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 report last month from a pair of advocacy organizations, the Alliance for Childhood and Defending the Early Years, argued that “there is a widespread belief that teaching children to read early will help them be better readers in the long-run,” but that there is “no scientific evidence that this is so.” The Washington Post and its Common Core-averse education blogger, Valerie Strauss, have been particularly aggressive in highlighting this report and running pieces from both parents and teachers arguing that “forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.”

The report, titled Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose sounds an alarm over a perceived shift “from play-based, experiential approaches to more academic approaches” in early-childhood classrooms starting in the 1980s. “Under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS),” the authors claim, “the snowball has escalated into an avalanche which threatens to destroy appropriate and effective approaches to early education.”

The authors make much of the fact that no one involved with writing the standards was a K–3 teacher or early-childhood professional. The more important issue, however, isn’t who wrote it, but whether Common Core is beyond the abilities of five-year-olds or the expectations we should have for them. The short answer, I think, is “no.” But let’s look at some of the report’s specific complaints.

Expecting kindergarteners to read is “developmentally inappropriate.”

The much-used phrase “developmentally appropriate” (or inappropriate)...

Student learning gains ought to be a component of teacher evaluations. Measures such as value added are a useful and important complement to classroom observations. But not all models are created equal, as illustrated by a new lawsuit in Tennessee that reveals a rather preposterous policy.

Last week, the Volunteer State’s largest teacher union sued the state in federal court over a law that ties student test scores to evaluations of educators who teach such non-core subjects as art, French, and gym. Teachers in Tennessee receive annual scores between one and five, with five being best. Those scores determine all manner of high-stakes administrative decisions affecting teachers, including bonuses, termination, and tenure. Approximately half of the metric is based on classroom observations, the rest on student test scores. For a teacher in a core subject such as math, and in a grade in which students are tested, this model makes sense. The bulk of the test-based portion of her rating is based on how well her students do on the math portions of the state’s standardized tests. That’s rational. A smaller portion, 15 percent, is based on “school-wide” performance—how well all the schools’ students do in all subjects tested. That also makes at least some sense as a strategy for encouraging teacher collaboration.

Yet for non-core instructors—the focus of the lawsuit—the law becomes rather absurd. Aside from a few questionable alternative assessments that aren’t widely used in Tennessee, no standardized assessment data exist for the subjects and pupils...

Recent days have brought several thoughtful commentaries on results-based accountability in K-12 education, why it’s important, what it’s accomplished and why it needs to continue.

Such attention is exceptionally timely, as the negotiations presently underway between Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray in pursuit of a bipartisan formula for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind will inevitably devote much attention to the issues surrounding school (and teacher) accountability.

Like Mike Petrilli, I’m convinced that this can no longer be managed from Washington. Like Mike, I’m also convinced that accountability for results in K–12 education must continue. Losing it would carry us back to the pre-Coleman era when schools were judged not by their results but by their inputs, promises, and services, and teachers were evaluated by brief classroom visits from supervisors who arrived with no data, no rubrics—and no ability to do anything about problematic instructors. (Alas, that last shortage remains the norm, as does the practice of finding just about every teacher satisfactory, if not outstanding.)

The only thing that really matters about a school (or teacher)—beyond such basics as children’s safety—is whether kids are learning there. If they’re not, something must be done to change the situation.

But that’s where the soup thickens. What, exactly, to do? The drafters of NCLB thought they knew, and accordingly imposed a cascade of sanctions, plans, and interventions intended to “turn around” failing schools (and districts), as well as some choice-based actions intended to give kids alternatives to such schools. They...

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has produced a three-minute video looking at the purpose of assessments. With the ongoing debate about testing (even in this issue of Gadfly), it’s easy to forget why it’s important.

 

 

Like Moses in the wilderness, state policymakers have to cope with incessant grumbling—in their case over standardized testing. Last year, Ohio legislators compromised on testing and accountability, including delaying the implementation of Ohio’s new school report cards, waiving the consequences for poor performance in the 2014–15 school year, ditching the Algebra II end-of-course exam, and tweaking the teacher evaluation system by allowing schools to reduce the weight of the test-based accountability measure.

As the new General Assembly gears up in 2015, lawmakers will face even greater pressure to water down testing and accountability. Already, two high-priority bills have been introduced with provisions that, if passed, would further weaken Ohio’s new testing and accountability framework. The first provision is a test-time cap; the second is a delay on the stakes associated with Ohio’s new high school tests. Both provisions, while politically popular and seemingly insignificant, are flawed and should be rejected.

Test-time caps

Senate Bill 3 is designed to identify areas ripe for deregulation in education—a needed and overdue endeavor. Some of the recommendations in the bill are sound, like eliminating the needless third-grade test given in the fall. But one recommendation is a hard cap on testing time: No more than 2 percent of a student’s school year can be dedicated to state and district standardized tests, and less than 1 percent can be used to prepare for them (i.e., time taken on “practice” or “diagnostic” tests). If passed, the cap would apply starting in...

