Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Neal P. McCluskey

photo credit: Flazingo.com

Over the past couple of years, a raucous debate has emerged over the Common Core, content standards in English and mathematics adopted by states nationwide. The debate has been marked by acrimony rather than analysis, but there is hope that both sides want a reset. We—one Core advocate, one opponent—want to assist by laying out the facts on which we think everyone should agree.

What are some signs of detente? Core architect David Coleman recently decried characterizations of Core opponents “as crazies or people who don’t tell the truth,” while strategists at firebrand Glenn Beck’s “We Will Not Conform” event called for ditching invective like “ObamaCore” or “communist plot.”

Now, the facts.

First, there is no evidence that most Core opponents or advocates are ill-intentioned. There’s no compelling reason to believe, for instance, that Bill Gates is funding Core advocacy for any reason other than that he thinks it is beneficial, or that opponents are motivated by anything other than concern that the standards are inadequate, or amount to dangerous national standardization.

Next, the Core was not created by Washington, but groups that saw crummy state standards and tests and agreed on the need to improve their quality. In particular, these organizations wanted to ensure that “proficient” meant the same thing in Mississippi as Massachusetts, and sought to reduce the huge proportion of people arriving at college or workplaces without the skills to succeed. Responding to this,...

In NRO today, Rick Hess explores “five half-truths” that he says supporters of the Common Core like to propagate. These spurred five questions of my own:

  1. You dispute that the Common Core standards are “evidenced based” because “what the Common Core’s authors did falls well short of what ‘evidence-based’ typically means.” By your definition, would any set of standards be considered evidence-based? Such as those previously in place in the states? Or any set of education standards one might develop in the future? (Or, for that matter, in myriad other fields?) If no, then what’s your point? Do you think we should abandon standards-based reform?
  2. Relatedly, would you consider elements of the Common Core to be evidence-based? Such as their focus on scientifically-based reading instruction in the early grades, or the demand for fluency in arithmetic, or the admonition to delay calculator use? Would you disagree that those decisions were based on evidence? Do you think states should go back to standards that don’t include these evidence-based expectations?
  3. You complain that the Common Core standards don’t include calculus. Do you think states should expect all students to learn calculus? If not, where would you set the bar for “college and career ready”? 
  4. You say that it’s hard to judge the “rigor” of standards. OK. So do you think other standards are more rigorous than the Common Core? Ohio, for example, is having a debate about whether it should repeal the Common Core and deploy the old Massachusetts standards instead. Do
  5. ...
Marc Schare

Marc Schare is the Vice President of the Worthington City Schools Board of Education (in suburban Columbus), now serving his ninth year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marc Schare testified before the Ohio House of Representatives’ Rules and Reference Committee on August 26, 2014, opposing House Bill 597 which would repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards. The following is from his written testimony before the committee.

We in Worthington are confused by this legislation. Perplexed really. Baffled might be the right word.

You see, the State told us back in 2009 that our “Excellent” rankings didn’t mean much anymore because Ohio’s academic content standards and cut scores were too low and that too many kids statewide were having to take high school all over again once they got to college. Fair enough, so Ohio responsibly adopted new academic content standards and recommended that we develop a curriculum based on those standards. For the next three years, teams of teachers representing over 20% of our total teaching staff met in small groups to re-write Worthington’s local curriculum. It was an enormous undertaking. The teams would methodically, standard by standard, define learning targets, compile lists of resources, determine best practices and associated professional development on a subject by subject, grade by grade basis. The result of this effort according to preliminary reports from ODE is that Worthington students using our new curriculum performed at their highest level in years.

While all this was going on, our Information Technology department was preparing to implement the...

