Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Tim Shanahan, Ann Duffett

As forty-six states and the District of Columbia implement the Common Core State Standards, questions abound regarding implementation, including the implications for curriculum and pedagogy. In Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, researchers analyze what texts English teachers assign their students and the instructional techniques they used in the classroom. This “baseline” study—with a follow-up slated for 2015—shows what the very early stages of CCSS implementation look like:

Most teachers believe that the new standards promise better learning for their students, and an overwhelming majority of teachers say that their schools have already made significant progress toward implementing the standards, including relevant curriculum changes and professional development.

But the findings from this survey also show that, for the most part, the heavy lifting of aligning curriculum and instruction to the rigor of the CCSS still lies ahead:

  • The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and that they are more likely to try to fit texts to skills than to ground their skills instruction in what is appropriate to the texts they are teaching.
  • The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess.
  • The CCSS call for students to have substantial experience reading informational texts (including
  • ...
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In Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, researchers analyze what texts English teachers assign their students and the instructional techniques they used in the classroom.

As a born optimist, I don’t generally enjoy being “against” reforms. This sometimes makes playing the role of gadfly challenging. If only I had the curmudgeonly qualities of Checker Finn, my mentor and boss, it would be so much easier. (Even Rick Hess, for all of his straight talk and fun-loving, bare-kneed exploits, is much more the natural cynic.)

So it brings me no pleasure to predict, as I have on multiple occasions, that the project to create rigorous teacher evaluations by fiat is likely to fail. But read this passage within a recent post by Megan McArdle (on Republican states actively working to torpedo ObamaCare implementation), and see if it rings alarm bells for you, too:

Obamacare is in jeopardy, and Democrats are casting around for a way to blame this on Republicans. The answer they have settled on: It's their fault because Republican governors did not set up exchanges.

Think about what they are actually saying: “We passed a law that was so incredibly fragile that it was destined to fail unless all the state governments controlled by the party that opposed this law worked hard to make the system a success.”

And

As anyone who has ever implemented a new program (corporate or government) can tell you, one of the biggest hurdles is getting people who don’t care about your program, or who actively oppose it, to make their piece work. Even if they’re trying in good faith,

...
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Throughout his tenure as Secretary, Arne Duncan has often told audiences, “Hold us accountable.” It’s an honorable sentiment from a public servant.

But it’s also a model of good behavior for those of us currently in the chattering class—commentators, pundits, critics, etc., who hold forth instead of fighting in the arena.

For some time now, I’ve been giving the Department a hard time about not releasing enough data on the performance of the SIG program—I’m trying to hold them accountable for the Secretary’s talk of turning around 5,000 persistently failing schools over the course of five years.

I suppose they will eventually give us some results, and I’m certain that I’ll have something to say about them.

But in the spirit of the Secretary’s refrain, I should be held accountable, too.

I publicly predicted—on numerous occasions—that SIG was not going to produce anything remotely close to the results the Department and others were promising. I was alarmed at how much we were spending on SIG and the awful track record of previous turnaround efforts, and I was sure that districts would pick weak interventions and that kids were going to continue languishing in these schools while we went about this misguided adventure.

Ultimately, the results will speak for themselves. But until then, here is a sampling of what I wrote more than four years ago. I caused a fuss about this program. If I got it...

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Holding schools accountable for student growth in a rigorous manner that doesn’t systemically favor one school over another is a vital policy objective. To this end, the Buckeye State has implemented a sophisticated (though not easily understood) value-added model to rate schools by their impact on student growth over time, while ostensibly holding constant other factors that could impact growth.

In previous blog posts, I looked at the correlation between school-level “overall” value-added index scores and (1) the school’s proportion of economically disadvantaged students and (2) African American students. The correlations are low. Evidently, Ohio’s value-added model does not systemically favor high-wealth, largely white schools over poor, largely minority schools. High-poverty schools, for example, can earn high marks on value-added just the same as high-wealth schools. The school-level value-added results stand in contrast to the state’s raw student achievement component, which disadvantages schools with mostly needy students. 

In this post, I look at the changes that Ohio has made in its value-added system, and what the distribution of the state’s value-added output looks like across schools under these revisions.

RECENT CHANGES

This year Ohio made several changes to the state’s value-added system. Previously, Ohio reported a 1-year value-added index score for schools and districts. This lead to some head-scratching results (see our 2010 analysis of the year-to-year “yo-yo” effect). Evidently, to mitigate this problem, the state reported a 3-year composite average—2010-11 to 2012-13—for schools’ overall value-added scores. In addition, the state reported for the first time...

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For some time now, I’ve been impressed by Tennessee’s Common Core implementation efforts. I even interviewed Emily Barton from the state’s department of education for By the Company It Keeps for this very reason (well, and because she’s generally exceptional).

Two recent documents along these lines are worth noting. The SEA released a short piece called “20 Things Every Tennessee Teacher Should Know about the PARCC Assessments.” It’s far more than your typical glossy communications piece. It actually has some serious content that should both inform educators and give confidence to leaders in the state that the SEA is on its game.

But even more importantly, it’ll probably help the state’s efforts to cool whatever anti–Common Core or anti-common-assessments sentiment that’s simmering. The document shows that PARCC is a serious effort to gauge kids’ progress toward college and career readiness.

I was happy they sent this along because part of my handwringing about PARCC’s troubles has been that it has felt like there’s been next to no active advocacy for common testing. To the extent the reform community’s talked about the consortia, it’s usually been reactive—pushing back against opposition. Documents like this (and I’m hoping other PARCC states have similar ones or produce them) can help the cause.

The other document is a pretty thorough—though user-friendly—analysis of TN’s 2013 writing test results. This might seem like a marginal contribution, but give it a look. It discusses major findings and their implications, provides recommendations for...

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Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Dear Deborah, A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences . In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in...
Opinion
As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down...
Briefly Noted
The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland . Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start...
Reviews: 
Radio Documentary
It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a...
Book
Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success....

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-...

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly...

It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a new radio documentary, Yesterday’s Dropouts, from D.C.’s WAMU radio station shows, a GED is far from sufficient to get America’s thirty million high school dropouts back on track. In fact, the piece cites research by James Heckman and Tim Kautz that found that only 1 percent of GED earners went on to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years! The piece is at its best when reminding us just how dire a situation we face, as students continue to drop out of high school and into an economy that simply isn’t creating good...

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—...

Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental choice, but they are concerned about the credit-worthiness of school districts. The latest Moody’s report shows that as charter schools gain public school market share in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., they’re putting financial stress on their local school systems, which have ended up with...

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