Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.

The latest SAT scores are out today, and as I remarked to Nick Anderson at the Washington Post, education reform appears to be hitting a wall in high school.

In truth, we already knew this. The SATs aren’t even the best gauge—not all students take them, and those who do are hardly representative.

But a variety of sources show much the same thing. Twelfth-grade NAEP: Flat. Long-term NAEP for seventeen-year-olds: Flat. ACT scores: Flat. Percentage of college-ready graduates: Flat.

What makes this so disappointing is that NAEP shows respectable gains for younger students, especially in fourth grade and particularly in math. Yet these early gains seem to evaporate as kids get older.

Here’s what that looks like using data from the long-term trend NAEP for three recent student cohorts. Progress at ages nine and thirteen hasn’t translated into progress at age seventeen.

*Note: This shows, for example, that when members of the graduating high school class of 2004 were nine years old (in 1996), they scored 231 on the long-term trend NAEP. Since there was no testing in 2000, I...

Most of the sturm und drang over Common Core has centered on the politics of the standards’ creation and adoption. The bigger problem—much bigger—was always going to be implementation. This new brief from the Education Trust offers a glimpse of how it’s going. Alas, the answer is not very well.

An analysis of middle school classroom assignments finds that most “do not reflect the high-level goals” set by Common Core. This, the report suggests, demonstrates where teachers are in their understanding of the higher standards. Among the sobering data points: A mere 6 percent of the assignment fell into the high range of Education Trust’s analysis framework, and fewer than 40 percent of assignments were aligned with grade-appropriate standards at all. “It’s time for an honest conversation about where we are in implementing the standards,” the report concludes.

Hear, hear—but some important caveats must be noted. The study was conducted at six middle schools spread across two urban districts in two states. Given Education Trust’s focus on equity and the achievement gap, this is not surprising; however, it may not be representative of K–12 education at large. It’s also interesting that more than half of the assignments reviewed came from...

Natalie Wexler

Standardized tests are commonly blamed for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and math. That’s one reason Congress is considering changes in the law that could lead states to put less emphasis on test scores. But even if we abolished standardized tests tomorrow, a majority of elementary schools would continue to pay scant attention to subjects like history and science.

Consider this: In 1977, twenty-five years before No Child Left Behind ushered in the era of high-stakes testing, elementary school teachers spent only about fifty minutes each day on science and social studies combined. True, in 2012, they spent even less time on those subjects—but only by about ten minutes.

The root cause of today’s narrow elementary curriculum isn’t testing, although that has exacerbated the trend. It’s a longstanding pedagogical notion that the best way to teach kids reading comprehension is by giving them skills—strategies like “finding the main idea”—rather than instilling knowledge about things like the Civil War or human biology.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next.

That’s a problem for all students:...

Only math and reading teachers in grades 4–8 receive evaluations based on value-added test results. For all other teachers—80 percent of them in Ohio—it’s on to Plan B. To evaluate these teachers, schools are using alternative measures of student growth, which include vendor assessments (commercial, non-state exams) and student learning objectives (SLOs, or teacher-designed goals for learning). But how are these alternative measures being administered? What are their pros and cons? The research on this issue is terribly thin, but a new study from the Institute of Education Sciences casts an intriguing ray of light. Through in-depth interviews, the researchers elicited information on how eight mid-Atlantic districts (unnamed) are implementing alternative measures.

Here are the study’s four key takeaways: First, educators considered vendor assessments (with results analyzed through a form of value-added modelling) to be a fairer and more rigorous evaluation method than SLOs. Second, both alternative measures yielded greater variation in teacher performance than observational methods alone. Third, implementing SLOs in a consistent and rigorous manner was extremely difficult. In fact, the authors write, “All types of stakeholders expressed concern about the potential for some teachers to ‘game the system’ by setting easily attainable...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at U.S. News & World Report

Karoline Reyes dropped out of high school after the death of her mother. "I was in a really bad place," says the South Bronx nineteen-year-old. "It was hard to get school work done." Two years later, she enrolled at Bronx Haven High School, a "transfer high school" designed for kids who have dropped out or fallen behind in credits. She pulled away a second time, but Bronx Haven kept calling, encouraging her to sign up for classes. Her second-chance school wanted to give her another second chance.

