Standards & Testing

Overview

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. 

Cheating

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

Multimedia

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.

Report

Measuring Innovation in Education
OECD

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As Education Debate Heats Up, Nicholas Lemann Holds the Line

Nicholas Lemann, of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and The New Yorker, speaks at the 67th National Seminar on May 18, 2014.

“I Walk the Line.” Nashville’s late, great Johnny Cash first sang that classic country anthem in 1956. This week in Tennessee’s Music City, journalists were urged to hold the line—as “the referee and truth teller in this fight we are having in education.”

The exhortation came from Nicholas Lemann, professor and dean emeritus at Columbia Journalism School, speaking at a May 18 banquet to honor winners of the 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting.

Multimedia

Asking the Core Questions

Asking the Core Questions

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute talks about some of the important questions to ask about Common Core assessments.

Recorded Monday, May 19 at Common Core: Realities of the Rollout, a special session held during EWA’s 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University.

Multimedia

Common Core: Test for Learning

Common Core: Test for Learning

Jacqueline King of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium talks about how the assessment experience will change under Common Core.

Recorded Monday, May 19 at Common Core: Realities of the Rollout, a special session held during EWA’s 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University.

Multimedia

Alabama’s ‘Uncommon’ Core

Alabama’s ‘Uncommon’ Core

Tommy Bice, Alabama’s state schools superintendent, talks about developing assessments outside of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia.

Recorded Monday, May 19 at Common Core: Realities of the Rollout, a special session held during EWA’s 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University.

Multimedia

The End of Test Prep

The End of Test Prep

Laura Slover of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers talks about the development of PARCC’s Common Core-aligned math and reading tests.

Recorded Monday, May 19 at Common Core: Realities of the Rollout, a special session held during EWA’s 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University.

Multimedia

Haslam Discusses Push to Foster College-Going Culture in Tenn.

Haslam Discusses Push to Foster College-Going Culture in Tenn.

Gov. Bill Haslam talks with education reporters about the hoped-for payoffs—and political trade-offs—of his initiative to boost the number of Tennesseans with education past high school, including through “last-dollar scholarships” that make two years of community college tuition-free. His remarks came during a keynote address on May 19, 2014, at the Education Writers Association’s 2014 National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Multimedia

Tenn. Gov. Haslam on What’s at Stake With Common Core

Tenn. Gov. Haslam on What’s at Stake With Common Core

Gov. Bill Haslam discusses why his home state should stay the course as supporters of common standards and tests work to fend off attacks from both the right and left on the political spectrum. His remarks came in a keynote address on May 19, 2014, at the Education Writers Association’s 2014 National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

U.S. Students and PISA: How Much Do International Rankings Matter?

EWA’s 67th National Seminar starts Sunday at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, which makes this a great time to catch up on your background reading for some of the sessions. Some of the issues we’ll be talking about is how education reporters can better use student data in their stories, and the finer points of comparing achievement by U.S. students and their international counterparts. For background reading, here’s my post from December on the international PISA assessment.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

High School Seniors’ NAEP Scores Stall

New data show that the performance of twelfth-graders in math and reading on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP, has not improved since 2009. The NAEP exam is regarded as “the nation’s report card.” Even more concerning, persistent achievement gaps remain between Latino and black students, and white students.

Key Coverage

Common Core at Four: Sizing Up the Enterprise

The Common Core State Standards have been reshaping the American education landscape for four years, leaving their mark on curriculum and instruction, professional development, teacher evaluation, the business of publishing, and the way tests are designed.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, EWA’s Emily Richmond talks with Phi Delta Kappa’s Bill Bushaw about a new Gallup/PDK poll on attitudes toward public education. Watch it here!

The PDK/Gallup poll generated some media buzz, and when viewed alongside two other education polls released this week, reveals a populace that has an ambivalent view on the state of U.S. schools. 

Catch up with news coverage of the polls’ results and responses from stakeholders below:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Government Report Suggests Racial Achievement Gap Narrowing

A new national study conducted by the federal government shows the achievement gap between white students and minorities has narrowed among nine and 13 year-olds since the 1970s, yet has remained mostly flat among 17 year-olds.

Released by the makers of the gold standard of student assessments, National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the newly published findings are part of an ongoing study that measure students’ understanding of mathematics and reading.

