Standards, Testing, & Accountability

When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).

Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.

But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:

"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of...

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OhioFlypaper

This year, 18 urban school districts participated in the voluntary NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Math results were released today, and student performance in Cleveland might be the only thing in that city more depressing than the Browns.??

Whether you're wondering how Cleveland compares to its peer cities, or whether students have made academic improvements since TUDA was first administered in 2003 (as many cities' students have), the stats on both fronts are discouraging.

Among the 10 cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003, Cleveland is the only district whose scores have not seen an increase in either fourth or eighth grade.?? Compared to the other 17 cities, Cleveland ranks second to last (next only to Detroit) in 4th grade, and fourth to last in 8th grade (behind Detroit, DC, and Milwaukee). While we've lamented before that Ohio's NAEP scores are low (45 and 36 percent of 4th and 8th graders scored proficient or above, respectively), Cleveland's scores are even more painful in comparison: only eight percent of both 4th and 8th graders in the city scored proficient or higher.

Average scores for eighth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Average scores for fourth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Source: NAEP TUDA 2009 Math Results

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is preparing to...

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For the last month, we've been wondering whether Ohio would truly adopt the NGA/CCSSO Common Core State Standards , or whether the Ohio Department of Education would forge its own path in revising academic content standards so as to meet the June 2010 deadline. The issue was one of timing, as Common Core Standards won't be finalized until January, and this didn't give Ohio enough time to meet its June 2010 mandate.

Given that Fordham gave Ohio a "D+" in our last State of the State Standards report, and that we think the Common Core Standards are substantially better (see our latest report, "Stars by Which to Navigate"), the possibility of Ohio reneging on the Common Core Initiative was worrisome. Emmy wrote on Flypaper:

"What's the Buckeye State to do??? Should the state board of education risk non-compliance with state law and wait for the Common Core work to be finished??? Should state lawmakers revisit the law and extend the deadline for updating the standards??? Are other states in similar predicaments??? If so, what becomes of the Common Core Initiative?"

This week we got our answer, as state education officials announced that Ohio is fully committed to pursuing the Common Core Standards. According to the Columbus Dispatch:

"This decision means the department won't be releasing its own draft standards in English and math this month as planned, because most, and possibly all, of those updates will be scrapped."

...

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OhioFlypaper

On October 29, the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Frank M. Tait Foundation, and the Fred and Alice Wallace Memorial Charitable Foundation hosted an education forum in Fordham's hometown of Dayton to talk about the state of education in that city as well as Ohio and the nation.?? Our Terry Ryan was a participant in the panel discussion ???Making a Difference: What's Been Accomplished and What Needs to be Done,??? along with Tom Lasley, University of Dayton; Kurt Stanic, Dayton Public Schools; Margy Stevens, Montgomery County Educational Service Center; and moderator Scott Elliott of the Dayton Daily News.?? The following are selected segments of that panel.

Terry Ryan on Data Policies and Availability in Ohio

??

??Dayton Education Panel - Terry Ryan on Performance Data and Teacher Evaluation

??...

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Eric Ulas

You know that it's a stark indicator of the educational readiness of America's youth when even former military leaders publicly admit that too many young people are academically ineligible to be recruited.??

As Education Week reported today,??a national security??group comprised of former military officials released a report that says approximately 75% of Americans ages 17-24 are ineligible to join the military because they have not graduated from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit. (Keep in mind that the military lowered its admission standards to near abysmal levels in 2005-2006.)

Arne Duncan attended the press conference held to release the report to urge the passage of a U.S. Senate Bill that would provide funding to expand access to early-childhood education programs and enhance training. He had this to say in support of the bill:

"A quality education is really an issue of national security. If we don't educate our children well, we put our nation at risk."

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Standards-based reform in education is imperfect. The ways that states and districts assess kids, design tests, and attempt to hold teachers and schools accountable are bound to be flawed, lead to unintended consequences, and create many enemies along the way. But I wish the opponents of standards-based reform in Ohio would at least get a little more creative.

You may recall from a few months ago that Karl Wheatley, Cleveland State University ed professor, said the best way to improve education would be to "stop focusing on student achievement ." I outlined why I thought that was a bad idea here . The gist of his argument, believe it or not, was that because standardized testing creates "collateral damage," perverse incentives, etc. the best thing to do is to stop trying to raise student achievement.

Yesterday's op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch from another education professor, Thomas Stephens of Ohio State, comes from the same predictable script (aka "we don't like the focus on standards/testing/accountability so let's call for its demise-or at least replace it with a nebulous emphasis on problem solving and innovative thinking"). In "Standards obstruct education," Stephens argues that Ohio's decision to revise academic standards is a waste of time and money because, among other things, it "doesn't consider the needs of... children." This commentary uses the same creepy factory language intended to pit "standards-teach-and-test fanatics" against reasonable, warm-hearted education professors - e.g. "assembly-line-atmospheres" and the metaphor of children as widgets....

