Standards, Testing & Accountability

The 129th General Assembly wrapped up its business last week. Included in the flurry of lame-duck legislation sent to the governor’s desk was House Bill 555. Its major provisions include:

  • Moving Ohio from our current school-rating system (and its nebulous terms like Continuous Improvement) to an A-to-F rating system based on broader performance measures that more accurately gauge how schools and districts are actually performing;
  • Establishing closure criteria for drop-out recovery schools;
  • Establishing a new charter-sponsor evaluation process; and
  • Adding a second application period for the Educational Choice Scholarship Program.

Unlike previous non-budget years, 2012 was a busy one for education policymaking. Two other major education bills were signed into law: Senate Bill 316 – the governor’s mid-biennium budget for education – and House Bill 525 – legislation formalizing the Cleveland Mayor Jackson’s Education Reform Plan.

 SB 316 included many small tweaks to state education law; but it also included three big policy changes. Specifically, it:

  • Established a third-grade “reading guarantee” and accompanying diagnostic and intervention requirements;
  • Increased accountability for charter-school sponsors, drop-out recovery schools, and teacher-preparation programs; and
  • Made explicit that “blended-learning” school models are permitted in Ohio.

HB 525, which applies only to the Cleveland...

Our annual analysis of Ohio’s public school performance data has been released, in full (parts and parcel were released in October). Using publically available data from the Ohio Department of Education’s preliminary 2011-12 Report Card data set, released in October, along with several other sets of data, we examine how schools—traditional public school districts and charter schools—do across the Buckeye State. The report especially focuses on public school performance in four of Ohio’s major cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton.

The report includes ten-year trend data on student enrollment and proficiency rates, academic performance results for 2011-12, and a projection of proficiency rates when the Common Core arrives in 2014-15. In short, this report compiles fresh information for policy makers, educators, and parents about how well schools are serving youngsters across Ohio.

To access the report, click on the image below.

Rick Scott
Rick Scott is right about Common Core standards.
Photo from Education News.

Just as Tony Bennett was talking to reporters last week about his new job as Florida education commissioner, Governor Rick Scott was getting some attention of his own for suggesting that all schools receiving public funding—including private schools accepting voucher-bearing students—should be held to the same standard.

Or, more specifically, the Common Core State Standards. And on this, reporters pounced, noting (with some jest) that Scott was parting ways with fellow Republicans who want to leave private schools alone and stirring backlash among private school leaders who feared they soon would have to “teach to the test.”

This kind of anxiety calls for a voice of reason, and Bennett is just the guy to provide it. After all, he’s leaving Indiana, where he pushed a voucher program that required students to take the same standardized test as do public schools (and where they also will be taking the Common Core assessments when those...

In December 2010, the latest results from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) revealed that—compared to our OECD peers—American fifteen-year olds are (at best) in the middle of the pack. Among the thirty-four participating nations, we ranked fourteenth in reading, seventeenth in science, and twenty-fifth in math. This news, coupled with Shanghai’s epic success on the exam (the first time any part of mainland China had taken it), rocked the education-policy community. For those still smarting, the latest results from two other international assessments offer some liniment. TIMSS and PIRLS  (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) are given in more countries—including many that are poorer and less developed than those in the OECD—and are actual appraisals of student learning at two grade levels. (PISA purports to assess skills in a country’s overall fifteen-year-old population and does not claim to be curriculum-based or school-aligned.)

U.S. fourth graders are definitely looking better. From 2006 to 2011, their math performance on TIMSS bumped up twelve points and now trails that of their counterparts in just seven other lands (in East Asia and Northern Ireland). Even more remarkable results come from PIRLS: Of the fifty-three systems participating,...

This wonky but important (and exceptionally timely) book by Michigan State’s Bill Schmidt and Curtis McKnight, an emeritus math professor at the University of Oklahoma, is a distinctive, deeply researched, and amply documented plea for full-scale implementation of the Common Core math standards.

The authors examine the extent to which young Americans in various states, districts, schools, and classrooms have equal opportunities to learn the same high-quality math content in grades K–8—and they find grievous gaps and injustices.

One might suppose that this most hierarchical and standardized of core subjects would yield the greatest uniformity from place to place within the United States. Critics of national curricula (and Common Core) periodically declare that NAEP, the textbook oligopoly, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and nationwide college-entrance exams have caused math curricula to be very similar across the land.

Schmidt and McKnight, however, show conclusively that this presumption is far from true. And they link that variation in content coverage and delivery to the country’s vexing achievement gaps, its deteriorating social mobility, and its generally weak educational performance. Here are a few excerpts from the book’s genuinely alarming—and stirring—final chapter:...

