Standards, Testing & Accountability

On November 11th, the Fordham Institute’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. addressed a private meeting of reform-minded Catholic education leaders and philanthropists. What follows is adapted from his remarks on that occasion.

Two big changes in American education policy over the past several decades have been good for the country and for kids in general, but not particularly good for Catholic schools, especially the urban variety.

First, families now have myriad choices, many different kinds of schools and ways of getting educated, so we no longer take for granted that our child will go to your neighborhood or parish school. Second, we now judge schools by their results, not by their inputs, intentions, or reputations, and we’re increasingly hard-nosed about those results, looking—probably too much—at test scores and graduation rates and such.

Both of these changes have tended to leave Catholic schools behind. With some worthy exceptions, their leaders haven’t tried very hard to take advantage of them. They haven’t been nimble or enterprising in making use of the opportunities presented by new forms of publicly supported choice. Nor have they—or private schools generally—done well in...

Fordham Institute to evaluate Common Core assessments on quality and content alignment

PARCC, Smarter Balanced, ACT Aspire, and Massachusetts participating in landmark study

Media Contact:
Michelle Lerner
mlerner@edexcellence.net
202-223-5452


Washington, D.C. (November 19, 2014) — The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has launched a new study to evaluate the quality and content alignment of PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Fordham’s study will be published in summer 2015.

As part of the effort, Fordham will also evaluate the 2014 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), a high-quality state assessment, for Common Core alignment under an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The promise of the Common Core State Standards, implemented faithfully, is improved education and life outcomes for millions of American children,” noted...

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned an Education Trust report positing that schools shouldn’t get A grades if they have significant achievement gaps, even if their students are making lots of progress. I guess I didn’t make a convincing case, particularly to the folks at 400 Maryland Avenue. As Anne Hyslop reported, the newly announced NCLB waiver guidelines now ask states for “a demonstration that a school may not receive the highest rating in the state’s accountability system if there are significant achievement or graduation rate gaps in the school that are not closing.” As Anne wrote, “this is almost verbatim from the recommendations” put forth by Ed Trust.

But is this a smart idea? Consider the case of Sawgrass Elementary School in Broward County, Florida. Let’s examine its stats (downloaded from this Florida Department of Education site). First look at the demographics, which show it to be a rare model of racial and socio-economic diversity:

  • 27 percent white
  • 28 percent black
  • 37 percent Hispanic
  • 6 percent Asian
  • 54 percent disadvantaged
  • 29 percent English language learners (ELL)

As for academic performance, Sawgrass has been making big...

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, November 13, Chad Aldis testified before the Ohio House Education Committee on the substitute bill for House Bill 228. His comments focused on a small but substantial change that would limit the length of a state assessment, even if administered in several parts at multiple times during the school year, to four hours. A portion of his testimony is below.

I would like to commend the legislature on its decision to examine the issue of over-testing. In recent months, concerns over the amount of classroom time allocated to standardized testing have risen with a fervor and urgency that is understandable. Testing impacts thousands of students, parents, and educators across our state. As a parent of children in a traditional public school, I understand the concerns surrounding testing. I am equally concerned though that in our rush to find a solution we could potentially swing the pendulum too far the other way.

I oppose placing a testing time limit in statute for three reasons.

First, the provision limiting testing hours on the state assessment is a quick fix that may not solve the issue of...

Common Core has the potential to shift and drastically improve math instruction in American schools, but its detractors have marshalled a raucous opposition to its proposed changes. We’ve already examined the questionable arguments against Common Core literacy standards; now we’re turning our sights to math.

September’s Intelligence Squared U.S. debate pitted Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli and the Center for American Progress’s Carmel Martin against the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and New York principal Carol Burris. Hess and Burris are two of Common Core’s most eloquent and energetic critics, but the position they mounted against the initiative’s math standards is not a strong one. It can essentially be boiled down to three points:

1.) The standards confuse children.

