Archives for category: Pearson

Not everyone who scores Pearson tests is hired from Craig’s List or Kelly Temps. Julie Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher in Néw York recently scored student responses. She stresses that she is not opposed to Common Core or to standardized tests, but she is very troubled by the kind of thinking that is rewarded in the tests.

 

 

Because she signed a confidentiality agreement, she does not discuss items on this year’s exams, but released questions from last year.

 

 

She writes:

 

 

“First things first, one of the most disturbing trends that I have found examining this year’s and last year’s (released) tests is a shift in thinking toward a kind of intellectual relativism. In other words, any claim that a student makes is correct if he or she substantiates it with some evidence. On the surface this doesn’t sound terribly problematic, but when you start to examine some of the anchor papers, the dilemma with this vein of thinking becomes shockingly apparent. The truth is, not all claims are correct and not all evidence is created equal. Making a feeble claim and using evidence out of context to support that claim is an all too common occurrence on these tests….

 

“According to Pearson “you choose what you think is right” is the first inference. The list of upsides and downsides is one detail. The student then uses an unrelated second detail about joining clubs and school and makes a second inference that you may really end up enjoying it. Formulaically speaking: inference + 2 details will always yield a correct answer[2]. What we have here is a confusing and clumsy answer to a confusing and clumsy question.

 

“One might argue that this way of scoring allows students to scrape up extra points and is actually a boon to teachers and students alike. It boosts scores! Hurrah!

 

“But in fact, it creates a terrifyingly slippery slope. I think about climate change deniers, the Creationist Museum in Kentucky that shows humans and dinosaurs roaming Earth side-by-side, 9-11 conspiracy theorists, and the Holocaust itself! Throughout history, people have made misguided claims and have supported their thinking with spurious details and evidence. Don’t our children deserve better?

 

“Another disturbing pattern that emerges as one reads the anchor responses for the ELA is what I call “The Easter Egg Hunt.” When it comes to short answer questions in particular, the question that is actually being posed rarely matches the answer required. The wordier the written response, the more likely it is that the student will stumble upon the correct answer, find the decorative egg. (Strategy!) Time after time there is a clandestine condition that must be met in order for an answer to get full credit – “Magic Words.” As my scoring instructor illustrated, it’s kind of like tossing all of the words into a bucket and looking for certain key phrases or ideas to float up to the top.”

 

 

The nitty-gritty of the scoring process demonstrates that we have outsourced the most important functions of education to a mega-corporation that is incapable of assessing critical thinking. No standardized test can,no matter who writes it or scores it. Standardization itself is antithetical to the intended result.

Imagine this great victory for teachers in New York: They will now be allowed to discuss test questions that have been released to the public!

 

Is this progress? No. Suppose teachers spot unreleased questions that are clearly wrong, poorly worded, confusing, incoherent. If they have not been released to the public, the teachers are not allowed to criticize them or call attention to errors.

 

Peter Greene wondered if the New York Times recognized the absurdity of its headline, which claimed that the state was going to “relax” the gag order.

 

He wrote:

 

 

See, now the state will allow teachers to discuss items on the test after they have been publicly released, whereas previously, teachers could only discuss test items after they had been publicly released.

 

The gag order protects Pearson. If the gag order prevailed, we would have never known about the nutty question on a Pearson test about “the pineapple and the hare.” That question was not publicly released. It became public not because of teachers but because students complained about it, and it leaked to the New York City Parent blog.

 

This “gag order” is insulting to teachers. It should be eliminated. Its only purpose is to protect the interests of the testing companies. They should release all their questions. No one will know which will be on future tests. If there are thousands of test questions available, students can use them to see what is expected of them. And if they are released, parents and teachers will have a chance to evaluate their quality. That may be what scares the testing companies most.

 

Take off the gag!

 

 

Bryan Alleman, the technology coordinator for Acadia Parish schools in Louisiana, sent the following story. VAM, as you know, is “value-added measurement,” or “value-added modeling,” which is used in many states to evaluate teachers. If test scores go up as predicted by a computer, the teacher is effective; if they exceed the computer prediction, the teacher is “highly effective.” If they don’t, the teacher is “developing” or “ineffective.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pushed some version of this approach into almost every state as a condition of Race to the Top funding or waivers from the onerous sanctions of No Child Left Behind.

Bryan writes:

Greetings from south Louisiana! I wanted to share with you an interaction I recently had with a Pearson representative at a technology leadership conference I attended in Baton Rouge, LA a couple of weeks ago.

