Archives for category: Standardized Testing

A few days ago, I posted about a proposal by powerful Republicans to “reform” public education with a grab-bag of failed policies that punish public schools and demoralize teachers while creating a flow of public dollars to the private sector.

 

In this article, the brilliant and persistent Sara Stevenson explains the details of the proposal. Stevenson, a member of the blog’s honor roll, is a librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin. She has had more letters published in the Wall Street Journal than anyone I know. She believes in setting the record straight, and she believes in public education. That’s why this destructive proposal made her blood boil.

 

The bill could well have been written in ALEC’s corporate offices. It has everything on the corporate free-market wish list.

 

Stevenson writes:

 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry
Taylor, R-Friendswood, delivered the terrible news last week: The
Senate education plan contains no financial help for school districts,
600 of which are already suing the state for inadequate and
inequitable funding. It offers no testing relief for students in
grades 3 through 8 who must sit for up to four hours at a stretch
taking multiple standardized tests.

 

Furthermore, their proposals are
merely warmed up, stale leftovers written by the American Legislative
Exchange Council, a corporation-funded group that emphasizes free
markets and limited government. Here’s a sample serving:

 

Giving letter grades (A-F) to individual public schools.

A “parent trigger” law, which allows the majority of parents at
individual failing schools to petition for new management.

Removing limits on full-time virtual schools and online courses.

Tying teacher performance to compensation.

Creating a “college and career readiness” course for Texas middle
school students.

Creation of a statewide district to manage failing schools.

 

The most dispiriting part of this education plan is that it proposes
absolutely nothing that will help educators with the serious charge of
preparing our young citizens for their adult lives. Our schools are
terribly underfunded. After the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion in
education dollars in 2011, Texas ranked 49th among the fifty states in
per pupil spending. Today we are spending less money per student than
we did ten years ago. How can the Legislature’s continued starving of
school districts help us with the very real challenges we face?

 

Less state funding for schools translates into larger class sizes,
fewer teaching assistants and painful cuts to electives, arts, PE,
libraries and clinics. Texas educators are willing to work hard in
daunting circumstances, but the more our legislators insult us with
unoriginal, ineffective schemes as they deprive us of necessary
resources, the more those of us with choices will flee our beloved
profession. The best teachers will refuse to work in an environment in
which they cannot be successful. I give this lazy, irresponsible
education plan a big, fat zero.”

 

Never mind that not one of these proposals is new or that not one of them has been successful anywhere.

 

Ideologues don’t care about evidence. The goal is to dismantle public education, a fundamental, essential institution of our democracy. In doing so, they override local control and funnel taxpayers’ dollars to entrepreneurs and religious institutions. There is not a shred of evidence that any of their proposals will improve education.

 

These men are not conservatives. Conservatives conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up community institutions. These men are radicals and anarchists, destroying heedlessly, mindlessly, zealously, without regard for the damage they do to the lives of children, families, educators, and communities.

Colorado students are rallying to demand testing reform. This is THEIR issue. They have been subjected to test after test after test. They lose instructional time. They lose time for the arts and history and foreign languages to make more time for testing. Their scores can get their teachers and their principal fired. They are genuine patriots. Despite 12 years of testing, they have not been turned into robots. They are standing up for their right to a real education. They refuse to be crushed by the standardization machine. These students can teach the nation what matters most.

 

On Saturday, March 7th, from 11 am to 12 pm, high school students from schools around the state will join on the West Steps of the Denver Capitol.

 

They aim to have their voices heard on the issue of standardized testing in Colorado. The Colorado Measure for Academic Success (CMAS) test proved to be the uniting factor that prompted these students to raise concerns regarding the corporate ownership of tests such as the CMAS, as well as the ways in which they feel these tests are misaligned with curriculum design.

 

Other grievances regarding these tests include the fact that teachers cannot see the tests their students take, and that depending upon the school district, they feel teachers and schools can be unfairly jeopardized based upon the students’ scores. After contemplating this myriad of complaints and concerns, a group of high school seniors in Fort Collins began an organization known as ‘The Anti-Test’, a group which seeks to peacefully protest certain aspects of standardized testing for the sake of testing reform. They have organized this rally in Denver so that the voices of civically engaged students may be heard in what they ultimately believe is a student issue.

 

I hope they bring a special message of dissent to State Senator Michael Johnston, who wrote Senate Bill 191, which made high-stakes testing the focus of “reform” in Colorado. Johnston is a former member of Teach for America. He insisted that 50% of educators’ evaluation should be based on test scores. Making testing so important, he claimed in 2010, would produce “great teachers” and “great schools.” How has that worked out?

