Standards, Testing & Accountability

Valentina is a legislative analyst for StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement working to improve the nation’s schools. 

Every year, Ohio’s public schools are responsible for educating 1.8 million students. To ensure that all students are making learning gains and meeting academic expectations, the Buckeye State needs a system in place to hold schools and school districts accountable for student performance. The Ohio Department of Education is currently redesigning Ohio’s accountability system, and lawmakers have promised to put a new Report Card system into law by the end of December.

In its ongoing efforts to improve student achievement, the Ohio General Assembly can benefit by understanding A-F accountability reforms in other states. Whereas Ohio’s current school rating system uses ambiguous terms like “effective,” “academic watch,” and “continuous improvement” to report on school and district performance, other states are moving towards easier-to-understand, A-F summative ratings. We at StudentsFirst recommend that states issue annual letter grades for all schools and districts based on student achievement. Implementing a letter grading system holds schools and districts accountable for the results they produce, provides parents with understandable information about the schools their children attend, and encourages school improvement efforts.

Done well, A-F rating systems place...

“Ladywonk” Dana Goldstein has written, and The Atlantic has just published, a mostly on-target profile of David Coleman, who takes the helm of the College Board in just a few weeks. This influential new role makes him—and his values, goals, and ideas—more important than ever in American education.

They were already moderately important, thanks to his previous role as a drafter of the Common Core state standards—and his subsequent advocacy for those standards.

The standards are strong, which is why advocating them is important and deserves praise. And David has indeed been effective, particularly in regard to the English language arts standards, his specialty and passion, although along the way he has been attacked by educators (and others) who either don’t believe that all kids are capable of rigorous academic work or who don’t cotton to the kind of deep analysis of literary and non-literary texts that David favors. (“Tell me what’s the evidence for stating that Brutus stabbed Caesar; don’t give me your opinion of whether stabbing is a nice thing to do—or whether you’ve ever been stabbed.”)

Maybe because Ms. Goldstein is, fundamentally, a person of the left (her main day jobs involve the Century...

As local school districts prepare to implement the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee, many are bemoaning the increased costs associated with providing more reading assessments and interventions to struggling K-3 readers (as required by law) and retaining more kids. The Ohio School Boards Association called the new law, and specifically its reporting requirements, “an unfunded mandate.”

The legislature did dedicate $13 million in competitive funding to support the new mandate, and last week the State Board of Education mulled recommending $105 million to support the law in the Ohio Department of Education’s FY2014-15 budget request. But would more money make a difference? Let’s take a look at the relationship between funding and reading achievement in the past.

Ohio had a reading guarantee on the books more than a decade ago (it was watered down before taking effect). At that time, with a governor (Taft) who had taken on improving early literacy skills as a primary policy objective and with the state coffers flush, Ohio poured millions into literacy improvement programs and professional development for teachers (via programs like OhioReads, the State Institutes for Reading Instruction, adolescent literacy grants, and summer intervention programs – to say nothing of...

Traditionalists cringe, tech buffs rejoice: This latest NAEP writing assessment for grades eight and twelve marks the first computer-based appraisal (by the “nation’s report card”) of student proficiency in this subject. It evaluates students’ writing skills (what NAEP calls both academic and workplace writing) based on three criteria: idea development, organization, and language facility and conventions. Results were predictably bad: Just twenty-four percent of eighth graders and 27 percent of twelfth graders scored proficient or above. Boys performed particularly poorly; half as many eighth-grade males reached proficiency as their female counterparts. The use of computers adds a level of complexity to these analyses: The software allows those being tested to use a thesaurus (which 29 percent of eighth graders exploited), text-to-speech software (71 percent of eighth graders used), spell check (three-quarters of twelfth graders), and kindred functions. It is unclear whether use of these crutches affected a student’s “language facility” scores, though it sure seems likely. While this new mechanism for assessing kids’ writing prowess makes it impossible to track trend data, one can make (disheartening) comparisons across subjects. About a third of eighth graders hit the...

