Georgia leads nation in improving its standards. Will a rise in student performance follow?

Georgia saw the greatest leap in the rigor of its academic standards, jumping from F to A in its overall proficiency standards grade, according to a report released today by the journal Education Next.

Education Next evaluates the rigor of state proficiency standards against the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally administered benchmark test known as the Nation’s Report Card. The standards are graded on an A-to-F scale based on the size of the difference between the percentages of students identified as proficient by state exams and by NAEP exams in 4th- and 8th-grade math and reading.

In past comparisons, Georgia set proficiency benchmarks far below NAEP’s. In fact, Georgia had the widest point difference in the country between what score we defined as being on grade level and what NAEP required. Then, Georgia rolled out new standards and new tests; the state saw dramatic drops in performance on the Milestones last year.

Only 10 percent of Georgia students who took a language arts or science course at any grade level finished in the top category of distinguished learners. In math, 60 percent of all Georgia students scored as beginning or developing learners. At the time the scores were released, State School Superintendent Richard Woods said, “Our previous assessment, the CRCT, set some of the lowest expectations for student proficiency in the nation, and that cannot continue.”

The report says there’s been little movement by any states to raise proficiency thresholds — until now. The authors cite the Common Core State Standards and federal pressure for pushing states to finally address the honesty gap in admitting how their students were really faring.  Adopted by 43 states including Georgia, Common Core establishes common educational objectives and standards for assessing student proficiency in reading and math.

While only six states earned an “A”  in 2005, 24 of 49 states (including the District of Columbia)—for which data were available as of mid-January 2016— earned an “A.”

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Writing in Education Next, the authors of the report, Paul E. Peterson, Samuel Barrows, and Thomas Gift, state, “If Common Core works as its proponents expect, higher proficiency standards could propel schools to achieve at more impressive levels and thus raise the nation’s ranking on international tests. Of course, if parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers do not regard the low levels of proficiency now being identified in most states as a serious warning that action is needed, then raising the proficiency bar will be for naught. Still, it is a hopeful sign that proficiency standards have moved in the right direction. If student performance shifts upward in tandem, it will signal a long-awaited enhancement in the quality of American schools. ”

In speaking to Peterson on the phone, the researcher cautioned standards don’t equate to performance; many students in Georgia are falling far short of the higher bar. Editor-in-chief of Education Next, Peterson is professor of government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“Standards don’t really talk about performance at all,” he said.  “When you raise standards, it is going to be harder for students to meet those standards and a smaller percent of them are showing they are proficient.”

Do higher standards eventually lead to higher student performance?

“Well, we don’t know,” said Peterson. “Europe has always had high standards but this will be an experiment for us — whether lifting standards can actually lift achievement. We have states with high standards and achievement levels look pretty good; Massachusetts is an example. But other states have had higher standards in the past, South Carolina being one of them, and the students still are not performing at a high level.”

Peterson credits Common Core for raising expectations for students and making it clear to teachers what they should be teaching. But, he says, that is only a first step. “All that has been good and they have been able to accomplish that, but we don’t know whether or not that is going to be translated into the classroom,” he says.

A successful translation, he says, depends a lot on teacher quality, which he considers key to improving schools. He also recommends greater school choice and sees promise in the charter school movement, which he praises for improving Washington, D.C., schools.

Among other findings by Peterson and his team:

–   The average difference between the proportion of students achieving proficiency on NAEP and state tests decreased from 30 percentage points to 10 percentage points nationwide, which the authors describe as “a dramatic improvement over the previous two-year period (2011-13), in which the difference dropped only from 35 to 30 percent.”

–   Twenty-four states receive a grade of “A,” indicating that they have set a proficiency bar that is roughly comparable to that set by NAEP: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont. In 2013, nine states earned an “A,” but only New York, Pennsylvania and Utah remained in this elite group in 2015.

–   Four states slipped in their proficiency standards ranking: Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. Massachusetts received a ranking of B plus, lower than its previous A ranking, but this ranking is not definitive, as it is based on information from only one of the two tests that districts were allowed to administer.

–   Eighteen states improved their standards by two letter grades or more since 2013: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

–   Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas earned the lowest grades for the rigor of their proficiency standards. Texas was the only state to receive a D.

