Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Today, education leaders from across the nation (including our own Checker Finn) came together to endorse the idea of creating a national, voluntary, common curriculum that would be designed to supplement the national, voluntary, Common Core ELA and math standards. (See here and here for more.) While well-intentioned, shifting the focus right now to a national curriculum?no matter how voluntary?is a mistake.

That's not to say that teachers aren't going to need rigorous and thorough curricula to help them effectively teach to the standards. They are.

Rather, it's a question of what is the proper role of the state in CCSS implementation. And unless the state wants to get in the business of policing schools' proper implementation of a curriculum?whether that ?curriculum? is as detailed as a script or as general as a pacing guide?they would do better to focus the lion's share of their time and attention elsewhere. Namely, on ensuring that there are rigorous, CCSS-aligned summative state assessments in all core content areas.

The easy answer is of course to say that's already being taken care of. Most states have joined one of two consortia and the work on those CCSS-aligned assessments is already well underway.

But there is still much assessment work that needs to be done. For starters, between now and when the consortia-created assessments are ready for prime-time, states be tweaking their existing assessment blueprints to ensure that essential content is being properly prioritized across the grades.

What's...

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OhioFlypaper

Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging ?new normal,? as Arne Duncan calls it?the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state's money. And Ohio's situation is far from unique.

Yet schools?in Ohio and beyond?can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That's the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state's school superintendents. And again there's no reason to believe that Ohio's situation is unique.

While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of ?doing more with less? in K-12 education, we've been privy to innumerable comments?usually off the record?by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, ?We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.? They called in...

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Amy Fagan

As you probably know, we recently released a?new study,?The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011). Our reviewers, historians Sheldon M. Stern and Jeremy A. Stern, graded states' U.S. history standards (for K-12) and unfortunately, 28 states got Ds or Fs. Here, the authors talk about how they went about their reviews, what makes standards good or bad, etc.

Also,?Fordham's Mike Petrilli and Kathleen Porter-Magee did a radio tour when our study was released. I now have a few more of those clips to provide. Mike talked to KFWB in Los Angeles, California; he also?discussed the study?with KTRH in Houston Texas; and?he chatted with?KOA in Denver, Colorado as well.?Meanwhile, Kathleen?shared?thoughts?with WPTF in North Carolina.

--Amy Fagan...

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Anyone who's followed more than a few releases of NAEP scores recognizes the familiar feeling of disenchantment that accompanies it. Scores are low across subgroups? and criminally low for minority students and low-income kids; trends are flat, stagnant, stalled, barely budging; wide achievement gaps persist. And NAEP illustrates time and time again how proficiency rates according to states' own achievement tests tend to be higher and therefore misleading (check out Fordham's 2007 report, The Proficiency Illusion) ? all the more reason to be happy that Ohio and other states have signed onto Common Core standards in ELA and math.

According to recently released 2009 scores for the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), Cleveland fourth and eighth graders performed just as abysmally in science as they did in reading and math. At least according to NAEP scores, one might say that Cleveland's closest cousin is Detroit (the only district whose students fared worse in science). The bad news takes a variety of forms:

  • Among the 17 participating districts in the NAEP TUDA, eight of them had students in both grades scoring lower than the large city average nationally. Cleveland earns that distinction.
  • In both fourth and eighth grades (according to average scale scores) Cleveland ranks at the very bottom, beating out only Detroit.
  • Scores for Cleveland eighth graders place them in the 21st percentile in science nationally; fourth graders are in the 16th percentile.
  • Not only do Clevelanders fail to reach science proficiency, but 70 percent
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Just when I thought we were making progress in devising a national core curriculum, everyone is already talking about tests based on the Common Core, which is still in its infancy.?

In New York State, the Regents recently entertained a proposal to replace their Regents Exams with tests developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).? Those are the folks representing 26 states which educate 60 percent of our K--12 students.?

Rick Hess weighed in last week with an essay wondering whether the common core was ?running off the rails already.?? Hess's worries derive from a recent symposium on ?through-course assessment? that was attended by ?a slew of heavy-hitters from the world of assessment and test development,??including PARCC.