Released on August 20, The Condition of College & Career Readiness examines the college readiness of the high school class of 2014 using ACT test scores and College Readiness Benchmarks. Approximately 1.85 million students, or 57 percent of all American graduates, took the ACT in 2014—an astounding 18 percent increase since 2010. Ohio students posted an average composite score of 22—relatively unchanged from previous years and one point above the national average. More interesting are the College Readiness Benchmarks, which indicate the chance of a student earning a B or higher in a college course in English composition, Algebra, biology, or social science. The overall report provides this data for the nation, but individual state level data is also available (Ohio’s data). It’s not a pretty picture. Of the 72 percent of Ohio’s 2014 graduating seniors who took the ACT, only one in three (32 percent) scored high enough to be deemed college ready in all four academic areas. Because not every student took the ACT, only around one in four (23 percent) of Ohio seniors can be considered college ready. If, as expected, PARCC sets its cut scores at the college and career ready threshold, Ohioans will to need to prepare themselves for the challenge that awaits as we work to make sure that more students have the skills they need to be successful on whichever path they choose after high school. Check out the report for a more detailed look at the persisting national achievement gap, top...

It’s nearly school report card time in Ohio. One thing to watch for when examining school performance is whether there are conflicting ratings. For the 2013-14 school year, schools will receive ratings along up to ten dimensions of performance, though no overall letter grade. For example, one might observe a school that receives an “F” on the state’s performance index but at the same time, also receives an “A” on the state’s value-added rating. Or vice-versa. How in the world can this happen?

Keep in mind that these two key ratings—a school’s performance index and value-added—are not the same. The performance index is an indicator of raw student achievement, weighted across a continuum of achievement levels. Value-added, on the other hand, is a statistical estimate of a school’s impact on student progress—expressed as learning gains—over time.[1] Although both measures are based on state test scores, they are different creatures: Achievement tells us more about how students perform; value-added provides evidence on how a school performs (i.e., the productivity of the school staff).

Hence, to understand the quality of a school, we really need both measures. Outside observers—parents, taxpayers, and others—should know whether a school’s students, on average, possess literacy and numeracy skills—that’s achievement. And they should know whether a school is contributing to learning over time—that’s progress.

Now back to the question of mixed ratings. How many schools in Ohio have conflicting results, particularly of the low-achievement but high-progress variety?[2]...


photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

It’s too soon to guess TIME Magazine’s person of the year, but a clear favorite has emerged for Common Core person of the year: the man, woman, or group that has done the most to advance the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards in the U.S. 

Ladies and gentleman, for meritorious service to further the cause of rigorous academic standards and educational excellence, please put your hands together for the governor of the great state of Louisiana, Common Core Man of the Year, Bobby Jindal!”

Jindal, as I’m sure you know, is suing the federal government over Common Core. And for this, he deserves enthusiastic cheers and undying gratitude from supporters of the Common Core State Standards. He has thrown into profound jeopardy the most effective talking point that their opponents have: that the feds forced national standards down the states’ throats and that Uncle Sam is illegally dictating what schools will teach. If this were true, any number of states, districts, or other stakeholders would have been in court ages ago. But they haven’t. The blunt fact of the matter is that this is powerful rhetoric atop an extremely weak legal case—like posting a “beware of dog” sign on your home when you own a beagle puppy.

Jindal’s suit alleges that the Department of Education forced adoption of Common Core through its Race to the Top program, which “required” states to “enter...

Hitting pause on testing, vouchers, and union solidarity

Michelle and Robert applaud Secretary Duncan’s reasonableness, question a North Carolina trial judge (but have a solution), and disparage union agency fees. Amber tells us how classroom peers affect the achievement of students with special needs.

Amber's Research Minute

Peer Effects in Early Childhood Education: Testing the Assumptions of Special-Education Inclusion,” by Laura M. Justice, et al., Psychological Science (2014): 1-8

Transcript

Michelle G:               Hello. This is your host Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at EdExcellence.net. Now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Seth Meyers of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert P:                    I'm not even sure what that means and hello Michelle.

Michelle G:               Hello. I guess you unlike everyone else in America with not watching the Emmy's.

Robert P:                    No, no, I have a 16 year old daughter so of course my daughter.

