Articles in the Assessment category

The week in blogs

Georgia is looking to cut back on compensation for teachers with advanced degrees in areas not directly related to the core subjects, says Maureen Downey in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Get Schooled” blog.  Last year’s bill for all advanced degrees was $880 million, she says. But only 10.4 percent of these degrees were in core subjects, and nearly three times that many (31 percent) were in Educational Leadership.   

 “Your colleagues are taking the path of least resistance to get a pay raise,” Kelly Henson, the director of Georgia’s Professional Standards Commission, told teachers earlier this year at a hearing attended by Downey. “They are not getting degrees in the areas in which they teach. They are getting the easiest and most convenient degrees. They are getting degrees for the raise and not for how much it will impact their performance.”

Downey points to a RAND study that looked at student performance in 44 states between 1990 and 1996 and found that attaining a master’s degree had no measurable effect, in terms of student performance, on teacher quality.

Lawrence Hardy|November 12th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

The week in blogs

It’s three days before midterm elections. Do you live in a yellow state or a green state? Excuse me, Mr. Week in Blogs, isn’t it “red state or blue state?” No, we’re talking about the cool color-coded map from the Alliance for Excellent Education, which shows those states that have adopted common core standards as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (nearly 80 percent or, for the record, green), those that are part of the CCSSI but haven’t yet adopted the standards (yellow), and those that are not part of the CCSSI (Alaska and Texas, and colored, more conventionally, red). Click on your state to see where it stands.

Speaking of standards, there’s been some disturbing research recently showing wide variance in the content standards of various states  — indeed, it’s one reason for the CCSSI.  Now a new study by the American Institutes for Research shows that not only is there wide variance in content standards but in performance standards as well. So much so, reports the HechingerEd Blog, that, to cite the extremes, “Tennessee’s eighth graders are expected to perform at the level of Massachusetts’ fourth graders.”

But can they beat Wales? Say what? Well, according to The Core Knowledge Blog, British school children are about as clueless when it comes to their nation’s history as…. Americans? A story in the Daily Mail says many young Brits think that the Battle of Waterloo was fought in the London Rail Terminal and that the Spanish Armada is a  tapas-style dish. Or, as Core Knowledge quipped: “Spanish Armada please, and a pitcher of Sangria.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 30th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

The quiet crisis in adolescent literacy

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

When did you learn to read?  Kindergarten? First grade? Second grade?

Those are all good answers, but they tell only half the story. Because, if you eventually developed advanced literacy skills, you never really stopped learning to read as you moved through elementary and middle school and into high school. Gradually, as your skills improved, your focus shifted from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” as reading experts say. It’s a process that should occur by at least fourth grade, according to a new policy brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Unfortunately, many children never get to the “reading to learn” phase. While they may be able to repeat the words in a text, they lack the literacy skills to truly understand their meaning. These children, many of them poor and minorities, enter middle and high school reading at 4th grade reading levels or worse. And – not surprisingly – a large number of them fail.

A big problem is that many school districts aren’t designed to offer the kind of sophisticated reading instruction that young adolescents need, the Alliance brief says. Not enough high school teachers are trained in literacy instruction, and many high schools “silo” their subjects in ways that allow reading remediation to fall through the cracks.

The Alliance Brief is called The Federal Role in Confronting the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, but it has much to say about the responsibility of states and school districts as well. And it links to several other studies that offer districts all kinds of ideas for addressing a crisis that too often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 5th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The week in blogs

Still swooning over Waiting for Superman, NBC’s Education Nation, and Oprah Winfrey’s gushing praise of  D.C. Schools Chancellor (and “warrior woman”) Michelle Rhee?

What? You’re not swooning?

Whatever. For another view of all the hoopla, read Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, entitled “The Strange Media Coverage of Obama’s Education Policies.”  

“NBC seemed to take for granted that Obama’s education policies are sound and will be effective,” Strauss wrote. “Seasoned journalists failed to ask hard questions and fell all over their subjects to be sympathetic. It was a forum for people to repeatedly misstate the positions of their opponents.”

 Sort of like Congress?

No, this is not “The Week In Washington Post Blogs” but I also must mention Jay Mathews’ revealing piece on how quite a few education college professors still don’t “get it.” For example, Mathews cites a poll showing that only 24 percent of professors said it was
“‘absolutely essential’ to produce ‘teachers who understand how to work with the state’s standards, tests and accountability systems.’”

That’s odd. Because even if you are opposed to more and more standardized tests and state standards (and many teachers are, with some justification) you’d still have to learn how to function in that environment. I mean, I don’t relish going to the DMV, but I still have to get a license. (That makes sense, right?)

Moving on, Joanne Jacobs cites a New York Times story saying more schools are adopting Singapore’s math curriculum.  And finally, read Anne O’Brien’s blog on a book that says …  surprise! … research supporting No Child Left Behind is not necessarily very strong.

Now are you swooning?

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 1st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Schools serving at-risk students often punished, instead of supported

cartoon-school-marm-stick-punishHow should you NOT judge the performance of a school?

Well, if the school “caters exclusively to kids who have fallen behind,” it makes little sense to judge performance solely on how many students test at grade level.

But that’s apparently what’s happening to Positive Outcomes Charter School (POCS) in Camden, R.I. And that judgment, in theory at least, could require the school to surrender its focus on academically troubled kids—or risk being closed for poor performance.

Talk about a Catch-22. What’s going on?

