Archives for category: No Child Left Behind

Politico,com reports that the states are working to reduce testing. Do you believe it? Color me skeptical. As long S NCLB and Arne’s waivers threaten school closings and teacher evaluations based on test scores, how can any state cut down on testing?

STATES CONSIDER CUTTING TESTING: The Council of Chief State School Officers sent states a survey earlier this year and recently revealed [http://politico.pro/1NxwAQH] one of their findings: At least 39 states are working to reduce unnecessary testing in various ways. That might include establishing a task force, surveying existing tests, gathering feedback from educators and more. Last October, CCSSO and the Council of the Great City Schools announced an effort to review testing across states and districts.

– Which states aren’t among the 39? According to CCSSO’s survey results: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas. But doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing – CCSSO stresses that some additional states have taken action since the survey was administered earlier this year. For example, North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler launched a task force to review the state’s testing options after glitches with the state’s Smarter Balanced vendor, Measured Progress, interrupted exams this spring. Some states took action prior to the survey and some may not have responded to the survey.

– Speaking of testing, a group of Florida state lawmakers wants Republican Gov. Rick Scott to dump this year’s testing results on the Florida Standards Assessment. Tampa Bay Times: http://bit.ly/1JxPjxF.

– And the California high school exit exam may be suspended immediately. EdSource: http://bit.ly/1JyxqPb.

For at least 15 years, federal efforts at “school reform” have focused on “fixing” the schools; now it is focused (fruitlessly) on teacher evaluation. One thing that is obvious: schools can’t be “reformed” by federal legislation. They can surely use federal money to reduce class size and to reduce spending gaps between districts and schools. But federal policies and laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have generated more disruption than school improvement.

Aurora Moore received her doctorate from Stanford, where she studied school improvement strategies. She concluded that the school is the wrong unit of analysis. A school is a building, a “pile of bricks.” In this post on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, she argues that federal policy has missed the most important variables in successful school improvement. While writing about “the myth of school improvement,” she does not say that it can’t be done and never happens, but that the federal government and “reformers” (privatizers) have rejected meaningful strategies and chosen to deploy failed strategies.

What matters most for genuine school improvement is what she calls “context stability” and autonomy. The irony is that federal policy and mandates actively weaken and destroy what matters most.

She writes:

“Variable 1: Context stability

The first variable is something that I call context stability. Context stability is a combination of low teacher turnover, stable leadership, and a demographically consistent student population. Context stability is also about having continuity in curriculum and materials, programs and program staff from year to year –or something that researchers studying Chicago schools called, “coherence.” If you dig deep into the research on effective and improving schools you find out that all of them had continuity in staff, leadership and student demographics during the period studied. Staff and leadership stability was a condition of effectiveness.

“Anyone who works in schools today can tell you that context stability is very uncommon, especially in schools deemed “in need of improvement.” Teacher turnover is an ongoing problem, particularly in schools serving large percentages of students living in poverty where the average teacher stays less than five years. And ironically, the federal School Improvement grants have convinced many district administrators that it’s a good idea to move school principals around. And in many locales, particularly urban ones with open enrollment policies and large immigrant populations, student demographics can change dramatically from year to year.

“And the real rub is that context stability itself doesn’t last forever. Most research about effective or improving schools is done in a 1-5 year period. Give me an effective school or improving school and wait three years. The effective principal or effective program will have gone, and it’ll be back to square one.

“Variable 2: Autonomy

“The other important variable we failed to consider is autonomy. During the previous eras of school reform people working in schools had much more control over their curricula, their technology and their programs than they did today. The research on Chicago’s improving schools was conducted during the 1990s during an unprecedented experiment in local school control. Nowadays districts and states often dictate what materials teachers can use, what programs they can implement, and even what page to be on in a pacing guide. Some researchers say that schools should be responsible for “crafting coherence” but in my experience, that’s more pie in the sky idealism than reality, particularly when district-school administrator power dynamics are involved.

“If you really think about it, schools are just buildings that have a constant and complicated flow of policies, programs and people moving in and out. School administrators and teachers have very little control of that flow of information, people and practices—they can only manage those things within the confines of district, state and federal policies.”

Quinn Mulholland of the Harvard Political Review examined the issues surrounding annual mandated testing, interviewed leading figures on both sides, and concluded that the exams are overkill. They cost too much, they narrow the curriculum, they take too many hours, they distort the purpose of education.

