What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

Effective schools raise scores, not cognition

Effective schools — as measured by raising test scores — don’t raise students’ cognitive abilities, concludes a study of 32 Boston schools. Instead, these schools help students achieve at higher levels than their cognitive abilities predict, write the researchers in Education Next.

The study evaluated state test scores and measures of “fluid cognitive skills” for 1,300 8th graders attending traditional public schools, exam schools that admit only academically talented students and charter schools.


Charter schools with wait lists (and lotteries) showed the strongest results. “Each year of attendance at an oversubscribed charter school increased the math test scores of students in the sample by roughly 50 percent over the progress typical students make in a school year, but had no impact on their fluid cognitive skills.”


State tests measure “crystallized knowledge,” which “matters a great deal for success in school and beyond,” the researchers write.

But it’s possible that students who do well in these schools but falter in college suffer from limited cognitive skills. Effective schools should experiment with ways to raise students’ “processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning skills,” researchers conclude.

Tests don’t show how you’re special

This headteacher's letter to year 6 students at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire has become an internet sensation

Tests don’t measure children’s “special and unique” qualities, a British head teacher wrote to six-year-olds and their parents. “The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.”

Good teaching, poor test scores

Evaluating teachers based partly on student test scores is unreliable, concludes a study in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Researchers analyzed a subsample of 327 fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and English-language-arts teachers across six school districts.

“Some teachers who were well-regarded based on student surveys, classroom observances by principals and other indicators of quality had students who scored poorly on tests,” reports the Washington Post. Some poorly regarded teachers had students who did well.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia require student achievement to be a “significant” or the “most significant” factor in teacher evaluations. Just 10 states do not require student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations.

Most states are using “value-added models” — or VAMs — which are statistical algorithms designed to figure out how much teachers contribute to their students’ learning, holding constant factors such as demographics.

Last month, the American Statistical Association warned against used VAMS, saying that “recent studies have found that teachers account for a maximum of about 14 percent of a student’s test score.”

“We need to slow down or ease off completely for the stakes for teachers, at least in the first few years, so we can get a sense of what do these things measure, what does it mean,” said Morgan S. Polikoff, a USC assistant professor of education and co-author of the study. “We’re moving these systems forward way ahead of the science in terms of the quality of the measures.”

Schools get D+ from Students First

The nation’s schools earn a D+  from Michelle Rhee’s Students First. No state earned an A, reports U.S. News.

The group evaluated states on three policy areas: how well states “attract, retain and recognize quality teachers,” how well they give parents easily accessible information about their children’s schools and how well they spend public funds to support schools and teachers.

Louisiana (B-) and Florida (B-) earned the highest grades, followed by Indiana (C+). North Dakota, Montana and Vermont received F’s.

Fourteen states now assign A-F letter grades to schools or will do so by 2015, reports the Education Commission of the States’ new accountability database.

? All 50 states and the District of Columbia consider student achievement as measured by test results in their performance indicators
? 37 states and D.C. factor in student growth or improvement on tests in deciding school performance. That’s up from 21 in 2002.
? 44 states and D.C. consider graduation rates in determining school performance while 12 states include dropout rates.
? 9 states weigh growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students in judging their schools.

Florida was the first state to issue letter grades to schools in 2002.

Schools raise scores, but not smarts

Schools can improve students’ achievement test scores, but not their cognitive ability, writes Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American. Reseachers analyzed math and English scores and cognitive ability (working memory, processing speed, and abstract reasoning) among nearly 1,400 eighth graders attending traditional, exam and charter public schools in Boston.

“Good test takers tend to have high levels of working memory, processing speed, and abstract reasoning skills,” Kaufman writes.

Cognitive ability was associated with growth in achievement test scores from 4th to 8th grade. This is consistent with prior research suggesting that cognitive ability predicts academic achievement, but academic achievement does not predict cognitive ability.

Students in some schools showed growth in achievement scores but school quality “played little role in the growth of cognitive ability.”

Students attending a charter school as a result of winning the admissions lottery had higher standardized test scores compared to students who lost the lottery.

There was no difference between the lottery groups, however, on measures of cognitive ability.

Cognitive skills such as fluid reasoning and executive functioning (working memory and cognitive inhibition) affect many life outcomes, from school performance to drug use, Kaufman writes. The researchers cite “examples of targeted programs that increase cognitive control and reasoning.”

Christmas cheer raises scores

Christmas cheer raises test scores, concludes Brookings’ Matthew Chingos.

He crunches PISA data to show that scores are higher in countries where Christmas is a public holiday. (First step: Exclude Shanghai.)

