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.

A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues provides loads of descriptive data that document the extent and depth of the teacher quality gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Dan and many others have produced research that repeatedly shows that disadvantaged kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to high-quality teachers. But the bottom line of this latest study is that this inequitable distribution of teachers plays out no matter how you define teacher quality (experience, teacher licensure exam score, or value-added estimates) and no matter how you define student disadvantage (free-and-reduced-priced lunch status, underrepresented minority status, or low prior academic performance).

The analysts use grades 3–10 data from Washington State for the 2011–12 school year. They target fourth-grade classrooms in particular, then replicate their analysis for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Here’s a summary of their findings: The distribution of prior-year value-added estimates for teachers of students on free and reduced-price lunch is routinely lower than the distribution for fourth graders who aren’t eligible for the lunch program. Low-income fourth graders are also more likely to have teachers who earned lower scores on the teacher licensure exam. Worse, the distribution of low-quality teachers...

On June 30, Governor John Kasich vetoed forty-four items in the budget  and signed the rest into law. Among the provisions that survived is an extension of “safe harbor” as Ohio continues its transition to new standards and assessments. Last year, lawmakers created this “safe harbor” policy for students, schools, and teachers; it pertains to certain test-based accountability provisions for 2014–15. With the 2015 budget bill, they’ve extended it by two more years (2015–16 and 2016–17).

The safe harbor provisions for students and teachers are pretty straightforward. For students, test scores from the 2014–15, 2015–16, or 2016–17 school years cannot be used “as a factor in any decision to promote or to deny the student promotion to a higher grade level or in any decision to grant course credit.” While not explicitly mentioned, this means that failed End of Course exams won’t equate to lost course credit or failure to graduate.  

For teachers, safe harbor means that the “value-added progress dimension rating” determined by state tests administered in 2014–15 and 2015–16 cannot be used for “assessing student academic growth” for teacher evaluations, or “when making decisions regarding the dismissal, retention, tenure, or compensation” of teachers. There is,...

Vladimir Kogan

The dire findings on the performance of Ohio’s charter schools published by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) have provided the badly needed political impetus to reform the state’s charter school laws. Now, however, it appears that not only are these reforms at risk, but lawmakers are actually considering steps to weaken one of the few aspects of the existing accountability system that works.

If existing measures show that charter schools are underperforming, it seems that some charter operators have decided that it would be easier to change the yardstick used to assess them than to improve student achievement.

As the Columbus Dispatch reported recently, at least one charter school operator is pushing Ohio lawmakers to replace the state’s current “value-added” accountability framework with a “Similar Students Measure” (SSM), similar to metrics used in California. Doing so would be a gigantic step back in accountability and would make charter school student achievement look better than it really is.

Here is some background: The state of California ...

Lisa Hansel

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at the Core Knowledge Blog.

Education Week noted recently that there is an increasing demand for bites of curriculum, as opposed to comprehensive programs: Instead of selecting one comprehensive program, “districts are asking to...mix and match with selections from other content providers, material that teachers and students have created, and open educational resources.” That’s awesome—and a disaster.

It’s awesome for schools that have a coherent, cumulative, grade-by-grade, topic-specific curricula. Teachers will have the curriculum as a scaffold, and they can search for materials that best meet their students’ needs on each topic. Assuming that scaffold is well developed, the topics will build on each other, giving all students an equal opportunity to acquire broad knowledge and skills.

It’s a disaster for schools that don’t have such curricula. In schools that aim to instill skills without realizing that a broad body of knowledge is necessary to cultivate them, a tapas-style curriculum will only lead to malnutrition. No matter who is choosing the small plates, we’ll end up with some students getting bacon-wrapped sausage and others getting mostly sautéed spinach and grilled chicken.

A well-rounded education is much like a well-balanced diet....

A push by some charter advocates resulted in a last-minute amendment to House Bill 2 which may introduce the “California Similar Students Measures” (CSSM) into Ohio’s school-accountability system. This is an entirely unnecessary effort, and CSSM should not be implemented in the Buckeye State.

The California Charter Schools Association developed CSSM, a simple regression model that uses school-level data, to approximate a value-added student growth model. The reason: California does not have an official student growth measure. CCSM is an improvement over using only a school’s raw proficiency results to evaluate schools, and the organization deserves credit for implementing it in California. However, a CSSM-like analysis should only be used in the absence of a proper student growth measure—and as such, it has no place in Ohio.

Ohio legislators should read very carefully CCSA’s own caveat emptor (emphasis added):

While CCSA believes these metrics [CSSMs] are an improvement on the existing measures in law for charter renewal, longitudinally linked, individual student growth data is the ideal source for most appropriately assessing a school’s performance. Because the Similar Students Measure is calculated with aggregate school-level data, it is an approximation of value-added modeling. True value-added modeling requires individual student data connected to the schools...

