Interview: Educational Policy Expert Richard Rothstein
Interview by Elizabeth Kaiser, BCP Summer Intern
Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right and Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.
What is wrong with the way we hold schools accountable?
There are several problems. The most important problem is that we distort curriculum when we hold schools accountable only for math and reading scores.
There are many things that schools should be doing in addition to improving students’ math and reading proficiency. Holding schools accountable only for math and reading scores gives schools no incentives to work on any of the other objectives that they have.
There is evidence that the test score pressure imposed by No Child Left Behind has led schools, particularly schools serving our most disadvantaged children, to reduce physical education, social studies, science, and the arts in order to spend more and more time on drills for math and reading.
Do you think that the problem comes mainly from the emphasis we place on test scores, or the way that the test is constructed, or both?
There are many problems with our current system of school accountability, but the primary one is that by focusing on only some of the schools’ goals, you give schools incentives to ignore others. Even if the tests were perfect, even if they were high quality tests, if they only tested math and reading, schools would have incentives not to deliver a balanced curriculum.
What do you think schools should be held accountable for?
There are a broad range of outcomes that schools should promote. Certain basic skills like those in math and reading are among them, but there are also other academic subjects: science, the arts, social studies, history, physical education, and health education.
There are also behavioral goals: work skills, social skills, cooperative problem solving, the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions, the ability to withstand peer pressure, and the ability to respect others, even those with whom one does not agree. There are many goals, both behavioral and cognitive, that a well-rounded curriculum should be promoting.
Would you agree that some of the outcomes you listed are harder to measure than reading and math skills, and may be subjective?
They’re not subjective but they are more difficult to measure. Our education system is state based. States can set standards in these areas and schools can be evaluated on their success in meeting those standards
How might a state measure social skills?
At one point in the early days of the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessors went into schools, gave students a problem to solve, and observed the extent to which they were able to cooperate, the extent to which they were able to resolve conflict, disagreement, and the extent to which they were able to stay on task. These are all observable, though not as easy to measure as 2+2=4.
If we want schools to develop these kinds of skills we’ve got to hold them accountable for doing so. You advocate that accountability should be largely a state rather than a federal role.
Under such a design, is there a way to assess comparability of measures and outcomes between states?
Of course, the same way we do now for math and reading. We have a national assessment based on state level samples in math and reading, it’s called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and the recommendation that our book makes and that the Broader, Bolder Approach accountability statement makes, is that NAEP be expanded to sample students at the state level on all of the measures that we’re talking about; then, you get comparability.
For example, if NAEP were to reinstate the exercise I just described, you would know how the percentage of 4th graders in New York were able to work together cooperatively to solve a problem compared to the percentage of 4th graders in Iowa who were able to work together cooperatively to solve a problem.
Should there be both national and state standards for all outcomes?
The book does not suggest the establishment of national standards. What the book says is that NAEP should assess outcomes at a state level to provide comparative information on how students perform in different states on these measures. It is true that the NAEP frameworks are an implicit national standard, but they’re implicit, they’re not explicit.
These are not national standards. A state can develop its own standards as the states do now for math and reading. If states choose to develop standards that are not consistent with the NAEP frameworks, they can explain their relatively poor performance on NAEP by asserting that their standards are different from the NAEP frameworks.
The fact that we do a sample assessment of NAEP state-by-state does not require states to have an identical curriculum or identical standards. Today if a state wants to say that we don’t believe in teaching simple single digit addition in the fourth grade and that’s the reason our math scores in 4th grade are low, they’re perfectly entitled to do that. The NAEP is an implicit national standard, not a required national standard.
Do you think that NAEP is a more accurate assessment of our schools without cut scores than with cut scores?
NAEP has cut scores that we recommend be abandoned. The consensus of the entire scientific and psychometric community is that the cut scores, the proficiency levels, have no validity. So our recommendation is that those be abandoned and that NAEP scores be reported on a scale (as they are now, although the scales are not now well-publicized), or in some cases simply on percent proficient of students who performed particular tasks.
Should consequences for schools be linked to performance on NAEP?
No. NAEP would lose its validity if it became a high-stakes test. Its value is that it’s a low-stakes test, there are no consequences to it, and so it’s an independent monitor of how states are doing.
In your book, you advocate that states should employ a method of accreditation similar to England’s system of Her Majesty’s Inspectors. Can you talk about how this would work in a public school setting in the United States?
