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Posted at 2:37 PM ET, 07/21/2010

Do high standards really help kids?

By Valerie Strauss

Today we learn from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that the proposed national math and English-language standards are “clearly superior” to those standards in most of the states. Well, so what? Are national standards an effective education reform?

A second report, coincidentally (?) released on the same day as the Fordham assessment of state standards, gives this answer: Not really.

Its author, William J. Mathis, managing director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, looked at the available research and concludes that there is very little evidence to prove that establishing national academic standards for K-12 schools will improve the quality of American public education.

“It is almost irrelevant,” Mathis said.

Let’s take it from the top:

The Fordham report, as my colleague 21/AR2010072100023.html">Nick Anderson reported in this article, compared the Common Core Standards for math and English language arts with those in the 50 states and Washington D.C. It concludes that the voluntary national standards -- which have been adopted by 27 states with perhaps a dozen expected to follow soon -- are "clearly superior" to the math standards in 39 states and to the English-language arts standards in 37 states, including Maryland.

The institute’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., does say that “good standards are not a cure-all,” a painfully obvious observation.

The institute’s report notes, Anderson reports, that the current D.C. standards in English are superior to the common core standards, even though D.C. public schools have long been among the weakest in the country.

This is where Mathis comes in.

He looked at existing research and in his report, jointly published by EPIC and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University, concludes that standards aren’t necessarily a bad thing but won’t by themselves improve student achievement and may take the focus on other reforms that do.

He says that high standards are all well and good, and nobody would argue against setting them. But without support for teachers to implement them and a linked curriculum, and without addressing out-of-school factors that influence student achievement, the standards have no real meaning.

“With almost two decades of experience with standards-based accountability systems, we have no clear evidence that they are particularly effective,” it says. “Beneficial effects on average test scores are minimal and some troubling evidence suggests negative effects on the achievement gap and the drop-out rate.”

Mathis takes issue with standards advocates, who argue that common standards are necessary for keeping the nation competitive in a global economy. He says there are no studies to support a true causal relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness; instead, research shows that national economic competitiveness is influenced far more by economic decisions than by test scores.

This matters because national standards have become a big deal in the Obama era. The Common Core Standards movement is led by the Governor’s Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers and its leaders say that the standards are voluntary.

But the Obama administration clearly wants states to adopt common standards. States that apply for funds from the administration’s main education initiative, the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, can win 70 out of a total of 500 points for development and adopting common standards and aligned assessments.

Any state wanting Race money would be silly not to join the initiative, and so most of them are -- whether they have any impact or not.

But what’s new in education reform?

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By Valerie Strauss  | July 21, 2010; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  National Standards, Research, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  accountability systems and standards, assessing the standards, common standards initiative, do we need national standards, epic, fordham institute and standards, fordham report, grading the standards, how good are the common core standards, thomas b. fordham institute  
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Comments

Most subject areas already have standards. The National Council of Foreign Language Teachers for example has national standards that many schools use when writing curriculum. I know other subject areas have similiar "standards".

Posted by: celestun100 | July 21, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools
New York Times

They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level. Second graders, for example, should be able to read two-syllable words with long vowels, while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.
.....................................
What a miracle this is for public education!

Unfortunately no one bothers to mention that we have had standards for public education.

Apparently for years every two years the government has been able to give national tests where all the states understood the expected levels of skills that would be tested.

But now that we have agreed upon standards we can see already see how this has improved public education.

Last week the Washington Post had a story of the DC school system stating rates of 44 percent proficiency for 2010 testing by DC. The DC school system has been a full proponent of adopting the new standards.

By using the new standards the DC school has been able already to achieve a miracle in public education with the rates of 44 percent in proficient students.

To understand this miracle just compare the 44 percent of students proficient in 2010 with the national tests in 2009 of DC that showed proficient percentages as low as 11 percent.

2009 national tests proficiency and above
4th grade math 17%
8th grade math 14%
4th grade reading 17%
8th grade reading 14%

Now that the new standards are adopted we can expect that the national tests in 2011 to show through out the country the miracle in public education that has occurred in public schools of Washington DC by the use of standards.

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Never mind whether the students will achieve more with national standards. I've wondered for some time who educators can claim that X percentage of students are reading below grade level, or Y number of fifth-graders cannot do fifth-grade math, when we have no definition of grade level or fifth-grade math skills. Standardized tests don't measure much to start with, and when we have no idea what level of achievement they are supposed to measure, the only thing they do is kill trees.

The main problem with national standards is that many schools will decide the minimum standards are the maximum and won't bother to teach anything else.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 21, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

sorry--"who educators can claim" should have been "how educators can claim."

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 21, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Mathis takes issue with standards advocates, who argue that common standards are necessary for keeping the nation competitive in a global economy.
............................
How can Mr. Mathis fail to understand the global significances of second graders being required to to read two-syllable words with long vowels, and fifth graders being able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators?

Of course none of the proponents of these earth shaking standards have recognized that setting standards does not mean anything in regard to students or children actually learning.

But imagine the strides the United States will make by requiring second graders to read two-syllable words with long vowels. From the internet it appears that parking is a two-syllable words with long vowels. Now if we also teach children the word no in the third grade, our children will be able to tell us where not to park.