Teaching is hard. (Even if I weren’t a former high school teacher I would know that.) And it’s particularly hard when you feel like those who shape education policy are constantly changing the game for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s best for students. For instance, Ohio educators have discussed how Common Core is successful in their classrooms over and over and over and over and over  again. And yet here we are, facing yet another standards repeal bill in the House. Unfortunately, this new bill’s attempt to repeal standards that are working in Ohio classrooms is even more unfair to teachers than previous iterations.

Previous attempts to repeal Common Core have included ridiculous requirements, such as forcing teachers to teach three separate sets of standards in four years. Unsurprisingly, that one failed to gain much traction. Even without mandating three sets of standards, HB 212 found a way to be worse. It requires that the board adopt new standards “not later than June 30, 2015.” Think about the implications: With no date given for when these standards are to go into use other than the June...

On May 18, another bill aimed at repealing Common Core in Ohio was introduced. House Bill 212 is far more troublesome than its many predecessors, mainly because it aims to do far more than repeal Common Core. Legislators should put this bill out to pasture, and here’s why.

The war on assessments

HB 212’s worst offense is that it declares war on a rigorous assessment system. First, the bill’s text calls for the adoption of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core standards. (We've talked before about why Massachusetts decided to move away from its previous standards in favor of Common Core, and questioned why Ohio would want to pick up another state’s standards when that state has already decided they were no longer good enough.) In an effort to align standards with assessments, HB 212 also calls for the use of Massachusetts’s pre-Common Core tests—which is logical in this circumstance and definitely not the worst option as far as tests go. (This past year, Massachusetts allowed districts to choose between the state test, MCAS, and PARCC). Unfortunately, HB 212 also allows for the adoption of another test—the state assessments administered in Iowa prior to 2010. Currently, Iowa is...

When it comes to the raucous debate over standardized testing, cooler heads might just prevail. In a recent move, PARCC announced changes to its exams starting in 2015–16. PARCC is a consortium of states working to design assessments aligned to the Common Core standards in math and English language arts; Ohio and ten other states administered PARCC for the first time in the 2014–15 school year. Dr. Richard A. Ross, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, sits on its governing board.

On May 20, the governing board voted in favor of two key changes that should alleviate some of the logistical burdens schools faced when administering these exams: eliminating one of the two “testing windows” and reducing the amount of testing time by roughly ninety minutes in all tested grades.

Collapsing two testing windows into one

The spring 2015 testing window for PARCC extended from mid-February to mid-May. That’s a long time. Of course, schools were not required to administer exams throughout the full testing window—they could use as few or as many of the days within the window as they needed. But for students, parents, and educators, the three-month window probably made “testing season” feel unusually long...

I like the Common Core State Standards just fine, but let me confess a little secret: standards have never interested me very much. As a teacher, I would no sooner reach for state standards to decide what to teach than an architect would look to building codes for inspiration when sketching a skyscraper. Likewise, I suspect chefs never start with safe food handling procedures when planning a tempting menu. Of course, I want my students to be able to “determine two or more central ideas of a text” (that’s a standard). But deciding which texts are worth reading is far more interesting. And that’s not a standards question—it’s a curriculum question.

Much of my enthusiasm for Common Core has been predicated on the assumption that raising our game on teaching and testing can’t be accomplished without taking a long, hard look at curriculum—the course content and class materials we put in front of students. Curriculum is largely beyond the reach of Common Core; it’s strictly (and correctly) a local concern. But it’s been widely hoped the new standards would create a robust nationwide market for innovative new materials—especially in English language arts (ELA), where Common Core explicitly states the standards...

The National Center for Education Statistics released the fourth study in a series designed to evaluate high school students’ transition to postsecondary education. The primary focus of the report is a nationally representative sample of roughly fifteen thousand students whom researchers surveyed three times: in 2002, when the students were high school sophomores; in 2006, two years after graduation; and again in 2012, eight years after graduation. Researchers also obtained high school transcripts and, if applicable, at least one postsecondary transcript for every member of the cohort, and disaggregated the data by a variety of factors, including demographics, parent education level, and the number of remedial undergraduate courses taken.

The most compelling findings reconfirmed the stark but all-too-familiar achievement gap. If a student was white or Asian, grew up in a two-parent home, had educated parents, or belonged to one of the top three socioeconomic quartiles, that student was more likely than their less advantaged peers to enroll in a postsecondary program of some kind, more likely to earn better grades, less likely to require remedial classes, more likely to graduate, and more likely to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree instead of an associate’s degree...

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