At the conference, I noticed Pearson was present as a vendor. Pearson owns Powerschool, a Student Information System (SIS), that has a small presence in Louisiana. Rumor is that Pearson is selling off Powerschool.

Typically, SIS systems can be very profitable for a company. Working in SIS management for the past 7 years, I wanted to confirm this rumor.

So, I approached the Pearson rep., a nice gentleman, who confirmed that indeed Pearson was selling off Powerschool. Curious, I asked him, why? Imagine my surprise when I heard the following (paraphrasing):

“…Pearson is strongly committed to improving student outcomes and has decided to score every single product it owns to determine the impact on student achievement. Powerschool didn’t score well so we are selling it off…”

So there I stood–mouth agape—at the realization that Pearson has fallen for it’s own scam. They have actually VAM’d themselves. And, as a result, is selling of a profitable product.

The parallels to students, teachers, principals, and whole schools who have also fallen victim to VAM flooded my brain.

Education has lost valuable human capital (I despise that reference typically….we are human resources, not capital) as a result of VAM.

Pearson is losing a valuable product as a result of their own VAM. I wonder how the Pearson shareholders feel about this.

Just amazing.

Bryan

__________________________

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain
a thought without accepting it.”
-Aristotle

Diane,

is that Pearson is selling off Powerschool. Typically, SIS systems can be very profitable for a company. Working in SIS management for the past 7 years, I wanted to confirm this rumor. So, I approached the Pearson rep., a nice gentleman, who confirmed that indeed Pearson was selling off Powerschool. Curious, I asked him, why? Imagine my surprise when I heard the following (paraphrasing): “…Pearson is strongly committed to improving student outcomes and has decided to score every single product it owns to determine the impact on student achievement. Powerschool didn’t score well so we are selling it off…”

So there I stood–mouth agape—at the realization that Pearson has fallen for it’s own scam. They have actually VAM’d themselves. And, as a result, is selling of a profitable product.

The parallels to students, teachers, principals, and whole schools who have also fallen victim to VAM flooded my brain.

Education has lost valuable human capital (I despise that reference typically….we are human resources, not capital) as a result of VAM.

Pearson is losing a valuable product as a result of their own VAM. I wonder how the Pearson shareholders feel about this.

Just amazing.

Bryan

__________________________
Bryan P. Alleman
Technology Coordinator
Acadia Parish School Board
P. O. Drawer 309
Crowley, LA 70527-0309
phone: (337) 783-3664 x279
fax: (337) 783-0194
balleman@acadia.k12.la.us
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain
a thought without accepting it.”
-Aristotle

,

Les Perelman, former director of undergraduate writing at MIT has been a persistent critic of machine-scored writing on tests. He has previously demonstrated that students can outwit the machines and can game the system. He created a machine called BABEL, or Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator. He says that the computer cannot distinguish between gibberish and lucid writing.

 

He wrote the following as a personal email to me, and I post it with his permission.

 

Measurement Inc., which uses Ellis Paige’s PEG (Project Essay Grade) software to grade papers all but concedes that students in classrooms where the software has been used have been using the BABEL generator or something like it to game the program. Neither vendor mentions that the same software is also being used to grade high stakes state tests, and in the case of Pearson, is being considered by PARCC to grade Common Core essays.

 

http://www.pegwriting.com/qa#good-faith

 

What is meant by a “good faith” essay?

 

 

It is important to note that although PEG software is extremely reliable in terms of producing scores that are comparable to those awarded by human judges, it can be fooled. Computers, like humans, are not perfect.

 

PEG presumes “good faith” essays authored by “motivated” writers. A “good faith” essay is one that reflects the writer’s best efforts to respond to the assignment and the prompt without trickery or deceit. A “motivated” writer is one who genuinely wants to do well and for whom the assignment has some consequence (a grade, a factor in admissions or hiring, etc.).

 

Efforts to “spoof” the system by typing in gibberish, repetitive phrases, or off-topic, illogical prose will produce illogical and essentially meaningless results.

 

Also, both PEG Writer and Pearson’s WriteToLearn concede in buried FAQ’s that their probabilistic grammar checkers don’t work very well.

 

PEG Writing by Measurement Inc.
http://www.pegwriting.com/qa#grammar

 

PEG’s grammar checker can detect and provide feedback for a wide variety of syntactic, semantic and punctuation errors. These errors include, but are not limited to, run-on sentences, sentence fragments and comma splices; homophone errors and other errors of word choice; and missing or misused commas, apostrophes, quotation marks and end punctuation. In addition, the grammar checker can locate and offer feedback on style choices inappropriate for formal writing.

