Pages tagged "standardized tests"

Education Policy

Our Progressive Vision: Our public schools must provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve his or her fullest potential in life. Children are not standardized; each one needs personalized instruction. That requires both fully qualified professional teachers and opportunities to learn outside of school. Every jurisdiction should: (1) provide adequate funding for public schools; (2) deliver instruction in a way that recognizes the differences in both the interests and needs of specific children; (3) create opportunities to learn outside of the classroom, including afterschool, arts and recreational programs, and libraries; and (4) make schools both safe and fair.

Adequate school funding

K-12 school funding was substantially cut due to the recession and most states are still providing less per student than they did in 2008. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and Oklahoma each cut school spending by more than 15 percent. In addition, most states allow substantial disparities in per-pupil school funding from one jurisdiction to another. States and school systems should ensure that school spending is transparent (e.g., charter schools), that money is not wasted on consultants and standardized tests, and that universal pre-K is fully funded.

Personalized not standardized instruction

We must recognize that there are no standardized children; every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why all schools must offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention every child needs. School systems need to deemphasize standardized tests and pre-packaged lessons, and instead hire and stand behind fully trained teachers who give each and every student the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.

Opportunities outside of class

A great deal of children’s learning happens outside of the classroom. Kids learn from art, music and dance programs, from athletics, nature and the outdoors, from games and hobbies, from afterschool clubs of all kinds, and from independent reading for pleasure. States and localities need to fully fund libraries, and support nonprofits that provide afterschool and summer school programs for disadvantaged youth.

Safe schools, fair discipline

In order to learn, children need schools that are safe and welcoming. Harassment, intimidation and bullying are well-known to impede students’ ability to learn. Students who are bullied are far more likely to skip school and earn poor grades, and many states and individual school systems have implemented safe school policies to address the problem. Yet, it is also clear that some school systems overuse their discipline processes, often in a discriminatory manner. The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Education jointly announced national guidelines on school discipline that should be implemented at the state and local levels.



Transparency in school spending

With the rise of standardized testing, pre-packaged lessons and charter schools, there has been a noticeable decline in public awareness of how education funds are spent. School systems should disclose exactly what they pay for tests, pre-tests and test preparation programs, as well as consultants and pre-packaged lessons. Similarly, states and school boards should insist that charter schools, especially for-profit management companies, are held to the same transparency requirements as traditional schools. Tax dollars should be invested in classrooms, not in padding corporate profits.

Pre-K for all

Children in poverty often begin school already one or two years behind their more affluent peers. One clear part of the solution to this education gap is universal, high-quality pre-Kindergarten. Experts in early education overwhelmingly agree that children who have two years of a strong pre-K program start kindergarten with much better academic and social skills and that this improvement helps those children succeed later on in school and in life. Studies have also shown that pre-K programs return benefits to the community of seven dollars for every dollar invested. Yet, only about 40 percent of America’s four-year-olds and less than 10 percent of three-year-olds, are enrolled in public pre-K programs. The best Pre-K for All legislation would serve all three- and four-year olds and requires licensing and accreditation by state officials for both private and public pre-K programs. This legislation would also encourage the use of nationally recognized benchmarks to develop curricula that balance direct instructional and play-based approaches, which ensures that children develop the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills they need.

Limits on standardized testing

In the more heavily tested grades, students routinely lose more than a month of instructional time because of standardized testing and test prep. Across the country, parents are rising up against this level of over-testing. States and school boards should commission an audit to see how much testing is done and determine the educational and financial cost. They should also limit standardized testing to the minimum amount required by federal law—and children younger than third grade should not be subjected to them.

Ban kindergarten and pre-K suspensions

In some jurisdictions, kindergarten and even pre-K students are suspended or expelled at an alarming rate. But putting a 4 or 5-year-old child out of educational programs is counter-productive and both states and localities can enact legislation to curtail this practice. 

Too Young to Test, End of Life Options, Ballot Initiatives and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Too Young to Test Act: A recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools found that there is far too much reliance on standardized testing in public schools, hurting schoolchildren, teachers and administrators. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires testing in grades 3-8, but most school systems go beyond that mandate and test in grades K-2 as well. This is developmentally inappropriate—the Too Young to Test Act would stop it.

