accountability

The ESSA Achievement Challenge

The ESSA Achievement Challenge

October 03, 2017 - 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
1016 16th St. NW
7th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States
Now that states have submitted their ESSA plans and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos begins to issue her stamp of approval, what happens next? It's time to put these plans into action; which states are most likely to see significant achievement gains in the coming years? Who has the ambition, coherence, and strategy to drive their systems toward meaningful improvements?
 
On October 3rd, we identified states with strong plans and distinct approaches and heard state superintendents and education advocates make the case that their work will lead to greater student success. At the close of the event, audience members voted on who they thought would show the most achievement gains in coming years. We’ll be back four years from now to see if they were right.
 

Moderator:

Michael J. Petrilli
President
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
 @MichaelPetrilli

Participants:

Matthew Ladner

Senior Research Fellow (Representing Arizona)
Charles Koch Institute
 @MatthewLadner

Candice McQueen

Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Education
 @McQueenCandice 

Glen Price

Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction
California Department of Education
 @glenprice

John White

State Superintendent 
Louisiana Department of Education
 @LouisianaSupe

  
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Eleven weeks ago, in High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, the Fordham Institute reported that current K–8 accountability systems in most states give teachers scant reason to attend to the learning of high-achieving youngsters. We coupled that bleak finding with a reminder that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) creates a rare opportunity for state leaders to rethink their accountability systems and thereby set matters right.
 
Now we’re back with a companion paper, High Stakes for High Schoolers, which appraises state accountability regimes as they affect high-achieving students in high school. We examined states’ current (or planned) accountability systems and rated them based on whether they incorporate under ESSA the following principles to incent schools to prioritize high achievers:
 
  1. Give high schools incentives for getting more students to an advanced level of achievement.
     
  2. Use the flexibility provided by ESSA to rate high schools using a true growth model—that is, one that includes the progress of individual students at all achievement levels and not just those who are low-performing or below the “proficient” line.
     
  3. Make growth—across the achievement spectrum—count at least as much as achievement when determining
...

No Child Left Behind meant well, but it had a pernicious flaw: It created strong incentives for schools to focus all their energy on helping low-performing students get over a modest “proficiency” bar. Meanwhile, it ignored the educational needs of high achievers, who were likely to pass state reading and math tests regardless of what happened in the classroom. Those most hurt by this approach were high-achieving, low-income students.

The Every Student Succeeds Act offers a powerful opportunity to change that. Fordham’s latest report, High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, examines the extent to which states’ current (or planned) accountability systems attend to the educational needs of high-achieving students; it also explains how states can take advantage of ESSA to create systems that serve all students.

Key findings include:

  • Only four states base at least half of their schools’ summative ratings on growth for all students, which should be the primary way that a school's effect on achievement is measured. Seven states and the District of Columbia assign no weight to this measure.
     
  • Only five states treat high-achieving students as a subgroup and separately report their results at the school level.
     
  • Fourteen states and the District
  • ...

Unfortunately, the rumors, predictions, and surmises were correct: Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are mostly down or flat. The worst news came in eighth-grade math, where twenty-two states saw declines. One of the only bright spots is fourth-grade reading, where ten states (as well as Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland) posted gains.

Why this happened will be combed over and argued. So far, it feels like anyone’s guess (more on that below). But there’s no denying that it’s bad news. It had come to seem like NAEP scores would always go up, at least over the long term, just like it had come to seem like murder rates would always go down. Now the real world has intervened to remind us that social progress is not inevitable. Let’s not sugarcoat it: This is deeply disheartening for our country, our K–12 system, and especially our kids.

As our friends in the research community like to remind us, it’s impossible to draw causal connections from changes in NAEP data; doing so is “misNAEPery.” Yet we can’t help but search for explanations. And we can certainly float hypotheses about the trends—educated guesses that can then be tested using...

 
 

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“this school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (and still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other words,...

 
 

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced the Charter School Accountability Act. In making his case for charter school reform, Senator Brown cites a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showing Ohio charter students lagging their peers in traditional public schools on state assessments.

“While presumably well intentioned, Senator Brown’s effort to scale up federal involvement in public charter schools nationwide based upon a situation in Ohio misses the mark,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Making matters worse, it seemingly ignores the tremendous state work undertaken over the last six months by Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature to craft the most comprehensive charter school reform legislation in the state’s history—a version of which has already passed both the Ohio House and Senate.”

Senator Brown has also offered the bill language as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act currently under consideration. Announcement of the legislation was met with strong support from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“Unfortunately, Senator Brown’s proposal goes well beyond simply strengthening accountability and transparency,” Aldis added. “The inclusion...

 
 

In 2007, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published what was probably the most influential study in our eighteen-year history: The Proficiency Illusion. Using data from state tests and NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress, our partners at NWEA estimated the “proficiency cut scores” of most of the states in the country. We expected to find a race to the bottom during the No Child Left Behind era; instead we found a walk to the middle. Importantly, though, we also demonstrated the vast discrepancies from state to state—and within states, from subject to subject and even grade to grade—when it came to what counted as “proficient.”  Checker and I wrote in the foreword:

What does it mean for standards-based reform in general and NCLB in particular? It means big trouble—and those who care about strengthening U.S. K–12 education should be furious. There’s all this testing—too much, surely—yet the testing enterprise is unbelievably slipshod. It’s not just that results vary, but that they vary almost randomly, erratically, from place to place and grade to grade and year to year in ways that have little or nothing to do with true differences in pupil achievement. America...

 
 

A decade ago, I became fixated on what I saw as the biggest problem in K–12 education—that we continued to assign low-income inner-city kids to persistently failing schools.

My study eventually led me to conclude that we actually had a system-level problem: The existence of long-failing schools was a symptom of the urban school district. Its fundamental characteristics—functioning as a city’s monopoly public school operator; assigning kids based on home address; coping with constraining civil service, tenure, and labor contract rules; enduring toxic school board politics—inhibited the progress our kids so desperately needed.

So I started thinking about a new way of delivering, organizing, and managing a system of urban schools. I first wrote about it in “Wave of the Future,” extended the idea in “The Turnaround Fallacy,” and filled out the argument in The Urban School System of the Future.

The basic idea is that families are empowered to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their kids. A wide array of operators—across the district, charter, and private school sectors—are allowed to offer a diverse selection...

 
 

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each...

 
 

A few weeks ago, I used a graphic to show the four dimensions of federal accountability, each of which has a range of options. I then used this graphic to show the consensus for preserving NCLB testing.

Here I used it to show how eleven major ESEA reauthorization proposals address the other dimensions (remember, minimum federal accountability is on the left; maximum on the right). The total picture is as confusing as subway map.

But when broken down, the graphic reveals three distinct approaches, one of which offers the best chance at reauthorization.

Federal Prescription

Several proposals that appeared in the testing-alone graphic do not appear here because they didn’t take clear positions on the dimensions beyond testing. Of those remaining, four embrace what I call Federal Prescription. Their underlying logic is: If we want states, districts, and schools to get better results, the feds must tell them what to do.

NCLB is current law and represents the most expansive federal role on the table. It mandates and specifies performance targets (100 percent proficiency, Adequate Yearly Progress, etc.); creates mandatory, specified performance categories (“in...

 
 

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