I love to project the state standardized tests that will come from these standards.

State A
1/2 + 2/4 = ?

State B
14/334 + 45/86 = ?

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

What is wrong with Mr. Mathis?

Does he not understand that we need The Common Core Standards in public education instead of common sense in public education.

How can Mr. Mathis fail to understand the importance of second graders being required to to read two-syllable words with long vowels?

The children book publishers have already started an advertising campaign for their older books that are laced with two-syllable words with long vowels since they know American parents will want to prepare their children for this demanding standard.

Some of the private educational testing services are even releasing flash cards for two-syllable words with long vowels since they started working working with states to determine the lists of two-syllable words with long vowels that the various states will use in the class room to indicate if the requirement of two-syllable words with long vowels is met.

I only wish that The Common Core Standards had been more demanding and that 8th graders would be required to tie their own shoes.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Most subject areas already have standards. The National Council of Foreign Language Teachers for example has national standards that many schools use when writing curriculum. I know other subject areas have similiar "standards".

Posted by: celestun100
..............................
You may not believe it but according to the article in the New York Times the following is an example of the standards that have been accepted.
...........................
Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools
New York Times
They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level. Second graders, for example, should be able to read two-syllable words with long vowels, while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Well, some of the standards would be simple building block sort of stuff and then from there they would go on up to a harder level. I think they are just saying the kids have to be able to do those things you mention, but there should be more after that.

I think people are against standards because they want to see them set at the local level by their local school boards.

I don't think they are a silver bullet or anything, they should be useful enough that they give people something to focus on. I can't really speak for any other subject besides foreign language.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 21, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Standardization: From Carnegie Units to Common Core Standards (Guest Blogger is Steve Davis).

http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/standardization-from-carnegie-units-to-common-core-standards-guest-blogger-is-steve-davis/#comments

Posted by: stevendphoto | July 21, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Thomas B. Fordham Institute
are "clearly superior" ... to the English-language arts standards in 37 states, including Maryland.
.............................
Yes Maryland certainly has a problem since it ranks second in the nation with their average scores in 4th grade reading on the 2009 national tests.

If it was not for think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute we would not be able to tie our shoes.

I am willing to accept the conclusion of Valerie Strauss that when states need money they are willing to do anything.
Remember a state standardized test with 1/2 + 2/4 meets the rigorous new standard of fifth graders that should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I think people are against standards because they want to see them set at the local level by their local school boards.

Posted by: celestun100
..............................
These are supposedly new standards of reading and math.

The national tests for Washington DC showed a failure rate for 56 percent of students in 4th grade reading in 2009.

What is the point of these tests?

Washington DC certainly did not make 56 percent of the students repeat the fifth grade and does not have any program to separate these students from the other students that passed.

I believe the failure rate for 8th grade reading was 49 percent.

Tests are for indicating problems while everyone want to use tests of Title 1 poverty public schools to blame teachers. Teachers should not take this as personal since the janitors would be blamed if this was as plausible as blaming the teachers.

Apparently now we really need these new standards, even though we were giving national tests in math and reading for years and everyone in states understood the levels of education that were required by these tests.

It is game. Do nothing about Title 1 poverty public schools while pretending you are improving public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -- ok, and not to take up too much space here:

what is your solution to fix the Title 1 schools, in, say, the next ten years, without spending more money than we already spend in the District of Columbia (about the highest in the nation)?

Posted by: axolotl | July 21, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools
New York Times

They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level... while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators.
.............................
Expect substantial gains in the national 4th grade math tests in 2011.

Since fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators any questions regarding fractions should not be on the 4th grade national math tests.

This is how the game works.

I am sure the administration will be using the significant gains on the 4th grade national math tests as evidence of how they have improved public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -- ok, and not to take up too much space here:

what is your solution to fix the Title 1 schools, in, say, the next ten years, without spending more money than we already spend in the District of Columbia (about the highest in the nation)?

Posted by: axolotl
.............................
Unlike the politicians I actually do have a cost effective means of dealing with this problem.

How to fix the problem of education in Title 1 poverty public schools.

Test every child when they enter the public school system and place them in classes based upon their current abilities and skills so teachers can teach to the level of the class.

There are already tests for testing children prior to entering kindergarten.

Divide primary education in half with schools of K to 2nd grade and schools of 3rd to 5th grade. This allows you to use existing schools and staff. On this basis each grade will have 4 different levels to match the current skills and abilities of children.

Now you are maximizing education for children in each class room. This method also allows you to spend more money for children that need more help since children are in classes based upon their current skills and abilities. Teacher aids can be assigned to lower level classes to assist in raising the skills and capabilities of these children. This allows schools to pin point resources where they are most needed.

Yearly tests would be used to indicate the level children are prepared to go into for the next school year. Knowing the current abilities and skills in their class will allow teachers to use the teaching method best suited to the class.

Do this for three years and you will dramatically increase the achievement in primary Title 1 public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: axolotl
...............................
I hope that you will provide feed back on my plan.

