Standards & Testing


Standards & Testing

There are few questions more crucial to the field of education than what students should learn and how that learning should be measured. This Topics section examines several currently hot topics – including common standards, international comparisons, and cheating – in the often-contentious realm of standards and testing.

There are few questions more crucial to the field of education than what students should learn and how that learning should be measured. This Topics section examines several currently hot topics – including common standards, international comparisons, and cheating – in the often-contentious realm of standards and testing.

While standards and tests have been part of American public education since before the 20th century, the modern push for standards-based reform is often traced to the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” Warning of a “rising tide of mediocrity,” the report prompted a surge of political interest in school reform that resulted in several unsuccessful attempts to develop national standards and tests. But while those efforts fell short, states took the initiative to develop standards on their own; between 1990 and 2002, most states developed specific standards for their core academic subjects, as well as tests that purported to measure how well students were learning them.

Yet many experts say the marriage of standards and assessments was not complete until after the federal No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2002. NCLB tied federal funding to a requirement that states administer standards-based tests to students in grades 3-8 and once in high school – far more testing than most states had previously conducted. The federal law also imposed an array of new consequences for schools that failed to show “adequate yearly progress” on state exams. But the law also left it up the states to determine where to set the bar on standards and tests. The result, many analysts argue, has been enormous disparities across states in what students are expected to achieve.

Despite those disparities, the nation has long had a common yardstick for measuring student achievement: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card.” NAEP exams are taken periodically by representative samples of students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades in various subjects. Though prominent and influential within the education policymaking world, NAEP exams do not provide student-level achievement scores, are not tied to accountability requirements, and are not linked to a specific set of standards being implemented in the schools.

Read the results from the most recent NAEP results in fourth and eighth math and reading, which were released in November of 2013. Something to note: The results can be interpreted in many ways. For some, nearly 40 percent of the tested population scoring at the level of proficient in math is a positive sign, given that in 1990 that was true for less than a fifth of students. To others, it means less than half of fourth graders are proficient in math, 

Push for Common Standards

With the Common Core State Standards, a new attempt is underway to wed standards and assessments. As of June 2012, 46 states plus the District of Columbia had agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards, which aim to spell out what students should know and be able to do throughout their K-12 education careers. Not all the participating states adopted both the Mathematics and English Language Arts portions of the Common Core; Minnesota elected to use their own Mathematics standards. 

Development of the Common Core State Standards was spearheaded by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit group Achieve, using private grant funding. Under the initiative, groups have organized to develop standards in mathematics and English Language Arts, as well as standards for literacy in the sciences and social studies. Meanwhile, two interstate consortia are creating related assessments, which are slated to be fully implemented in 2014-15 with mathematics and English Language Arts components for grades three through high school. Those consortia are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), managed by Achieve, and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), managed by WestEd. The process of building the assessments was funded through $360 million from the U.S. Department of Education with funds from the federal economic-stimulus act of 2009.

Among the factors seen as lending momentum to the common standards movement is the lackluster performance by U.S. students on international assessments, rising concerns about preparing students to compete in a global workforce, and the wide variations in expectations and performance among states. The Common Core initiative aims to erect instructional signposts that guide students toward an end goal of graduating from high school ready for college and careers. Among the concerns some critics of the standards have raised is the question of whether the standards-writers have strayed from content into pedagogy. Some critics have taken aim at the “publisher’s criteria,” which guide the development of curricular and instructional materials based on the standards, saying that the criteria include specific instructions on how teachers should lead lessons.

And in contrast to NCLB testing, Common Core involves states’ agreeing to set a single minimum “cut score” that students must attain on the tests to be designated proficient. The idea is to enable participating states to measure their student achievement against a shared yardstick. While each consortium will have its own cut score, supporters of the new assessments say that two cut scores among the participating states and the District of Columbia represent an improvement over the status quo of separate cut scores in each state.

The common assessments also are being designed to be administered electronically, a feature that advocates say will speed delivery of results. The two consortia also plan to offer several “formative assessments” over the course of a school year before the more high-stakes “summative” tests. Assessment planners maintain the additional periodic testing will allow teachers to better target student weaknesses ahead of end-of-year exams.

Education experts already have started to debate whether the Common Core Standards are more rigorous than standards currently in place. A 2011 survey of more than 300 school districts in the participating states by the Center on Education Policy found that roughly 60 percent of respondents believed the Common Core Standards are more rigorous than the ones they have been using. Yet some experts have questioned that conclusion. Likewise, some scholars have raised questions about whether the standards are likely to have much impact on raising student achievement. Even strong supporters of the initiative acknowledge that how states and districts implement the common standards and assessments will make all the difference in how they affect students and schools.

International tests

Part of the impetus for designing the Common Core State Standards was to catch up with other countries that place highly on international exams, including the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2009, students from dozens of countries, including 34 from the OECD, were tested in math, reading, and science. The U.S. ranked 25th, 12th, and 17th in those subjects respectively, among participating nations. The results, published in December 2010, were greeted with renewed calls for education reform and closing the international achievement gap. The 2012 results, which came out in December 2013, showed little change among U.S. students while a bevy of poorer countries saw considerable gains, and some like Poland and Vietnam surpassed the U.S. Fifteen-year olds in the U.S. were below average in mathematics, while in English and Science their scores were on par with the OECD average. More than a quarter of U.S. students finished in the lowest tier of math, while less than a tenth demonstrated skills that placed them in the top tier of the subject. Leading PISA countries had far more of their students place in the top tier than in the bottom rung. 

Some analysts have noted differences in how U.S. students from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds perform on international comparisons. For example, on the 2009 PISA tests, the gap in performance between rich and poor students in the United States was among the highest of all participating nations, while the countries with the top scores overall had smaller performance gaps between their students of different income levels. On average, various U.S. racial and ethnic subgroups perform differently on the exams, as well. For instance, according to the Education Trust, U.S. students classified as white or Asian-American scored similarly to students from such high-scoring countries as Japan and Finland. However, students from historically underserved African-American and Latino subgroups performed at levels comparable to students in lower-scoring nations, such as Turkey and Bulgaria. Despite the gap, the OECD notes that for the 2012 results, the U.S.’s share of poor students approaches the OECD average. OECD also writes America’s large percentage of immigrant students can explain only 4 percent of the country’s scores. Canada, a similarly high-immigrant country, performs better than the U.S. across all subjects. 

The OECD chalks up some of America’s middling performance to the low share of poor students who can be characterized as ‘resilient’ — meaning their scores are comparable to wealthier students despite their modest socio-economic backgrounds. In leading PISA countries, far more low-income students display such resilience. 

