Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Cole Farnum

I started teaching seven years ago, and I have worked in four different schools in three different states. I’ve always sought schools and environments with higher standards for what students should know and be able to do, as well as higher expectations for what teachers can accomplish.

What I’ve learned, though, is that the definition for these goals varies not only across states but also within school districts—and that’s is a problem for our students.

We need to ensure that regardless of their zip code, our students receive the core instruction that will lead them to successful careers in school and life. The need for a clear standard for what students know and when are why I believe the Common Core State Standards are essential.

Before launching into the now-familiar debate around the new state standards, consider this experience.

In my first week as a sixth grade math teacher at a high-performing New York City school, I met Ethan, a student recognized for his strong math skills. When asked to show me his skills, he beamed at his ability to correctly find the area of an irregular polygon.

I was surprised, not because Ethan could solve the problem but rather because I had taught it to my fourth grade students in Massachusetts years earlier. Still, in New York, that lesson was a part of the state’s curriculum for Ethan’s sixth grade level.

No, I did not lead my former students in math lessons two years ahead of their grade level....

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As the debate over education reforms like the Common Core rage across the country, policy makers, advocates, pundits, and wonks clamor to have their views heard. In the din, the voices of teachers—upon whose shoulders the success of education reform ultimately lies—are sometimes drowned out. The third iteration of Scholastic’s Primary Sources survey (the first two were released in 2009 and 2011) provides powerful insight into teachers’ attitudes towards their profession, Common Core implementation, and teacher evaluations. Of the 20,000 teachers who participated, most showed enthusiasm for the new Common Core standards. Indeed, 57 percent of teachers in Common Core states believe that the standards will have a positive impact on students, outweighing those who believe the opposite by an impressive seven-to-one ratio; 35 percent say they will not make much of a difference. (It’s interesting to note that this view contradicts the impression given by the National Education Association last week.) However, teachers do remain cautious: 73 percent reported that implementing the standards will be challenging, and the same proportion noted that it will force them to make changes to their current teaching practices. It is therefore unsurprising that almost all respondents asked for additional time to find curricular materials and quality CCSS-based professional development (this syncs with our new study). Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from this study is that fewer than 10 percent of teachers believe their voices are heard at the national and state level. Yet 98 percent see teaching...

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Dara and the Following

Dara’s taste in TV shows is questionable, but her ed-policy knowledge is not. She and Michelle dish on Common Core implementation, student-data privacy, and marketing in schools. Amber gets pensive about pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Missouri Charter Schools and Teacher Pension Plans: How Well Do Existing Pension Plans Serve Charter and Urban Teachers? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky, and P. Brett Xiang, (Kansas City, MO: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, February 2014).

On February 18, the Indiana Department of Education released the first public draft of a set of new K–12 expectations for English language arts and math. The proposed changes take place against the backdrop of a rollercoaster debate about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that has seen numerous ups and downs since the state first adopted the CCSS back in August 2010. This contentious debate culminated in passage of legislation in April 2013 that paused CCSS implementation and charged the state Board of Education with adopting new college- and career-readiness standards.

State officials hope these new standards will accomplish two things: build on the best of both the Common Core and of the state’s previous (highly regarded) ELA and math standards and put to rest the heated and polarizing debate over the Common Core.

It’s perfectly fine, and has been since the outset, for states to adapt, modify, and add to the Common Core in order to address singular interests, needs, or enthusiasms of their residents, leaders, and educators. The test is whether such changes yield improvements on the one hand without diluting the very considerable gains that the Common Core itself made over the status quo across most of the U.S.

In this post, I take a close look at the proposed ELA to understand how they stack up against the Common Core and the Indiana standards that came before them.

The short answer: not well at all. Both...

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The Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to bring them to life in their schools and classrooms.

But how is implementation going so far? That’s what this new study explores in four “early-implementer” school systems. Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers provides an in-depth examination of real educators as they earnestly attempt to put higher standards into practice.

To learn more, download the report and read about it on Common Core Watch.

