Standards, Testing, & Accountability

The annual ???????Quality Counts??????? report by Education Week, out today, ranks Ohio's education system as the 5th best in the nation. Some of their ratings are overly generous and it's easy to rank high among a low-to mediocre-performing pack, but all in all the Buckeye State should be proud of the improvements it's made to its public schools over the past 10 or 15 years. The report is based on the education provisions in place this school year, not the yet-to-be-implemented components of Governor Strickland's education reform plan, which makes me wonder, once again, why the governor felt compelled to completely overhaul an already decent school system (instead of following our advice to build on what was already in place)?

--Emmy Partin

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OhioFlypaper

Check out this special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly, a look back at the decade's most significant education events in Ohio. 2010 bring new opportunities for K-12 education in Ohio, but let's not forget the impact of things like DeRolph, the Zelman voucher case, Strickland's "evidence-based" funding model, charter legislation, value-added measures, and more, and their potential to shape (for better or for worse) education reform in the Buckeye State in years to come.

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Like other states, half of Ohio's $200 to $400 million in potential Race to the Top (RttT) winnings will be distributed to participating LEAs via the Title I formula. That $100 to $200 million pot may seem like a lot of money at first blush, but in reality it represents no more than about one percent of what the state will spend on education this biennium and roughly $55 to $110 per public school student. If not targeted toward spurring real reform, the risk is great that the money will do little more than provide a small, temporary boost to district bank accounts. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that's exactly what will happen here.

Ohio LEAs have until January 8 to sign on to the state's RttT application. At this point (and I must note that nothing is final and that the state still has a full month to work on its application), because of the political capital spent on his school reform plan in the last state budget, Ohio's RttT approach revolves around Governor Strickland's education vision and the changes he signed into law in July. While that bill contained reform-minded provisions in areas like teacher tenure and preparation, its hallmark was mandating a statewide, prescriptive, one-size-fits-all, inputs-based method for funding education--one that is far removed from student or school-based performance.???? Far from the type of reforms we hear Secretary Duncan pushing.

If Ohio's plan is built largely on already-mandated reforms and doesn't require heavy lifting...

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When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).

Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.

But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:

"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of...

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OhioFlypaper

This year, 18 urban school districts participated in the voluntary NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Math results were released today, and student performance in Cleveland might be the only thing in that city more depressing than the Browns.??

Whether you're wondering how Cleveland compares to its peer cities, or whether students have made academic improvements since TUDA was first administered in 2003 (as many cities' students have), the stats on both fronts are discouraging.

Among the 10 cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003, Cleveland is the only district whose scores have not seen an increase in either fourth or eighth grade.?? Compared to the other 17 cities, Cleveland ranks second to last (next only to Detroit) in 4th grade, and fourth to last in 8th grade (behind Detroit, DC, and Milwaukee). While we've lamented before that Ohio's NAEP scores are low (45 and 36 percent of 4th and 8th graders scored proficient or above, respectively), Cleveland's scores are even more painful in comparison: only eight percent of both 4th and 8th graders in the city scored proficient or higher.

Average scores for eighth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Average scores for fourth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Source: NAEP TUDA 2009 Math Results

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is preparing to...

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For the last month, we've been wondering whether Ohio would truly adopt the NGA/CCSSO Common Core State Standards , or whether the Ohio Department of Education would forge its own path in revising academic content standards so as to meet the June 2010 deadline. The issue was one of timing, as Common Core Standards won't be finalized until January, and this didn't give Ohio enough time to meet its June 2010 mandate.

Given that Fordham gave Ohio a "D+" in our last State of the State Standards report, and that we think the Common Core Standards are substantially better (see our latest report, "Stars by Which to Navigate"), the possibility of Ohio reneging on the Common Core Initiative was worrisome. Emmy wrote on Flypaper:

"What's the Buckeye State to do??? Should the state board of education risk non-compliance with state law and wait for the Common Core work to be finished??? Should state lawmakers revisit the law and extend the deadline for updating the standards??? Are other states in similar predicaments??? If so, what becomes of the Common Core Initiative?"