Another international exam worth looking at is Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), in which roughly 60 countries participate. Fourth and eighth graders are evaluated according to a rubric developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), of which the U.S. Department of Education is a member. The tests have been administered every four years since 1995. Results for 2011 were released in December of 2012. Here’s EWA’s summary of the findings. Previous results were posted in 2008 from the 2007 tests. In the most recent scores, U.S. fourth graders were bested by five other countries or sub–country groups like Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Russia, but scored higher than 40 other education systems (a term used by the group behind the tests to account for participants that technically are not countries). In general, U.S. fourth graders’ scores were more competitive relative to their peers when compared to how well U.S. eighth graders placed against their peers. The test publishers also tally results for select U.S. states, showing that Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Indiana fourth and eighth graders scored nearly as high as international leaders in math. 

A cross-country study released in late 2013 shows American eighth graders in most states test above average in math and science when compared to students abroad. Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont lead all U.S. states in science performance, besting 42 of the 47 countries that were evaluated in the study. Students in 36 states were above average in math, while those in 47 states reached that threshold in science. The report compared NAEP results to international TIMSS scores. 


PISA and TIMSS, like NAEP, are not high-stakes exams, and teachers and schools are not held directly accountable for students’ results on those tests. But when test scores carry immediate consequences – such as whether schools meet targets for “adequate yearly progress” under NCLB, or whether students earn admission to selective universities – cheating has emerged as a serious issue.

One prominent NCLB-era cheating scandal was the revelation in 2011 that 44 schools and 178 principals and teachers in Atlanta routinely erased incorrect student answers on standardized test sheets and replaced them with the correct ones. A state report on the scandal described efforts to exert pressure on those educators to improve scores.

One technique for uncovering suspicious test-score patterns is “erasure analysis,” which considers how many test answers are changed from wrong to right and how many students make the same corrections. The method involves calculating the likelihood of those wrong-to-right changes happening by chance, with very small probabilities signaling possible cheating. In 2011, USA Today used erasure analysis for a national series that raised questions about apparent test-score anomalies in six states and the District of Columbia.  

Among college-bound students, cheating of a different kind has been chronicled –students taking the SATs or ACTs for peers who pay for the service. In 2011, The New York Times revealed one such cheating operation on Long Island. Those reports led the College Board to alter its SAT registration process, adding the requirement that students upload a photograph of themselves so that proctors can ensure that the student sitting for the test is the one who registered.

Even though more universities are telling students that SAT and ACT scores are not mandatory, many postsecondary institutions rely on those standardized tests as a hedge against high school transcripts with inflated grades. For example, one 2009 study found that high school grade point averages rose among Virginia applicants without any corresponding uptick in SAT scores. — Mikhail Zinshteyn, December 2013

Latest News

Education Pick Signals a Change In Direction for Schooling 

Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to lead the state’s department of education, Frank Edelblut, has been a divisive pick for a typically apolitical, behind-the-scenes post.

Conservative groups have cheered Edelblut’s nomination, lauding his business experience and full-throated advocacy for alternatives to traditional schooling. Meanwhile, teachers unions and Democrats have slammed Sununu’s choice, calling the businessman and one-term state representative both unfit for the job and hostile to public education.

Latest News

The Education Buzzwords That Will Persevere Under Trump

Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos will almost certainly bring with her a new set of vocabulary terms, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Education Department will sharply depart from the education concepts the Obama administration either popularized or helped propagate. Education-related vocabulary tends to be needlessly clunky, but these 10 terms from the past eight years may—or may not—have some staying power.

Latest News

Trump’s Vision of Education Begins and Ends With Schools Being Bad

President Trump’s verdict on American schools in his inaugural address Friday was harsh: America, he said, has “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” But the United States really does spend much more per student than most developed countries, only to see disappointing results in return — something plenty of presidents have pointed out.

Member Stories

January 12-19
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

“While Trump spoke of his desire to reinvest in rural America, most of his education policy has had an urban focus,” Ben Felder writes for The Oklahoman in a story that’s part of a series leading up to the inauguration.


Kate Murphy of the Cincinnati Enquirer interviews the sexual assault survivor whose case launched a federal investigation of how the University of Cincinnati handles reports of sexual assault.



Examining the Utility of Achievement Levels for the ‘Nation’s Report Card’
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds that while the NAEP achievement levels for reading and math can be a useful reporting tool, they are susceptible to misinterpretation and misuse.  The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report said that users of NAEP data need more guidance on the interpretations and use of achievement levels.


Examining the Utility of Achievement Levels for the ‘Nation’s Report Card’
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds that while the NAEP achievement levels for reading and math can be a useful reporting tool, they are susceptible to misinterpretation and misuse.  The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report said that users of NAEP data need more guidance on the interpretations and use of achievement levels.

Member Stories

January 6 – January 12

More districts and states are enacting rules to monitor school water safety. “The action is an acknowledgment that the largely voluntary testing system present in most of the country isn’t sufficient,” writes Stacy Teicher Khadaroo for The Christian Science Monitor.

Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education with an important insight into the likely education secretary under Trump: “Ms. DeVos shows her belief in developing civil society through the contributions of individual citizens rather than government.”

EWA Radio

‘Quality Counts’ – Rating the Nation’s Public Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 105

Education Week’s Mark Bomster (assistant managing editor) and Sterling Lloyd (senior research associate) discuss the 2017 “Quality Counts” report, which examines and rates state-level efforts to improve public education. This year’s edition features a special focus on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind as the backbone of the nation’s federal K-12 policy. How ready are states, districts, and schools for the policy shifts — and new flexibility — on school accountability, testing, and teacher evaluations under ESSA, among other issues? What are some story ideas for local reporters covering the implementation? Also, which states scored the highest on Education Week’s ratings when it comes to student achievement, equitable education spending, and the “Chance for Success” index? How can education writers use this data to inform their own reporting?

Latest News

Opinion: I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems

When I realized I couldn’t answer the questions posed about two of my own poems on the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR Test), I had a flash of panic – oh, no! Not smart enough. Such a dunce. My eyes glazed over. I checked to see if anyone was looking. The questions began to swim on the page. Waves of insecurity. My brain in full spin.

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

Latest News

What Will Be Obama’s Lasting Education Legacy?

President Obama and his former education secretary Arne Duncan exercised more power and influence over education policy than many predecessors. The administration placed a focus on testing, trying it to federal funding. In higher education, he emphasized the importance of college and reducing student debt. Alison Stewart talks to Education Week’s Alyson Klein and Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Latest News

Nation’s Schools Get Middling Grade on Quality Counts Report Card

As a new political and policy era dawns in Washington, the status of the nation’s schools remains stable, though still earning a grade of C from Quality Counts 2017, the 21st annual report card issued by the Education Week Research Center.

The C corresponds to a score of 74.2, which is nearly identical to the 74.4 the nation posted in 2016, when it also received a C. The steadiness of national results, notwithstanding, a handful of states saw their scores increase or decline by a full point or more.

Latest News

Donald Trump and K-12 Education: Five Things to Watch in 2017

Happy New Year! It’s officially time to start writing 2017 on your checks.

The presidential transition means an especially busy start to the year. President-elect Donald Trump may not have talked much about education on the campaign trail, but the first part of the year will tell us a lot about the direction he wants to go and how much of a priority he places on the issue. What’s more, we’ll get a glimpse of how well he’s able to work with Congress on K-12, not to mention early and higher education.   