Peter Greene read Arne Duncan’s speech carefully on the future of NCLB and boils down his vision of the federal role in education to one word: testing.

“First, Duncan positions assessment in the center of his education universe. He starts out by describing a large vision of education, one that is filled with innovation, meets the needs of every child, promotes equity, provides opportunity, values all subject areas, and provides every school with sufficient support and resources. And somehow considering all those aspects of a grand vision of education leads him to a Big Standardized Test. That’s it.

“It’s like someone who describes the awesome heights and sensations of a gourmet dinner, teasing you with visions of tastes and textures, savory combinations and a palate immersed in gustatorial ecstasy and then, after all that description and anticipation, at the moment of the Big Reveal, draws back the curtain on— a can opener.

“Testing is Chef Duncan’s can opener.”

Despite the universal failure of Duncan’s test-based teacher evaluation, despite its debunking by the Anerican Statistical Association, Duncan stubbornly clings to it. He is certain that parents want to know how their child compares to children in other states. I don’t understand that. I always had many questions about how my children were doing in school but I never wondered how they compared to children their age in other states. I wanted to know if they worked well with others, if they were respectful to their teachers, if they were good citizens, if they completed their school work in time. I counted on their teachers to bring any problems to my attention, and they did.

 

Greene writes:

 

“Parents are morons

 

“It wouldn’t be a Duncan speech about testing without the presumption that schools are liars and parents are dopes.

 

“Will we work together to ensure every parent’s right to know every year how much progress her child is making in school?

 

“Because only with the intervention and oversight of the federal government can parents have a clue about how their children are doing in school. And only a federally-mandated BS Test can give them a picture of their child’s education.

 

“Irony overload

 

“Later in the speech, Duncan suggests that “maybe our only hope is absolute honesty and transparency.” It is a great line, and one that I absolutely agree with.

 

“And yet, like most of Duncan’s prettiest rhetoric, it’s not reflected in any policy that he actually pursues. Doubling down on testing without considering its damaging effects and its utter failure to measure anything it claims to measure– this is not honest or transparent. The continued investing of BS Tests with powers they don’t have and effects they cannot achieve is neither honest nor transparent. The absolute refusal to hear opposing viewpoints is neither honest nor transparent.

 

“Duncan makes much noise about the need to supply quality education to the poor, to minorities, to students anywhere in the country who are not getting the full benefit of public education. He hears the cries for education and equity and justice and having heard them, he is sending… standardized tests (well, and charter schools, for some of those students, anyway).

 

“Regardless of your diagnosis of US educational ills, I don’t know how you arrive at the prescription, “We need more Big Standardized Tests driving all major decisions from the federal level.” Particularly after we’ve had a few years to see just how poorly how that actually works. Duncan’s speech includes an impassioned plea not to turn back the clock, not to return to a failed past. What he either can’t or won’t see is that his devotion to a failed test-based education policy is just such a retrograde response to education concerns.

 

“The Big Standardized Test can now takes its place in the gallery of failed educational policies of the past. If Duncan really wanted to move forward, he would leave BS Testing in the past where it belongs.”

Susan Barber, chair of the English department at Northgate High School in Coweta County, Georgia, wrote a letterd to State Superintendent Richard Woods.

 

Her message: “Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students…..”

 

“I love students, and I love teaching. I want to be a teacher who is “part of the solution and not part of the problem,” which is harder and harder to do in education today. While I have little control over decisions on a large-scale, my mind is continually thinking on and dreaming of ways to make my classroom, and our system, better.

 

“I believe the greatest and most under tapped resource in Georgia’s education system today is Georgia teachers, but the good teachers are starting to leave….

 

“If I am going to be measured on how well my students read and write, I need more time to teach them to read and write. Some days I feel I spend more time getting my plans properly formatted, administering standardized tests, and going to professional development meetings on the state evaluation system or Georgia Milestone than I do teaching. These things are needed and necessary, but when they interfere with my ability and time to teach, there is a serious problem.

 

“Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students.

 

“My students need me to teach them. Please protect our administrators’ time by allowing them to be about the business of curriculum planning, strategic and long-term goal setting, and spending quality time with teachers and students.

 

“In addition to instructional time being used for testing, the amount of money devoted to testing is mind-boggling. Almost $108 million has been designated for the Georgia Milestone assessment. As department chair at my high school, every year I have to tell my team that we will once again not get new textbooks. We have been through three adoption cycles now without new books. I beg that state money will be funneled to where it is most needed – students.

