Archives for category: Accountability

The American Educational Research Association issued a warning against the use of value added measures for high-stakes decisions regarding educators and teacher preparation programs. The cardinal rule of assessment is that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were created. A measure of fourth grade reading measures the student, not the teacher, the principal, or the school.



AERA Issues Statement on the Use of Value-Added Models in Evaluation of Educators and Educator Preparation Programs
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 11—In a statement released today, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) advises those using or considering use of value-added models (VAM) about the scientific and technical limitations of these measures for evaluating educators and programs that prepare teachers. The statement, approved by AERA Council, cautions against the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions regarding educators.


In recent years, many states and districts have attempted to use VAM to determine the contributions of educators, or the programs in which they were trained, to student learning outcomes, as captured by standardized student tests. The AERA statement speaks to the formidable statistical and methodological issues involved in isolating either the effects of educators or teacher preparation programs from a complex set of factors that shape student performance.


“This statement draws on the leading testing, statistical, and methodological expertise in the field of education research and related sciences, and on the highest standards that guide education research and its applications in policy and practice,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine.


The statement addresses the challenges facing the validity of inferences from VAM, as well as specifies eight technical requirements that must be met for the use of VAM to be accurate, reliable, and valid. It cautions that these requirements cannot be met in most evaluative contexts.


The statement notes that, while VAM may be superior to some other models of measuring teacher impacts on student learning outcomes, “it does not mean that they are ready for use in educator or program evaluation. There are potentially serious negative consequences in the context of evaluation that can result from the use of VAM based on incomplete or flawed data, as well as from the misinterpretation or misuse of the VAM results.”


The statement also notes that there are promising alternatives to VAM currently in use in the United States that merit attention, including the use of teacher observation data and peer assistance and review models that provide formative and summative assessments of teaching and honor teachers’ due process rights.


The statement concludes: “The value of high-quality, research-based evidence cannot be over-emphasized. Ultimately, only rigorously supported inferences about the quality and effectiveness of teachers, educational leaders, and preparation programs can contribute to improved student learning.” Thus, the statement also calls for substantial investment in research on VAM and on alternative methods and models of educator and educator preparation program evaluation.


Related AERA Resource:
Special Issue of Educational Researcher (March 2015)—
Value Added Meets the Schools: The Effects of Using Test-Based Teacher Evaluation on the Work of Teachers and Leaders

Peter Greene observes that there is a burgeoning number of “I Quit” letters by teachers. It has become a genre of its own. But he wants the world to know that he is not quitting.

Here is how his “I don’t quit” letter begins:

Dear Board of Education:

Just wanted you to know that I am not going any damn where.

Yes, a lot of people have worked hard to turn my job into something I barely recognize, and yes, I am on the butt end of a whole lot of terrible education policy, and yes, I am regularly instructed to commit educational malpractice in my classroom.

But here’s the thing– you don’t pay me nearly enough for me to do my job badly, on purpose.

I’m not going to make children miserable on purpose. I’m not going to waste valuable education time on purpose. I’m not going to teach them that reading is a miserable activity with no purpose other than to prepare for testing. I’m not going to tell them that these big stupid tests, or any other tests, or grades, even, are an important measure of how “good” they are or how much right they have to feel proud or happy or justified in taking up space on this planet. I’m not going to tell them any of that.

Most of these new education reform policies are wrong. They’re bad pedagogy, bad instruction, bad for students, bad for education, and we all know it. I am not going to spend another day in my room pretending that I don’t know it.

Am I God’s gift to teaching, so awesome that I never need to listen to anybody about anything? Not at all. It’s a big, wide, complicated world, and I’ll listen to anybody who thinks they have something to share about how children can be educated.

But here’s the thing. I am a teacher. I am an education professional. I trained to do this job, and I have never stopped training and learning since I started on this path. This is my world. This is the work that I committed myself to. I live here, and that means I know more about this work than the edu-tourists just passing through.

Read it all. It will remind you that teaching is a noble profession, and that this is a time to fight off the barbarians and stand strong for what you know is right.

Maybe it is just me, but I find myself outraged by the “reformers'” incessant manipulation of language.

“Reform” seldom refers to reform.

“Reform” means privatization.

“Reform” means assaults on the teaching profession.

“Reform” means eliminating teachers’ unions, which fight for better salaries and working conditions.

“Reform” means boasting about test scores by schools that have carefully excluded the students who might get low scores.

