Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recalibration of Performance Standards Based on the Common Core State Standards Unveils an Opportunity for Equal Access to Quality Education

      In a May 2013 post, this writer suggested tying adoption of the Common Core State Standards to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition was political genius.  As noted in the original post, by the middle of 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds were being exhausted.  Therefore, thirty-nine states facing massive educational budget shortfalls by 2011, did in less than 100 days what was unattainable during the previous 100 years.  Throughout the country, states adopted common standards for English and Mathematics that would uniformly guide learning each year from Kindergarten through High School.  Sadly, “genius” in political circles is based on the leader’s popularity rather than an initiative’s righteousness or effectiveness.   
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core State Standards. A nation having high expectations explicated through MINIMAL learning standards should be a good thing.  Ensuring every state promotes high expectations through the same MINIMAL learning standards should also be seen as a good thing as the United States must compete in a global economy.  So, what derailed fact-based conversation in relation to the Common Core State Standards?
            It would be too easy to blame the derailment upon politics and the media.  Yet, these days politics and the media seem more vested in hyperbole and fear-mongering than elevating civil discourse.  In this vain, the discourse on the Common Core is allowed to focus upon what will be lost from implementation of the Common Core State Standards rather than what will be gained.  Interestingly, similar groups that criticize the condition of our public schools also criticize what will be lost as a result of implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  Is that not the epitome of talking out of both sides of one’s mouth? 
            The public education system in this country has shown real improvement since implementation of federal initiatives or mandates.  The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card, documents the educational progress of our public education system during the last two decades.  The sustained progress exhibited by NAEP scores since the start of the standards-based reform movement proves the effectiveness of the creation, adoption, and assessment based on MINIMAL learning standards.  NAEP also identified those states that consistently exhibit much less progress than others. 
NAEP proves the autonomy built into the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001) created a serious unintended consequence.  NCLB allowed state education agencies to independently establish grade-level proficiency cut-points that would ensure the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  However, the pursuit of AYP based on autonomous measures did not always adequately asdress the ESEA federal mandate to close achievement gaps by ensuring equal access to quality education.   
High expectations explicated as learning standards are part of the variables called leading indicators for success.  Subsequently, test results produce a trailing indicator-exhibiting either student success or failure.  Effective implementation is what comes between the high expectations and the test results. 
MINIMAL learning standards are not the problem.  Since the mid-1990s MINIMAL learning standards transformed the educational landscape from a teacher’s boast “that I know my students” as the criteria for student promotion, to current data-driven systems that provide the capability to diagnostically and prescriptively promote learning for all.  The Common Core State Standards simply provide the latest evolution to a process that should be addressing the maxim, “if better is possible then good is not enough.” 
By now, it should be obvious that this writer emphasizes the reality that any standards, including the Common Core State Standards, provide MINIMAL expectations rather than an end goal.  The Common Core State Standards create a uniformed level of MINIMAL expectations, called “proficiency” for each participating state and the District of Columbia.  An effective system needs the ability to monitor and adjust established “nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction” (Marzano & Waters, 2009, p. 23).
Prior to the standards-based reform movement, states measured success however they deemed fit.  Local autonomy and states-rights, the basis for many significant conflicts in this great nation, ensured adoption of uniformed education standards would not be easily reconciled.  To highlight the faulty logic in the demand for state autonomy in public education, let’s imagine another area using the same demand for autonomy.  A simile involving measurement might suggest education in this nation before the mid 1990 was like each state being able to establish what it considered to be an inch.  Many states autonomously used an established measure based on a ruler.  Other states used a system based on the international metric system.  Yet, other states argued that the inch, as established by King Edward II (1324), clearly should be “three barleycorns, round and dry.” 
