Standards, Testing & Accountability

A foundation staffer I think well of posed these vexing questions the other day:

With the transition to the new Common Core assessments, states will have a number of decisions around how they use the new tests. Some of the most consequential are around possible use of the tests for high school exit or grade promotion. These are obviously sticky subjects. Should we be scrapping exit exams, especially given that they tend to be 9th-grade level at best anyway? Is there a need for an overall re-thinking and rationalization of state testing in general—rather than piling more on top?

Graduation
Could Common Core improve the value of a high school education?
Photo by Anna Botz

Here’s what I think:

States today have sharply divergent views of what stakes, if any, to attach to test results for kids. Several have test-based 3rd-grade reading “gates” that you must pass to advance to 4th grade (Jeb Bush said the other day that “Seven states have started on this journey”). A few have “kindergarten-readiness” assessments (though those are more often teacher “checklists” than tests). And the...

This new study by Brookings’s Matt Chingos makes its way through the labyrinth of state budgets for standardized assessments, and it is the first time we’ve ever seen anything coherent and reasonably comprehensive on this part of the K-12 spending universe. Chingos focuses on the costs of contracts between states and test-making vendors, which comprise about 85 percent of total assessment costs. Across the forty-five states for which data were available, $669 million was spent annually on standardized assessments for grades three through nine. That’s about $27 per pupil on average, but this figure varies widely: A child in D.C. costs $114 to assess; in New York, that same child would cost just $7. Some of the variance is due to state size. He estimates that states with about 100,000 students in grades three-nine (e.g., Maine or Hawaii) spend about $13 more per pupil on assessment than states in the million-pupil range, such as Illinois. From these data, Chingos concludes that all states would enjoy some savings by joining or creating assessment consortia—whether PARCC or SBAC for ELA and math or another smaller grouping for other subjects. Much speculation surrounds the in-development Common Core assessments; the new design is likely...

A widely-noted  Government Accountability Office (GAO) report back in June found that charter schools serve a disproportionately low number of special-education students, feeding concerns that these schools discriminate again special-needs (and ELL) youngsters. This latest from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds much-needed nuance and should quell some of the concern. CRPE analysts examined 2011-12 special-education enrollments across 1,500 district and 170 charter schools in New York State, finding that aggregates in that state mask important differences across grade band, location, and authorizer. At the middle and high school levels, New York special-education enrollments are nearly identical in the district and charter sectors, with the only variance—albeit sizable—occurring at the elementary level. (The authors offer a few suggestions as to why, including that charter elementaries are less likely to label students special-needs as they have more effective behavior-management systems, smaller classes, or a general insistence on “individualized” education for every pupil.) From these findings, the researchers draw cautionary policy recommendations, urging against the adoption (or continuation) of blanket special-education-enrollment requirements. (New York has such a law; more on this on our Choice Words blog). Not a...

Albert Shanker
The late AFT president Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the NBPT.
Photo from the Library of Congress..

As President of the AFT, the late Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and much else in the education-reform world. Now Randi Weingarten is trying—earnestly and imaginatively—to return the organization and its (present) leader to the pantheon of real reformers.

Their new and much-ballyhooed proposal, contained in a report titled Raising the Bar, revives the Shanker-era idea of a “bar exam” for entering teachers—and charges the NBPTS with putting it into practice.

Andy Rotherham came out within hours with multiple doubts, some of which worry me, too. But let’s start by crediting Ms. Weingarten and her organization with a serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession.

Their proposal has three pillars. The second—but most important so far as I’m concerned— is this:

Teaching, like other respected professions, must have...

The Ohio Senate Education Committee this week heard testimony and debated the merits of House Bill 555 (HB 555), legislation that would overhaul Ohio's school accountability system, if passed. The legislation has passed through the Ohio House of Representatives and is currently under review by the Senate. Revamping Ohio’s accountability system is required under Ohio's ESEA Flexibility request.