Here are five things to watch in the months ahead:

EWA Radio

Students Can’t Recognize Fake News. That’s a Problem.
EWA Radio: Episode 103

Benjamin Herold of Education Week discusses why media literacy is in the spotlight in the wake of the presidential election, and the troubling findings of a new Stanford University study that showed the vast majority of students from middle school through college can’t identify “fake news.” Why are so many digital natives flunking when it comes to evaluating the reliability of material they encounter online? How are policymakers, researchers, and educators proposing that schools address this deficit in critical-thinking skills?

Latest News

Great Divide: How Extreme Academic Segregation Isolates Students in New York City’s High Schools

A Chalkbeat analysis found that over half the students who took and passed the eighth-grade state math exam in 2015 wound up clustered in less than 8 percent of New York City high schools. The same was true for those who passed the English exam. Meanwhile, nearly 165 of the city’s roughly 440 high schools had five or fewer ninth-graders who took and passed the state math test in 2015.

Latest News

Massachusetts to Look Beyond Test Scores in Judging Schools

State officials are looking to broaden the way school performances are judged to comply with new federal standards, moving beyond test scores and graduation rates to other measures, such as the atmosphere a school creates and the availability of art, music, and college-level courses.

The goal is to provide the public with a more holistic view of the quality of education at each school in Massachusetts by shining light on areas that get overlooked in a state accountability system that maintains a laser-like focus on standardized test scores.

Latest News

What America Can Learn About Smart Schools in Other Countries

Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.

Member Stories

November 17-December 1
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members in the last two weeks

Who is Betsy DeVos? Dale Mezzacappa, Greg Windle and Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook team up for a closer look at the Michigan billionaire who is poised to become the next U.S. secretary of education. 


Latest News

Pearson’s Bet on Common Core Fails to Pay Off

Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education company, made a major miscalculation on the Common Core academic standards, expecting a windfall that failed to materialize as it headed into a downward spiral in sales, stock price and staff.

The company’s Common Core strategy ran into trouble on two fronts: It struggled to develop and deliver new digital courses on time, as the academic standards themselves faced a political backlash in which several states pulled out.

EWA Radio

‘Unprepared’ in Memphis: The Realities of College Readiness
EWA Radio: Episode 99

In a new series, Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jennifer Pignolet tells the story of Shelby County students working hard to make it to college — and to succeed once they arrive. And their challenges aren’t just financial: for some, like Darrius Isom of South Memphis, having reliable transportation to get to class on time is a game changer. And what are some of the in-school and extracurricular programs that students say are making a difference? Pignolet also looks at the the Tennessee Promise program, which provides free community college classes to qualified students, and assigns a mentor to help guide them. 

THANKSGIVING BONUS: EWA journalist members share some of the things they’re grateful for this year. 

Latest News

Can a President Donald Trump Get Rid of Common Core?

“Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”

So said presidential candidate Donald Trump in a campaign ad on his website.

To make sure there’s no confusion about where he stands on the learning standards that are now used by the vast majority of states, Trump also tweeted earlier this year:

“Get rid of Common Core — keep education local!”

The question for President-elect Trump and for the millions of teachers, parents and students living in Common Core states is pretty simple:

Latest News

State board approves science framework, first in nation

The State Board of Education on Thursday approved a new science framework that makes California the first state in the nation to produce a framework based on the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 grades.

“This has been a long time in coming. It is really an exemplar for the nation,” said Ilene Straus, vice president of the board.

Latest News

See Our Analysis of Where the Common Core Stands in States

As states continue to address the Common Core State Standards in various ways, more and more people have been wondering about the status of the common core nationally.

It’s a complicated issue, in large part because clear and direct repeals of the common core are not especially common. We last checked in on where common core stands last summer. Now we’ve updated our map to reflect the standards’ position in states. 

Latest News

Creating Measurement and Accountability Systems for 21st Century Schools: A Guide for State Policymakers

Because Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act last December, states are revamping their federally required systems to measure school quality and hold schools accountable for performance. But most are doing so based off a time when cookiecutter public schools followed orders from central headquarters and students were assigned to the closest school.

Latest News

National Science Test Scores Are Out, But What Do They Really Tell Us?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is called The Nation’s Report Card for good reason; the tests are administered the same way year after year, using the same kind of test booklets, to students across the country. That allows researchers and educators to compare student progress over time. NAEP tests serve as a big research project to benchmark academic achievement, but how well can a multiple-choice and short-answer test assess a subject as complicated as science? NPR reached out to science education experts to help answer that question.

Latest News

A Look at Alabama Math Scores: ‘We’re in Trouble’

Newly appointed state superintendent Michael Sentance, during his first work session, warned the Alabama Board of Education of a crisis in math education.

“We’re in trouble,” he said. 

The numbers he used as proof: scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also known as the nation’s report card. Alabama’s fourth-graders landed in 52nd place in 2015. All fifty states, the Department of Defense (DoD) schools and the District of Columbia are included, making that dead-last ranking possible.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Students Are Graduating, But That’s Not the Whole Story

As federal education officials tout a fourth consecutive year of improvement in the nation’s high school graduation rate, the reactions that follow are likely to fall into one of three categories: policymakers claiming credit for the gains; critics arguing that achievement gaps are still far too wide to merit celebrating; and policy wonks warning against misuses of the data.

Member Stories

October 6 – October 13
Here's what we're reading by EWA members

Learn about Finland’s transition toward a school schedule that merges multiple subjects into extended learning blocks, a move that could be the exception to the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Education Week’s Madeline Will has the story.

Melinda D. Anderson explains in The Atlantic how the “stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts.”

Member Stories

September 29-October 6
What we're reading by EWA members this week

In the first story of a new series for The Hechinger Report, Lynell Hancock writes about Greenville, Mississippi, whose school district was the first in the state to “defy the governor and voluntarily offer real choice for white and black children to enroll in each other’s schools.”


One year after the deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the unity and solidarity of the surrounding community hasn’t waned, Andrew Theen reports for The Oregonian.

Member Stories

September 23 – September 29
What we're reading by EWA members this week

Melissa Sanchez does some digging for The Chicago Reporter to learn that undocumented students represented roughly a quarter of all the learners who benefited from the city’s free community-college tuition program. Undocumented residents are barred from receiving federal aid for college.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education at Forefront in Statewide Elections

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock talks with students at the Billings Career Center in August 2016. The state's gubernatorial race is being closely watched by education advocates. (Casey Page/The Billings Gazette)

With so much attention focused on the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voters could be forgiven for forgetting they’ll be asked to decide plenty more in November. And the stakes are high for K-12 education in state-level elections, including races for governor, state education chief, and legislative seats, plus ballot measures on education funding and charter schools.

Member Stories

September 8 – September 15
Highlighting some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Melinda Anderson for The Atlantic: “The study suggests that as the portion of students of color in the school increased, so did the odds that the school would rely on more intense surveillance methods.”

