Two weeks ago, Obama made waves in his State of the Union address when he called for raising the dropout age and requiring all students across the country to stay in school until they’re 18. One big solution to our educational crisis, he explained, is to simply not let kids drop out. (Or at least to make it more difficult for them to do so.)
If only it were that easy.
Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to which all students are held.
The truth of the matter is, we have yet to develop an education system that keeps students in schools, that holds them accountable to rigorous standards, and that helps them meet those ambitious goals. Therefore, by putting the focus on staying in school longer, without dealing with the very real challenge of how you ensure that the time spent in school is meaningful, Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to which all students are held.
This is a truth that Al Shanker recognized two decades ago. In the 1990 National Governors Association meeting, Shanker explained:
…if we had outstanding teachers and if we were to require students to take a tough curriculum, and if we were to give them homework to do and make sure that they did the homework, and if we didn't promote any student unless the student learned what he or she was supposed to, or graduate them, we would have schools just like the ones that I went
Since states began to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards en masse, the big question was how well those standards would really be implemented. As I’ve mentioned before, there isn’t yet a clear consensus about what Common Core implementation should mean for instruction. Nor are states necessarily targeting their implementation efforts on the highest-impact activities.
Enter the GE Foundation. In the hopes of providing a big boost to the Common Core implementation efforts, the foundation announced a 4-year, $18 million grant to Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by CCSS architects David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Sue Pimentel. According to GE, the grant will support several implementation efforts, including:
- Direct collaboration with teachers to produce and share examples and best practices of excellent instruction aligned with the Standards;
- A website, www.achievethecore.org, to distribute free resources designed to support teacher understanding and implementation;
- Standards Immersion Institutes designed to cultivate teacher experts who can build knowledge in their districts and states;
- The development of tools to track implementation and evaluate the quality of student work; and
- Partnerships with a network of non-profits to provide ongoing technical support to district and state leaders guiding implementation.
Of course, the pressure is now on to deliver on these lofty goals. There will certainly be other investments in nonprofit groups looking to provide school- and district-level implementation support, but this will undoubtedly be the largest.
In a strong initial move, Student Achievement Partners will hold no intellectual property rights over the materials they create or share—they will be open source and they will be provided at no cost. In addition, the group will
In the discussion about ESEA reauthorization, people on both sides of the aisle have recognized the importance of setting rigorous standards aligned to college- and career-readiness expectations. The Obama Administration has, for instance, required that states adopt college- and career-ready standards as part of its ESEA waiver process. Similarly, Republican-sponsored ESEA reauthorization proposals (which Mike wrote about in a post yesterday) also ask states to set college- and career-readiness standards for students.
While this focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important, it is also insufficient. After all, if we’ve learned anything from 10 years of NCLB implementation, it’s that the act of setting standards doesn’t translate to increased student achievement unless those standards are meaningfully implemented in the classroom. And, one of the most important things for states to do to ensure strong implementation is to hold students accountable for actually learning the content laid out in the standards.
While the focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important, it is also insufficient.
Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, too many states—even those with reasonably rigorous standards—have asked very little of students on statewide assessments. In fact, Fordham’s 2007 “Proficiency Illusion” report found that “the central flaw in NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes ‘proficiency.’” And so, as we look towards NCLB reauthorization, we should seek to right this wrong.
In 2005, Andy Rotherham gave two pieces of advice to education reformers struggling with the issue of variability in state content standards and proficiency levels:
First, to those worried that the new NCLB accountability provisions
Critics of “bubble tests” rejoice! The campaign against the use of multiple choice questions in state tests may finally be turning the tide. But, on the eve of this victory, it’s worth pausing to ask: is this actually a good thing for those of us who care about smart, efficient, and effective accountability systems?
Details continue to trickle in about the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessment consortia plans for their summative ELA and math assessments. Catherine Gewertz has dug into the RFPs for both consortia and shared some of her findings in an article published in Education Week yesterday. There’s a lot of interesting information, including the fact that both consortia appear to be moving away from multiple choice questions in their test designs. Gewertz explains:
Documents issued by the two groups of states that are designing the tests show that they seek to harness the power of computers in new ways and assess skills that multiple-choice tests cannot…
While the plans offer few details about how the new items will differ, or why it’s necessary to abandon multiple choice questions entirely, people across the education world will no doubt celebrate the demise of the multiple choice question.
Multiple choice items are, after all, the assessment items everyone loves to hate. Critics on all sides of the education debate deride “bubble tests” as the enemy of genuine learning and believe that our reliance on assessments that use multiple choice questions has forced teachers to “teach to the test” rather than focusing on helping students achieve deep conceptual understanding of critical content and 21st century skills.
But, perhaps we shouldn’t
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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