Archives for category: Standardized Testing

This discussion between MaryEllen Elia, then superintendent of the Hillsborough County school system, and Vicky Phillips, the president of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, took place a year ago. Robert Trigaux, business writer for  the Tampa Bay Times, sat down with the two to check on the progress of the Gates Foundation’s investment of $100 million in the Hillsborough County schools.


Trigaux writes:


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may not view our country’s stressed public schools as full of Neanderthal teachers trying to bash knowledge into bored, thick-skulled students. Yet the foundation’s leaders do consider most U.S. schools terribly outdated, technologically deficient and bureaucratic morale-suckers in need of overhaul.


That’s why the foundation decided to try to help.


Just a quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college. That statistic should terrify this country, given the aggressive rise of economic competition and rapidly improving education elsewhere in the world. Left unchecked, we are slipping in the global race to sustain a quality workforce.


So, as Brian Williams once memorably said on the NBC program “Education Nation,” “Bill Gates is  paying for this program, and we are using his facts.” (Slight paraphrase.)


We know what the Gates Foundation wants: It wants a workforce that is prepared to compete with workers in other nations. Leave aside for the moment whether we are losing jobs because of better-educated competitors or because American workers expect to be paid more than workers in China and Bangladesh; businesses outsource where the costs are lowest. And leave aside as unproven the claim that only a “quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college.” Some, like President Obama, say that American workers are the most productive in the world. But leave that aside too. Ask yourself how the United States got to be the most powerful nation in the world if our citizenry is as hapless and poorly educated as Bill Gates assumes.


Here is the stated goal of the Gates’ $100 million: “The goal: to improve student achievement by rethinking how best to support and motivate teachers to elevate their game during the adoption of the Common Core curriculum and beyond.” Summarize as: Raise test scores and implement the Common Core.


Elia has lasted in her job longer than most superintendents, nine years when the interview was taped in 2014 (ten years when she was fired in 2015):


Nine years running the same school system is commendable. Especially in Florida where public schools rarely receive adequate attention or funding. Florida spends roughly half per pupil compared to New York or Connecticut. And Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation.


Let’s repeat that line: Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation. That includes Hillsborough County.


What has the Gates grant done? It has changed the way the district evaluates and compensates teachers (presumably with merit pay for higher test scores, though it is not clear in this interview).


And this is a new Gates-funded feature:


A cadre of mentors, one for every 15 teachers, has slowed the turnover of young teachers leaving the profession. And Hillsborough is ahead of many districts in making teacher evaluations more meaningful. Principals observe teachers and give more concrete feedback. And teachers get peer reviews, which can be sticky at times but is considered quality input. All of that means Hillsborough has not had to follow the state’s own strict evaluation guidelines. The foundation also wants to sharply improve the role technology plays in the classroom by providing more easily accessible curriculum support to teachers and better ways to keep students engaged in their work.


So the strategy is to train and evaluate teachers, to give bonuses to some, but not to mess with the fact that teachers are “among the poorest  paid in the nation.” Not our problem.


What are the results so far? Not clear but there is always the future.


Bottom line? Both Elia and Phillips admit it has been a struggle at times but seem satisfied with progress that has outpaced other large Florida school districts.


The trick is most of what has occurred so far is procedural, putting systems in place to improve teaching and, in turn, future student achievement. Measuring that achievement in a meaningful way has yet to happen. Hillsborough hopes it can deliver improved results soon.


Another tough challenge is education’s biggest oxymoron: teacher respect. “One thing we are dismayed about is how we have made teachers feel over the last 15 years,” Phillips said. “We shamed and blamed them. It was unconscionable. We do not want them to feel that way.”


Phillips says celebrating good teachers is part of the recovery plan. So is listening to them.


The Gates Foundation listening to teachers? Now that is an innovative idea!


Apparently the other two districts–Memphis and Pittsburgh–have not made much progress. That seems to be the implication of this exchange:


Elia and Phillips insist big strides are still to come in the remaining three years of the partnership. And even when the seven years are up, Phillips says the foundation and Hillsborough will stay in close touch. There will still be much to learn.


For the Gates Foundation, it has invested heavily in Hillsborough schools. It certainly is hopeful of a return on those funds, one measured by a successful outcome of better student achievement that it can show off to other U.S. school systems.


