Archives for category: Common Core

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, an attorney who represents public schools in education matters, including testing and special education—and is currently working to reform special education—posted this comment. Her website is http://www.schoollawpro.com.

 

Can we really use student tests to measure teacher effectiveness?

 

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D.

 

This is the year! Tests related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are launching across our country. They are designed to measure how well students are learning the CCSS. Meanwhile, some states, with federal encouragement, plan to use them also to measure teacher effectiveness. Is this use valid?

 

There is no shortage of controversy about educational testing and, unfortunately, this controversy includes the opportunity to file lawsuits. The use of student achievement data to also evaluate teacher effectiveness is certainly controversial. Notably, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, gave states a year’s reprieve on implementing this practice. Across the country, teacher unions have called it unfair. My concern is far more basic. It’s about validity.

 

As an attorney who has represented public schools for more than 30 years, I am concerned about this multipurpose use. It may not get us what we need—a valid, reliable, fair, trusted, and transparent accountability system. The tests at issue include the PARCC and SBAC, two multi-state consortia that are funded by the U. S. Department of Education and private funders. They were charged with developing an assessment system aligned to the CCSS by the 2014-15 school year.

 

At last count, these consortia have 27 states and the District of Columbia signed up— affecting 42% of U.S. students according to Education Week.
The media remind us constantly that our ‘failing’ schools need fixing; that, to do so, we should assess student skills and knowledge to help teachers improve instruction; that we also need to evaluate and rate teachers and weed out poor performers. And we are told that these tests can be multipurposed to do all of the above!

 

Sounds good? Actually, it sounds too good to be true. Does this multipurpose use to evaluate teacher effectiveness clear a key psychometric hurdle: test validity?

 

What is test validity?

 

At its core, it is the basic, bedrock requirement that a test measure what it is designed to measure. Thus, if a test is designed to measure how well 3rd graders decode, we judge the test according to how well it does that. Can students decode? If it is designed to be predictive; say, to measure if students are ‘on track’ or progressing toward college or career-readiness, we judge it accordingly. Either way, we must ask if a test whose purpose is to measure what students learn or whether they are ‘on track’ can also be used to measure something else—such as how well teachers teach?

 

So what are these tests’ purposes? For answers, let’s review the PARCC and SBAC websites. First PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers:

 

PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers. These high quality, computer-based K–12 assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy give teachers, schools, students, and parents better information whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school, and tools to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs.

 

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning. Because the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards, they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level. They will also provide parents and teachers with timely information to identify students who may be falling behind and need extra help. [Emphasis added]

 

Second, the SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:

 

The [SBAC] is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness. Smarter Balanced is one of two multistate consortia awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)by the 2014-15 school year.

 

The work of Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system can provide information and tools for teachers and schools to improve instruction and help students succeed – regardless of disability, language or subgroup.

 

Smarter Balanced involves experienced educators, researchers, state and local policymakers and community groups working together in a transparent and consensus-driven process. [Emphasis added]

 

Clearly, these tests’ purpose is to (a) measure student progress on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and college or career readiness, (b) give teachers and parents better information about students, and (c) help improve instruction. No mention is made of gauging teacher effectiveness.

 

Yet, questions about the validity of using these tests in this multipurpose way seem to be missing from national discussions, even as other validity issues are raised. For example, questions are raised about score validity when tests are administered in different ways (on a computer or with paper and pencil) and at different times of the year.

 

Also discussed are questions about whether these tests are aligned to the CCSS. The media reports battles among states, unions, and others about how to measure teacher effectiveness through these tests; e.g., through value-added models, student growth percentages, or other approaches. But, questions of basic test validity from the get-go about this multipurpose use of these tests are not part of today’s public discourse.

 

They should be.

 

If we continue on this track of creating high stakes for teachers with tests designed for a different purpose, we may well end up with unintended consequences, including distrust of the system, questionable accountability, and lawsuits.

 

My suggestion? Given the reprieve for states and growing concern among the public about these tests and the CCSS themselves, test consortia and our federal and state governments should take a deep breath and do two things.

 

First, the consortia should remind the public that the purpose of these tests is to measure student achievement on the new CCSS and career and college readiness, provide better information to teachers and parents, and improve instruction.