 

“Students do not directly benefit from testing, yet that is where the money goes. I understand this is a complex issue with federal and state requirements to be fulfilled, but our students are suffering while political gains are being made. We must put a stop to this.

 

“Testing does offer some advantages. I am not a proponent of throwing out tests all together. Schools should be held accountable on student learning as well as teacher instruction, but we have swung so far to one side that there is no longer balance in the system.

 

“Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving. I would like to think that these are some of the most important skills students learn in school today, yet they count for nothing in regard to my evaluation or my school’s performance.

 

“The system today is defined by terms such as CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, yet all I want to do is teach SCHOOL. Give me and my colleagues the freedom to do what we are trained to do and what we love doing.”

There has been animated conversation on the blog about whether school tests are benign because they are similar to medical tests. They are in fact very dissimilar. The differences between standardized tests and medical tests are many.

One, the medical tests do not have multiple-choice answers. Doctors understand that the same results mean different things for different patients, depending on their age, weight, medical history, and other factors.

Two, your doctor (a human being) interprets the test results, relying on her/his experience and wisdom.

Three, in most cases, you get the test results within a few days, not months later.

Four, by the time the results of the standardized tests are reported, the student has a different teacher. The teacher is not allowed to review the questions to see what the student got wrong. Unlike the medical tests, which pinpoints specific problems, the standardized tests provide no diagnostic information. They are worthless to teachers and students.

Five, the purpose of the medical tests is to find a treatment to make you feel better; the purpose of the standardized education test is to rank you against other students, to grade your teacher, and to evaluate your school. Imagine a medical test that told you not how to get better, but how you compare to patients in other states, and whether your doctor should be fired and his practice should be closed.

A reader suggests a massive way to resist standardized testing:

“Diane and all my favorite people at this blog,

“I am not sure are where to post this but today I had an idea. I have been teaching in a MD public high school for many years. I have been a loyal reader of this blog for two years but never commented before. Today at an excruciating, propaganda filled faculty meeting at my school, we were informed of how for three weeks in March our school would stop functioning as a school and instead become a branch of Pearson Education as we administer the PARCC. Seriously, no normal instruction for weeks. Next when someone had the gumption to ask about the OPT OUT movement, we were told that it was against MD state law to opt out and if asked, tell parents and students exactly that.

“Thus, my idea. Why not start a nationwide movement of civil disobedience. For all multiple choice questions, students could simply bubble ‘A’. That one simple act performed over and over by hundreds of thousands nationwide would represent a powerful statement.
I know that this may be more doable for middle and high school students who are in tune with social movements and who do not have to pass a test to be promoted to the next grade. But seriously, why not. Let’s call it the BUBBLE ‘A’ movement. it will render all tests invalid and show that this idea of using students and teachers for nefarious, profit making schemes is unacceptable and immoral. It must stop. Now!

“Anybody?”

Peter Greene reports that the dream of one big national assessment is finished. States are dropping out of PARCC and SBA. Some are dropping out while quietly buying a new test that looks like PARCC. None is dropping in. Fifty states will not take the same test. Period.

Mercedes Schneider reviews what is in store for children in Néw Jersey when they take the PARCC test:

“PARCC testing in New Jersey is scheduled to begin March 2, 2015. The NJ PARCC testing “window” will not end in March, but will continue into April, May, and June, depending upon the grade level and whether the test is part of the PBA (performance-based assessment), which is given 75% of the way through a school year, or EOY (end of year), which comes 90% of the way into a school year.

“For third grade, New Jersey schools must schedule 4.75 hours for the English language arts (ELA) PBA and EOY PARCC and 5 hours for the math PBA and EOY PARCC.

“Just shy of 10 hours of schedules testing time for a third grader.

“For fourth and fifth graders it is a full 10 hours.

“For sixth through eighth graders, almost 11 hours.”

Why is it necessary to spend so much time to find out whether children can read and do math?

Some parent groups are urging opting out.

The opt out talk has grown so loud that DC-based Education Trust has sent opinion pieces to Néw Jersey papers urging parents not to opt out. Schneider points out that Education Trust is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.

New Jersey parents: do not subject your children to 10 hours of testing. Opt out.

I received a letter from the teachers at PS 321. I have a direct connection to the school, as a member of my family is a student there. He loves school. He is in third grade. He is working on an essay whose topc he chose. He is researching “the Silk Road.” Last year, in second grade, he wrote about bioluminescence (I had to look it up.) this obviously a wonderful public school.

References in the letter are to Liz Phillips, the principal.