“Reform” means using test scores to evaluate teachers even though this practice has negative effects on teacher morale and fails to identify better or worse teachers.

“Reform” means stripping teachers of due process rights or any other job security.

“Reform” means that schools should operate for-profit and that private corporations should be encouraged to profit from school spending.

“Reform” means acceptance of privately managed schools that operate without accountability or transparency.

“Reform” means the incremental destruction of public education.

I am reminded of George Orwell’s lines from his prophetic novel 1984:

“War is peace.

“Freedom is slavery’

“Ignorance is strength.”

The goal of the leadership in the novel was to teach the population “doublethink.” To believe in contradictory ideas.

So we see schools closed, teachers and principals fired, and we are supposed to believe this is “reform.”

The media, with few exceptions, say that what is happening almost everywhere is “reform,” so it must be reform to replace public schools with privately managed charters, and to fire experienced professionals and replace them with newcomers, with untrained and inexperienced teachers and with principals who taught for one or two years.

It must be reform to allow out-of-state billionaires to buy local and state school board elections so they can control the schools of a state they don’t live in.

I confess I am also irritated by the habit of referring to young children as “scholars.” To me, a scholar is someone who has devoted his or her professional life to the advancement of knowledge. If a five-year-old is a “scholar,” what do you call a distinguished university professor who is widely recognized for her research and publications?

Has the public been suckered into believing that the destruction of public education is “reform”?

Does the public willingly accept the idea that hedge fund managers and equity investors are taking control of what is supposed to be a public responsibility?

Will we let them monetize our children and their public schools?

Does the public understand that a small group inside the Beltway wrote the “national standards” behind closed doors, that one billionaire (Bill Gates) paid for them and paid millions to national education organizations to advocate for them, and that the federal government bribed 45 states to endorse them?

How long will the public tolerate tests tied to those standards that are designed to fail 65-70% of the nation’s children?

How much longer will we allow the nation’s children to be labeled and sorted by standardized tests whose outcomes may be predicted by family income?

When will the public realize that test-based accountability does not improve education, does not promote better teaching, and actually reduces the quality of education?

How long can the Emperor parade through the streets before someone tells him he is naked?

How long can a charade persist before the public knows they have been conned?

How long will it take to unmask this great theft of a democratic institution that belongs to the public, not to entrepreneurs, foundations, rightwing ideologues, hedge fund managers, or their compliant politicians?






Gary Rubinstein, who teaches mathematics at elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City, is a crack data analyst. Although he was one of the first to join Teach for America, he has become one of the most perceptive critics of “reform.”

In this post, he examines Louisiana’s claims of great success on Advanced Placement exams.

He writes:

To education ‘reformers,’ test scores are the ultimate measure of success. Test scores are the evidence that the country’s education system is broken. Test scores of certain charter schools prove that most teachers in this country have low expectations and don’t try very hard. Schools have been shut down over test scores. Teachers have been fired over test scores.

Contrary to the narrative of common core proponents, there are currently many national tests that can be used to compare test scores of different states. There’s the NAEP, the ACT, the SAT, and, probably the highest quality of all of them, the Advanced Placement exams. Though I’m not a huge fan of a lot that The College Board does, I find the tests that I’m knowledgeable about, AB Calculus, BC Calculus, and Computer Science, to be good tests.

Education ‘reform’ leaders use low test scores as a way to justify their radical policy changes. “Kids can’t wait,” they say. They promise that they know what works and that they just need some time for their changes to take effect.

In Louisiana, the State Education Commissioner John White has boasted for the past three years about increased participation in taking AP exams, but he underplays the continued very low passing rates of students on those exams. Gary has commented on these AP passing rates every year and notes that this year, John White is claiming “big gains.” So Gary takes a closer look.

He finds that Louisiana has passing rates (a score of 3 or higher) that are third from the bottom in the nation.

True, the participation rates have gone up, but even so, Louisiana continues to be one of the lowest performing states in the nation.

Gary writes:

In addition to the state-by-state data released by the College Board, the state of Louisiana, a few months ago, released AP data for their districts and their schools. These numbers are shockingly low and certainly seem to be something that ‘outcome driven reformers’ want to ignore. Sci Academy, which is one of those New Schools For New Orleans schools touted on Oprah, for example, had over 110 students take an AP exam while less than 10 of them passed one. Out of about 500 students who took an AP in the entire Recovery School District, only 27 students, or 5.5% passed one.

