Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.


Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:

A new study from RAND uses information from teacher polling to examine state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The data are drawn from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. educators (both K–12 math and ELA teachers) administered in summer and fall 2015. Both had response rates ranging from 57 to 62 percent, with roughly 1,100–1,700 participants responding to each. The questionnaires focus on teachers’ perceptions and practices as they relate to key instructional approaches reflected primarily in the standards. My seven critical takeaways are these:

1) When asked if they ever used particular materials, the majority of math teachers generally report developing materials themselves (97 percent of elementary teachers). Over forty percent of all surveyed elementary teachers claimed that they used the popular and universally available Engage NY.

2) Ninety-eight percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers, and  those who do so weekly or daily describe various applications for them. For instance, high percentages (68 percent) say they use the readers to support struggling students in place of the grade-level text other students are reading. (Yet Common Core supports the teaching of grade-appropriate texts with the idea that teacher support and explanation, not text difficulty, is...

Ah, spring. The much-anticipated return of baseball, blooming flowers, chirping birds, and…standardized tests.

Annual testing is now well underway in schools across the nation, and several states have already experienced major technological complications, frustrating educators and students alike and fueling increasingly vocal testing opponents.  

Students taking the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) test, developed by the University of Kansas’s Achievement & Assessment Institute, encountered widespread Internet access issues this spring. Even after initial connectivity failures across Alaska were addressed, the state’s testing platform continued crashing, and responses submitted by many students were simply lost. In a largely rural state with limited bandwidth to begin with, the Alaska Department of Education opted to scrap computer-based testing entirely this year rather than continue to frustrate teachers and students statewide with technical disruptions.

Then, in a snafu described as “simply unacceptable” by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, many students taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) ran into complications and were unable to complete their online tests last month. Responses for an additional fourteen-thousand-plus tests were also inexplicably lost due to computer hiccups. In light of these troubles, the Texas Education Agency is letting districts decide whether to...

The Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has been a fractious one, dividing party loyalists on issues like health care, foreign intervention, financial reform, and corporate influence on politics. Curiously, education hasn’t surfaced as a subject of dispute—until this week, when a few education voices on the Left mistakenly harangued Clinton for going soft on her commitment to testing. Though well-intentioned, these commentators need to cool their jets and take a closer look at her record.

It’s appropriate that this kerfuffle would start now that both candidates have alighted in New York, a bulwark of union strength and bare-fanged hostility to Common Core (some 20 percent of eligible students were opted out of last year’s round of standardized testing). The crux of it is this: Some left-leaning reformers have seized on a few ill-advised comments by Bill Clinton as proof that his wife is selling out school accountability. Liberal tribune Jonathan Chait (or at least his headline writers) accused her of “abandoning education reform”; Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, wrote that the former president’s remarks would redound “to the detriment of our students, particularly poor and minority children, children of recent immigrants, and students with...

Despite the continued controversy surrounding Common Core, the vast majority of states that originally adopted the standards have chosen to stick with them. But the same can’t be said of several new standards-aligned assessments.

Developed by two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, these new tests offered member states shared ownership over common assessments, significant cost savings, and the ability to compare student performance across states. Despite this initial promise, however, membership in PARCC (and, to a lesser degree, Smarter Balanced) has been dwindling for some time now. But is this attrition due to the quality of the tests, as some claim?

To inform states about the quality and content of PARCC and Smarter Balanced, Fordham conducted the first comprehensive evaluation of three “next-generation” tests this past summer, recruiting reviewers who examined operational test items from PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire. We also evaluated one highly regarded existing state test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Our team of rock star reviewers, comprising educators and experts on content and assessment, judged these tests against benchmarks based on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) “...

If I had to pick just one reason to support Common Core, it would be to address the paucity of nonfiction texts read by students in elementary and middle school reading instruction. Gaps in background knowledge and vocabulary make it stubbornly difficult to raise reading achievement. Conceptualizing reading comprehension as a skill you can apply to any ol’ text broadly misses the point. By encouraging reading in history, science, and other disciplines across the curriculum, Common Core encourages “a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give [students] the background to be better readers in all content areas.”

Thus, it is great good news that the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education finds the dominance of fiction waning in the fourth and eighth grades. The standards call for a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction in fourth grade. In 2011, 63 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported emphasizing fiction in class, while only 38 percent said they emphasized non-fiction. A mere four years later, the gap is down to just eight percentage points (53 percent to 45 percent).

On the math side, CCSS asks for fewer topics or strands, as well as a focus on whole number arithmetic from kindergarten...