–   Of the seven states not implementing CCSS for both reading and math, six have continued to set low proficiency standards: Indiana, C+; South Carolina, C+; Nebraska, C-; Oklahoma, C-; Virginia, C-; and Texas, D+ (Alaska, A, is the exception).

–   The rise in standards between 2013 and 2015 was not concentrated in states receiving Race to the Top grants.

–   Two states had yet to report test scores for 2015 at the time of the preparation of the data for this article: Florida and Wisconsin.

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
BKendall
BKendall

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this flawed research is (politely for delicate readers) complete “Bull-Dung!”

The authors cannot or did not: read, follow instructions, or both.

They use NAEP data much like USDOE uses NAPE 4th and 8th grade NAEP results to Map State Standards to the NAEP.

While that seems reasonable, it is not. USDOE in the NAEP reports instructs us not to use the data as it is normally published to the public by the media, or used by the Harvard folks. Why?

They don’t actually state the why out right. But they refer you to several different publications, and after following those links here are the discoveries:

One, no state standards are used in the process.

Two, after all the fancy math, it still boils down to a best guess.

Three, NAEP Frameworks, and State Education Standards are not identical. GADOE provided a copy of the standards in effect for both 2013 and 2015 and there are serious differences between what the state says we should teach and test, and what the NAEP Framework uses for testing. Also, Common Core Standards and NAEP frameworks are not aligned as well. Here is an example using driving skills to explain. When driving it is important to be able to parallel park, and make a three point turn. In Georgia we teach and test the three point turn. NAEP Framework assess parallel parking. While both skills are important, the tests do not align.

Four, PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and Georgia Milestone published ABC’s are meaningless because neither you nor I know what the ABC’s actually mean. We have been given a little blurb that is completely open to personal and public interpretation. There are numerical test related values in Milestones not published to the public. If we knew those values, we could calculate the real value, of ABC. There is nothing in the article to indicate the Harvard folks do. They just used pass and failure rates.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@BKendall 

Growing pains, perhaps, to evolve eventually into a more refined, and more precise, educational delivery system which is also balanced with creativity and a balanced teacher assessment process? 


I have consistently maintained that standardized test results should only be used to better pinpoint the specific instructional needs of students - individually.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Peterson credits Common Core for raising expectations for students and making it clear to teachers what they should be teaching."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I beg to differ.  What teachers SHOULD be teaching is varied content on which their various students are functioning. Their differing students will not need instruction in the same concepts at the same point in time. To think (or to plan) otherwise is to be extremely naive relative to instructional truths and could be destructive to some students.  Moreover, this instructional truth will always be true.


To repeat what Jerry Eads wrote, below:  "That said, 'raising standards' does have one sure bet: it increases dropout rates."  Amen to that because teachers are not addressing the individual instructional levels of students, even within the same grade level.

Mrs. Martinez
Mrs. Martinez

They are not allowed to separate the children based on demographics, hence the issues.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Mrs. Martinez 

No ethical educator would ever separate children based on their demographics.  Students in school should be separated based on their varied instructional needs related to a continuum of skill or concept achievement, at point in time. Moreover, no student should be "locked" into a given instructional group indefinitely.  Students have spurts of growth for various reasons.  Each student is unique.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My concern about the new standards are that some of them for the youngest children are developmentally inappropriate.  No matter how bright, development generally proceeds at a certain pace.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady 

I would only add that what you have stated as true for "the youngest children," developmentally, is also true for all students through high school level.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@GA_and_Education_futile @Wascatlady 

And, some children will walk at 9 months, while others will walk at 16 months.  The child who walks at 16 months may have been "ready" to speak her first words at 8 months and the child who walked at 9 months may not speak his first words until 12 months, etc. etc.

