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 testing “opt-out” movement is testing education reform’s humility.

The number of students not participating in state assessments is large and growing. In one New York district, 70 percent of students opted out; in one New Jersey district, it was 40 percent.

Some reporting makes the case that this phenomenon is part of a larger anti-accountability, anti-Common Core story. Some reformers, it seems to me, believe opting out is the result of ignorance or worse.

Participants are routinely cast as uninformed or irrational. Amanda Ripley implied that opting out of testing is like opting out of vaccines and lice checks. New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued, “We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up…we should not refuse to take the test.” A column in the Orlando Sentinel argued we’d “lost our minds” and that the “opt-out movement has officially jumped...

The University of Kentucky may have lost the NCAA tournament, but Kentuckians can still take heart in their K–12 schools’ promising non-athletic gains. According to this new report, the Bluegrass State’s ACT scores have shot up since it began to implement the Common Core in 2011–12.

Using data from the Kentucky Department of Education, the study compared ACT scores for three cohorts of students who entered eighth grade between the 2007–08 and 2009–10 school years. The first group took the ACT—a state requirement for all eleventh graders—in 2010–11, immediately prior to CCSS implementation. They were therefore not formally exposed to instruction under the new standards. Cohorts two and three took the ACT in 2011–11 and 2012–13, after the introduction of CCSS-aligned curricula. They earned composite scores that were 0.18 and 0.25 points higher, respectively, relative to first cohort. The study authors report this gain as roughly equivalent to three months of additional learning.

The report rightly cautions against reading too much into these early findings. The short interval between Common Core implementation and the cohorts’ ACT scores reduces the effect the standards could have on student achievement. The authors also note that it is not clear whether the scoring gains...

In a previous post, I referred to New York’s fierce political battle over teacher evaluations. Since then, New York lawmakers have passed the education portion of the budget—and moved Governor Cuomo’s controversial teacher evaluation proposal forward. State teachers’ unions responded by calling for parents to opt-out of standardized tests, hoping that a lack of data would sabotage the system. In response, the Brookings Institution’s Matthew Chingos has published an analysis of whether opting out will actually affect teacher evaluations. The short answer is “no,” and here’s why:

To conduct his analysis, Chingos examined statewide data from North Carolina—specifically, the math achievement of fourth and fifth graders during the 2009–10 school year. Chingos ran two simulations of the data: one that investigated a random group of students opting out of state exams, and another that investigated a group of the highest-performing students opting out. Both simulations found that the effect of opt-outs on a teacher’s evaluation score is small unless a large number of her students choose to opt out.

So what happens if a large number of students in New York opt out?[1] As the number of students opting out increases, so...

Part II of the latest Brown Center report is called “Measuring Effects of the Common Core.” Loveless creates two indexes of Common Core State Standards implementation by using data from two surveys of state education agencies. The 2011 index is based on a survey from that year, which reports how many activities—such as conducting professional development or adopting new instructional materials—states had undertaken while implementing the CCSS. “Strong” states are those that pursued at least three implementation strategies. The 2013 index uses survey data asking state officials when they plan to complete CCSS implementation. In this case, “strong” indicates full implementation by 2012–2013.

Analyzing the relationship between survey results and fourth-grade NAEP data for reading, Loveless finds little difference between “strong” states and the four states that never adopted Common Core. According to the 2011 index, strong implementers outscored the four states that didn’t adopt the Common Core by a little more than a scale point between 2009 and 13 (yet the small comparison group makes for less reliable findings). Strong states did a bit better relative to the 2013 index, but still outdid non-implementers by less than two NAEP points.

More interesting than these preliminary correlation studies, however, is...

Jerome McElroy

Nutrition standards for school lunches are almost as controversial as the Common Core. Conservatives shun federal overreach; liberals resist high-stakes standards. Add to that the new opt-out craze and we’ve got ourselves one hell of a food fight.

This head cheese of interests has, however, produced one thing of value: the Food Network’s new game show, Top Lunch Lady (or Lad). Fast-paced, easily digestible episodes feature the nation’s most culinarily clever cafeteria chefs as they submit to a series of grueling gauntlets. Be it creating “next-generation” allergy-free peanuts, identifying the curious components of “mystery meatloaf,” or recreating the school lunches of yesteryear using only kale, quinoa, chia seeds, and vegan cheese, the competition is tighter than a new hair net.

