Standards, Testing & Accountability

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

As the Texas Board of Education weighs revisions to the state's math standards this week, it must also consider strong criticism from the business community and the media over the proposed changes. Fordham's new review of the draft math standards, by W. Stephen Wilson, adds another reason for the board to think twice before approving the changes. As Wilson writes,

The new standards are an improvement. Some content that was previously missing from the [existing] standards has been included, the standards remain clear and well organized, and the high school content remains strong.
Unfortunately, Texas has overcorrected its minimalist problem by adding too many standards—many of which descend inappropriately into pedagogy—and including a lot of unnecessary repetition. Worse, the new draft standards overemphasize process, and arithmetic is not given suitable priority.

While the proposed changes are an improvement on the status quo in the Lone Star State, they’re far from stellar—and pale in comparison with the CCSS alternative. By going it alone, Texas had hoped to do better than the Common Core. Unfortunately, it missed the mark. Now it’s high time for its Board of Education to recognize that going from lousy to ok just...

As the Texas Board of Education weighs revisions to the state's math standards, it must also consider strong criticism from the business community and the media over the proposed changes. Fordham's new review of the draft math standards, by W. Stephen Wilson, adds another reason for the board to think twice before approving the changes. As Wilson writes,

The new standards are an improvement. Some content that was previously missing from the [existing] standards has been included, the standards remain clear and well organized, and the high school content remains strong.
Unfortunately, Texas has overcorrected its minimalist problem by adding too many standards—many of which descend inappropriately into pedagogy—and including a lot of unnecessary repetition. Worse, the new draft standards overemphasize process, and arithmetic is not given suitable priority.

By going it alone, Texas had hoped to do better than the Common Core. Unfortunately, it missed the mark. Check out to full report to learn more....

Guest bloggers Kate Walsh and Arthur McKee are the president and managing director of teacher preparation studies, respectively, at the National Council on Teacher Quality. This post was originally published on NCTQ's Pretty Darn Quick blog.

You might not expect us to champion this great new report from Brookings, but we are. Russ Whitehurst and his new colleague, former Harvard professor Matt Chingos, not only decry the nation's excessive focus on teacher quality—at the expense of curriculum—but also provide some neat evidence of the cost of that imbalance to student performance.

Brookings
Source: "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core," by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. Whitehurst, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2012).

One might quibble over the source of data for this little chart, given that the big impact from a better curriculum is derived from just a single study (though a very good one), but we think their point is still valid. Curriculum can and does move student performance. To quote the authors:...

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

I’ve been in favor of results-based accountability pretty much forever. And for good reason: Before the era of academic standards, tests, and consequences, all manner of well-intended reforms failed to gain traction in the classroom. New curricula came and went; states and districts injected additional professional development into the schools; commission after commission called for more “time on task.” Yet nothing changed; achievement flat-lined. And it was impossible to know which schools were doing better than which at what.

Magnifying Glass
Schools should be judged by inspectors, as well as numbers.
 Photo by nathanmac87.

Then came the meteoric shock of consequential accountability, and student test scores (on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and state exams, too) started to take off. For some subgroups of students, math and reading skills improved by two or three grade levels since just the mid 1990s.

Yet we all know the downsides of the narrow focus on reading and math scores in grades three through eight and once in high school. This regimen puts enormous...

Is it intellectually inconsistent to promote common standards while advocating for school choice?

Bruce Baker—Rutgers professor by day, anti-reform gadfly by night—thinks so, and took Fordham to task for either inconsistency between its goals or harboring a “weird, warped agenda.” He explains:

Collectively what we have here is a massive effort on the one hand, to require traditional public school districts to adopt a common curriculum and ultimately to adopt common assessments for evaluating student success on that curriculum and then force those districts to evaluate, retain and/or dismiss their teachers based on student assessment data, while on the other hand, expanding publicly financed subsidies for more children to attend schools that would not be required to do these things (in many cases, for example, relieving charter schools from teacher evaluation requirements).

This is a helpful way to frame it because I think Baker has gotten it precisely wrong.

Adopting common standards does not mean forcing a common curriculum on all schools.

For starters, adopting common standards does not mean forcing a common curriculum on all schools. And the difference between standards and curriculum is more than mere semantics. Standards define a baseline set of knowledge and skills that all students should learn. How...

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

As of April 5, 2012, forty-five states plus the District of Columbia had adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While they deserve plaudits for strengthening their previously lackluster expectations for students, nobody should expect standards-adoption alone to drive academic gains. Nor will the development of curriculum, adoption of new textbooks, and ramped up professional development—some of the “stuff” that folks refer to when they talk about “implementing” the CCSS—mean much unless accompanied by means of holding individuals and buildings accountable for progress. To get real traction from new standards, states must also install robust accountability systems that incentivize, support, reward, and sanction districts, schools, students, teachers, and other adults.

This is the perfect time for states to reboot their accountability systems, not only because of the opportunity presented by CCSS, but also due to the availability of waivers from some of the accountability shackles and oddities of No Child Left Behind. Moreover, most of the ESEA reauthorization bills now creaking through Congress would give states even wider latitude to design their own approaches to accountability.

But what do strong state accountability systems look like? And how strong are they today?

...
Exam
Photo by Alberto G.

Direct from America’s cheating capital comes an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article describing suspicious test score patterns in lots of districts around the country. According to the analysts, who looked at scores from 69,000 schools, 196 districts had swings so extreme that the odds of them occurring by chance alone were less than one in a thousand. While the newspaper acknowledged that its analysis is not proof of cheating, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote that it should trigger a thorough review. The union boss’s support of transparency on this issue is heartening: Wide-spread cheating undermines the foundations of standards-based reform and further investigation is indeed warranted. Accountability based on objective measures of student knowledge demands that those measures be accurate and trustworthy, else myriad efforts that rely on a clear understanding of performance—merit pay, tenure reform, VAM—are damned. But, of course, those are things that Van Roekel and his crew abhor, so he spoiled his message about cheating by also bemoaning the “corruptive influence high-stakes tests have...

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