  • Very important Ed Week article about the decision by the Louisiana DOE to reject every math and reading textbook submitted for district use. The reason? They were deemed insufficiently aligned with the expectations of Common Core. This is the biggest state-level statement I’ve seen so far, indicating Louisiana’s substantial commitment to implementing CCSS. I’m in the camp that believes that while CCSS could be meaningful, much stands in the way.: The two testing consortia could set low or no cut scores, states could lose interest in the standards and/or tests, states could implement the new standards halfheartedly, etc. Rick Hess recently explained other reasons CCSS could be in jeopardy—these being more related to deficiencies in the reform community’s priorities and approaches to reform.
  • Excellent piece in today’s New York Times on higher-education accountability from the always-excellent Kevin Carey. This is a terribly important and difficult issue: Higher-ed institutions often have gigantic endowments and receive enormous support from the feds, state governments, and families, yet we have virtually no reliable information on which institutions are improving student learning or how. Carey suggests a modest path forward while continuing to surface an underappreciated issue.
  • Worthwhile white paper from
  • ...
Albert Shanker
The late AFT president Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the NBPT.
Photo from the Library of Congress..

As President of the AFT, the late Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and much else in the education-reform world. Now Randi Weingarten is trying—earnestly and imaginatively—to return the organization and its (present) leader to the pantheon of real reformers.

Their new and much-ballyhooed proposal, contained in a report titled Raising the Bar, revives the Shanker-era idea of a “bar exam” for entering teachers—and charges the NBPTS with putting it into practice.

Andy Rotherham came out within hours with multiple doubts, some of which worry me, too. But let’s start by crediting Ms. Weingarten and her organization with a serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession.

Their proposal has three pillars. The second—but most important so far as I’m concerned— is this:

Teaching, like other respected professions, must have...

A foundation staffer I think well of posed these vexing questions the other day:

With the transition to the new Common Core assessments, states will have a number of decisions around how they use the new tests. Some of the most consequential are around possible use of the tests for high school exit or grade promotion. These are obviously sticky subjects. Should we be scrapping exit exams, especially given that they tend to be 9th-grade level at best anyway? Is there a need for an overall re-thinking and rationalization of state testing in general—rather than piling more on top?

Could Common Core improve the value of a high school education?
Photo by Anna Botz

Here’s what I think:

States today have sharply divergent views of what stakes, if any, to attach to test results for kids. Several have test-based 3rd-grade reading “gates” that you must pass to advance to 4th grade (Jeb Bush said the other day that “Seven states have started on this journey”). A few have “kindergarten-readiness” assessments (though those are more often teacher “checklists” than tests). And the...

This new study by Brookings’s Matt Chingos makes its way through the labyrinth of state budgets for standardized assessments, and it is the first time we’ve ever seen anything coherent and reasonably comprehensive on this part of the K-12 spending universe. Chingos focuses on the costs of contracts between states and test-making vendors, which comprise about 85 percent of total assessment costs. Across the forty-five states for which data were available, $669 million was spent annually on standardized assessments for grades three through nine. That’s about $27 per pupil on average, but this figure varies widely: A child in D.C. costs $114 to assess; in New York, that same child would cost just $7. Some of the variance is due to state size. He estimates that states with about 100,000 students in grades three-nine (e.g., Maine or Hawaii) spend about $13 more per pupil on assessment than states in the million-pupil range, such as Illinois. From these data, Chingos concludes that all states would enjoy some savings by joining or creating assessment consortia—whether PARCC or SBAC for ELA and math or another smaller grouping for other subjects. Much speculation surrounds the in-development Common Core assessments; the new design is likely...

A widely-noted  Government Accountability Office (GAO) report back in June found that charter schools serve a disproportionately low number of special-education students, feeding concerns that these schools discriminate again special-needs (and ELL) youngsters. This latest from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds much-needed nuance and should quell some of the concern. CRPE analysts examined 2011-12 special-education enrollments across 1,500 district and 170 charter schools in New York State, finding that aggregates in that state mask important differences across grade band, location, and authorizer. At the middle and high school levels, New York special-education enrollments are nearly identical in the district and charter sectors, with the only variance—albeit sizable—occurring at the elementary level. (The authors offer a few suggestions as to why, including that charter elementaries are less likely to label students special-needs as they have more effective behavior-management systems, smaller classes, or a general insistence on “individualized” education for every pupil.) From these findings, the researchers draw cautionary policy recommendations, urging against the adoption (or continuation) of blanket special-education-enrollment requirements. (New York has such a law; more on this on our Choice Words blog). Not a...