  • Even before they start school, inner-city students are often beset by huge learning obstacles—from the infamous thirty-million-word gap to the perils of urban violence—that need to mitigated by overtaxed districts. There’s a morbid irony, therefore, in new findings suggesting that these kids face the additional danger of poisoning once they walk into school. Nationwide testing in the wake of the Flint crisis has revealed distressing levels of lead contamination in school systems from Los Angeles to Newark. The problem has gone largely undetected for years because the only statute governing lead levels in public water supplies is a grossly inadequate 1991 EPA rule. Countless district facilities around the country are exempted from its language, and their lead-lined pipes and water coolers are spreading pollutants that are known to damage children’s bodily organs and stunt intellectual development. Disadvantaged families need to know that their kids are safe at school, not at risk of sustaining irreversible biological harm.
  • We all know the hallmarks of a typical civics lesson: dust-dry soliloquys about the Virginia Plan versus the New Jersey Plan, yellowed daguerreotypes of Abraham Lincoln, and melodically flaccid episodes of Schoolhouse Rock. If there were any class period that could
  • ...

“The Proper Perspective” is a discussion between Jamie Davies O’Leary, senior Ohio policy analyst for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio. Interested in many of the same data points and research questions, they decided to share some of this exchange more publicly, helping both to illuminate trends in Ohio public education and formulate policy recommendations through their insights. This is the fourth edition of the series. The first can be found here, the second here, the third here.

New Ohio report cards show, to some extent, the effect of parents opting their children out of standardized testing. Jamie and Steve have both been writing about the implications of school and district report cards data and had an exchange about their concerns over testing opt-outs going forward.


I know that you were especially concerned about opt-outs in Northeast Ohio after hearing that Lorain would be hit hard. Indeed, that district was. I was surprised, and glad, that the...

Back in 2008, the Ohio General Assembly mandated the creation of a “clearinghouse of interactive and other distance learning courses delivered by a computer-based method.” In 2013, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (then known as the Ohio Board of Regents) announced a “new online distance-learning web portal” that aimed to provide a “wealth of digital education tools, standards-based resources, curricula, texts, and Web-based courses.” Known as ilearnOhio, the clearinghouse offers standards-aligned, peer-reviewed digital media from multiple content providers, instructional support materials, assessment items, and professional development resources. Teachers can search for lessons and materials based on grade level, discipline, resource type, or Common Core standard. A recent piece in the Columbus Dispatch states that since July 1, more than 475,000 users have visited the site. The Dispatch also reports that Ohio State University—which operates the clearinghouse—estimated in a report last fall that approximately 82 percent of Ohio’s schools and districts have used the clearinghouse in some way, making it a “valuable component of the state’s educational infrastructure.”

So if the clearinghouse is a valuable tool for Ohio educators, why will it cease to exist this summer? The answer is a bit complicated. For...

Following hard on the heels of Fordham’s own reportEvaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, the Center for American Progress looks at the exams offered by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia and largely likes what it sees for students with special challenges.

It’s a larger population than many perhaps realize. English language learners (4.4 million) and students with disabilities (6.4 million) constitute more than 20 percent of American school enrollment. “Given these numbers, it is critical that students with disabilities and English language learners have the same opportunities as their peers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and receive appropriate supports to meet their needs,” the report notes.

Testing “accommodations” have typically meant extra time, questions read out loud or translated into native languages, and so on. While PARCC and SBAC “improve on previous state tests in terms of quality, rigor, and alignment” (Fordham’s report reached the same overarching conclusion) they also represent a significant advance in “universal design”—a principle that considers the user with the greatest physical and cognitive need and makes it a “feature,” not a “fix.” Consider the authors’ example of sidewalk “curb cuts.” Designed to make sidewalks wheelchair accessible, they ended up...

Management sage Peter Drucker once said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” In recent years, policy makers have turned the page on Ohio’s old, outdated standards and accountability framework. The task now is to replace it with something that, if implemented correctly, will better prepare Buckeye students for the expectations of college and the rigors of a knowledge- and skills-driven workforce.

While the state’s former policies did establish a basic accountability framework aligned to standards, a reset was badly needed. Perhaps the most egregious problem was the manner in which the state publicly reported achievement. State officials routinely claimed that more than 80 percent of Ohio students were academically “proficient,” leaving most parents and taxpayers with a feel-good impression of the public school system.

The inconvenient truth, however, was that hundreds of thousands of pupils were struggling to master rigorous academic content. Alarmingly, the Ohio Board of Regents regularly reports that 30–40 percent of college freshman need remedial coursework in English or math. Results from the ACT reveal that fewer than half of all graduates meet college-ready benchmarks in all of the assessment’s content areas. Finally, outcomes from the “nation’s report card”—the National Assessment...