Standards, Testing & Accountability

California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address
last week got the anti-reform crowd all atwitter (and a-Twitter) when he called
for scaling back testing and reducing the federal and state roles in California
education. Diane Ravitch swooned, writing in a blog
post
that Brown and his Sunshine State compatriots “may provide the spark that ignites a national revolt against the current
tide of bad ideas.” In one respect, both Brown and Ravitch have it right:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and conditional NCLB waivers
mark a high-water mark for federal intrusion in K-12 education and it is
understandable for governors to chafe at such strong-arming from Washington.
But California is hardly the place to look for good ideas. Its student achievement results trail other states’ by
a mile, and its poor and minority students are doing terribly compared to their
peers in other, more reform-minded states. (Texas and Florida come to mind.) We
have no qualms with mid-course adjustments to the reform agenda (getting test
results back in an expedited manner, for example—something Brown championed).
But let’s not just toss...

Last week, Education First and the EPE Research
Center released a report entitled Preparing for Change. It’s the first of three
that will look at whether states have developed Common Core implementation
plans that address three key challenges:

  • Developing a plan for teacher professional
    development,
  • planning to align/revamp state-created
    curricular and instructional materials, and
  • making changes to teacher evaluation systems.

Many CCSS supporters cheered at the main finding, which indicated that all but
one state—Wyoming—“reported having developed some type of formal implementation
plan for transitioning to the new, common standards.” There is cause for
excitement—this is a clear indication that states are taking CCSS
implementation seriously and that they are working to reorient their education
systems to the new standards.

That said, while developing implementation plans
is an essential step, it’s far more critical to ensure that those plans are
worth following—that they properly identify the gaps in teacher knowledge and
skills so they can target state-led PD efforts, for example, and that they
prioritize the essential components of the CCSS in state-created curricula and
instructional materials. This report doesn’t get...

Into the contentious debate over
teacher effectiveness and value-added metrics (VAM) comes this important,
timely, and supersized analysis, conducted by a trio of respected economists
with the NBER, showing that the impact of good teachers follows their students
into adulthood. The analysts pull data from 18 million test scores from roughly
2.5 million children over two decades (1988 to 2009). They note changes in
teaching staff and find that, when high-value-added teachers (top 5 percent)
joined a school, end-of-year test scores rose immediately in the grade taught
by those teachers. In addition, a one standard deviation (SD) increase in a
teacher's value-added score raises student achievement by 0.1 SD on average
across math and ELA (which equates to roughly one to two months of learning in
a year).

The researchers also meticulously track
subsets of students into young adulthood (using income-tax records, W-2 forms,
university-tuition payments, social-security forms, etc.) and find that the
pupils assigned to teachers with higher value added across all grades are more
likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in better neighborhoods,
and save more for retirement. Further,...

In
the discussion about ESEA reauthorization, people on both sides of the aisle
have recognized the importance of setting rigorous standards aligned to
college- and career-readiness expectations. The Obama Administration has, for
instance, required that states adopt college-
and career-ready standards as part of its ESEA waiver process. Similarly,
Republican-sponsored ESEA reauthorization proposals (which Mike wrote
about in a post
yesterday) also ask states to set college- and
career-readiness standards for students.

While
this focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient. After all, if we’ve learned anything from 10 years of
NCLB implementation, it’s that the act of setting standards doesn’t translate
to increased student achievement unless those standards are meaningfully implemented
in the classroom. And, one of the most important things for states to do to
ensure strong implementation is to hold students accountable for actually
learning the content laid out in the standards.

While
the focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient.

Unfortunately,
over the past 10 years, too many states—even those with...

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Columbus Preparatory Academy, a K-8 Mosaica-run
charter school on Columbus’s west side that is a poster child for the
successful turnaround of a troubled school.

In 2008, the school was rated F by the state and student
performance on state assessments was abysmal. Today the school is rated
A+
(aka, Excellent with Distinction) and boasts achievement levels that best
that of nearly all of the area’s top-performing schools (and are leaps and
bounds above the state’s definition of “proficiency”). This transformation was
achieved while the school continued serving a challenged student population – about
72 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and eligible for free or
reduced-price lunch – and retained nearly all of the same teachers and staff
members who were working in the school when it was failing (in a school that
now employs 30 teachers, the principal said just seven or eight teachers have
left during his four-year tenure).

So what are the keys to CPA’s success? Two things
immediately stand out:

Leadership. Principal
Chad Carr (who has led the turnaround...