One of the ways to measure hard-to-measure educational outcomes is to use qualitative evaluations. We recommend that states develop qualitative inspection systems. Teams of professional inspectors could go to schools on a regular basis, perhaps every three or four years, to evaluate curriculum.
They should certainly take into account the standardized test scores in as many subjects as it’s possible to have them but they shouldn’t make those the primary or exclusive basis of evaluation. They should observe the quality of teaching; they should be looking at student work; they should be interviewing teachers, parents, students, and administrators; and forming a judgment about the extent to which the school is a quality school.
As scores on state standardized tests continue to rise, writers including yourself and people like Daniel Koretz in his book Measuring Up talk about score inflation. The system that you propose is much more in depth. It would give us a lot more information about what is going on in our schools, but it would also be much more expensive. How do we develop the political will to move from a system where everyone appears to be performing well to one where we are spending a lot more money to find out that not all students are achieving at the same level?
There’s no doubt that a good accountability system is more expensive than the poor accountability system that we have now. I think that the accountability system that we have been using for the past eight years has become discredited because of wide spread revulsion against the way in which schools have turned into test prep factories.
There is a growing interest in alternatives but there is no doubt that the alternatives are more expensive. It’s much more expensive to get a team of highly trained professional inspectors to go into a school and spend three or four days there, than it is to administer a fill-in-the bubble test.
Do you think it’s possible that we will move to a better, more expensive school accountability system?
What do you think about the 2014 deadline by which time all students must score proficient in math and reading. The 2014 date is absurd. Everybody knows that the combination of demands for proficiency and the 2014 date are fanciful. I don’t think anybody takes the 2014 date seriously.
I think that the situation we’re in now politically is that virtually everybody realizes that NCLB is a flawed model, but few people have given much thought to what should replace it.
Do you think that will start to happen soon?
Well I’m hoping our book will help stimulate that discussion.
Leading Minds: High-Stakes Testing Forum
Is high-stakes testing misleading the public? The emphasis placed on testing is higher than ever. Scores are rising, but at what cost? Are our children being shortchanged?
On Thursday, September 17, 2009 the Baltimore Curriculum Project and Urbanite Magazine will explore these and other questions with testing expert Dr. Daniel Koretz (Harvard University), economist Dr. Brian Jacob (University of Michigan), and Assistant Professor of Education Policy Dr. Rebecca Jacobsen (Michigan State University).
Dr. Daniel Koretz is a Harvard University education professor. His most recent book, Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, describes the controversial issues surround standardized testing. Dr. Koretz founded and chairs the International Project for the Study of Educational Accountability.
Dr. Brian Jacob is a University of Michigan professor of educational policy and economics. His recent work includes research into the impacts of testing on drop out rates and the creation of incentives for schools to retain low-performing students or place students in Special Education.
Dr. Rebecca Jacobsen is a Michigan State University assistant professor of teacher education and education policy. She is a co-author of the book Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, which proposes a new accountability plan for public education.
The forum will be held at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park from 4:00PM - 6:00PM. DVD’s of the forum will be available. For more information visit bcp.eventbrite.com, e-mail email@example.com or call Larry Schugam at 410-675-7000.
BCP Schools Make Impressive Gains on MSA
The results from the 2009 Maryland State Assessment (MSA) are in and BCP schools have a lot to be proud of. Hampstead Hill Academy and Wolfe Street Academy made AYP in reading and math and are still growing.
City Springs School improved in reading in all but 7th grade and barely missed AYP in reading by less than 1% in one sub-group. City Springs math scores demonstrated improvement in all grades except 7th and 8th.
Collington Square School improved in reading and math in all but 6th and 7th grade and almost met AYP in reading. Another 6 students scoring proficient in reading would have put the school over the top.
Understanding MSA Scores
Although MSA scores are a useful tool for measuring student achievement, there is much they cannot tell us.
MSA scores do not tell us how much students have learned or how far they have come this year. The MSA gives us a snapshot of how well students are achieving today. Students who are behind can make much larger-than-average achievement gains and still score below the proficiency bar for years.
Different MSA grade level tests and scores are not comparable; therefore, we do not know whether students are learning or whether the test is easier or harder when the percentage of students “passing” varies from one grade to the next.
Making Sense of the Data
To make sense of MSA data we have to look at the details; however, MSA data is reported by grade level and not by teacher. When students are not instructed in grade level groups the scores cannot be attributed to specific teachers or even grade level curriculum.