 

Second, the states (with federal approval and encouragement) that intend to use these results also to evaluate teacher effectiveness must inform the public explicitly about how they intend to validate the tests for this new purpose. They need to provide solid proof that their proposed use, which differs from the stated purpose of these tests, is valid, reliable, and fair. The current silence is worrisome, not transparent, and unwise.

 

This test validity issue needs to be fully aired and resolved satisfactorily before we can begin to tackle the larger issues about the multiple uses of testing. Otherwise, in our litigious land of opportunity, the ensuing battles may be costly and not pretty. Let’s not go there.

Andrea Gabor asks the million-dollar question: Why did Massachusetts, the most successful state in the nation on the National Assessment of Progress, drop its own finely honed standards and replace them with the untested Common Core standards? On one level, the answer is obvious: It wanted the money that come from Race to the Top. But at another level, this decision is not only puzzling but downright distressing. With the outstanding record of the students and teachers of Massachusetts, why in the world would policymakers take a chance on changing its successful system of standards and assessments? Of course, the $250 million that the state won is impressive, but no doubt the mandates that accompanied Race to the Top money very likely cost more than $250 million. From afar, it looks irresponsible. Even stranger is that the business community continues to complain about student performance when the performance of the public schools in Massachusetts is not only first in the nation but near the top of world rankings. What gives?

 

Is this just disruption for the sake of disruption?

 

Gabor writes:

 

Now the Massachusetts reforms are once again under assault by Common-Core enthusiasts. Strangely, many of those attacking the reforms are its erstwhile defenders. In February, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a leading advocacy group for the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, issued the first of several reports that found, or are expected to find, the Bay State standards and an accompanying high-stakes test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS, wanting when compared to the still-untested “Common-Core aligned” PARCC tests (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)

 

“The current MCAS high school tests do not identify students who are college- and career-ready, and they do not contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness,” concludes the MBAE study.

 

By contrast, the MBAE cautiously endorses the PARCC test: “As we are preparing this report in early 2015, the PARCC tests hold the promise of being a good indicator of college- and career-readiness.” (Emphasis added.)

 

In response, researchers from the Pioneer Institute, a market-oriented Massachusetts think thank, argue that money, once again, is playing an outsized role in the latest anti-MCAS research. The turncoats, according to Pioneer, include MBAE, which was cofounded by the aforementioned Paul Reville, as well as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve Inc., both national Common-Core advocates. What these organizations all have in common is that they have receive funding– lots of it—from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also invested over $200 million in developing the Common Core.

 

The most recent Massachusetts skirmish over the Common Core is no coincidence. This year, Massachusetts elementary and middle schools had the choice of taking the PARCC test or the MCAS. In the fall, Massachusetts will make a final decision about whether to ditch the MCAS entirely in favor of PARCC, at a time when half the states that initially agreed to adopt the Common-Core aligned test have since backed out.

 

In their OpEd, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, detail the tangled web of relationships that tie the critics of the Massachusetts reforms to the Gates foundation, the PARCC tests and the Common Core. The OpEd is particularly scathing about the role of the MBAE:

 

“The Mass. Business Alliance study’s credibility was further compromised by the fact that its author is an adviser to PARCC. An earlier report from the Alliance — written by the senior education adviser to the giant testing company Pearson, which is near the top of a long list of entities that stand to gain from the switch to Common Core — was so bereft of intellectual integrity that it lifted an entire purported “case study” from The Boston Globe without attribution.”

 

However, the winner of the “conflict-of-interest derby,” according to Chieppo and Gass, is Teach Plus, a Boston-based national education-reform organization, which published a pro-PARCC report, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC“, in March:

 

The group recently released a study in which 23 of its fellows conclude that the commonwealth should ditch MCAS for PARCC. Teach Plus has received over $17 million from the Gates Foundation, including stipends for each of those 23 fellows.

 

The question now is whether Massachusetts will stick with its own test, MCAS, or whether it will switch to PARCC.

 

After each administration of MCAS, the questions and answers are released for public review. This is not the case with PARCC.