 

Unlike commercial grammar checkers, however, PEG only reports those errors for which there is a high degree of confidence that the “error” is indeed an error. Commercial grammar checkers generally implement a lower threshold and as a result, may report more errors. The downside is they also report higher number of “false positives” (errors that aren’t errors). Because PEG factors these error conditions into scoring decisions, we are careful not to let “false positives” prejudice an otherwise well constructed essay.

 

Pearson Write to Learn
http://doe.sd.gov/oats/documents/WToLrnFAQ.pdf

 

The technology that supports grammar check features in programs such as Microsoft Word often return false positives. Since WriteToLearn is an educational product, the creators of this program have decided, in an attempt to not provide students with false positives, to err on the side of caution. Consequently, there are times when the grammar check will not catch all of a student’s errors.

 

MS Word used to produce a significant number of false positives but Microsoft in the current versions appears to have raised the probabilistic threshold so that it now underreports errors.

This article was distributed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy.

“Dr. Barbara Brothers, Dean Emeritus, Youngstown State University, and current chair of the Education Committee of the Greater Youngstown League of Women Voters, is looking into the Pearson operation in Ohio and wrote what she has found thus far.

Ohio, a Pearson State

The Pearson Corporation is a multi-billion dollar United Kingdom enterprise which has grown from a construction company to include newspapers, entertainment enterprises such as amusement parks, and book publishers among its holdings. In 2000 Pearson spent $2.5 billion to acquire an American testing company in an effort to increase its profits through securing contracts to produce standardized tests and test preparation materials
(http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html). It has been given enormous control over K-12 public schools in Ohio by the Ohio legislature and governor.

Pearson effectively controls what is taught, who graduates, and even who gets a second chance at a high school diploma through the General Education Diploma (GED) examination. Recently Comcast was prevented from acquiring Time Warner because the federal government determined that Comcast’s control of 60% of the market was too great. But that market share pales compared to the 100% Pearson has been granted by the State of Ohio.

Since 2013, Pearson tests even license teachers in Ohio. Because the tests are designed and graded by Pearson, the company and its employees determine what teachers need to know in all particular teaching fields-English, science, history. Colleges must address what Pearson puts on the tests so that their students will be licensed to teach in Ohio initially and, later, when a teacher seeks professional advancement.

By 2018, Pearson end of course exams in designated subjects in grades 9 -12–PARCC Tests–will determine if a student receives an Ohio high school diploma. PARCC tests-Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and careers-are to be based on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), developed with primary input from Pearson.

In January of 2014 Pearson produced a revised GED exam—a new version of the GED that is to be taken entirely on-line. The pass rate fell 90 percent because the test now measures college readiness rather than what was actually learned in high school.

Pearson controls the curriculum by defining the knowledge and skills a student must master. Pearson assures us the CCSS will be rigorous; i.e. that at least thirty percent or more of students taking the tests will fail. An educator such as Dr. Louisa Moats, who was a contributing writer of CCSS, is just one of many of those critical of the jump to test and fail (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/child-development-central/201401/when-will-we-ever-learn). These standards for which Pearson oversaw the development, helped by tax free money such as an $88 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, in turn require the development and selling of both on-line materials and textbooks to prepare the teacher to teach to the test. Pearson produces the materials from which the teachers teach and the tests that tell us if they have performed satisfactorily. In Ohio they have no competitors. If your school “fails” then send your child to a Connections Academy, a Pearson for-profit Charter advertised on their GED webpage.

Teachers, parents, and concerned citizens have criticized the tests on a number of grounds-the number of tests, the time the tests take, the appropriateness of the questions, the secrecy about the test questions, the spying on students’ social media, the use of the tests for punishment, teaching to the test, the ignoring of the arts, the expense and failure of the technology for administering the tests, and the tremendous cost to taxpayers. The mania for testing and collecting volumes of data are destroying our education system and creating a world of big profits for the Pearson corporation and Big Brother-ism–all approved by our Ohio Legislature and Governor and supported by Federal legislation-No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Richard Ham, a third grade teacher in Poulsbo, Washington, wrote the following dystopian science fiction (education fiction?) about the aftermath of the Presidential election of 2028. It is frightening and hilarious.