The last contestant standing will receive a week’s worth of personalized aprons, a new set of designer ladles, and a year-long waiver from the Ag Department’s new rules. Expert judges include Joey Chestnut, Richard Simmons, that lunch lady from Billy Madison with the sloppy joes, and—the hardest judge of all—third grader Mackenzie Willard.

No matter how...

The Education Gladfly

OECS launches international JERK assessment

Seemingly envious of the huge (and lucrative) success of the OECD’s PISA and the IEA’s TIMSS testing programs, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has devised and is marketing its own assessment system, the Judging Educational Results and Knowledge (JERK) exam. Fearing the effect that global warming may have on low-lying island shorelines and traditional tropical tourism, JERK is meant to raise money and awareness of the Caribbean’s other offerings. Aimed at preschoolers—the optimal age to develop a taste for authentic Caribbean seasoning—the principal subjects covered are off-shore banking and maritime exports. Every child who takes and completes the test gets a spicy chicken leg courtesy of Golden Krust (test underwriter and America’s largest Caribbean-food chain). Eat your heart out, OECD, but wash it down with a glass of milk if you can’t stand the heat.

Project ABC

The DOE announced today a new initiative involving PARCC, SBAC, EOCs, SATs, and ACTs. Under this effort, K–12 students with an IEP or 504, as well as those in GATE,...

The Education Gladfly

Fordham’s State of State Standards reports have been a pillar of our work for nearly two decades. But we realized that there was one field we’d never ventured into: sex education. We focused on a simple question: “Does your state offer sex education, yes or no?” Turns out, the issue was hardly black and white.

Gnoes Tradamis

We hereby deem 2015 the year of federal education reform! Sure, the Heritage Foundation and teachers’ unions quashed ESEA reauthorization. And sure, states are the ones who will either adopt or kill the Common Core, not the federal government (despite, frequently, its best efforts). So what? 2015’s all about that fed ed-style reform. Exhibit A: Other agencies now assess employees using measures straight out of the Department of Education’s teacher-eval playbook.

Take Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Starting this year, 25 percent of his performance review will be tied to the childhood obesity rate, another 25 percent linked to corn and soy sales (easy enough for a former Iowa guv), and 35 percent based on TRANS. (It’s like VAM, but with trans fats. Oh, that doesn’t make sense? Just take our word for it.) The final 15 percent hinges on random and unannounced observations of the Vilsack family dinner table six times a year, with extra points given if the meal adheres to the MyPlate Mini-Poster!

Over at the State Department, Secretary Kerry will get a perfect score...

Chester F. Finn, Jr.

Photo credit: Kimchi 김치" by Craig Nagy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Editor’s note: This fall, Hartford Education Press will publish a new book by Fordham’s Chester F. Finn, Jr. and Brendon Wright, provisionally titled Failing America’s Brightest Students: The Global Challenge of Educating Youngsters with Exceptional Ability. To whet your appetite, HEP has allowed us to print the Finn-penned preface that the team submitted (subject, alas, to revision between now and publication).

The idea for this book was born two years ago, when I read Amanda Ripley’s volume The Smartest Kids in the World. I hate to be promiscuous with compliments, but it’s a very adequate effort. Its title, however, is highly misleading, which I realizedas soon as I checked the book’s index and didn’t see any of my granddaughters mentioned. That’s like Romeo and Juliet without Juliet. The Old Testament without Moses. Black Swan without swans.

So I decided then and there to write a book that’s actually about the smartest kids in the...

Dharma Finkelstein Montgomery

A new report out of the Research Association of the West Fremont Data Service (RAWFDS) takes a fresh look at the overlap between two fast-growing groups of cranky parents: Those opposed to school testing and those opposed to human vaccination. RAWFDS analysts label the former “anti-testers,” the latter “anti-vaxxers,” and explain that both have a penchant for “opting out.” Based on this shared tendency, the report poses an important, fascinating, and novel question: Are these two cliques actually different, or are the same people just refusing tons of stuff? Taking a representative sample of twelve parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Fremont-based researchers conducted a simple survey comprising three questions: (1) Do you allow your kid to take tests in school?; (2) Do you allow medical professionals to administer vaccines to your children?; and (3) What else do you refuse to do? To demonstrate the overlap for the first two questions, the RAWFDS report offers a venn diagram:

Incredible overlap! Wow. (And who knew that blue...