Archives for category: Standardized Testing

Robert Cotto, Jr., an elected member of the Hartford (CT) board of education, says that the state could save millions of dollars by reducing testing. Annual testing has been a waste of money. Before No Child Left Behind, Connecticut tested children in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Now it tests every child in 3-8 every year.

“Reducing the tests that students take in each subject to only grades four, six, eight, and ten could save millions of dollars. The funds saved could help limit any budget cuts that will affect communities across the state, particularly for the most vulnerable children and families. Cutting testing in this way could also result in yearly savings of up to $9.5 million. That’s half of current state spending to administer the tests.

“At best, the evidence is mixed regarding the impact of spending more on testing and ratcheting up punishments. Here are some trends:

“Same data: With the exception of a few new features, the State reports and uses nearly the same type of test information today as it did more than a decade ago.

“Addition through subtraction: Increases in test results over the last decade didn’t happen until students with disabilities (mostly low-income, Black and Latino children) were removed from regular tests.

“Same disparities: The results of the “low-stakes,” sample-based National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have shown high overall test results of children in Connecticut, but little diminishing of race and class-based disparities. This historical pattern remains even after more than a decade of increased testing and punishments.

“Collateral damage: Curriculum hours in Connecticut narrowed to focus on the tested subjects. Students spent more time taking and practicing for tests throughout the year, taking away time for instruction.

“The State now uses the test results to rate students, schools, districts, and teachers.

“This isn’t educational progress.”

What really matters, he writes, is support for students, families, and communities. That’s a far better investment than high-stakes bubble tests.

Tomorrow is the deadline to sign up to testify against testing or Common Core at public hearings in Néw Jersey.

See here and here.

Now is your chance to speak out.

Jeff Nichols is a leader of the Opt Out movement in New York City. He and his wife Anne Stone have opted their children out of state tests, organized other parents, written articles, testified before officials, and raised their voices whenever and wherever possible. Both are professors of music, and they understand how little a standardized test can measure of a child’s talent and potential.

Jeff Nichols and Anne Stone are hereby added to the blog’s honor roll for their fearless advocacy for American children.

Jeff Nichols wrote the following letter to Senator Alexander, who is chair of the Senate committee that intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind:

Dear Senator Alexander,

Your committee stands charged with drawing to a close an episode of national insanity that unfortunately has considerable precedent. As in the 1950s, when fear of the Soviet Union induced an assault on our fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of association during Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts, so in the past few years fear of the rising economic might of China and of global competition generally has led to another equally violent assault on a basic democratic principle: the right of the American people to determine for themselves the methods and policies that govern how they educate their own children.

In the name of saving those children from economic ruin at the hands of supposedly better-prepared rivals in newly developed nations, we are destroying the educational foundation of our greatness. Throughout the twentieth century, American public education was characterized by diversity and local control. Fifty state systems loosely oversaw thousands of local districts that possessed great authority to determine curriculum, assessment, hiring practices and many other basic functions of running schools. That is to speak only of the public schools; added to that picture of diversity were innumerable private and parochial schools.

The result was the rise of a free, wealthy, powerful and culturally vibrant nation virtually without parallel in the history of the world.

This is not a coincidence. Our pluralistic, decentralized, diverse education system is a primary reason science, business and the arts have been able to produce an unending stream of great discoveries and innovations that have benefited all humanity.

Yet our federal education leaders want to change all that, and they have used the instrument of high-stakes testing to force the change they want on the nation. Arne Duncan regularly sings the praises of China’s test-driven system and predicts dire consequences if we do not match their achievement. Through the Common Core and associated federal testing mandates, he is well on his way to achieving his goal.

Senator Alexander, have you read the writings of Yong Zhao, the great Chinese-American education scholar who has written definitive rebuttals of Mr. Duncan’s claims? I cite only one fact I learned from Professor Zhao’s latest book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Zhao quotes from the 2013 book The Pathology of Chinese Education by Peking University professor Zheng Yefu, who wrote:

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies to the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of Chinese society.

Zhao, who lived under the Chinese system in his early years, points out what anyone should realize after half a moment’s reflection: China’s education system is designed to systematically suppress original, independent thought. That’s the primary task of education systems in ALL authoritarian societies.

Bill Gates, one of the chief forces behind the current drive to shape American education in the image of China’s through relentless high-stakes testing, has decried the uncontrolled diversity of American education. He has called the myriad state standards and associated diversity of educational approaches that prevailed before the Common Core “cacophonous.”