 

Mulholland concludes:

 

Given all of these problems with standardized testing, it seems that the civil rights issue is too much testing, not too little. Instead of forcing low-income schools to spend millions of dollars and countless hours of class time preparing for and administering standardized tests that only serve to prove, oftentimes inaccurately, what we already know about the achievement gap, we should use those resources to expand programs in the arts and humanities, to provide incentive pay to attract teachers to areas where they are needed most, and to decrease class sizes, all things that could actually make a difference for disadvantaged students.

 

This is not to say that America’s accountability system should be completely dismantled. Politicians and schools can de-emphasize testing while still ensuring high achievement. Student and teacher evaluations can take multiple measures of performance into account. The amount of standardized tests students have to take can be drastically reduced. The fewer standardized tests that students do take can incorporate more open-ended questions that force students to think critically and outside the box

 

Thirteen years after NCLB’s mandates were first set into place, the rhetoric used by politicians and pundits is sounding more and more like that which the same politicians and pundits used to endorse NCLB. Congress would be ill advised to try to use high-stakes test-based accountability to narrow the achievement gap and expect a different result than the aftermath of the 2002 law. It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.

 

Regardless of the outcome of the current debate, grassroots activists like [Jeanette] Deutermann will continue to fight against harmful test-based accountability systems like New York’s. “This is an epidemic,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere, with all sorts of kids, from the smartest kids to the kids that struggle the most, from Republicans to Democrats, from kids in low-income districts to kids in high-performing districts. It doesn’t matter where you are, the stories are exactly the same.”

 

“We may be passive when it comes to all the other things [corporate reformers] have interjected themselves into,” Deutermann warned, “but when you mess with our kids, that’s when the claws come out.”

 

In an article in The Atlantic, Paul Barnwell describes how difficult it was for him when he was a new teacher assigned to a low-performing school.

 

In a span of three minutes, the group in room 204 had morphed from contained to out of control. Two boys were shooting dice in the back of the room, and as I instructed them to put their crumpled dollar bills away, several others took off their shoes and began tossing them around like footballs. Before I could react, one boy broke into my supply closet. He snatched handfuls of No. 2 pencils and highlighters and sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

He was 22 years old, and he was working in one of Kentucky’s most troubled, underperforming, and dysfunctional middle schools. He quit before Christmas. Eventually, he realized that the school needed experienced teachers and stability, but federal policy does not set a priority on either. In fact, NCLB and Race to the Top encourage churn, pretending to “fix” schools by firing principals and teachers and moving in new and often inexperienced teachers.

 

How can struggling schools attract experienced teachers? Combat pay has repeatedly failed; so has merit pay. The practice of tying teachers’ compensation to test scores will only make matters worse by incentivizing teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

 

He concludes:

 

I asked several of my public-school teaching colleagues from around the country—from New Hampshire to Washington—what it would take for them to voluntarily switch to the neediest schools in their regions. Julie Hiltz, an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, with nearly 13 years of teaching experience, told me that the following would need to be in place: The ability to make local decisions, professional development designed and led in-house, more time for collaboration, and smaller class sizes, among other factors. Unfortunately, current guidelines for struggling schools under No Child Left Behind often disenfranchise administrators and staff.

 

Lauren Christensen, a social-studies teacher in the Waltham, Massachusetts, with six years of experience, currently works in a low-poverty school. I asked her if she’d voluntarily transfer to a high-poverty school in her area. “Maybe, she said, “but I would need to know that the whole school would be supported with a long-term commitment [from decision-makers]. I think the pressure of standard assessments and the stress put on educators to turn ‘failing’ schools around immediately might be too much to overcome.”

 

When I think back to my first year, I’m no longer bitter. I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions. But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.

 

 

This is a sad, sad story. At the very time that increasing numbers of parents, researchers, and educators agree that testing in American schools is out of control, the caucuses in the House of Representatives representing children of color have taken a strong stand in favor of high-stakes testing.

According to the Washington Post, they want schools held accountable if children fail to meet targets two years in a row.

“Now the Congressional Tri-Caucus has sided with dozens of civil rights groups and the Obama administration. In a letter to the Senate on Wednesday, more than 80 members of the Tri-Caucus said they cannot support the bill without key changes, including a requirement that states take action at schools that are failing to serve subgroups of children, such as those who are low-income, African American or English learners, or those who have disabilities.

“Specifically, the Tri-Caucus — made up of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — wants the federal government to compel states to act when a school fails to meet testing targets for subgroups of students two years in a row.

