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Should Congress Tie Title I Aid to Common Standards, Tests?

A Washington think tank is suggesting that Congress require states to adopt the common standards—or another set of equally rigorous college- and career-ready standards—in order to get federal Title I funding.

That's one of the recommendations that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is making for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The institute outlined its ideas in a "blueprint" that serves as a counter to current law (remember that? It's called the No Child Left Behind Act), and to President Barack Obama's own blueprint (our story on that here, the blueprint itself here). Hat tip to my colleague Sean Cavanagh, who blogged about the Fordham blueprint over at State EdWatch.

Fordham argues that in order to get Title I money, states should have to adopt the common standards or a set of standards that are just as rigorous (as certified by a panel of state education folks and content-area experts). Fordham acknowledges here that it could be tough to figure out whether other sets of standards are "just as rigorous" as the common core, though this comes from the folks who have issued a number of studies that compare states' standards to one another, to NAEP, and to the common core.

The Fordham blueprint argues that in order to get Title I money, states should be required to set cut scores on tests that reflect college- and career-readiness, and should have to backmap those levels to 3rd grade to ensure that students who demonstrate proficiency at each successive level are indeed on track to demonstrate that readiness by graduation.

The states in the common-assessment consortia are operating under the presumption that their tests will reflect college- and career-readiness, and will feature common cut scores (even across the two consortia, not just within each one). Fordham argues that states not participating in the consortia should have to demonstrate—via a panel of experts—that their own tests' cut scores reflect college- and career-readiness. Setting common cut scores, however, is something many people—including Fordham's own Chester E. Finn Jr.—are betting will be dicey, and that's putting it mildly.

In a similar vein, Fordham argues that as a condition of getting Title I money, states should have to have tests that measure individual student growth. Consortia states are already operating under this premise, but growth measures have sparked questions and concerns from experts.

President Obama caused a good deal of consternation when he proposed tying Title I money to adoption of common college- and career-ready standards. And key ideas in Fordham's blueprint spark deep unease in certain quarters. The "panel of experts" idea, for instance: a panel that would give its stamp of approval to curriculum, standards or tests makes some folks' skins crawl. Who would serve on such a panel, and with what biases and vested interests?

If you really like curling up with ESEA blueprints, you might enjoy reviewing the NEA's version, and one issued by the Center for American Progress and Education Trust, not to mention a rejoinder from the folks at the educational leadership department of the University of Arkansas.

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