Archives for category: Standardized Testing

The following post was written by Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation, a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008. Its latest reform proposals (in Spanish) are called “La Reforma Educativa que Chile Necesita”, and were published in April 2013. A book on this subject (in Spanish) is also available. These proposals were mostly adopted by and included in the educational program of the recently elected government of Michelle Bachelet, and are starting to be implemented now.

Valentina Quiroga (32) was one of the student founders of this organization and is now Undersecretary of Education.

Although Educación 2020 remains as a fully independent movement, the positions stated thereon are in many ways similar to those of the current government.

Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

In August 2013 I wrote in this blog a three piece series, called “Chile: The most pro-market system in the world.” The first described the origins and structure of the system. The second explained its educational and social results, good and bad. The third pointed the way Chile should choose to get out of this mess. If the reader wants to fully understand this situation (the most “Milton Friedmanish” in the world), incomparable with any other country, it is advisable to read those beforehand.
Although some might disagree, from both extremes of the political spectrum, we are happy to inform that the proposals we made are very similar to those being implemented now. However, the political, financial and cultural obstacles will be formidable.

Bachelet was elected by a large margin of voters and has a majority in both the House and the Senate. Nonetheless, positions within the government’s coalition are not fully homogeneous. In addition, there is an impending tax reform that is vital for funding these reforms, costing no less than 2% of gross national product in gradual increments.

Of course, many powerful companies, with strong lobbying capability, are not happy about that. The educational reforms will include dozens of new laws and budgets, covering from preschool to tertiary education.

A warning for American readers. I am fully aware that many of you are criticizing charter schools, profit, teaching to the test, skimming, and the destruction of the teaching profession. I myself have cited Diane Ravitch’s books many times. But you have to be aware that, after 30 years of neoliberal schemes in Chile, charter schools subsidized by government are a majority (55%). One third of them are religious. Two thirds of them are for-profit, and one half of them charge anywhere from US$ 10 to US$ 180 a month on top of the subsidy, therefore skimming quite efficiently.

Teaching to the test, with consequences, has been taken to the greatest extreme imaginable. Policies to destruct public education are too numerous to mention here, and the result is that this system is in acute crisis financially, managerially and emotionally. The teaching profession is in far worse condition than in the US, by any statistical criteria.

In this situation, it is simply not possible to pretend now that charter schools could vanish. Less so if millions of parents have chosen to send their children to highly segregated charters, in a country whose social inequalities are far worse than those in the US, which I know are ugly by themselves.

In short, if the US is navigating towards hell, we are already there and are trying to get out without sinking the ship. It is a very different situation.

The most difficult hurdle in front of us is not legal, political or financial, but cultural. Parents have been led to believe, for decades, that the “best” school is that which is segregated, both academically and socioeconomically. We have a true cultural and educational apartheid. Therefore, the changes will have to be gradual and careful. At the same time, the government is sending strong signals: this is not going to be a minor adjustment but a major change in the overall orientation of the school system; not to make it fully state owned, but simply to resemble the vast majority of OECD countries, probably in a way similar to that of Belgium or The Netherlands. The whole strategy is described in more detail in the above mentioned entries of this blog,

Recently, the Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

This is an evolving situation. I will be most happy (if I can) to answer questions through this blog, and also to inform you about new developments in the future.

The Los Angeles Times tells us what we should already know: The higher the stakes on exams, the more bad consequences will follow.

In India, there are crucial exams, and cheating is a persistent problem. Ingenious students us their ingenuity not to answer the questions, but to find ways to get the right answer, either electronically by remote device or by sneaking in old-fashioned crib sheets.

In the United States, we have seen numerous examples of cheating by administrators and teachers, as in El Paso, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. We have also seen narrowing of the curriculum to make time for more test preparation and loss of the arts, libraries, physical education, and even recess. We have seen teaching to the test, a practice once considered unprofessional. We have seen states game the system, dropping the pass score to artificially boost the passing rate.

The story in the L.A. Times describes a business that sells electronic devices to text exam questions to someone outside who responds with the correct answer. Officials are aware of the problem:

“At a test center in northern India’s Bareilly district, state-appointed inspectors making a surprise visit last month found school staff members writing answers to a Hindi exam on the blackboard. When the inspectors arrived, the staff members tried to throw the evidence out the window.

