Standards, Testing & Accountability

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...

Rigorous standards and aligned assessments are vital tools for boosting education outcomes but they have little traction without strong accountability systems that attach consequences to performance. Today, Fordham is releasing a new pilot study, "Defining Strong State Accountability Systems: How Can Better Standards Gain Traction?," laying out the essential features of such accountability systems, intended to add oomph to new common standards and aligned assessments. Specifically, the study identifies six essential elements of effective systems:

  • Adoption of demanding, clear, and specific standards in all core content areas, and rigorous assessment of those standards;
  • Reporting of accessible and actionable data to all stakeholders, including summative outcome data and other formative data to drive continuous improvement;
  • Annual determinations and designations for each school and district that meaningfully differentiate their performance;
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the school and district levels;
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual student level; and
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual teacher and administrator level.

What distinguishes the report from previous work on this subject is that it insists that...

Rigorous standards and aligned assessments are vital tools for boosting education outcomes but they have little traction without strong accountability systems that attach consequences to performance. In this pilot study, Eileen Reed, Janie Scull, Gerilyn Slicker, and Amber Winkler lay out the essential features of such accountability systems, intended to add oomph to new common standards and aligned assessments. “Defining Strong State Accountability Systems” identifies six essential elements of effective systems:

  • Adoption of demanding, clear, and specific standards in all core content areas, and rigorous assessment of those standards;
  • Reporting of accessible and actionable data to all stakeholders, including summative outcome data and other formative data to drive continuous improvement;
  • Annual determinations and designations for each school and district that meaningfully differentiate their performance;
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the school and district levels;
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual student level; and
  • A system of rewards and consequences to drive improvement at the individual teacher and administrator level.
     

What distinguishes the report from previous work on this subject is that it insists that individuals—both students and adults—must be...

Color us embarrassed. Turns out the haters (and I guess the Mayans) were right. Though this isn’t time for “I told you so.” The Common Core standards and assessments truly have brought on the End of Days. Of course, every human still standing—or, rather, crouching, huddled and scared in their makeshift bomb shelters with nothing but Spam, bottled water, and dial-up Internet to sustain them—already knows this. But we do feel a tad responsible for the whole “annihilation-of-Earth” thing. So, for posterity—and to clear the air (sorry, bad pun, I know the air is filled with Uranium-238)—I offer here a recount of just how we got so horrifically off track. Really, we were just trying to ensure that American kids knew how to read and write.

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FEMA-2720
Oops. Our bad.

It was two weeks ago that The Demise began—and it wasn’t all Fordham’s fault. On that fateful Sunday, the town of Tainted Springs, South Carolina (population: 3), officially banned the Common Core standards. Mayor Leda Price (also the town’s bartender and part-time animal-control...

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