According to the Dover Post, POCS, with a staff trained largely certified in special education, works with students in grades 7-12—two-thirds of whom have disabilities and who enter the school on average 2.2 grade levels behind in reading and math. The school specifically targets kids who are in trouble.

To no surprise, the school also is one of the lowest-performing on state test scores. And, as a result, the school was placed in the state’s new Partnership Zone, a designation that, the Post reports, requires the school to “undertake drastic measures to improve student achievement.” Those measures can include firing half the staff, conducting a top-to-bottom restructuring of the school program, or even closing them down.

Naomi Dillon|September 16th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

Working harder AND smarter

White House Photo

White House Photo

President Obama gave a great speech today about how America’s students need to work harder in school, said Jack Jennings, President and CEO of the Center on Education Policy.

But the President left something out.

“The element missing from that speech is that students and teachers have begun to work harder,” Jennings said. “We know this because we see American fourth- and eighth-graders showing greater mastery of reading and mathematics, as seen in both state tests and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”

The key phrase here is “as seen in both state tests and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” because previous research comparing state tests and NAEP have shown the same cohorts of students doing relatively well on state tests yet poorly on NAEP – suggesting that some states had lowered the bar for passing, or were in the process of doing so.

But in its study of 23 states released today, CEP found that, in the vast majority, fourth- and eighth-graders had improved on both NAEP and state tests between 2005 and 2009. (The report also provides individual state profiles.)

“When trends on state tests and NAEP have both moved upward in the same state,” Jennings said, “the base of evidence is stronger that students have actually mastered higher levels of knowledge and skills.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|September 14th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

Panicked by poor PISA test results, Japan hikes standards. Sound familiar?

Shuyukan Senior High School, one of the oldest high schools in Japan

Shuyukan Senior High School, one of the oldest high schools in Japan











The Japanese are freaking out. Faced with a decline in their international academic rankings, the nation’s policymakers have decided to add 1,200 pages to elementary school textbooks.

That’s about 6,100 pages total. Talk about cracking the whip.

What’s sparking this decision, which will see science and math textbooks, in particular, add 60 percent more pages than currently?

The Japanese media calls it “PISA shock.”

Naomi Dillon|September 9th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Governance|Tags: , |

What’s the best way to learn? Cognitive science offers some direction

1-1251554604ir6KI find the field of cognitive science just fascinating, especially as increasing research sheds light on one of the key works and mysteries of an effective school: discovering how the brain best processes and retains information.

I say mystery because while previous education research have led districts to adopt pedagogical approaches that embrace and adapt to children’s different learning styles, recent research and plain statistics prove it’s not that simple and, in fact, may even be off-course.

Indeed, a recent study published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal found no evidence to support the notion that some children are visual learners, while others are more left-brain, auditory, hands-on and instruction should be tailored accordingly.

“The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the study’s authors wrote.

Another gulf of misunderstanding: the best way to study. While many schools and colleges hammer in the importance of finding a dedicated and quiet space to do homework, repeated studies conducted over the last several decades have debunked this.

Naomi Dillon|September 8th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Educational Research, Governance, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

A “must-read” article on teacher evaluations

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It was a long time ago, but I still remember the multiple choice question I got wrong on one elementary school test, and the thought of it still bothers me.

The test was asking (for what reason, I can’t remember, or, more likely, never knew) the best way to dry off after going swimming. There were two obviously bogus choices, then the one I was going to choose – dry off with a towel – and then another: Let the sun dry you.

Hmmm: Let the sun dry you? I thought. Why not? It’s easier, feels nice, and is more basic. (I don’t think we used the word natural back then.) OK, I’ll pick that.


Why did it bug me so much? I think it’s because the test was telling me that I made a stupid choice, and therefore, must be stupid. Sure, the answer “dry off with a towel” was the most obvious — even I knew that; but it was also totally arbitrary, and I knew that too. I just didn’t have the words to express it back then.

I’m happy to say I made it through elementary school, nonetheless. But consider for a moment: What if that question, or others like it, had been used for a more consequential purpose – say, to evaluate my teacher on how good a job she was doing? The stakes would have been a lot higher than one 3rd grader’s bruised ego.

James Popham, an emeritus professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and a former president of the American Educational Research Association, has a name for multiple choice questions like that: They’re “instructionally insensitive,” that is, they do a poor job of telling the evaluator how well a given teacher is doing.

Unfortunately, Popham says in (Mis)Measuring Teachers, his must-read article in September’s ASBJ, the people developing tests to evaluate teachers have little idea how valid their tests will be. Yet everyone from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to state and federal leaders, to the heads of major think tanks are calling for instituting tests now that purport to measure how well teachers are doing based on the test performance of their students.

Lawrence Hardy|September 7th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The week in blogs

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It’s September, we should all feel renewed. So why does it still seem like the Dog Days of Summer?

(Maybe it’s the fact that here in Washington, D.C., we just experienced our seventh 90-degrees-and-counting heat wave of the season. But think positive: At least there’s a hurricane offshore to cool things off.)

In keeping with the weather, this will be a downer column. No, actually, more of a “debunking” column, because that’s what a lot of the blogs were doing this week.

Case in point: Look above at our own Del Stover’s post on the middle school experiment that failed. Why couldn’t we see it coming?

Next, there’s Joanne Jacobs’ review of Picturing the Uncertain World, which pokes holes in “The Small Schools Myth” among other suppositions based on questionable analysis. The example Jacobs pulls from Howard Wainer’s book is so basic, so elementary — well, you might find yourself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  

Lawrence Hardy|September 3rd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Educational Research, Educational Technology, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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