This is perhaps the most common critique of Common Core math. As the new standards have been implemented (seldom perfectly) in participating states, districts, and schools, children have sometimes been assigned math problems that would make a structural engineer scratch her head. Parents accustomed to the “classic style” of teaching math—long worksheets of standard algorithms with one or two word problems...

There’s a wonderfully apt saying about why debates in the U.S. Senate last so long: “Everything’s been said but not everyone has said it yet.”  In that spirit, I offer my admittedly late thoughts on last night’s results. (It was a late night, so you may want to triangulate the real story by also reading the reactions from Eduwonk, Rick Hess, Eduflack, and Mike Petrilli.)

  1. The Uncertain Edu-meaning of the GOP Triumph: It was obviously a gigantic night for Republicans. They won just about every race imaginable. But it’s not clear what views, if any, all of these new office-holders share. Some are pro-Common Core; some aren’t. Some love choice and charters; some are more traditional. So we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this landslide settles.
  2. End of the Obama-Duncan Era: We’ll have to wait and see what the new reform era holds, but it feels more and more like the heady days of Race to the Top, ARRA, etc., are behind us. Secretary Duncan’s team still has work to
  3. ...

With a few exceptions, most of the races decided yesterday didn’t hinge on education reform. But the outcome will have big implications for education policy nonetheless.

That was certainly true in 2010, when a voter backlash against Obamacare triggered a wave of Republican victories, especially at the state level, which in turn set the stage for major progress on education reform priorities in 2011 (rightfully dubbed “the year of school choice” by the Wall Street Journal). In fact, as Ty Eberhardt and I have argued, 2010’s Republican surge deserves more credit for the education reforms of the past several years than does Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top:

So here we are again, with Republicans winning stunning victories in races for governor’s mansions and statehouses nationwide. And once again this will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety. Voucher and tax-credit programs in Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona will continue apace; charter caps may be lifted and bad laws amended in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois; comprehensive reform efforts in New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan have a new lease on life.

There’s good news for reformers on...

Over the last five years, prodded by the feds, states have adopted teacher evaluation systems. According to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, forty-one states, including Ohio, now require evaluations that include objective measures of student achievement. These aren’t the meat-axe assessments of yesteryear, though. These next-generation teacher evaluations combine classroom observations using new prescriptive protocols with quantitative evidence of learning gains on state tests (or another form of assessment) to determine each teacher’s effectiveness.

The national focus on teacher evaluations raises a couple of questions. First, why have states chosen to focus on teacher evaluations (i.e. what’s the problem that policymakers are trying to solve)? Second, are the new evaluations proving effective in solving the problem?

Let’s start with the why. Recall all the evidence that the single most important in-school factor for student achievement is teacher quality. If we know that good teachers make a difference, it's not surprising that we've focused on evaluating them. Such evaluations hold the potential to identify great teachers whom we can reward, retain, and/or hold up as models, struggling or developing teachers whom we can help to improve, and ineffective teachers who should be removed from...

The information yielded by standardized tests—and the analyses based on test results, like value-added—should form the basis for tough decisions regarding which schools (charter and district) or entire school systems require intervention. Parents need information about school quality, and taxpayers ought to know whether their resources are being put to good use. But at the same time, parents and policymakers alike have valid concerns about “overtesting” students, and how high-stakes tests change how schools behave.

Over the past decade, Ohio has tested social studies and science unevenly, and will continue to do so under the new assessment program set to begin in spring 2015. Under the old system, the state administered science tests in just grades 5 and 8, while math and English language arts (ELA) were assessed in all grades 3–8. Social studies was tested for just three years (2006–07 to 2008–09) in grades 5 and 8, but it was “suspended” effective fall 2009. The new state testing program continues science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and resurrects social studies testing in grades 4 and 6.

Should Ohio test in science and social studies, in addition to ELA and math assessments? And if...

All Hallows Edition

The testing pushback, a college boost for poor kids, adolescent readers, and school-supporting nonprofits.

Amber's Research Minute

"The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits," by Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth Gazley, Association for Education Finance and Policy (Feburary 2014).

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