Standards, Testing & Accountability

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is indisputably the country’s most valuable tool for tracking student achievement over time, and it’s become ever more valuable as it has added subjects (nine of them now), boosted its frequency (at least in reading and math), reported results at the state level (and, for twenty pioneering cities, at the local level, too), and persevered with a trio of “achievement levels” (basic, proficient, advanced) that today are the closest thing we have to national academic standards.

Fever by Joe Seggiola, on Flickr
Should the NAEP be more than a thermometer for the nation's academic progress?
Photo by Joe Seggolia

But NAEP only reports how our kids (and subgroups of kids, political jurisdictions, etc.) are doing. It doesn’t explain why. And in an era when achievement is barely ticking upward, despite America’s forceful efforts to reform the system so that it will soar, it’s no surprise that NAEP’s governing board, vigorously chaired nowadays by former Massachusetts Education Commissioner (and Fordham trustee) David Driscoll, wants this...

Today, Achieve is releasing drafts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an attempt to create “common,” multi-state standards for that critical subject. (It’s not part of the separate Common Core initiative for reading and math.) Using a framework developed by the National Research Council (and reviewed by Fordham last fall), experts from twenty-six Lead State Partners worked with Achieve to draft the new standards, supposedly “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally-benchmarked science education.”

It remains to be seen whether these common standards willl avoid the pitfalls that plague too many state standards; their "commonness" alone certainly doesn't guarantee they will be better than existing standards. Still, this is a crucial step in a multi-year process, one that may significantly alter American science education—and it couldn’t come at a better time. Fordham will be publishing a formal review of the draft standards in coming weeks (and Achieve is soliciting feedback, so sharpen your pencils), but regardless of how the NGSS drafts stack up, something needs to change. Our recent study of state science standards in every state revealed a...

A clique of conservative groups is pushing the message that tomorrow’s ALEC vote is part of a “growing movement” against federal intrusion vis-à-vis the Common Core standards. There’s a problem with that line of reasoning: ALEC is already on record against federal intrusion into education vis-à-vis the Common Core standards.

In December, the organization of conservative state lawmakers adopted two Common Core resolutions in its education committee. One—the subject of the vote tomorrow at the board of directors level—calls on states to back out of the common standards initiative altogether. The second—which has already become ALEC policy—focuses instead on the federal role in the initiative, and tells Uncle Sam to back off.

Here’s the first resolution:

The State Board of Education may not adopt, and the State Department of Education may not implement, the Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Any actions taken to adopt or implement the Common Core State Standards as of the effective date of this section are void ab initio. Neither this nor any other statewide education standards may be adopted or implemented without the approval of the Legislature.

And the second:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the {legislative...

A clique of conservative groups is pushing the message that tomorrow’s ALEC vote is part of a “growing movement” against federal intrusion vis-à-vis the Common Core standards. There’s a problem with that line of reasoning: ALEC is already on record against federal intrusion into education vis-à-vis the Common Core standards.

In December, the organization of conservative state lawmakers adopted two Common Core resolutions in its education committee. One—the subject of the vote tomorrow at the board of directors level—calls on states to back out of the common standards initiative altogether. The second—which has already become ALEC policy—focuses instead on the federal role in the initiative, and tells Uncle Sam to back off.

Here’s the first resolution:

The State Board of Education may not adopt, and the State Department of Education may not implement, the Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Any actions taken to adopt or implement the Common Core State Standards as of the effective date of this section are void ab initio. Neither this nor any other statewide education standards may be adopted or implemented without the approval of the Legislature.

And the second:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the {legislative...

Where are the wild things?

Checker joins Mike on the podcast to recount his recent investigation of Asian gifted education and predict the outcome of California’s waiver gambit, while Amber has some issues with a recent report on the Common Core’s potential.