Well, I say this to Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg — some of the members of the “billionaire’s boys club” that Diane Ravtich has accused of mounting a coup in American education:

When everyone has a voice, it gets noisy. You may call that cacophony. I call it democracy. Get used to it. You and the politicians you back may have exploited the recent Great Recession to scare states into trading their sovereign authority over education for money, but the people of those states are rising up. We are going to retake control over the education of our children. Ordinary parents and teachers will reinstate democratic governance of public schools in this nation, asserting the same rights already enjoyed by the elite (including our president) who opt out of unconstitutional federal mandates by sending their children to private schools — schools where the meaning of accountability has not been perverted beyond recognition, schools where teachers and parents are accountable only to each other as they strive, according only to their best understanding, to do what’s best for the children they are jointly raising.

Public school parents and teachers will claim the same right, with or without the help of the U.S. Congress. If necessary we will do so through civil disobedience. My wife and I will submit our two children to no state-mandated standardized tests; we have joined tens of thousands of parents in our state of New York, defying both the federal government and the state authorities who caved to federal pressure, betraying our children to serve the interests of politicians and their corporate backers.

As in the McCarthy era, there is no middle ground here, Senator Alexander. You and your colleagues in Congress will either stop scapegoating teachers for the effects of poverty, and restore to parents, teachers and local communities their rightful control over public education, or you will go down in history as enablers of one of the most destructive series of laws and policies of our time: “No Child Left Behind” and its equally flawed sequel “Race to the Top.”

I call on you to work tirelessly to remove all federal efforts to control curriculum, assessment and teaching methods in our public schools. Leave it to us citizens, who are uniting across the political spectrum to defy illegitimate federal education dictates, and who you can rest assured will not only see to it that our children are “college and career ready,” but also fully prepared to know and assert their inalienable rights in a democratic society.

Sincerely,

Jeff Nichols

Richard Kahlenberg reviews a new book by Harvard law professor Lani Guinier, who argues that the SAT and other standardized tests for college admission are antithetical to democracy. Jeffrey Snyder of Carleton College says that Guinier’s arguments are misleading.

 

Guinier argues that the tests are reflections of affluence, not merit or character. They serve to reward those who are already privileged.

 

Kahlenberg writes:

 

“‘Democratic merit,’ Guinier explains, goes far beyond examining test scores to look at the skills and commitment among student applicants that our democracy requires. Invoking Harvard economist Amartya Sen, Guinier writes that merit is ‘an incentive system that rewards the actions a society values.’ Today, she says, our society should value people who combine two sets of attributes: (1) knowing how to solve problems, which requires not just cognitive skills but also the ability to collaborate with others, and to think creatively; and (2) a “commitment to building a better society for more people” rather than just pursuing one’s own selfish ends.

 

“Guinier argues that the heavy reliance on standardized test scores in college admissions is deeply problematic on many levels. The tests are designed not to tell whether an individual will contribute to the strength of our democracy but only how he or she will perform academically in the freshman year. “If all we cared about is how well you do in your first year of college, we would have college programs that last only one year, right?” she quips. And SATs don’t even explain first-year grades very well, she says, citing economist Jesse Rothstein’s finding that SAT scores explain 2.7 percent of the variance in freshman grades….”

 

“Finally, Guinier writes, the testocracy “values perfect scores but ignores character.” Indeed, because doing well on the SAT is seen as a product of talent and hard work, the winners often lack the sense that they owe anyone else anything. The old inherited elite sometimes recognized that the accident of birth triggered a need to give back. “The new elite, on the other hand, feels that it has earned its privileges based on intrinsic, individual merit,” Guinier writes, and therefore feel no “obligation or shame.”

 

Now that the SAT will be aligned with the Common Core, both directed by the same person, David Coleman, we can expect it to become “harder” and thus even more reflective of family wealth.

 

Jeffrey Snyder says that Guinier is wrong. Snyder says that critics of testing miss the point. All standardized tests favor those who have had greater opportunities because they are better educated and better prepared.