Below is a sampling of the press coverage.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

‘Nation’s Report Card:’ Urban Districts Making Long-Range Gains

Results are out for the 21 urban school districts that participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” and there are encouraging 10-year trends of overall improvement in reading and math in grades 4 and 8.At the same time, gaps persist among students from low-income families and their more affluent peers, for English language learners, and for many minority students when compared with their Asian and white classmates.(For a breakdown of the results, <a href=”http

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Webinar: A Look Inside the New GED

For millions of adults who never completed high school, the General Equivalency Diploma has been the gateway to careers and college degrees. In January, the process adults undergo to earn a GED will change radically.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Five Questions Education Reporters Should Ask About Teacher Evaluations


EWA headed to the University of Chicago last month with about 50 reporters from across the country for some frank talk about teacher evaluations. You can catch up with podcasts of some of the sessions here.

We also spent some time brainstorming story ideas, and I wanted to share a few of them – not all of them – with you. (Hey, there has to be some benefits to in-person attendance, right?)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Webinar: Making Sense of PISA

How will the U.S. fare against other countries when the results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 are released on Dec. 3? At our webinar Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. EST, we’ll discuss that question with Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education and skills, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Marc Tucker, president of the National Center for Education and the Economy.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core: Should States Slow Down on Implementing New Assessments?

EWA is holding a one-day seminar for journalists today at George Washington University on the new Common Core State Standards, and I look forward to sharing content from the event with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the rollout of the assessments tied to the new standards was the focus of one of the panel discussions at EWA’s 66th National Seminar held in May at Stanford. We asked John Fensterwald of EdSource Today to contribute a guest post from that session.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Common Core State Standards: The Hechinger Report Digs Deep

The new Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are poised to remake the business of schooling in the United States. While the education initiative started with a wealth of bipartisan goodwill, it has now engendered confusion and controversy, and a handful of states have dropped out or scaled back their participation. What will the new expectations really mean for how teachers teach, and students learn? And will states – and the public – have the patience to ride out the bumpy road of implementation?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Than Scores: Assessing the Future of Teacher Evaluations

I’m at the University of Chicago for the next few days for our EWA seminar for journalists looking at the current — and future — landscape for teacher evaluations. We’ll be posting content from the sessions, but in the meantime you can get up to speed with a handy backgrounder over on EdMedia Commons. You can also check out some recent posts I’ve written on this and related topics:

Webinar

Education at a Glance 2013: EWA/OECD Webinar
55 minutes

How much of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on education? How does that education spending break down for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education? How much private spending is dedicated to education, compared to public spending? What is the link between higher education degrees and unemployment rates in the U.S. and other countries?

Multimedia

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 3

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 3

Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist, is a strong proponent of investing early in children and disadvantaged families. During a Q&A moderated by the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero, Heckman fields questions on the the feasibility of basing policy around his research, paying for early childhood education, and the benefit of skills programs directed at older students.

Multimedia

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 2

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 2

Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist, is a strong proponent of investing early in children and disadvantaged families. As the talk continues, he discusses how early childhood interventions can affect skills acquisition later in life and the effects of education on achievement.

Multimedia

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 1

James Heckman at the National Seminar, Part 1

Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist, is a strong proponent of investing early in children and disadvantaged families. In part one of his talk he discusses the importance of parents, the limits of standardized testing, and America’s “skills problem.”

Report

How Well are American Students Learning?

Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning. That conclusion is based on analyzing states’ past experience with standards and examining several years of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Webinar

Behind the Numbers: What the SAT Scores Really Say
49 minutes

States love to brag when their SAT scores go up, and are quick to offer reasons why they went down. How can reporters see through the spin and put their states in context?

Holly Hacker, education reporter and stats guru at the Dallas Morning News, explains some basic statistical concepts using state SAT scores, showing you the biggest force driving those scores to help effectively and fairly compare your state with all the others.

While this webinar is focused on the SAT, these techniques are applicable to many other education issues.

Key Coverage

Test Scores Show Achievement Gap Narrows

“On average, 9-year-olds’ scores increased from 208 to 221, or 13 points, on the reading exam between 1971 and 2011-2012. With a score of 221, students are expected to “make an inference based on explicit information in a biographical sketch,” but likely can’t do things like find similarities between two characters or identify a paragraph’s main topic, the report says. Thirteen-year-olds’ scores increased by eight points, from 255 to 263, a level which means they cannot “support an opinion about a story using details.” Seventeen-year-olds only grew 2 points over that period, scoring a 287, a level at which they can “use understanding of a poem to recognize” the poem’s speaker but not explain key parts of the poem’s topic.” 

Organization

PARCC Assessment Design

PARCC Assessment Design is the website for the other consortium responsible for designing the assessments Common Core states will use, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness and College and Careers (PARCC). 

Organization

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a right-leaning think tank focused on education policy. According to its mission statement, the institute aims to advance “educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio.”

Report

NAEP Data Explorer

The NAEP Data Explorer program allows users to isolate scores using over 1,300 variables. Curious to know how books in the home correlate to NAEP scores? NAEP has the answer. TV watching time? Large city national results? Hispanics not on lunch programs versus Asians and Pacific Islanders receiving lunch aid? The NAEP data explorer allows you to do it all.