Michelle G:               You know more about this than anyone.

Robert P:                    I describe this as the cultural equivalent of secondhand smoke, you're close it. You absorb some of it unintentionally but does that mean I'm focusing on it, no. Were you happy with who won?

Michelle G:               I've heard some of these reviews. I thought it was funny. I thought Seth Meyers did a pretty good job. There are some jokes that I laughed. I felt ...

Robert P:                    Okay. He's a funny guy.

Michelle G:               I felt like a real American. Usually I don't want all the award shows are doing any of that but I thought I was participating in what America does. Maybe I'll watch a football game this season.

Robert P:                    All I know is what I heard in the background blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones.

Michelle G:               Isn't that all you need to know about TV?

Robert P:                    Pretty much.

Michelle G:               All right, with that we're going to play part in the Gadfly with our Com. Dev. intern Ellen. Ellen, take it away.

Ellen Alpaugh:          Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared that states with NCLB waivers could wait until the 2015 - 2016 school year to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Is this just one year delay and nothing more or does this say something bigger about the testing over the long run?

Michelle G:               Both. Robert, you want to elaborate.

Robert P:                    Lordy, this is such a complicated question and no I don't think it goes away. I think it ... This delays it but I think a hard rain is going to fall on this. There was some polling data out last week that we talked about. A PDK poll on education next poll and you should never I suppose paint with two broader brush based on any particular finding. Look, let's be honest, testing is not popular. I was a teacher for several years and you can't blind yourself to the deleterious impact that testing is having on our classrooms.

                                    Curriculum narrowing, anxiety, lots of push back against testing. What's interesting when you look at the polling numbers is that testing itself is not necessarily unpopular. Something that jumped out to me ... At me in the ed next poll is that things like SAT testing, AP testing are really popular or as popular as a test is going to be. It's when you start looking at these accountability test in grade three through eight under whether there's no child left behind or common core.

                                    The people have lost track of why we do this. You have this kind of conundrum which is the ed reform movement is still largely popular. People like things like charter schools and choice and even vouchers but testing is really unpopular right now. Testing you could or it has created the momentum for these things at the same time it's almost threatening to turn on itself. Arne Duncan thanks for giving us a year off, buy us some time for common core and all these other good things but at some point we're going to have to decide what is exactly the role of testing in K-12 education and in ed reform.

Michelle G:               I completely agree. Yes, testing is no fun, it's awful, it's an imperfect measure, all of those things but if you look at what we support in education or what the public supports in education. A lot of it is because we have evidence that it work and we have evidence that it works because of test. Voucher programs even some school choice supporters don't like the independent evaluations that we've had on the DCPS program and the program in Milwaukee. Yet, those same folks are using those testing results to show that school choice work. You can see this across the issues. Why do we like charter schools? Probably because we're seeing some data that they are educating students better.

Robert P:                    When you say data, you mean?

Michelle G:               Results from test.

Robert P:                    There you go.

Michelle G:               It's sort of like dieting. It's not fun, no one likes eating rice cakes and celery and exercising but if you want to stay slim and fit you got to these things.

Robert P:                    Sure.

Michelle G:               It's just the way it is. It's not fun thing but guess what, it's life.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and I wrote a piece about this early this week and I describe this using Jefferson's quote from 1820's about slavery. Our relationship with testing is like holding a tiger or a wolf by the ears, you don't much like it but you can't let go.

Michelle G:               A lot of people on Twitter were liking your analogy there, bravo on that.

Robert P:                    Bravo Mr. Jefferson.

Michelle G:               All right, Ellen.

Robert P:                    A steal from the best.

Michelle G:               Question number two.

Ellen Alpaugh:          On Thursday a North Carolina trial court judge held unconstitutional a state voucher law that allowed public money to pay tuition at private and religious school. How big of blow is this for voucher proponents and how should they respond?

Michelle G:               All right, I'll say that this is a moderate blow to voucher proponents but a big blow to families in North Carolina.