I would like my plan adopted as soon as possible since I spend too much time on public education and the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools like DC when the solutions are obvious.

Rather spend my time on reading books.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: axolotl
......................
I should have mentioned that the testing done would not be outside expensive testing but the once quaint idea where a teacher was able to determine grades on a report card. Informal class tests would be used.

One of the responsibilities of the principal would be to review the appropriateness of tests. As a college adjunct teacher in the late 1970's I used a mimeograph machine to run off tests. A computer with a printer is far more cost effective than outside experts and standardized testing.

Too much money is being spent on standardized testing that only allows for bogus claims of improvement.

Ms. Rhee of course would have to go since this plan depends on see teachers as a resource in education and not a scapegoat for politicians.

Cost would probably be down from current costs.

An interesting thought is that there is no reason why for the 4th and fifth grade the same teacher should be teaching a class for a year instead of only having the class for half a year.

The organization of schools should be to obtain the maximum benefit for students and not for the convenience of school administrators.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

How can we get someone in office who supports true educational reform? Obama never will, so who will?

Posted by: jlp19 | July 21, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Well, we shall see, but I suspect there will never be true educational reform. It still depends on the parents, teachers and students and if those three fit, they will succeed even if they are wasting 2-3 months out of the school year on testing.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 21, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -- ok, and not to take up too much space here:

what is your solution to fix the Title 1 schools, in, say, the next ten years, without spending more money than we already spend in the District of Columbia (about the highest in the nation)?

Posted by: axolotl | July 21, 2010 5:47 PM
............................
Well it is 8:00 and there still is no response from axolotl in regard for my cost effective method of dealing with the problem.

I guess that axolotl really did not want a method to deal with the problem.

Here is a little tip for axolotl. When you are spending billions of dollars on totally flaw thinking there is always a plan. Simply do not continue to spend billions of dollars that does not. You may not solve your problem but at least you will not be wasting money.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

How can we get someone in office who supports true educational reform? Obama never will, so who will?

Posted by: jlp19
..............................
I do not want true educational reform to fix the deal with the problem of Title 1 poverty public schools.

When the toilet is overflowing I do not want a plumber that will reform the plumbing I want someone to deal with the problems.

Reform is when you have crooks in government. Wonder what the word is when you have incompetents in government?

There is no magic wand that you wave.

Ideas are needed to deal with the problems and not pie in the sky reform such as No Child Left Behind.

You find solutions when you are willing to look for them.

As far as Obama, George W. Bush started the "reform" with No Child Left Behind that has simply burdened public schools that are not Title 1 poverty public school with extra expenses and lower standards. NCLB to me was flawed from day 1. The only way you have every child proficient is to lower the standard of proficiency.

The idea of every child being equal does not deal with the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools but covers up the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in the current skills and capabilities in children entering Title 1 poverty public schools.

Instead of covering this up you need ideas and method to more effectively deal with the characteristic of the Title 1 poverty public schools.

The use of the word reform in public education should be limited to Reform schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

What are the two long vowels in "parking"?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 21, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Standards are necessary but not sufficient. (The author seems to be arguing that if they're not sufficient, then they're not necessary)

They are not sufficient because if there is no common exit exam it's impossible to determine whether anyone has reached those standards.

A kid who can't multiply can give a Powerpoint presentation on multiplication, and, using the word 'apply' can give the teacher all the reason in the world to argue that the kid's mind is operating at some very high level of Bloom's taxonomy, and therefore knows the material.

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 21, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

As a high school English teacher in a state with "superior high standards," I welcome the adoption of the common core standards. Instead of trying to teach the multitude of standards that are currently required in my 10th grade English courses, I will be able to focus on what students actually need to know and practice.

Most state standards are written by bureaucrats in the capital with input from professors and teachers on release or during summer break. I sat on just such a committee. Each teacher brings his or her own opinion about what is "necessary" for students to know, and then the compromising begins. Standards become an unattainable mish-mash in the process.

I welcome the clarity of the common core standards. I also welcome the point that teachers in all subject areas must be responsible for the teaching of reading and writing skills. Students are the beneficiaries when high-quality reading selections and focused application of writing skills are the norm in all subject areas.

Posted by: cavaca | July 21, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

What are the two long vowels in "parking"?

Posted by: sideswiththekids
..................................
"read two-syllable words with long vowels"

I interpreted this as a two syllable word with at least one long vowel as one could not say "read two-syllable words with long vowel".

I saw on the internet that par was an example of a long vowel.

Since I have a bit of a Boston accent I thought it was safe to assume the par in parking was a long vowel.

But you are correct and the meaning could be a two syllable word with two long vowels.

I wonder if there are any single syllables with two long vowels since you would have to change the definition to a two syllable word with both syllables being long vowels.

It would be interesting to see the actual "standard" as it is being disseminated.

I fully admit to having no idea of a what exactly was a long vowel and relied on the internet. I found no clear definition but some word lists of supposedly long vowels.

I also admit that when I helped my daughter to learn to read that I did not focus on long vowels.

I am an antique and in my day there was an idea of a curriculum where you actually were suppose to specify what and when a teacher should teach.

