Standards, Testing, & Accountability

There was some concern (and maybe a few I-told-you-so's) when DCPS counted only 37,000 students on the first day of school. But now, only three weeks later, enrollment has??boomed up to 44,397. That means the system can just about justify the $760 million allocated to it by the DC Council for a projected enrollment of 44,691. Enrollments tend to grow in the first few weeks of school as students straggle in, so that DCPS is closer to its goal is not too surprising (though maybe a bit that it's THIS close...). But here's what caught my attention: DCPS schools that were featured in the Rediscover DCPS campaign this summer have all gone??over their enrollment projections, and account for most of the 7,000 students that have enrolled since the first count on August 24.??I gave DCPS a hard time last week for focusing its side-of-buses and radio ads on the intangible and irrelevant statistics that might make a school more appealing--smiling happy kids, school building renovations, and the like. But what about achievement?

That's why I was pleased to see these "school snapshots" on the DCPS website. (You can also listen to their radio ads and, of course, hear about building renovations.) They have the typical feel-good stats, like how many teachers are certified or have Master's degrees, but they also have whether the school made AYP, percent proficient in math, and percent proficient on reading. And it looks like DCPS isn't pulling the wool over...

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Yesterday's NY Times article points out that 97 percent of??NYC schools had received an A or B on city report cards. Given all the lamenting that goes on about the sorry state of public education in America (and rightly so), news like this is amusing. The article reports that "at more than 50 of the schools that received an A... more than half of the fourth graders were below state standards in reading." Education officials in NYC have already begun planning to raise standards so that next year's report card grades seem more realistic.

Here in Ohio, statewide report card data was released last week. A quote from the superintendent of public instruction raises a similar question about whether students are actually learning, or standards are just too low. "Educators continue to help students achieve at higher levels and, in many cases, surpass the rigorous academic standards that have been laid before them," said Deborah Delisle, referencing the fact that more than 85 percent of Ohio's 612 school districts received an A or a B, an increase from previous years.

Statistics like this obviously mask the 15 percent of Ohio districts who aren't performing well (districts that tend to have disproportionately large student populations) and the fact that there are a whole lot of students in the Buckeye State who do not reside in an A or B district (to be precise, 202,229 in the eight largest urban districts alone). For those of you non-Ohioans,...

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This weekend saw a flurry of news stories on education in Ohio, and Fordham was in the middle of these in our usual roles of analysts and prognosticators.

The Columbus Dispatch chronicled the struggles and triumphs of KIPP Journey Academy and Building Excellent Schools' Columbus Collegiate Academy, both of which are authorized by the Fordham Foundation. Columbus Collegiate was applauded for delivering excellent results in its start-up year; while the paper noted KIPP Journey's first-year hiccups and offered reasons for hope going into the new school year.????The Dayton Daily News highlighted Pathway School of Discovery, a charter school operated by National Heritage Academies that is the city's only A-rated elementary school. The Cleveland Plain Dealer shared that even though 65 percent of Cleveland charter school students, and 71 percent of their district peers, attend schools rated D or F by the state, some of the state's highest performing charter schools operate in that city, including Citizens Academy, Cleveland Entrepreneurship Preparatory School, and the Intergenerational School.???? All three articles cited Fordham's annual analysis of Ohio school performance data (conducted in partnership with our friends at Public Impact).

Also this weekend in the Dayton Daily News op-ed pages: Terry explored the challenge of rating schools fairly based on academic performance and Jamie explained how Ohio could benefit from retaining the talented young people we lose to Teach for America each year....

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In February, during the heated political debate around Governor Strickland's education reform plan, I wrote an opinion piece for the Columbus Dispatch that argued the governor's attack on for-profit charter schools "would be a blow for needy children and families. For example, the top-performing elementary school in Dayton in 2008 - the Pathway School of Discovery - is a charter school operated by the National Heritage Academies. Does it make sense to toss 570 children out of a school rated effective (the only elementary school in Dayton so designated) solely because it is operated by a for-profit company?"

Fortunately for the families and children in the Pathway School of Discovery, the governor's attacks on charter schools were largely defeated by the Senate. I say fortunate because the school received its state report card this week and it was rated excellent (an A) by the state of Ohio, and it was one of only two schools in the city with a top academic rating (the other being the charter high school DECA).

In Ohio, we simply have too few schools - charters or district - that serve needy children in our urban areas well. Consider just released state achievement data that show of the 648 schools (176 charters and 472 district schools) serving children in Ohio's Big 8 cities (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown)???? only eight percent of charters are rated excellent while a meager seven percent of district schools have...

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Whether the United States should embrace national standards and tests for its schools is perhaps today's hottest education issue. For guidance in addressing it, the newest Fordham report looks beyond our borders. How have other countries navigated these turbid waters? What do their systems look like? How did they get there? What can we learn from them? Expert analysts examined national standards and testing in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore and South Korea. This report presents their key takeaways.