Most significantly, HB 555 proposes a change in how the Buckeye State rates schools' academic performance. Under current policy, Ohio's public school buildings and districts (charter and traditional) are given a rating from "Academic Emergency" to "Excellent with Distinction." HB 555 would do away with these designations and move to an A to F rating system. The new grading system would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to this change, HB 555 would also revise the components and weights of a school's Report Card, enact an accountability framework for dropout recovery charter schools, and establish a rating system for charter school sponsors.

Fordham's vice president Terry Ryan testified in favor of HB 555, arguing that the legislation represents a step forward in Ohio's accountability system. You can read Terry's Senate testimony here, along with an analysis of how the implementation...

With the imminent arrival of the Common Core and its associated assessment requirements in 45 states and the District of Columbia by 2014-15, much concern has been generated about the cost to states of all of this innovation. The prevailing concern is that states will be forced to spend excessively to change and upgrade their existing standards and associated assessments.

The new report by Matthew Chingos, Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems, published by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings notes that it is actually difficult to determine whether states participating in the two consortia of Common Core assessments (PARCC and Smarter Balance) will face higher or lower costs for new assessment systems primarily because the costs of their existing systems are difficult to calculate. Using contract information between states and testing vendors, Chingos attempts to merge disparate data into overall and per-pupil costs for those states and to make as close a comparison between states as possible.

Ohio’s current per-pupil cost for all assessment activities was calculated at $40, placing it 11th out of 45 jurisdictions for which data were available, and well above the national average of $27 per student. The...

Today the Ohio Senate Education Committee heard testimony and debated the merits of House Bill 555 (HB 555), legislation that would overhaul Ohio's school accountability system, if passed. The legislation has passed through the Ohio House of Representatives and is currently under review by the Senate. Revamping Ohio’s accountability system is required under Ohio's ESEA Flexibility request.

Most significantly, HB 555 proposes a change in how the Buckeye State rates schools' academic performance. Under current policy, Ohio's public school buildings and districts (charter and traditional) are given a rating from "Academic Emergency" to "Excellent with Distinction." HB 555 would do away with these designations and move to an A to F rating system. The new grading system would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to this change, HB 555 would also revise the components and weights of a school's Report Card, enact an accountability framework for dropout recovery charter schools, and establish a rating system for charter school sponsors.

Fordham's vice president Terry Ryan testified in favor of HB 555, arguing that the legislation represents a step forward in Ohio's accountability system. You can read Terry's Senate testimony here, along with an...

Parker Baxter

Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched “One Million Lives,” a multi-pronged campaign to provide better schools to one million children by closing failing charter schools and opening many more good ones. 

It might seem odd that an organization that supports charter schools would call for the closure of hundreds of them. But it’s not. It makes perfect sense.

At the heart of the charter school concept is a bargain between schools and the entities that authorize them. Charter schools agree to accept greater accountability, including the possibility of closure, in exchange for greater freedom from bureaucratic rules that can inhibit effective teaching and learning. Charters receive autonomy over inputs in exchange for accountability for outcomes.

The surest way to cripple the charter movement is to let failing charter schools continue to operate.

The possibility of closure is essential to making the charter school bargain work. It is not a coincidence that where charters are working well, the threat of closure is real—and that where they are not, closure is rare. If closure isn’t a real possibility, the charter bargain is out of balance. When the link between autonomy and accountability is broken, quality...

Jeb Bush at summit of Foundation for Excellence in Education
Jeb Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first.
Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images

I don’t know whether his hat is edging into the 2016 presidential election ring, but I do know that Jeb Bush gave a heck of an education keynote on Tuesday morning at the national summit convened in Washington by his Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At this annual bipartisan-but-predominantly-Republican soiree aimed at state legislators and other key ed-policy decision makers—this year’s was by far the largest and grandest of the five they’ve held so far—Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first and did so in language plainly intended to appeal across party lines. A later session, which I had the pleasure of “moderating,” brought much the same message from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress. Though nobody expects Podesta to vote Bush for president (or...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Number of Ohio charter schools in the lowest 15 percent of state performance.
Source: 2011-12 Ohio Report Card Results.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for
  • ...

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