Similar Gates Foundation grant commitments to school districts in Memphis and Pittsburgh have suffered slower progress, which may make Hillsborough a beacon of best practices.


Hillsborough County has two years left to go in its seven-year grant. Superintendent Elia has been fired but landed the prestigious job as state education commissioner in New York. What ideas will she bring with her from Florida?











Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest writes:


More victories for the assessment reform movement this week as activists move into the policy and electoral arenas: the PARCC consortium votes to reduce testing time; Florida suspends high-stakes for end-of-course exams; Colorado’s governor signs compromise legislation, Wisconsin blocks test-based teacher assessment, and New Yorkers elect many allies to school boards.


National Keep Grassroots Pressure on U.S. Senate to Roll Back Testing Overkill


Federal Opt-Out Bill Filed in Congress


Alaska Seeks Educators for Test Review


California Governor Calls for “Balanced” Approach to Testing, Accountability


Colorado Governor Signs Bill That Modestly Reduces Testing Time


Connecticut Most Teachers Say New Test is a Waste of Time


Delaware Legislators Oppose Governor’s Emphasis on Testing


Florida State Testing Turmoil Continues as High Stakes Suspended for End-of-Course Math Exams


Florida Testing Failures: Let Us Count the Ways


Illinois Should Let Parents Call the Shots on PARCC Test Opt Outs


Maine One Student Testing Battle Won, But the War Continues


Maryland Students Will Take Fewer Tests Next Year


Massachusetts Teachers Have No Voice in Testing, So Why Should They Support It?


New Hampshire Seeks More Testing Flexibility for School Districts


New Jersey Victory for Testing Reformers Over Testing Time


New Jersey Should Not Count PARCC Scores While Fixes Unfold


New Mexico Teachers Burn Test-Based Evaluations


New York Opt-Out Becomes Statewide Rallying Cry


New York May Back Down on Exam Field Tests After Boycott Spreads


New York Test Refusers Win Many School Board Seats


Ohio Teacher to Lawmakers: How Testing Fixation Sucks Life Out of School Day


Ohio Advice for Legislature: Testing is Not Teaching


Oklahoma Extends Exemptions to Third-Grade Reading Promotion Test


Pennsylvania Teacher Stands Tall in Refusing to Administer State Test


Texas STAAR Tests Were Blocking Graduation for 10% of Students


Virginia Computerized Exams Interrupted Three Times by Pearson Testing System Problems


Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Ensuring This Year’s Test Scores Are Not Used Against Teachers or Schools–School-Report-Cards


Global Policy Report: Reduce Emphasis on Testing to Promote Student Success


Radar Shows Blowback Against Test-Heavy School Policies


Q & A With Sir Ken Robinson: “If I had a kid in school right now, I think I would be opting out, too.”


Accountability From Above Never Works


Poverty, Family Stress Are Thwarting Student Success, Top Teachers Say


Allegheny College Joins 850+ Other Schools in Dropping ACT/SAT Testing Requirements



Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

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?


A teacher in suburban New York sent the following poem, which she wrote after proctoring the ELA test for her 6th graders:

Empathy on ELA Day

I cringe
As I sharpen
A pencil
The whine and grind
Of the sharpener
Shaving curls of wood
Punctures the thoughts
Of my students
As they write furiously
Filling the booklet
With the whisper-scratch
Of penciled thoughts.

I can taste
The tension
And anxiety.
Faces fixed
With frowns
Instead of the smiles
I usually see.
Hands popping up
In my perfectly
Arranged rows–
A bathroom break
A pencil blunted
A question
I am forbidden
To answer.
All I can say is,
“I cannot answer that.”
I shut off
That nurturing drive
Thinking about how
I usually answer
Hundreds of questions
every day
As a sixth grade teacher.

I announce
“You have ten more
minutes to complete
the test.”
Startled and panicked
Many dig in harder
And write faster
Rushing the clock.
Don’t worry–
Our torture

Janie Fitzgerald

~ April 3, 2014

Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

MaryEllen Elia, who was fired as Superintendent of Hillsborough County a few months ago, was unanimously endorsed by the Néw York State Board of Regents yesterday.


Valerie Strauss wrote about her selection here. She has the support of the Republican establishment in Florida (she was a member of far-right Governor Rick Scott’s transition team), as well as the support of teachers’ unions in Florida and Néw York.