Our goal is not to change beliefs, it is to change behavior: In almost every jurisdiction, in order to win political battles, we must persuade at least some non-aligned or “swing” voters. But these “persuadable voters” are hardly interested in or informed about politics and policy. Simultaneously, “confirmation bias” makes it almost impossible to change their beliefs. Read about how to handle the problem on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

End of Life Options: Tuesday, November 17 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the End of Life Option Act, authorizing medical aid in dying. The fact is, end of life policies are being enacted all over the nation. Come learn about it from our special guest, Charmaine Manansala, National Field Director for Compassion & Choices. Register for the webinar here.

AP analysis of the 2015 elections: The Associated Press concludes that it was not a good election for either party. Red states stayed red and blue states stayed blue. The full story is here.

Democracy won at the ballot box: Three very significant ballot initiatives recently won. Maine voters approved a strengthening of their Clean Elections Act. Ohio voters approved a bipartisan redistricting commission. And voters in Seattle set up a unique system of campaign finance called “democracy vouchers.” Bill Moyers explains here.

Latest Compendium of State and Local Legislation in 2015: What’s happened so far in 2015? Read about it in our Compendium. If you have additions to suggest, please contact

Public Services, Standardized Testing, Message Framing and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Access to Public Services for Non-English Speakers Act: Millions of residents can’t easily interact with government agencies because they a have limited ability speak or read in English. The Access to Public Services for Non-English Speakers Act would require a city, county or state to take reasonable steps to provide access for many non-speakers of English.

Did Arne Duncan Just Surrender on Standardized Testing? Days ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced a major policy shift, claiming they would now help states and school districts to decrease standardized testing in public schools. One of the DOE’s proposals, to limit testing to 2% of yearly school hours, is meaningless. But there are other provisions. Read about them on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Message Framing 101: Tuesday, November 3 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. This is an explanation of the fundamentals of message framing which we provide every year or so. We will explain the behavioral science behind why it is so hard to persuade people, offer three rules that help you structure persuasive arguments on any topic, and provide examples of how those rules apply to a wide variety of controversial political issues. Register for the webinar here.

Seattle plan would allow collective bargaining for Uber drivers: A landmark bill was unanimously approved by a legislative committee in Seattle to classify all for-hire drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

End of Life Options: California Governor Jerry Brown just signed the End of Life Option Act, authorizing medical aid in dying. This Compassion & Choices webpage lists what is happening on the issue in many states all over the country.

Latest Compendium of State and Local Legislation in 2015: What’s happened so far in 2015? Read about it in our Compendium. If you have additions to suggest, please contact

Did Arne Duncan Just Surrender on Standardized Testing?

Days ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced a dramatic policy shift on standardized testing of public school students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoed by President Obama, admitted that a Council of the Great City Schools study was right—there is too much reliance on standardized testing, hurting schoolchildren, teachers and administrators. The Education Department, therefore, published a Testing Action Plan which they claim will help states and school districts to roll back over-testing, at least to some extent.

This about-face is astonishing because Arne Duncan is substantially responsible for our schools’ overreliance on standardized tests. He made evaluating teachers by student test scores a condition of both federal Race to Top funding and his Department’s waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And it was Duncan who forced states to add standardized tests in subjects like social studies, science, languages, and even physical education.

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Synthetic Drugs, Common Core Results, Progressive Economics and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Controlling Synthetic Drugs: One of the most likely causes of the spike in urban violent crime is the steep rise in the use of synthetic drugs. These substances, which are cheap and widely available in high-poverty neighborhoods, are believed to cause some to become unusually violent. The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws has three model bills here to deal with these “Novel Psychoactive Substances.”

Common Core “Results” Aren’t Actually Test Scores: Over the next couple of months we can expect a flood of PR efforts to tout the results of Common Core standardized tests. But these will be largely misleading because they will reflect subjective lines in the sand, not actual test scores. Read about it on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Three Principles of Progressive Economics: Thursday, September 10 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. Americans generally understand conservative economic principles: free markets are essential, the rich deserve their wealth, the rich are job creators, government should be small and taxes need to be low. How do we push back and talk about progressive economics? Register for the webinar here.