‘Reformers’ like to say that they get increased freedom in exchange for increased test score accountability. They are truly running out of time to deliver on their promises.



We have been waiting for a member of the media to ask the Democratic and Republican candidates. Finally it happened, though not on national television. Journalist Roland Martin in South Carolina asked Hillary Clinton about her views on charter schools. Her answer suggests that she realizes the issues surrounding private management of public dollars.

“The original idea, Roland, behind charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

“So I want parents to be able to exercise choice within the public school system — not outside of it — but within it because I am still a firm believer that the public school system is one of the real pillars of our democracy and it is a path for opportunity.”

The Clinton administration supported charters. We know a lot more about them now than we did in the 1990s. I would like to see the federal government cut funding completely for for-profit charters and for virtual charters. I hope the Feds set standards for all charters regarding financial transparency and accountability, discipline, suspension, and teacher qualifications, as well as their responsibility to enroll students with disabilities and English language learners that at least as high as the surrounding public schools. Public money requires public accountability.

Anthony Cody gives us an overview of the past 14 years, in which the common theme is that teachers cannot be trusted to grade or assess their students.

Having survived the onerous and intrusive NCLB and the teacher-bashing of Race to the Top, educators and a growing part of the public realize that it is not the schools that are failing, it is the “reforms” of Bush and Obama.

So with the failure of test-based accountability, the next wave of disruptive innovation is upon us. Led by former Gates executive Tom Vanderbilt Ark, the latest thing is competency based learning and competency based assessment. The idea is even embedded in the President’s “Testing Action Plan.”

Cody writes:

“We have been badgered for the past 14 years by reformers insisting on the fierce urgency of change, and they have had their way – twice! First, seven years of NCLB, followed by the past seven years of Race to the Top, and now the “next generation” of tests, which were promised to be “smarter,” computer-adapted, and deliver results more quickly. None of it worked. Scores on the independent NAEP tests are flat or down. The SBAC and PARCC tests are more difficult without being any “smarter” in telling us about what our students can do. The idea that these tests could somehow promote and measure creativity and critical thinking is debunked. The growing opt out movement poses a huge threat to the standardized testing “measure to manage” paradigm.

“So what is to be done?

“Reinvent the tests once again, using technology. And who better for the job than Tom Vander Ark, formerly of the Gates Foundation, and now associated with a long list of education technology companies. The latest package of solutions is being called “competency based learning,” and it was featured prominently in the Department of Education’s latest “Testing Action Plan.”

So here we go again, but this time with the technology leading the way. This is the breakthrough that equity investors have been waiting for.

Don’t fall for it. Empower teachers, not computers, to assess their students.

Stop the financialization and monetization of public education. Don’t be fooled.

Emily Talmage lives in Maine, where she blogs about the latest fads to “reform” American education. In this post, she shows the relationship between the theories of B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who was renowned in his time for his belief in behaviorism, and today’s big new idea: competency based education. In President Obama’s recent “Testing Action Plan,” he endorsed the strategy of competency based education, where every student moves at his or her own pace through programmed instruction on computers. The plan sets aside $25 million to encourage states to try new forms of assessment, including competency-based models. Although this approach is often referred to as individualized, customized, and personalized instruction, it is a direct descendant of B.F. Skinner’s teaching machines. In a previous post, she noted that:


A shift to competency-based education has been in the works a least a decade, with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (among others) at the helm of this shift.



Here, she sets the ideas of B.F. Skinner, enunciated in the 1950s, alongside those currently on the website of testing company Questar, whose assessments have been adopted by New York State:


Here’s Skinner:

As soon as the student has written his response, he operates the machine, and learns immediately whether he is right or wrong. This is a great improvement over the system in which papers are corrected by a teacher, where the student must wait perhaps until another day, to learn whether or not what he is written is right.

Such immediate knowledge has two principle effects: it leads most rapidly to the formation of correct behavior. The student quickly learns to be right…


Now compare the Skinner quote with this description that comes from the website of Questar – the testing company recently adopted by New York State:

With tablets and the right software, this approach is possible on an individualized basis: after every five minutes of individualized tablet-based instruction, students would be presented with a brief series of questions that adapt to their skill level, much as computer-adaptive tests operate today. After that assessment, the next set of instructional material would be customized according to these results.