Parent activists are wary of Elia because of her past support for high-stakes testing. To win their confidence, she must clarify her views about testing, about the Opt Out movement, about detaching test scores from teacher evaluations, about merit pay, and about Common Core.


In this interview, she reiterates her support for high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and using test scores to evaluate teachers. When asked her reaction to parent resistance to testing, she emphasizesd the need for better communications with parents. I don’t think that “better communications” will pacify parents who are fed up with the overuse of testing. At some point, hopefully soon, Commissioner Elia must recognize that parents know what they are doing, and they disagree with the Regents’ policy of plunging into the Common Core, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability.


Commissioner Elia must understand that the problem is not a failure to communicate, but a genuine difference of opinion about how to educate children. The leaders of the Opt Out movement are not misinformed; they are very well informed indeed. Will she punish children who refuse the tests next year? Will she collaborate with parent leaders? Will she listen to parents and hear them? Will she use her influence to persuade the Regents and the Governor to reduce the importance of standardized tests? If she doubles down on Governor Cuomo’s testing agenda, she will energize the Opt Out movement. Parent leaders are disappointed by the lack of transparency in the selection process as well as the implicit message that the Regents did not listen to them. They will continue to speak out in the only way they can be heard, by refusing to submit their children to the tests.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) explains how standardized tests are designed and how they function in real life.

Standardized tests are designed to produce a normal curve. Most students are in the middle. The curve accurately reflects socioeconomic status. If states use proficiency levels instead, those levels are completely arbitrary. They can be moved up or down, as the leaders choose, to demonstrate progress or failure.

That’s why it is puzzling that civil rights groups are supporting annual standardized testing in Federal law. It wastes money, labels the neediest kids as failures year after year, provides no helpful information, has no diagnostic value, and benefits no one but the testing corporations and the reformsters who are eager to privatize public schools by waving around low scores and gaps.

JJ writes:

“The correlation between socio-economic status and test scores is absolutely iron-clad. Does anyone think eliminating the ceiling effect is going to change this? Granted, there is likely a ceiling on how income effects test scores: a kid in a family making $300K a year probably isn’t at much, if any, disadvantage compared to a kid in a family making $500K.

“But the wealthy have always enjoyed an advantage in our false meritocracy. The biases in the tests themselves, coupled with the inequitable distribution of resources available for schools, all but guarantee the majority of the variation in test scores will be explained by class.

“The neo-liberal view appears to be that this is inevitable and just, so long as we decouple these inequities from race. If we can get some more students of color into elite schools, and create a few more black and brown millionaires and billionaires, everything will be “fair.” The owners of the country can then sleep soundly at night, content that they may be classists, but they aren’t racists.

“I’m all for social mobility, but increasing it isn’t the same as decreasing inequity. There are millions of people in this county doing difficult, necessary jobs. It’s wrong to consign people of color to these jobs through a system of social reproduction in our schools. But it’s also wrong to pretend that we have a system where everybody can be above average, and in doing so can make a better life for themselves.

“So long as we keep making bell curves, somebody has to be on the left side. Somebody has to do the work that needs to get done. But there’s no reason those decent, hardworking people shouldn’t have good wages and good medical care and good housing and disposable income and workplace rights and time to spend raising their children.”

He wonders what would happen if we stopped using the bell curve.

Don’t you?

A teacher in Denver heard the Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg claim that there was too much testing, and she delivered this statement to a recent meeting of the district school board:



Statement at 4/23/15 Public Comment section of the DPS Board meeting:



I am an 8th grade science teacher.

In February our Superintendent, Mr. Boasberg, sent an email with the subject, “Why we need fewer shorter tests.” I was absolutely dumbfounded. Later I saw video of Mr. Boasberg repeating these statements to I believe none other than the United States Senate. At that point my disbelief turned to resolve.



I have worked for DPS for more than 5 years. Students have never taken more tests and never taken longer tests than they are taking right now. These additional tests are not mandated by the state of Colorado or by the Federal Government, they are added entirely at the discretion of DPS leadership.

Federal Law does not require 2nd graders to take 80 minute reading and writing tests 4 times a year. District leaders choose this for them.


An elementary colleague asked me this morning, “please also mention the students bursting into tears.” This is over the struggle of testing for well over an hour on content they haven’t even been taught yet. Under mandated testing this (testing students over content they’ve not been taught) happens at every grade level and in every content area.


