Standards, Testing & Accountability

A new study from RAND uses information from teacher polling to examine state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The data are drawn from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. educators (both K–12 math and ELA teachers) administered in summer and fall 2015. Both had response rates ranging from 57 to 62 percent, with roughly 1,100–1,700 participants responding to each. The questionnaires focus on teachers’ perceptions and practices as they relate to key instructional approaches reflected primarily in the standards. My seven critical takeaways are these:

1) When asked if they ever used particular materials, the majority of math teachers generally report developing materials themselves (97 percent of elementary teachers). Over forty percent of all surveyed elementary teachers claimed that they used the popular and universally available Engage NY.

2) Ninety-eight percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers, and  those who do so weekly or daily describe various applications for them. For instance, high percentages (68 percent) say they use the readers to support struggling students in place of the grade-level text other students are reading. (Yet Common Core supports the teaching of grade-appropriate texts with the idea that teacher support and explanation, not text difficulty, is...

The royal edition

On this week's podcast, Alyssa Schwenk and Robert Pondiscio discuss the Vergara defeat, Education Secretary John King's call for a "well-rounded" American education, and Hillary Clinton's stance on standardized testing. In the Research Minute, Amber Northern explains recent teacher implementation efforts of new K-12 standards for mathematics and English language arts.

Amber's Research Minute

V. Darleen Opfer, Julia H. Kaufman, and Lindsey E. Thomspon, "Implementation of K-12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy," RAND (April 2016).

Ah, spring. The much-anticipated return of baseball, blooming flowers, chirping birds, and…standardized tests.

Annual testing is now well underway in schools across the nation, and several states have already experienced major technological complications, frustrating educators and students alike and fueling increasingly vocal testing opponents.  

Students taking the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) test, developed by the University of Kansas’s Achievement & Assessment Institute, encountered widespread Internet access issues this spring. Even after initial connectivity failures across Alaska were addressed, the state’s testing platform continued crashing, and responses submitted by many students were simply lost. In a largely rural state with limited bandwidth to begin with, the Alaska Department of Education opted to scrap computer-based testing entirely this year rather than continue to frustrate teachers and students statewide with technical disruptions.

Then, in a snafu described as “simply unacceptable” by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, many students taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) ran into complications and were unable to complete their online tests last month. Responses for an additional fourteen-thousand-plus tests were also inexplicably lost due to computer hiccups. In light of these troubles, the Texas Education Agency is letting districts decide whether to...

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about the performance of Ohio’s urban high schoolers. The first post examined graduation rates and ACT scores.

Recognizing that traditional four-year graduation rates send overly encouraging signals about whether students are ready for post-secondary education, Ohio rolled out six “Prepared for Success” measures in 2014 to create a more complete picture of high school success. In this post, I look at two of these metrics, Advanced Placement (participation rates and scores) and dual enrollment (percentage of students earning three or more college credits while in high school).[1] Three findings emerge.

First, while every Ohio Big 8 district fell well below the state averages for graduation rates and ACT scores, the same cannot be said for AP and dual enrollment. A few hold their own on AP participation and scores, and several outperform the state on dual enrollment. This likely reflects urban districts’ earnest attempts to close opportunity gaps for students, as well as their economies of scale and proximity to institutions of higher education, but it may also be caused by low state averages generally. Second, the data itself is worrisome:...

The Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has been a fractious one, dividing party loyalists on issues like health care, foreign intervention, financial reform, and corporate influence on politics. Curiously, education hasn’t surfaced as a subject of dispute—until this week, when a few education voices on the Left mistakenly harangued Clinton for going soft on her commitment to testing. Though well-intentioned, these commentators need to cool their jets and take a closer look at her record.

It’s appropriate that this kerfuffle would start now that both candidates have alighted in New York, a bulwark of union strength and bare-fanged hostility to Common Core (some 20 percent of eligible students were opted out of last year’s round of standardized testing). The crux of it is this: Some left-leaning reformers have seized on a few ill-advised comments by Bill Clinton as proof that his wife is selling out school accountability. Liberal tribune Jonathan Chait (or at least his headline writers) accused her of “abandoning education reform”; Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, wrote that the former president’s remarks would redound “to the detriment of our students, particularly poor and minority children, children of recent immigrants, and students with...