Key Coverage

Curriculum Matters

This web page compiles all of Ed Week’s “Curriculum Matters” articles on the subject of standards. It contains a good deal of the publication’s output on Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Report

States’ K-12 Test Security Policies and Procedures Varied

According to GAO’s nationwide survey of state testing directors, all states reported that their policies and procedures included 50 percent or more of the leading practices to prevent test irregularities in the following five areas—security plans, security training, security breaches, test administration and protecting secure materials. 

Key Coverage

Common Core Supporters Firing Back

Supporters of the Common Core State Standards are moving to confront increasingly high-profile opposition to the standards at the state and national levels by rallying the private sector and initiating coordinated public relations and advertising campaigns as schools continue implementation.

Key Coverage

Bush, Obama focus on standardized testing leads to ‘opt-out’ parents’ movement

A decade into the school accountability movement, pockets of resistance to standardized testing are sprouting up around the country, with parents and students opting out of the high-stakes tests used to evaluate schools and teachers. From Seattle, where 600 high school students refused to take a standardized test in January, to Texas, where 86 percent of school districts say the tests are “strangling our public schools,” anti-testing groups argue that bubble exams have proliferated beyond reason, delivering more angst than benefits.

Key Coverage

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

Key Coverage

Which States Have Academic Performance Targets That Vary By Race?

To date, the Department of Education has approved waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for 34 states and the District of Columbia. These waivers allow states to set new academic performance targets for their students, as long as they make substantial gains in reducing the achievement gap in six years. Because of this, 23 states have now set targets that vary by race. Included in the interactive map: States that have academic performance targets that do not vary by race. States that have academic performance targets that do vary by race. States that do not currently have a waiver.

They are still required by NCLB to have 100% of their students test proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Key Coverage

Relax, It’s Only a Test

In the 12 years since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, frequent high-stakes exams have become the norm at every public school in every state in the country. Standardized testing programs cost states a total of $1.7 billion yearly, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution. Poor performances on these exams can have severe consequences: students with low scores can be held back, teachers whose students do poorly can be fired, and schools with below-average overall results can be closed entirely.

Key Coverage

L.A. School District’s College-Prep Push is Based on False Data

Eleven years ago, the San Jose school district began requiring all students to pass the classes necessary for admission to the state university systems. Educators elsewhere watched with enthusiasm as early results showed remarkable success. But San Jose Unified has quietly acknowledged that the district overstated its accomplishments.

Key Coverage

Smarter Balanced Updates Common-Core Tech. Requirements

The document makes five recommendations to prepare schools for the new assessments.

  1. Move away from Windows XP (which is currently used by more than half of schools today) to Windows 7. Windows 8 might be acceptable, but further testing is needed. However, the assessments will work with Windows XP.
  2. Upgrade computers to at least 1 GB of internal memory. Most schools have already implemented this recommendation (63 percent, to be exact.)
Key Coverage

Vocabulary Test Results Show Top U.S. Students Losing Ground, Others Stagnate

If you can identify the meaning of the word “prospered” within a passage, chances are you know more vocabulary than most American high school seniors.
The results of the national standardized vocabulary tests are in, and the scores are troubling — but not unexpected — experts say. Average performance on the U.S. Education Department’s national exams was mostly stagnant at low levels between 2009 and 2011, and the highest performers lost ground during that time.

Report

Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems

The report identifies state collaboration on assessments as a clear strategy for achieving cost savings without compromising test quality. For example, a state with 100,000 students that joins a consortium of states containing one million students is predicted to save 37 percent, or $1.4 million per year; a state of 500,000 students saves an estimated 25 percent, or $3.9 million, by joining the same consortium. Collaborating to form assessment consortia is the strategy being pursued by nearly all of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards.

Key Coverage

School Testing In U.S. Costs $1.7 Billion, But That May Not Be Enough: Report

Matt Chingos has an idea that will likely roil the scores of parents and teachers who think the U.S. tests its students too much: we might actually spend too little on standardized testing.

In a report released Thursday titled “State Spending on K-12 Assessments,” Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, tallied up the cost of standardized testing, a subject that has fueled much debate and speculation. After sending out countless Freedom of Information Act requests and rummaging through boxes of documents, he arrived at an estimate of $1.7 billion.

Key Coverage

Feds: Teachers Embroiled in Test-Taking Fraud

For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. — himself a longtime educator — to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis. Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds — if not thousands — of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.

Key Coverage

Are You Tech-Ready for the Common Core?