Here is the link: http://ps321.org/letter-from-ps-321-teachers/

Letter from PS 321 Teachers

February 23, 2015

Dear PS 321 Families,

It is with heavy hearts that we, the teachers at 321, reach out to you to ask for your help.

Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to PS 321 – and to our profession – if it passes.

50% of a teacher’s rating would be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20%).
35% of a teacher’s rating would be based on the findings of an outside “independent observer” who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal and assistant principals’ observations count for 60%).
15% of a teacher’s rating would be based on observations by the principal or assistant principals. The very people who know our work best would have the least input into our evaluation.
50% + 35% = 85% of our evaluations would be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.
And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired. Liz might have no say in this.

So what might that do to PS 321? Realistically, many of us could be fired. Every year. And many more of us would be pushed away from the profession we love.

Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though, when our students take the standardized tests, most of them do just fine… many PS 321 teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content. Even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.

That may sound patently absurd. However, that has already happened here.

If Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals come to pass, it might start to happen more and more. And if we are rated ineffective as a result two years in a row, we might be fired.

That is why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.

Faced with these changes, we’ve already been hearing from so many of our colleagues from across the city and state who will be forced to do more test prep. Even when they know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though they know teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of the loss of a paycheck – the loss of the career they are building, have built, or want to build – these proposals will push them to teach in ways they know to be counterproductive.

That breaks our hearts. But the truth is, faced with the same reality, there are those of us here who would be feeling the very same pressure. Not because we’d want to. We would try to resist. But it is inevitable that if the governor’s proposals go through, all schools will narrow their curriculum to some extent.

And that’s scary. And it breaks our hearts even more. Because we know what we have here. We love what we have— in you, in our students, in all that the PS 321 community represents. The joy that is present— every day, in our school. The value that is placed on intellectual curiosity, on creativity, on the arts. The love of learning that is visible when you enter our building, when you go into classrooms, and when you talk to students and teachers.

The values present in Governor Cuomo’s proposals are antithetical to our own. And they place them at risk. The numbers are clear: 50% of our value will be six days of tests. 35% of our value will be one day with an independent observer. And 15% of our value will be in evaluation by Liz and the assistant principals, those who know us best as educators.

Those are their values.

Our joy, our love of learning, our desire to help students become deep thinkers and problem solvers, our community, our commitment to constantly improving our practice… those are ours.

PS 321 Families: don’t let them take our values away.

We need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote before April 1st.

We need you to let your legislators know that you disagree with this plan:

Email Governor Cuomo right now at gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us.

Visit http://www.nyteacherletter.org/ and sign the letter to let your legislator know you disapprove of the law.

Contact your assemblymember. Go to http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/ to find their contact information. Don’t stop there. Go to their offices and demand attention.

Post this issue on Facebook and tell your friends. Use social media to spread the word. Go to Albany. Make whatever noise you can.

And sign up today at ps321.org to receive information and updates from the Testing Task Force about what you can do to help support us.

What we have together is rare, especially today, when so many schools have succumbed to the pressures of testing. We must not take our school’s joyful community for granted. All that we have– all that we do together–is far too important and far too valuable to be taken away. Thank you, as always, for your energy, your support, and your inspiring, creative children.

Your Devoted Teachers

Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

Connecticut’s students are among the highest on the NAEP, yet its policymakers insist that its schools and teachers are unsuccessful. The politicians want more charter schools and Teach for America.

He writes:

“As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families. But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve. Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.

“Our nation’s obsession with standardized test scores will not solve these problems, and they put our country at great risk intellectually as well as economically. As educational researcher Yong Zhao writes, countries with which we are often compared — such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — are moving away from a focus on testing in their public schools. Why? Because they have learned from the history of the United States that a great education and nation is one that rewards creativity, originality, imagination and innovation….

“The most recent scapegoat for our nation’s shameful achievement gap is teacher preparation programs, for failing to produce a steady stream of what the U.S. Department of Education abstractly calls “great teachers” to work in our neediest public schools. By blaming teacher preparation programs, the department can yet again divert public attention from the most crucial barrier to achieving educational equality: poverty.

There is a need for more “great teachers” who will commit themselves to our state’s neediest public schools. But achieving this goal will take more than naive slogans or punitive measures levied against teacher preparation programs that do not successfully persuade graduates to teach in these schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation — with its emphasis on standardized test scores — work against this goal because of the overly technical, anti-intellectual portrait of teaching they endorse. We in Connecticut need to make these jobs more attractive to prospective teachers through increased respect, support and autonomy rather than criticism, disdain and surveillance.”

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