Standards, Testing & Accountability

No matter where you live, chances are it’s a Common Core state. In
total, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common
Core and are developing plans to implement those standards over the next
several years. While much of the work around implementation is taking
place behind the closed doors of state education departments, the state
Race to the Top applications and the more recent ESEA waivers provide a
window into where states are prioritizing their time and focusing their
resources. Not surprisingly, all states have some kind of plan to align
curriculum, assessment, and professional development around these new
standards. But it’s far from certain whether most states will get it

Below are three ways states can ensure that these newly adopted standards translate to clear student achievement outcomes:

1. Clearly define the student
learning outcomes to which all students will be held accountable once
the CCSS-aligned assessments come down the pike.

Perhaps the most important thing that a state department of education can do for classroom teachers is to clearly
define the student learning outcomes to which students will be...

The final drafts of the Common Core State Standards were released a
year and a half ago—almost to the day. Anyone who’s read the Race to the
Top applications or the ESEA waivers knows that state departments of
education have begun to put together statewide CCSS implementation
plans. Some states are working to revise curricula. Others are adjusting
current assessment blueprints to reflect CCSS priorities. And all are
thinking about the changes that they will need to make to professional
development and training in the coming months to make this sea change in
standards work for kids.

And yet, 18 months after the standards were released, the assessment consortia have released minimal guidance about how precisely
they will assess the CCSS. In fact, PARCC has yet to release a single
sample assessment item. And, while SMARTER Balanced has released a small
handful of sample items, teachers need far more guidance to understand
the outcomes to which their students will be held accountable in just a
few years.

It’s these critical assessment decisions —which will more clearly
illustrate the outcomes to which students will be held accountable—that...

For months, leaders from LAUSD and the UTLA have
stalled within a deep tunnel of negotiations, unable to reach consensus on,
well, anything. This week, light broke at the end of that dark passageway: Los
Angeles Superintendent John Deasy and the newly elected union president, Warren
Fletcher, have reached a partial agreement. And it’s an exciting one: Under the
new pact, district schools could exercise charter-like autonomy over hiring,
curriculum, and work conditions. If a school wants to diverge from current norms
by, say, altering its salary structure or length of day, neither union nor
district officials can object. (Take note of this innovative approach for
combating union strong-arming: Pitch the reforms to teachers as a respite from
meddling district policies, not just cumbersome
union ones.) So, what catalyzed this union change of heart? Pressure from
charter schools—which hold a 10 percent market share of L.A.’s student
enrollment. According to Fletcher, “There’s been a lot of focus on
out-of-district resources and answers. This is the beginning of moving back to
some semblance of balance.” Before the agreement becomes official, though, it
must be ratified...

As education governance rises on the policy
agenda, should American reformers be looking toward greater decentralization or
centralization—or a judicious mix of both? Eric Hanushek, Susanne Link, and
Ludger Woessmann argue that, in a country like the U.S., greater school-level
autonomy offers the best shot at boosting student achievement. Using the four
available rounds of PISA data (2000-09), the trio compared achievement in forty-two
countries with their levels of school-based autonomy, as reported by principals.
(Specifically, they analyzed autonomy of academic content, personnel decisions,
and budget allocations.) Dividing the countries up by GDP per capita, the
authors find that developed nations tend to see spikes in student achievement
when school autonomy increases, while scores in developing countries drop with
greater decentralization. Autonomy works when local leaders have both
an interest in making decisions that benefit students and the capacity to do
so. The stronger governmental institutions and the rule of law, the logic goes,
the more likely leaders are to align their interests to those of their
students. Thus, in richer countries, pairing greater autonomy with test-based
accountability magnified the bump in scores. In short, how...

Most of the time,
Congressional hearings on federal education research are just an opportunity
for various interested parties to plead for more money. A couple of weeks back,
however, Rep. Duncan Hunter and the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood,
Elementary, and Secondary Education held an unusually candid and (I hope)
fruitful review of this crucial but not-very-sexy policy domain. Terrific
witness list—ISUSand an outstanding testimony by former IES director Russ Whitehurst,
now of Brookings, who did more than defend his own solid track record in that
role. He pulled no punches regarding research quality (needs to be raised, not
lowered), the American Educational Research Association (another
self-interested and greedy lobby), the (complex but crucial) relationship
between IES and the rest of the Education Department, and the hopelessness of
the regional education laboratories. He also urged Congress not to “try to
dictate how states and LEAs should use findings from research,” about which he’s
mostly right. What he might not be right about are the late, lamented Reading
First program and the future relationship between IES and the National Center
for Education Statistics. Have a...

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings...


High Stakes Accountability coverIn her new book, Kathryn A. McDermott of the
University of Massachusetts tackles the complicated theory and history of
educational accountability. According to McDermott, our increasingly
centralized system has been shaped by the push for educational equality, going
back to desegregation and continuing with performance-based accountability
today. To make her case, McDermott showcases the rise of accountability
structures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New
Jersey, and the growth in federal involvement. Perhaps most interesting are the
lessons McDermott draws from these case studies—relevant to other public-policy
sectors as well. Notably, to design a smart accountability system, policymakers
must first ensure that they have the capacity to operate it. Else accountability
creates perverse incentives (like cheating on high-stakes testing). As federal policymakers
contemplate handing
accountability back to the states
, it will be smart to remember whence and
why our current model originated. This book shines a light onto that past.


Kathryn A. McDermott, High-Stakes
Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability