Standards, Testing & Accountability

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Channeling Rahm

Kathleen and Mike cross the picket line and ask whether reformers have gone too far too fast on teacher evaluations. Amber makes the case for front-loading teacher pay.

Amber's Research Minute

How Should School Districts Shape Teacher Salary Schedules? Linking School Performance to Pay Structure in Traditional Compensation Schemes by Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk - Download PDF

Ohio’s expanding attendance data scandal has the potential to match, if not exceed, the scale of recent test cheating scandals in big cities like Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles. And the longer it lingers on, the more that innocent schools and educators suffer.

Ohio’s “attendancegate” began in June when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus City Schools’ staff had erased more than 2.8 million student-absence days from its attendance system dating back to the 2006-07 school year and instead marked those students as having withdrawn, then reenrolled, in the district. According to the Dispatch, key central office administrators were each responsible for tens of thousands of deletions. The changes not only improved attendance records (one performance indicator on state report cards), but could also improve proficiency test scores. Only the test scores of those students who are continuously enrolled in a school from October until state tests are administered in the spring are included in the school's overall test scores and report card rating. For example, if a child moves among multiple schools during the year, his performance only "counts" at the state level, and does not apply to a particular school or district. Likewise, if school staff...

The flurry of legislative activity shot forth from federal teacher effectiveness incentives has made it difficult to keep up with state reform policies. Since 2010, states have built on existing policies, tossed out poor ones, and created others to address areas needing improvement. In Ohio, House Bill 153 (2011 biennial budget bill) made significant changes to teacher evaluations (see detailed coverage here). To track these changes, DC-based Bellwether Education Partners examines policies in 21 states that took major legislative action in teacher effectiveness in this report.

The Bellwether report focuses on regulations that link teacher evaluations to significant personnel decisions. Bellwether gives each state’s policies an “Effectiveness Rating” based on 13 criteria that address areas like evaluation frequency, inclusion of student performance, compensation as teacher reward, and tenure. States can receive up to one point in each area, for a possible total of thirteen. Bellwether awards states with points if their policies address critical areas of teacher evaluation to foster a “more performance-oriented culture.”

Among the top rated state policies are Louisiana (10 points), Florida (9.75), and Indiana (11.75). Forty percent of states received less than half the possible score (less than 6.5). Ohio received a 5.5...

Martin R. West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has authored a new study focusing on the pros and cons of state policies that require retention of third-grade students who do not test sufficiently proficient in reading. Such a policy has been in place in Florida since 2003 and that policy has been used as the basis for similar efforts in other states, including Ohio which this year passed and signed into law Senate Bill 316. This law will require third graders to read at a state minimum standard to advance to fourth grade.

These policies rest upon a number of studies that show that proficient reading is the bedrock of all other learning going forward, and that a lack of reading proficiency at this critical stage of learning development leads to lower outcomes over the long-haul (e.g., higher intervention needs and increased dropout rates). West adds to this literature by examining the educational path of Florida students who were retained in third grade in 2003 over the ensuing six years to determine what impact the retention had on those students’ academic advancement.

West finds a significant short-term achievement boost in reading in the first two...

Ohio’s expanding attendance data scandal has the potential to match, if not exceed, the scale of recent test cheating scandals in big cities like Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles. And the longer it lingers on, the more that innocent schools and educators suffer.

Ohio’s “attendancegate” began in June when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus Public Schools’ staff had erased more than 2.8 million student-absence days from its attendance system dating back to the 2006-07 school year and instead marked those students as having withdrawn, then reenrolled, in the district. According to the Dispatch, key central office administrators were each responsible for tens of thousands of deletions. The changes would not only improve attendance records (one performance indicator on state report cards), but also could improve proficiency test scores. Only the test scores of those students who are continuously enrolled in a school from October until state tests are administered in the spring are included in the school's overall test scores and report card rating. For example, if a child moves among multiple schools during the year, his performance only "counts" at the state level, and does not apply...

Robert Pondiscio, a vice president at the Core Knowledge Foundation and editor of its blog, posed an interesting question on Twitter this week:

I’ve seen bad schools with good test scores before. Any good schools with bad test scores?

It’s a timely and important question that gets to the heart of the emerging debate over whether standardized tests can fairly and accurately measure student learning, and whether accountability systems based on their results are too often mislabeling successful teachers and schools as “failures.”

Obviously, no accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform. But is there any proof that is happening?

No accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform.

Enter Kristina Rizga, a Berkeley-educated muckraking journalist who recently took the reins as the education reporter at Mother Jones after stints at Wiretap Magazine and AlterNet. In preparation for her new article, “Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong,” Rizga spent a year “embedded” in Mission High...

Eek. Vouchers + creationism = liberal horror, teacher-union field-day, and at least a small risk to the school-choice movement. Politically and strategically, it would be so much simpler if those “voucher schools” would just behave themselves!

God-Creates-Adam-Sistine-Chapel
If only Michaelangelo had taken on voucher accountability too. 
Photo by ideacreamanuelaPps

But how upset should one really be about the AP report from Louisiana that some of the private schools participating in the Pelican State’s new voucher program “teach creationism and reject evolution”?

State Superintendent of Education John White offered the correct policy response: All voucher students must participate in the state assessments, which include science. “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures [their understanding of] evolution.” In other words, the schools can do what they like but if their voucher-bearing students don’t learn enough to pass the state tests, the state will do something about it—ultimately (under Louisiana regulations) eliminating those schools from eligibility to participate in the...

Fifty-four: That’s the percentage of students who took the ACT math exam last spring and failed to meet its benchmark score. (That benchmark signifies that a student attaining it has a 50 percent chance of earning a B, or a 75 percent chance of earning a C, in a credit-bearing college course.) The statistics are a bit better in English (33 percent fell below the ACT benchmark) and reading (48 percent). In science, however, they’re worse: Fully 69 percent of 2012 test-takers failed to meet the ACT benchmark score in this subject. A mere quarter of those who sat for the ACT met the organization’s benchmarks in all four subjects (as has been the case in years prior). Keep in mind, too, that for the most part only kids who plan to attend college even bother with the ACT. Unlike NAEP, in other words, it’s a selective sample of the high school population (and even NAEP omits dropouts). These bleak results—and the uphill battle they portend—are important to keep in mind as the U.S. embarks upon implementation of the Common Core academic standards, which are reportedly...

Last week, Ohio’s State Board of Education voted unanimously to delay the release of annual school performance report cards as state officials investigate allegations of data-tampering. It came to light this summer that some Ohio school districts (Auditor of State Dave Yost is working to determine just how many) retroactively un-enrolled and re-enrolled truant or low-performing students in order to break the students’ enrollment records with the district. Those students’ test scores and attendance records would then not count toward the district’s overall report card rating because the students hadn’t been continuously enrolled from October to spring testing. (To be clear, there is no evidence yet that data-tampering was taking place in all, or even most, of the state’s 600+ districts, and there is conflicting opinion about whether the data changes were actually on the up and up.)

The state board’s decision was the right one. They simply cannot make public extensive data about school performance unless they have faith in the accuracy of that information. However, the decision has widespread ramifications for Ohio’s districts, schools, and students. There are a number of policy provisions triggered by the annual report cards and the test data they...

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