That’s confirmed by NAEP scores on fourth-grade math performance from 1990 to 2013, which show test scores rise and fall with holiday cheer (measured by consumer spending in November and December).

Standardizing the NAEP scores and putting the spending index on a logarithmic scale implies that if we could just have about 30% more holiday spirit, our students would do as well as those in Finland!

Brilliant, writes Jay Greene. And the reason why “random-assignment and other research designs that more strongly identify causation are so important.”

How parents choose schools

Georgia parents don’t choose private schools for their test scores, concludes More Than Scores, a study of the the state’s tax-credit scholarship program by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Parents who chose to use the scholarships at private schools cared most about disciplinary policies, learning climate, class sizes, safety and individual attention for their children.

Since 2008, Georgia students have been able to receive scholarships to private schools through nonprofits, which are funded by individual and corporate contributions. Donors get an offsetting state income tax credit.

Only 10.2 percent rated “higher standardized test scores” as one of their top five reasons for choosing a private school. Parents were most concerned about finding a safe, orderly school.

Most popular among respondents were:

“better student discipline” (50.9 percent),

“better learning environment” (50.8 percent),

“smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent),

“improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and

“more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).

Low-income parents give top priority to graduation rates and college acceptance rates in deciding on a school.

Elite colleges ask more of homeschoolers

Are Elite Colleges and Universities Discriminating Against Homeschoolers? asks Paula Bolyard, a recently “retired” homeschooler, on PJ Lifestyle.
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Homeschooled student “enter college with significantly higher test scores than their public (and even private) school peers,” she writes. “They graduate from college at a higher rate­—66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent—and earn higher grade point averages while in school, according to one study.”

Princeton seems to get it, she writes. Applicants who can’t supply a traditional transcript can submit an outline of the homeschool curriculum.

Yale wants to make sure homeschooled kids are not socially awkward:

We look for evidence of social maturity from all our applicants and especially from home-schooled students. Your personal statement, interests and activities, and letters of recommendation should speak to your ability to integrate well with other students and tell us about your non-academic interests.

But elsewhere Yale says “academic strength” is the “first consideration” with “motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents” in second place.

“We’re going to want to know what the reason for homeschooling is,” a Dartmouth admissions official told Lindsay Cross at the Mommyish blog.

“Was the student busy with another demanding pursuit, like playing music? Were they traveling with their family? Was there a lack of resources in their area? Somewhere in the application, they’re going to need to explain.”

Private school students aren’t asked to explain why they didn’t attend public school, Bolyard points out.

Some elite colleges ask homeschooled students to submit additional SAT II test scores. That strikes me as reasonable. A straight-A student who’s been graded by Mom will need objective evidence of achievement.

But what about a teacher’s recommendation when Mom is the teacher?

In addition to a “not-so-subtle interrogation about the family’s choice to opt out of public education,” Brown also asks for “letters of recommendation from instructors who have taught you in a traditional classroom setting and who can speak to your abilities and potential in an objective way.”

Brown “would prefer not to receive letters of recommendation from your parents, immediate relatives, or from academic tutors in the paid employ of your family,” unless the applicant has no classroom instructors to ask.

Testing plus school inspections?

The English use school inspectors as well as centralized testing to provide feedback to principals, inform parents and identify “serious weakness,” writes Iftikhar Hussain in Education Next.

Inspectors visit schools once in three to six years. They observe classes, interview school leaders, examine students’ work and talk to students and parents. In addition, students take a national test at age 7, 11, 14, and 16.

From 2006 to 2009, 13 percent of schools were rated Outstanding, 48 percent Good and 33 percent were Satisfactory. Six percent failed: 4.5 percent were moderate fails and 1.5 percent required “special measures.”

Schools that receive a moderate fail rating are subject to additional inspections, with an implicit threat of a downgrade to the severe fail category if inspectors judge improvements to be inadequate. Schools that receive the severe fail rating may experience more dramatic consequences: these can include changes in the school leadership team and the school’s governing board, increased resources, as well as increased oversight from the inspectors.

Inspector ratings are correlated with student- and parent-reported measures of school quality, even after controlling for test-score results and other school characteristics, writes Hussain.

Fail ratings lead to test score improvements that are especially large for the lowest-scoring students, Hussain finds.  “These results are consistent with the view that children of low-income parents, arguably the least vocal in holding teachers accountable, benefit the most from inspections.”

Some U.S. education reformers see school inspectors as a way to hold schools accountable without relying exclusively on test scores.