Standards, Testing & Accountability

Leonie Haimson—a vocal ed-reform critic—helped generate a media firestorm about testing recently when she posted about an absurd passage that was included on this year’s New York State eighth grade ELA test. The post itself generated more than 2,000 hits in its first few hours and led to a New York Daily News article entitled “Talking pineapple question on state exam stumps ... everyone!

pineapple
The citrus fruit that rocked education reform.
 Photo by Richard North.

The passage on the exam needs to be read in full to be believed. It’s a perfect storm of bad writing, poor structure, and inexplicable questions. If you haven’t read it—and you should—it’s enough to know that the moral of the story—included in bold at the end—is this:

Moral of the story: Pineapples don't have sleeves.

Haimson and her fellow testing foes are right to call out this passage as ridiculous. And critics of accountability can and should play this role, helping surface problems and draw attention to the need for...

Among the suite of education proposals included in Governor Kasich’s “mid-biennium review” legislation is a transition from Ohio’s current, confusing, and complicated school-rating system to a more straightforward A to F one. Not only would the new system be easier for parents, educators, and the public to understand, it would also provide a more accurate assessment of how well schools and districts in the Buckeye State are educating students (which isn’t quite as well as many of them have been led to believe – see Bianca and Terry’s analysis, here). The proposed changes are a necessary step towards a more honest appraisal of how well prepared Buckeye State students are for the work and college. It also provides insights for what is necessary to increase preparedness for students moving forward.

But another change in the works, one not included in the governor’s bill (because it doesn’t require a change in law), is equally important when it comes to helping all players in the K-12 arena prepare for the higher expectations and rigor of the Common Core standards and the 21st-century global economy in which our students, as adults, will compete.

Early drafts of this year’s district-...

Grade inflation is a way of life in American education, and campaigns to combat it face political pushback and a long, uphill battle to succeed.

Back in 2007, the Fordham Institute published “The Proficiency Illusion" that showed states were calibrating their tests to create “a false impression of success, especially in reading and especially in the early grades.” Further, public polling routinely shows that people think highly of their local schools (and their own children’s academic preparedness), but the data don’t back up such optimism.

There is considerable evidence that our schools aren’t performing as well as we’ve been led to believe: While two-thirds of Ohio’s school districts received a top rating last year of “Excellent” or “Excellent with Distinction” more than 40 percent of the state’s entering college freshmen had to take remedial courses in college. Still, efforts to raise expectations and confront the problem of grade inflation face stiff resistance. There has been tremendous blowback in the Buckeye State against proposed changes to the state’s accountability system that would see the percentage of top rated school districts in the state drop from 63 percent to just four percent. Under the new system, 74 percent of the state’s...

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...

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