Standards, Testing & Accountability


Few education analysts are as
knowledgeable and provocative as the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless, and
many denizens of the policy sphere look forward to his annual Brown Center Report on American Education.
This year’s edition is no disappointment. As in earlier years, it tackles three
big topics and manages to be provocative—and out of the mainstream—on all

But it’s real easy to misinterpret
its message and misconstrue its policy implications.

Topic I has been read as saying
that “the
Common Core standards won’t raise student achievement
.” Of course they won’t,
not all by themselves. Standards merely describe the desired destination of the
education journey; they don’t get us there. As Kathleen Porter-Magee has
carefully pointed out
on Fordham’s Common Core Watch blog, to achieve their
potential, these standards must be well and fully implemented and joined to
quality assessments, accountability systems, and much more. It’s possible to
have good standards and low achievement (look at California and D.C.) and...

According to Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute, “The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement.” 

Standards—no matter how clear or
how rigorous—are not a panacea.

prove this, he draws on research from 2009 conducted by his colleague,
Russ Whitehurst. Essentially, Whitehurst found that the quality of state
standards (as judged by our own Fordham analyses as well as analyses
conducted by the AFT) did not correlate with state NAEP scores. More
specifically, he found that “states with weak content standards score
about the same on NAEP as those with strong standards.”


What Loveless conveniently ignores is the second—and arguably more
significant—element of Whitehurst’s research. In short, Whitehurst
“concluded that the effects of curriculum on student achievement
are larger, more certain, and less expensive than the effects of popular
reforms such as common standards…” (Emphasis added.)

point is that setting standards alone does very little, but that a
thoughtfully and faithfully implemented rigorous curricula can move the
achievement needle, sometimes dramatically.

one could chose to pit those two policy advancements against it each

Fordham's Ohio team posted to two can't-miss items this morning. First, Terry Ryan penned a strong rebuke of Diane Ravitch's scathing take on Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's promising plan to reform the city's schools. As Terry writes,

    What Diane calls
    an attack on teachers is actually an honorable response to a brutally tough
    dilemma facing a city that has to shrink its overall number of schools and
    teachers. Mayor Jackson's plan is an honest effort to do this in a way that
    will result in fewer, but better, schools. It is in fact a brave effort to try
    and make the best of a truly difficult situation.

    The Buckeye State office followed that up by posting video from yesterday's fascinating discussion in Columbus on the challenges and opportunities of Common Core implementation. Below you can stream Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner and Achieve, Inc. President Michael Cohen on this crucial topic.


      Embracing the Common Core

      Embracing the Common Core - Michael Cohen Presentation

      Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, speaks at Embracing the Common Core: Helping Students Thrive to the specifics of PARCC (the assessment consortia Ohio joined last fall) and warned that the implementation of the new standards in ELA and math will not be easy and that districts should start the implementation process now.

      Download his presentation here.

      Embracing the Common Core

      Embracing the Common Core - Stan Heffner Presentation

      Among the speakers at Embracing the Common Core on February 15, 2012, was State Superintendent Stan Heffner who stressed that the system Ohio currently has is letting kids down and not preparing them for the future. He went on to emphasize that the Common Core gives us the opportunity and chance to do better for our kids and we must capitalize on that.

      Weighing the waivers

      Mike sat down with Fordham’s new school choice czar, Adam Emerson, to question just how flexible ESEA flexibility turned out to be and to ponder Obama’s abandonment of the D.C. voucher program. Amber looks at a new study on how much value principals add while Chris learns that they sometimes need to bob and weave when handing out teacher evaluations.

      Amber's Research Minute

      Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals

      Amber's Weekly Poll

      Tune in next week to find out the answer!

      What's Up With That?

      Springfield, MA teacher punches vice principal during evaluation

      As usual, the College Board’s latest annual report on
      enrollment and achievement in the prestigious Advanced Placement program paints
      an overall rosy picture. (The College Board, remember, has a major vested
      interest in both the reputation and expansion of the AP program and is famously
      resistant to external analyses of its data.) Since 2001, the national passing
      rate (a score of three or higher) has bumped almost 8 percentage points—and twenty-two
      states boast even larger gains. In fact, more graduates are passing AP tests
      today than took them a decade ago. (Note
      that this report doesn’t hit on whether the quality of the
      has remained steadfast.) Yet some problems persist—especially
      surrounding access to the AP for those in rural and urban areas, as well as for
      minorities writ large. Four out of five African American students who had at
      least a 70 percent chance of passing an AP exam (based on PSAT scores,
      according to a College Board algorithm, aptly dubbed “AP Potential”) either
      didn’t enroll in the relevant AP course or attended a school where the course
      was not offered. To counter...

      I’ve posted before about the
      unusual interpretations and suggestions for implementing the Common Core
      standards that are popping
      up across the country
      . Earlier this week, more evidence emerged that when
      it comes to organizations peddling Common Core implementation resources and
      strategies, the buyer should beware.

      it comes to organizations peddling Common Core implementation resources and
      strategies, the buyer should beware.

      Eye on Education, a
      publishing company that provides “busy educators with practical information” on
      a host of topics (professional development, school improvement, student
      assessment, data analysis, and on), released a report this week authored by
      Lauren Davis that highlights “5 Things Every Teacher Should be Doing to Meet
      the Common Core State Standards”:

      • Lead High-Level, Text-Based
      • Focus on Process, Not Just
      • Create Assignments for Real
        Audiences and with Real Purpose
      • Teach Argument, Not Persuasion
      • Increase Text Complexity

      At first glance, this
      appears to be pointed in the right direction. After all, nearly every point
      includes quotes from the standards themselves or from the publisher’s criteria
      released by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel.

      Unfortunately, dressing

      I came to the world of public education late in my career, but through
      a golden portal, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural
      Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
      , a book of such broad
      intellectual depth and revolutionary import that it was a national bestseller
      in 1987
      Amazingly, more than twenty years later, very few educators have
      read it (see here).  That’s too bad.  If they had, they would not make statements
      like the one Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer for New York City’s
      Education Department, gave to the New
      York Times
      just the other day:

      The core problem of literacy in middle school is you’re
      transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn.

      Wrong. The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
      skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

      The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
      skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

      Thomases means well. And he’s trying to clean up the anti-academic
      middle school mess that has persisted for far too long (see my Ed Next story).  But...

      The Northwest Evaluation Association recently surveyed parents and teachers to gauge their support for various types of
      assessment. The
      indicated that just a quarter of teachers find summative
      assessments “‘extremely’ or ‘very’ valuable for determining whether students
      have a deep understanding of content.” By contrast, 67 percent of teachers (and
      85 percent of parents) found formative and interim assessments extremely or
      very valuable.

      I can understand why teachers would find formative and
      interim assessments appealing. After all, teachers generally either create those
      assessments themselves, or are at least intimately involved with their
      creation. And they are, therefore, more flexible tools that can be tweaked
      depending on, for instance, the pace of classroom instruction.

      But, while formative and interim assessments are
      critically important and should be used to guide instruction and planning, they
      cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments, which play an
      equally critical role in a standards-driven system.

      Formative and interim assessments cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments.

      Summative assessments are designed to evaluate whether
      students have mastered knowledge and skills at a particular point...