On Tuesday, April 12, 2016, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a full committee hearing titled “ESSA Implementation in States and School Districts: Perspectives from the U.S. Secretary of Education,” the first of a series of oversight hearings on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Chairman Lamar Alexander delivered an opening statement to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and asked Secretary King two rounds of questions. What follows is the transcript of these talks.

Of particular interest to those of us at Fordham (besides the very important back-and-forth about the appropriate federal role in education and the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches) is the issue of flexibility around eighth-grade math assessments for advanced students. That is addressed toward the end of the transcript.


Senator Alexander Opening Statement

Mr. Secretary, as you know, I urged the president to nominate an education secretary because I thought it was important to have a confirmed secretary accountable to the United States Senate when the department was implementing the new law fixing No Child Left Behind.

You have sworn to discharge your duties faithfully. That is your oath of office, and...

Last week marked the beginning of the annual New York State English and math tests for grades 3–8. While Catholic schools (and their teachers’ unions) have largely stayed out of the political fray when it comes to standards and testing, we at the Partnership Schools—a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx—voluntarily participate in the New York Common Core assessments.

Catholic schools have long been unapologetic supporters of high standards for all children, and we at the Partnership use results from the New York tests both to ensure that we are keeping expectations high for our students and to benchmark our students’ academic growth.

In an age when some people are opting out, we are opting in.

Of course, we’re aware of the pushback against standards and tests, particularly in our home state of New York. But we believe that pushback is misguided and that the opt-out movement is misleading parents. In particular, it is using tests as a scapegoat for implementation decisions that are mostly within the power of educators and education leaders to change.

As choice schools, we’re fortunate. Our parents—many of whom come from the nation’s poorest congressional district—opt into our schools. And...

It’s not really a surprise that the progress of school choice at the state level is so often tethered to the fortunes of Republican lawmakers. A number of Democratic interest groups (teachers’ unions chief among them, though they’re certainly not alone) have traditionally lined up against charter schools and voucher initiatives, and down-ballot officeholders have been slow to follow the lead of national figures (and charter fans) like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s why it’s so striking to observe this month’s developments in Maryland, where an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature has teamed up with the GOP to carve out new funding for private school scholarships aimed at low-income students. It’s important to keep a sense of proportion; the initiative accounts for just $5 million out of a $42 billion state budget, and legislators rejected a far more ambitious proposal for private school tax credits. Still, the move is a major step forward for private schools of choice in the Old Line State.

With New York City authorities already facing serious questions about student safety, the country’s biggest school district must now address a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of students who have been the victims of...

Now that New York’s students are heading into another year of Common Core-aligned standardized testing, it’s probably time to start taking bets on exactly how many kids will actually show up. With last year’s opt-out numbers reaching a staggering 20 percent and a new Regents chancellor claiming that she’d keep her own kids from taking the exams, assessment boosters might be wondering if anyone’s willing to speak up for the joy of filling in tiny bubbles. If so, they’ve found perhaps the least surprising champion in Success Academy honcho Eva Moskowitz, who gave a stridently pro-assessment interview last week following a pre-test pep rally in Harlem. “We need to know how the most affluent communities are performing and whether our kids can do as well as those—and you can’t do that with internal assessments,” she noted. Her arguments were later echoed by old pal Al Sharpton—you remember, the guy who memorably roasted her for protesting Mayor de Blasio’s charter policies. The good reverend is now on the record imploring students to take the tests and expose gaps in achievement. See? Testing was always meant to bring people together.

Chicago kids looking to enjoy a...

Policy wonks and political prognosticators have begun to forecast the collateral damage that is apt to follow if Donald Trump manages—in spite of himself, and notwithstanding his Wisconsin setback—to win the Republican nomination, damaging not only GOP prospects for retrieving the White House but also the party’s odds of prevailing in innumerable races for Congress and for state (and even local) leadership. Following in the wake of those generally dire prognostications are early conjectures about the policy shifts that may ensue in sundry realms both international and domestic if Democrats are positioned to chart the future course.

For education reformers parsing this prospect, it’s useful first to recall the many worthy changes that followed the GOP’s 2010 sweep of a galaxy of state and federal offices (obviously omitting the one that’s ovular). Though nothing in the list below is (from my perspective) perfect, it’s hard to picture many—perhaps any—of these things happening had Republicans not been in positions of influence:

  • New assessments in most states, geared to higher academic standards and featuring higher “cut scores” that correspond more accurately and honestly to the actual demands of college, career, and international competitiveness
  • Accelerating the spread of school choice, both the public version (typically
  • ...