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The last year has found critics and advocates of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) duking it out in the political arena. That a common set of high expectations for K–12 students would catalyze such fierce fisticuffs reminds us of both the ugliness and beauty of democracy. Indeed, we at Fordham, ardent supporters of high standards for some seventeen years, have lurched out of the safe haven of think tankery and into the boxing ring. It is not a role that we asked for—or particularly relish—but, confident that the interests of America’s children and its future are worth fighting for, we laced up our gloves.

Yet wherever one stands on the merits of the Common Core, one thing is certain: all of the political posturing and mudslinging distract attention and energy from the crucial work of implementation. Like it or not, the Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to operationalize them in their schools and classrooms.

We wanted to know how it was going, so we sought answers via an in-depth examination of real educators in real districts as they earnestly attempt to put the CCSS into practice. The result is our new study, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers. Our goal was to peer into this void via an up-close look at...

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by Katie Cristol and Brinton S. Ramsey

Foreword by Amber M. Northern and Michael J. Petrilli

The Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to bring them to life in their schools and classrooms.

But how is implementation going so far? That’s what this new study explores in four “early-implementer” school systems. Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers provides an in-depth examination of real educators as they earnestly attempt to put higher standards into practice. This up-close look at district-level, school-level, and classroom-level implementation yields several key findings:

  1. Teachers and principals are the primary faces and voices of the Common Core standards in their communities
  2. Implementation works best when district and school leaders lock onto the Common Core standards as the linchpin of instruction, professional learning, and accountability in their buildings
  3. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own
  4. The scramble to deliver quality CCSS-aligned professional development to all who need it is as crucial and (so far) as patchy as the quest for suitable curriculum materials
  5. The lack of aligned assessments will make effective implementation of the Common Core challenging for another year

In short, districts are in the near-impossible situation of operationalizing new standards before high-quality curriculum and tests aligned to them are finished. Yet the clock is ticking, and the new tests and truly...

The COMMENTARY blog is my absolute favorite, so I was more than a little crestfallen when I read Seth Mandel’s recent entry. “Wherever you stand on the Common Core,” he declared, “it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.”

Mandel is right that the debates have unmistakable parallels. But, as he acknowledges, “none of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is.”

Lest that point get lost, let me reiterate the vast differences between ObamaCare and the Common Core when it comes to federal involvement.

ObamaCare is a federal program through and through. Created by an act of Congress, it puts federal bureaucrats in charge of one-sixth of the economy, overrules state regulatory bodies (regarding insurance and much else), involves a massive redistribution of public and private dollars, and excludes any sort of “opt out” provision for states. (Thanks to the Supreme Court, states can refuse the Medicaid expansion, but they are stuck with everything else.)

The contrast with the Common Core could not be starker. This was an initiative launched by the governors and state school leaders well before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency, much less seated in the White House. It had momentum prior to the 2008 election as state policymakers...

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Morgan Polikoff

Of all the current political threats to the Common Core, the most dangerous is the brewing backlash from the teachers' unions. To be sure, the GOP-Tea Party rebellion against federal intrusion is also threatening and holds the possibility of leading to repeal in several states. However, I don't view that threat as particularly solvable—there's no policy tweak or line of argument that would convince those folks to change their minds in any major way. In contrast, the threat from teachers and the unions is relatively easily solved.

Both major unions have been vocal advocates of the Common Core so far, including conducting polls showing most teachers support the standards and building partnerships with tech companies to spur implementation. However, there are signs that support is wavering. In particular, Randi Weingarten (head of AFT) has been treading an increasingly fine line on Common Core—supportive of the standards, but also saying their implementation is 'far worse' than the Obamacare rollout and bashing teacher-evaluation policies in the same breath as she critiques Common Core. (Just yesterday, the NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel piled on with harsh words of his own.)

Let's be clear—the growing union pushback is to some extent about teacher evaluation. (How much one thinks it's really about evaluation probably depends on where one stands on the unions more generally.) But there is no inherent reason why Common Core and new teacher-evaluation policies have to be linked with one another. One need not have common standards to redesign teacher evaluation, and vice versa. The major unforced...

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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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