Member Stories

August 18-25
A snapshot of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Many people might think corporal punishment in U.S. schools is practically nonexistent in the modern era, but an Education Week analysis found more than 109,000 students were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished at school in 2013-14, Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin report.


Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latinos, Standardized Tests and the Opt-Out Movement

Karen Falla of Univisión Dallas, left, moderated a discussion on standardized testing and the opt-out movement with panelists Peggy McLeod of National Council of La Raza, José Palma of the University of Minnesota, and Ruth Rodriguez of United Opt Out National (not pictured). Source: Leticia Espinosa/ Hoy

While the number of parents who opt out of having their kids take their states’ standardized tests has grown nationally, much of this movement appears to be made up of white, wealthier families. Latinos and other minorities seem to be less inclined to avoid standardized testing.

That should not be the case, said Ruth Rodriguez, an administrator with United Opt Out National.

Member Stories

August 12-18
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Who oversees a sexual assault charge on college campuses? There’s no set rule, and in some cases sports boosters adjudicate cases concerning student-athletes, reports Jake New for Inside Higher Ed.

After their son died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this couple began asking questions about the cancer risk students who play on artificial turf face. The culprit may be the shredded tire bits deposited between the turf’s fake blades of grass, writes Debbie Cafazzo for The News Tribune.

Member Stories

August 4-11
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

EdSource’s Theresa Harrington writes about a Common Core-aligned curriculum created by educators in California that includes shearing sheep and designing board games.


Parents in Florida are suing the state for a “13-year-old practice of holding back third graders who score poorly on the state’s spring reading test, arguing that more factors should come into play when deciding the children’s academic fate,” Jeffrey Solochek reports for the Tampa Bay Times.



The Learning Landscape
Bellwether Education Partners

This report examines the status of education in the United States by aggregating high quality research and data from numerous credible sources. Each chapter describes the context and the current state of play in each focus area — including student achievement, standards and testing; school finance, and charter schools, among others. It highlights key policy issues and trends affecting public education now and in the future. 


The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teachers’ Union Applauds Clinton Address, Except on Charters

Hillary Clinton shares her views and agenda for education in a July 5 speech to delegates for the National Education Association.
Photo credit: @KristenRec

Hillary Clinton vowed to be a partner with educators if she wins the White House, during a speech today to the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Clinton drew enthusiastic applause from National Education Association members for most of the address, including her calls to make preschool universally available, boost teacher pay, and ease the burden of paying for higher education.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee got a far more muted response, and even some jeers, when she made a positive plug — albeit very briefly — for charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Building Better Student Assessments

(Flickr/Federico Feroldi)

Some student assessments don’t look much like standardized tests at all, even when they’re being used for school accountability.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Is the AP Program Helping Disadvantaged Students?

Woodstock High School psychology teacher John Headley leads an Advanced Placement class discussion on classical and operant conditions. Woodstock District 200 in Crystal Lake, Illinois has been working with the nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools to be proactive about allowing more students to access AP courses. (H. Rick Bamman / Shaw Media)

Participation in the Advanced Placement program has more than doubled over the past decade, with nearly 2.5 million students taking one or more AP exams in 2015. But with that growth has come questions about the push to ramp up the AP presence, especially initiatives that target low-income and minority students.

How well do AP courses prepare students for the rigors of college? And are students who may lack adequate preparation benefiting from the coursework?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Testing and Test Prep: How Much Is Too Much?

Flickr/Jirka Matousek

It’s not hard to find a teacher willing to bend your ear about the volume of standardized testing in schools today, and the pressure for “test prep.” But how widespread are such concerns among educators? And what’s the on-the-ground reality they experience?

New survey data suggest these impressions about over-testing and test prep are more than just anecdotal: They are the norm for the majority of public school teachers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Why Do Massachusetts Public Schools Lead the Nation?

Massachusetts, a strong performer on both national and international educational rankings, is home to Boston Latin, the nation's oldest public school. (Wikimedia Commons/Daderot)

When it comes to the story of Massachusetts’ public schools, the takeaway, according to the state’s former education secretary, Paul Reville, is that “doing well isn’t good enough.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Trouble With ‘Girls Outscore Boys’ Headlines

A student works in a computer lab at a school in Portland, Oregon. (Flickr/U.S. Department of Education)

In an effort to measure students’ understanding of basic engineering and technology principles, a new national assessment aims to move beyond multiple-choice questions and instead focus on troubleshooting in real-world scenarios. For example, students are tasked with designing a healthier habitat for a pet iguana, or building safer bike lanes in a city.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Taking Stock of Student Testing

Panelists at EWA's National Seminar in Boston on May 2. From left: Michael Casserly, Linda Hanson, Mitchell Chester, and Andrew Ho. (Shirley Goh for EWA)

As states and districts debate which standardized tests are best for students, they are evaluating many factors, including curriculum alignment, the amount of time the assessments take, and how soon the results come in.

During an Education Writers Association conference in Boston this month, analysts and education leaders explored how students, teachers, and school systems are adjusting to changes in testing, and probed the challenges in making sense of this complex topic.


Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices

In the winter of 2015, the Center on Education Policy surveyed a nationally representative sample of public school teachers to learn their views on the teaching profession, state standards and assessments, testing, and teacher evaluations. 

The report, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, summarizes these survey findings, including responses indicating that public school teachers are concerned and frustrated with shifting policies, over emphasis on student testing, and their lack of voice in decision-making. 


Testing Pushback: Where Does It Stand? Where Is It Headed?
Teaching and Testing in the Common Core Era

Statewide standardized testing is facing strong criticism and public backlash; witness the opt-out movement that led many families in New York and elsewhere to skip Common Core exams last year. Will the opt-out campaign gain more adherents this spring? How are states responding to concerns about tests and their use? Will newfound federal flexibility spark further change?

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

SAT Makes Bid to Better Serve Poor Kids

David Coleman speaks to reporters at an Education Writers Seminar in Los Angeles, February 27, 2016. (Credit: EWA)

The SAT has been called out of touch, instructionally irrelevant, and a contributor to the diversity gaps on college campuses because the test arguably benefits wealthier students who can afford heaps of test preparation.

But now the SAT is fighting back. The College Board, the test’s owner, is hoping that a major makeover of the assessment that’s set to debut this weekend will persuade critics that students, teachers and colleges still need an exam that has been a centerpiece of the admissions landscape for 90 years.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A Global Lens on Teacher Quality

A classroom at the Turku University Teacher Training School in Littoinen, Finland. The country sets a high bar for entrance into the teaching profession. (Jari Sjölund/Flickr via Creative Commons)

High-achieving countries share some common practices when it comes to the recruitment, training and development of public-school teachers, according to experts at a recent Education Writers Association event.

A few years ago in Singapore, teachers in a high school English department posed a question: Would having students conduct live debates on an issue before they wrote persuasive essays about it result in more highly developed final papers?