 

He writes:

 

The SAT, Guinier maintains, reflects the “values and culture” of “white, upper middle-class” students. Many scholars in the field of education readily endorse this claim. I know because I used to be one of them. Two years ago, though, after reading through the empirical research carried out by psychologists and psychometricians for a course I created on standardized testing and American education, I concluded that the charges of bias do not stand up to closer scrutiny. The overwhelming majority of leading measurement experts contest the notion that the SAT systematically underestimates the academic skills and knowledge of poor students and students of color. Indeed, Guinier is unable to provide a single specific example of racial or class bias on the test. Consider the fact that Asian Americans significantly outperform whites on the SAT. Is there nothing distinctive about the cultural heritage of Americans of Asian descent? Following Guinier’s logic, the tens of thousands of high-scoring first- and second-generation immigrants from India and China somehow share the “values and culture” of upper middle-class whites, even if they are working-class or their parents do not speak English as a native language.

 

The SAT is not the only measure where money matters. As University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Emerita Rebecca Zwick has shown, every measure of academic achievement is at least in part a “wealth test,” with higher-income students enjoying consistent performance advantages over their less well-off peers. On average, more affluent students have higher scores on annual tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation; on tests with no coaching available such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress; as well as on high-school exit exams such as New York’s Regents Examination. The same goes for grade-point-averages and the ACT. So no matter the achievement metric, as a group, more affluent students always do better.

 

Just to be clear, for Guinier and many of the other most vociferous critics of standardized testing, the SAT is a meaningless metric. The only skills it measures are those necessary to succeed on the SAT itself. Access to test prep allows students to learn how to “game” the test and a white, upper-middle class cultural background somehow provides a key to unlock the test’s otherwise mystifying content. In her mind, nothing separates the high from the low-scoring students, apart from bank account balances and the color of their skin. But while the SAT has many noteworthy flaws (the essay section, for instance, is farcical and an insult to the craft of writing), it does a decent job fulfilling its central purpose, which is to measure “college-readiness.” Those students who do well on the SAT really are more likely to succeed in college than those who do poorly.

 

The school of thought that deems the SAT meaningless is deeply misguided. If you care about expanding educational opportunity for poor students and students of color, charges of class and racial bias turn out to be red herrings. And test prep is the biggest red herring of all. College admissions tests, by and large, register rather than create socio-economic and racial disparities. Weeks or even months of test prep are dwarfed by the lifetime of accrued advantages associated with wealth. Think high-quality nutrition and healthcare, as well as access to museums, travel, and extended social and professional networks. Consider too a dozen plus years of attending the best public schools or private schools with well-qualified teachers and a rigorous high school curriculum that includes a rich array of foreign language offerings, Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities. By the time they are seventeen, more affluent students are more likely to succeed on the SAT—and in college—because they have received better educations than their less well-off peers.

 

To deny the real differences in the linguistic, mathematical and analytical skills between the typical low-income student and the typical high-income student is inexcusable. The test prep industry and “biased tests” make for easy targets—but they distract us from the much more important inequalities that are embedded in our racially and economically stratified K–12 educational system. Across the country, for example, poor students and students of color are disproportionately overrepresented in the lowest academic tracks, and disproportionately underrepresented in “gifted and talented programs” and honors and Advanced Placement classes. We should concentrate on students’ broader educational trajectories, rather than obsessively honing in on the drama of college admissions. We need to stop thinking of college admissions as a point of departure and start looking at it as the culmination of a long journey.

 

Veteran educator Arnold Dodge warns that the corporate reform movement, led by the U.S. Department of Education, threatens democracy and creativity. In its quest for data and standardization, the DOE will crush imagination and innovation. Standardized tests reward right answers, not original thought.

Not content to standardize children and their teachers, the DOE now wants to control teacher education by collecting test scores of students and linking them to the institutions that prepared their teachers. Test scores above all!

Dodge quotes John Dewey, who wrote:

“”Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

“Lack of the free and equitable intercourse which springs from a variety of shared interests makes intellectual stimulation unbalanced. Diversity of stimulation means novelty, and novelty means challenge to thought.””

I don’t know how I missed this article when it appeared in The New York Times. It was written by Helen Gao, and it supports what Yong Zhao has written about the highly inegalitarian consequences of China’s test-driven culture.

Whenever you hear someone talking about high standards and rigorous exams as drivers of equity, please question that assumption. Please understand that standards and tests are meant to discriminate among those at the top and those who are not. They do not raise test scores, they measure the ability to answer test questions correctly. The haves dominate the top, while the children of have-nots cluster at the bottom. This is true on every standardized test in every nation. Gradations in test scores will determine the future for many.