Apparently it is no longer fair to test students after you start teaching them. You have to wait to the time period when they are expected to have been taught.

For your amusement
....................................

Dog Training according to George Z. Bush
Former President, Dog Trainers of America

Formal training should be done when the dog is 1 year old.

It does not matter what the owner does to the dog during the first year.

I have seen dogs totally neglected and beaten by their owner during the first year, and dogs of the same breed well cared for by their owner during the first year.

All dogs can be trained to proficiency in the same amount of time and using the same approved method irregardless of how the dog was treated in the first year prior to the start of training.

My training philosophy is No Dog Left Behind.

Dogs that are not trained to proficiency in the given time and using the same approved method are a sign of lazy and incompetent dog trainers and the union of dog trainers.

..................................
Dog Training according to Benny Obama
President, Dog Trainers of America

Dogs that are not trained to proficiency in the given time and using the same approved method are a sign of lazy and incompetent dog trainers and the union of dog trainers.

I am offering dog training organization in the various states a competition called Race To The Dog Biscuit.

Winning state organization will be awarded funds for policies to get rid of the union of Dog trainers, and to develop testing programs and computer system to evaluate the performance of dog trainers.

Remember No Dog Left Behind.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

As a high school English teacher in a state with "superior high standards," I welcome the adoption of the common core standards.

Posted by: cavaca
.....................................
They lay out detailed expectations of skills that students should have at each grade level. Second graders, for example, should be able to read two-syllable words with long vowels, while fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators. NY Times

If I was a high school English teacher I think that I would be more interested in the ridiculous standard that students know how to read.

Apparently without the the common core standards to my personal knowledge since 1956 there have been tests to determine the grade level of reading of young students.

Apparently the Federal government for years have been able to every two years perform national reading and math testing without the common core standards.

It is amazing that this was accomplished without the common core standards.

All those meetings you had that were boring were at least trying to raise standards and better public education.

The only purpose of the core standards is to provide a level playing field in the Race To The Bottom in public education where every state can lower their standards and declare that their standardized tests show that their students are proficient.

This has already happened in Washington DC where claims of proficiency from 2010 DC standardized tests diverge totally from the 2009 national tests of 2009.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Every two years the Federal government gives national test in reading and math for 4th and 8th grade.

Just the fact that these test are given indicates that there are already accepted standards in the nation for up to the 8th grade.

Expand these tests so the full tests are given to every student in public school in the United States at the cost of the Federal government.

States that have high educational standards do well on these national tests.

A new national test can be created for reading and math for the 12th grade.

These tests when expanded will be able to evaluate failing school systems without lowering the high standards that currently exist in certain states.

Having the Federal government would be less expensive than each state having their own standardized test and would provide a true picture of public education in the nation.

Let the states determine their own curriculum. The Federal government should be concerned with the ability of students to read. The reading material chosen by a state makes absolutely no difference in testing the ability to read. If it did the reading test would be flawed.

States that will not accept national testing will not be eligible for certain Federal funding of public education.

The current Common Core Standards will only lower standards in public education since there will be individual states creating their own "standardized" tests to measure the performance of their student.

Great Britain has a national curriculum for all public schools but it also has standardized national tests. Without these standardized national tests the national curriculum would be worthless.

..................................
A great deal of the Common Core Standard in many cases are totally meaningless and will not prevent the summer boring meetings that a English teacher complained about.

7. Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
8. (Not applicable to literature)
9. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

I question how anyone can take these standards as serious. "8. (Not applicable to literature)".

Let us stop this charade.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 21, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

*sigh*

I wish I could remember who did this experiment over 40 years ago. Maybe someone with a psychology degree can remember better than me.

A psychologist randomly divided two classrooms of pupils and told one teacher that her class was made up of highly talented students while the other teacher was told nothing.

The teacher that thought that she had extraordinarily bright students got much better grades than the other class.

Posted by: cmecyclist | July 22, 2010 6:24 AM | Report abuse

There is a rationale for national standards and it is a valuable one for our education system. As it is right now, many states have standards that drive both curricula and assessments. However, what if those standards are weak or are not reflective of true grade level competencies? Whenever national tests are given, many districts that are allegedly making progress lose significant ground. Clearly their students are not able to do what we think they are able to do.

National standards is just the beginning. Following that will be standards-driven curricula and national tests(hopefully all posters realize that the United States already has nationally-normed tests).

We don't have to reinvent the wheel on this one. What we will have to do is dump the punitive measures from RTTT and NCLB and start focusing on 1) what impedes learning and 2) what interventions are *proven* to work. A 3rd step might be to examine other ways to guage academic progress other than a single test at the end of the year. It can be done.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | July 22, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

bsallamack, I hope you are kidding about the long vowels. But if you are not, your ignorance about long vowels can easily be blamed on your being a product of public school "education"?

Long vowels - (the vowels are a,e,i,o,u) - say their name, such as a in acorn, e in eagle, i in ice cream, o in open, and u in uniform. Short vowels make a different sound. Short vowels say a in apple, e in elephant, i in Indian, o in ostrich, and u in umbrella.

The "ar" in parking is called an r-controlled vowel and says the name of the consonant "r". There are no long vowels in the word "parking".