The overall patterns of the childhood developmental stages hold true over time, but there are as many permutations of variance within those childhood developmental stages as their are unique children. The better, and more refined, we can address these variances in individual students, as educators, the more successful we will be in helping every student to meet with success in school, and not drop out of school, in defeat, a result of system failure.

jerryeads
jerryeads

@Wascatlady @Wascatlady  I'm not an early childhood (actual early childhood, not Georgia's mislabeled elementary) expert, but I did have the honor to do research with Steve and Ellen (who are now NIEER at Rutgers) for about ten years as well as spend a lot of time with David and Larry at High Scope during my career. While we holler and rant about how wonderful our EC programs are, we're doing nothing more than shoving 2nd into 1st, 1st into K, and K into preschool, and in the process making absolutely sure that kids learn to hate school. For a very brief look, see, just for example, Christakis' article in this month's Atlantic on preschool: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

jerryeads
jerryeads

@Wascatlady I'm not an early childhood (actual early childhood, not Georgia's mislabeled elementary) expert, but I did have the honor to do research with Steve and Ellen (who are now NIEER at Rutgers) for about ten years as well as spend a lot of time with David and Larry at High Scope during my career. While we holler and rant about how wonderful our EC programs are, we're doing nothing more than shoving 2nd into 1st, 1st into K, and K into preschool, and in the process making absolutely sure that kids learn to hate school. For a very brief look, see, just for example, Christakis' article in this month's Atlantic on preschool: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@jerryeads @Wascatlady 

I wish to highlight one paragraph from that excellent article posted by Jerry Eads, above.  (Educators, remember when the pendulum in educational delivery for the early grades swung too far in stressing phonics over whole word and context clues in the teaching of reading? This imbalance in instructional delivery resulted in too many children of that generation hating reading and becoming word-by-word readers, thus slowing their speed of reading abilities, with full comprehension.  All reading techniques are important in the teaching of reading - phonics, whole word, and context clues, etc. - and individual students will have greater success in learning to read with a mixture of those instructional techniques tailored individually to their specific needs so that we as teachers produce successful and happy learners at school.):

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more 'school readiness' skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning."

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Wascatlady 

Its like requiring a newborn to walk at six months old...yeah it maybe possible, but the newborn has to complete all the stages of prewalking before they actually walk... 


class80olddog
class80olddog

I hear that the new Georgia standards require that high school graduates must be adept at integral calculus, be able to compose sonnets extemporaneously, have a working knowledge of particle physics, and be able to converse intelligently about 10th-century Chinese history.  Of course, none of that will keep them from getting a diploma, which will be handed out to them without even requiring that they take a very easy GHSGT.   So much for "more rigorous standards"!

class80olddog
class80olddog

Student performance will not improve unless schools actually ENFORCE the standards, something that they refuse to do (would make their graduation rate go down).  So they just cheat and students get no benefit from the more rigorous standards.

Hillary's Emails
Hillary's Emails

"He also recommends greater school choice and sees promise in the charter school movement, which he praises for improving Washington, D.C., Schools."

jerryeads
jerryeads

Actually, we do know. We've been playing with "standards" (i.e., cut scores on minimum competency tests) for more than half a century. Now go look at NAEP data. While there are quite a few legitimate concerns about NAEP's own "standards," performance on those tests has pretty much remained flat regardless of whatever a state does. 

That said, "raising standards" does have one sure bet: it increases dropout rates. SO, from one perspective, you'd think performance of a given group would go up when "standards are raised" - simply because the less capable students are tossed out on the street and not tested.

On the whole, however, Common Core has been a great effort to try to change the expectations of schools from the siddownshaddupandmemorize to helping kids actually think. Of course, the fed, the states and the locals have all done their absolute level best to screw that up, but there's been some progress toward thinking about how to prepare kids for their futures rather than just the next test.

Hillary's Emails
Hillary's Emails

If teachers are truly "teaching to the test," then why haven't test scores improved? Are we to conclude those teachers are incompetent?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@jerryeads You know, employers don't really like students who have been taught to "think" but not to be able to read, write, and do simple arithmetic.

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Hillary's Emails 

I can think of other questions, did the teacher go home with the child to make sure homework was done, did the teacher make sure the child was read to on a nightly basis, did the teacher make sure that the child had hot meals and was greeted by a loving face at the end of the day, did the teacher make sure all of the child's needs were met before they came to school, did the teacher keep the child's parents together so that adequate attention could be provided to meet those needs, did the teacher have regular counseling sessions with the parents (before the child was born) to make sure that they understood that parenting is not for wusses. 

wusses: a weak or ineffectual person (per Google)

At some point parents, we've got to tell our kids that they can't live with us forever and we've got to push them to greatness.