She writes that the best and the brightest students are admitted to two elite universities:

“They are destined for bright futures: In a few decades, they will fill high-powered positions in government and become executives in state banks and multinational companies. But their ever-expanding career possibilities belie the increasingly narrow slice of society they represent. The percentage of students at Peking University from rural origins, for example, has fallen to about 10 percent in the past decade, down from around 30 percent in the 1990s. An admissions officer at Tsinghua University told a reporter last year that the typical undergraduate was “someone who grew up in cities, whose parents are civil servants and teachers, go on family trips at least once a year, and have studied abroad in high school.”

“China’s state education system, which offers nine years of compulsory schooling and admits students to colleges strictly through exam scores, is often hailed abroad as a paradigm for educational equity. The impression is reinforced by Chinese students’ consistently stellar performance in international standardized tests. But this reputation is built on a myth.

“While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and well-connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers.

“A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits. Some 60 million students in rural schools are “left-behind” children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.”

Bianca Tanis explains in the AFT publication why high-stakes testing is wrong for children with special needs. She describes a system under political pressure to produce data, where data trumps instruction and the needs of children.

Tania writes:

“I am a special education teacher in New York and a mother of two children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes it is difficult to separate these two roles. Being intimately involved in the education system has made navigating the world of special education for my children easier in some ways, but also infinitely more difficult and heartbreaking in others. Simply put, I know too much.

“When my son began third grade in 2012, it dawned on me that, as required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), he would soon be mandated to take state tests in math and English language arts, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, despite the fact that he reads at a first-grade level and has numerous challenges with language. I was horrified that my child would undergo such inappropriate testing.

“Unfortunately, since the passage of NCLB in 2002, the practice of compelling all students, including students like my son, to take one-size-fits-all, high-stakes tests has become policy. These tests were originally touted as a way to shine a bright light on educational inequalities based on race, class, and disability. While these tests can have negative effects for many students without special needs, they actually prevent many disabled students in particular from receiving an individualized education that meets their needs. Often, they are subjected to emotionally harmful testing. Many special education teachers like myself have questioned why the practice of administering one-size-fits-all tests to special education students persists when it flies in the face of logic and sound pedagogy. Fortunately, many are no longer willing to remain silent about the flaws in this system.”

She says:

“For the past five years, I have taught students with disabilities from kindergarten to fifth grade in an affluent suburb of New York City. My students have a range of strengths and challenges, and although most are classified as learning disabled, they are extremely diverse in their learning needs.

“As our school and state have embraced the Common Core, it has been challenging to bridge the gap between what my students know and can do and what the standards require. The implementation of the Common Core across all grades has resulted in many students receiving instruction without being taught the necessary prerequisite skills. The situation is especially problematic for students with learning challenges who are sensitive to change and depend on sufficient scaffolding of information and skills to learn. Students struggling prior to the implementation of the Common Core suddenly find themselves significantly further behind.

“The problem has only been exacerbated by the advent of test-based teacher accountability required for states participating in the Race to the Top initiative.1 My colleagues and I have found it increasingly difficult to differentiate instruction for our students while keeping up with the curriculum so they will be prepared to take Common Core–aligned tests. Throw in the threat of a poor evaluation and the loss of teacher job security, and you have a recipe for disaster.

“In an ideal world, if my fourth-graders need to spend an extra week or two working on a math concept, I would use my professional judgment to assess their needs. But as things stand, I am forced to move on, regardless of whether they are ready. There are only so many weeks in the school year, and everything yet untaught in the standards must be packed into the remaining weeks because it will all appear on the test. Rather than a fluid process in which students’ instructional needs come first, teaching has become a marathon to cram it all in. I honestly have heard my colleagues telling their students on the fourth day of school, “We have a lot to do today. We are already behind.” Midyear assessments are given despite teachers not having had the chance to teach all the content that will be tested, because administrators “need the data” to assess whether students are on track for end-of-the-year testing.”

– See more at: http://www.aft.org/ae/winter2014-2015/tanis#.dpuf

Veteran educator Elliot Self says it is long past time to revise No Child Left Behind, and he urges everyone to make their voices heard.

My first recommendation to Congress would be to restore the original name of this landmark 1965 legislation, whose primary purpose was equity for poor children and districts, not accountability: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), not President Bush’s colorful NCLB.

Self offers nine recommendations in this article. The balance of the article explains each recommendations.