Robert P:                    Especially when they're starting school and they got to write a tuition check.

Michelle G:               Yes, just over ... Almost 2,000 scholarships have been issued for this program and private schools started this week for a lot of student in North Carolina. That just puts a lot of upheaval in many families lives. That's what the first issue but the second is this is a program that was means tested. Families qualified if they were at or below 133% of the poverty level and according to the Alliance for School Choice which I worked for, full disclosure there.

                                    They hit seven of the eight accountability measures for voucher programs. It's very, very, very high on the accountability spectrum. In all intent and purposes this was a great program. Why it was ruled unconstitutional? I'm not a lawyer. The North Carolina does not have a blind amendment but this is a blow to families. I think they'll go back at it and they'll try to pass the program in the slightly different way. Perhaps changing the funding mechanism or whatever is needed but it's just a longer wait time.

Robert P:                    Sure. I'm reading for the decision here and it says that, "General assembly fails that children of North Carolina when they're sent with public tax payer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything. I guess you could argue that but I'm not sure that's a credible argument. Look as Brandon Wright our colleague in Legal Expert says, "If that's the test, well then you just need to go back to the drawing board. Pass a law that says that private schools will give out the accountability measures, the test, etcetera and then problem solved.

Michelle G:               Yeah, and I think that proponent should have seen this coming. I looked back there's a great study that the Institute of Justice put out many years ago that I still go back to which looks at the ... State Constitutions in all 50 states and says whether school choice programs, whether vouchers or scholarship, text credit programs would be constitutional and it says yes, no depending on the program. For North Carolina it did say vouchers and scholarship text credit programs were constitutional but it did say that if a bill was to be ... Law was to be passed it should not draw from the public school funding stream which is basically what they did. No surprise in the long run.

Robert P:                    Of course there'll be an appeal.

Michelle G:               It's America, there you go. Ellen, question number three.

Ellen Alpaugh:          New York City's United Federation of Teachers supported a Saturday march against police brutality. Pitting one city union against another and angering many teacher union members. Teachers in NYC can choose not to be a member and avoid dues but all teachers still have to pay agency fees. What does such union activity say about these mandatory contributions?

Michelle G:               Mr. New Yorker?

Robert P:                    Man, the contributions is not withstanding. This is such a good old fashion New York City style food fights. Some of the stuff that's coming out with the police just the outrage from that the UFT would take this on and that Michael Mulgrew would participate in this protest is just amazing. I heard one teacher say, "Would we want cops protesting in our schools over low test scores?" The head of the PBA said something, I got it right here in front of me, "How would Mulgrew like it if police officers with the activist who oppose his efforts to shield bad teachers and undermine effective charter schools?" This is quite ... The fur is flying here.

Michelle G:               Only in New York it seems.

Robert P:                    Sure but you have to wonder what was Mulgrew thinking. This is ... Look, you can't make light with this, this is serious incident somebody died but if you're deciding where to spend your political capital and your members capital capital. I'm not sure this was the wisest decision.

Michelle G:               I think this is what happens when you work outside of your very narrow issue. On one hand you're building a strong coalition on the other hand when you go outside of your one issue for us education or for the unions education you're going to get people who's ... Your own members here are going to say, "I don't quite agree with that," and that just what happens. I think it's a decision that you have to make and in this case it looks like it was a messy one.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and Mulgrew ... Push back by saying, "Look, we have a history as a union of getting involved in these kinds of issues. You invoked union, activism around the freedom riders many, many years ago. Sure you can understand the process that got him from A to B but still the police are institution in New York City and as many police officers have been saying, "Look, you know, our sons and daughters and wives and husbands are teachers." It just feels this was a little bit of a third rail that did not need to be touched.

Michelle G:               Couldn't agree more. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly and now it's time for Amber's Research Minute. Welcome to the show Amber.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle G:               You were on Fox and Friends this weekend weighing in on this very issue [UFT police brutality protest]. What do you have to say about?