“That type of change is anathema to many Republicans, who see it as a federal overreach, and to the NEA, which likens it to a return to the test-centric and overly punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind. But members of the Tri-Caucus say that the requirement is key to ensuring that states do not overlook the nation’s neediest children.

“Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), the ranking Democrat of the House education committee, said he and his colleagues are seeking a new law that “honors the civil rights legacy of the law and fulfills the needs of all of America’s children.”

This is very sad. It will make the testing corporations very happy. It will not help children.

Standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. Affluent students cluster in the top half, students whose family income is low cluster in the bottom half. The bell curve never closes. Why would civil rights groups favor a mechanism–standardized testing–that by its nature will rank, label and stigmatize the children with the greatest needs?

Historians and teacher John Thompson wonders whether Arne Duncan and other reformers will ever be held for the failed reforms of the past 14 years?

“To try to protect every patient, doctors order screening tests. Accountability systems exist to ensure the quality of those systems and their proper usage. It would make no sense to punish doctors and technicians for the results that their tests produce (although some healthcare reformers sound like they want to do so). Accountability systems also monitor the professionalism and practice of the healthcare providers who use them. Doctors, however, would not submit to the type of output-driven accountability regimes that are being imposed on teachers.”

When will reformers admit that test-and-punish policies have failed?

When will they be accountable?

Having read and reviewed every line of the Alexander/Murray proposal to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind), Mercedes Schneider here renders her judgment about the bill as a whole and compares it to the one that the House of Representatives has been working on.

 

There are aspects to this bill to dislike: its love for charters, which make no sense unless you think the nation needs two publicly funded school system, one free to choose its students, the other not; its retention of annual testing, which has not achieved its goals for the past 13 years, making the United States the most over-tested nation in the world. And there are aspects to like a lot: like stripping the Secretary of Education of any power to control state and local decisions about standards and tests.

 

Though the bill is not perfect, it has one great advantage: it abandons the absurd goals, mandates, and sanctions that were central to NCLB.

 

Read Mercedes to see what she concludes.

I am happy to say that Mercedes Schneider is reading the 600+ page bill written by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, under the bipartisan leadership of Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patti Murray of Washington State.

She is reading every word of it, a daunting task. She is up to page 136. What she sees is that the bill restricts the powers of the Secretary of Education and prohibits him/her from telling states what to do unless specifically authorized by the law. Thus far, she is pleased with what she has read.

We can anticipate more posts, as she goes through the bill. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it, other than committee staff in the Senate.

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., warns that bipartisan agreement on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may be bad news.

 

Just as parents are expressing their disgust with annual testing, Congress is close to mandating annual testing for yet another seven years (or maybe another 12 years if past experience is any guide).

 

 

He writes:

 

Bipartisan agreement makes for strange bedfellows as seeming opponents engage in an uncomfortable collective embrace of federal mandates of yearly, high stakes assessment. In the absence of obvious political alternatives some civil rights groups fear that without the harsh light of disaggregated data poor performance will be ignored. Those whose ideology bends their policy choices toward privatization see inevitable failure in the face unreasonable demands as a means to undermine faith in public education. Some are in the campaign contribution thrall of testing companies that stand to gain or loose billions from publically funded testing expenditures. Still others have an abiding faith in the power of rewards and punishments to compel behavior.

 

The continued focus of high-stakes assessment is the education equivalent of building inspectors requiring pipe wrenches to be used by all plumbers, framers, electricians, roofers and tile-setters, while bypassing the advice and needs of contractors and workers. For education, the sure losers are deep sustainable learning and equity.

 

Like building a home, creating an education system is a complex endeavor. As anyone who has undertaken it knows, significant remodeling may be even more challenging. When building or remodeling a complex system, it’s best to have a large, varied set of tools. Choosing the right tool for the right purpose is an obvious but often ignored principle- not least in education assessment policy. Pipe wrenches are great for large plumbing valves, but wreak havoc on smaller nuts. They have nasty teeth that rip and apply too much torque. Selection from a full set of open-ended wrenches would be a far better choice. Needle nose pliers are just the right tool for bending wires for electrical connections, but far too imprecise for removing the accidental building-related splinter. So it is with large scale standardized testing in education. The right tool can get the job done. The wrong tool fails and often causes damage….

 

Let’s start with the big picture. Education has three equally important purposes: Preparation for students for life, work and citizenship.