“I believe that we need a new National policy that supports a 21st century education for our children. I am suggesting nine broad changes to the law that would help schools and teachers across the country better meet the needs of diverse students and schools in a complex 21st century world. The recommendations suggest a very different type of law that, instead of a set of top down mandates, emphasizes collaborative working relationships with states, schools and districts and local flexibility, creativity and innovation. They suggest that NCLB should be focused around a 21st century education mission statement and set of goals and should support the development of high quality standards that make significant learning possible.

“The recommendations promote a broader view of accountability and assessment policies and practices, emphasize the development of a rigorous, expansive, high quality curriculum and school programs, and promote the use of powerful instructional strategies. They are designed to address the deep-seated problems with the current law.

Self’s nine recommendations are the following:

“Create a law designed to encourage and guide states, districts and schools to develop 21st century schools, rather than coerce them into submission.

Create a 21st century education mission and vision statement to focus the law.

Encourage the development of high quality state standards.

Support the development of curricular programs that are consistent with high quality standards.

Reduce the amount of standardized testing and encourage the use of multiple types of assessments to measure success and progress.

Encourage districts and schools to develop and implement benchmark and graduation projects.

Encourage districts to provide a variety of elective courses and comprehensive extra-curricular activities and programs.

Encourage professional development that supports the use of powerful instructional strategies.

Create the means for greater collaboration and sharing among states, districts and schools.”

What are your recommendations for the federal role?

Civil rights groups issued a statement expressing their support for annual testing. The statement makes assumptions about the supposed benefits of testing that are surprising. After 13 years of federally mandated annual testing, how could anyone still believe that testing will improve instruction and close achievement gaps? Tests measure achievement gaps, they don’t close them. Standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. A bell curve has a top half and bottom half. It never closes. Standardized tests accurately measure family income. One need only look at the correlation between SAT scores and family income to see how closely the scores are tied to wealth and poverty. For reasons incomprehensible to me, these worthy organizations believe that children have a right to take standardized tests, even though such tests disproportionately benefit the privileged, not children who are poor or children with disabilities or children whose families have been discriminated against because of race or ethnicity. How can one look at the results of Common Core testing in Néw York—where 97% of English learners, 95% of children with disabilities, and more than 80% of black and Hispanic students failed to meet the standard of “proficiency”—and conclude that these children are well-served by standardized testing?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 11, 2015
Contact: Jeff Miller, 202-466-4281, miller@civilrights.org

Nearly 20 Civil Rights Groups and Education Advocates Release Principles for ESEA Reauthorization:
“The Federal Role Must Be Honored and Maintained”

Washington – Today, nearly 20 civil rights groups and education advocates released shared civil rights principles for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

In the principles, the groups highlight the important and historic role the federal government has played during the 50 years since the ESEA was originally passed in promoting educational opportunity and protecting the rights and interests of students disadvantaged by discrimination, poverty, and other conditions that may limit their educational attainment. The groups say that this role must be maintained in any bill to reauthorize the ESEA, along with ensuring that each state adopts college and career-ready state standards, aligned statewide annual assessments, and a state accountability system to improve instruction and learning for students in low-performing schools.

The full text of the principles is below.

###

Shared Civil Rights Principles for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

January 2015

The United States has played a historic and critical role in promoting educational opportunity and protecting the rights and interests of students disadvantaged by discrimination, poverty, and other conditions that may limit their educational attainment. For more than five decades, Congress has consistently recognized and acted on the need to promote fair and equal access to public schools for: children of color; children living in poverty; children with disabilities; homeless, foster and migrant children; children in detention; children still learning English; Native children; and girls as well as boys. Much progress has been made, but educational inequality continues to quash dreams, erode our democracy, and hinder economic growth. This federal role must be honored and maintained in a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which must ensure the following:

I. Each state adopts college and career-ready state standards and provides:

All students a fair and equal opportunity to meet these standards, including:

Access to early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children and those with disabilities (ages birth to 5 years).

Equal access to qualified and effective teachers and core college-prep courses.

Equal access to technology including hardware, software, and the Internet.
Safe and healthy school climate with inclusionary discipline best practices.
Supports and services needed by English learners and students with disabilities.

Protections for the most vulnerable children, e.g., those in juvenile or criminal justice systems, those in child welfare systems, pregnant/parenting students, and foster, homeless, and migrant youth.

