The OECD has released the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. Visit our collection of resources to help you interpret them in context.
Standards that Matter
On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. There was only one item of business: Signing the Constitution of the United States of America. Henceforth, September 17 came to be known as Constitution Day.
The Constitution established the framework for a government. A government dependent on its people for survival. So it seems fitting on this day in history to consider American students' performance in civics.
The most recent results available from National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) test in civics are from 2006 (the test was administered in 2010, but the results have not yet been released). On that test, we learned that about two out of every three American students at grades 4 (73%), 8 (70%) and 12 (66%) have at least a basic knowledge of civics.* That does not sound TOO bad, though it is certainly concerning that a third of our high school seniors do not have even a basic sense of civics--and these are the students who make it to twelfth grade. ...
Back in 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day. The goal? To highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and society. I’ll try to link to some of the reports being released today as they come out.
Just learning this occasion exists reminded me of a post of Robert Pondiscio’s that I saw recently on the Core Knowledge Blog, which referred to a post on Mark Bauerlein’s blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education that commented on an article that Pondiscio wrote with E.D. Hirsch earlier this year. (You’ve got to love the internet.)
The article doesn’t necessary embrace the international spirit of today, but it hits literacy on the head.
To be fully literate is to have the communicative power of language at your command—to read, write, listen and speak with understanding.
The Pondiscio/Hirsch article argues that reading is not a transferable skill, at least not entirely. A child may be able to master “decoding” but needs domain-specific content knowledge to fully comprehend what he or she is reading. And it argues that our current testing and accountability system for our public schools results in time wasted on reading strategies rather than imparting the knowledge that will allow our children to become truly literate, especially in low-income schools where children don't always get background knowledge from ...
The first paragraph of Education Next’s Grading Schools: Can Citizens Tell a Good School When They See One? discusses the widespread availability of school standardized test score data. Reading that, I thought I knew what the article would be about. Citizens judging schools based on test scores alone, rather than more meaningful measures. It resonated with me, because the same day I read the article, I had fallen prey to that trap. I was talking about a really great school...and talking only about its test scores. Someone called me on it. I could have mentioned the amazing parent engagement at the school. Or discussed how students at this school--over 90% of whom receive free or reduced price lunch--collected money to send to relief efforts in Haiti. In imparting such citizenship to its students, this school must be doing something right. I know all this, about this school and many others. But I still talk mainly about test scores. We do need to look beyond test scores in determining a school’s quality, but do most citizens actually do so?
Of course, by the end of the second paragraph I knew that was not what this article was about. Instead, it described a study that looked at whether citizens judge school quality based on performance data, or whether indicators such as the racial or class makeup of the school sway their perspective. An entirely different question, but also very interesting.
So I read the article. And while I am not sure I entirely trust their methodology, I am somewhat heartened to learn that citizens do judge the quality of their schools based on student proficiency rates in core academic subjects, not racial demographics. They do ...
The big education story these days is the chilling effect of higher cut scores on New York State tests. The miracle in New York City seemed a bit less miraculous after after the state raised the bar. Most of the sniping among pundits and wonks has focused on the extent to which the new standard undermines the claims of New York City's school reformers. But I think the story raises even bigger questions. For example:
Where Have the Media Been for so Long?
Cut scores have by all accounts been low since 2006, but, as late as 2009, only a few newspapers had addressed that fact. Critics like Diane Ravitch had raised the issue for years. In August of 2009, teacher Diana Senechal showed that students could guess their way to a passing score. Only in September did the New York Times cover that story--and their story didn't mention Senechal.
By the time the Times ran the story, state board Chancellor Merryl Tisch was already on the case. She had the real courage to declare the cut scores bogus and call for a higher standard.
But in this case, the fourth estate lagged behind. Given how heated and political the school reform debate has become, and how ready parties on all sides are to make grand claims about success or failure, that's bad news.
Why Do We Have Such a High Tolerance for Data that Obscure as Much as they Reveal?
The answer to that question is easy: politics. When so much of the debate is driven by ideology, PR and even fear, you can't expect truth-tellers to get rewarded. Those whose jobs depend on the scores point out problems at their own peril. Those who stake their political ...
As more and more states agree to adopt the Common Core State Standards, critics of the effort have been quick to point out that high standards don't guarantee anything. They're right. But that doesn't mean we should back away from the Common Core initiative. High standards are a necessary but insufficient step towards better schools.
Those who raise questions about standards are doing us a service. As Linda Perlstein reminds us, the two states that won the Fordham Foundation's highest marks for their English standards--California and DC--hardly boast the best NAEP results. Folks at the Cato institute, who hate the Common Core effort, are quick to make a similar point. These skeptics offer a useful inoculation against media hype. (Perlstein always plays this role with grace and skill.) They also underscore the point that standards alone won't do wonders.
But the presence of high standards in states whose students don't perform all that well doesn't prove much of anything. Take DC, for example. Its standards are still quite new, and some have credited them with DC's recent rise in NAEP scores. And California's low per-pupil funding levels, together with a whole host of other things, might hold it back.
Clear, high standards won't have much of an impact if the tests are no good, the curriculum is weak, and schools have little or no support to make standards mean something in the classroom. In Massachusetts, whose standards earn high marks, students score on par with students in nations that regularly top the international charts. Some observers see the state's strong tests, staff development for teachers and other supports as reasons for the state's success.