“Sometimes the stories are horrifying. A 10th-grader in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, accused his principal last month of allowing students to cheat if they each paid about $100. The student’s impoverished family could barely manage half the bribe. Distraught, he doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire in the family kitchen. He died the next day.

“At the well-regarded Balmohan Vidyamandir school in central Mumbai, 10th-grade teacher Shubhada Nigudkar didn’t notice the math formulas written on the wall in the back of the classroom in a neat, tiny script until days after the exams concluded.
“There is nothing we can do at that point,” the matronly, bespectacled English teacher said. “I can’t prove anything. So we move on.”

“The problems have prompted education officials to take preventive measures that at first blush might seem worthy of a minimum-security prison. Some schools installed closed-circuit cameras to monitor testing rooms. Others posted armed police officers at entrances or employed jamming devices to block the use of cellphones to trade answers.”

The problem is high-stakes testing. Our own officials in the United States can’t get enough.

The best antidote would be to require them to take the exams they mandate. If they can’t pass them, they should resign.

Someday, in the not distant future, when the history of this era is recorded, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top will be recalled among the biggest policy failures of our times. They will be remembered as policies that undermined the quality of education, demoralized educators, promoted the privatization of schools, and destroyed children’s love of learning.,0,165573.htmlstory#ixzz2z3whGNKt

A while back, Michelle Rhee had an article published under her name in the Washington Post criticizing parents who opt thir children out of state testing. Her main reason seemed to be that parents won’t know whether he school is doing a good job unless they see standardized test scores.

Matt Di Carlo, no fan of he opt out movement, here takes issue with Rhee. She doesn’t understand the purpose of testing, he writes.

He writes:

“For example, right at the outset, the article asserts that tests are “designed to measure how well our schools are teaching our children.”

“This is just not accurate. Tests are designed to permit inferences, however imperfect, about how well students know a given block of content (e.g., relative to other students).

“Now, of course, we as a nation also have chosen to use these data to assess schools’ and teachers’ contributions to students’ progress. Done correctly and interpreted carefully, such analyses potentially yield useful information, even if reasonable people disagree on how and how much they should be used. Regardless, an important part of calibrating and designing that role is to understand the tests and what they can and cannot do.

“Michelle Rhee is highly visible and wields vast resources. When she asserts that tests are constructed to do something they’re not, with scarce acknowledgment as to how little we know about using the data in this manner, one can understand why people feel nervous about the standardized testing enterprise.

“Similarly, later in the article, Ms. Rhee goes on to offer the claim that opt-out advocates mistakenly think tests “are designed to pass judgment on students,” and responds that the truth is “quite the opposite” – i.e., that tests are “an indicator of … whether schools, educators and policymakers are doing their jobs.”

“While “pass judgment on students” carries negative connotations (and thus strikes me as a kind of a straw man), the truth is that tests are, at least in many respects, designed for this purpose – to assess (again, imperfectly) students’ knowledge of the material. Moreover, to reiterate, using testing data to draw inferences about the performance of schools, educators and policymakers is enormously complex and difficult.

“This distinction between the measurement of student versus school/educator performance is not semantic (and their conflation not at all confined to this op-ed). The flawed assumption that testing results are, by themselves, indicators of school/teacher performance is poisonous to both education policy and the debate surrounding it, It is, for example, reflected in the consistent misinterpretation of testing data in our public discourse, as well as the painfully crude, sure-to-mislead measures of NCLB.”

Matt is a middle-ground kind of guy. He is always reasonable.

But now, I think, parents are not feeling reasonable. Many believe that their children are cheated of a good education by the current obsession with testing. Many feel that the stakes are too high and the pressure on children and teachers robs schools of the joy of learning. High-stakes testing is out of control, and reasonable people recognize it.

I think they are right.

Paul Thomas follows Anthony Cody’s previously cited post by describing the unrelenting attack on teachers, which has intensified with the use of statistically inappropriate measures.

He writes:

“As Cody notes above, however, simultaneously political leaders, the media, and the public claim that teachers are the most valuable part of any student’s learning (a factually untrue claim), but that high-poverty and minority students can be taught by those without any degree or experience in education (Teach for America) and that career teachers no longer deserve their profession—no tenure, no professional wages, no autonomy, no voice in what or how they teach.

And while the media and political leaders maintain these contradictory narratives and support these contradictory policies, value-added methods (VAM) of evaluating and compensating U.S. public teachers are being adopted, again simultaneously, as the research base repeatedly reveals that VAM is yet another flawed use of high-stake accountability and testing.”