If public schools would teach phonics then we would all know these "secrets" about our own alphabet. But as it is now, we have extremely high illiteracy rates because children are not being taught to decode words.

Posted by: concerned36 | July 22, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

"what is your solution to fix the Title 1 schools, in, say, the next ten years, without spending more money than we already spend in the District of Columbia (about the highest in the nation)?"

Well, you have to start with the understanding that any improvement may be minimal. There's not a lot of evidence suggesting that we can dramatically improve achievement. Almost all of the success stories end in middle school.

I don't disagree that we should do our best to find the brightest ones and be sure they are getting the best education possible, preferably by separating them from the ones with lower abilities. (This is akin to bsallmack's tracking suggestion.)

But until we realize that huge gains probably aren't possible, much less sustainable, any gains will probably be ignored in the political fallout that comes when the improvement isn't enough to close the gap.

BSallmack, is it at all possible for you to stop serial posting as if you had Tourette's? I don't disagree with your points, but it's very annoying to come across three or four posts in a row. Say it once, move on.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | July 22, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I have a suggestion: Anyone who thinks standardized tests indicate anything should go into the schools and take them with the students. It doesn't matter which ones you take--you will find obscure and poorly worded questions, questions with more than one right answer (but instructions to choose only one), questions to which every possible choice is wrong (without a "none of the above" choice), and reading selections from literature that have been reworded.

After you see what teachers and students are complaining about, then defend the tests if you can.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 22, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

The desire to set local standards made some sense when the U.S. was a largely parochial nation where students in the Eastern states, for example, read about and perhaps knew someone who had actually been to California, but had never been themselves, and probably would never even visit there. Today, however, with the internet, we work for companies that are based in other states who do business with clients we need to speak with who live in even different states.
This doesn't even count the companies and clients in other countries that are now routinely part of many of our work day interactions.
Having a national set of standards makes a lot more sense now than ever before. A state that sets local standards that happen to be among the lowest compared to other states gives their children a distinct disadvantage in the far-less parochial work world of today.
Now the question is how to set those standards so that they are clear (the 1/2 plus 2/4 example, for instance) and are appropriately challenging for the grade.

Posted by: scraigbass | July 22, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Just having a list of national standards does not actually have any impact on student achievement. Standards and expectations do not actually jump off the page and put facts in kids' heads or teach them critical thinking skills. They are just part of a measuring system.
But there are some very tangible benefits to national standards:
1) Assuming national standards leads to a national test, the public & policy makers would actually get some meaningful comparisons of student performance. Right now it means nothing useful to say that 44% of DC students are proficient according to DC standards while 68% of MD students are proficient according to MD standards. You can't compare those numbers at all because they are not based on the same tests. If we're foolishly going to make decisions based on test results, we might as well be able to speak a common 'proficiency' language.
2) Save tax payer money (or better divert some from test materials to actual learning materials like books, teachers, field trips, etc). How much does Pearson or any of the other test making machines make off of designing different tests and different test-prep materials for the various states? How much are consultants and bureaucrats paid to sit around in those standards and test design meetings? One set of standards, one standards-making body that must be paid, one set of tests that must be created & graded.

Posted by: amk19 | July 22, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Watching the original standards development process in our district was illuminating, mostly for the dramatically different expectations for benchmarks held by K-2 teachers. Some kindergarten teachers felt that students should be able to recognize and print all letters in uppercase and lowercase by the end of the year -- others didn't. Some felt that teaching clock reading was still important; others argued that they didn't need to do that because digital clocks were the wave of the future. While there was some correlation with the poverty levels of their schools, the differences were still remarkable even between teachers at solidly middle-class schools.

The standards and benchmarks process in and of itself does not improve education, but I have no doubt that setting the bar, grade by grade does help good teachers know what they are expected to teach, and doesn't leave everything up for grabs every year.

Posted by: bk0512 | July 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

bsallamack, I hope you are kidding about the long vowels. But if you are not, your ignorance about long vowels can easily be blamed on your being a product of public school "education"?

Posted by: concerned36
...............................
I really wish people would get a brain.

When I went to school there was no such thing as phonics. At that time long and short vowels may have been a part of linguistics when Otto Jespersen was the big name in linguistics. In college I looked into linguistics once but that was all. Back then phonetics were mainly used for foreign languages.

Besides I knew how to read before I entered public school.

Back then children learned to read by recognizing that words on a page represented the sound of words that children heard. a p p l e represented the sound of the word apple.

By the way my daughter learned how to read without phonics.

Since concerned36 does not believe in public eduction one wonders why concerned36 is posting comments in regard to a column devoted to public education.

And I really wish people would get a brain.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't disagree that we should do our best to find the brightest ones and be sure they are getting the best education possible, preferably by separating them from the ones with lower abilities. (This is akin to bsallmack's tracking suggestion.)

BSallmack, is it at all possible for you to stop serial posting as if you had Tourette's? I don't disagree with your points, but it's very annoying to come across three or four posts in a row. Say it once, move on.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier
................................
How is dividing children in 4 groups based upon their current abilities and capabilities simply focusing on the brightest? The four groups are so teachers can teach to the level of the classes. The groups are not fixed and some in level 1 will move to a lower level while some in a lower level will move up.

