Standards, Testing & Accountability

A Fern between Two Mikes: Testing, accountability, and the new ESEA

A fern between two Mikes: Testing, accountability, and the new ESEA

The debate over annual testing has taken center stage as Congress considers reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Assessments provide critical information for parents and legislators on student progress, but when does annual testing become overtesting? And will it survive reauthorization? Watch Fordham's Mike Petrilli and AEI's Mike McShane discuss testing and accountability in the wake of the Senate hearing on the new ESEA.

Arizona last week became the first state to make passing the U.S. Citizenship Test a high school graduation requirement. Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill mandating the test after the measure passed the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate in a single day. And that’s really about all the deliberation that should be needed for other states to follow Arizona’s lead. It’s a no-brainer in more ways than one.

Here are some of the questions on the test:

  • What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called?
  • Name two rights in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Why do some states have more representatives than others?
  • Who is the governor of your state now?
  • How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?
  • Who is the President of the United States?

These are among 100 basic questions on American government and history published by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization service. It’s not particularly challenging stuff. Those seeking citizenship are asked up to ten of the questions; six correct is a passing score. Arizona...

The word around town is that support for annual testing among rank-and-file members of Congress—in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle—is dangerously low. They are constantly hearing complaints from their constituents about the overuse and abuse of standardized tests, and many are eager to do something about it. We policy wonks may see the value in such tests (Brookings has been especially effective in making powerful arguments for keeping them), but parents and the public are fed up.

To be of service, here’s a crack at some “talking points” that members of Congress might use when the testing issue comes up at town hall meetings and the like. I strongly suspect that some of you can do much better. Give it a try! How would YOU explain to your fellow citizens the need for annual testing?

I understand that many of you feel strongly that there’s too much testing in our schools. You can’t throw a rock inside a school without hitting a standardized test; every time your son or daughter turns around, they are taking some test designed by some far away bureaucrat or...

Though hardly the only issue to be debated during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act, annual testing has taken center stage in discussions so far. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP committee, put forth a bill that leaves open the possibility of removing the federal requirement that states test students annually in reading and math from grades three through eight—a possibility that has thoroughly freaked out much of the education-reform community.

But as Alexander has explained, he is merely trying to respond to what he and every other member of Congress are hearing from their constituents: There’s too much damn testing in the schools.

But is that true? And if so, is it because of the federal requirements?

A new report from the Ohio Department of Education provides some timely answers, at least for one state. (A bellwether state, mind you.) State Superintendent Dick Ross charged his department with collecting information about the number of hours Buckeye State students spend preparing for and taking tests (not including tests developed by their own teachers). The findings are illuminating (most of this language is verbatim):

  • The average student spends approximately
  • ...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News and City Journal.

Last week, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña demanded that dozens of New York City’s lowest-performing schools adopt and implement a widely criticized literacy curriculum with which she has long been associated. It was the most recent of a growing list of decisions she has made while running the nation’s largest school system that seem to be based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.

In November, the city unveiled its School Renewal Program, a $150 million plan to turn ninety-four chronically low-performing schools into “community schools.” A concept paper inviting community-based organizations to partner with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) noted the approach “is based on a growing body of evidence” showing that “an integrated focus” on academics, health and social services, and other community supports are “critical to improving student success.”

What growing body of evidence? The paper didn’t say—not even in a footnote. Perhaps because the evidence is scant to nonexistent. New York’s initiative is modeled on a similar program in...

The one about ESEA

Cellphones in schools, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, universal community college, and charters without lotteries.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Atila Abdulkadiroğlu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull, and Parag A. Pathak, "Charters Without Lotteries: Testing Takeovers in New Orleans and Boston," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper  20792 (December 2014).

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at RegBlog.

Most public policy issues fit roughly into one of three categories. The first contains fundamental matters of principle—what we generally call “social issues,” such as abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights. The second bucket includes topics that are more technical in nature: how to make various systems or sectors work better. Here we might put nuts-and-bolts issues like infrastructure or procurement reform. The third category is for issues that have elements of the first two, both fundamental matters of principle and technocratic questions of implementation. Health care reform certainly belongs there.

Category three is also where education reform in general, and Common Core in particular, belongs. There are clear matters of principle: Should all American children have equal access to challenging coursework? Do states have the right, perhaps even the responsibility, to set standards for their public schools, or should all such control remain with local school boards, educators, or parents? But technical questions are important too: Are the standards high enough? Are the tests properly aligned with them—and also psychometrically valid and reliable? Who is responsible for helping schools develop the capacity to teach to the new...

Ohio’s Quality Counts Rating – Poverty Gap Change

In Monday’s post, we examined the achievement gains Ohio has made on the NAEP exams from 2003 to 2013. Needless to say, Ohio’s gains were not all that impressive. In this post, I look at how Ohio fares along the “poverty-gap closing” measure used in EdWeek’s Quality Counts report. (This metric is the difference in NAEP achievement between low- and high-income students—and how that gap has changed over time.) The achievement gap between poor and well-off children is substantial across the entire nation, Ohio included, and thus minimizing the differences in achievement levels is a worthwhile policy objective (preferably, by lifting the achievement of poor students, not through reductions in wealthy-students’ performance). The chart below displays the “poverty gap” trend in Ohio, along with several other states: four other Midwestern states, the four most-populous states, and the national average. Among these states, Ohio had the largest increase in the achievement gap; its gap grew 3.3 points from 2003 to 2013. The state also ranked near the bottom nationally on this indicator—38th in the nation, taken as an average of its math and reading ranks. Meanwhile, New York was the U.S....

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

As I wrote last week, with the ESEA reauthorization process heating up, lots of advocates are now trying to influence the congressional deliberations. Secretary Duncan weighed in this morning. Here are ten things you should know about his speech.

  1. It was fifty years ago today. The initial frame of the speech harkens back to the original ESEA (1965) and its raison d’être. Duncan even cited Robert F. Kennedy. This is a civil-rights issue for the secretary; indeed, he repeatedly used words like “equity,” “fairness,” and “justice” in his speech. But to many, LBJ’s Great Society is also synonymous with the excesses of federal activity; it is the voracious, technocratic, disconnected, wasteful, ineffective, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy. Conjuring up this era will motivate many…but not in the same way.
  2. Civil rights legislation? Given this framing and the news of Duncan’s having been deeply affected by the Garner and Brown cases, I was prepared for the secretary to be explicit that ESEA is civil rights—not just education—legislation aimed at righting longstanding racial wrongs. I also wondered if he would suggest that a vote against strong K–12 federal accountability would be in the same vein as
  3. ...

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