 

PARCC, by contrast, is a locked box, entirely controlled by Pearson, the testing giant that is developing the PARCC tests. It isn’t designed to be improved by educators over time, nor to help educators use the test to improve what or how they teach.

 

For now, at least in Massachusetts, the war over the Common Core will continue for at least a few months. Fordham Institute is expected to produce a study this summer examining the MCAS’s alignment to the Common Core; if its earlier support for the PARCC test is any indication, it too is likely to find against MCAS.

 

In Massachusetts, a final decision will be made by Mitchell Chester, the current education commissioner. Chester, it must be noted, also chairs PARCC’s governing board.

 

There you have it, folks. Conflicts of interest abound. Lots of money riding on the decision. And the person who will make the final decision as to which test will be used just happens to be the chair of the PARCC governing board. What do you think will happen?

 

 

John Deasy’s ill-fated commitment to buy an iPad for every student and staff member (he called the program a civil rights issue) loaded with Pearson software for $1.3 billion is finished.

The district is canceling the program and demanding a multi-million dollar refund.

“Los Angeles Unified told Apple Inc. this week that it will not spend another dollar on the Pearson software installed on its iPads and is seeking a multimillion-dollar refund from the technology giant.

“If an agreement cannot be reached, the nation’s second-largest school district could take Apple to court.

“While Apple and Pearson promised a state-of-the-art technological solution for ITI implementation, they have yet to deliver it,” David Holmquist, the school district’s attorney, wrote in a letter to Apple’s general counsel. The ITI, or Instructional Technology Initiative, is the district’s name for its iPad program.

“Holmquist said the district is “extremely dissatisfied” with the work of Pearson on its technology initiative to get computers into the hands of each of the district’s 650,000 students.

“As we approach the end of the school year, the vast majority of students are still unable to access the Pearson curriculum on iPads,” he wrote.

“L.A. Unified’s $1.3 billion iPad program has been fraught with problems, from issues getting the technology to work in the classrooms to questions about how the tablets were procured.”

The procurement is being investigated by the FBI.

A reader left this comment:

 

Insofar as the PARCC exam is concerned, as a reader, I’ve found the following to be true:

 

1. Many of the passages are insanely difficult, and most students are not psychologically mature enough to handle them, nor do they have enough background information to handle the passages and tasks.
2. Many from PARCC and Pearson HATE glossing. Trust me, I argued about several passages with them, and they refused to do so. I think it depends on the team you get, though. Other people at various meetings said they glossed a bit more than my team was allowed.
3. The test is bloody difficult, and there are a few answers choices for many of the passages that could be justified; however, according to Pearson, they were not the “best” answers… Whatever that means.
Insanity, power, and money are in cahoots to destroy public education.

Yes, you read that right. The vendor of the Smarter Balanced Assessment was not prepared for the number of tests that the server had to deliver, and the system broke down in three states.

 

According to the Nevada Department of Education, a spike in students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) this morning in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota exceeded the data capacity of Measured Progress, a third-party vendor contracted by the states to provide the test.

 

All testing in the three states has been stopped until Measured Progress can increase its data capacity, according to an email sent to state superintendents today by state deputy superintendent Steve Canavero.

 

Students who were taking the test at the time of the problem were able to finish their test, but teachers could not start new tests. About 13,000 tests were completed this morning before the errors started occurring, according to the department.

 

Think about it. The vendor didn’t know that so many students would be taking tests at the same time. What were they thinking?

 

A letter from a teacher:

“Two of the students that I tutor called me up to give me feedback about the tests. One student is an honors student in the 6th grade in a middle school. He is a high achiever from a professional family. He was so upset that his voice was breaking up on the phone. He described a poem that he did not comprehend at all. He stated that the vocabulary was so difficult and that he never encountered most of the words that were used in this poem.

I asked if at the bottom of the poem some of the meanings were footnoted. He said no.

He then said that at the end of the assessment, his English teacher looked at the poem and said to the class that she did not really understand the poem herself . In addition, there was another nonfiction passage that he had to read twice to get any meaning from. As a result, he was unable to complete all the questions for this passage by the end of the assessment.