Annual, statewide assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting, the state’s college and career-ready standards, and

Are valid and reliable measures of student progress and meet other requirements now in Sec. 1111(b)(3) of Title I.[i]

Provide appropriate accommodations for English learners, who should be exempt only for their first year attending school in the United States.

Provide appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.

Limit alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards only to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, up to 1 percent of all students; terminate assessments based on modified achievement standards; and prohibit the use of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to measure academic achievement under ESEA.

Allow, during a transition period, alternatives to computer-based assessment for students in schools that have not yet provided them with sufficient access to, and experience with, the required technology.

II. Federal dollars are targeted to historically underserved students and schools.

Title I is used to provide extra (supplemental) resources needed by high-poverty schools to close achievement gaps and improve student outcomes.

States, districts and schools serving the highest-need student populations receive more funding than others.
Targeted funding is provided to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children including youth in juvenile and criminal justice systems; Native American children; English learners; and foster, homeless, and migrant students.

III. State accountability systems expect and support all students to make enough progress every year so that they graduate from high school ready for college and career.

States set annual district and school targets for grade-level achievement, high school graduation, and closing achievement gaps, for all students, including accelerated progress for subgroups (each major racial and ethnic group, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students from low-income families), and rate schools and districts on how well they meet the targets.

Effective remedies to improve instruction, learning and school climate (including, e.g., decreases in bullying and harassment, use of exclusionary discipline practices, use of police in schools, and student referrals to law enforcement) for students enrolled are implemented in any school where the school as a whole, or any subgroup of students, has not met the annual achievement and graduation targets or where achievement gaps persist. The remedies must be effective both in improving subgroup achievement and high school graduation rates and in closing achievement gaps.

IV. States and districts ensure that all Title I schools encourage and promote meaningful engagement and input of all parents/guardians –regardless of their participation or influence in school board elections – including those who are not proficient in English, or who have disabilities or limited education/literacy – in their children’s education and in school activities and decision-making. Schools communicate and provide information and data in ways that are accessible to all parents (e.g., written, oral, translated).

V. States and LEAs improve data collection and reporting to parents and the public on student achievement and gap-closing, course-completion, graduation rates, school climate indicators (including decreases in use of exclusionary discipline practices, use of police in schools, and student referrals to law enforcement), opportunity measures (including pre-K and technology), and per-pupil expenditures. Data are disaggregated by categories in Sec. 1111(b)(3)(C)(xiii) of Title I,[ii] and cross-tabulated by gender.

VI. States implement and enforce the law. The Secretary of Education approves plans, ensures state implementation through oversight and enforcement, and takes action when states fail to meet their obligations to close achievement gaps and provide equal educational opportunity for all students.

Submitted by:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

American Association of University Women

American Civil Liberties Union

Children’s Defense Fund

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Easter Seals

The Education Trust

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Council of La Raza

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

Partners for Each and Every Child

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

United Negro College Fund

[i] This section includes requirements to ensure the quality, fairness and usefulness of the statewide assessments. For example, they must assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding; provide for the inclusion of all students (including students with disabilities and English language learners); be consistent with professional and technical standards; objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge and skills; and provide information to parents, teachers, principals, and administrators so that they can address the specific academic needs of students.

[ii] This section requires assessment results “to be disaggregated within each State, local educational agency, and school by gender, by each major racial and ethnic group, by English proficiency status, by migrant status, by students with disabilities as compared to nondisabled students, and by economically disadvantaged students as compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged.”

Contact information: Scott Simpson, The Leadership Conference, 1629 K St NW Ste 1000, Washington, DC 200061639

This is an excellent letter to the U.S. Department of Education, which patiently explains the harm caused by value-added modeling (VAM). It was submitted by a Néw York group called “Change the Stakes,” which opposes high-stakes testing. The letter was written by psychologist Dr. Rosalie Friend, a member of Change the Stakes. It is a good source for parents and educators who want to explain why testing is being overused and misused.

USDOE’s Proposed Regs for Teacher Education Programs

Change the Stakes submitted these comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal to impose new accountability measures on teacher education programs, https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/12/03/2014-28218/teacher-preparation-issues.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed that teacher education programs be rated by the employment, placement, and performance of their graduates. Ratings of the performance of graduates would include the test scores of the students who are taught by graduates of those programs.

Change the Stakes (changethestakes.org), an organization of New York City parents and educators promoting alternatives to high-stakes testing, opposes this proposal.