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Channeling Rahm

Kathleen and Mike cross the picket line and ask whether reformers have gone too far too fast on teacher evaluations. Amber makes the case for front-loading teacher pay.

Amber's Research Minute

How Should School Districts Shape Teacher Salary Schedules? Linking School Performance to Pay Structure in Traditional Compensation Schemes by Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk - Download PDF

Ohio’s expanding attendance data scandal has the potential to match, if not exceed, the scale of recent test cheating scandals in big cities like Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles. And the longer it lingers on, the more that innocent schools and educators suffer.

Ohio’s “attendancegate” began in June when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus City Schools’ staff had erased more than 2.8 million student-absence days from its attendance system dating back to the 2006-07 school year and instead marked those students as having withdrawn, then reenrolled, in the district. According to the Dispatch, key central office administrators were each responsible for tens of thousands of deletions. The changes not only improved attendance records (one performance indicator on state report cards), but could also improve proficiency test scores. Only the test scores of those students who are continuously enrolled in a school from October until state tests are administered in the spring are included in the school's overall test scores and report card rating. For example, if a child moves among multiple schools during the year, his performance only "counts" at the state level, and does not apply to a particular school or district. Likewise, if school staff...

The flurry of legislative activity shot forth from federal teacher effectiveness incentives has made it difficult to keep up with state reform policies. Since 2010, states have built on existing policies, tossed out poor ones, and created others to address areas needing improvement. In Ohio, House Bill 153 (2011 biennial budget bill) made significant changes to teacher evaluations (see detailed coverage here). To track these changes, DC-based Bellwether Education Partners examines policies in 21 states that took major legislative action in teacher effectiveness in this report.

The Bellwether report focuses on regulations that link teacher evaluations to significant personnel decisions. Bellwether gives each state’s policies an “Effectiveness Rating” based on 13 criteria that address areas like evaluation frequency, inclusion of student performance, compensation as teacher reward, and tenure. States can receive up to one point in each area, for a possible total of thirteen. Bellwether awards states with points if their policies address critical areas of teacher evaluation to foster a “more performance-oriented culture.”

Among the top rated state policies are Louisiana (10 points), Florida (9.75), and Indiana (11.75). Forty percent of states received less than half the possible score (less than 6.5). Ohio received a 5.5...

Martin R. West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has authored a new study focusing on the pros and cons of state policies that require retention of third-grade students who do not test sufficiently proficient in reading. Such a policy has been in place in Florida since 2003 and that policy has been used as the basis for similar efforts in other states, including Ohio which this year passed and signed into law Senate Bill 316. This law will require third graders to read at a state minimum standard to advance to fourth grade.

These policies rest upon a number of studies that show that proficient reading is the bedrock of all other learning going forward, and that a lack of reading proficiency at this critical stage of learning development leads to lower outcomes over the long-haul (e.g., higher intervention needs and increased dropout rates). West adds to this literature by examining the educational path of Florida students who were retained in third grade in 2003 over the ensuing six years to determine what impact the retention had on those students’ academic advancement.

West finds a significant short-term achievement boost in reading in the first two...

Ohio’s expanding attendance data scandal has the potential to match, if not exceed, the scale of recent test cheating scandals in big cities like Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles. And the longer it lingers on, the more that innocent schools and educators suffer.

Ohio’s “attendancegate” began in June when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus Public Schools’ staff had erased more than 2.8 million student-absence days from its attendance system dating back to the 2006-07 school year and instead marked those students as having withdrawn, then reenrolled, in the district. According to the Dispatch, key central office administrators were each responsible for tens of thousands of deletions. The changes would not only improve attendance records (one performance indicator on state report cards), but also could improve proficiency test scores. Only the test scores of those students who are continuously enrolled in a school from October until state tests are administered in the spring are included in the school's overall test scores and report card rating. For example, if a child moves among multiple schools during the year, his performance only "counts" at the state level, and does not apply...

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