Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Governor Mary Fallin is in an unenviable position. If she vetoes HB 3399, which would repeal the Common Core and revert back to Oklahoma’s old standards, she faces backlash from the Legislature that wrote and passed the bill as well as from the activists and others who spurred them on. If she signs it, on the other hand, the political price may be lower but the impact on Oklahoma schools could be significant.

In a document I coauthored with former Oklahoma Secretary of Education Dr. Phyllis Hudecki, we analyze the potential impact of this bill. First and foremost, if the governor signs the bill, Oklahoma’s old standards, which do not fully prepare students for college or career readiness, will be put back in place. If that happens, there is a real risk that Oklahoma could lose its waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. Ironically, this move to get away from mostly imagined federal interference in the Common Core would result in significantly more real intervention because Oklahoma, unlike other states that have made changes to the standards, would immediately revert back to a set of standards that most recognize as falling short of college and career readiness. If Oklahoma loses its waiver, perhaps 1629 Oklahoma schools could be closed, converted to a charter, have their principal and half of their staff replaced or taken over by the state Department of Education.

Here are some highlights from our impact analysis and, specifically, six potential consequences of signing the bill...

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Jim Peyser

Here follows the third entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

Mike Goldstein’s explanation for Boston’s charter school success is thoughtful, provocative, and (mostly) right…as always. I especially like his focus on our fair city’s natural talent advantage and the important role played by various individuals (besides Linda Brown who Mike rightly praises, I would add a few others like Linda’s BES colleague Sue Walsh, prescient charter school apostles Steven Wilson and Bill Edgerly, former state education commissioner Dave Driscoll, early charter authorizers Scott Hamilton and Ed Kirby, Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan, and the late, great philanthropist and free-marketeer Pete Peters.). The bottom line is that people matter, and Boston has been blessed with a lot of great ones, full stop.

Having said that, I would add two other factors that Mike doesn’t mention. For most of the first decade or so of the charter movement in Massachusetts, we benefited from bipartisan, full-throated support for charters from the key political leaders in the Commonwealth—i.e., the governor (Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and Mitt Romney), the Senate president (Bill Bulger, Tom Birmingham), and the House Speaker (Tom Finneran). As a result, the early charter schools were afforded a degree of political air cover that allowed them to concentrate on building great...

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Here’s a puzzler: Why are the Common Core math standards accused of fostering “fuzzy math” when their drafters and admirers insist that they emphasize basic math, reward precision, and demand fluency? Why are CC-aligned curricula causing confusion and frustration among parents, teachers, and students? Is this another instance of “maximum feasible misunderstanding,” as textbook publishers and educators misinterpret the standards in ways that undermine their intent (but perhaps match the interpreters’ predilections)?  Or are the Common Core standards themselves to blame?

My take is that the standards are in line with effective programs, such as Singapore Math, but textbook publishers and other curriculum providers are creating confusion with overly complex explanations, ill-written problems, and lessons that confuse pedagogy with content.

Many of the “fuzzy math” complaints seem to focus on materials that ask students to engage in multiple approaches when tackling arithmetic problems. But to understand whether the confusion stems from the standards or the curriculum, let’s start by recalling what the CCSS actually require.

1. The Common Core explicitly demand student mastery of the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division for both whole numbers and decimals.

Any honest reading of the standards must recognize that in grades 4, 5, and 6, the Common Core demand that students master standard algorithms. In grade 4, students should “fluently add and subtract multidigit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.” By grade 5, they are expected to multiply whole numbers using the standard algorithm. And by grade 6, they are expected...

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The Common Core is at a critical juncture. While many surveys show that support for the standards themselves remains strong, implementation has not been without major challenges.

State Accountability in the Transition to Common Core, a new policy brief from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provides cautionary advice about what key policymakers and influentials in a handful of states now see as transition challenges. In August and September 2013, the research team at Fordham interviewed officials and policy advocates in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York) to glean how they are approaching accountability in the transition to the Common Core. While we found nuances in each state, four trends emerged.

  1. The accountability moratorium is here. Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to the Common Core.
  2. Overall, states are treading carefully and strategically with assessments, since the quality of the forthcoming tests is still unknown.
  3. While state education agencies express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards, the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear.
  4. Though ESEA waivers were granted to give states additional flexibility, states are now finding themselves locked into a set of new, yet still restrictive federal policies.

Correction: An earlier version of this brief noted that New York had delayed using test scores in teacher evaluations. The state is considering such a delay....

The Common Core is at a critical juncture. While many surveys show that support for the standards themselves remains strong, implementation has not been without major challenges.

