Standards, Testing & Accountability

  • Merryl Tisch, who is stepping down as chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, gave a valedictory interview to the New York Times last week. As head of one of the foremost educational authorities in the state, she will principally be remembered for championing and helping implement the Common Core State Standards and a new teacher evaluation system alongside New York State Education Commissioner John King (confirmed Monday as secretary of education). Her efforts led to some necessary improvements in curriculum and instruction across the state, but they didn’t come without a backlash: Roughly one-fifth of all eligible students were kept out of the new tests by their parents last spring, and unions revolted over the Regents’ recommendation to link teacher evaluations to student scores. Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing slowly away from that notion and an opt-out favorite in line to replace Tisch as chancellor, the movement for high standards looks like it’s undergoing a reset in the Empire State. It’s up to both local leaders and national reformers to make sure that new players don’t change matters for the worse.
  • You may be wondering why, after many months and approximately eight thousand primary
  • ...

Ohio’s 2014–15 report cards are now fully available for all schools and districts except dropout prevention and recovery programs (due at the end of March). With ten graded measures and several ungraded components as well, there are dozens of ways to parse the data to learn how well Ohio public schools are performing—and more importantly, how well equipped students are for later life success. (Performance on the report cards is not the same as true college and career readiness; check out our recently released statewide report card analysis, Facing Facts, for more about that.)

Much of Ohio’s high school data is relatively new and merits exploration. High school report cards include traditional graduation rates as well as additional measures intended to gauge students’ college and career readiness. These “Prepared for Success” measures (rolled out in 2013–14) remain ungraded until next year, but they yield valuable information in six categories: 

  • College admission tests (participation rates on ACT/SAT, mean scores, and percentage receiving remediation-free scores),
  • Dual enrollment (specifically, the percentage of students earning at least three dual enrollment credits while in high school),
  • Industry credentials,
  • Honors diplomas awarded,
  • Advanced Placement (participation rates and test results), and
  • International Baccalaureate (participation
  • ...

Following hard on the heels of Fordham’s own reportEvaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, the Center for American Progress looks at the exams offered by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia and largely likes what it sees for students with special challenges.

It’s a larger population than many perhaps realize. English language learners (4.4 million) and students with disabilities (6.4 million) constitute more than 20 percent of American school enrollment. “Given these numbers, it is critical that students with disabilities and English language learners have the same opportunities as their peers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and receive appropriate supports to meet their needs,” the report notes.

Testing “accommodations” have typically meant extra time, questions read out loud or translated into native languages, and so on. While PARCC and SBAC “improve on previous state tests in terms of quality, rigor, and alignment” (Fordham’s report reached the same overarching conclusion) they also represent a significant advance in “universal design”—a principle that considers the user with the greatest physical and cognitive need and makes it a “feature,” not a “fix.” Consider the authors’ example of sidewalk “curb cuts.” Designed to make sidewalks wheelchair accessible, they ended up...

Opinions differed on the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, as they do with just about any piece of important legislation. But one thing that all sides agreed on was that the bill clearly signified a shift of control away from the federal government and toward the states. Some commentators celebrated the move away from distant, centralized power, while others fretted about the consequences for accountability—but the gist was pretty much the same. Now that we’ve entered the implementation phase, however, some are calling for a takeback. A coalition of over fifty civil rights organizations has signed a letter to Acting Secretary of Education John King urging his department to provide clear direction to the states for carrying out the law. The group—which includes the ACLU, the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign, and Teach For America—recommends strong steps to guarantee equitable educational opportunities for English language learners, foster children, disabled students, and other disadvantaged populations. Whether they prevail will probably hinge on the amount of federal oversight states (and Republicans on Capitol Hill) are willing to tolerate after fifteen years of the No Child Left Behind precedent. History suggests that it won’t be much.

That’s not the only open letter Acting Secretary King...

Management sage Peter Drucker once said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” In recent years, policy makers have turned the page on Ohio’s old, outdated standards and accountability framework. The task now is to replace it with something that, if implemented correctly, will better prepare Buckeye students for the expectations of college and the rigors of a knowledge- and skills-driven workforce.

While the state’s former policies did establish a basic accountability framework aligned to standards, a reset was badly needed. Perhaps the most egregious problem was the manner in which the state publicly reported achievement. State officials routinely claimed that more than 80 percent of Ohio students were academically “proficient,” leaving most parents and taxpayers with a feel-good impression of the public school system.