Thomas cites review after review to demonstrate that VAM is inaccurate and deeply flawed. Yet the evidence is ignored and VAM is being used as a political weapon by the odd bedfellows of the Obama administration and rightwing governors as well as some Democratic governors, like Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dannell Malloy of Connecticut, to attack teachers. President Obama made a point of praising the Chetty study in his 2012 State of the Union address, not waiting for the many reviews that showed the error of measuring teacher quality by test scores.

Thomas writes:

“The rhetoric about valuing teachers rings hollow more and more as teaching continues to be dismantled and teachers continue to be devalued by misguided commitments to VAM and other efforts to reduce teaching to a service industry.

“VAM as reform policy, like NCLB, is sham-science being used to serve a corporate need for cheap and interchangeable labor. VAM, ironically, proves that evidence does not matter in education policy.”

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

The central feature of the Obama administration’s $5 billion “Race to the Top” program was sharply deconstructed and refuted last week by the American Statistical Association, one of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations. Spurred on by the administration’s combination of federal cash and mandates, most states are now using student test scores to rank and evaluate teachers. This method of evaluating teachers by test scores is called value-added measurement, or VAM. Teachers’ compensation, their tenure, bonuses, and other rewards and sanctions are tied directly to the rise or fall of their student test scores, which the Obama administration considers a good measure of teacher quality.

Secretary Arne Duncan believes so strongly in VAM that he has threatened to punish Washington state for refusing to adopt this method of evaluating teachers and principals. In New York, a state court fined New York City $150 million for failing to agree on a VAM plan.

The ASA issued a short but stinging statement that strongly warned against the misuse of VAM. The organization neither condemns nor promotes the use of VAM, but its warnings about the limitations of this methodology clearly demonstrate that the Obama administration has committed the nation’s public schools to a policy fraught with error. ASA warns that VAMs are “complex statistical models” that require “high-level statistical expertise” and awareness of their “assumptions and possible limitations,” especially when they are used for high-stakes purposes as is now common. Few, if any, state education departments have the statistical expertise to use VAM models appropriately. In some states, like Florida, teachers have been rated based on the scores of students they never taught.

The ASA points out that VAMs are based on standardized tests and “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.” They typically measure correlation, not causation. That means that the rise or fall of student test scores attributed to the teacher might actually be caused by other factors outside the classroom, not under the teacher’s control. The VAM rating of teachers is so unstable that it may change if the same students are given a different test.

The ASA’s most damning indictment of the policy promoted so vigorously by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is:

“Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” The ASA points out: “This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

As many education researchers have explained–including a joint statement by the American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education– the VAM ratings of those who teach children with disabilities and English language learners will be low, because these children have greater learning challenges than their peers, as will the ratings of those who teach gifted students, because the latter group has already reached a ceiling. Those two groups, like the ASA agreed that test scores are affected by many factors besides the teacher, not only the family, but the school’s leadership, its resources, class size, curriculum, as well as the student’s motivation, attendance, and health. Yet the Obama administration and most of our states are holding teachers alone accountable for student test scores.

The ASA warns that the current heavy reliance on VAMs for high-stakes testing and their simplistic interpretation may have negative effects on the quality of education. There will surely be unintended consequences, such as a diminishment in the number of people willing to become teachers in an environment where “quality” is so crudely measured. There will assuredly be more teaching to the test.. With the Obama administration’s demand for VAM, “more classroom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them. Over-reliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole.”

For five years, the Obama administration has been warned by scholars and researchers that its demand for value-added assessment is having harmful effects on teachers and students, on the morale of teachers, on the recruitment of new teachers, and on the quality of education, which has been reduced to nothing more than standardized testing. Secretary Duncan has brushed aside all objections and pushed full steam ahead with his disastrous policies, like Captain Ahab in pursuit of the great white whale, heedless to all warnings.

Based on the complementary statements of our nation’s most eminent scholarly associations, any teacher who is wrongfully terminated by Duncan’s favorite but deeply flawed methodology should sue for wrongful termination. What is not so clear is how the nation can protect our children and our public schools from this administration’s obsessive reliance on standardized tests to rank and rate students, teachers, principals, and schools.

In a big step forward for real school reform, Néw York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that promotion would no longer be based in a single standardized test, but on multiple measures. This is a major change from the Bloomberg era, when test scores were the single most crucial determinant of whether students would be promoted or failed.

