Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Eric Ulas

If you need evidence for national--or "common"--standards, look no further than the wide variation in the definition of "proficient" across the country today.?? These charts, from Fordham's 2007 The Proficiency Illusion illustrate the difference in the difficulty of state achievement tests based on their "cut scores."

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A student deemed proficient in reading or math by the state of Colorado wouldn't come close to making the cut in Massachusetts, California, or South Carolina. Unfortunately, proficient young Buckeyes wouldn't fare much better than their Centennial State peers.

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We will be exploring the issue of national standards and their impact on states at our conference, World-Class Academic Standards for Ohio, on Monday, October 5.?? Video of the event will be available on Flypaper next week.

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The Education Gadfly

Check out this week's Ohio Education Gadfly to read about our upcoming conference, "World-Class Standards in Ohio." We're excited to welcome an impressive lineup of education experts and state leaders, who will discuss Ohio-specific standards issues (timely, since the state is mandated to revise its academic standards by 2010) as well as examine high-performing states and the national ("common") standards movement. Terry is spot on when he says "Ohio, and indeed the country, is at a pivotal moment in the development of standards-based education."

Next, Jamie brings us an informative piece exploring education tax credits (and deductions) and their potential to raise (private) money for education in Ohio. Given Ohio's gaping budget hole, might Ohioans consider this vehicle for school choice?

Also featured in the Ohio Education Gadfly is a video by Mike and Eric in which Ohio Rep. Lynn Wachtmann discusses the current crisis facing Ohio's pension systems. Finally, it wraps up with Flypaper's Finest, and timely recommended readings from Eric, Kalli, and Emmy....

Eric Ulas

Inspired by the "Graph of the Week" offered up by our friends at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio , we'll be rolling out regular graphics on Flypaper to illustrate interesting trends and facts about public education, especially as they relate to Fordham's home state of Ohio. Today's chart highlights the disparity in student achievement depending on what measure is being used and who is doing the reporting (for more, check out The Accountability Illusion ).

Grade Inflation - Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) vs. NAEP Results,

2007-2008

According to the Ohio Achievement Tests, 73 percent of Buckeye State eighth graders and 75 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math.?? But according to the "gold standard" National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 35 and 46 percent of students are proficient respectively.?? The same is true in reading.

The??disparity in this data??clearly??shows the??need for??better aligned assessment measures.

There has been much ink spent on the debate around 21st century skills. The eminent historian Diane Ravitch has rightly blasted 21st century skills as a fad with lineage that can be traced back to at least the early part of the 20th century when "the dean of the education school at Stanford called on his fellow educators to abandon their antiquated academic ideas and adapt education to the real life and real needs of students."????????????

Despite the criticism of Ravitch and other leading lights in American education, 21st century skills have taken hold not only in education circles but in state law. Consider Ohio where state law now requires a senior project to be completed by a "student or a group of students" for graduation. In lock-step with the mantras of 21st century skills, the purpose of the senior project is to assess the student's:

a) Mastery of core knowledge in a subject area chosen by the student;

b) Written and verbal communication skills;

c) Critical thinking and problem-solving skills;

d) Real-world and interdisciplinary learning;

e) Creative and innovative thinking;

f) Acquired technology, information, and media skills;

g) Personal management skills such as self-direction, time management, work ethic, enthusiasm, and the desire to produce a high quality product.

These 21st century skills are actually listed in state law????- yes, even a prescription for "enthusiasm" - and the state is expected to hold schools and districts accountable for...

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...

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,...

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....

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...

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.

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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