National Benchmarks for State Achievement Standards
American Institutes for Research

State achievement standards represent how much the state expects their students to learn in order to reach various levels of academic proficiency. In the past, these achievement standards were used by each state to report adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind federal legislation, and are now being used for federal reporting under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.


National Benchmarks for State Achievement Standards
American Institutes for Research

State achievement standards represent how much the state expects their students to learn in order to reach various levels of academic proficiency. In the past, these achievement standards were used by each state to report adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind federal legislation, and are now being used for federal reporting under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Putting Global Student Tests, U.S. Rankings in Context

(Flickr/Global Panorama via Creative Commons)

Near the end of 2016, results will come out for two major international assessments — kicking off a new round of analysis and debate over the standing of U.S. students on the global stage.

“We are really covering the whole range when it comes to these international studies,” said Dana Kelly, an official with the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees the administration of both exams to U.S. students.


Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments examines previously unreleased items from three multi-state tests (ACT Aspire, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced) and one best-in-class state assessment, Massachusetts’ state exam (MCAS), to answer policymakers’ most pressing questions: Do these tests reflect strong content? Are they rigorous? What are their strengths and areas for improvement? No one has ever gotten under the hood of these tests and published an objective third-party review of their content, quality, and rigor. Until now.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Making Sense of Global Comparisons in Education

Chinese girls in their classroom. Shanghai drew widespread attention for its high test scores on PISA in 2012. Later this year, new results will be released for PISA and another international exam, putting a spotlight once again on how the achievement of dozens of countries and education systems compare. (Flickr/Brian Yap)

Nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. first got a snapshot of how its students compare with their peers in other countries based on a standardized test. The news was sobering.

“Look towards the bottom of this list, and see the U.S. coming in 11th out of 12 [industrialized] countries” in math, said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, pointing to a chart he presented last month at an Education Writers Association seminar in Washington, D.C. “Only Sweden scored below the U.S.”


Standardized Testing

The Council of the Great City Schools hosted a forum on the results of a new report on the effectiveness of standardized testing. Michael Casserly made opening remarks on the report, and then panelists that included Education Secretary Arne Duncan analyzed the data in the report.

  • This panel was moderated by Caroline Hendrie, EWA’s executive director.
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Exam Gives Glimpse of How Schools Stack Up Globally

Students work on a robotics project at the School of Science/ Engineering Magnet in Dallas, Texas, one of about 450 U.S. campuses using the OECD Test for Schools. The optional exam allows schools worldwide to compare student proficiency in reading, mathematics, and science. (Photo courtesy of Science/Engineering Magnet)

The many complaints about the large quantity of standardized assessments American students take may make giving another test a hard sell. But some U.S. high schools have recently added a voluntary exam that puts their student achievement in reading, math and science into an international context.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As ESSA Era Begins, Assessing NCLB’s Legacy

Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King visits a classroom in Tampa, Fla. The federal Education Department's reach has been scaled back by the new Every Student Succeeds Act, as Congress sought to transfer more authority over local schools back to the states. (Flickr/U.S. Department of Education)

America brought home a middling report card with 74.4 out of 100 points – a “C” grade — in Education Week’s 20th annual “Quality Counts” report this week, which ranks the nation and individual states on a variety of student factors, from test scores to graduation rates to “chance of success” later in life. (That’s about the same grade earned last year, as well.)


Quality Counts 2016: Report and Rankings
Education Week

The 2016 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report—Called to Account: New Directions in School Accountability—examines how new state and federal strategies are transforming the assessment of school performance and reshaping the consequences for poor results. The new Every Student Succeeds Act is widely believed to herald a shift in authority away from the federal government and back to the states and school districts. Pressure is also mounting for accountability systems to go beyond test scores and incorporate other academic and non-academic factors in meaningful ways.

Key Coverage

Test to Compare Broward Students to Others Worldwide

The Broward County School District will soon get a glimpse at how its students stack up against others around the globe.

About 12 schools have signed up to administer a voluntary new test to assess the attitudes and critical thinking skills of 15-year-olds. The exam measures a school’s performance against an international benchmark, and is aimed at helping schools improve.


Exclusive Access: Education Week’s ‘Quality Counts’ 2016

Exclusive Access: Education Week’s ‘Quality Counts’ 2016

EWA journalist members received an early opportunity to review Education Week’s newest Quality Counts report, which includes a special focus on school accountability.

As part of its annual Quality Counts report, Education Week grades states on a wide range of indicators, including the Chance-for-Success Index, K-12 Achievement Index, and school finance.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A View from Abroad: Exchange Students Highlight Differences in Schooling

A panel of exchange students spoke at EWA's recent conference on U.S. education in a global context. From left to right, they are Valentina Tobon of Virginia, Lili Hofmann of Germany, Chun-Te Wang of Taiwan, and Kamila Mundzik of Poland. Photo by Emily Richmond, EWA

Chung-Te Wang had never seen a calculator in school before traveling to the U.S. this year as an exchange student.

“We always calculate with our brain. No offense,” said the 16-year-old from Taiwan, spurring laughter in a room full of reporters at the Education Writers Association’s recent seminar on covering U.S. education in a global context.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Deeper Learning, Smarter Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond speaks to reporters at a seminar on motivation at Stanford in November. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

Since 2003, more information is produced every two days than the total sum of information produced between that year and the dawn of time, the CEO of Google said in 2010.  Easily web-accessible facts, names and articles have grown exponentially, so much so that some say students can’t be taught like they were in the past, when rote memorization was the gold standard for learning and information wasn’t at almost everyone’s fingertips.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Brazil Explores U.S.-Style Education Policies

A school serving one of the poorer neighborhoods in  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Flickr/Charlie Phillips)

Tying teacher pay to student test scores. Creating public schools of choice with private operators. Setting common standards for all students. Those issues probably are familiar to any American reporter who covers education. They are also becoming more and more common in Brazil, where many policymakers are deeply inspired by the American experience.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Growing Minds, Changing Math Classes

Jo Boaler speakers to reporters during EWA's seminar on motivation held at Stanford University in November (Credit: Stanford University/Marc Franklin)

As the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” plays out over the music video, the lyrics are a bit different:

“We will make mistakes…our method’s gonna break…not a piece of cake…we’re gonna shake it off, shake it off…”

It was in this video Stanford University Professor and author Jo Boaler says she was compelled to do something she didn’t want to do. “They made me rap,” she said. When her undergraduate students challenged whether she had a growth mindset about her rhyme skills, Boaler said to herself, “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna have to rap.”


Teaching & Testing in the Common Core Era


Despite persistent political debates, the Common Core State Standards are now a classroom reality in public schools across the country. Yet much is in flux as educators wrestle with how best to teach the Common Core — or their own state’s version of it — and some states rethink the tests tied to the new K-12 standards.   

Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel
711 S Hope St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ranking High Schools — in Finland?

A waterway in Helsinki, Finland, a country frequently held up as an international standout for its public education system. (Creative Commons/Dennis Jarvis)

In Finland you’re not supposed to wonder — let alone ask out loud — if one school is better than another. That’s because all Finnish schools are designed to be equal.

