Standards, Testing, & Accountability

“Consequential accountability,” à la No Child Left Behind
and the high-stakes state testing systems that preceded it, corresponded with a
significant one-time boost in student achievement, particularly in primary and
middle school math. Like the meteor that led to the decline of the dinosaurs
and the rise of the mammals, results-based accountability appears to have shocked
the education system. But its effect seems to be fading now, as earlier gains
are maintained but not built upon. If we are to get another big jump in
academic achievement, we’re going to need another shock to the system—another
meteor from somewhere beyond our familiar solar system.

The Accountability Plateau coverSo argues Mark Schneider, a scholar, analyst, and friend
whom we once affectionately (and appropriately) named “Stat stud.” Schneider, a
political scientist, served as commissioner of the National Center for
Education Statistics from 2005 to 2008, and is now affiliated with the American
Institutes for Research and the American Enterprise Institute. In a
Fordham-commissioned analysis released
today
, he digs into twenty years of trends on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP), aka the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We originally asked Schneider to investigate the achievement
record of the great state of Texas. At the time—it feels like just yesterday—Rick
Perry was riding high in the polls, making an issue of education, and taking
flak from...

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“Believing we can improve schooling with more tests,” Robert
Schaeffer of FairTest once argued, “is like believing you can make
yourself grow taller by measuring your height.”

It’s a great line. Such statements are the seductive battle cries of
the anti-standards and anti-assessment crowd. But is there any reason
behind this kind of rhetoric?

Parents rarely complain that their young babies are being weighed
and measured too much—even though it can create an extra burden in an
often stressful time in their lives. That’s not because parents naively
believe these basic tests will make their babies grow faster or
taller, but rather because they trust that their doctor will use the
data from these and other tests to flag early problems and develop
individualized plans to help their children thrive.

Of course, education assessments—particularly end-of-year summative
assessments—are far more complicated than scales. But the purpose of
tests in school is no different: to flag problems early and often so
that they can be addressed before they become lifelong issues.

In education, like in medicine, there are unintended consequences to
relying on a limited number of tests in a narrow range of subjects.
According to a report
released by Common Core last week, 76 percent of teachers feel that
critical subjects like science, history, and art are being “crowded out
by extra attention being paid to math and language arts,” and 93
...

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The number
of districts rated excellent in Ohio has risen dramatically over the past
several years, from 85 in the 2002-2003 school year to 352 in the 2010-11
school year (almost 60 percent of all districts in the state). Are students
performing at higher levels than ever before, or are there other factors
contributing to the large increase in excellent ratings? The authors of Grading on Curve: The Illusion of Excellence
in Ohio’s Schools
would argue the latter.

The report
by the Ohio Association for Gifted Children points to the complexity of Ohio’s
accountability system as well as low cut scores on Ohio’s assessment tests for
the rise in the number of excellent districts. For example, achievement
standards only require that 75 percent of students assessed at various grade
levels be proficient in order for that indicator to be met. Therefore, if 75
percent of third graders score at a proficient level in math, the district
meets the third grade indicator even though 25 percent of students are not
proficient. Districts can also get a “bump” up to excellent for making above
expected gains in value-added, thus leading to further inflation.

The report
also points to NAEP results as further evidence that Ohio’s performance
standards are too low. Forty-two percent of Ohio’s fourth graders scored at the
accelerated level in reading, compared to the NAEP results that indicate only...

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Common Core added an important piece to the mounting evidence that
curriculum continues to narrow at the expense of vital academic subjects
with yesterday’s release
of survey data from 1,001 third through 12th-grade teachers. Fully
two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that extra attention to math and
language arts is crowding out other subjects, with the sentiment
particularly strong among elementary-school teachers. Of those who saw
the curriculum narrowing, 93 percent pointed to state tests as the
primary culprits.

Focusing on math and reading at the expense of subjects like science
and social studies requires serious scrutiny, and Common Core should be
applauded for bringing more attention to the issue. Critics of
test-based accountability will be quick to cite the survey as evidence
of the deleterious effects of testing, but the numbers tell a more
complicated story. 90 percent of teachers said that inclusion in state
testing results in a subject being taken more seriously. Of those who
reported crowding out, 60 percent said that the increased focus on math
and language arts boosted test scores and 46 percent agreed that it
resulted in improved skills and knowledge. Is the problem testing
itself, or that test-based accountability is so narrowly focused in most
states?

