Standards, Testing & Accountability

Three years ago, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst made the bold claim that the caliber of a state’s standards had no bearing on that jurisdiction’s student achievement. More recently, fellow Brookings scholar Tom Loveless used Whitehurst’s work to argue that the Common Core standards won’t move the needle on student achievement. There is, however, one small problem with applying the Whitehurst findings to the present situation: The Common Core standards didn’t exist in 2009. Enter this analysis by Michigan State University education professor Dr. William Schmidt (admittedly, a Common Core booster): After comparing states’ previous standards to those of the Common Core, Schmidt analyzed how students from each state fared on the 2009 NAEP math exam. The upshot? States whose own standards were closer to the Common Core boasted higher NAEP scores than those states with unaligned standards. (Schmidt also compared the Common Core standards to those in other high-performing nations and found them to be of similar substance and quality.) These correlations suggest that Common Core may be getting something very right in the way the standards are written and that spending the time and money necessary for smart implementation may well be exactly what our students need. But...

It’s a big week for science geeks: Achieve is slated to release the long-awaited draft Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) tomorrow. Until then, we have the just-released nation’s report card for eighth-grade science to keep us occupied. Overall trends are positive: Scale scores ticked up two points since 2009. (Due to framework changes, we can’t compare data any further back than that.) The black-white achievement gap dropped one point, and the Hispanic-white gap narrowed by three points. All racial subgroups saw bumps in achievement. At the state level, sixteen jurisdictions improved their scale scores since 2009; no states averaged scores significantly lower than their 2009 marks. Further, we learn that those students who engage in hands-on science activities at least once a week and those who participate in science activities outside the classroom fair better on NAEP—an encouraging find for programs like Project Lead the Way. But there’s also cause for concern. Notably (staffers at PLTW and elsewhere should take note), we have not shown the ability to boost outcomes for our best and brightest. The percentage of students scoring “advanced” on the eighth-grade NAEP science test...

Guest blogger Anne L. Bryant is the executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) held its 72nd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, and more than 5,000 school board members and superintendents enjoyed inspiring remarks by CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien, Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan, and President of Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada. We also held more than 200 sessions and workshops on topics such as the common core standards, new trends in educational technology, community engagement, and strategies to turn around low-performing schools.

But perhaps the biggest star was our 2011-12 president, Mary Broderick, of East Lyme, Conn. In her term as president, Broderick has passionately articulated the need to allow teachers and students the freedom to think, teach, and learn. She’s fascinated by motivation research and for years has studied the impact of federal and state policies, particularly the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on classrooms.

She began writing a letter to President Barack Obama during her travels as NSBA president, soliciting comments and advice...

There is little dispute that information about the academic gains students make (or don’t) is a valuable addition to pure student proficiency data. But there is little agreement about how best to calculate growth and how to use it to inform things like teacher evaluations and school rating systems. The latter is important – especially now in Ohio. While many local educators believe Governor Kasich’s plan to overhaul how Ohio’s districts are graded gives too little weight to academic progress (and too much to achievement), the truth is that the limits of our current value-added system indicate that the governor’s formula is just right, for now.

Under the governor’s initial version of Senate Bill 316, Ohio would move to an A to F school rating system with ratings calculated based on four factors: 1) student achievement on state tests and graduation rates, 2) a school performance index based on state test results, 3) student academic progress, and 4) the performance of student subgroups.

Matt Cohen, chief researcher for the state education department, testified last month to the Senate education committee that feedback from the field indicates they want growth (aka “value-added” in Ohio) to count more heavily...

An independent task force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security brought together by the Council on Foreign Relations released a report in March that found that "the United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."

These findings may be disconcerting, but they're not new. Politicians, policymakers, educators, parents, and even students have long understood that far too many American students leave high school without having mastered the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and on the job.

There is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. But who is right?