Our new report, International Lessons about National Standards, authored by William Schmidt, Richard Houang, and Sharif Shakrani of Michigan State University, is out today. Of course, you'll want to read it from cover to cover...I say that because there are lots of interesting nuggets not only in the body of the report, but in the appendices, too. Appendix A, for instance, includes short profiles of each country's educational system. Here are three tidbits from there to whet your appetite for further reading:

  • Did you know that South Korea just recently decided to test a critical mass of its students and publish their exam results? The decision isn't being met with open arms...Here's an excerpt from the South Korea profile:
  • In 2007, the country decided for the first time to test all students in grades 6, 9, and 10 with plans to release the results at the regional, district, and school levels...It seems President Lee Myung-bak was persuaded by key advisors that comparisons and competition among the regions and schools was necessary for Korea's educational and economic advancement. Still others in his administration viewed the "sunshine and shame" approach as crucial to successful exercise of school choice. Unfortunately, some are not sold on the merits of transparent and disaggregated student reports. Teachers and teachers unions, for instance, have vocalized vehement opposition, even organized demonstrations. They argue that since Korean students already do a fine job on standardized measures (such as TIMSS and PISA), they would be better

    ...
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    Here in Ohio, the annual report card release from the Ohio Department of Education is like Christmas. We wait a long time for this morning, anticipating what kind of goodies there will be to unwrap in all of the data (and there is a lot of it).In good news, students in Ohio's "Big 8" districts (large urban cities) were just as likely to attend a school rated "A" or "B" by the state in 2008-09 as they were the year before (for the last two years, 20 percent of urban students- both charter and district - attended a school ranked Effective or Excellent). But, as Terry points out in our Special Analysis of Local Report Cards (PDF), there are still over 125,000 children in Big 8 cities who attend a school rated by the state as failing, or on the verge of it.

    The good news is that according to Ohio's value-added metric, which measures the amount of growth achieved by schools and districts (in addition to absolute proficiency rates), roughly half of all schools in the Big 8 cities that serve grades four through eight exceeded expected growth in 2008-09.

    As Terry is quoted on Catalyst OHIO:

    "This data represents both the worst of news and the best of news. Overall, only half of the students in big urban districts are proficient in reading and math. But the good news is that in these schools, whether charter or district, students seem to be...

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    The College Board, as always, hung a smiley face on it, but the latest SAT results are a real bummer.??Overall scores flat or down. Almost every sub-group flat or down. Gaps widening a bit by race, income, parental education. Indeed, the tidiest relationships and smoothest curves are those that continue--as they have for as long as anyone can remember--to show the steady upward progression of average SAT scores (pdf) as family incomes and parents' education rise. Also see here (pdf), especially Table 11.

    Now recall edition after edition of NAEP results also showing 12th grade scores stagnant or declining.

    Now recall the recent ACT report indicating that barely one in four of the high school students taking that organization's tests are fully prepared for college-level academic work.

    Now recall our flat high-school graduation rate.

    Now please sing out if you've spotted any good news regarding the readiness of American adolescents to face successfully the challenges of higher education, the workforce, adulthood and citizenship. I can't find it. (OK, OK, I found one: Asian-American SAT scores are up again.)

    What does this say about 26 years of education reforming since A Nation at Risk? For starters, it says the reform efforts haven't seriously penetrated our high schools. Then it says that current moves (e.g., the "Common Core" national standards project of the governors and chiefs) to align high-school exit expectations to college and workforce readiness are...

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    The Education Gadfly

    FUN FACT FRIDAY! You wait all week... and you won't be disappointed. In our FINAL Fun Fact Friday video, we use data from a recent Fordham report, The Accountability Illusion, to show you how some states set the bar high for their students--and some don't. Watch our Play-Doh men do the Twizzler high jump in this first ever education track meet.

    Fun Fact Friday! - Setting the standards bar from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

    Sources:

    "The Accountability Illusion : Data Map," John Cronin et al, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, February 2009.

    Crowd sounds from??freesound.org

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    Writing in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week, the Lexington Institute's Robert Holland and Don Soifer reject the idea of national education standards on three grounds: that they're not truly voluntary, that they'll inevitably lead to a much-feared "national curriculum, and that part of the roadkill will be Maryland having to replace its "rich," "well-organized" English standards with this unproven multi-state model.

    It's premature to evaluate the products of the current "common standards" project being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for the subjects of reading/writing and math. The first "public" draft is promised to be available for comment in mid-September. (I saw an earlier version of the reading/writing part a few weeks back??and, within some important limits and caveats, found considerable merit there.)

    Yes, those who abhor the thought of national education standards and tests for the United States will find all sorts of reasons to oppose them. I don't know if the forthcoming product, once fully massaged, will be to my liking. But I do know that our present motley array of state-specific standards and assessments is??obsolete and dysfunctional--as well as mediocre or worse in many states. (There are a few happy exceptions.)

    In Maryland, for example, the last time Fordham examined that state's standards (2006),??our evaluators gave them an overall C+ grade--including a flat C in English (down from B a few years earlier). Maybe Maryland has since cleaned up its act--we're embarking on...

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