Bronx Haven allowed Reyes to earn three credits via online classes. Two years of summer school meant four more credits, in addition to her already accelerated classes, which helped her make up for lost time. "I was two years behind and I didn't want to be in school forever," she says. Back on track, Reyes graduated in June, works at Montefiore Medical Center, and will start community college this fall. She plans to transfer to New York City's Hunter College for her bachelor's degree and credits Bronx Haven for not letting her...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at U.S. News & World Report

Karoline Reyes dropped out of high school after the death of her mother. "I was in a really bad place," says the South Bronx nineteen-year-old. "It was hard to get school work done." Two years later, she enrolled at Bronx Haven High School, a "transfer high school" designed for kids who have dropped out or fallen behind in credits. She pulled away a second time, but Bronx Haven kept calling, encouraging her to sign up for classes. Her second-chance school wanted to give her another second chance.

Bronx Haven allowed Reyes to earn three credits via online classes. Two years of summer school meant four more credits, in addition to her already accelerated classes, which helped her make up for lost time. "I was two years behind and I didn't want to be in school forever," she says. Back on track, Reyes graduated in June, works at Montefiore Medical Center, and will start community college this fall. She plans to transfer to New York City's Hunter College for her bachelor's degree and credits Bronx Haven for not letting her...

The Education Trust recently responded to two analyses in which I looked at the relationship between  overall and disadvantaged subgroup performance at an individual school level. To summarize their critique, they suggest that even minor differences between overall and subgroup ratings warrant serious concern in an accountability context—possibly including sanctions. For example, a school carrying an overall A rating, but a C rating for disadvantaged students, could be considered to be “growing the achievement gap” and thus in need of an intervention.

Their approach, however, fails to recognize that in school rating systems, a one- or even two-rating deviation may not reflect significant differences in performance. Bear in mind that with growth results, we’re dealing with statistical estimates of learning gains that also include a margin of error. In some cases, schools receive different letter grades, but their underlying growth results aren’t distinguishable from each other.

Consider an example using one school’s overall and subgroup results (Chart 1). As you can see, the range of plausible values for the gains made by all overlap with those made by low-achieving students. As such, we cannot rule out the possibility that the two groups’ gains are actually identical. We...

When Governor Kasich signed the budget on June 30, two significant changes to Ohio’s assessment system became law. First, safe harbor was extended through the 2016 17 school year; second, PARCC ceased to be Ohio's state test. Soon after the ink was dry, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced that the state would use tests developed in consultation with AIR for all subjects during the 2015–16 school year. (AIR provided Ohio’s science and social studies assessments in 2014–15 and also developed Ohio’s former tests—the OAA and OGT.)

Throughout the month of July, questions loomed surrounding what these tests would look like, how they would be administered, and when teachers and school leaders would receive preparation resources. Not all of those questions have been answered, but some have. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

Test features

For many people, one of the most attractive aspects of the new ELA and math assessments is that they are shorter than PARCC tests. While PARCC tests are (depending on subject and grade level) around four or five hours each, the state tests that Ohio students will take this year will last approximately...

 

kathon_lanang/iStock/Thinkstock

The poll results that Education Next released yesterday carry mildly glum news for just about every education reformer in the land, as public support has diminished at least a bit for most initiatives on their agendas: merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits, Common Core, and even ending teacher tenure. That dimming enthusiasm for change is apt to dominate coverage of the survey findings and the debates that follow.

Yet two other big-picture tendencies are also visible in these data, and it strikes me that they matter more over the long run than any one year’s blips around particular reform ideas.

First, when it comes to fundamental principles and practices regarding K–12 education, the American public is generally pretty sensible and steadfast. More on this below.

Second, when it comes to important basic facts regarding that very same K–12 education system, the American public is stunningly ignorant. This is especially true on the fiscal side. Poll respondents underestimated by half how much money is spent per pupil in their local schools. They’re...

Joe Anderson and Kelly James

As we move into the 2015–16 school year, the standards and assessments landscape is continuing to shift. State legislative and executive actions over the past year have resulted in changes to how, when, and—in some cases—if districts and schools will implement Common Core standards and aligned assessments. Education First’s Common Core and Assessments Status Maps detail these changes, looking back over the last year and forward to the next.

The good news: An overwhelming majority of states (forty-four, plus the District of Columbia) will continue to implement Common Core next year—this despite dozens of bills in nearly thirty states to delay or repeal it. Policymakers are sticking with higher expectations for all kids because educators, parents, and students tell them that the standards are improving instruction in classrooms across the nation. Yes, ten states are reviewing their standards (a best practice that was in place well before Common Core); but as we know from Indiana’s experience, most of them will continue with either the Core or standards that closely resemble it. States from Louisiana to New Jersey are finding that their reviews help them build on the standards rather than tearing them apart. Only Oklahoma is determined to go it alone. With so much...

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