Standards, Testing & Accountability

My friend Tom Loveless is right about most things, and he’s certainly right that scoring “proficient” on NAEP has nothing to do with being “on grade level.” He’s also right that Campbell Brown missed this point.

But Tom, alas, is quite wrong about the value of NAEP’s trio of “achievement levels” (basic, proficient, advanced). And he’s worse than wrong to get into any sort of defense of “grade level,” as if that concept had any valid meaning or true value for education reform.

In his words, Tom’s post sought “to convince readers of two things: One, proficient on NAEP does not mean grade-level performance. It’s significantly above that. Two, using NAEP’s proficient level as a basis for education policy is a bad idea.”

We agree on the first point, not on the second—and not on his implicit argument that there is merit in basing education policy on “grade-level” thinking.

Unless one is talking about academic standards—Common Core or otherwise—or about the cut scores on high-stakes, end-of-year, criterion-referenced exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, “grade level” has no meaning at all. It’s a misnomer that we adopted during decades of using norm-referenced tests. These were “normed” such that the average...

Though it sometimes appears that Education Secretary John King didn’t get the memo, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents a significant devolution of authority from the federal government to the states. This is a praiseworthy development that, in our view, better fits America’s constitutional principles of federalism and opens up many areas of education policy for innovation and improvement.

That devolution includes the heart of ESSA: school-level accountability. States now enjoy a freer hand to decide how they want to rate (or “grade”) their schools and determine which are worthy of either praise or aggressive intervention. The new law doesn’t give states carte blanche; they can’t move away from student achievement as a major indicator of quality, for example. But they certainly have more leeway than under No Child Left Behind.

So what forms might—and should—this take? How might states approach the particular challenge of redesigning their accountability systems? The contestants in our “accountability design competition” in February surfaced ideas aplenty and made many promising suggestions. With a few months of reflection on them, we see that there are competing camps or worldviews when it comes to ESSA accountability (much as there are regarding school choice). We see...

Thomas J. Lasley II

NOTE: Tom Lasley, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton and former dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Dayton, addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus today. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you for this opportunity to share thoughts regarding expectations for Ohio’s K-12 students. I believe Ohio must continue to have high quality, demanding achievement assessments and set rigorous passing scores for those assessments.

To get and to keep good jobs, our children need world-class educations. Lowering the bar when our competitors in this country and around the globe are increasing expectations would tremendously disadvantage our young people. We have to be honest with ourselves and with students about what’s required to compete--and to succeed--in a knowledge economy.

Ohio and other states now have a lot of data upon which to base policy and practice decisions. This was not true twenty years ago. But it is true today--as a result...

Ohio’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), has recently caught flack for its low graduation rate. A New York Times article, for example, averred, “Publicly funded online schools like ECOT have become the new dropout factories.” It is true that a mere 39 percent of the ECOT’s class of 2014 graduated in four years, meaning that thousands of pupils failed to reach the high school finish line on time. Meanwhile, a recent GradNation report called out the low graduation rates of some alternative, charter, and virtual schools (for a deeper dive into the charter school rates, see Susan Aud Pendergrass’s excellent piece on Flypaper). For some, these statistics are proof positive of educational failure.

We are in no way defending “dropout factories” of any stripe. It’s well known that Ohio’s virtual schools (like those in almost every other state) have struggled mightily to demonstrate an impact on student growth, and we’ve made no secret of our own misgivings about ECOT and many of its peers. But when it comes to graduation rates, how much of the blame belongs to the schools themselves? Is it possible that the way these numbers are calculated yields...

Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, much discussion has centered on changes related to school accountability. Under the new law, a state’s accountability plan must include long-term goals, measures of progress toward those goals, and an explanation of how the state plans to differentiate schools. This revised system would replace the accountability plans that states developed under their still-operational NCLB waivers, and it would take effect during the 2017–18 school year. ESSA’s accountability requirements also involve the dissemination of annual report cards for the state, districts, and schools that contain a variety of accountability indicators and a plethora of data.

NCLB also required school report cards, so the idea itself is nothing new. What’s changed is what the report cards contain. For instance, NCLB required states to include information on state assessment results, the percentage of students not tested, graduation rates, and performance on adequate yearly progress measures. ESSA moves away from adequate yearly progress while mandating four types of indicators: achievement, another academic measure (probably growth for elementary and middle schools and graduation rates for high schools), progress for English language learners, and “other indicators of school quality and...