We Finns are very proud of our equal education system. In fact, education is the one positive thing Finland is known for all around the world. Our results in global assessments of 15-year-olds have won us international attention a small nation rarely receives.


Knowing the Score: The Who, What, and Why of Testing
Center on Education Policy

Recently, the amount and variety of testing occurring in public schools has received considerable national attention. To help parents, educators, policymakers, and others sort out all the differing information and opinions on testing, the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University has developed Knowing the Score: The Who, What, and Why of Testing.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What New NAEP Scores Can – And Can’t – Tell Us


For the first time since 1990, math scores dropped for fourth and eighth graders in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the country’s most respected tool for measuring how well students understand key academic concepts. Reading scores also inched downward at the eighth-grade level, staying flat for the fourth grade compared with 2013.


Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools
Council of Great City Schools

Testing in the nation’s schools is among the most debated issues in public education today. Much of this discussion has centered on how much we are testing students and how we use test results to evaluate teachers, inform instructional practice, and hold schools and educators accountable. A recent national poll by Phi Delta Kappa underscores the fact that the public at large is concerned about the extent of testing in schools, and these concerns are influencing how people think about the nationwide move to adopt and implement the new Common Core State Standards.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Post Poll: Parents Want Testing to Help Students

Public school parents generally support standardized testing but think there’s too much of it, according to a new from Education Post, a nonprofit communications firm led by former Obama administration education official Peter Cunningham. 

When asked how the test results should  be used, 65 percent of the responding parents said helping students should be the top priority. Only 21 percent wanted test results to be a tool for identifying ineffective teachers. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

PARCC Test Results Coming Soon, But State Comparisons Limited

(Flickr/USAG- Humphreys)

New details on Common Core-aligned assessments came to light yesterday, as officials with one of the state testing consortia shared information on cut scores for the roughly five million students who took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests this spring. In addition, the officials revealed the timeline for when those results will be made public.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Report: Skipping School Hurting Younger Learners


While too many students at all grade levels are regularly skipping school, many preschoolers and kindergarteners are missing nearly as much seat time as teenagers, according to a new report.

The lost learning time, particularly in the younger grades, translates into weaker math and reading skills that become long-term deficits for students even years down the road, according to the new report from Attendance Works, a national advocacy organization, and the nonprofit Healthy Schools Campaign.


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: Story Ideas That Shine


While it may seem that every back-to-school story has been written, the well is far from dry. Are you following the blogs teachers in your district write? Have you amassed the data sets you’ll need to write that deep dive explaining why so many local high school graduates land in remedial classes when they first enter college?

No? It’s OK. You’re not alone.

Key Coverage

Sean’s Story: One New Orleans Senior Struggles to Graduate

In first-period English class, a girl said she was tired. The teacher said she was, too. Several students put their heads on their desks and fell asleep.

Not Sean. He immediately took out his textbook, dictionary and folder. He took neat notes. He raised his hand to speak. This nice young man was determined to get back on track from the expulsion school.

Sean shared his story because he wants to be a role model. His goals are few, simple and hard: To graduate from high school. To graduate from college. To support his family. To be the inspiration he never had.


Is It Bon Voyage For No Child Left Behind?
Webinar on Federal Policy


Education Week reporter Lauren Camera, David DeSchryver, senior vice president of Whiteboard Advisors, and Bethany Little, principal at Education Counsel, break down the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for journalists.

Now that both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed bills renewing the act, journalists can examine the potential impact of the new provisions. Learn how you can cover these in your state and district and find out questions you should be asking.


Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ohio Drops PARCC Tests – Now What?

Graders from Pearson testing company review students' answer sheets for Ohio's PARCC assessment. (Patrick O'Donnell/The Plain Dealer)

Ohio is the latest state to back away from common assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards. In the face of strong political opposition to the tests (and apparently a lot of criticism from educators and parents), Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a budget bill last week that effectively prevents Ohio from using the PARCC exams in the future.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core Testing, Up Close and Personal

(Flickr/Todd Ludwig)

Usually, the best way to learn about a test is to just take it yourself.

Or at least that was the thinking at the recent Education Writers Association National Seminar session, “Testing, Testing: Trying Out New Assessments.” Journalists were greeted by a thick packet of test questions created for the two national assessment consortia that put together exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.


Who Opts Out of State Tests?
Matt Chingos
Brookings Institution

The 648 districts with complete data available had an average opt-out rate of 28 percent (the rates are averaged across the math and ELA tests). But weighting each district by its enrollment shows that an estimated 21 percent of all students at these districts opted out. The difference between these numbers implies that larger districts tend to have lower opt-out rates.


Blog: The Educated Reporter

Too Many Tests?


An opt-out movement gained momentum this spring, with tens of thousands of students sitting out of new standardized tests in states including New York, Maine and New Mexico.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a panel of testing experts gathered at the Education Writers Association’s recent National Seminar in Chicago to discuss the very predicament.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core Testing in Action: How Did It Go?

Flickr/Judy Baxter

This academic year marks a critical juncture for the Common Core, as most states started testing students on the standards for the first time. The beginning has had some rough moments, with thousands of students opting out of the tests, especially in New York and New Jersey, and technology glitches in some states disrupting the assessments.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Wednesday Webinar: A Reporters’ Guide to Common Core Testing


Almost from the outset, we’ve been warned that the implementation of new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards would be a bumpy road. But now that the first major wave of the testing is wrapping up, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess the situation.

Did districts conquer the expected challenges of the necessary technology upgrades? How many parents really did pull their kids out of testing? Where did things go better than anyone had predicted? And what’s up next on the testing beat? (Test scores, of course.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core Tests: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The phrase “Common Core test” turns out to encompass far more than most people realize.

At the Education Writers Association’s spring seminar in Denver on covering assessments in the era of the new standards, it became clear to reporters that there is no such thing as “The Test.” Rather, there are many tests, developed by different organizations all purporting to be aligned with the new Common Core State Standards.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students, Teachers Don’t Study The Way Science Says They Should

Henry Roediger listens as Bror Saxberg answers a reporter's question at EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago. (Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

Most students don’t study using methods backed by scientific research, panelists at the Education Writers Association’s deep dive on the science of learning told reporters in Chicago at the association’s 68th National Seminar.

“Why do people find learning so hard?” asked Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the April event.


NAEP 2014 U.S. History, Geography, and Civics Assessments

Nationally, eighth graders’ average scores on the NAEP U.S. history, geography, and civics assessments showed no significant change in 2014, compared to 2010—the last assessment year. However, several student groups have made gains. In 2014, eighteen percent of eighth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level in U.S. history, 27 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in geography, and 23 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in civics.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Educators: Common Core Standards ‘Are the Floor’

From left: Educators Luann Tallman, Mark Sass, Merlinda Moldanado and Kristy Straley talk with moderator Liana Heiten of Education Week at the University of Colorado Boulder on February 26, 2015. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

For teacher Merlinda Maldonado’s sixth graders at Hill Middle School in Denver, it’s not necessarily about getting the answer right. It’s not about memorizing procedures, either. If Maldonado’s classroom is clicking, frustration can be a good thing.