 

The values principle of equity implies that the design of our education system should accommodate and address the diverse needs of all students. To be clear, equity as used here has two meanings: opportunity equity and lived equity. The former refers to what is often called a fair shot to move up the socioeconomic ladder. The latter refers to a shorter ladder, in which position on the lower rungs does not preclude access to a decent secure life, with adequate food, clothing, housing and health care– what we have come to expect of a middle class life. The United States has neither kinds of equity and needs both.

 

The precision principle suggests the need to develop and select a variety of tools to assess progress and success with respect to all of the purposes and components of an effective education system. To assess education’s how are we doing questions, we need subsystem precision, lest we make the education-equivalent mistake of using meter sticks when micrometers are needed….

 

 

Equitable resources are essential, but they do not ensure equitable outcomes. While constitutionally, much of education decision-making authority in U.S. is delegated to the states, the interconnectedness of the nation clearly indicates that local outcomes are a national concern. Ineffective or poorly funded education in one state impacts another. The periodic National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) serves to monitor outcomes across the states. The NAEP is not given to every student at every grade in every year. Instead, it is administered at the end of grade bands and uses the well-known statistical strategy of sampling. Politicians know this technique well. They rely upon it extensively when they do polling to gauge potential policy positions because querying every citizen is impractical and not needed to get the information they need. As a tool for fair state or large city level big-picture achievement monitoring, NAEP does the trick, but different non-comparable state-designed tests do not….

 

 

ESEA reauthorization should not:

 

Mandate consequential state testing;
Include requirements for student assessment-based teacher evaluation.

 

ESEA reauthorization should:

 

Ensure funds to provide for and measure the attainment of equitable resources;

 
Provide funds to locales to increase educator expertise in the use formative assessment strategies to improve daily learning.

 
It is past time for all supporters of equitable education for life, work and citizenship to call out No Child Left Behind with its high-stakes testing centerpiece as a failed Faustian bargain. Choosing the right tools for the right purposes is a common sense starting point.

 

 

High-stakes testing has reached down into kindergarten, where it is developmentally inappropriate. Kindergarten is supposed to be the children’s garden. It is supposed to be a time for learning to socialize with others, to work and play with others, to engage in imaginative activities, to plan with building blocks and games. It is a time when little children learn letters and numbers as part of their activities. They listen as the teacher reads stories, and they want to learn to read.

 

But in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, kindergarten has changed. Little children must be tested. The great data monster needs data. How can their teachers be evaluated if there are no standardized tests and no data?

 

This frightening article in Slate by Alexandria Neason describes how high-stakes testing now permeates kindergarten.

 

The author describes the kindergarten classroom of Molly Mansel in Néw Orleans.

 

“Mansel’s students started taking tests just three weeks into the 2014–15 school year. They began with a state-required early childhood exam in August, which covered everything from basic math to letter identification. Mansel estimates that it took between four and five weeks for the teachers to test all 58 kindergarten students—and that was with the help of the prekindergarten team. The test requires an adult to sit individually with each student, reading questions and asking them to perform various tasks. The test is 11 pages long and “it’s very time-consuming,” according to Mansel, who is 24 and in her third year of teaching (her first in kindergarten).

 

The rest of the demanding testing schedule involves repeated administrations of two different school-mandated tests. The first, Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, is used to measure how students are doing compared with their peers nationally—and to evaluate teachers’ performance. The students take the test in both reading and math three times a year. They have about an hour to complete the test, and slower test takers are pulled from class to finish.

 

The second test, called Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress, or STEP, is a literacy assessment that measures and ranks children’s progress as they learn letters, words, sentences, and, eventually, how to read. Mansel gives the test individually to students four times throughout the year. It takes several days to administer as Mansel progresses through a series of tasks: asking the students to write their names, to point to uppercase and lowercase versions of letters, and to identify words that rhyme, for example.

 

Although more informal, the students also take about four quizzes per week in writing, English, math, science, and social studies. The school’s other kindergarten teacher designs most of the quizzes, which might ask students to draw a picture describing what they learned, or write about it in a journal.

 

“By the end of the school year, Mansel estimates that she’ll have lost about 95 hours of class time to test administration—a number inconceivable to her when she reflects on her own kindergarten experience. She doesn’t remember taking any tests at all until she was in at least second grade. And she’s probably right.”

 

Whoever made this happen should be arrested for child abuse and theft of childhood.

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