Amber's Research Minute

William Schmidt Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement - Download the Powerpoint

Three years ago, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst made the bold claim that the caliber of a state’s standards had no bearing on that jurisdiction’s student achievement. More recently, fellow Brookings scholar Tom Loveless used Whitehurst’s work to argue that the Common Core standards won’t move the needle on student achievement. There is, however, one small problem with applying the Whitehurst findings to the present situation: The Common Core standards didn’t exist in 2009. Enter this analysis by Michigan State University education professor Dr. William Schmidt (admittedly, a Common Core booster): After comparing states’ previous standards to those of the Common Core, Schmidt analyzed how students from each state fared on the 2009 NAEP math exam. The upshot? States whose own standards were closer to the Common Core boasted higher NAEP scores than those states with unaligned standards. (Schmidt also compared the Common Core standards to those in other high-performing nations and found them to be of similar substance and quality.) These correlations suggest that Common Core may be getting something very right in the way the standards are written and that spending the time and money necessary for smart implementation may well be exactly what our students need. But...

It’s a big week for science geeks: Achieve is slated to release the long-awaited draft Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) tomorrow. Until then, we have the just-released nation’s report card for eighth-grade science to keep us occupied. Overall trends are positive: Scale scores ticked up two points since 2009. (Due to framework changes, we can’t compare data any further back than that.) The black-white achievement gap dropped one point, and the Hispanic-white gap narrowed by three points. All racial subgroups saw bumps in achievement. At the state level, sixteen jurisdictions improved their scale scores since 2009; no states averaged scores significantly lower than their 2009 marks. Further, we learn that those students who engage in hands-on science activities at least once a week and those who participate in science activities outside the classroom fair better on NAEP—an encouraging find for programs like Project Lead the Way. But there’s also cause for concern. Notably (staffers at PLTW and elsewhere should take note), we have not shown the ability to boost outcomes for our best and brightest. The percentage of students scoring “advanced” on the eighth-grade NAEP science test...

Guest blogger Anne L. Bryant is the executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) held its 72nd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, and more than 5,000 school board members and superintendents enjoyed inspiring remarks by CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien, Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan, and President of Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada. We also held more than 200 sessions and workshops on topics such as the common core standards, new trends in educational technology, community engagement, and strategies to turn around low-performing schools.

But perhaps the biggest star was our 2011-12 president, Mary Broderick, of East Lyme, Conn. In her term as president, Broderick has passionately articulated the need to allow teachers and students the freedom to think, teach, and learn. She’s fascinated by motivation research and for years has studied the impact of federal and state policies, particularly the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on classrooms.

She began writing a letter to President Barack Obama during her travels as NSBA president, soliciting comments and advice...

There is little dispute that information about the academic gains students make (or don’t) is a valuable addition to pure student proficiency data. But there is little agreement about how best to calculate growth and how to use it to inform things like teacher evaluations and school rating systems. The latter is important – especially now in Ohio. While many local educators believe Governor Kasich’s plan to overhaul how Ohio’s districts are graded gives too little weight to academic progress (and too much to achievement), the truth is that the limits of our current value-added system indicate that the governor’s formula is just right, for now.

Under the governor’s initial version of Senate Bill 316, Ohio would move to an A to F school rating system with ratings calculated based on four factors: 1) student achievement on state tests and graduation rates, 2) a school performance index based on state test results, 3) student academic progress, and 4) the performance of student subgroups.

Matt Cohen, chief researcher for the state education department, testified last month to the Senate education committee that feedback from the field indicates they want growth (aka “value-added” in Ohio) to count more heavily...

An independent task force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security brought together by the Council on Foreign Relations released a report in March that found that "the United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."

These findings may be disconcerting, but they're not new. Politicians, policymakers, educators, parents, and even students have long understood that far too many American students leave high school without having mastered the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and on the job.

There is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. But who is right?

Of course, there is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. Many believe that small classes are our best route to closing the achievement gap. Others feel similarly about setting clear and rigorous standards. And still others push for accountability reforms that use results from assessments to hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable.

Who is right?

There is a saying among high performing schools that there is no 100...

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