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:

The Education Trust recently responded to two analyses in which I looked at the relationship between  overall and disadvantaged subgroup performance at an individual school level. To summarize their critique, they suggest that even minor differences between overall and subgroup ratings warrant serious concern in an accountability context—possibly including sanctions. For example, a school carrying an overall A rating, but a C rating for disadvantaged students, could be considered to be “growing the achievement gap” and thus in need of an intervention.

Their approach, however, fails to recognize that in school rating systems, a one- or even two-rating deviation may not reflect significant differences in performance. Bear in mind that with growth results, we’re dealing with statistical estimates of learning gains that also include a margin of error. In some cases, schools receive different letter grades, but their underlying growth results aren’t distinguishable from each other.

Consider an example using one school’s overall and subgroup results (Chart 1). As you can see, the range of plausible values for the gains made by all overlap with those made by low-achieving students. As such, we cannot rule out the possibility that the two groups’ gains are actually identical. We...

When Governor Kasich signed the budget on June 30, two significant changes to Ohio’s assessment system became law. First, safe harbor was extended through the 2016 17 school year; second, PARCC ceased to be Ohio's state test. Soon after the ink was dry, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced that the state would use tests developed in consultation with AIR for all subjects during the 2015–16 school year. (AIR provided Ohio’s science and social studies assessments in 2014–15 and also developed Ohio’s former tests—the OAA and OGT.)

Throughout the month of July, questions loomed surrounding what these tests would look like, how they would be administered, and when teachers and school leaders would receive preparation resources. Not all of those questions have been answered, but some have. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

Test features

For many people, one of the most attractive aspects of the new ELA and math assessments is that they are shorter than PARCC tests. While PARCC tests are (depending on subject and grade level) around four or five hours each, the state tests that Ohio students will take this year will last approximately...



The poll results that Education Next released yesterday carry mildly glum news for just about every education reformer in the land, as public support has diminished at least a bit for most initiatives on their agendas: merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits, Common Core, and even ending teacher tenure. That dimming enthusiasm for change is apt to dominate coverage of the survey findings and the debates that follow.

Yet two other big-picture tendencies are also visible in these data, and it strikes me that they matter more over the long run than any one year’s blips around particular reform ideas.

First, when it comes to fundamental principles and practices regarding K–12 education, the American public is generally pretty sensible and steadfast. More on this below.

Second, when it comes to important basic facts regarding that very same K–12 education system, the American public is stunningly ignorant. This is especially true on the fiscal side. Poll respondents underestimated by half how much money is spent per pupil in their local...

Joe Anderson and Kelly James

As we move into the 2015–16 school year, the standards and assessments landscape is continuing to shift. State legislative and executive actions over the past year have resulted in changes to how, when, and—in some cases—if districts and schools will implement Common Core standards and aligned assessments. Education First’s Common Core and Assessments Status Maps detail these changes, looking back over the last year and forward to the next.

The good news: An overwhelming majority of states (forty-four, plus the District of Columbia) will continue to implement Common Core next year—this despite dozens of bills in nearly thirty states to delay or repeal it. Policymakers are sticking with higher expectations for all kids because educators, parents, and students tell them that the standards are improving instruction in classrooms across the nation. Yes, ten states are reviewing their standards (a best practice that was in place well before Common Core); but as we know from Indiana’s experience, most of them will continue with either the Core or standards that closely resemble it. States from Louisiana to New Jersey are finding that their reviews help them build on the standards rather than tearing them apart. Only Oklahoma is determined to go it alone. With so much...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (the poorest 24 percent of test-takers). An astonishing 96 percent of these students reported plans to enroll in college. Despite their aspirations, however, only 11 percent met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet a single benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, they posted far lower numbers. Twenty-six percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent were deemed college-ready in math (compared to 43 percent of all students), and only 18 percent were proficient in science (compared to 37 percent of all students). Unsurprisingly, the number of benchmarks attained rose along with family income. Students from families with incomes over $100,000 were twice as likely to meet the benchmark in nearly every...

At last, Judgment Day is upon us. Though it seems like only yesterday Fordham was hailing the results of the 2014 midterm elections, we’re now in the swing of a full-fledged presidential campaign. And tonight marks an important milestone on the road to the nuclear codes: the first primary debate. Since the Hillary Clinton steamroller seems poised to make inequality-decrying jelly out of her Democratic rivals, let's direct our attention to the Republican contenders and their thoughts on education.