Here’s Skinner again:

Another important advantage is that the student is free to move at his own pace. With techniques in which a whole class is forced to move together, the bright student wastes time, waiting for others to catch up, and the slow student, who may not be inferior in any other respect, is forced to go too fast. …A student who is learning by machine learns at the rate, which is most effective for him. The fast student covers the course in a short time, but the slow student, by giving more time to the subject, can cover the same ground. Both learn the material thoroughly.


Now, compare this with Questar:

Because students progress through subject material at their own pace, they can be grouped by ability instead of grade level, similar to competency-based learning approaches currently being tried in various schools and districts.

Questar and Skinner…pretty much indistinguishable, aren’t they?



Bill Gates recently said that he didn’t realize how hard it was to change education. It is really hard work. He has no idea. Sitting in his air-conditioned offices overlooking Seattle, flying in his personal jet, relaxing on his family yacht, surrounded by hordes of assistants and aides, he has no idea of what teachers do and no understanding of why his efforts to “reform” schools keep failing. He thinks it is hard work.


But, in Valerie Strauss’ blog, she quotes Nancy E. Bailey, a special education teacher who left the classroom because of the damage done to her students by high-stakes testing. Bailey explains to Gates what is really hard work. It is harder than “philanthropic work.”


Bailey, who wrote the 2013 book “Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students,” challenged Melinda and Bill Gates to spend “some serious time in poor public schools” to learn what is really hard in education for teachers and students — and to “spend time with the many moms of students with disabilities who home-school not because they want to, but because schools have cut special education services.”


Here is a shortened version of her admittedly incomplete list of what’s really hard in education (and you can see the full blog post and list here):


Being an over-tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
Working as a teacher on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty and must deal with the many troubling consequences that come with a life lived in hardship.
Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
Being made to read before you are ready,
Failing third grade based on one test.
Being a high school student who has to focus on test-taking and not given ample time to explore real career options.
Being poor and working only in math and reading with little opportunity to participate in music or art classes.
Deciding if you can afford to leave teaching because you hate the changes that negatively impact children, including all the high-stakes Common Core testing.
Knowing you have to teach to pay the bills but understanding why parents dislike you for being forced to implement harsh reforms.
Being told you will have to reapply for the job you need in the career you hold dear because your school has been turned into a charter school.
Working with overcrowded class sizes because some reformer doesn’t know better and thinks class size doesn’t matter.
Not being able to get to all your students because your paraprofessional has been let go.
Not being able to go to the bathroom when you need to because your paraprofessional has been let go.
Not being paid for a master’s degree on which you spent time and money to better yourself professionally.
Working in a crummy school building while a brand new charter school is opened down the street.
Getting judged for your teaching by the test scores of students you don’t have.
Being forced to focus more on data than children, and filling out mounds of time-consuming and often useless paperwork.
Watching your young students fail computer-based tests because they can’t type fast enough.
Knowing how much time you spent learning to be a teacher and watching others with inadequate training get jobs.
Being forced to put away your developmentally appropriate student play kitchens, puppets and costumes in kindergarten.
Seeing your school put money into iPads when there are so many other things needed.
Working in a school with no librarian or media specialist.
Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
Not having enough guidance counselors to work with you when your student has mental health issues.
Not having appropriate special education services to offer children who need them.
Being a student in a no-excuse charter school and knowing that you could be punished for the smallest disciplinary infraction.
Having your local school board ignore your pleas to keep your public school open.




Gene V. Glass here quotes a young woman, Susan Tran, who completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and is now finishing graduate studies to be certified as an elementary school teacher. He wonders how new teachers are able to resolve the contradictions between what the demands of the state and their professional ethics.

Glass writes:

Susan is mature and intelligent; she recognized early in her career that becoming a teacher in the Age of Reformation is forcing idealistic young teachers to resolve contradictions — contradictions between 1) messages from reformers who believe that teaching is a low level trade that has no right to organize on its own behalf and for which six weeks of indoctrination are adequate training, and 2) messages from university-based teacher trainers who believe that good teaching is rooted in children’s unique interests and capabilities and treats them as individuals, not as replicates of a governmentally defined template.

Susan Tran writes (quoted in part):

Throughout my education to be a teacher, one of the biggest questions that has arisen for me is “How do I meet the expectations and standards of the state and district, while also meeting the true needs of my students?” One of my biggest fears coming into the teaching profession is that we have started to confuse the acquisition of knowledge with the process of learning. In an effort to meet numeric goals and score high on standardized tests, we have become obsessed with how to get our students to perform in a way that satisfies a checklist, or a numerical score, or a national standard. I’m fearful that we have forgotten about instilling passion, excitement, and curiosity in our students. It is becoming less important to us to create better people, who care about each other and the world around them and think of ways to deal with the problems that they see in front of them. We discuss world problems only in so far as they fit into our standardized curriculum, but we don’t address the difficult yet inevitable issues that our students will eventually find themselves confronted with in the very near future.