People really need to get over their fixation on elitism. The purpose of public education should be to provide to every child the best opportunities according to their capabilities which change over time.

I have yet to see any comment on testing and placing children in classes based upon their current abilities so a teacher can teach to the class that indicates that this method would not be effective instead of the current method of haphazardly assigning students to class rooms.

Yes I post alot. I have this medical condition called thinking.

When this nation has real ideas to deal with the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools I will no longer need to follow or post on these columns.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

One of my temporary jobs was to read aloud the Standardized Tests for many different states in order to allow the Braille versions to be proofread.

Wyoming only had two tests -- Math and English, and the English reading comprehension section had one story that was used in all the tests from fifth through twelfth grade.

Louisiana by contrast required Science and History as well (Ohio did three tests, one year it would be science and the next history.). From fifth grade upward the students in Louisiana were required to compare and contrast short works in a written paragraph as well as the multiple choice questions. Other states would have the written essays in later grades, usually beginning at high school level. Louisiana also handed out a specific type of calculator (so no one could preprogram formulae) and only permitted calculator use on half its mathematics.

Nevada was the only state that didn't allow calculators at all.

I'm all for national standards. I recommend we look at Louisiana's tests as the best way to implement those standards.

Posted by: Fabrisse | July 22, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

have a suggestion: Anyone who thinks standardized tests indicate anything should go into the schools and take them with the students.

Posted by: sideswiththekids
................................
Go into the Washington D.C. public schools and take the standardized tests and you will see tests so simple that anyone could pass as proficient.

You will not "find obscure and poorly worded questions, questions with more than one right answer".

You will find tests that have been so dumbed down that DC will see claim of proficiency for large numbers of students that were graded basic on the national tests of 2009.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Having a national set of standards makes a lot more sense now than ever before. A state that sets local standards that happen to be among the lowest compared to other states gives their children a distinct disadvantage in the far-less parochial work world of today.
Now the question is how to set those standards so that they are clear (the 1/2 plus 2/4 example, for instance) and are appropriately challenging for the grade.

Posted by: scraigbass
.....................................
Take a close look at the Common Core Standards.

Saying that fifth graders should be able to add and subtract fractions with different denominators is meaningless in the context of creating a standardized test.

Does this mean a test with 1/2 + 2/4 or does this mean a test with 2/43 + 7/88.

The Common Core Standards came out of states with high standards complaining that states with low standards were claiming proficiency on state tests while the states with high standards were at a disadvantage.

The Common Core Standards will not correct this problem as we had already seen DC claim significant results on bogus test that conflict with national tests.

The Federal government should have listened to the valid complaint of states with high standards and seen that the only solution where the national policy is high stakes standardized tests is for the Federal government to make up the tests. This will be less expensive than having states creating their own standardized tests and will actually provide valid test results instead of bogus test results.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for national standards. I recommend we look at Louisiana's tests as the best way to implement those standards.

Posted by: Fabrisse
.........................
Why are you not for national tests since this will address the problem?

It is easy to fudge national standards and create dumbed down tests.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Just having a list of national standards does not actually have any impact on student achievement. Standards and expectations do not actually jump off the page and put facts in kids' heads or teach them critical thinking skills. They are just part of a measuring system.
But there are some very tangible benefits to national standards:
1) Assuming national standards leads to a national test, the public & policy makers would actually get some meaningful comparisons of student performance.

2) Save tax payer money (or better divert some from test materials to actual learning materials like books, teachers, field trips, etc).

Posted by: amk19
.........................
Full agreement.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

cmecyclist

The study you're thinking of was conducted by Rosenthal-Jacobson . It's commonly referred to as the Pygmalion effect.

Posted by: stevendphoto | July 22, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack: Just to add some info to your "fix" for Title I schools....I teach in a Title I school. But, my school district also has a cluster of new schools that closely resemble your model. They are all Title I with K-1 in one building; 2-3 in another; and 4-5 in another.

These students had previously been housed in 2 buildings...with all grade levels at each school.

The teachers were hand picked (as the previous teachers had to re-apply for their positions and make a 3 year committment...most of the former teachers were rejected and forced to find positions in other schools).

Their SOL scores have not increased...the last I heard, the scores were actually decreasing.

In my school...the kids are very needy and generally placed according to ability. They are not only needy economically, but emotionally needy. While their ability levels may be similar, this does not prevent a class from having those who appreciate learning sitting next to a kid who can't keep his mouth shut and whose father is in jail. Class sizes are around 19/20.

I do think Title I schools are given the short-end of the education stick. I don't believe they should be expected to operate the same way as those schools located in the most wealthy zip code in the area.

The school's and class size's should be smaller; there should be more counselors, social workers, psycholgists available. And some personal attention from the Superintendent and other city officials wouldn't hurt...or maybe some local "heroes" so that the local drug dealer isn't the only person giving these kids strokes.

There needs to be some real conversations with some real ideas for these children....not more standarized testing. That's not helping kids learn...it's a method for finger pointing in order to purge decision makers of guilt.