School districts are raising concerns about their ability to be technologically ready to give Common Core State Standards assessments to students online in two years. Administrators say they remain uncertain about the types of devices to buy, the bandwidth they need, and the funding available for technology improvements.

Report

Great Expectations: Teachers’ Views on Elevating the Teaching Profession

The findings paint a picture of a new generation of teachers who have high expectations for their students and a strong desire to build a profession based on high standards. And while they are strikingly similar to their more veteran colleagues when it comes to certain traditional working conditions issues like class size, we found them to be more open to performance-driven options for how they are evaluated and paid.

Key Coverage

Florida’s Race-Based Goals for students Spark Debate

The board went on to adopt the item Padget had highlighted: reading and math goals for students that varied by race, among other categories. Ever since, Florida has been embroiled in a debate about the message sent by its new race-based academic targets, which are lower for black and Hispanic students than for other children. The state, for example, wants 90 percent of its Asian students, 88 percent of its white students, 81 percent of its Hispanic students and 74 percent of its black students reading well by 2018.

Key Coverage

The Schoolmaster

David Coleman is an idealistic, poetry-loving, controversy-stoking Rhodes Scholar and a former McKinsey consultant who has determined, more than almost anyone else, what kids learn in American schools. His national curriculum standards and pending overhaul of the SAT have reignited a thorny national debate over how much we should expect from students and schools, and how much is out of their control.

Report

State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition

CEP’s 11th annual report on state high school exit exams finds that states are embracing higher standards on their exit exams, which means schools and students will feel the impact. The report, based on data collected from state education department personnel in 45 states, discusses the present status of state exit exam policies, the future of these policies as states implement the Common Core State Standards and common assessments, and lessons that can be learned from states’ past experiences with implementing new exit exam policies.

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Common Core Thrusts Librarians Into Leadership Role

Like most school librarians, Ms. Hearne has been trained both as a teacher and a librarian, a combination she thinks is perfectly suited to helping students and teachers as the Common Core State Standards presses them into inquiry-based modes of learning and teaching. She helps them find a range of reading materials in printed or online form and collaborates to develop challenging cross-disciplinary projects. And like colleagues around the country, Ms.

Report

2012 Condition of College and Career Readiness

Using the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks and ACT® test scores, the Condition of College & Career Readiness reports provide national and state snapshots of college readiness of the graduating seniors of the class of 2012 who took the ACT in high school.

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Year Two of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: States’ Progress and Challenges

This report, based on a fall 2011 survey of 35 Common Core State Standards-adopting states (including the District of Columbia), examines states’ progress in transitioning the new standards.  The vast majority of the states in the survey believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more rigorous than previous state academic standards in math and English language arts.  The vast majority of survey states are taking steps to familiarize state and district officials with the new standards and to align curriculum and assessments.  However, most of the states in the sur

Key Coverage

U.S. School Excuses Challenged

Jay Mathews summarizes the recent findings of Marc Tucker, author of the seminal Surpassing Shanghai and head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, which compares the U.S. education system to those of other countries. The article is a compelling read that examines some of the flaws of demographic arguments analysts make about U.S. performance on international tests.

Report

Grade Inflation: Killing With Kindness

This study gives a multi-decade perspective on grade inflation at the high school level, helping to explain why students seeking entry into competitive colleges want to stand out by scoring well on the SAT and ACT. The urge to cheat on those tests is implicitly touched upon here.

Key Coverage

NAEP Shifting

This rejoinder to the general NAEP results coverage is a good perspective piece. The writer, a data analyst, explains that conclusions about curricula cannot be gleaned from NAEP scores alone. He also advises reporters on how to depict the data more fairly. Also read his comments on PISA scores.

Key Coverage

When test scores seem too good to believe

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Showing that publications can work together to examine a troubling national trend of suspicious standardized test scores, this enterprising series looked into many urban districts where low-scoring schools suddenly became poster children for boosting student performance. The series found that many of these districts had statistically improbable gains, calling into question the validity of those scores.

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Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum

This 2011 study also compares Common Core standards to state standards before they adopted common core. The conclusion is critical of the CCSSI, and the writers note the improvements are underwhelming. The report also compares Common Core standards to international standards.

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The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

This 28-page primer neatly explains how the U.S. stacks up against other countries on international tests, and what PISA, NAEP, and the CCSSI relate to one another. It also reminds readers the United States never compared well to other wealthy countries on international assessments. Also, a finding worth putting in quotes: “The public release items of the eighth-grade NAEP are, on average, two to three years below the eighth-grade mathematics recommended by the Common Core.”

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NAEP Long-Term Trend Assessment

The NAEP long-term trends report tracks proficiency in reading and math for 9, 13, and 17-year olds. Results go back four decades, and provide comparative demographic breakdowns.