Standards, Testing & Accountability

and Sy Doan

Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types of schools shy away from regulation more than others? All of this matters, because if private schools decide not to participate, private school choice programs become unworkable.

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It turns out that private schools are not vehemently opposed to academic accountability (including state testing and reporting requirements), according to a new Fordham report out today.

Authored by David Stuit and Sy Doan of Basis Policy Research, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? found that testing and reporting requirements ranked among the least important considerations for school leaders, with just 25 percent citing state assessment rules as very important when deciding whether or not to participate (and only 17 percent said the same about public reporting of testing results).

While 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as...

Red Tape or Red Herring?

Will private schools avoid voucher and tax credit scholarship programs if they’re overregulated? Many friends of private school choice insist that they will, particularly if these schools are required to participate in testing and accountability mandates. But the findings from a new study released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute indicate these friends might need an intervention.

In their report, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?, researchers David Stuit and Sy Doan find little evidence that policymakers should avoid testing requirements for fear that private schools will avoid voucher and tax credit scholarship programs altogether. In fact, in a survey of school leaders who qualify for four existing private school choice programs, just 25 percent said that state assessment rules figured “very importantly” into their decision on whether to participate.

Of greater concern to these school leaders were laws that forced them to revise their admissions criteria or restricted their religious practices, indicating that private schools were allergic to policies that made...

Exam
The MAP is exactly the type of "good" assessment that many educators claim to favor
Photo by albertogp123.

Shame on the teachers of Garfield High. Shame on them for resisting a modicum of personal responsibility for student learning. Shame on them for obfuscating what their resistance is really about. And double-shame on them for likening their selfish crusade to the noble acts of resistance of the Civil Rights era.

As you probably know, the teachers of Seattle’s Garfield High School are “boycotting” the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is required by the district. Ostensibly, their protest is about the overuse of tests, the instructional time that those tests devour, and the culture of soulless data-driven instruction that animates today’s brand of school reform.

Yet it’s hard to square their complaints with the actual test they decry, for the MAP is precisely the type of “good” assessment that many educators claim to favor. It’s instructionally useful; it provides instantaneous feedback to teachers and students alike; and it’s...

This report by Stanford’s Martin Carnoy and the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein offers a catchy press-release headline: The U.S. Fares Better on International Assessments than Previously Thought. But that isn't actually true. Analyzing PISA data, Carnoy and Rothstein argue that the U.S. educates its disadvantaged students about as well as similar nations—and, for that, America should be praised. But the problems with the study are myriad. First, the authors use a “very approximate” index—the number of books in a student’s home—to determine social class. Others have explained the methodological flaws with this approach. Second, the authors engage in some dangerous statistical gymnastics to prove their point: Based on the assumption that students of low “social class” bring down average U.S. scores, Carnoy and Rothstein re-estimate PISA attainment (by using the books-in-the-home index) to norm the proportion of students in each class. They find that, if the U.S. had the same proportion of students in lower social classes as other nations, then it would rank fourth in reading (instead of fourteenth) and tenth in math (instead of twenty-fifth). The conclusions of this report only affirm the very significant education problem that it’s trying to downplay: We have a greater proportion—and a significantly...

In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama mentioned two pieces of his K–12 policy agenda: his plans to train new math and science teachers and his plans to improve school safety. Politics K–12 notes that inaugural addresses are not typically policy-laden, so one can fairly infer that these two items top his second-term to-do list. In this week’s Education Gadfly Show, Mike Petrilli—self-professed “koala dad”—expresses unease over placing STEM education on a pedestal over all other subjects.

Last Friday, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public-sector-union reforms in full, rejecting the unions’ charges that the law violated the Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment. But according to the School Law blog, the practical effect of the ruling is “unclear” due to litigation in a separate state court. We will be watching.

A fresh batch of federal data shows that the U.S. public high school graduation rate rose to 78.2 percent in 2010—a thirty-five-year high. But before you bake Arne Duncan a cake and sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” be sure to listen to this week’s Education Gadfly Show for a wee slice of humble pie....

The teacher-evaluation debate follows a well-worn path: Traditional evaluation systems (in which upwards of 99 percent of educators are deemed “effective”) are meaningless, argue reformers. New models that rely heavily on value-added test-score data are unreliable and unfair, counter others. This new NBER working paper from Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson provides the debate new turf on which to tread: Based on data from the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study, Jackson channels Paul Tough to argue that students’ “non-cognitive” abilities (adaptability, self-restraint, motivation) help explain their success. Noting this, teachers should be evaluated on them; yet they are rarely considered by current metrics. The report has two parts. First, Jackson shows that the “non-cognitive factor” (which he proxies with variables like absenteeism, suspensions, and grades) is predictive of college enrollment and lifetime earnings—more so, in fact, than cognitive ability. Jackson then evaluates whether teachers can affect this “non-cognitive” factor. Using 2005-10 North Carolina data, he finds that teachers’ impact on student test scores is only weakly associated with their impact on improving youngsters’ non-cognitive abilities. In other words, evaluations that rely exclusively on test scores fail to capture the full breadth of teachers’ contributions to student outcomes. Jackson concludes: Other...