Rating teacher education programs by what teachers do after they leave the programs is unrealistic. The decisions made by graduates and their employers are not determined by the teacher education programs. Teacher education programs are already assessed by professional accrediting boards that understand the nuances of teaching and learning.

The accountability procedures imposed on K-12 schools have diverted astounding amounts of money and time from teaching and learning. The accountability procedures have not led to any measurable improvement in student achievement. Extending these ill-conceived procedures to teacher education programs is counter-productive. Attaching high stakes to evaluation leads to the distortion of the processes that are being evaluated, as documented by Dr. Donald Campbell, the pre-eminent social scientist.

Teaching is a difficult profession. Industrial-type accountability procedures distract from the focus on teaching and learning. We want teachers to learn how to engage children in learning new ideas and using those ideas to reason and solve problems. At the same time, teachers must be able to assist children with developing socially and emotionally. This requires dealing with enormous differences among children’s backgrounds and personalities. Of course, teachers must also be expert in the skills and materials they teach. Teacher education programs must prepare teachers to think on their feet and respond to the ever changing conditions under which they labor, not to drill children for shallow, regimented tests.

Teachers’ working conditions are a major factor in their professional achievement. Social conditions, school culture, school leadership, class assignments, and relationships among colleagues are all important in determining both students’ and teachers’ success. Management expert, W. Edwards Deming, said, “It is the structure of the organization rather than the employees, alone, which holds the key to improving the quality of output.” All these factors are independent of teacher education programs.

Perhaps the most wrong-headed part of the proposal is the use of student test scores in assessing the teachers who graduated from the programs. Using student scores to evaluate teachers and then to use that “so-called” data to rate their teacher education programs is unsound and unacceptable for the following reasons.

Low Reliability of Standardized Test Results

Value-added modeling (VAM) cannot be accurately used for a small sample such as a single class. The aggregation of student test scores to derive a score for an individual teacher has been demonstrated to be wildly unstable, especially while assigning scores to a given teacher from year to year or even from class to class. The American Statistical Association has warned against the use of VAM for teacher evaluation. Using these unreliable figures to draw conclusions about the programs that educated teachers is folly.

Low Validity of Standardized Test Results

Tests cannot adequately account for every factor outside of a teacher’s instruction that impacts how students perform on a test because there are far too many other factors affecting students’ scores. Research shows that whatever teachers’ impact is, it accounts for only 1-14% of student variability in standardized test scores. If the teacher’s score is based on factors other than the teacher’s influence, it is not valid.

Studies since the 1966 Coleman report continue to show that nothing affects student achievement as much as the student’s home. Parents in poor families cannot provide their children with the same social and learning supports and enrichment that affluent and middle-class parents can provide. Furthermore, well-funded schools in prosperous communities consistently get higher test scores than cash starved schools in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

A teacher’s effectiveness is directly affected by the composition of the class assigned to that teacher even within the same school. What kind of academic background do the children have? Are their goals aligned with the school’s goals? How cooperative are they? How well behaved or self-regulated are they?

Conclusion

The entire process of professional training of an educator is exceptionally complex. While a school of education affects the resulting quality of the professional educator, so much more goes into their success. Any evaluation of such an institution should be developed to be inclusive of all the contributing factors, not simply the ones for which quantitative data (however invalid and unreliable) are available.

Ignoring these additional factors and the research supporting them is an injustice not only to the programs the Education Department plans to rate but also to students, teachers, parents, and communities alike.

Sources

American Statistical Association. (2014). ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment. http://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf

Baker, E. L., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L. D., Haertel, E., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., Ravitch, D., Rothstein, R., Shavelson, R. J., & Shepard, L.A. (2010). Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers: Briefing Paper 278. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Campbell, D.T. (1976). Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change. Dartmouth College, Occasional Paper Series, #8.

Greene, D. (2013). Doing the Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks. Victoria, Canada: Friesen Press.

Haertel, E.H. (2013) Reliability and validity of inferences about teachers based on student test scores. William H. Angoff Memorial Lecture Series. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Johnson, S.M., Kraft, M.A., & Papay, J.P. (2012). How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement, Teachers College Record, 114:1-39.

Viadero, D. (2006). Race Report’s Influence Felt 40 Years Later: Legacy of Coleman study was new view of equity. EdWeek [Online] Available http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2006/06/21/41coleman.h25.html

These comments were written by Dr. Rosalie Friend, Educational Psychologist and a member of Change the Stakes.

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