I do understand the need for progression in a student’s knowledge. I see why it’s important that our students are exposed to and encouraged to master a large variety of topics. However, I do not understand why we have begun to think that the best way to do this is to have them fill in a bubble sheet, or sit in front of a computer for an hour and take the exact same test. We’ve become immersed in this notion that there is a “standard,” which then implies that there is a norm. There’s a ‘normal’ level that a student must attain at a certain time, and that the best way to get them there is to maintain the same timeline across the board.

In spite of the fact that our methods classes certainly cover the topics of differentiation, and “meeting the needs of each student,” we see classrooms all around us that teach to the same set-in-stone standards, which translates into more information and less context, relevance, and appeal to students’ interests. This may all sound like a long rant criticizing the methods of current teaching, and that is absolutely not the point that I am trying to make. I think that teaching and teachers should be one of the most highly valued professions. I think that many schools do their very best to create well-rounded students who will enter the world as functional citizens who can contribute to society. I am simply trying to express the fact that we are in danger of getting lost along the way. We have focused too much on the numerical scores that we are producing rather than the wonderful, creative, and inspired individuals who we are helping to shape.

I know that I am entering this profession at a time of great change. There are shifts occurring within the standards, the expectations, and the focus of what we are teaching. I constantly wonder how I am going to be the teacher I imagine myself to be during this time of reform. I wonder how I am possibly going to adhere to these state and national standards with each class that I have, since I know that every single student, and thus every classroom, is unique. The state declares that a class must be at a specific point in the curriculum at a specific time, but what if we need more time? What if we need less? How can I possibly fit in all of the projects and support and guidance that my students will need to fully understand why what they’re learning is important and applicable to the real world? How will I foster minds that love learning, instead of ones that dread testing and begin to believe that they are “too stupid” to learn because they’re not categorized in the “correct” numerical column? These are all things I’ve seen already, and it would be a lie to say that I’m not overwhelmed and terrified.

Peter Greene read the WSJ article that was just posted on the blog, and he saw it as confirmation of what he long ago predicted: the dream of national standards and tests is dead. Whatever you may call the Common Core, there will not be one big set of standards and one big standardized test for all (or even two big standardized tests for all).

In other words, the dream that Common Core would be the single educational vision of the entire country– that dream is dead. Dead dead deadity dead.

But Rothfeld’s piece lays out a not-always-recognized (at least, not by people who don’t actually work in education) culprit for the demise. He lists the usual suspects– politics, testing, federal overreach. But the article is most interested in another malefactor– finances.

“The total cost of implementing Common Core is difficult to determine because the country’s education spending is fragmented among thousands of districts. The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards.”

That’s billion-with-a-B (and that rhymes with P and that stands for “Probably still underestimating the total cost”). WSJ looked at all sorts of records and figures that still doesn’t count things like the training budgets that have been turned into Common Core training budgets.

So it isn’t working, states are dropping out of the tests and the standards too.

And he allows Vicki Phillips to repeat her claims about the awesomeness of Kentucky without being challenged. In fact, Rothfeld doesn’t really challenge anything about the Core, and in a way, that’s what makes this article so brutal– whether the Core is any good or not is beside his point, which is that the whole business just isn’t working, and it’s costing a ton of money to boot.

Will historians in the future look back and review the short life and rapid death of the Common Core standards as the educational equivalent of the Edsel? New Coke? There must be a Museum of Failed Educational Experiments and Fads somewhere. If there is, a special place should be reserved for CCSS, because it not only was imposed by the federal government and the Gates Foundation without any deference to democratic process, but it wasted billions of dollars that might have been better spent on reducing class sizes, restoring arts education, promoting desegregation.

I confess that I once believed in the value of national standards. The experience of Common Core has proven that national standards are a waste of time and money, that we will best improve education by improving the conditions of teaching and learning and by reducing poverty and segregation. These are hard but achievable goals. They will change the lives of children across the nation for the better. National standards and tests might be imposed, but even if they were, they would do nothing to improve the lives of children or communities or our society.


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