From the Editor
Waiver Responses and Do Standards Matter
Anne Wujcik — Friday, May 04, 2012
The Department of Education has completed its initial review of the 27 waiver applications it received in the second round of the ESEA flexibility program. Letters have gone out to states detailing the Department's concerns and asking for clarification and improvements. Each requesting state faced at least some criticism, though Maryland came out well ahead of the rest of the pack. The Department liked Maryland's plans for transitioning to college- and career-ready standards, intervening in struggling schools, and its work on teacher evaluation. It wanted more details on how Maryland will validate the measures it's using in the teacher evaluation system. This will be a challenge for many states, as the teacher evaluations systems are new and there aren't that many ready-made measurement tools.
While each state received individual feedback, there are some common trouble spots in the waiver applications. As was true for the first 11 states requesting ESEA flexibility, the Department remains concerned about the way that annual measurable objectives (AMOs) are being established and their rigor. Many states did not explain clearly enough how they were going to monitor the achievement of particular subgroups or what types of interventions they had planned for schools that miss their achievement targets because of the performance of students in the various subgroups. This is a hard one. One of the things NCLB did was focus a bright light on the achievement of subgroups, like minority students or English-language learners. The states seem especially keen on backing away from these requirements, while the Department (and a number of interested observers) are anxious to be sure that poor subgroup performance is not masked by lumping students together into supergroups or some other such mechanism.
In a related area, many states were asked to clarify how they would make the standards accessible for English-language learners and students in special education.
Another area of common concern centers on how the states plan to deliver professional development to prepare teachers for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Again, a massive job that many districts are going to find very difficult to carry out.
Two states asked for relief from requirements that went beyond what the Department set out as possible under ESEA flexibility. Vermont asked to use a new turnaround model for schools participating in the School Improvement Grants program. The Department has mandated four models that schools can use under SIG - turnaround, restart, transformation and school closure. From the start, states have not liked this limited set of school reform models, but the Department did not include this aspect of NCLB in its flexibility program. The Department plans to consider its response here and deliver it at a later date. It will be interesting to see what it does. Any flexibility here can be expected to open the floodgates, since states really want to craft their own school reform models.
Ohio wants to delay by a year its administration of English language arts tests for accountability purposes for English Language Learners. Again the Department is considering its response.
Achieve, Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education sponsored an event this week at which Dr. William Schmidt, a Michigan State University Distinguished Professor, holding faculty appointments in Statistics and Education, and co-director of the Education Policy Center, presented a briefing on his work: Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement. Schmidt argues that the Common Core Math Standards strongly resemble the standards of the highest-achieving nations, and that they have more focus, coherence and rigor than most of the state standards they replaced. Schmidt analyzed the link between states with standards that were similar to the CCSS and their NAEP math scores. The preliminary results showed states with standards in line with CCSS combined with higher cut scores also had higher NAEP scores. He concludes that implementing the standards well will matter in terms of student achievement.
In February, the Brookings Institution published a report, authored by Tom Loveless, that essentially argued that there is little if any connection between standards-even rigorous ones-and student achievement. This report also draws on NAEP scores as evidence.
Dueling statistics like these aren't all that unusual and I'm not well-versed enough in this type of research to draw any solid conclusions. Check it out for yourself. Dr. Schmidt's PowerPoint can be viewed at http://www.achieve.org/CCSS-schmidt-research. The Brookings' report is at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/reports/2012/0216_brown_education_loveless/0216_brown_education_loveless.pdf.