Standards, Testing & Accountability

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 Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. 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
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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...

Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. He’ll face off (with running mate William Weld) in November against the Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of his views on education:

  1. School choice: “I think I was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice—believing that the only way to really reform education was to bring competition to public education. So for six straight years as governor of New Mexico, I proposed a full-blown voucher system that would’ve brought about that competition.” August 2012.
  2. Federal role in education: “I think that the number-one thing that the federal government could do when it comes to the delivery of education would be to abolish itself from the education business….It’s also important to point out that the federal Department of Education was established in 1979. And there is nothing to suggest that, since 1979, that the federal Department of Education has been value-added regarding anything. So just get the federal government out of education.” August 2012.
  3. Common Core: “[Gary Johnson] opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements
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Terry Ryan

I was the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s point person in Ohio for twelve years. I never met Robert Pondiscio but have followed his writing since leaving Fordham in 2013. I am also a former New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Pahara fellow (class of 2008). Pondiscio’s piece, “The Left’s drive to push conservatives out of education reform,” has triggered an important conversation about race, power, politics, and school reform.

I was the only Republican in my cohort of Pahara fellows, which included the likes of progressive education leaders John King, Cami Anderson, and Andy Rotherham. I had philosophical disagreements with some of my New Schools colleagues, and I wasn’t nearly as excited about the election of President Barack Obama back in 2008 as they were. But every single one of my NSVF friends treated me and my opinions with respect. What’s more, they actually wanted to hear what I had to say.  

I attended the New Schools Venture Fund Conference in California that was at the center of Pondiscio’s piece. My take is different from his. I was less offended by the “push” of the political Left than I was disappointed by how voiceless the conservative ideas around...

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...

  • Education reformers are right to prioritize the closing of “achievement gaps”—the disparities in academic outcomes separating comparatively advantaged (and primarily white) students from their low-income and minority peers. But there’s such a thing as prosecuting the achievement gap beyond its proportion, as this Hechinger Report story on Kentucky schools illustrates. While surveying the state’s testing progress since its (propitiously early) adoption of the Common Core, author Luba Ostashevsky focuses heavily on the fact that white third graders have increased reading proficiency by twice the amount that their black classmates have (4 percent vs. 2 percent). It’s certainly true that we’d like to see those gains realized equitably, but it’s also worth highlighting—and celebrating—the fact that both groups are doing better than they were previously. Regardless of their background, most elementary schoolers know enough math to understand that achievement isn’t a zero-sum proposition.
  • The political challenges around reform can be enough to make you pine for a benevolent education dictator to establish rigorous academic standards, ample choice in schooling, and unlimited recess for all. But put down that scepter, Jefe Duncan—most of the truly important policy decisions are still made at the state level, and that’s why it’s so
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  • At the same time we wrapped up our Wonkathon on parental choice under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews published a column on the new law’s implications for school accountability. With authority ostensibly withdrawn from the Department of Education, he wonders which measures—particularly non-academic ones—state-level officials will use to determine whether schools and districts doing right by their students. It’s a question that we originally asked in our accountability system design competition this February, yielding novel proposals for student satisfaction questionnaires, school climate surveys, and the tracking of chronic absenteeism, among others. Mathews’s take is no less rewarding.
  • Meanwhile, developments in Denver are also providing a real-time examination of issues we’ve been exploring this month in our national commentary. District officials there have unveiled a new, three-phase framework for initiating the shuttering of underperforming schools, echoing the recent debate between Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and the University of Arkansas’s Jay Greene on the utility—or futility—of relying on test data for closures. (Jay struck a deeply skeptical note on “distant authorities” using such information to overrule parental demand, while Mike was more bullish on what regulators can learn from test scores.)
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Ohio’s student growth measure—value added—is under the microscope, which provides a good reason to take another look at its important role in school accountability and to see if there are ways it can be improved. On April 19, state Representatives Robert Cupp and Ryan Smith introduced House Bill 524, legislation that calls for a review of Ohio’s value-added measure. In their sponsor testimony, both lawmakers emphasized that their motivation is to gain a strong understanding of the measure before considering any potential revisions.

The House Education Committee has already heard testimony from the Ohio Department of Education and Battelle for Kids; it is expecting to hear from SAS, the analytics company that generates the value-added results, on May 17. In brief, value added is a statistical method that relies on individual student test records to isolate a school’s impact on growth over time. Since 2007–08, Ohio has included value-added ratings on school report cards, though data were reported in years prior.

As state lawmakers consider the use of value added, they should bear in mind the advantages of the measure while also considering avenues for improvement. Let’s first review the critical features of the value-added...

This study examines the impact of test-based accountability on teacher attendance and student achievement using data from North Carolina. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools that failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) toward universal proficiency in consecutive years faced a series of escalating sanctions. Thus, teachers at schools that failed one year had a strong incentive to boost achievement in the next, while those at other schools faced a weaker incentive.

Using a difference-in-differences approach that compares these groups, the author estimates that failing to make AYP in NCLB’s first year led to a 10 percent decline in teacher absences in the following year (or roughly one less absence per teacher). He also estimates that an additional teacher absence reduces math achievement by about .002 standard deviations, implying that schools that failed to make AYP saw a similar boost in achievement because of improved teacher attendance. However, in a separate analysis, he shows that the threat of sanctions led to a .06 standard deviation improvement in math achievement in the following year, suggesting that improved teacher attendance accounted for just 3 percent of all accountability-driven achievement gains.

In addition to the general decline in teacher absences,...

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