Standards, Testing & Accountability

There is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. Yet, there are school leaders across the state and the nation who do it day-in and day-out, and too few get recognized for their great work. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in the charter schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio. This Q&A with Hannah Powell Tuney, the executive director of KIPP: Central Ohio, is the third of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our previous Q&As with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy Boy, and Judy Hennessey.) KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, is a national network of high-performing, urban charter schools. KIPP Journey Academy, located in Columbus, is Ohio’s first KIPP charter school.  Powell Tuney leads KIPP Journey, which serves 300 students, 91 percent black and 100 percent economically disadvantaged. In 2011-12, the school received a B (“Effective”) rating from the state.

Hannah Powell Tuney became the leader at Columbus’ KIPP Journey Academy when she was just 27....

Last week Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost reported that nine school districts manipulated student attendance data to improve their academic performance results. In response to these findings, Yost offered up thirteen recommendations for reforming Ohio’s system of reporting student enrollment. In an op-ed in Saturday’s Columbus Dispatch, he outlined his primary recommendation: Schools should count students and report enrollment more frequently than once per year.  Specifically, Yost said:

Ohio sends cash to local school systems based on the number of students in the school during Count Week in October each year. September doesn’t matter, and you don’t need to remember November — or January or February. Good attendance during one week locks in a year of state funding.

Money changes things. It drives behavior, frames decisions and affects thinking — sometimes in ways we don’t foresee or want. That’s one of the things I discovered during our statewide audit of attendance practices in schools.

Ohio should count kids every day, not once a year. A year-long financial incentive would drive attendance every day. The good news is that we know how to get the kids in school. Lining up the financial incentives with the goal of regular attendance would help keep...

In October, 2011, The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report called Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts, which looked at the process of school building closure in a number of urban districts to help inform the process of closure and repurposing of a potentially large number of buildings in Philadelphia. The process in Philadelphia was expected to take at least two years to complete.

And now a follow-up report has been released that looks at the reality of what happened in Philadelphia and a number of other cities after their “surplus” buildings were closed.  Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life looks at the realities of finding new uses for old school buildings in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington as well as Philadelphia (where, over two years later, as many as 37 buildings still remain to be closed before they can even reach the “repurposing” stage).

Among the key findings:

  • School districts are not typically set up to become real estate brokers, resulting in slow and problematic transactions;
  • Many buildings remain unsold due to multiple difficulties including neighborhood resistance to
  • ...

On Monday CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray and I provided ideas to the Columbus Education Commission on ways that city could improve its schools. The following provides more details for some of the recommendations offered at that time.

Terry Ryan and’s Mark Real join Columbus Education Commission members listening to CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray present at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Branch on February 18, 2013.

Like much of urban America, Columbus urgently needs more high performing schools for its children, especially its poor and minority children. In 2011-12, nearly 30,000 (just under 50 percent) of all Columbus students attended failing schools (D or F on the state rating system). Within the Columbus City Schools, 60 of 117 buildings have been designated by the state as “persistently low-performing” – meaning they had been rated “academic emergency” or “academic watch” for at least two of the last three years. The city’s charter schools are equally troubled with 28 out of 59 being rated D or F by the state in 2012. In contrast, only 3,500 students attended schools with grades of...

Jennifer Borgioli
Standardized testing and engaging pedagogy are not mutually exclusive.
Photo by woodleywonderworks

Across the United States and beyond, the anti-testing movement seems to be reaching its crescendo. Yet the case against testing is remarkably weak, resting on a foundation of four fundamental misunderstandings of the role that assessments play in our schools.

Myth #1: Teachers’ instincts should guide instruction

Perhaps the most common anti-testing refrain is that we should get out of the way and just “let teachers teach.” The idea is that teachers know best and that standardized testing—or any kind of testing, really, other than the teacher-built kind—is a distracting nuisance that saps valuable instructional time, deflects instructors from what’s most essential, and yields very little useful information about student learning.