Of course, there is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. Many believe that small classes are our best route to closing the achievement gap. Others feel similarly about setting clear and rigorous standards. And still others push for accountability reforms that use results from assessments to hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable.

Who is right?

There is a saying among high performing schools that there is no 100...

Several years ago, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst did a study that looked at whether there was a link between high quality standards and student achievement. Drawing upon rankings of standards done by Fordham and the AFT, he found no relationship between the strength of a state’s standards and their student achievement results.

Common Core supporters would do well to keep the champagne on ice.

Whitehurst’s study has emerged as the rallying cry of Common Core skeptics, with fellow Brookings scholar Tom Loveless using it to argue that the implementation of the Common Core doesn’t matter and won’t make a different in improving student reading or math achievement.

There is one small problem: The Whitehurst study doesn’t address Common Core standards because they didn’t exist when he did his research.

Enter Dr. William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University. Rather than resurrecting the Whitehurst study—or the Fordham evaluations of state standards—Schmidt did his own original analysis. And the findings from this study seem to suggest that Loveless—and anyone else trotting Whitehurst out to undermine the Common Core—may have gotten things exactly wrong.

The difference between the studies is critical to the debate over the CCSS. In short, while Whitehurst relied on...

The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

USA Today ran a story Saturday entitled, “Common Core Standards Driving a Wedge in Education Circles.” The article comes after a week of exceptionally bad press for standards- and accountability-driven reform, capped off by the tale of a talking pineapple and his apparently cannibalistic friends.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was just two short years ago that a remarkably broad and bipartisan coalition that united union leaders and market reformers helped secure passage of the new standards.

What a difference a couple years makes.

What’s interesting, though, is that, with some limited exceptions, the debate over the Common Core standards has very little to do with the standards themselves. In fact, on all sides of the ed reform aisle, people seem to agree that these particular standards are rigorous, clear, and better than the vast majority of the state standards that were in place previously.

Instead, the debate over the Common Core is now caught up in a larger fight about the merits of education reform writ large. In this increasingly toxic environment, Common Core has become one more conspiracy to uncover, one more grand scheme for the fringe on the right and...

Education Week’s latest report provides readers with an overview of the concerns and challenges—and a few of the early successes—surrounding implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This compilation of six articles offers anecdotal information on a number of “early adopter” districts—including specifics on how the Common Core may affect classroom instruction and content delivery. According to the report, most early adopters are phasing in the CCSS, initially for Kindergarteners and first graders only; a number of them are collaborating on curriculum development and training materials—all available via open-source online portals. Still more are incorporating the special-education teaching tactics of “universal design for learning” (UDL) and “response to intervention” (RTI)—which promote flexible classroom materials and help individualize instruction—into general-education learning. Some promising initiatives are afoot—but Ed Week’s anecdotes (as well as its inattention to how states are preparing for Common Core assessments and linked accountability systems) do little to assuage fears that CCSS implementation is moving too slowly.

Education Week, Math, Literacy, & Common Standards (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, April 2012)....

On Monday, I wondered aloud whether the debate among policy elites over the value of the Common Core had become nihilistic. Yesterday, Terry Ryan, Fordham's VP for Ohio programs and policy, confirmed that, at least in the heartland, the discussions among practitioners about the value and potential of the Common Core was far more optimistic and productive. Terry described how Ohio educators, interviewed by journalist Ellen Belcher for a forthcoming report, view the transition to and the potential of the new expectations:

The educators in Ohio interviewed by Belcher, the people on the frontlines of our schools who work daily with our kids, see the move towards the Common Core as a positive. But, they worry seriously about the implementation challenges, and they fear that somehow our political leadership class will screw all of this up and turn a good into something bad. Or, as one Cleveland educator remarked, “the Common Core is the right work we should be doing as a country.” “But let’s not make this the metric system of our time…and all of sudden stop.” This is thoughtful guidance from someone actually doing the work.
Common sense, increasingly scarce in the public debate around the Common...