What surprised Hess, as he writes, was ?a seeming disregard for the policy or practical impact of this whole enterprise.?? One problem is that there are laws prohibiting?the use of?federal funds to develop curricula.? Then there's the money problem: who's going to pay for the new assessments?? As mentioned before (here), Rick also has questions about how a national curriculum will impact the experimentation values of the charter school movement.

All of this suggests?a larger problem:? while we? inch toward a common curriculum, we are getting bogged down?in a distracting?debate on state autonomy while?the standards and testing industry is zooming ahead, already writing tests based on standards -- and no curriculum. ???????

As Catherine Gewertz at Education...

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One of the biggest problems with most states' U.S. history standards is their liberal bias. So found historians Sheldon and Jeremy Stern in their new Fordham study, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.

In 2003, at the time of the last Fordham review, many state U.S. history standards were plagued by overtly left-wing political tendentiousness and ideological indoctrination. There has been some retreat from such open bias since then. Nonetheless, more recent standards provide abundant evidence that political correctness remains alive in American classrooms. Lists of specific examples are routinely little more than diversity-driven checklists of historically marginalized groups. North Dakota, in one typical case, offers this slanted, chronologically muddled, and historically nonsensical selection of famous Americans in the early grades: ?George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, C?sar Ch?vez, [and] Sacagawea.?

Also widespread in state history standards is politically correct ?presentism??encouraging students to judge the past by present-day moral and political standards, rather than to comprehend past actions, decisions, and motives in the context of their times. Several states, for example, prod students to fault the revolutionary generation for denying full equality to women and blacks?without explaining that in the context of the late eighteenth century, the idea of government based even on the votes of white, property owning males was itself radical and untested.

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Liam Julian

Texans ought to take a look at Fordham's recent assessment of their state's history standards, which, according to the ?State of State U.S. History Standards 2011,? ?inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values, and American Exceptionalism,? making for a document that teaches an unfortunately politicized version of the national story. The Houston Chronicle reports that the chair of Texas's state board of education said that Fordham's evaluation ?is based on misinformation.? ?Fordham,? she said, ?obviously does not know that the Texas Education Code requires us to teach the free enterprise system and its benefits. That's the primary reason the free enterprise system is emphasized throughout our document, rather than just relegated to a high school economics class.? Well, perhaps the Texas Education Code could?stand some tweaking? Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott defended the standards not by actually defending their content but by impugning Fordham's motives: ?Given its funding sources,? he said of Fordham, ?it is not surprising that it would attack a state that has opposed national standards.? This would be more convincing were Texas's history standards themselves not so bad; never, for instance, does the Chronicle quote Scott addressing the report's criticism that the standards document ?distorts or suppresses less triumphal or more nuanced aspects of our past that the Board found politically unacceptable (slavery and segregation are all but ignored, while religious influences are grossly exaggerated).? Come on, Texans! You're better than that!

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow ...

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Foreword by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee

Presidents’ Day 2011 has come and gone, but George Washington would be dismayed by the findings of this new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Reviewers evaluated state standards for U.S. history in grades K-12. What they found is discouraging: Twenty-eight states—a majority—deserve D or F grades for their academic standards in this key subject. The average grade across all states is a dismal D. Among the few bright spots, South Carolina earns a straight A for its standards and six other jurisdictions—Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia—garner A-minuses. (The National Assessment's "framework" for U.S. history also fares well.) Read on to learn how your state scored.

 
Amy Fagan

As Presidents' Day approaches, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have a wake-up call for many states regarding our country's history. A new study, which we published today, examines state standards for U.S. history and finds that the majority of states ? 28 to be exact ? have mediocre-to-terrible standards in this critically important subject. History standards in these 28 states receive D or F grades. And the national average across all states is a D. That's not exactly a pretty picture.

Among the few bright spots in the study, South Carolina was the only state to receive a straight A. And six others ? Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia ? receive A-minuses. States with weak standards would be wise to look to these seven.

Academic standards, of course, set forth what a state's young people are expected to learn in a given subject as they pass through grades K-12. As we've said many times, standards in and of themselves are not a cure for our education ills. But they are certainly an essential place to start. And this study shows that many states have a great deal of work to ensure that they have solid standards for U.S. history.

Please check out the study. You'll see that we have broken out the individual state reviews for your convenience. Find out...

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