State Earned Income Tax Credits: State EITCs are among the simplest and most effective of anti-poverty measures. Here is a simple explanation of the policy from our friends at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Auto Insurance Discrimination: Companies charge low-income residents more for auto insurance by increasing rates based on credit scores, occupation and level of education. Some states are now limiting what insurers can consider in calculating premiums, explains the Pew Trust’s Stateline.

Looking for policies to introduce in 2016? Our Progressive Agenda for States and Localities contains hundreds of ideas for new laws on many subjects, including hyperlinks to model bills. It’s all right here.

Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores

A few states have now released results from the Common Core standardized tests administered to students last spring. The Associated Press recently published a story about it, and over the next couple of months we can expect a flood of press releases, news articles and opinion columns bragging about the “success” of these tests.

But nearly all the news and opinion pieces will be wildly misleading. That’s because Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores. In fact, the numbers tell us more about the states’ test scorers than they do about schoolchildren.

Consider the AP story, for example. It says that, across seven states, "overall scores [were] higher than expected, though still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing." But the only things that have been released are percentages of students who supposedly meet "proficiency" levels. Those are not test scores—certainly not what parents would understand as scores—they are entirely subjective measurements.

Here’s why. When a child takes a standardized test, his or her results are turned into a "raw score," that is, the actual number of questions answered correctly, or when an answer is worth more than one point, the actual number of points the child received. That is the only real objective “score,” and yet, Common Core raw scores have not been released.

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School evaluation that’s data driven—over a cliff

Last week, a very distinguished panel convened by the National Research Council published an Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia. The report is 341 pages long and cost millions of dollars to produce. What’s most impressive about this Evaluation is how very far removed from reality it is.

The experts who contributed to the analysis relied principally on data sets that covered the city’s DC-CAS standardized tests, the NAEP nationwide standardized tests, and the local teacher evaluation model called IMPACT. They also considered other data such as graduation rates, attendance, dismissal, and teacher retention. The third of three major recommendations from this Evaluation cannot be denied: the school system needs to address the so-called “achievement gap,” which—as noted elsewhere—has been greatly exacerbated since “school reform” came to the District in 2007.

What are recommendations one and two? The first is to create “a comprehensive data warehouse.” The second is to pay for ongoing independent evaluation of this data. Really.

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Top 10 Victories, Three Steps to Persuade, Police Reform and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group that helps turn state and local elected officials, advocates and grassroots activists into progressive champions. To join, click here.

Too Young to Test: Given their age, skills and abilities, it is unreasonable and inappropriate to administer standardized tests to students in prekindergarten through grade two. Federal law does not require such tests until the third grade, yet many school systems are ignoring the best interests of children, parents and teachers. The Too Young to Test Act puts a stop to it.

Top Ten Legislative Victories of 2014: Over the past year, legislative efforts to advance economic and social justice were thoroughly frustrated by right wingers in Congress. Yet there were true progressive victories in states and localities across America. Read about the Top Ten Victories of 2014 on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Three Steps to Persuade: Wednesday, January 14 @3:00pm Eastern, 2:00pm Central, 1:00pm Mountain, noon Pacific. Behavioral science tells us that persuasion is hard. When deciding whether to agree with you, people rely on emotion and ingrained beliefs far more than facts. This webinar explores the science and describes three rules that help you break through stereotypes and persuade by focusing on the listener’s values and interests. Register here to participate.

Ideas for Police Reform: Every state, as well as every city, county and town that controls a police force, should be reassessing their law enforcement procedures. This short paper links to six different police reform model bills and ten other models to improve other aspects of public safety.

Twenty different Local Progress policy briefs: Written by Center for Popular Democracy for Local Progress, these 20 policy briefs do a terrific job explaining a wide variety of municipal issues.

Order printed copies of the Progressive Agenda: The 2015 Progressive Agenda is ready for distribution. You can download a PDF copy here. If you are willing, we will send you printed copies to distribute to your colleagues. Order here or contact Michael Weiss at

D.C. School Test Results Reflect Utter Failure of “Reform” Policies

If this isn’t failure, what is?

The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”

This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.

Here are the DC-CAS results copied directly from the DCPS website. These do not include charter schools; school authorities chose to hide those longitudinal results. But we know from a detailed memorandum by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that—based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—results including charter schools would be little different than this.


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