Standards, Testing & Accountability

"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...

iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of
NCLB.

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod
debuted!...

Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit cover
Building off their May 2011 conference of the same name,
this volume, edited by American Enterprise Institute scholars Rick Hess and
Andrew Kelly, offers a one-stop-shop for expert views on the federal role in
education over the past fifty years. The book (which includes a chapter from
our own Chester Finn) tackles topics ranging from federal efforts at promoting
equity to the courts’ role in education. While the tome doesn't much aim to
resolve the debate about the federal role, it does inject this timely issue
with a healthy dose of perspective, offering a nuanced picture of the feds'
capabilities. Particularly relevant, the chapter on the feds’ role in research
(which has emerged
as a hot topic in recent months
)—written by Jane Hannaway and Mark
Schneider—offers a keen take on how the feds have tried to balance rigor,
relevance, and politics as they pursue education research. Similarly compelling
is the chapter on Uncle Sam’s investment in innovation, where discussions of
RTTT and i3 feature prominently. Despite the book’s historic...



chocolate-covered face photo

Couldn't swear off chocolate--but maybe
this implementation thing will stick.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Forget swearing off sweets or hitting the gym; the New
Year’s resolution trending among education policymakers seems to be “getting
tough on implementation.” First, Arne Duncan ruined Hawaii’s holidays with a
stern Christmas card: The state is now on “high-risk status,” with access to
its remaining Race to the Top grant money severely limited until it stops dawdling
and starts implementing promised reforms. This from a federal education
department that has so far accommodated slow-moving states and approved dozens
of RTTT-application amendments. Perhaps energized (or concerned) by Duncan’s
newfound nerve, New York’s state commissioner of education, John King, is also
hopping on the “hard on implementation” wagon. This week, the Empire State’s commish announced that he’s withholding $60 million from Gotham’s SIG funding
after negotiations
broke down between the district and the union
over—what else?—teacher evaluations. (He’s cutting...



clown fish in anemone photo

Like clown fish and anemone, teacher evals
and merit pay need each other.
Photo by Rob

Teacher evaluations are particularly contentious of late, as
educators in New York and Hawaii can testify
, which is why it’s worth
remembering what can happen when they’re done right. Sam Dillon provided a
heartening reminder in his New York Times
feature on merit pay last weekend, highlighting D.C.’s pioneering IMPACTplus
system. Critics of these initiatives point to studies finding that padding star
teachers’ paychecks doesn’t
boost student achievement
; the best educators were working hard to begin
with, and a few extra dollars won’t squeeze more from them. Dillon’s interviews
with DCPS teachers who received bonuses, however—which can be as high as
$25,000—reveal the potential of meaningful performance-based pay to bring about
systemic change. In a profession with brutal turnover, getting talented young
professionals into classrooms may be less important than keeping them there. D.C.
...

A
few weeks ago, Diane Ravitch posted a challenge on Twitter:

“I
challenge anyone who supports the current testing regime to take the 12th grade
test for graduation and release the results to the media.”

The
tweet was a response to a post published by Valerie Strauss in early December that
told the story of a prominent and, by all accounts, very successful Florida school board
member who took a state ELA and math test and publicized his results. (He
earned 17 percent in math, 62 percent in reading.) His experience caused him to
question to validity of using tests as part of a statewide accountability
system. He said:

“It
makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s
entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world
functioning…I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test]
in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals
who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

Strauss
agreed and concluded:

“There
you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately...

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