Standards, Testing & Accountability

"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America’s highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”—and America’s future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

What people are saying

"This study is important, very important!" - Jim Bohannon The Jim Bohannon Show

"This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students’ abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner’s academic achievement occur both because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught." - Jessica Hockett is an education consultant and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) faculty member specializing in differentiated instruction, curriculum design for academically diverse classrooms, and education for...

If America is to remain internationally competitive, we need to maximize the potential of our top students. Over the last decade, however, federal and state education-accountability systems?particularly in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001?have placed primary emphasis on moving low-performing students toward proficiency. The sanctions stemming from these systems have cast greater attention on schools that fail to attain proficiency for most students?a necessary and noble endeavor. But they have also fueled concerns that the academic needs of high-performing learners, who in many states are largely unaffected by accountability systems, have been neglected.

In order to maximize the potential of our above-average and top students, we first need to know who those students are, and where and when they're most likely to falter. But to date, few research studies have examined the progress of individual high achievers over time.

Today, Fordham took a leap in that direction with the release of a groundbreaking study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, the first ever to examine the achievement of high-performing students over time at the individual level. It poses?and seeks to answer?this straightforward question: Do students who outscore their peers on standardized achievement tests remain at the top of the pack year after year? Put differently, how many ?high flyers? maintain their ?altitude? over time? How many fall back toward Earth as they...

A few weeks ago, the two groups charged with creating assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) released content specifications/frameworks (guidelines that can helpful inform curriculum) for public review and feedback.

These frameworks are the first real glimpse we've had into how each consortium will be assessing the CCSS. As part of my role at the Fordham I've submitted feedback directly to both assessment consortia. We decided it would be good to bring the public into this insider conversation. This post is a little longer than usual but Gadfly readers are a smart bunch and we figured you wanted the full monty.

Below is an overview of the feedback I provided to PARCC framework. A second post will cover the feedback I provided to SBAC. We would love to get your thoughts after reading the post, so please take time to add your comments below.

Purpose of the Frameworks (Hint: It's Not to Take Over the World)

The PARCC and SBAC frameworks are written for different purposes. SBAC has released a document that is clearly designed to communicate assessment priorities and to give specific information about how they will test key standards. By contrast, PARCC has created a document that is meant to inform curriculum planning. It lists content priorities, but does not provide information about how those priorities will be assessed....

A few weeks ago, the two groups charged with creating assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?the?SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the?Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)?released ?content specifications/frameworks? (guidelines that can helpful inform curriculum) for public review and feedback.

Below is an overview of the feedback I provided to SBAC. A previous post summarized the feedback I provided to PARCC on their ELA content frameworks. We would love to get your thoughts after reading the post, so please take time to add your comments below.

Overall, while SBAC has produced a clear and detailed document that will help teachers begin to align their curriculum, instruction, and assessment around CCSS, these content specifications raise some concerns about how faithful the SMARTER Balanced assessments will be to the spirit and purpose of the standards themselves. PARCC has not yet released detailed assessment specifications, so we can't yet say whether their plans will align more closely with the spirit of the CCSS. Hopefully they will more clearly outline an alternative assessment plan.

Purpose of the Framework

The SBAC content specifications ?are intended to ensure that the assessment system [being developed] accurately assesses the full range of the standards.? To that end, the framework specifies five ?critically important claims about student learning? that will ?serve as the basis for the Consortium's system of summative and interim assessments and its formative assessment support for teachers.? Those five claims are:...

This week we took a look at what impact, if any, charter authorizer type (e.g., non-profit, educational service center, school district, or university) has on a school's academic performance, how high poverty urban schools perform, and why one Buckeye State charter school authorizer deserve to lose its right to sponsor schools. Today, with the continued help of our friends at Public Impact, we take a look at Ohio's E-School or Virtual School academic performance. These schools provide full-time instruction to students online. Twenty-seven charter e-schools operated in Ohio in 2010-11 and served nearly 30,000 students who hail from all but three (of 610) districts across the state. E-school students account for nearly one-third of Ohio's charter school students.

Chart 1 compares the distribution of Performance Index Scores of e-school charters in Ohio to the distribution for traditional schools in districts enrolling e-students. (Performance Index is a measure of student achievement across all tested subjects and grades; the score ranges from 0-120, with 100 being the state goal for all schools.) As can be seen from the graph below, Ohio's e-schools trailed behind traditional schools in districts where e-school students are enrolled. Eighty-five percent of e-schools received a PI score between 65 and 85, while 77 percent of traditional schools received a PI score between 90 and 105. The highest PI score for an e-school- 92- was also significantly lower than the highest score for a traditional school- 116.

Chart 1: Distribution of Performance Index...

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Image by Cesar Blanco"][/caption]

Jay Greene has played many roles in American education, most of them useful, but as far as I can recall this is the first time he has sought to inhabit, interpret, and report on other people's fantasy lives. Is this not akin to porn? Faux Freudianism? Total fantasizing on his own part? Joining Rick Perry in hearing the voice of the Almighty?

In any case, while he is surely correct that there are some political tatters on the fringe of the Common Core standards effort, he could not be more wrong about my fantasies. Never in a million years have I sought or yearned to or connived or fantasized about taking charge of those standards. I'd far rather play with my grandchildren.

He might have done the real world some real good if he had focused on the important fact that until we know what the forthcoming Common Core assessments actually look like, how much they will cost to operationalize, how many states will stick with them, and where the cut scores on them will be set, we won't really know whether we have a version of "national standards" (Jay's phrase, not mine) that is worth applauding. So far only the first act of this drama has been played.

?Chester E. Finn, Jr....

The Education Gadfly

If memory serves, the old TV show Hart to Hart used to begin with the narrator intoning, ?And when they met, it was murder.? Well, earlier this week AFT honcho Randi Weingarten and I engaged in a hard-hitting but genial debate at the Fordham Institute. Within a couple hours, we experienced the most severe East Coast earthquake in sixty-plus years. A coincidence? You decide. The Oprah-style affair, titled ?When Reform Touches Teachers,? was adeptly hosted by Fordham's Mike Petrilli. You can catch the video online here or when it shows on C-SPAN.

In my experience, these kinds of ?union leader v. ?reformer'? conversations tend to go in three unfortunate directions. The first is that everyone engages in vague ?it's for the kids? banalities, agree that the kids must come first, and pledge vague, meaningless collaboration going forward (e.g. see the Denver labor summit that the U.S. Department of Education hosted in February). The second is that the self-styled reformers beat on the union leader to concede on this or that, or the unionists squeeze the reformers to utter reassuring things about how much they love and respect teachers. And the third is when everybody just screams that those on the other side are ?seal-clubbing, crypto-fascist child-haters.? Each of these does a poor job of illuminating serious disputes or identifying places of real agreement.

You can judge for yourself, but I'd like to...

If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these standards and shares this thinking with...

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