 

 

April 17, 2028
The Associated Press
The American public education reform wars are finally over. President Arne Duncan took the oath of office in January as this nation’s 49th president and in his inauguration speech he praised the efforts over the past 30 years of big business, corporate testing corporations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and all the others responsible for what, in his words, amounted to a “cleansing of wishy-washy liberal teaching practices, unionism as an obstructive force in public schools and of incompetent, overpaid public school teachers doing great and terrible damage to this fine Nation’s school children.” He pledged that his newly appointed Secretary of Education, Michelle Rhee, will finish the job started so long ago and fine-tune and perfect the few rough spots that remain in bringing “rational public and pedagogical policy-making” into American classrooms.
In this spirit Secretary Rhee held a major press conference to herald the completion of the reform movement’s final masterpiece of high-stakes testing and accountability. The Secretary proudly presented the Pearson Corporation’s new third grade test as an example of this brave new world that American education has entered. Below is the third grade test, titled the SimBA, in its entirety.
The SimBA
THE SMARTASS (IM)BALANCED C.C.S.S.* ASSESSMENT for 3rd Grade
*Common Core Corporate Standards
MATHEMATICS: The Reimann Hypothesis dealing with prime numbers is one of the unsolved Millennium Prize problems, first posited over 150 years ago and as yet unsolved despite the best efforts of some of this past century’s finest mathematical minds. You are not expected to prove or disprove this hypothesis per se, but nevertheless do establish the initial parameters of the structure of such a proof (or disproof). Construct such parameters with enough mathematical sufficiency so that the next three steps in such an analysis can be logically and empirically demonstrated. Then do both of your multiplication and division facts in a 2-minute timing for each.
Time: 25 minutes
MUSIC: Write a concerto for a 4-piece chamber string quartet. Provide a final, clean copy of the sheet music for your composition, free from any stray notational errors. Finally, perform your composition in real time in front of a live audience.
Time: 40 minutes for composition; 10 minutes for performance
ART: Develop a new school of art, melding both traditional and modern elements using multi-media in such a design paradigm. Create at least three examples from your new art school, and host a gallery showing of your creations.
Time: 20 minutes for creation of new art form; 15 minutes for creation of examples; 10 minutes for gallery showing
[Break: 23 minutes total; 3 minutes for potty visit, 5 minutes for snack, 15 minutes for recess]
HISTORY: The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana is famously credited with saying that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In a 20-25 page essay argue either pro or con for this thesis, citing at least three eras in both ancient and modern history where this proposition can be proven to be either true or false. Note: The essay is to contain appropriate cites in standard citation form.
Time: 20 minutes
READING: Read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and the complete works of William Shakespeare. Then write a report comparing and contrasting how the authors handle the structural themes of tragedy and comedy in their respective works.
Time: 40 minutes
WRITING: Write a novella of no more than 80 pages from any of the following genres: mystery, general fiction, Western, historical, romance or fairy tale. Extra credit will be given if you also write a play in the dramatic tragedy tradition of ancient Greece (see the works of Aeschylus or Euripides for guidance in how this might be done).
Time: 25 minutes
SCIENCE: Sketch a timeline of the history of the quantum dynamic elements of the universe from the inception of the Big Bang until the present day era. Extra credit will be given if you can provide correlational elements of such a quantum history with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, especially noting how gravity unites both the quantum and relativistic worlds. Further extra credit will be given if you build a table-sized cyclotron to test your hypothesis using yellowcake uranium. Such yellowcake uranium is available from the Atomic Energy Commission for a small fee; please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery before the testing date.
Time: 20 minutes

Congratulations! Your testing for this year is over. Please go to lunch. And have a great day!

Jason Stanford, long-time observer of politics in Texas, explains here how Pearson lost its nearly $500 million contract, retaining only a $60 million sliver.

After decades of having a lock on the state testing contract, the pushback against high-stakes standardized testing became overwhelming. Local school boards passed resolutions against it; parents organized protests against it. The legislature even passed a law barring lobbyists “from serving on state boards and commissions dealing with accountability.” The target was Sandy Kress, architect of NCLB and Pearson lobbyist.

Once the political aura surrounding Kress and Pearson turned sour, people started questioning the pedagogical theory that measuring the children against the wall makes them taller. Texas rolled out the a new test a few years ago to make all the kids “college and career ready,” huge cuts to state education funding notwithstanding. Since then, test scores have been flat and have largely correlated to parents’ income and differences in school funding.