Too Many Tests?
2015 EWA National Seminar

Too Many Tests?

An ongoing “opt-out” campaign has stirred debate over whether students are over-tested., and what kind of tests are to blame. How much time – and money – do schools spend  on testing? A panel of experts explored the issue during “Too Many Tests?”

Here are the highlights of the discussion moderated by Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks. The panel included Matt Chingos of the Brookings Institution, Scott Marion of the National Center on Assessment, and Bob Schaeffer of FairTest.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Webinar for Reporters: PISA Gender Disparities

Flickr/COD Newsroom/Creative Commons

If you’re writing about gender equity issues related to student opportunity and achievement, you won’t want to miss Wednesday’s journalists-only webinar. Attendees will receive exclusive embargoed access to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based on the most recent PISA assessment. 


Making Sense of the Evolving Assessment Landscape
Covering Standards and Testing (Denver Seminar)

Making Sense of the Evolving Assessment Landscape

This school year marks the first time that most states will test students on the Common Core. At the same time, many states have backed away from their plans to use shared assessments and are choosing their own tests. Where do the states stand? How different will their new exams be from prior tests? And what are key questions reporters should keep in mind as they cover the first round of test results?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top Tweets: EWA Seminar Tackles Testing & Common Core

EWA members brainstorm story ideas at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Journalism on Jan. 12, 2015. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

EWA was in Chapel Hill, N.C. earlier this week for our seminar on covering assessments in the era of the Common Core State Standards. We heard from policymakers, elected officials, and educators about how new expectations are reshaping the business of schooling, particularly in southern states. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Report: Mexican-American Studies Breed Better Academic Performance

Studies show offering a culturally relevant education -- including courses in Mexican American studies and a mariachi band -- can improve academic performance among Mexican American students. Source: Flickr/ Justin Wagner (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Student participation in Mexican-American studies can be linked to better outcomes on state standardized tests and increased chances of earning a high school diploma, according to a recent report by the University of Arizona. 

The university researchers’ findings, published in the December 2014 edition of the American Educational Research Journal, reveal students’ chances of completing high school increased nearly 10 percent.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

From the Beat: Memorable Education Stories of 2014

Cadets celebrate graduation at West Point. A USA Today investigation of  congressional influence over the nomination process at elite military academies was one of the year's most memorable education stories. Flickr/U.S. Army (Creative Commons)

When you write a blog, the end of the year seems to require looking back and looking ahead. Today I’m going to tackle the former with a sampling of some of the year’s top stories from the K-12 and higher education beats. I’ll save the latter for early next week when the final sluggish clouds of 2014 have been swept away, and a bright new sky awaits us in 2015. (Yes, I’m an optimist.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Than Fun: Games That Gauge Student Learning

Flickr/Michael Surran

Games might provide a better way for teachers to figure out what students know.

Some say this playful format can provide teachers with serious information if the games are intentionally designed to assess learning. This can be used to develop a more nuanced portrait of a student’s skills. And sometimes students don’t know they are being tested.


Making Sense of the Evolving Assessment Landscape
Covering Standards and Testing (DC Seminar)

Making Sense of the Evolving Assessment Landscape

This school year marks the first time that most states will test students on the Common Core. At the same time, many states have backed away from their plans to use shared assessments and are choosing their own tests. Where do the states stand? How different will their new exams be from prior tests? And what are key questions reporters should keep in mind as they cover the first round of test results?


Surveys: What Educators and the Public Are Saying About Common Core
Covering Standards and Testing (DC Seminar)

Surveys: What Educators and the Public Are Saying About Common Core

Lots of recent surveys have sought to gauge support by educators and the public for the standards and testing. Learn what the sometimes conflicting results reveal. And find out where district-level implementation of the Common Core stands, based on extensive national polling of school district officials.

  • Maria Ferguson, Center on Education Policy
  • Diane Stark Rentner, Center on Education Policy
  • Erik Robelen, Education Writers Association (moderator)

Taking Political Stock of the Common Core
Covering Standards and Testing (DC Seminar)

Taking Political Stock of the Common Core

It’s no secret that the standards and forthcoming tests have drawn increasingly strong criticism over the past year. Why has the Common Core become so controversial? What will the midterm election results mean for implementation and state support? And what happens in states that call for a review or even rescind the standards? Will much really change?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core Tests: Ready Or Not?

Students at Birch Elementary School in Reading, Mass. (Flickr/Heather Johnson, EOE)

From California to New York, educators have by and large maintained their support for the Common Core State Standards after putting the new grade-level expectations into action. But the new tests are another story, according to a panel of experts speaking at a recent EWA seminar at Stanford University.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Showing – Not Just Telling – Stories About Testing

An illustration accompanying a sample question from the new Smarter Balanced 11th-grade mathematics test. (Source: Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium)

By now, many education reporters have written many times over about a new generation of standardized tests coming this spring. Most of the time, reporters have little space and use shorthand to explain that the exams are supposed to be more rigorous and measure critical thinking. Often, there is too much telling and not enough showing.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Limits of Testing: Getting Beyond the Standard(ized) Story

Wealthy students have long outpaced their disadvantaged peers in American schools. That disparity bears more weight than ever as standardized tests become one of the main measures for holding schools and teachers accountable.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Impact Academy: Rethinking Student Assessment

Sophie Wellington at Impact Academy, Nov. 19, 2014. (EWA/Lori Crouch)

On a recent Wednesday morning, 11th-grader Sophia Wellington took to the undersized stage at the front of her high school gym and with seamless poise demonstrated what smarter student assessment could look like.


Covering Standards and Testing in the Common Core Era
Seminar for Journalist Members Only

This academic year marks a critical juncture for the Common Core, as most states gear up to assess students on the shared standards for the first time. Are states, districts, and schools ready? What about states that are reviewing or have rescinded the standards? How can reporters make sense of it all? There’s no shortage of compelling angles to pursue in this complex and fast-evolving story—rendered  all the more so by the political tussles erupting over the new standards and tests. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Talking To Teachers: Story Ideas For Reporters

For education reporters looking for story ideas, talking to teachers is a smart place to start. That was the key takeaway from the “Performance and Perceptions: Taking the Pulse of the Profession” session at EWA’s recent seminar on the teaching profession, held last month in Detroit.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

To Fight Test Fatigue, Scholars Call for Fewer, Harder Exams

Source: Flickr/Wonderlane (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s a counter-intuitive argument: The United States should spend more money on standardized tests.