The 2015 legislative session is gearing up, and Common Core will again feature prominently in the education agenda. Longtime Core opponent Representative Andy Thompson told the Plain Dealer to "count on" another repeal attempt, and new House education committee chair Bill Hayes has said that he expects Common Core to continue to be a source of debate. Hayes has acknowledged the importance of high standards and local control and has pledged to “have an open ear and give everyone a fair hearing.” While the prospect of even more testimony may leave many wary of another months-long circus, continued civil discourse—from both sides of an issue—is what makes our democracy work. (It’s also a Common Core standard, for the record.)

So before the debate begins anew, let’s revisit what we learned from the many hours of testimony, media coverage, and debate that occurred in 2014.

Lesson One: There is widespread support for Common Core

It’s no secret that Common Core support in Ohio has been diverse and widespread from the start. Various newspapers have spotlighted Ohioans who support Common Core. The business community has been a staunch supporter. The governor has voiced his support. Educators have discussed how they are successfully implementing Common Core in their classrooms over and over and over and over and over  again. The lesson from hours of testimony at repeal hearings was clear: Plenty of Ohioans ...

It’s fascinating—and telling—how rapidly the zillion issues tucked away in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have been distilled down to arguments about testing.

There’s been almost no discussion, at least in places where I look, about Titles II through X of the 2002 (NCLB) version, and most of Title I’s myriad provisions seem also to have been set aside while people argue over the future of annual testing.

The new House bill would retain that requirement, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, though declaring himself open-minded on the subject, seems to be moving closer toward keeping it.

Testing is of course controversial in its own right. Many people think there’s too much of it and that it’s getting in the way of teaching and learning. I’ve come to view annual testing of kids in reading and math, and the disaggregating and public reporting of their performance at the school (and district) level, as the single best feature of NCLB and the one that most needs preserving. Indeed, I wish the testing requirement extended below third grade and above eighth, and that it was as demanding for science and history as for reading and math. That, I believe, would do a world of good for K–12 education.

But I also know that’s lunacy. Nobody is about to expand the testing requirement. The real-world argument is whether to preserve what’s already there. But the reason it’s controversial is not because of parental upset with...

Over the last couple of months, the ESEA reauthorization discussion has focused on testing. But that’s just one part of the accountability conversation.

As I see it, there are four major components of the federal accountability framework: testing, school and district designations, performance targets, and interventions (more on these below). Whether ESEA is reauthorized this year depends on how these sub-issues get resolved.

Mike, trying to forecast the shape of a final bill, recently created a very helpful table explaining the NCLB policies that he assessed to be totally off the table, certain to survive, or up for debate. I think his table did a solid job of explaining the lay of the land.

But it seems to me that more is needed to help folks with a higher level of involvement, such as those actually crafting the new legislative language, advising members of Congress, hoping to persuade decision-makers from the outside, or trying to understand the inevitable bargains to be made.

I think the shortcoming of Mike’s table is that its entries (like “cascade of sanctions” and “school ratings”) aren’t binary; that is, they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Policymaking in general, especially complex congressional negotiations, requires (and has a way of finding) compromises.

Each of the four accountability components listed above encompasses a range of options. On one end of the spectrum is no federal accountability; on the other end is forceful accountability. Between lie an array of possibilities.

I’ve produced a graphic...

Almost every article and column written about the nascent GOP presidential campaign mentions Tea Party opposition to immigration reform and the Common Core—and most candidates’ efforts to align themselves with the Republican base on these two issues. (A Google News search turns up more than 11,000 hits for “Common Core” and “immigration” and “Republican.”)

When it comes to immigration reform, it’s easy to understand what the hard-right candidates oppose: any form of amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.

But what does it mean when Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Bobby Jindal says he “opposes” the Common Core? Reporters* might ask them:

  1. Do you mean that you oppose the Common Core standards themselves? All of them? Even the ones related to addition and subtraction? Phonics? Studying the nation’s founding documents? Or just some of them? Which ones, in particular, do you oppose? Have you actually read the standards?
  2. Or do you mean that you oppose the role that the federal government played in coercing states to adopt the Common Core? Fair enough, but don’t you share that exact same position with every Republican in Congress and every other Republican running for president, including Jeb Bush?
  3. Do you mean that you think states should drop out of the Common Core? States like Iowa? Isn’t that a bit presumptive, considering that you’re not from Iowa and the state’s Republican governor wants Common Core to stay
  4. If you do think that states should reject the Common
  5. ...
Mary Scott Hunter

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form on the Daily Caller.

There is a message for Republicans in the results from the last several election cycles: We must continue to expand our base to remain the party of leadership. The platform of “No” is no longer enough. We need leaders who are able to articulate policies of upward mobility, accountability, and prudent governance.

Too often we have let the poles of our party dictate the agenda, dismissing out of hand those candidates who show the conviction to stand up for sensible ideas. Nowhere is this reality more evident than in the public debate over the Common Core education standards. Despite the fact that this important education initiative remains a state-led effort; despite the fact most parents support high academic standards; and despite the fact the standards are working, a small but vocal faction of the party would have voters and candidates believe it is political treason to support them.

No sooner had former Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would consider running for president than were critics astir about how support for the Common Core would ruin their credibility with Republican voters. I have encouraged both men, as I would any other candidates who will toss their hats in the ring, not to shy away from the standards, as others have.

When I ran for reelection to the Alabama Board of Education last year, opponents made similar claims. Support for the Common...

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