I also recently came upon a Denver Post article from last October in which Mr. Boasberg claims the average 4th grader spends what amounts to one day a year taking standardized tests.




In our classrooms we lose weeks adding to months of time to testing. New tests this year require 2 hour blocks of time. 2 hour test blocks mean modified schedules that interfere with full weeks of instruction. In a given week some classes may see their teacher on only one day, others may have a 4 hour block in the library with their teacher to accommodate test demands.


In preparation for PARCC testing one of my classes lost 2 days of science instruction pretending to take a test. This “infrastructure trial” was to see if our internet would work for the real event. The irony is that we were not testing Pearson’s actual server which failed twice last week.


We used to lose two weeks in March to testing. Now March, April, and May are entirely defined by tests. I know special education teachers who have not worked with their students in an instructional capacity in more than 4 weeks and will not again for the foreseeable future. Those teachers spend nearly all of their time providing accommodations for testing students.


I myself just conducted 6 days in a row of Science CMAS testing, finishing a make-up session due to server failure this afternoon. In 3 days students will complete the second round of PARCC. The week after that is devoted to district end of year tests.


So if I may address parents in the audience. Parents have the power. My hope is that there will be another wave of opt outs. Put an end to this right now.

Pittsburgh teacher Mary King said she would not give the state tests to her English language learner students, and she didn’t.


She was “the first and only” teacher in Pittsburgh to refuse to give the test. She is a Teacher of Conscience. I wrote about her here.


“Under state requirements, ESL students — also known as English language learners — who have been in the U.S. less than a year don’t have to take the PSSA in English language arts, but they do have to take the PSSA in math and science. They can have certain accommodations, such as use of word-to-word translation dictionaries without definitions and pictures on some of the exams.


Ms. King, who is in her 26th year and is retiring this school year, said not all students get upset, but she recalled one student who had to take the math test her first week. “All she knew was ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye,’ ‘thank you.’ She cried the whole time.”


Mary King wrote a comment the the newspaper in response to the article. She wrote:


Teaching in PPS has been wonderful because it has challenged every part of me – mind, heart, and spirit. I appreciate Eleanor Chute writing this story. I hope it illuminates, in a small way, concerns many educators have about corporate-driven state mandates (many!) that conflict with what we know about children and learning. Also positive, the letter from Ms. Spolar states: “The District will explore fully the accommodations available to English language learners and anticipates further review of the regulations in response to advocacy pertaining to these testing issues.” I do believe our district wants what is best for our students and hope that the voices of my colleagues are heard by our administrators and our school board of directors. In my most Pollyannaish view of the world, I would love to see PPS become a leader in the pushback that is gathering steam against corporate reforms that are decimating public education. As always, follow the money!


Since she is retiring, she won’t be punished. She should get a medal.


She gets a medal. She joins the big honor roll as a champion of public education.

As historian-teacher John Thompson explains, reform spokesmen were really outraged by John Oliver’s brilliant send-up and put down of our nation’s obsession with standardized testing and its primary beneficiary: Pearson.

Some used the typical manipulation of test data to claim big gains in 1999 allegedly caused by NCLB, signed into law in 2002.

Others must have been embarrassed by scenes of children chanting pro-testing propaganda, like happy robots.

The fear and trembling by reformers showed that Oliver hit exactly the right spots.

Thompson writes:

“Its hard to say which is more awful – the way that stressed out children vomit on their test booklets or schools trying to root inner-directedness out of children. On the other hand, even reformers should celebrate the way that students and families are fighting back, demanding schools that respect children as individuals. Even opponents of the Opt Out movement should respect the way it embodies the creative insubordination that public schools should nourish. …,

“Reformers need to understand two things. First, their obsession with the punitive is showing. The more they condemn others for not understanding that George Bush was right and “accountability must have consequences,” the more they convince the general public that their devotion to reward and punish is bad for children.

“Second, we live in the United States of America, not some sort of command and control system imposed by social engineers. Public education is supposed to prepare students to think and express themselves as individuals. Schools aren’t a farm club for the corporate world. They shouldn’t socialize children into being Organization Men and Women, conforming to dictates from above. Reformers may believe that they know the one right answer, but they should be ashamed of that their policies seek to produce only square pegs for square holes.”


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