Archive for the 'Academic Achievement' Category

June
19th 2017
PARCC Rides Off Into the Sunset… On a Circular Track

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Education Politics & State Board of Education & Testing

It’s no secret that people don’t love Pearson’s PARCC tests. Even way back in 2015, states were practically tripping on themselves trying to get away from the unpopular test, which was originally designed to provide comparable results across state lines. That trend has continued, and only a handful of the original dozens of PARCC states remain. Now, it looks like Colorado is jumping ship. It’s about time. But are we really leaving PARCC behind? Or are we just witnessing a rebranding effort?

Colorado’s experience with PARCC has not been overly pleasant. For starters, and although there have been some improvements on this front, results have been slow to roll in despite promises from test-making giant Pearson Education that their technology would make those results available faster. It’s hard to do much with test scores that come in after the new school year is already in full swing. That makes it very tough to create buy-in on the part of educators, parents, or even education observers.

PARCC has similarly failed to convince students and parents of its value, and opt-out numbers have soared. Those opt outs are a serious problem for a number of reasons. First, they signal that the state is spending many millions of dollars on a testing instrument that parents and students do not see as valuable enough to use, particularly in certain grade levels. Second, they throw a serious wrench in the state’s accountability system. You know there’s an issue when you have to start flagging school and district accountability reports with asterisks for “low participation.” Finally, and more seriously, the unreliable data caused by the opt-out movement harms parents’ ability to make informed educational choices and adds fuel to the fire of the anti-reform movement.

There are many, many issues involved in Colorado’s current testing situation. But I remain convinced that one of the primary drivers of Colorado’s testing woes has been PARCC’s unpopularity. That’s why I was thrilled to see Independence Institute support a bill this year to remove PARCC from all Colorado high schools and replace it with a test that prepares students for and aligns with the SAT in 11th grade. That bill has since been signed into law.

Now, it looks like Colorado is taking similar steps in earlier grades. Thanks to a Colorado State Board of Education decision back in December, Colorado will soon move away from PARCC testing in grades 3-8 as it withdraws from the PARCC testing consortium. That should be cause for celebration for parents concerned about PARCC and a good catalyst to begin returning our focus to sensible accountability and testing. But don’t get too excited yet. Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2017
Say Bye Bye to High School PARCC Exams

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Governor & Testing

It’s been a while since we talked about PARCC. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to talk about. The test remains enormously unpopular—a fact that breeds high opt-out rates; limits student, educator, and parent buy-in; and fosters instability in our ability to measure schools’ performance and provide good information to parents looking to choose schools for their children. Now, thanks to a new bill at the legislature, PARCC will very likely be leaving Colorado high schools for good.

It’s hard to talk about PARCC-era testing without talking about opt outs. That subject can get complicated quickly. There’s a lot more going on with the formal “opt-out movement” than meets the eye, a lot of which is pretty concerning. But a good deal of the fuel for that particular fire comes from opposition to PARCC. Don’t believe me? Consider this (from a previous post on the issue):

I still believe PARCC—not the idea of standardizing testing itself—is a big part of the problem here. Americans overwhelmingly still support the idea of regular standardized testing, and this level of anti-testing angst didn’t exist back in the TCAP era. Don’t believe me? Check out the CDE graph from the last ESSA Hub Committee meeting below. Further, the heaviest concentration of opt outs is in older grades, with most lower grades meeting or nearly meeting the magical 95 percent participation threshold. One would expect to see a more even distribution of opt outs across grade levels if we were looking at a true cultural shift among parents overall. One might even expect opt outs to be higher among younger children whose parents are worried about “subjecting” them to standardized testing.


Colorado took a big step back from the PARCC hot potato in 2015 by ditching PARCC as the statewide test for high school sophomores and juniors. Instead, students began taking tests aligned with the 11th-grade college entry exam all Colorado juniors take. That test used to be the ACT before Colorado’s awkward switch to the SAT in 2015. Tenth graders now take the PSAT, which is designed to track with and prepare students for the full SAT in their junior year . As of right now, however, 9th graders still take the PARCC exam. A new bill, HB 1181, would change that. Continue Reading »

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January
5th 2017
New Rankings Should Lead to New, Better Conversations

Posted under Academic Achievement & Research & School Finance

While Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report is just one of many K-12 state rankings out there, it tends to get a lot of attention because it’s more accessible and easier to interpret that data directly from, say, the U.S. Census Bureau or the National Center for Education Statistics. The latest edition of that report was just released, which means we’re about to see a bevy of questionably accurate news articles, accusations, and assertions crop up in the near future. In the meantime, we can talk a little about the latest results and what they may or may not tell us.

Some of you may remember that the Education Policy Center spent some time talking about Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts report in a recent paper on Colorado school finance. Here’s a refresher on last year’s report:

Published annually by Education Week, this report ranks states on “chance for success,” academic achievement, and school finance, with ratings in each of these categories consisting of both an overall grade and a number of more granular rankings. The 2016 report, which relied upon 2013 data, ranked Colorado 37th overall in the area of school finance. As some interest groups have reported, the state was ranked 42nd in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, which account for regional cost differences. Colorado received rankings at levels ranging from 12th to 39th on a variety of other funding measures within the report.

Interestingly, the Education Week report is one of the few sources of school finance rankings that also directly ranks states on academic measures. The report ranked Colorado 18th in overall K-12 achievement, 15th in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency rates as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and 22nd in graduation rates. It also ranked Colorado 13th in “chance for success,” which evaluates states on a range of criteria like family income, academic achievement, and adult educational attainment. If Colorado’s ranking in school finance had any impact on its ranking in the academic areas of the report, that impact is not immediately apparent.

In other words, the state tends to do pretty well academically compared to other states despite what many interest groups cite as a catastrophic funding shortfall that leaves Colorado further down the school finance list.

That trend largely continues in the 2017 report. The headline you’re likely to see is “Colorado Earns F for School Funding,” but I encourage you not to get bogged down in Education Week’s debatable reporter-bait letter grades. Education Week says the national average grade on spending measures is a D, which somewhat calls into question the scale they are using. We should, however, pay some attention to the state’s finance rankings as they are presnted in Colorado’s highlight report—not necessarily because the percentages earned on Education Week’s grading metrics are themselves entirely relevant, but because we’re probably going to be hearing a lot about them in the coming weeks. Continue Reading »

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