Amber Northern:      I was. I start out with it's outrageous. It's outrageous and teachers know ... Teachers always know, "Well, some of our donations, some of our fees go to politics," but wow this was right in their face. I loved it. I was like, "You know what, they finally get it." They finally get it because this was ... The zebra was showing it stripes, we just went off on Fox. They call me the next day and said, "You want to do it again tomorrow." My families called me like, "You are riled up," I'm like, "I know, like it just got me," and I dug into the contributions.

                                    Because Doug and I write a report about teacher union strength what seem hasn't been that long but it's ... I think it was two years ago. Anyway, and then when Doug back in the contributions and year after year after year they we giving donations to Al Sharpton's National Action Network along with plan parenthood and a host of other liberal leaning causes. Teachers need to dial like, "Hey, this is where some of our money goes to, like it or not."

Robert P:                    My money, $35 a paycheck for five years. Never joined the union but they got my money.

Amber Northern:      I think they knew this intuitively but then it was just out there blatant. I thought it was good that it happened. I didn't know how it works, you don't get a lot of time to go into the new ones. I didn't even get to talk about ...

Michelle G:               You don't get ... I can go in TV to go into new ones, I'm shocked.

Amber Northern:      I was, "I didn't get to take the agency fees," and all that stuff but anyway it was fun.

Michelle G:               You got riled up and you got your pay across.

Amber Northern:      I got riled up and I then I have a friend of mine taped it because I hadn't watched. My whole face was contorting. I was mad, I was, "Wow. It was really ugly doing that segment," but that what happens when you're riled up but anyway ...

Robert P:                    She's riled up again right now.

Amber Northern:      Riled up about our new study this week. It is a new study out in psychological science that's called peer effects in early childhood education, kind of a boring title but this is interesting study. It examines the performance of preschoolers both those without and with disabilities and how they are impacted by their peers when they're in a mainstream classroom. This is actually according to the authors and I think they're right. This is the first study of peer effects an inclusive classroom that serves preschoolers with disability.

                                    We've got a lot of peer effect research but never on the preschool level and never with kids in the mainstream classrooms. Anyway, they study the language skills of 670 preschoolers average age of four in multiple school districts in a single mid western over the course of a year about half of the kids had high EP's. Three key findings, number one there was indeed evidence of peer effects in the classroom have shown by the strong relationship between kids spring language scores and the language skills of their peers. Definitely a strong relationship between the two.

                                    Number two, the impact of peer effects varied based on whether the child had a disability. Specifically peer effects were stronger for kids with disabilities than those without. Preschoolers in classroom of kids with high language skills tended to have better language scores than preschoolers in classes of kids with lower skills. The lowest skilled kids, if you got that, made the greatest gains. This is what we've seen in other studies.

Robert P:                    Yeah, no surprise there.

Amber Northern:      Kids at the bottom make the greater gains. Kids with disabilities are more influenced by their classrooms language skills than children without. Last bottom line, children with the highest skills were not adversely impacted by the lower performing kids whether they had disabilities or not which is what everybody is always searching for, right? Like, "What about the kids on the other end of the spectrum.?" The study was correlational, it's not causal.

                                    It was one year, it's not a trend study and they also ... The instrument they use which I was kind of dug in. It was a teacher report instrument ... It's a dibble or something.

Robert P:                    It's squishy.

Amber Northern:      Which you typically have to do with young kids you have to deal one on one measure but it wasn't really standardized in a way. A little bit of clumsy there but I think it was encouraging because it showed us once again that peer effects matter and they matter greatly when we mainstream these kids. Which it's not an argument for against mainstreaming but it's interesting stuff.

Robert P:                    Persuasive because the kids at the high end so to speak no adverse effect.

Amber Northern:      They were harmed, right. Why do I want help? They weren't harmed either. They still scored at the end of the year higher than ... Their post test was still higher than a pretest. It wasn't a bad thing.