What you don’t often hear is how research has consistently demonstrated that, absent independent checks, many teachers hold low-income and minority students to different standards than their affluent, white peers. This bias is rarely intentional, but it has been found time and time again.

Standardized tests not only...

We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.

Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can...

Awash in logical fallacies and pro-labor ideology, this position paper from the Chicago Teacher Union takes a swing at “corporate reform groups” (hat tip to Advance Illinois and Stand for Children for making that list!) and the accountability reforms that they support. And it whiffs. Time and again. The paper is premised on the notion that “as much as 90% of variation in student growth is explained by factors outside the control of teachers” and, therefore, evaluating educators based on student growth is roundly unfair. Yet myriad studies have shown that teachers are the number one in-school factor for student success. And gobs of educators—many of them unionized—have shown that, in fact, demography is not destiny. (The CTU authors also ignore the latest value-added techniques that make it possible to identify the best teachers regardless of student background.) The eight pages of this skimpy screed are rife with diluted or twisted truths that downplay the importance of a high-performing teacher in every classroom (and do little to prove that standardized testing would harm any but the lowest performing teachers—which harm might well turn into great good for their oppressed pupils). Still, there is one...

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost today reported that nine school districts manipulated student attendance data, in order to improve their school performance results. The auditor’s seven-month, $443,000 investigation  found Campbell City, Canton City, Cincinnati City, Cleveland Municipal, Columbus City, Marion City, Northridge Local (Montgomery County), Toledo City, and Winton Woods City guilty of scrubbing data.

The investigation examined student records in 331 school buildings in 137 districts. The auditor’s investigation is complete for all districts except Columbus City Schools, which remains under an ongoing “special audit.” The investigation found iniquities ranging from intentional noncompliance with ODE reporting rules (Cincinnati City), retroactively withdrawing students (Columbus City), and jettisoning students to an online school without parental initiation or approval (Marion City).

In response to these findings, Yost presented thirteen recommendations for reforming Ohio’s system of reporting student enrollment. At his press conference this afternoon, the auditor focused sharply on his first recommendation: Reforming how traditional district’s report student enrollment.

Kids count every day, all year long

Under Ohio’s current law, district schools report their student enrollment once, during “count week” in October (see, October 2012 newsletter). This enrollment figure determines the district’s level of funding for the rest of...

While working at the New Jersey Department of Education, I found our work on improving educator evaluations to be our most technically and politically challenging initiative. It required close work with schools, districts, labor organizations, the state board, and various internal offices and deep knowledge of state law and regulation and the growing national research base.

That’s why I was so impressed with (and proud of) the recent memo sent out by my former colleagues.

I’ve said many times before that educator evaluation policy got far ahead of the practice. This memo shows that the NJDOE has been assiduous in trying to bridge that gap.

Do your job thoughtfully and well, and take pride in that—but know that the aspects likeliest to be covered will be those that generate the most heat, not the most light.

The graphic on page 3 shows how they’ve used multiple sources to continuously inform their work. The timeline on the final page shows how they’ve choreographed the various activities over a long stretch of time to ensure that the work progresses—but prudently.

The heart of the memo is a summary of what they’ve learned from these various sources to date and how...

One reason we wonks love state-level—and now city-level—data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress is that it helps us identify jurisdictions that are making strong progress compared to their peers. We assume those places are leading the pack because something they are doing is working. (Plus, it makes us feel better about our chosen profession. Policy matters!)

But does it? Matthew DiCarlo of the Shanker Institute, among others, has wondered whether the ups and downs of test score trends are necessarily related to what’s happening in the classroom, much less what’s happening in the statehouse or the school board. NAEP results, DiCarlo wrote, “can’t be used to draw even moderately strong inferences about what works and what doesn’t.”

He may be onto something. Take a look at the two graphs below, which show the relationship between changes in eleven cities’ NAEP results and changes in their median incomes:

Cities furthest to the left (San Diego, Chicago, Charlotte, and Cleveland) have seen their median incomes decline most dramatically from 2005 to 2011. Cities toward the right have seen their incomes increase (Boston and Houston) or increase dramatically (Washington, D.C.)....