Standards, Testing & Accountability

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.)....

In the early years of Ohio’s voucher programs, proponents of private school choice cautioned that schools wouldn’t participate if government asked too much of them in the way of regulations and accountability for student achievement. That was certainly a plausible theory at the time – after all, when the EdChoice Scholarship program launched in 2005, Ohio’s public schools were only just getting used to our increased battery of state tests. But evidence from a new report shows that the theory doesn’t hold true today, and that policymakers could pursue expanded accountability for private schools—especially when it comes to transparency about student achievement and progress.

The Fordham Institute’s national team commissioned David Stuit of Basis Policy Research and his colleague Sy Doan to examine closely thirteen existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs and describe the nature and extent of their regulations as well as how many private schools participate in them (and how many do not). They also asked them to survey private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs (including EdChoice and the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program) to see how heavily regulations and program requirements weigh in schools’ decision whether to participate.

The result is...

Plenty of folks in the education business seek the limelight. Not all deserve it—at least, not for doing good. But some individuals and groups that do great good for kids, teachers, and schools prefer to do so quietly, even invisibly. And two such entities are merging as Gene Wilhoit—previously of the Council of Chief State School Officers and, arguably, the most important force behind the Common Core standards—joins Sue Pimentel and Jason Zimba’s crackerjack (but small and quiet) team at Student Achievement Partners, which might be the most valuable enterprise in the land when it comes to defending, improving, explaining, and implementing the Common Core. Neither Wilhoit nor SAP is a glutton for publicity—but the work they’ve done, and continue to do, deserves respect and gratitude.

Earlier this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich unveiled his education reform plan. Among its many features are an expansion of private school vouchers and Ohio’s first-ever charter school facility funding. Perhaps most promising, the governor proposed a $300-million Innovation Fund to kick-start projects aimed at reshaping how schools deploy technology and human resources. In a town-hall meeting, Fordham's Terry Ryan told the governor and a rapt audience that the Innovation Fund is...

Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose...

SAGE Publishing’s recently released reference set Debating Issues in American Education is a 10-volume deep dive into many of the most salient issues regarding the state of PreK-12 education in the United States today. A stellar roster of contributors appears in each issue, recruited by the editors for their knowledge and insight into the topics at hand.

The ten volumes are:

  • Alternative Schooling & School Choice
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Diversity in Schools
  • Religion in Schools
  • School Discipline & Safety
  • School Finance
  • School Governance
  • School Law
  • Standards & Accountability in Schools
  • Technology in Schools

Within each volume, a dozen or more specific questions are put forward and argued in point/counterpoint essays by contributing authors. The variety of approaches and areas of focus brought to the series by the wide array of authors is a particular strength of the set. I found myself wondering before I sat down to review a volume if interest could be sustained in the topic overall when there were literally hundreds of pages spent on what seems from the outside to be subtle variations in the questions being debated. I found on more than one occasion that what had been meant to be a review of...