Posted by: ilcn | July 22, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The standards and benchmarks process in and of itself does not improve education, but I have no doubt that setting the bar, grade by grade does help good teachers know what they are expected to teach, and doesn't leave everything up for grabs every year.

Posted by: bk0512
..............................
There will be a big awakening when teachers who are trying to do a good job find out that they are under performing on state standardized tests in comparison to states who have dumbed down their standardized tests.

National standards are worthless without national testing by the Federal government.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

*sigh*

I wish I could remember who did this experiment over 40 years ago. Maybe someone with a psychology degree can remember better than me.

A psychologist randomly divided two classrooms of pupils and told one teacher that her class was made up of highly talented students while the other teacher was told nothing.

The teacher that thought that she had extraordinarily bright students got much better grades than the other class.

Posted by: cmecyclist
..................................
One tires of these two groups.

My proposal is for Title 1 poverty public schools where there is a significant problem of students with diverse current capabilities and abilities. Students will be divided into four groups.

This makes teaching almost impossible and even creates the problem of which level the teacher should teach on.

So far I have seen no suggestion on how teachers can be made effective in teaching four different levels of students in the same class.

The old teach to the average in the class is not longer effective since teachers are expected to make progress with every student no matter the abilities that the student had when entering the class. Teaching to the average will produce average results where students who failed in the previous class will probably fail in the current class.

Perhaps it would be better to quote psychological or educational studies on how teachers can be effectively trained to effectively teach students with four different groups of skills in the same class room. Since there would be need for separation of children into classrooms based upon four different levels and the problem of the Title 1 poverty public schools would be solved.



Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher (chemistry) I'd like to address a few points in both the article and the comments:

1) "The institute’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., does say that “good standards are not a cure-all,” a painfully obvious observation."

The author is not saying that national standards are a bad thing, only that they cannot "fix" the system all on their own.

2) sideswiththekids said: "The main problem with national standards is that many schools will decide the minimum standards are the maximum and won't bother to teach anything else."

Have you seen some of these "minimum" standards much less tried to teach them? I teach in VA and the chemistry "minimum" standards are so extensive that I cannot reasonably fit them all into a school year (and I have very high standards and expectations of my students) while using research supported best practices (cooperative learning, inquiry based learning, project based learning). Instead, I am forced to choose between teaching students how to think as scientists and covering enough material that they will be able to pass the SOL (Standards of Learning) at the end of the year. The same can be said for MD and NC standards, where I have also taught.

3) National (and state) standards are evaluated using standardized testing (paper and pencil). However, this can be used to accurately assess the learning of only about 40% of students (those who have high language and math intelligences). What about the students who have learned just as much but do much better explaining orally or showing their skills?

4) I've only lived/taught in one state where subject area educators were invited to be actively involved in writing of test items for the state standardized tests. That state had the best written tests of any of the four states I've taught in. The other three states had tests that included many items which were poorly worded, poorly arranged, and offered poor distractors (educationese for wrong answers).

For what it's worth, the public education system cannot be fixed by any one "reform" proposal. How students learn should dictate how we teach what we teach. Sadly, for students and teachers, what students are required to learn is so extensive and outdated ways of thinking about education so ingrained that what actually works is rarely given a chance to work because it is uncomfortably different for those who make the decisions that students and teachers have to live by.

Posted by: abaudia | July 22, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

In my school...the kids are very needy and generally placed according to ability. They are not only needy economically, but emotionally needy. While their ability levels may be similar, this does not prevent a class from having those who appreciate learning sitting next to a kid who can't keep his mouth shut and whose father is in jail. Class sizes are around 19/20.

Posted by: ilcn
........................
The test I was referring to was the Bracken School Readiness Assessment and is given prior to entering public school. My assumption is that this test will also identify children who are totally unprepared for school on the basis of behavior but I am not certain.

The willingness or unwillingness of a child to learn in my mind is an ability of a child so the class you have, does not have a class with children of the same abilities.

I personally know of a case of one child who was responsible for preventing numerous other children to obtain the benefit of education.

Problems like this have to be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.

Currently any teacher reporting such a problem in a Title 1 poverty public school will be reprimanded for not dealing with the situation with class management skills.

Title 1 poverty public schools in DC have a large enough school system to identify these problems from day 1 and deal with them quickly by removing them from normal classes.

The reality is that children enter kindergarten and the first grade of Title 1 poverty public schools with very few students that are behavior problems. All of sudden in the 6th there are a large number of behavior problems that do not correlate with the children that first entered public schools.

It has always amazed me that educators can not figure out that children learn from real life, and that when students with behavior problems are tolerated in a class room the school system is giving the lesson that teachers and education are not important.

At one point there has to be recognition that public schools are not there to address all the unfairness of different social levels. In fact this is one of the problems now with Title 1 poverty public schools.

The purpose of public schools should be to offer offer an opportunity for children to obtain the benefits of education.

Tolerating early on children that hinder other children in a class room is not offering an opportunity for children to obtain the benefits of education.

Teachers should report children with lice and obviously abused children, but public schools and teachers should not be expected to address all of the problems of children of the poor.