The legislature saw no problem in cutting school funding by more than $5 billion while awarding Pearson a contract for nearly $500 million. It saw no problem in demanding higher test scores while removing funding. But the public got fed up. It is, says Stanford, the “end of an error.”

Testing expert Fred Smith sends out a warning to parents in Néw York City: Pearson field tests begin Monday.

But keep it a secret. No one knows. The scores don’t count because the tests are testing the questions, not the teachers.

Should parents be told? Shouldn’t they give consent? Should Pearson pay the students?

.

Last weekend I attended a joyous family wedding and thus was preoccupied and failed to notice one of the seminal moments in reformer history. This was Michael Barber’s speech on “Joy and Data.” Barber is the chief education adviser to Pearson, and he gave this speech in Australia, hoping to debunk the claim that an undue emphasis on data takes away the joy of learning. Barber’s goal was to demonstrate that joy and data go together like a horse and carriage.

Valerie Strauss wrote about Barber’s speech here, and Peter Greene did his usual sharp vivisection of Barber’s ideology here. Strauss collects some of the witty Twitter responses to Barber’s speech; Greene contrasts it with Pearson’s activities and Barber’s publications.

Strauss summarizes:

“In his speech, Barber argues that the pursuit of data has wrongly been accused of sucking the creativity out of learning but that in his world view, data and joy are the two elements that will together improve learning systems around the world in the 21st Century.”

Greene says that Barber’s speech was a celebration of Oxymoron Day. He summarizes Barber’s Big Speech:

“The future of education will be more joyful with the embrace of data. Also, don’t get things wrong– the data does not undermine creativity and inspiration, nor does it tell us what to do, nor does it replace professional judgment. And I don’t even know how to link to all the places where Pearson has contradicted all of this. I would be further ahead to find links to Jeb Bush condemning charter schools and Common Core….

“If we lump all of Pearson’s visionary writing together, the picture that emerges is a Brave New World in which every single student’s action is tagged, collected, and run through a computer program that spits out an exact picture of the student’s intellectual, emotional and social development as well as specific instructions on exactly what the teacher (and, in this Brave New World, we’re using that term pretty loosely) should do next with/for/to the student to achieve the results desired by our data overlords.”

Greene is struck by the scary thought that Barber actually believes what he is saying; arguing with him would be like debating a religious fanatic.

As I read this contemplation of joy and data, I found myself wondering whether Mike Barber might be a cyborg. So I started reading about cyborgs and became persuaded that thos is not the right term to describe a man who confuses quantification with emotion. The right word seems to be android.

This cartoon summarizes Jeb Bush’s education record. He is best known for championing high-stakes testing, A-F school grades, supporting Common Core, charters, vouchers, third-grade retention, and anything that. Strips away job protections from teachers. He boasts of the “Florida miracle,” but it refers mostly to 4th grade NAEP scores, which are likely boosted by third-grade retention and by the state’s class-size reduction policy, adopted by popular referendum but opposed by Bush. The miracle disappears by high school, as Florida’s high school graduation rate is below that of Alabama, which had no miracle.

 

David Sirota reported in International Business Times that Jeb Bush steered Florida’s pension funds toward campaign contributors. He also pressed for legislation to shield these contributions from public view.

 

Sirota wrote:

 

Jeb Bush received the request from one of his campaign contributors, a man who made his living managing money: Could the then-governor of Florida make an introduction to state pension overseers? The donor was angling to gain some of the state’s investment for his private fund.

 

It was 2003, still a few years before regulators would begin prosecuting public officials for directing pension investment deals to political allies. Bush obliged, putting the donor, Jon Kislak, in touch with the Florida pension agency’s executive director. Then he followed up personally, according to emails reviewed by the International Business Times, ensuring that Kislak’s proposal was considered by state decision makers.

 

Here was a moment that at once underscored Jeb Bush’s personal attention to political allies and his embrace of the financial industry, which has delivered large donations to his campaigns. Email records show it was one of a series of such conversations Bush facilitated between pension staff and private companies at a time when his administration was shifting billions of dollars of state pension money — the retirement savings for teachers, firefighters and cops — into the control of financial firms.

 

Florida officials say Kislak’s firm was not among the beneficiaries of that shift. But verifying that assertion is virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen by dint of another hallmark of Bush’s governorship: At the same time that he entrusted Wall Street with Florida retirement money, he also championed legislation that placed the state’s pension portfolio behind a wall of secrecy.

 

The anti-privatization organization “In the Public Interest” filed a public records request and obtained emails between Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and public officials. Read them here.

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