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.

Resources:

Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:


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
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“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.

Jamie:

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...

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior five posts can be read here, here, herehere, and here.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty-two months (!) since I first talked with folks at Fordham about doing a study of several new “Common Core-aligned” assessments. I believed then, and I still believe now, that this is incredibly important work. State policy makers need good evidence about the content and quality of these new tests, and to date, that evidence has been lacking. While our study is not perfect, it provides the most comprehensive and complete look yet available. It is my fervent hope that policy makers will heed these results. My ideal would be for states to simply adopt multi-state tests that save them effort (and probably money) and promote higher-quality standards implementation. The alternative, as many states have done, is to go it alone. Regardless of the approach, states should at least use the results of this study and other recent and forthcoming investigations of test quality...

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior four posts can be read here, here, here, and here.

When one of us was enrolled in a teacher education program umpteen years ago, one of the first things we were taught was how to use Bloom’s taxonomy. Originally developed in 1956, it is a well-known framework that delineates six increasingly complex levels of understanding: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. More recently—and to the consternation of some—Bloom’s taxonomy has been updated. But the idea that suitably addressing various queries and tasks requires more or less brainpower is an enduring truth (well sort of).  

So it is no surprise that educators care about the “depth of knowledge” (DOK) (also called “cognitive demand”) required of students. Commonly defined as the “type of thinking required by students to solve a task,” DOK has become a proxy for rigor even though it concerns content complexity rather than difficulty. A clarifying example: A student may not have seen a...

On the campaign trail, Senator Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to "repeal every word of Common Core." It's a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (which words shall we repeal first? "Phonics"? "Multiplication"? Or "Gettysburg Address"?), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards are now a deeply entrenched feature of America's K–12 education landscape—love 'em or hate 'em.

Common Core has achieved "phenomenal success in statehouses across the country," notes Education Next. In a study published last month, the periodical found that "thirty-six states strengthened their proficiency standards between 2013 and 2015, while just five states weakened them." That's almost entirely a function of Common Core. 

Education Next began grading individual states’ standards in 1995, comparing the extent to which their state tests' definition of proficiency aligned with the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment (often referred to as "the nation's report card”). That year, six states received an A grade. As recently as four years ago, only Massachusetts earned that distinction. Today, nearly half of all states, including the District of Columbia, have earned A ratings....

Leading up to this year’s report card release, some school districts expressed concern about the negative impact of students opting out of state assessments on their report card grades. In response, lawmakers proposed a well-intentioned but shortsighted bill attempting to mitigate the impact of opt-outs—first by erasing non-test-takers from their schools’ performance grades and then (after being amended) by reporting two separate Performance Index grades. The Ohio Department of Education devised a temporary reporting solution: Performance Index scores would be reported as normal (including the impact of non-test-takers, as per current law), but a “modified achievement measure” would be made available to illustrate how districts would have scored if non-test-takers didn’t count.

A quick look at the data shows that the impact of opt-outs last year (2014–15) was minimal for the vast majority of Ohio school districts. As depicted in Table 1, fifty-two districts (8.5 percent) experienced a letter grade change because of their non-participation rates (shaded in green). This was most likely driven by the opt-out movement. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because Ohio only captures test participation rates and not the reasons for non-participation—which might include excused or unexcused absences, truancy, or opting...

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