My second student is a 8th grade student who goes to a middle school in Queens. He has second language issues that have caused many gaps in his vocabulary. He said that he had to read many of the passages twice and could not finish the test. He said that the passages on the assessment were harder than the passages I gave to him. The readability of the practice passages I gave to him were mostly on the 10th grade level. Most of the material I used came from two well known publishers. Both these publishers claimed that their material supposedly mimic the difficulty level of the assessment. I guess not.

More important is the fact that this is a boy whose parents have very high expectations which have caused him to have issues in self-concept. After this assessment, his self-concept is in the garbage. His parents were always opposed to opting out because of their cultural background. His mother came on the phone and is now considering opting her son out from the rest of the assessment.

What I am hearing is nothing less than criminal. Forget about the fact that it appears that these passages and questions are so hard that teachers cannot comprehend them. Also forget about how these tests are being used against us teachers.

It is more important that these assessments represent, in my mind, child abuse. What is the purpose of destroying children that try so hard. Both of these students are boys who want to please their parents. their teachers and me. They now feel like failures. No child should ever be made to feel this way. I even feel like a failure because I worked so hard with these two boys. At least I understand that it is not me. It is the tests. There is no doubt that the purpose of these tests is to create failure. They were never intended to measure learning.

Parents are told that their children should take the new online Common Core tests because doing so will help their children.

 

The president of the State University of Néw York said students should not opt out:

 

“When it comes to whether students should opt out of standardized testing, no one is actually talking about what’s best for our kids. Standardized tests have become a pawn in political debates about teacher evaluations and we have lost sight of what they are: a way to measure what students know so we can help them improve,” President Nancy Zimpher wrote.”

 

Advocates and defenders of the tests assert that parents and teachers will learn about how the children are progressing, and teachers will be able to use this information to tailor instruction to meet the needs of individual children.

 

None of this is true. The information provided by the tests is worthless. It is a score. It offers no information about how to help students improve. It gives a score and a ranking compared to others in the state.

 

There is nothing individual in each student’s report. The teacher can’t see what the student got right or wrong. The teacher and parent learn nothing except the student’s score.

 

A test is valuable to the extent it is diagnostic. If a test is diagnostic, it identifies strengths and weaknesses so the teacher can help children do better. This report is not diagnostic. It says nothing of importance.

 

This is akin to going to a doctor with a painful stomach ache. He gives you tests, then says he will get back to you in four months. When you see him again in four months, he tells you a score, and he compares you to other patients with similar symptoms, but he has no prescription, no advice about how to feel better. Why would you want to know that you are better or worse than others with similar symptoms? Wouldn’t you prefer to have treatment?

 

Knowing that the test consume a large part of the school year, knowing that they are designed to fail most kids because of their absurdly high passing mark, knowing that the tests have no diagnostic value, the best decision for parents is to opt out of the testing. Send a message to the state capitol and to D.C.

Chris Hayes interviewed Arne Duncan and Peter Greene reports on what happened.

You can imagine Arne artfully dodging and weaving when Chris asked straightforward questions. Arne insists that Common Core is confused with the unpopular tests (that Arne funded). Arne suggests that politicians are upset by Common Core but Real Parents welcome it.

“Hayes: I want to talk about Common Core for a second. (And he smiles a little smile, like “let’s do this silly thing, I’m going to ask a question, you’re going to sling baloney, it’ll be fun”). Are you surprised by how controversial Common Core (which he characterizes as “kind of an obscure issue in certain ways”) has become?

“Duncan: “It’s actually very simple. The goal’s to have high standards.” So, kids, the whole national consistency issue, the whole being able to compare kids in Idaho and Maine, the whole keeping everyone on the same page so mobile students will never get lost– that’s no longer the point.

“Duncan goes on to display how much he doesn’t understand about how this works. He talks about how, under NCLB, too many states dummied down standards. He says this was “to make politicians look good.” I’d be more inclined to say “to avoid punitive consequences for their schools.” If Arne had reached my conclusion (and really, given that he was in charge of a large school district at the time, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t reach my conclusion) then perhaps he wouldn’t have figured that the solution was to make the consequences of high stakes testing even more punitive than before.