State Accountability in the Transition to Common Core, a new policy brief from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provides cautionary advice about what key policymakers and influentials in a handful of states now see as transition challenges. In August and September 2013, the research team at Fordham interviewed officials and policy advocates in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York) to glean how they are approaching accountability in the transition to the Common Core. While we found nuances in each state, four trends emerged.

  1. The accountability moratorium is here. Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to the Common Core.
  2. Overall, states are treading carefully and strategically with assessments, since the quality of the forthcoming tests is still unknown.
  3. While state education agencies express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards, the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear.
  4. Though ESEA waivers were granted to give states additional flexibility, states are now finding themselves locked into a set of new, yet still restrictive federal policies.

Download the policy brief here....

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The #Kimye edition

After discussing what the research says young North West’s likelihood of educational success are, Mike and Michelle get down to brass tacks on Oklahoma’s possible Common Core repeal, the value of a college degree, and what makes Boston’s charter sector so high quality. Amber grades America’s public pension plans.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of Retirement: Grading America's Public Pension Plans by Richard W. Johnson, Barbara Butrica, Owen Haaga, and Benjamin G. Southgate, (Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, 2014).

Renaissance Learning’s annual look at what books students choose when they read for pleasure found high school students reading “far fewer words” than younger students and middle and high school students choosing books that are below grade level.

That first finding might well be troubling, but it will surprise no one who interacts with adolescents (or who has ever been one themselves)—the thinner, bigger-font book seems to reach out and grab us rather than the other way around.

But students may unwittingly be getting help from their teachers when it comes to picking below grade-level books.

In a national survey of English, language arts, and reading teachers released last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the subgroup of teachers who said they do not assign novels for the whole class to read were asked, “When you help individual students pick a novel to read, which of these are you more likely to consider: a student’s reading level or the grade level of the class?” The vast majority of elementary school teachers (83 percent), a majority of middle school teachers (57 percent), and more than one-third of high school teachers (36 percent) picked the former; barely handfuls (between 3 and 7 percent) said they mostly rely on “the grade level of the class.”

This is not to say that teachers don’t care about grade level. Larger numbers of middle and high school teachers chose the “something else” category, which included a combination of both ability and appropriate grade level, as...

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Common Core State Standards have had quite a year in Michigan.

After a near-death experience in the spring of 2013, when a handful of legislators delayed their implementation via a budget provision despite strong support from the state’s business and education community, they sprang back to life in October when bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to proceed full speed ahead.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that another major challenge lurks for the Great Lakes State and its education reform efforts: the misguided desire by some to move away from rigorous, Common Core–aligned student assessments, assessments that allow us to see progress, identify problems, and measure Michigan against other states in the nation—critical in our global economy.

Those of us who support standards-based reforms like the Common Core understand that standards alone are just words on paper. That’s why scholars such as Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution have found that states with stronger standards in the pre–Common Core era didn’t necessarily perform better on national tests of student achievement. That’s not surprising; it would be like thinking that developing countries that adopt better constitutions would automatically have better-functioning governments or economies. Constitutions, like standards, can lay a strong or weak foundation, but their success will depend on many other factors.

In the world of school reform, the most important complement to good standards is an aligned, challenging...

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The F-AIR-Y Conspiracy

After considering whether their support of the Common Core has turned them gay, Mike and Checker get serious, discussing how young teachers are getting the short end of the stick with regard to teacher pensions and why so many low-income students drop out of college. Amber wonders why well-off U.S. students do poorly on internationally benchmarked exams.

Amber's Research Minute

Not just the problem of other people’s children: U.S. student performance in global perspective by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann, (Program on Education Policy and Governance andEducation Next, May 2014).

Just because some criticisms of Common Core standards are over the top and dripping with misinformation doesn’t make them all so. Plenty of valid concerns exist, and the estimable Peggy Noonan recently homed in on several of them. She acknowledges “that Core proponents’ overall objective—to get schools teaching more necessary and important things, and to encourage intellectual coherence in what is taught—is not bad, but good.” But she raised a lot of questions for “eggheads” like us who have pushed for these ambitious new academic standards:

Proponents are now talking about problems with the rollout. Well, yes, and where have we heard that before? One gets the impression they didn’t think this through, that they held symposia and declared the need, with charts and bullet points, for something to be done—and something must be done, because American public education is falling behind the world—and then left it to somebody, or 10,000 somebodies, to make it all work….How was implementation of the overall scheme supposed to work?

Did we think this through? A major reason we support the Common Core is because we’re confident that it will bring greater “intellectual coherence,” in Noonan’s words, to America’s curricular and instructional approaches. That’s sorely needed because the textbooks and other materials that most schools use are dreadful and have been for decades.

Why so bad? Partly it’s due to the textbook oligopoly. (As behemoth Pearson has purchased many of its competitors in recent years, it’s approaching an outright monopoly.) Partly...

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