We make our scene in fair Ohio, cradle of Republican presidents of old. Quicken Loans Arena will host ten men concentrating very hard on not using the phrase “self-deportation”:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • Wisconsin Governor Paul Walker
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio
  • Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
  • Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
  • Renowned author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian Donald Trump

The arena, home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and therefore the site of much uproarious futility, will sadly not host a repeat self-immolation by former Texas Governor Rick Perry. That’s because tonight’s ten hopefuls have been...

A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues provides loads of descriptive data that document the extent and depth of the teacher quality gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Dan and many others have produced research that repeatedly shows that disadvantaged kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to high-quality teachers. But the bottom line of this latest study is that this inequitable distribution of teachers plays out no matter how you define teacher quality (experience, teacher licensure exam score, or value-added estimates) and no matter how you define student disadvantage (free-and-reduced-priced lunch status, underrepresented minority status, or low prior academic performance).

The analysts use grades 3–10 data from Washington State for the 2011–12 school year. They target fourth-grade classrooms in particular, then replicate their analysis for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Here’s a summary of their findings: The distribution of prior-year value-added estimates for teachers of students on free and reduced-price lunch is routinely lower than the distribution for fourth graders who aren’t eligible for the lunch program. Low-income fourth graders are also more likely to have teachers who earned lower scores on the teacher licensure exam. Worse, the distribution of low-quality teachers...

On June 30, Governor John Kasich vetoed forty-four items in the budget  and signed the rest into law. Among the provisions that survived is an extension of “safe harbor” as Ohio continues its transition to new standards and assessments. Last year, lawmakers created this “safe harbor” policy for students, schools, and teachers; it pertains to certain test-based accountability provisions for 2014–15. With the 2015 budget bill, they’ve extended it by two more years (2015–16 and 2016–17).

The safe harbor provisions for students and teachers are pretty straightforward. For students, test scores from the 2014–15, 2015–16, or 2016–17 school years cannot be used “as a factor in any decision to promote or to deny the student promotion to a higher grade level or in any decision to grant course credit.” While not explicitly mentioned, this means that failed End of Course exams won’t equate to lost course credit or failure to graduate.  

For teachers, safe harbor means that the “value-added progress dimension rating” determined by state tests administered in 2014–15 and 2015–16 cannot be used for “assessing student academic growth” for teacher evaluations, or “when making decisions regarding the dismissal, retention, tenure, or compensation” of teachers. There is,...

Vladimir Kogan

The dire findings on the performance of Ohio’s charter schools published by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) have provided the badly needed political impetus to reform the state’s charter school laws. Now, however, it appears that not only are these reforms at risk, but lawmakers are actually considering steps to weaken one of the few aspects of the existing accountability system that works.

If existing measures show that charter schools are underperforming, it seems that some charter operators have decided that it would be easier to change the yardstick used to assess them than to improve student achievement.

As the Columbus Dispatch reported recently, at least one charter school operator is pushing Ohio lawmakers to replace the state’s current “value-added” accountability framework with a “Similar Students Measure” (SSM), similar to metrics used in California. Doing so would be a gigantic step back in accountability and would make charter school student achievement look better than it really is.

Here is some background: The state of California ...

Lisa Hansel

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at the Core Knowledge Blog.

Education Week noted recently that there is an increasing demand for bites of curriculum, as opposed to comprehensive programs: Instead of selecting one comprehensive program, “districts are asking to...mix and match with selections from other content providers, material that teachers and students have created, and open educational resources.” That’s awesome—and a disaster.

It’s awesome for schools that have a coherent, cumulative, grade-by-grade, topic-specific curricula. Teachers will have the curriculum as a scaffold, and they can search for materials that best meet their students’ needs on each topic. Assuming that scaffold is well developed, the topics will build on each other, giving all students an equal opportunity to acquire broad knowledge and skills.

It’s a disaster for schools that don’t have such curricula. In schools that aim to instill skills without realizing that a broad body of knowledge is necessary to cultivate them, a tapas-style curriculum will only lead to malnutrition. No matter who is choosing the small plates, we’ll end up with some students getting bacon-wrapped sausage and others getting mostly sautéed spinach and grilled chicken.

A well-rounded education is much like a well-balanced diet....