Here is the announcement:


Multiple Measures to Replace State Test as Driver of Promotion Decisions

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced changes to the Department of Education’s promotion policy for students in grades 3-8 with standard promotion criteria. The proposed new policy, upon approval of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), would go into effect this school year in order to comply with recent changes in State law and to allow educators to make decisions about the students they know best while maintaining high standards. The policy will be voted on at the PEP meeting in May.

“We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “This new way forward maintains accountability, but mitigates the unintended consequences of relying solely on a single test. Through a comprehensive evaluation of student work using multiple measures, our new policy is a step forward for students, parents, and schools.”

“It’s absolutely vital that students are ready to succeed in the next grade when they are promoted. The best way to do that, as the governor and legislature have affirmed, is to use multiple measures to make sure students are ready for promotion,” said New York Education Commissioner John King. “We’ll work together with NYCDOE to make sure all our students are on the path to college and career readiness.”

Ten years ago, the DOE implemented a student promotion policy based on State exam scores. That approach, while intended to raise expectations for all students, often led to teachers “teaching to the test” and caused a great deal of anxiety in school communities.

Going forward, instead of having student promotion from one grade to the next based solely on exam results, teachers and principals will now determine which students are at risk of not making sufficient progress based on a more comprehensive, authentic review of their classroom work in addition to their test scores. This shift to multiple measures represents another important step toward aligning our teaching with the more rigorous Common Core standards. This new approach will bring New York City in accordance with other districts in the State and with the recent changes to the State law.

To develop the new policy, the Department consulted with and gathered feedback from families, teachers, principals, and education advocates. Many identified that, under the current policy, a student’s body of work over the course of the entire year was overlooked in favor of a single, standardized exam. To remedy those concerns and incorporate multiple measures in accordance with State law, the DOE plans to implement several important changes:

· Empowering Educators – Based on a review of student work from the year, teachers and principals will identify the students they believe may be at risk of not being able to succeed in the next grade, even with support. State test results for the lowest-performing students will continue to be shared with schools in June. Schools may use this information as one of multiple pieces of evidence to assess student readiness for the next grade level, but they may not use it as the primary or major factor in those decisions.

· Authentic Student Work – Teachers will complete promotion portfolios for students identified for possible retention. The guidance provided to schools about this process will be revised so that student promotion portfolios align to the Common Core, represent real classroom learning, and incorporate student work already completed throughout the school year.

· Consistent, Rigorous Standards – The reviews of student portfolios in schools across the city will be judged against clear, consistent, criteria aligned to the Common Core. Superintendents will oversee this process for their schools.

“The NYC Department of Education’s new promotion policy reflects the best available research and is good common sense,” said Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Students are more than test results, and this sound policy reflects that fact. Promotion decisions will be based on multiple measures and will consist of a comprehensive review of the skills they’ve learned in the classroom. In addition, children will receive more useful supports to improve their skills so they can progress on a solid foundation.”

“The new promotion policy recognizes the scientific consensus that promotion and retention decisions should never be based solely on a child’s performance on a single standardized test,” said Dr. Aaron Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “This change returns the responsibility of assessing a child’s readiness for the next grade to the educators most knowledgeable about his or her academic performance throughout the school year — the child’s teacher and principal.”

“Although the old policy was designed to end social promotion through grade retention, thousands of students were still entering high schools throughout New York City unprepared academically,” said Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development at New York University. “The Chancellor’s proposal will provide schools with a broader range of tools with which to assess a student’s performance. If these can be combined with effective, early interventions, we should see a significant increase in the number of students who graduate from high school college ready.”

As in past years, students whose promotion portfolios demonstrate that they are not ready for the next grade level, even with support, will be recommended for summer school. Superintendents will review school-level decisions before they are finalized. In the past, when students completed summer school, their promotion was ultimately tied to a second standardized test in August. This year, student work from summer school will be incorporated into the promotion portfolio. Principals will review these portfolios in August and make a holistic promotion decision for each student. Superintendents will continue to review promotion appeals for cases in which a parent disagrees with the principal’s decision.

In 2013, consistent with prior school years, approximately 10% of students in grades 3-8 were recommended for summer school, with 2.5% ultimately retained. The DOE anticipates consistent levels of retention with this new approach.