In order to identify the levers for improvement we need to ask:
- Does the curriculum used account for the difference in scores?
- Does the teacher account for the difference?
- Is the test easier at that grade level?
- Is the particular group more able than other groups?
Unfortunately, these questions cannot be answered by MSA data alone.
NWEA’s MAP Assessment
BCP began testing students using the Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) for reading and math in October 2007. MAP assessments are state-aligned computerized adaptive tests that accurately reflects the instructional level of each student and measure growth over time.
The assessment is unique in that it adapts to the student’s ability, accurately measuring what a child knows and needs to learn. MAP is calibrated across all grade levels so that scores can be compared year to year and grade to grade. Students are tested in the fall and spring so that we can identify the student growth attributable to a specific teacher.
Preliminary results from school year 2008/2009 demonstrate that teachers have a dramatic impact on student growth. Getting more of the teachers to the point where their students make more growth is the key to success. To do this we need to increase our focus on teacher observations, feedback, professional development and evaluation.
BCP Initiatives Underway
Four new BCP initiatives to improve instruction and student achievement are currently being implemented.
The BCP Testing Database is being developed and will allow us to collect and analyze data from the MAP, MSA, and Stanford assessments based on grade level, program placement, teacher, and other factors.
Strategic Deployment of Resources. This year BCP staff will begin holding weekly meetings at each school with the principal, assistant principals, and academic coaches to review achievement data, discuss coaching efforts, follow-up on school initiatives, plan professional development and review results.
The Principal’s evaluation toolkit will help principals set high expectations for teachers and provide them with objective and frequent feedback. The toolkit includes concrete, observable expectations and observation forms connected to an evaluation calculator.
Teacher Interim Data Reporting. Eight times a year teachers report to peers and administration on lesson progress and mastery success in all of their classes. They then create action plans for improvement. This initiative was piloted at Collington Square School during the 2008/2009 school year.
With the help of these new initiatives we expect to see continued improvement in student achievement in all BCP schools.
Getting School Accountability Right
By BCP President Muriel Berkeley
Reprinted with permission from OSI-Baltimore’s Audacious Ideas Blog
Let’s be audacious enough to get school accountability right. Let’s hold schools accountable for preparing children and youth for life instead of for tests.
Throughout American history, leaders have asked that schools help students develop: (1) the abilities to read, to write, and to compute, and basic knowledge of geography, history and science; (2) the abilities to analyze information and solve problems; (3) enthusiasm for the arts and literature; (4) qualifications for the workplace; (5) the abilities to communicate and get along with others from varied backgrounds and to take responsibility for one’s actions; (6) knowledge of how government works and of how to participate in community life; (7) good habits of nutrition and exercise, and (8) self-confidence, respect for others, and the ability to resist peer pressure.
If those are our goals then we will need more than one test in addition to measures of accountability other than tests.
We will need: (1) information on the academic growth of students on a variety of measures; (2) student work samples and/or observations of them solving problems; (3) samples of their art work and performances; (4) demonstrations of their workplace qualifications; (5) demonstrations that staff and students work together positively, and that adults use interventions to restore relationships when interactions become negative; (6) demonstrations of students’ participation in community life and of their knowledge of how government works; (7) observations of students’ food choices and exercising, and, (8) interviews with students to understand how they feel about themselves and others, and how independent they are in their decision-making.
Accountability done right is never simple, and accountability is too important to do on the cheap. The costs of doing education wrong are too high for us to continue to get accountability wrong.
BCP Real Talk 4 Girls Conference
On Saturday April 25, 2009 BCP hosted the first Real Talk 4 Girls Conference at Collington Square School. The conference addressed a range of issues that impact the self-esteem, behavior, interpersonal relationships and academic performance of young women.
Forty-five 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls from City Springs School, Collington Square School, Dr. Rayner Browne Academy and Hampstead Hill Academy attended the event.
Kelia Murray (BCP Community School Coordinator), Alicia Thomas (BCP/City Springs After-School Program Director), and Tonya Featherston (BCP Director of Restorative Practices) organized the conference.
“We wanted to create a safe space for the girls to have an open dialogue with adult professionals,” says Ms. Featherston.
“The conference gave them the opportunity to talk honestly about the choices they make and to ask for help with different strategies they can use.”
