetts English language arts standards, they clearly believe—and their adoption in states across the country “places college readiness at risk.”

The reality—as evidenced by the substance of the report, if not its title—is far more nuanced. And the authors of this report, Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky, have much to contribute to the discussion of how best to implement the...

Valentina is a legislative analyst for StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement working to improve the nation’s schools. 

Every year, Ohio’s public schools are responsible for educating 1.8 million students. To ensure that all students are making learning gains and meeting academic expectations, the Buckeye State needs a system in place to hold schools and school districts accountable for student performance. The Ohio Department of Education is currently redesigning Ohio’s accountability system, and lawmakers have promised to put a new Report Card system into law by the end of December.

In its ongoing efforts to improve student achievement, the Ohio General Assembly can benefit by understanding A-F accountability reforms in other states. Whereas Ohio’s current school rating system uses ambiguous terms like “effective,” “academic watch,” and “continuous improvement” to report on school and district performance, other states are moving towards easier-to-understand, A-F summative ratings. We at StudentsFirst recommend that states issue annual letter grades for all schools and districts based on student achievement. Implementing a letter grading system holds schools and districts accountable for the results they produce, provides parents with understandable information about the schools their children attend, and encourages school improvement efforts.

Done well, A-F rating systems place...

“Ladywonk” Dana Goldstein has written, and The Atlantic has just published, a mostly on-target profile of David Coleman, who takes the helm of the College Board in just a few weeks. This influential new role makes him—and his values, goals, and ideas—more important than ever in American education.

They were already moderately important, thanks to his previous role as a drafter of the Common Core state standards—and his subsequent advocacy for those standards.

The standards are strong, which is why advocating them is important and deserves praise. And David has indeed been effective, particularly in regard to the English language arts standards, his specialty and passion, although along the way he has been attacked by educators (and others) who either don’t believe that all kids are capable of rigorous academic work or who don’t cotton to the kind of deep analysis of literary and non-literary texts that David favors. (“Tell me what’s the evidence for stating that Brutus stabbed Caesar; don’t give me your opinion of whether stabbing is a nice thing to do—or whether you’ve ever been stabbed.”)

Maybe because Ms. Goldstein is, fundamentally, a person of the left (her main day jobs involve the Century...

As local school districts prepare to implement the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee, many are bemoaning the increased costs associated with providing more reading assessments and interventions to struggling K-3 readers (as required by law) and retaining more kids. The Ohio School Boards Association called the new law, and specifically its reporting requirements, “an unfunded mandate.”

The legislature did dedicate $13 million in competitive funding to support the new mandate, and last week the State Board of Education mulled recommending $105 million to support the law in the Ohio Department of Education’s FY2014-15 budget request. But would more money make a difference? Let’s take a look at the relationship between funding and reading achievement in the past.

Ohio had a reading guarantee on the books more than a decade ago (it was watered down before taking effect). At that time, with a governor (Taft) who had taken on improving early literacy skills as a primary policy objective and with the state coffers flush, Ohio poured millions into literacy improvement programs and professional development for teachers (via programs like OhioReads, the State Institutes for Reading Instruction, adolescent literacy grants, and summer intervention programs – to say nothing of...

Traditionalists cringe, tech buffs rejoice: This latest NAEP writing assessment for grades eight and twelve marks the first computer-based appraisal (by the “nation’s report card”) of student proficiency in this subject. It evaluates students’ writing skills (what NAEP calls both academic and workplace writing) based on three criteria: idea development, organization, and language facility and conventions. Results were predictably bad: Just twenty-four percent of eighth graders and 27 percent of twelfth graders scored proficient or above. Boys performed particularly poorly; half as many eighth-grade males reached proficiency as their female counterparts. The use of computers adds a level of complexity to these analyses: The software allows those being tested to use a thesaurus (which 29 percent of eighth graders exploited), text-to-speech software (71 percent of eighth graders used), spell check (three-quarters of twelfth graders), and kindred functions. It is unclear whether use of these crutches affected a student’s “language facility” scores, though it sure seems likely. While this new mechanism for assessing kids’ writing prowess makes it impossible to track trend data, one can make (disheartening) comparisons across subjects. About a third of eighth graders hit the...

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