Then, in 2001, each state was told it needed to identify how it would measure a foot because if it wanted federal money for its public schools everyone needed to be measured in feet.  Some states showed 12 inches would equal a foot.  Other states noted 30.48 centimeters would equal a foot.  Other states stayed vigilante to the old ways and found 36 barleycorns, round and dry, to demonstrate a foot.  Respectful of state rights for autonomy in education, the federal administration noted all three equaled a foot.  Of course the federal leadership disregarded the fact that most Americans do not understand the metric system, so communication would be hampered.  Worse yet, a windy day or non-agrarian society could make measurement with barleycorns really inefficient and ineffective. 
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards as MINIMAL benchmarks for learning is simply as logical as establishing an inch being an inch based on a single form of measurement.  Grade-level proficiency needs to be proficiency regardless if the student attends public school near the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, the curvaceous slopes of California, or near a hill and molehill of Mississippi.  The dream for all should be attainment of the mission of learning for all.
So, besides, political agendas and partisan media, what derailed the conversation in relation to the Common Core State Standards?  A lack of communication about transparency!  Specifically, the need to align results of the Common Core State Standards with the metrics used to demonstrate AYP over the last twelve years exposed which states measured proficiency using a ruler and which used barleycorns.  There are national and international instruments that could be used to validly and reliably calibrate proficiency based on a uniform standard  As noted above in paragraphs four and five, the national instrument was NAEP!
As a uniform instrument to evaluate public education throughout this country, results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) document each state’s educational progress.  To establish uniform performance standards, state education agencies used NAEP results to recalibrate the levels of proficiency established for the previous high stakes tests.  This process re-established what proficiency would mean from a national perspective rather than locally.   
Recalibration revealed the states that had established comparatively low criteria for purposes of AYP proficiency and continued to remain low-performing with NAEP.  The result for students within states with comparatively low standards for proficiency was, for example, if a child’s state testing scores previously indicated he or she was a level- 4 (advanced), that child might now be scored a 2 based on the performance standards now being aligned with Common Core State Standards.  The results of realignment does not mean the problem is with the MINIMAL expectations identified by the Common Core State Standards.  Realignment results also do not mean there is suddenly a problem with your child, your child’s teacher, or your child’s school, for they usually only rise to the level of expectations.  In a vast majority of cases, dissatisfaction with the Common Core State Standards mean the state was previously measuring proficiency by counting barleycorns rather than establishing high expectations.  A reference of a state’s NAEP scores reveals which would experience the greatest shift in performance standards as a result of recalibration.  Whenever a state is ranked in the middle or the bottom of NAEP results, the residents of that state should expect a reduction in students' ratings relative to proficiency.  
Anyone concerned with recalibration of state performance standards using NAEP as the common metric should be horrified by the results of an American Institutes for Research (AIR) report (Phillips, 2010).  To compare each state’s proficiency standards with the international benchmarks,  Phillips used two international assessments: the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).  Thus, Phillips utilized an international common metric for comparing state expectations.  This examination identified the stark contrast between a state with high standards (Massachusetts) and a “barleycorn” state’s standards indicated a difference of 2 standard deviations.  Such an expectation gap “may represent as much as four grade levels” (p. 2).
Sadly, under the NCLB paradigm, success typically was based on low performance standards.  A result of allowing states to develop autonomous standards for proficiency was too many states’ residents thought their students were doing well and therefore felt no need to improve.  The Common Core State Standards and related assessment that provides a uniformed metric will cause temporary shock wherever low expectations previously prevailed.  Long-term advantages should offset short-term embarrassment because through the Common Core State Standards critical thinking is back in the classroom.   

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (November 18, 2014) Recalibration of performance standards based on the common core
State  standards unveils an opportunity for equal access to quality education.   [Web log post]

Bandeira de Mello, V., Blankenship, C., & McLaughlin, D. (2009). Mapping state proficiency standards
onto NAEP scales: 2005–2007 (NCES 2010-456). Washington, DC: National Center for
Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
                correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District Leadership That Works. Bloomington, In: Solution
                Tree Press