This week we got our answer, as state education officials announced that Ohio is fully committed to pursuing the Common Core Standards. According to the Columbus Dispatch:

"This decision means the department won't be releasing its own draft standards in English and math this month as planned, because most, and possibly all, of those updates will be scrapped."

...

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OhioFlypaper

On October 29, the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Frank M. Tait Foundation, and the Fred and Alice Wallace Memorial Charitable Foundation hosted an education forum in Fordham's hometown of Dayton to talk about the state of education in that city as well as Ohio and the nation.?? Our Terry Ryan was a participant in the panel discussion ???Making a Difference: What's Been Accomplished and What Needs to be Done,??? along with Tom Lasley, University of Dayton; Kurt Stanic, Dayton Public Schools; Margy Stevens, Montgomery County Educational Service Center; and moderator Scott Elliott of the Dayton Daily News.?? The following are selected segments of that panel.

Terry Ryan on Data Policies and Availability in Ohio

??

??Dayton Education Panel - Terry Ryan on Performance Data and Teacher Evaluation

??...

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Eric Ulas

You know that it's a stark indicator of the educational readiness of America's youth when even former military leaders publicly admit that too many young people are academically ineligible to be recruited.??

As Education Week reported today,??a national security??group comprised of former military officials released a report that says approximately 75% of Americans ages 17-24 are ineligible to join the military because they have not graduated from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit. (Keep in mind that the military lowered its admission standards to near abysmal levels in 2005-2006.)

Arne Duncan attended the press conference held to release the report to urge the passage of a U.S. Senate Bill that would provide funding to expand access to early-childhood education programs and enhance training. He had this to say in support of the bill:

"A quality education is really an issue of national security. If we don't educate our children well, we put our nation at risk."

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Standards-based reform in education is imperfect. The ways that states and districts assess kids, design tests, and attempt to hold teachers and schools accountable are bound to be flawed, lead to unintended consequences, and create many enemies along the way. But I wish the opponents of standards-based reform in Ohio would at least get a little more creative.

You may recall from a few months ago that Karl Wheatley, Cleveland State University ed professor, said the best way to improve education would be to "stop focusing on student achievement ." I outlined why I thought that was a bad idea here . The gist of his argument, believe it or not, was that because standardized testing creates "collateral damage," perverse incentives, etc. the best thing to do is to stop trying to raise student achievement.

Yesterday's op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch from another education professor, Thomas Stephens of Ohio State, comes from the same predictable script (aka "we don't like the focus on standards/testing/accountability so let's call for its demise-or at least replace it with a nebulous emphasis on problem solving and innovative thinking"). In "Standards obstruct education," Stephens argues that Ohio's decision to revise academic standards is a waste of time and money because, among other things, it "doesn't consider the needs of... children." This commentary uses the same creepy factory language intended to pit "standards-teach-and-test fanatics" against reasonable, warm-hearted education professors - e.g. "assembly-line-atmospheres" and the metaphor of children as widgets....

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A week ago, I posted this in response to Secretary Duncan's speech about education schools at Teachers College. Over the course of several days, there were 11 comments posted that, when printed out, clocked in at 20 pages (single spaced, mind you). What was all the ruckus, you ask?

It was a vigorous give-and-take between two loyal Flypaper readers, Ze'ev Wurman and Karl Wheatley. Ze'ev once served as Senior Adviser in the U.S. Department of Education and helped shape California's math standards; Karl is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Cleveland State University. Their long-winded debate started when Karl took umbrage at my accusation that education schools often don't deliver what all teaching candidates need-namely, a thorough understanding of the content they'll be teaching. By mentioning E.D. Hirsch's work, I thought Duncan highlighted the need for content-prepared teachers and content-rich curriculum.

Karl insisted that education professors (after all, he is one) ARE listening on this front, but that Duncan's proposals have "shown a weak grasp of the issues and what works in education." Eschewing "teacher-dominated" instruction, Karl goes on to say that "educational approaches with integrated, interest-based, real-life curriculum, substantial student choice, local control, and authentic assessment simply work better in the long run." Further, he insists that, "pretending a teacher who has content knowledge is ???highly qualified' is like pretending a plumber who owns a wrench is a good plumber."

Then Ze'ev picks up the gauntlet and reminds Karl of the...

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