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If you hope the Euro crashes, that this week’s Brussels summit fails, and that European commerce returns to francs, marks, lira, drachma, and pesetas, you may be one of those rare Americans who also seeks the demise of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in U.S. education. Crazy analogy? Please read on.
To be sure, the Euro already exists in the real world—you can hold one in your hands and buy things with it—and its demise would likely trigger a worldwide economic crisis, whereas the Common Core so far exists only on paper and all of its implementation challenges lie ahead. If it fails to gain traction, the sky won’t fall; we’ll simply stick with the status quo.
If you find the status quo in American K-12 education acceptable, bully for you. I find it akin to the condition of Europe and its economy after World War II: weak, battered, and fragmented, in need of a major tune-up and tone-up. It needs more focus, too—and greater capacity to help states pull in the same direction instead of pulling apart.
Recognizing those woes, and sensing that their war-torn nations would be better served by joining forces, the post-war years saw a half-dozen visionary European leaders striving to construct something more coherent and viable. In 1957, six core countries signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the “common market,” or the European Union as it’s been known since 1967, which has slowly grown to include twenty-seven countries allied in a...

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If you hope the Euro crashes, that this week’s Brussels
summit fails, and that European commerce returns to francs, marks, lira,
drachma, and pesetas, you may be one of those rare Americans who also seeks the
demise of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in U.S. education. Crazy
analogy? Please read on.

To be sure, the Euro already exists in the real world—you
can hold one in your hands and buy things with it—and its demise would likely
trigger a worldwide economic crisis, whereas the Common Core so far exists only
on paper and all of its implementation challenges lie ahead. If it fails to
gain traction, the sky won’t fall; we’ll simply stick with the status quo.

If you find the status quo in American K-12 education
acceptable, bully for you. I find it akin to the condition of Europe and its
economy after World War II: weak, battered, and fragmented, in need of a major
tune-up and tone-up. It needs more focus, too—and greater capacity to help states
pull in the same direction instead of pulling apart.

Recognizing those woes, and sensing that their war-torn
nations would be better served by joining forces, the post-war years saw a
half-dozen visionary European leaders striving to construct something more
coherent and viable. In 1957, six core countries signed the Treaty of Rome,
creating the “common market,” or the European Union as it’s been...

Categories: 

NAEP TUDA 2011: Reading coverNAEP TUDA 2011: Math coverLike the November results of NAEP’s national math and reading report
cards, the latest results of the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) are
unlikely to inspire many pats on the back. The TUDA, which measures student
achievement in twenty-one large urban districts (that volunteer to take the
exam), presents a complicated picture of urban student achievement. The nation
as a whole made
modest gains
in fourth- and eighth-grade math and in eighth-grade reading
over the last two years; but among the eighteen TUDA districts with test
results in 2009 and 2011, only six showed statistically significant improvement
in fourth-grade math. Eight posted significant gains in that subject at the
eighth-grade level. Worse still, no districts made significant gains in
fourth-grade reading, and only one—Charlotte-Mecklenburg,
NC—improved in eighth-grade
reading. Still, these stats are more encouraging if we look at score gains
since TUDA’s inception: Since then, many of the participating districts have
made large gains in math and reading achievement. In math, nine of the ten original
districts saw their fourth graders improve between 2003 and 2011, while
thirteen of fourteen posted gains for eighth graders. (Cleveland failed to post any significant
improvements in either category.) In reading, all six original districts saw
gains among...

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No matter where you live, chances are it’s a Common Core state. In
total, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common
Core and are developing plans to implement those standards over the next
several years. While much of the work around implementation is taking
place behind the closed doors of state education departments, the state
Race to the Top applications and the more recent ESEA waivers provide a
window into where states are prioritizing their time and focusing their
resources. Not surprisingly, all states have some kind of plan to align
curriculum, assessment, and professional development around these new
standards. But it’s far from certain whether most states will get it
right.

Below are three ways states can ensure that these newly adopted standards translate to clear student achievement outcomes:

1. Clearly define the student
learning outcomes to which all students will be held accountable once
the CCSS-aligned assessments come down the pike.

Perhaps the most important thing that a state department of education can do for classroom teachers is to clearly
define the student learning outcomes to which students will be held.
The Common Core Standards for ELA and math get us partway there, but
they, like all standards, don’t go far enough. For instance, the
following are three standards from sixth, seventh, and eighth grade,
respectively.

RL.6.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text

...
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