This report examines the measures of school performance—such as reading and math proficiency rates—that are included in existing state accountability systems and provisionally assesses their alignment with the requirements of the newly minted Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nationwide, the report identifies a total of sixty unique measures—though no individual state uses more than twenty-six, or fewer than four—that they divide into seven categories: achievement, growth, English language acquisition, early warning, persistence, college- and career ready, and “other.”

This schema allows them to generate some useful statistics. For example, all fifty states and the District of Columbia measure achievement in English language arts and math, and many also measure achievement in science (twenty-seven states plus D.C.), social studies (fourteen states), or writing (five states). Similarly, forty-five states plus D.C. measure growth in ELA and math, yet only eight make the attempt in science, and only three in social studies.

At the high school level, forty-nine states plus D.C. include four-year graduation rates. Many also include other persistence measures, such as an extended-year cohort graduate rate (thirty-seven states) or dropout rate (eleven states). Furthermore, thirty states include some other measure of college and career readiness, such as participation in or performance on...

Public Impact and EdPlex have released a new websiteprocess guide, and set of resources for charter school authorizers to support school restarts. Restarts occur when an underperforming school is closed and a new school with new management opens to serve the same students. The restart strategy differs from other major interventions, such as transformation (replace school leader, implement research-based strategies), turnaround (replace school leader and at least 50 percent of staff, implement new instructional model), and school closure. According to the authors of the guide, restarts are the more effective strategy: closures negatively affect student attendance and achievement, while preliminary research shows better student outcomes in restarts than transformations or turnarounds. A key issue with turnarounds is finding great school leaders and teachers. Done well, restarts can mean rapid improvement for low-performing schools (we acknowledge, however, that some believe that a core part of the charter model is simply closing failing schools, period). 

 The resources and process guide in particular are meant to increase the likelihood of restart success and sustainability by providing authorizers with a practical “how-to” for getting the job done. The guide consists of nine steps, from the planning stage through post-opening, that include community engagement, recruiting,...

William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate, running alongside Gary Johnson. The duo will face off in November against Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Here are some of Weld’s views on education.

  1. Common Core: “The Common Core proposes that we go to informational texts rather than literature, that we cut back on useless appendages like Dickens and Wharton and Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain in exchange for global awareness and media literacy, cross-cultural flexibility and adaptability. These are our new standards. I don’t know about no more Little Dorrit, no more Dombey and Son, no more Ethan Frome, no more Study in Scarlet, no more Speckled Band, no more Hound of the Baskervilles, not even The League of Red-Headed Men—not to mention Huckleberry Finn, the greatest American novel. So I’m not so sure about the Common Core approach to things. It kind of looks to me like an apology for muddleheaded mediocrity.” June 2013.
  2. Common Core, part 2: “My suggestion to [Massachusetts] Governor Patrick and the leadership would be: By all means, adopt the Common Core lock, stock, and barrel, and just add the MCAS and all our standards and all our accountability without really rubbing
  3. ...

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is looming on the horizon, and education leaders and policy makers are in need of accurate information regarding stakeholder perceptions and opinions. The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) recently answered that call by releasing a comprehensive survey of perceptions of K–12 assessment. The survey asked a range of assessment-related questions to superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and students.    

Some of the results are unsurprising. For instance, more than seven in ten teachers, principals, and superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments. Their opinions on specific tests vary, however. Six in ten teachers rate their states’ accountability tests as fair or poor, but most gave a thumbs-up to both formative assessments and classroom tests and quizzes developed by teachers. The approval gap between state tests and other assessments is most likely due to their perceived usefulness. While state tests give a summative picture of student performance, they aren’t designed to provide diagnostic information or inform instruction—functions that classroom tests and formative assessments perform well. (Of course, let’s not forget that NWEA makes millions of dollars selling a formative assessment.)

In contrast to teachers and administrators, three out of four students and approximately half...

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states now have greater flexibility regarding accountability and how to assess student learning. States are still required to test students in math, English language arts, and science at least once in high school, but now they can choose between continuing to deliver a state-designed test or adopting a “nationally recognized state assessment.” This might include tests used by multiple states that are also widely accepted by institutions of higher education (like the ACT or SAT) or tests created by consortium of states, such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

To help states navigate this transition, Education First’s High-Quality Assessment Project (HQAP) recently commissioned a brief that frames key choices and tradeoffs that states should consider in selecting their high school assessments. Although it might sound desirable in theory to streamline high school assessments into one single test (almost half of all states currently require students to take the ACT or SAT at some point during high school), author and assessment expert Erin O’Hara encourages policy makers and educators to ask several important high-level questions: What is each test intended to measure (high school content...

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