Cage-Busting LeadershipNow seventeen years old, Education Week’s annual Quality Counts (QC) report grades states (and the U.S. as a whole) on six indicators: K–12 achievement; standards, assessment, and accountability; the teaching profession; school finance; “transitions and alignment” (which investigates early-childhood programming and college and career readiness); and the ever-controversial “chance for success” index. In this iteration, only the latter three have been updated—which strengthens the feeling that we’ve read this book before: The top five states retained their positions (with Maryland at the head with a B-plus), as did the lowest (South Dakota, D-plus). The U.S. average crept from 76.5 to 76.9. Even the most notable shifts aren’t exactly page-turners: West Virginia bumped from fourteenth to second on the school-finance indicator by upping its per-pupil funding $1,000. And Georgia earned the series’ first perfect score on “transitions and alignment” by embracing QC’s fourteen pet policies (like defining school or work readiness). Beyond the state rankings, this year’s QC also explores the intersection between school-discipline policies and student learning, calling attention to a key tradeoff: How do education leaders balance the need for a safe...

Cage-Busting LeadershipFor over a decade, and almost entirely under the leadership of the prolific Paul Hill, the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has promoted the “portfolio-district strategy,” in which districts manage a “portfolio” of diverse schools (charters, magnets, traditionals), each with a high degree of school-level autonomy and accountability. Since beginning this work, CRPE has written myriad reports on the PMM (portfolio-management model) and partnered with an ever-larger number of districts to help them roll out this strategy. Strife and Progress—a new book by Paul Hill and two current CRPE firecrackers, Christine Campbell and Betheny Gross—compiles their immense amount of knowledge and experience. First, the authors outline and explain the seven components that any successful portfolio-district strategy must embrace: school choice, school autonomy, equitable school funding, talent-seeking and retention, support from independent groups, performance-based accountability, and public engagement. Drawing on case studies of several portfolio districts (mainly New York City, New Orleans, D.C., Chicago, and Denver), it then probes both the strategy’s promise and challenges. Clearly, for example, it cannot succeed without political support: The book is admirable in its acknowledgement of past public-relations failures...

Successful Common Core implementation will hinge on a number of factors. Among the largest of these will be getting the assessments right—in terms of both design and cost. Central to these issues are the controversial multiple-choice “bubble” tests, which are welcomed by some as fast and efficient means of gauging student knowledge and skills and derided by others as the cause for “teaching to the test” and superficial knowledge. This recent report found within the Journal of Psychological Science finds merit in the bubble test—if designed well. It explains findings from two small-sample studies (one had thirty-two participants, conducted out of UCLA, the other ninety-six, conducted out of Washington U.). The upshot: Both found that properly structured multiple-choice tests (those which offer plausible wrong answers alongside the correct response) “trigger the retrieval processes that foster test-induced learning and deter test-induced forgetting.” In other words, bubble tests with competitive responses trigger actual knowledge-retrieval processes rather than simple recognition processes—and do so better than cued-recall (fill-in-the-blank) tests. The bottom line is both cautiously encouraging. Multiple-choice tests—done correctly—can be a useful tool in an assessor’s kit (a point that we have previously argued). The CCSS assessment consortia would be wise to keep...

After the ouster of Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett (who, subsequently, was snapped up by Florida), Indiana’s Republicans have pushed a bill withdraw the state from the Common Core standards.

Today, Indiana’s Senate Education Committee heard arguments on whether to keep, eliminate, or change the state’s commitment to the Common Core. Michael J. Petrilli, Fordham’s executive vice president, testified at the hearing to urge Indiana’s lawmakers to “stay the course” with the common standards.

 

Testimony to the Education and Career Development Committee of the Indiana State Senate

Michael J. Petrilli

Chairman Kruse, Ranking Member Rogers, members of the committee: It’s an honor to be with you today. I mean that sincerely. No state in the country has accomplished more on the education reform front than Indiana has over the past two years. On issue after issue—from school vouchers, to teacher evaluations, to collective bargaining reform, to school finance reform—Indiana is leading the way. As you may know, in 2011 my think tank named Indiana the “Education Reform Idol” for its accomplishments. You won in a landslide. You should be very proud of what this legislative body has...

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