I can already hear howls of protest. This is all mighty speculative, I know. The fact is that it's very ...
Most people believe we can't be a prosperous nation if we're not a creative nation. But can we teach creativity without giving in to the gauzy, shallow, I'm OK, You're OK creativity exercises that drive traditionalists round the bend?
A recent Newsweek cover story by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman suggests that we can. In fact, its authors say we must, because our young people have been getting less creative over the past twenty years. What's worse, they claim, we don't seem to have any national strategy to tackle the problem.
In this country, we tend to believe that our Edisons and Gateses will come to us as naturally as the leaves to a tree. Our children's math scores may not always top the international charts, but darn it, we're a naturally ingenious bunch.
But new research is starting to shake that confidence, Bronson and Merryman report. Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary reviewed some 300,000 Torrance scores from the past half century and found that they have been declining since 1990. (Torrance tests are a common measure of creativity. They correlate strongly with "lifetime creative accomplishment," Bronson and Merryman report.) The decline is worst in young children.
But it won't do just to get in touch with our inner poets or to move all our mental furniture into our right brains. Creativity depends on steady commerce between the left and right ...
Stasia Honnold quit her job as a middle school English teacher. Why? She loved her kids, her colleagues and her principal. What she didn't love was the growing focus on multiple choice tests as a measure, often the sole measure, of her students' progress. When poorly applied, accountability regimes can drive good teachers like Honnold away from the profession.
We certainly need accountabiliy, but we have to pay close attention to how accountability--and the language of accountability--affects great teachers. As debates over school reform get nastier, teachers like Honnold can get labeled as obstructionists. What's worse, the very things that drew them to teaching can get lost in the din.
Let's not forget why great teachers are in the business in the first place. They love to teach, but they also love to learn. They're serving their students, but they're also serving their subject area. They see their subject's relevance to their students, but they also see its inherent worth.
In the end, great teachers want to uphold the value of intellectual work. They know that learning is exciting.
Those are the teachers we don't want to drive out of the profession. They're also the teachers who are most likely to decry the effects of standardized tests on schools. They don't want ...
Yesterday, the Learning First Alliance, which runs this website, released the following statement:
“The Learning First Alliance calls for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to promote improved assessment systems that better capture whether students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century. We believe reauthorization should support assessment systems that are designed to improve instruction and that:
- Use multiple sources to show evidence of student learning. These sources should reflect both progress towards and mastery of the skills and knowledge students need to be successful in the 21st century. In addition to test scores, measures can include writing samples, performance assessments, portfolios and capstone projects.
- Promote a broad curriculum that exposes students at all levels not only to reading and math but also to history, civics, science, the arts, world language, career and technical education and other important content areas.
- Use universal design principles to ensure that all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities, are fully and appropriately included in the assessment system.
- Include a formative assessment component and provide feedback on all assessments in a timely manner so educators may use results to inform instruction, guide and evaluate investments in professional development, and respond to students’ academic needs.
- Ensure that educators have access to professional development that supports their understanding and use of data.” ...
A few pundits in some powerful think tanks have started rattling their sabers at the Common Core State Standards. They're raising fears of government takeover and federally-imposed mediocrity. I think their fears are unfounded.
Over at the Heritage Foundation blog, Jennifer Marshall recently joined the chorus of nay-sayers. Her claims about the Common Core don't really stand up to scrutiny:
- Claim #1: Parents already have the information they need to know how their children are doing. State tests "let parents know how well their children have mastered the curriculum," Marshall writes. And the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) should set them straight about the quality of their standards, she adds.
I don't agree. Many states have notoriously low standards. The best that NAEP can do, presuming anyone will pay attention to it, is let parents know that their children's scores aren't telling them anything at all. (And let's not forget that many foes of common standards have also been foes of NAEP.) So how do you create a groundswell of support for higher standards under these conditions?
- Claim #2: Common standards don't guarantee high performance. After all, most high-flying countries have national standards, but so do most laggards, Marshall points out. True, but that just proves that common standards aren't enough, not that they don't matter. Without strong support for excellent tests, curriculum, staff development, and a whole host of ...
Will the humanities save us? It depends.
Wes Davis is among those who, in recent months, have portrayed the humanities as an antidote to the excesses that hastened our financial crisis. He tells the story of a big company that, a half century ago, sent its top executives to college for a year to get a crash course in the liberal arts. The executives read very widely and had discussions with leading thinkers. They loved it, but they also became "less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities." The program came to an end in 1960.
Davis mourns the loss of that program. "As the worst economic crisis since the Depression continues and the deepening rift in the nation’s political fabric threatens to forestall economic reform, the values the program instilled would certainly come in handy today," he writes.
I'm inclined to agree with Davis, but I think we have to be careful not to present the humanities as a cure-all. It's perfectly possible to venerate the great artists and authors while committing atrocities of the first order, so I'm not sure a fuller curriculum would, in itself, protect us from the kinds of dirty dealing that contributed to our current woes.
I'll focus on an extreme example--far, far more extreme than any of the worst things than ever happened on Wall Street. The Nazis embraced the humanities. Many of their leaders were aesthetes who celebrated poetry and painting. (Hitler began ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!