"Race to the Top states have made tremendous strides in
this first year," raved Arne Duncan in a Tuesday press release, praising
the “courage and commitment” that the twelve first-round grant recipients had
shown in implementing their proposals. In a dozen state-by-state progress
reports, the Department of Education described a year of great progress with
only a few bad actors—Florida, New York, and Hawaii—who,
rest assured, would be dealt with shortly. Kudos to Duncan for calling out three RttT winners
guilty of minimal progress, but the rosy overall assessment is troubling. Every
single state has reneged on at least one aspect of its proposal, and most are
just beginning to spend the billions Uncle Sam doled out in a competition that
looks increasingly more like a stroll than a sprint. While it’s probably
unreasonable to expect much more in the way of critical self-reflection from the
Obama Administration in an election year, stating the obvious isn’t the same as
accountability. Here’s hoping that the folks at 400 Maryland Avenue are much more
concerned than Tuesday’s reports suggest.

Big
Race to Top Problems in Hawaii,
...

The first
set of preliminary findings
from the Gates-funded Measures of Effective
Teaching (MET) project generated much conversation—and some
criticism
. This latest report, also preliminary, is not much different.
(Remember that this $45 million project seeks to ferret out, or design, an
optimal teacher-evaluation system through the analysis of student test scores,
surveys, and thousands of hours of classroom observations.) While the first
iteration compared student scores with survey responses, this one analyzes the
predictive strength of five frameworks for classroom observations (think D.C.’s
IMPACT program
for an idea of what they look like). The study finds that,
while each method is positively correlated to pupil achievement (on both state
tests and independent tests), the reliability of observations pales in comparison
to value-added measures (VAM): The reliability of VAM is about double that of a
single observation—from any of the tested measurement systems. Predictive
abilities increase significantly when VAM and student-survey data are combined
with classroom observations—leading the authors to recommend use of multiple
measures when evaluating teachers. In response, Jay
Greene
has again sounded the battle cry. And...

 Critics
of “bubble tests” rejoice! The campaign against the use of multiple choice
questions in state tests may finally be turning the tide. But, on the eve of
this victory, it’s worth pausing to ask: is this actually a good thing for
those of us who care about smart, efficient, and effective accountability
systems?

Details continue to trickle in about the PARCC
and SMARTER Balanced assessment consortia plans for their summative ELA and
math assessments. Catherine Gewertz has dug into the RFPs for both consortia
and shared some of her findings in an article published in Education Week yesterday. There’s a lot of
interesting information, including the fact that both consortia appear to be
moving away from multiple choice questions in their test designs. Gewertz
explains:

Documents
issued by the two groups of states that are designing the tests show that they
seek to harness the power of computers in new ways and assess skills that
multiple-choice tests cannot…

While the plans offer few details about how
the new items will differ, or why it’s necessary to abandon multiple choice
questions entirely, people across the...

Hearken back to junior high
and high school for a moment.  What “historical documents” were you taught
in social studies and American history classes?  The U.S. Constitution?
Your state’s constitution?  What about the Declaration of Independence or
the Federalist Papers?  The Northwest Ordinance (especially if you grew up
in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota)?

My entire K-12 education
was in Ohio public schools.  When it came to history, I didn’t take any
electives or special courses beyond whatever was required for me to earn a
diploma.  Yet, I was taught all of these important historical texts,
multiple times, from seventh grade through twelfth.  So I was surprised to
see bills moving through the Ohio legislature that would require
schools to teach what I thought were standard fare for Ohio’s students. In
fact, at first blush it seemed implausible to me that many schools weren’t
already doing so.

My husband, also an Ohio
public school alum (from a quote-unquote better district than I attended), had
a different reaction when I told him about the legislation. He guessed at least
two-thirds of students...

Just over a year ago, Ohio won $400 million in Race to the
Top grant dollars and promised to implement a number of significant reform
programs. The U.S. Department of Education just released a progress report
for the Buckeye State detailing how it has fared in year one, as well as the
work that remains.

First, it might be helpful to revisit the major commitments
Ohio made. They were to:

  • Increase the high school graduation rate by 0.5
    percent per year with an eventual goal of an 88 percent graduation rate. Right now
    only 84.3 percent graduate from Ohio’s high schools.
  • Reduce the graduation rate gap between white and
    minority students by 50 percent. The current gap is 16 percentage points.
  • Reduce the performance gap between Ohio students
    and some of the nation’s highest performers like Massachusetts.
  • Double college enrollment for Ohioans under the
    age of 19. Ohio ranks 35th in terms of adults with a two-year degree
    of higher.
  • Adopt and implement high-quality academic
    standards aligned assessments.
  • Ensure great principals and teachers in every
    school (however that’s measured).

Ohio...

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