Standards, Testing, & Accountability

In 2002, when its voters approved a ballot measure calling for universal pre-Kindergarten by 2005-06, Florida joined a handful of states in which all children are eligible for free, publicly funded education in the year prior to Kindergarten. The passage of the referendum was cause for great optimism among those aware of the power of high-quality pre-K programs to prepare children, particularly low-income children, to meet the challenges of K-12 education. But as with any public policy initiative, the devil is in the details. In designing the half-day Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program (VPK), the Florida legislature faced competing demands. How did they balance the trade-offs? Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust lays it out in Fordham's latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education.

States still have far to go in setting rigorous, high quality expectations for K-12 math instruction. Although a majority have replaced or revised their math standards since 2000, many have failed to make substantial improvements. The review was led by David Klein, Professor of Mathematics at California State University-Northridge, and evaluates the content, writing quality, and clarity of K-12 math standards in each state. Klein and his team attribute many of  the shortcomings to overuse and wrong applications of manipulatives and calculators; wrong-headed guidance from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; and lack of true mathematics competence among those writing the standards.

Do states' current English/language arts and reading standards expect what they should? Are they demanding enough? Clear enough? Are states using them to guide not only the curriculum and assessment system for students but also their teacher-training programs? Sandra Stotsky, research scholar at Northeastern University and former senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education, finds that most states have revised or replaced their standards since 2000 and made some improvements, especially to K-8 standards. However, major shortcomings remain in other areas including high school literature requirements.

Co-published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and AccountabilityWorks, with support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, this report looks at six elements of K-12 accountability systems in 30 different states. Each state is rated on standards, test content, alignment of tests to standards, test rigor, testing trustworthiness and openness, and accountability policies. The major conclusion: while some states have the basis of a sophisticated and rigorous accountability system in place, no state has every element of a serious standards-based education reform package in place. And few states are as open to evaluation as they ought to be.

Is there any subject as disheveled, distorted and dysfunctional as social studies? As part of our continuing effort to revitalize the subject of social studies, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute offers Effective State Standards for U.S. History: A 2003 Report Card. This groundbreaking and comprehensive state-by-state analysis of K-12 education standards in U.S. history was prepared by Sheldon Stern, historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston for more than 20 years. It evaluates U.S. history standards in 48 states and the District of Columbia on comprehensive historical content, sequential development, and balance.

Will the sanctions for failing schools laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) succeed in turning those schools around? This report draws on the results of previous?efforts to overhaul failing schools to provide a glimpse at what may be expected from NCLB-style interventions. The results:?no intervention strategy has a success rate greater than 50%, so policymakers are urged to consider additional options for children trapped in failing schools.

According to this comprehensive report, only five states combine solid academic standards with strong school accountability.

Minnesota was the first state to embrace many important education reforms, from statewide open enrollment to charter schools to tax credits for parents paying certain education expenses. This report, written by Dr. Mitchell Pearlstein, President of the Minneapolis-based Center of the American Experiment, tells the stories behind Minnesota's unique policy experiences.? What lay behind Minnesota's worthy innovations? Who was responsible for the bad ideas? Mitch's short answer: governors were behind most of the proposals that expanded education choice, while the flawed policies emerged from the state's education bureaucracy.

This report takes a close look at the implementation of standards-based reform in one state, Washington, and asks why it was successful in some places but not others

Cizek provides a helpful primer on standardized testing. He identifies key terms, clarifies important distinctions between types of tests, and explains how to interpret (and not to interpret) their scores.

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