With opposition to the new Common Core State Standards and the assessments linked to them reaching a fever pitch, advocating for better tests seems like an unpopular proposition. But what if U.S. students took fewer tests that measured their ability to understand academic concepts far more deeply than current tests permit?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Stand and Deliver: A School Where Students Defend Their Work

On Day 2 of "Bursting the Bubbles: Reassessing Assessments," journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Education journalists took a field trip to Impact Academy of Arts and Technology this week to see project-based learning in action, including observing classrooms and watching a student defend her project on World War II and the Holocaust. Check out some Tweets from the visiting reporters, as well as more highlights from the first day at the EWA seminar at Stanford University. (Also, check out this earlier blog post about our testing seminar.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tweeting on Testing: EWA Seminar at Stanford

Reporters got a feel for standardized assessments at EWA's seminar on testing at Stanford Tuesday. (EWA/Mikhail Zinshteyn)

How can assessments get beyond rote memorization and capture the skills most valued to prepare young people for college and the workforce? Can tests effectively measure critical thinking and creativity? Will standardized tests tied to the Common Core provide a richer picture of student learning?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Is Common Core a Recipe for National Curriculum? Survey Says ‘No’

Every time a new Common Core poll is released, a lot of people rush to find out what’s the state of public opinion on the standards. Or maybe to find out if teachers like the standards more or less than last year.

One recent survey, however, didn’t even pose the “popularity” question. Instead, it focused on wonky-sounding topics: “Curriculum and professional development.” But stay with me for a moment. This stuff matters — a lot.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Seminar for Reporters: This Is Not a Test

Amid the recent pushback against perceived over-testing of students, questions are being asked about how many tests schools should require and whether new measures being implemented will live up to the promise of providing more sophisticated achievement data. At the same time, there are new demands for accountability at the local, state, and national level — all of which require some form of quantifiable achievement data

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Much Time Do Students Spend Taking Tests?

Amid the strong and growing drumbeat of complaints about overtesting at the K-12 level, many education reporters and others may be left wondering how much time students really spend taking standardized tests. And who is demanding most of this testing, anyway? The federal government? States? Local districts?


Testing Overload in America’s Schools
Center for American Progress

Despite the perception that federally mandated state testing is the root of the issue, districts require more tests than states. Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams. Click here for study. 


A New Era for Educational Assessment

Among education researchers, there is a growing consensus that college and career readiness depends on not just academic knowledge and skills but on a wide range of social and developmental competencies, as well—such as the ability to monitor one’s own learning, persist at challenging tasks, solve complex problems, set realistic goals, and communicate effectively in many kinds of settings. Yet, most U.S. schools continue to use standardized achievement tests, focusing exclusively on reading and math, as their primary means of gauging student progress.


Bursting the Bubbles: Reassessing Assessments

Since the advent of No Child Left Behind 12 years ago, standardized, fill-in-the-bubble tests have become a major part of the school experience. Some say too much of a part. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Five Questions For… NCEE’s Marc Tucker
On School Accountability, Teachers, and the Common Core

Marc Tucker

Marc Tucker, president and chief executive of the National Center on Education and the Economy, recently unveiled a proposed accountability plan for public schools that includes significantly reducing the number of tests students take, and building extensive professional development time for teachers into every school day. He spoke with EWA.


International Benchmarking: State and National Education Performance Standards
American Institutes for Research

American Institutes for Research

State performance standards represent how much the state expects the student to learn in order to be considered proficient in reading, mathematics, and science. This AIR report uses international benchmarking as a common metric to examine and compare what students are expected to learn in some states with what students are expected to learn in other states. The study finds that there is considerable variance in state performance standards, exposing a large gap in expectations between the states with the highest standards and the states with the lowest standards.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

English Language Learners: Identifying Inconsistencies

Robert Linquanti discusses the various processes states use to identify English language learners. Source: Jay Torres, Diario La Estrella

Who are English language learners?

Some would argue there’s no consistent answer.

Robert Linquanti, the bilingual project director for English Learner Evaluation and Accountability Support at WestEd, presented on the topic at the EWA Spanish-Language Media Convening in Dallas earlier this month.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Waiver States, More Time for Teacher Evaluations

States receiving waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act are getting more time to grapple with how to conduct teacher evaluations using student test scores, particularly the new Common Core State Standards-based assessments.

According to Education Week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the postponement at an event on Thursday in Washington, D.C., which earlier this summer announced its plan to delay its new teacher evaluations.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Are 4th Graders Ready For Online Writing Tests?

Are fourth graders computer-savvy enough to have their writing skills measured in an online assessment? A new federal study suggests that they are, although it’s not clear whether old-fashioned paper and pencil exams might still yield useful results.


Prepping Our Kids for College: What Will the Next Decade Teach Us?

Prepping Our Kids for College: What Will the Next Decade Teach Us?

David Coleman accepted the challenge to rethink our children’s core curriculum across the nation. Now the architect of the Common Core is tackling the SAT and the testing that measures our youth for higher education. What’s up?

Speakers: Jane Stoddard Williams, David Coleman

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Atlanta Cheating Scandal: New Yorker Magazine Gets Personal

The July 21 issue of The New Yorker takes us deep inside the Atlanta cheating scandal, and through the lucid reporting of Rachel Aviv, we get to know some of the teachers and school administrators implicated. We learn not only how and why they say they cheated, but also about the toxic, high-pressure environment they contend was created by Superintendent Beverly Hall’s overwhelming emphasis on improving student test scores.


Measuring Innovation in Education

Do teachers innovate? Do they try different pedagogical approaches? Are practices within classrooms and educational organisations changing? And to what extent can change be linked to improvements? A measurement agenda is essential to an innovation and improvement strategy in education. Measuring Innovation in Educationoffers new perspectives on addressing the need for such measurement.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

An International Viewpoint on Vouchers

Some of these Swedish soccer fans likely went to a school that's part of Sweden's voucher system. (Source: Wikimedia)

Do choice and competition improve education systems? Plenty of advocates and well-heeled foundations think so, underwriting research and efforts to bring more charter schools and voucher programs to fruition. But in Sweden, the market dynamics of school choice seem to have produced troubling results for the Scandinavian nation.

Key Coverage

National Landscape Fragments as States Plan Common-Core Testing

Only a few years ago, the ambitious initiative to use shared assessments to gauge learning based on the new common-core standards had enlisted 45 states and the District of Columbia. Today, the testing landscape looks much more fragmented, with only 27 of them still planning to use those tests in 2014-15, and the rest opting for other assessments or undecided, an Education Week analysis shows.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core: Angles on Assessments

Jacqueline King speaks at the 67th National Seminar.

The current generation of assessments being taken by students across the country is something like a bad boyfriend. 

That’s according to Jacqueline King of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, who made the point at EWA’s National Seminar held last month at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. When a better guy (or test) comes along, she continued, it’s hard to take it seriously.

Key Coverage

Common Core School Standards Face a New Wave of Opposition

Opposition to the Common Core, a set of reading and math standards for elementary, middle and high school students that were originally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, has gathered momentum among state lawmakers in recent weeks.

The governors of Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering signing bills to repeal the standards and replace them with locally written versions. In Missouri, lawmakers passed a bill that would require a committee of state educators to come up with new standards within the next two years.