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A week ago, I posted this in response to Secretary Duncan's speech about education schools at Teachers College. Over the course of several days, there were 11 comments posted that, when printed out, clocked in at 20 pages (single spaced, mind you). What was all the ruckus, you ask?

It was a vigorous give-and-take between two loyal Flypaper readers, Ze'ev Wurman and Karl Wheatley. Ze'ev once served as Senior Adviser in the U.S. Department of Education and helped shape California's math standards; Karl is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Cleveland State University. Their long-winded debate started when Karl took umbrage at my accusation that education schools often don't deliver what all teaching candidates need-namely, a thorough understanding of the content they'll be teaching. By mentioning E.D. Hirsch's work, I thought Duncan highlighted the need for content-prepared teachers and content-rich curriculum.

Karl insisted that education professors (after all, he is one) ARE listening on this front, but that Duncan's proposals have "shown a weak grasp of the issues and what works in education." Eschewing "teacher-dominated" instruction, Karl goes on to say that "educational approaches with integrated, interest-based, real-life curriculum, substantial student choice, local control, and authentic assessment simply work better in the long run." Further, he insists that, "pretending a teacher who has content knowledge is ???highly qualified' is like pretending a plumber who owns a wrench is a good plumber."

Then Ze'ev picks up the gauntlet and reminds Karl of the...

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As Amy indicates, the latest findings from the just-released National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report contain few surprises, especially since we're well-versed in the differences between states' definitions of proficiency and proficiency as mapped onto a common scale (see here and here).

This NCES report maps state proficiency standards onto NAEP scales and concludes that:

All NAEP scale equivalents of states' reading standards were below NAEP's Proficient range; and in mathematics, only two states' NAEP scale equivalents were in the NAEP Proficient range (Massachusetts in grades 4 and 8, and South Carolina in grade 8). In many cases, the NAEP scale equivalent for a state's standards, especially in grade 4 reading, mapped below the NAEP achievement level for Basic performance.

Yikes. Dig into the report and you'll find several tables that show which states have lowered and raised their proficiency standards between 2005 and 2007. The data are rightly separated into those states that have results that can be compared (e.g., because they have the same tests in place) and those that cannot (e.g., they changed their standards/tests/testing policies). Of those states with comparable data, we see that New Jersey's NAEP scale equivalent in grade 4 reading has increased roughly 11 points over the last two years, while South Carolina's has dipped roughly 6 points. Interestingly, South Carolina has some of the highest proficiency standards in the nation in both reading and math--why hit the brakes now? Did...

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Amy Fagan

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is out with a new report today that looks at state achievement levels using the common yardstick of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Not great news. According to the AP story:

It found that many states deemed children to be proficient or on grade level when they would rate below basic or lacking even partial mastery of reading and math under the NAEP standards.

From the Ed Week story:

Their results suggest that 26 states, between 2005 and 2007, made their standards less rigorous in one or more grade levels or subjects.

Our Amber Winkler shared her thoughts on the matter with both Education Week and the Christian Science Monitor.

Might I just point out that the Fordham Institute actually did a very similar report back in 2007 - the Proficiency Illusion. That report used a Northwest Evaluation Association test as a common yardstick. It too found that "proficiency" varied wildly from state to state, with "passing scores" ranging from the 6th percentile to the 77th.

Fordham went even further earlier this year, in the Accountability Illusion. That report examined how state accountability (AYP) rules under the No Child Left Behind Act varied from state to state as well.

Check them both out!...

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Not long ago we presented a graphic illustrating the gross discrepancy between Ohio's achievement test scores and those from NAEP. Such "grade inflation" is common in the post-NCLB era, where many states appear to select standards and assessments - not based solely on academic rigor - but in order to ensure that more students are proficient?? and to bump up their state scores.

Unsurprisingly, the recent release of math results from the National Assessment of Education Progress confirms this trend, with 78 percent of Ohio fourth graders passing the state's math test, compared to only 45 percent who passed NAEP. In eighth grade, the gap is even wider, with 71 percent of students passing the Ohio math exam, but just 36 percent passing NAEP.

??ODE vs. NAEP Math Proficiency Averages, 2008-2009

Sources: Ohio Department of Education; National Assessment of Educational Progress in Math, 2009

A spokesperson at the Ohio Department of Education said that "they are different tests with different functions" and that it is understandable for Ohioans to be confused by the dramatic difference in scores. Today's Columbus Dispatch article makes a more compelling case when it says that "it could be that state standards aren't as stringent as those measured by the national exam," and "when a state has lower passage rates on the NAEP, you ???can't really escape a conclusion that low performance on NAEP is a signal that there...
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