“Insert story here of how schools lied to students about how ready they were for college. So brave governors decided to stop lying to children. “Let’s have true college and career ready standards for every single child.” As always I wonder why reaching that conclusion leads to a next step where one says, “Let’s hire a couple of guys who have no real education experience, either pedagogical or developmental, and have them whip something up.”

As Greene shows, this is vintage Arne. Adroitly changing the subject, mouthing high-minded platitudes, never accepting that parents have valid reasons to be upset by the administration’s unvarnished support for high-stakes testing, closing schools, and inviting entrepreneurs to cash in on the educationmarket. NCLB went wrong, he admits, but he never acknowledges that Race to the Top was no different philosophically from NCLB and far worse in actuality when judged by the whipping it has given to schools and educators.

I have sometimes wished it were possible to have a completely candid conversation with a teacher at a Success Academy charter school. Last week, with no advance planning, it happened.*

 

A young man who is related to me asked if he could introduce me to his friend, Ms. Smith (a pseudonym). He told me she teaches at Success and wanted to meet me. I said, “Of course.”

 

I had no idea what the evening had in store. I have talked to SA teachers before, always in public, not in the privacy of home, and they were always pleasant, neither boastful nor defensive.

 

When they arrived, I opened a bottle of white wine and broke open a box of macaroons. “Betty” (that’s not her name either) told me that she had worked at SA for five years. She teaches fifth grade.

 

What is it like, I asked.

 

She said she loves the children, but the atmosphere is stifling for both teachers and children. She is looking for another job. Everything is about test scores, and the competitive pressure never lets up. Right now, they are getting ready for the state exams, and signs posted everywhere say “Slam the Exams!”

 

I asked how long the test prep went on, and she said they have been doing test prep for months. She said the kids would not take spring vacation until the exams were finished.

 

What’s so bad about test prep, I asked her. She said some of the kids explode or break down. They are very young, and the pressure gets to be too much for them. They might start screaming or crying, and they have to be removed from the classroom until they calm down. The children are assigned a color depending on their test scores, and every classroom posts the names of the children and their color–red, green, blue, or yellow. I forget which is best and which is worst, but the goal is to shame the lowest performing students so they try harder to move up into the next level.

 

The test prep plus the ” no-excuses” climate of tough and strictly enforced rules unnerves some children, she said. And she felt badly for the children who were humiliated. The harshly competitive environment, she said, was dispiriting and joyless.

 

What happens with the children who can’t adjust to the highly disciplined demands of the school, I asked. She replied that these children might be suspended repeatedly or their parents or guardian might be called to the school every day. Day after day. Eventually, the child’s parent or guardian will withdraw the child because they can’t afford to miss work every day.

 

She realized she had had enough. The money was good, she said, but the stress was exhausting. She was also troubled by the non-stop political propaganda campaign. This year, she didn’t get on the bus with thousands of others to go to Albany and demand more money so the chain could expand. She didn’t like the way the children, parents, and teachers were being used as political pawns.

 

When I told her that none of the eighth grade students who had attended Success Academy had passed the competitive exams to enter the elite high schools of NYC, either last year or this year, she was momentarily surprised. Then, she said, that explains why Success Academy is opening its own high school.

 

Our conversation continued for more than a hour. It was clear that the scales had fallen from her eyes. She felt certain that the hedge fund managers bankrolling SA charters know nothing about the children, nor do they care about them. They want to win. They want high scores, period. Just like Wall Street. They want to be able to say at cocktail parties and dinner parties that “my school” got higher test scores than “your school.”

 

Why have you stayed this long, I asked her. I love the kids, she replied. She said someday she hopes to work for a nonprofit that won’t require her to sacrifice her ethics and principles.

 

*I thought this story was a real scoop, but then Kate Taylor of the New York Times beat me to it with this story.

The final figures for opt outs were released in Montclair, New Jersey. 42.6% of students did not take the PARCC test.

 

That is quite a protest against Common Core and high-stakes testing, against the Bush-Obama agenda.

 

The opt-out totals were most pronounced at Montclair High School, where 68 percent of students refused to take the test. In contrast, at the low end of the scale, only 7.5 percent of students at Watchung Elementary School chose to opt-out of the PARCC.

 

 

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