The day began with breakfast, an ice-breaker activity, and a keynote address by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The girls attended three breakout sessions on a variety of topics including: healthy relationships, self-esteem and personal appearance, images of women in the media, career development, dealing with gossip and bullying, managing stress, and fitness.
“The girls really valued the opportunity to come together with just girls and ask questions they might be reluctant to ask at school,” says Ms. Featherston.
“Before we reached lunch, they were already asking if we could have another gathering next weekend.”
The girls had time to practice their newly learned strategies during the breakout sessions. The hope is that they will take these skills back to the schools and share them with their peers.
“The young ladies today have so much intense pressure from the media and their surroundings,” says Alicia Thomas.
“These girls often resort to questioning their looks, thinking and self-image. Real Talk 4 Girls allowed them to dialogue with educators and each other about social and life skills issues. We hope they learned more about who they are and what they can do to become successful teens.”
We would like to thank the following people for leading breakout sessions: Alayna Davenport (Owner, Dance N’ Motion Studio), Nicky Dupree (Guidance Counselor, Hampstead Hill Academy), Tonya Featherston, Dwauna Maura (The Mayor’s Young Women in Action Program), Kelia Murray, Janesa Simmons (Baltimore City Healthy Teens and Young Adults Clinic), Jennifer Sullivan (Intern, UMB School of Social Work), Alicia Thomas, Helen Thomas (Clinical Instructor, JHU School of Nursing), Krista Wible (Guidance Counselor, City Springs School).
Remembering Social Justice Champion Irona Pope
Longtime social advocate and former City Springs parent liaison Irona Pope passed away on July 7, 2009.
“The passing of Ms. Pope is a huge loss for City Springs School,” says City Springs Principal Rhonda Richetta.
“We have lost our biggest and loudest advocate. Over the years Ms. Pope has reached out to help a countless number of parents, children and staff members in numerous ways."
“Personally, I have learned a great deal from Ms. Pope and will carry those lessons with me forever. She was a champion and we were fortunate to have her as our champion! She will be missed so much, by so many.”
Below is a reprint of a fall 2006 Class Notes article about Ms. Pope.
Irona Pope Continues to Help City Springs Community
If you want to know anything about the City Springs neighborhood, ask Irona Pope. Ms. Pope has worked for the school system for 36 years - 34 as a parent liaison. In fact, it was Ms. Pope and five motivated parents who found the money to build City Springs.
At the time neighborhood children were attending school next to a police station on Bank Street. Ms. Pope discovered that the City had planned to build teachers’ apartments in City Springs Park and turn Lombard into an elementary/middle school. Instead, the money had been used to build Hartford Heights.
After three years of intense lobbying and City Council hearings, Ms. Pope’s group of motivated parents won their school.
Since that initial victory, Ms. Pope has gone on to score many more victories for the residents of City Springs. She has helped 44 people move out of Perkins Homes and into their own homes. She worked with residents to found a food co-op. And now she runs a weekly peer mediation group for City Springs students.
Peer Mediation Program
The peer mediation program has been an incredible success. The 10-year old after-school program teaches children and parents, mostly from Perkins Homes, how to resolve their differences without violence.
“In public housing there is one door in and one door out and sometimes the only way to survive is to fight,” says Ms. Pope. The peer mediation program strives to find another way.
The program is open to students in grades 3 through 8. Students learn techniques to resolve conflicts peacefully. They use role-playing and work through real-life situations. Ralph Green of the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center has been a great support to the program. Last year the program had 15 students.
Justin Ruffin likes the class because he gets “to know people who are doing good and have a good life.”
In addition to in-class activities, students take trips to observe the judicial system in action. On a recent field trip, Ms. Pope took her class to visit Chief Judge Robert Bell at the Court of Appeals in Annapolis so that they could witness and discuss how lawyers engage in debate.
“For all our hard work, we get rewarded,” says Markus Taylor, referring to the class field trips.
Ms. Pope also employs some of her students at the Juvenile Justice Center, where she works in the Community and Family Resource Center. Students must maintain high academic achievement in order to work there. Like everything Ms. Pope does, the peer mediation program helps students and parents to find the strength within to achieve their goals.
“I have always been a part of the school and social change,” says Ms. Pope. “My rule is to make the family strong and to work with them at their level, so you can break the cycle.”
Ms. Pope was a true champion for social justice in her commitment to improving the lives of Baltimore City’s children. She will be sorely missed.