The inconvenient truth, however, was that hundreds of thousands of pupils were struggling to master rigorous academic content. Alarmingly, the Ohio Board of Regents regularly reports that 30–40 percent of college freshman need remedial coursework in English or math. Results from the ACT reveal that fewer than half of all graduates meet college-ready benchmarks in all of the assessment’s content areas. Finally, outcomes from the “nation’s report card”—the National Assessment...

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior five posts can be read here, here, herehere, and here.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty-two months (!) since I first talked with folks at Fordham about doing a study of several new “Common Core-aligned” assessments. I believed then, and I still believe now, that this is incredibly important work. State policy makers need good evidence about the content and quality of these new tests, and to date, that evidence has been lacking. While our study is not perfect, it provides the most comprehensive and complete look yet available. It is my fervent hope that policy makers will heed these results. My ideal would be for states to simply adopt multi-state tests that save them effort (and probably money) and promote higher-quality standards implementation. The alternative, as many states have done, is to go it alone. Regardless of the approach, states should at least use the results of this study and other recent and forthcoming investigations of test quality...

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior four posts can be read here, here, here, and here.

When one of us was enrolled in a teacher education program umpteen years ago, one of the first things we were taught was how to use Bloom’s taxonomy. Originally developed in 1956, it is a well-known framework that delineates six increasingly complex levels of understanding: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. More recently—and to the consternation of some—Bloom’s taxonomy has been updated. But the idea that suitably addressing various queries and tasks requires more or less brainpower is an enduring truth (well sort of).  

So it is no surprise that educators care about the “depth of knowledge” (DOK) (also called “cognitive demand”) required of students. Commonly defined as the “type of thinking required by students to solve a task,” DOK has become a proxy for rigor even though it concerns content complexity rather than difficulty. A clarifying example: A student may not have seen a...

On the campaign trail, Senator Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to "repeal every word of Common Core." It's a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (which words shall we repeal first? "Phonics"? "Multiplication"? Or "Gettysburg Address"?), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards are now a deeply entrenched feature of America's K–12 education landscape—love 'em or hate 'em.

Common Core has achieved "phenomenal success in statehouses across the country," notes Education Next. In a study published last month, the periodical found that "thirty-six states strengthened their proficiency standards between 2013 and 2015, while just five states weakened them." That's almost entirely a function of Common Core. 

Education Next began grading individual states’ standards in 1995, comparing the extent to which their state tests' definition of proficiency aligned with the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment (often referred to as "the nation's report card”). That year, six states received an A grade. As recently as four years ago, only Massachusetts earned that distinction. Today, nearly half of all states, including the District of Columbia, have earned A ratings....

Leading up to this year’s report card release, some school districts expressed concern about the negative impact of students opting out of state assessments on their report card grades. In response, lawmakers proposed a well-intentioned but shortsighted bill attempting to mitigate the impact of opt-outs—first by erasing non-test-takers from their schools’ performance grades and then (after being amended) by reporting two separate Performance Index grades. The Ohio Department of Education devised a temporary reporting solution: Performance Index scores would be reported as normal (including the impact of non-test-takers, as per current law), but a “modified achievement measure” would be made available to illustrate how districts would have scored if non-test-takers didn’t count.

A quick look at the data shows that the impact of opt-outs last year (2014–15) was minimal for the vast majority of Ohio school districts. As depicted in Table 1, fifty-two districts (8.5 percent) experienced a letter grade change because of their non-participation rates (shaded in green). This was most likely driven by the opt-out movement. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because Ohio only captures test participation rates and not the reasons for non-participation—which might include excused or unexcused absences, truancy, or opting...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on July 21, 2015.

John Kasich announced today that he’s running for president. The current governor of Ohio is the sixteenth Republican to join the crowded GOP primary, dwarfing the five-person field on the other side of the aisle. He’s also the twenty-first subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Kasich entered politics in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He moved on to the House of Representatives in 1983, representing the state’s Twelfth Congressional District until 2001. After taking a break from public life, he returned to take Ohio’s helm in 2011. During his time as the state’s sixty-ninth governor, Kasich has made education a priority, and his efforts have produced some positive results. Here’s a sampling of his views:

1. Common Core: “[The idea behind the standards was for] students in every state to be given the opportunity to compete with every other student….I want kids to jump higher….I’m going to make sure, at least in my state, that standards are high and local control is maintained….Now, some may call that Common Core. I...

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