Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Joe Wilhoft

I began my career as an inner-city elementary teacher because I was dedicated to helping students succeed. Listening to them and helping them improve to meet their goals was at the heart of my work. Today, as the executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, I feel that passion more deeply than at any point in my career. This is a big moment for our schools—a moment in which we can deliver a system of tools that will help teachers and parents truly understand where students are excelling and more clearly identify where they need help.

We will not—and cannot—create a world-class assessment system in isolation. We have the privilege of working with educators and experts across our member states to craft an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards that will measure where students are on their path to success. These new assessments will provide an “academic checkup” by measuring real-world skills like critical thinking and problem solving. In addition, they will provide information during the year to give teachers and parents a clearer picture of where students are succeeding and where they need help.

More than 2,000 educators across our member states have contributed to building the assessment system, with more than 500 teachers doing the painstaking work of writing and reviewing assessment questions and performance tasks. Our member states and their educators have done an incredible job of keeping the needs of students at the center of our work, and we have learned together...

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Oops, he did it again. Eric Owens, the infamous Daily Caller “reporter” who has never seen a silly math problem he wasn’t willing to ascribe to the Common Core (the truth be damned!), has published yet another howler deploring a math problem purportedly of Common Core lineage. But this time he trades his trademark dishonesty for mathematical ignorance.

This flawed “front-end estimation” method wasn’t invented by the people behind Common Core. The concept—which refers to the correct answer to an addition problem as merely “reasonable” and allows students to be off by over 22 percent in their estimation—has been around for decades.

At the same time, the methodology is aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which attempts to standardize various K–12 curricula around the country.

This math lesson is just one more in the constantly burgeoning inventory of hideous Common Core math problems.

Being mathematically ignorant myself, I asked Jason Zimba, a lead author of the Common Core standards, if the standards do in fact promote this approach. Here’s what he had to say:

State standards have always set expectations for estimating the results of computations. Here for example was one of the previous California standards from grade 3:

“Use estimation to verify the reasonableness of calculated results.”

And here was one of the previous Indiana standards from grade 2:

“Use estimation to decide whether answers are reasonable in addition problems.”

And here was one of the previous Massachusetts standards from grade

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If you want to understand why supporters of the Common Core are frustrated—OK, exasperated—by some of our opponents’ seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate, consider this latest episode.

On Monday, EAG News published an article entitled, “Common Core math question for sixth graders: Was the 2000 election ‘fair’?

Would you ever consider the question ‘Whom do you want to be president?’ to be asked of your third grader during a math class (or any class)?

Would you expect your fourth grader to be asked to create a chart of presidents along with their political persuasions? Or, how about a discussion on whether the 2000 presidential election resulted in a “fair” outcome? Or, what if the teacher for your sixth grader was advised to “be prepared” to discuss the “politically charged” 2000 election - all during math.

Common Core aligned, of course.

This was picked up by the Daily Caller’s Eric Owens on Wednesday, who piled on via his article, “Common Core MATH lesson plans attack Reagan, list Lincoln’s religion as ‘liberal’”

Another week has gone by and, like clockwork, some more hilariously awful Common Core math lessons have oozed out of the woodwork.

And the story jumped to cable news this morning on a Fox segment, “Common Core lesson lists Abraham Lincoln as a liberal.”

So this is pretty damning for the Common Core, right?

Wrong.

Let’s...

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The fancy-footwork edition

Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures.

Amber's Research Minute

Choosing the Right Growth Measure,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, Education Next 14(2).

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

A tribute to the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

A tribute to the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

Learn about E. D. Hirsch in this short video that follows his career, how he came to develop the Core Knowledge curriculum, and his thoughts on the future of the Common Core. Featured in the video are prominent education reformers such as David Coleman, Joel Klein, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Tom Birmingham, Randi Weingarten, Valarie Lewis, Sol Stern, Kati Haycock, and Dan Willingham.

The funny thing about eras is that it’s hard to know which one you are in until it is coming to an end. As the fighting among conservatives heats up over the Common Core, the era of standards-driven reform that has defined conservative education policy for the past three decades is brought into sharper relief.

But the approach that President Reagan and his secretary of education Bill Bennett helped set in motion in the 1980s is under increasing assault from a resurgent libertarian movement and the coopting of many of the most popular ideas by a reform-minded Democratic president and his own energetic secretary of education. Is 2014 the year the conservative push for curricular and instructional excellence comes to an end?

Those looking for answers would be wise to track the increasingly acerbic discussion over the Common Core State Standards. What began as a conversation about the quality, content, and rigor of the standards has evolved into an increasingly polarized political debate that is fracturing support for one of the most enduring conservative reforms.

Just last week, University of Arkansas professor and longtime conservative education-policy researcher Jay Greene admitted that his position on standards and accountability has changed. “Simply put,” Greene acknowledge, “I am no longer a supporter of top-down school accountability regimes.” (Though Greene also acknowledged that, “until we have expanded choice further, I see no practical alternative to continuing state testing for schools not subject to meaningful choice accountability.”)

This represents a remarkable shift for...

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The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

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Our slim new book Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core has three large aims. First, it pays tribute to three decades of scholarship and service to American education by E. D. (Don) Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy (and...

Pop quiz! Which of the following statements is in the Common Core State Standards?

(a) Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge....

While presenting his 2014–15 budget for New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his education priorities, proposing (among other things) a $1.5 billion pre-Kindergarten...

Does the poverty level of a school impact how much a teacher improves (or not) over time? Analysts at CALDER sought the answer by studying elementary-school math teachers (at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels) in self-contained classrooms in North Carolina and Florida over time (eleven years...

The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

A tribute to the work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

Learn about E. D. Hirsch in this short video that follows his career, how he came to develop the Core Knowledge curriculum, and his thoughts on the future of the Common Core. Featured in the video are prominent education reformers such as David Coleman, Joel Klein, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Tom Birmingham, Randi Weingarten, Valarie Lewis, Sol Stern, Kati Haycock, and Dan Willingham.

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