Give the opportunity for children to obtain the benefits of education so that their children will not be children of the poor.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, the public education system cannot be fixed by any one "reform" proposal. How students learn should dictate how we teach what we teach. Sadly, for students and teachers, what students are required to learn is so extensive and outdated ways of thinking about education so ingrained that what actually works is rarely given a chance to work because it is uncomfortably different for those who make the decisions that students and teachers have to live by.

Posted by: abaudia
..................................
The major problem with public education in this nation is Title 1 poverty public schools. Public schools that are not Title 1 poverty public schools are performing quite well.

The politicians have cried problem in public education when in actually there is no problem in majority of public schools in the nation.

For years states that have done an excellent job in public education have had high standards. If there were not high standards in the majority of states in the nation there would be a problem in education and the national tests held every two year would prove this. But this is not the case.

The Federal government should focus on fixing the problems on the Title 1 poverty public schools and stop the pretense that there is a problem in public education in this nation.

Yes when Washington DC which is composed entirely of Title 1 poverty public schools has a failure rate of 56 percent on national 4th grade reading test there is a problem with Title 1 poverty public schools but this is not a problem with the public schools that are not Title 1 poverty public schools are performing quite well.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for national standards. I recommend we look at Louisiana's tests as the best way to implement those standards.

Posted by: Fabrisse
.........................
Why are you not for national tests since this will address the problem?

It is easy to fudge national standards and create dumbed down tests.

Posted by: bsallamack
---------

I am. My point was out of the thirty states I'd read, Louisiana's tests had the highest expectations, the widest range of knowledge required, and critical thinking skills across subjects were emphasized. Louisiana's tests generally beat the others out of the water.

In other words, start with the one I consider the best.

Posted by: Fabrisse | July 22, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I am. My point was out of the thirty states I'd read, Louisiana's tests had the highest expectations, the widest range of knowledge required, and critical thinking skills across subjects were emphasized. Louisiana's tests generally beat the others out of the water.

In other words, start with the one I consider the best.

Posted by: Fabrisse
.......................
I prefer to use the one we already have. Less expensive.

No state official is complaining about national test scores on a basis of standards which indicates that they all accept the standards of these tests.

So we already have standards for math and reading up to the 8th grade. Now simply create a national test for the 12th grade and you are done and you can start giving the national tests to every student in public school every two year.

Love the teachers that think that with the Common Core Standards that is the end of questionable and boring meetings. Acceptance of a new standards means you throw out all the curriculum and start over again.

There was news today that Washington DC will accept the Common Core Standards.

So far there is still not an explanation of the 43 percent proficiency rate of the DC standardized tests that totally contradict the test results of the 2009 national tests.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

I am. My point was out of the thirty states I'd read, Louisiana's tests had the highest expectations, the widest range of knowledge required, and critical thinking skills across subjects were emphasized. Louisiana's tests generally beat the others out of the water.

In other words, start with the one I consider the best.

Posted by: Fabrisse
.......................
I prefer to use the one we already have. Less expensive.

No state official is complaining about national test scores on a basis of standards which indicates that they all accept the standards of these tests.

So we already have standards for math and reading up to the 8th grade. Now simply create a national test for the 12th grade and you are done and you can start giving the national tests to every student in public school every two year.

Love the teachers that think that with the Common Core Standards that is the end of questionable and boring meetings. Acceptance of a new standards means you throw out all the curriculum and start over again.

There was news today that Washington DC will accept the Common Core Standards.

So far there is still not an explanation of the 43 percent proficiency rate of the DC standardized tests that totally contradict the test results of the 2009 national tests.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 22, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Which child is more fluent in English, Child A or Child B? Of course, Child A is. The problem with standardized tests for Child B is that he doesn’t have the English fluency to pass it at grade level, because he can’t speak English at grade level. I know because I have taught many Child B’s.

Another problem with standardized tests is that they are written in white English grammar. For many African American children they only hear white English grammar from their teachers and the TV. The rest of their life they hear Black English grammar. So when they write essays for the standardized tests they write in Black English grammar. For example, they will write "We good" (Black English) instead of "We are good" (white English). Although they are quite fluent in Black English, they are marked down for using it. I know this because I’ve given plenty of standardized tests to African American students and I have seen it happen time after time.

Posted by: aby1 | July 24, 2010 12:20 AM
......................................
I am opposed to using the results of tests to fire teachers.

At the same time the responsibility of a teacher is to continuously correct their students when they are not using correct English and not defend the incorrect grammar on the claims of White English grammar.

Based on this defense teachers should have accepted Italian English grammar when there were large numbers of Italian immigrants in this country because of students being fluent in Italian English grammar.

"It's a good." may be a joke that everyone would laugh at, but no parent would accept a teacher that did not correct this grammar with the defense that this is Italian grammar.

I would seriously question the teaching qualities of a teacher who does not continuously correct the grammar of their students in a class room.

There is no advantages to Black English grammar, Hindu English grammar, Italian English grammar to a prospective employer in this country.

Teachers who do not perform their jobs in correcting grammar are only doing a disservice to their students.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 25, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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