Michelle G:               Is your recommendation more research?

Amber Northern:      Wow. In my case I won't do it. Anyway, it was a needed area to do research. I think it's a neat idea because they're really striving for balance. On this half the kids with IP's. It's not like you've go 90% of the kids with Ip's you know what I mean. They're really striving to get what set up optimal affect and impact on kids. Half and half seems to be interesting, seems to be a positive outcome. I don't know if they change the percentages whether we would have see the same thing.

Michelle G:               Exciting stuff.

Robert P:                    Is it my imagination or we seeing a lot more pure effects research lately?

Michelle G:               I feel I've been reading more. It's also one of my sort of ... What do we call that, sew boxes if that's the word again. I tend to pay more intention to it just because he's interested in it. He wrote a lot about it in his book. Yeah, I don't know saying more as maybe just we just cover it more.

Robert P:                    You're paying attention. Fair enough.

Michelle G:               Either way both a good thing I think. All right. Thank you, Amber. That's all the time we have for the Education Gadfly Show till next week.

Robert P:                    I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Hearings on House Bill 597, the latest attempt to repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core in math and English language arts), started August 18 and will continue this week. We’ve already discussed how similar HB 597 is to the Common Core. This should be a major issue for Common Core opponents—who should be mortified to find the fingerprints of Common Core all over their championed bill—but also for everyone else.  HB 597 doesn’t specifically demand much of Ohio’s to be developed standards, but what it does demand is already in the Common Core. That should leave most of us wondering why we’re even holding these hearings if what proponents want is already in place. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem with HB 597. Let’s take a look at some others.

The most troublesome aspect of the bill appears right at the beginning of the changes: It could all but end state oversight of public schools. The bill text reads: “no state funds shall be withheld from a school district or school for failure to adopt or use the state academic content standards or the state assessments.” Basically this means that even if the proponents of HB 597 get what they want, and Ohio goes through the grueling process of forcing teachers and students to abide by three sets of standards in four years, schools face no consequences if they choose to ignore those standards and their accompanying assessments. In other words, school districts...

I have a complicated relationship with testing. I refuse to pretend that it’s caused no mischief in our schools—narrowing curriculum, encouraging large amounts of ill-conceived test prep, and making school a joyless grind for too many teachers and students alike—but neither can any fair-minded analyst deny that there have been real if modest gains in our present era of test-driven accountability, especially for low-income black and Hispanic children, particularly in the early grades.

What to make, then, of Secretary Duncan’s widely heralded concession that testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and his offer to states of a year-long delay in making test scores part of their evaluation systems?

“There’s wide recognition that annual assessments—those required by federal law—have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus,” Duncan wrote in a lengthy blog post Thursday.

We at Fordham have been among those pleading for some reasonable flexibility in this area, particularly as new standards and assessments kick in, so the secretary’s message is welcome. Some states don’t want to shift gears, but others crave a breather while curriculum and pedagogy catch up with newly rigorous expectations. (We’ll save for another day an examination of the constitutional aspects of all this, as Duncan’s department evidently will be offering states waivers from conditional waivers, the statutory...

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

Results from the annual Education Next poll are out this week, and the news is not good for us proponents of the Common Core. Support among the public dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (from June 2013 to June 2014); Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue, with 43 percent in support, and 37 percent opposed. What’s more, the new PDK/Gallup poll (out today) corroborates these trends and offers even worse news, finding that a majority of the public, and three-fourths of Republicans, now oppose the Common Core. Finally, Education Next found that support from teachers plummeted from 76 to 46 percent in just twelve months.

Nobody who has been following the public debate should be particularly surprised, at least when it comes to the overall numbers or those for Republicans. (The results for teachers are another matter; more on that in a bit.) After two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a bit of a miracle that the numbers aren’t even worse. (Still, let’s be honest: these numbers are plenty depressing.)

I see two silver linings for those of us who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education:

  1. While the Common Core “brand” is
  2. ...

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