Students with disabilities and English language learners who have different promotion criteria will not be impacted by this change in policy. Moreover, the promotion policy for students in grades K-2 and high school will remain consistent with previous years.

The new policy requires a revision to the Chancellor’s Regulation A-501, which will be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy at its May 29, 2014 meeting. If the PEP approves the policy, the revised policy will go into effect this year.

This is a account written by Lindsay Allanbrook, a teacher in New York City. Last year, when the first Common Core tests were given, 97% of English language learners failed the test of English language. What is the point of testing these children in a language they have not mastered?

She writes:

State Tests and Our Newest Arrivals, by Lindsay Allanbrook

It’s that time of year again, testing season. That time of year, right
before the test, when nothing is making sense. Even my own teaching
makes no sense. In the morning, I am able to find some time for Social
Studies. We analyze the Gary Paulsen book Nightjohn. We zoom in on
moments that show resistance to slavery. We create tableaux with our
bodies and then use art to represent those moments. It is exciting and
inspiring work. We are learning what it means to resist what is wrong and
to stand up for what is right.

Then in the afternoon we must sit quietly at our desks and work on
our testing stamina. We must read texts that make no sense and try to
answer questions, which trick us. Why are we doing this? Is this what is

Although there is a lot that I could write related to the struggles of
testing season in my fifth grade dual language classroom, for now I just
want to tell the testing stories of four of my students: Marisa, Jose, David,
and Natalia.

These are my four “newcomers”, students who have recently
arrived to the United States from other countries. Marisa came from Peru
last April. Jose joined us from the Dominican Republic in December. David
was in the US in third grade. He was at our school for a year and then he
returned to Guatemala. In January, his family was back in New York and
he joined our class. Natalia came here last spring; she spent two months
in 4th grade and then returned to Ecuador. A week ago, Natalia’s family
once again came to New York and she is now in my class.

I consider these four students to be lucky. They are lucky because
they are able to attend a dual language school where they receive half of
their instruction in Spanish and half in English. They are able to learn
grade level content in Spanish without being hindered by their lack of
English proficiency. They are all working hard and making tremendous
growth, week by week. Although they are diligent, intelligent students, all
four of them are behind in most areas of the curriculum. They struggle to
follow our rigorous 5th grade Common Core based Math curriculum because
none of them had the necessary foundational instruction. Even so, all four
of them will be required to take the 5th grade Common Core State Math
Test at the end of April. At least, they will be able to do it in Spanish and
they will try their best to answer the few questions that they understand.
I knew when David entered my class that he would also be required
to take the 5th grade Common Core English Language Arts Test. David was
in the US for a year and a half before returning to Guatemala. According
to No Child Left Behind, students may only be exempt from the State ELA
Assessment for their first year in the country.

Although I understood that
David would be required to take the test, I knew it was unfair. David is a
strong reader in Spanish, yet he is a timid boy who spent a year and a half
in a foreign country (the United States), returned to his home in
Guatemala for a year and then recently came back to the United States.
He is still struggling to re-acclimate to school in the US.

Marisa arrived a week after the 2013 ELA test. At first, we thought
Marisa was lucky. She started in our school right after last year’s test, and
therefore, we thought that she would not have been in the country for a
year when this year’s test rolled around and we believed that she would be
exempt from the test. We soon learned we were wrong. Even though
Marisa entered the school less than 12 months ago, because she entered
during the month of April, she is considered to be here 12 months. In
other words, even though she was only in the school for the last week of
April, it counts as one whole month and she is required to take the test.

I was surprised and upset when I found out that Marisa would be
required to take the ELA test, but Natalia’s situation shocked me even
more. When Natalia recently returned to our school, I was sure that she
would be exempt from the test. Natalia had only been in the US for 2
months. Students may be exempt from the test for their first year in the
country, but there is a catch. According to No Child Left Behind, students
may only be exempt from one administration of the test.

The two months that Natalia was here last year happened to fall during the testing season.
Since she was exempt from the ELA test last year, she cannot be exempt
from the test again this year.

Out of my four newcomers, Jose is the only one who is exempt from
the ELA test this year. He came to the US in December (less than a year
ago) and he has never been exempt from the test in previous years. Of
course, next year he will have to take the test.

While we work on test prep, Marisa, Jose, David and Natalia practice
their English reading on the computer. You might think some of my
students would think it was unfair that these students are not being forced
to do test prep or that Jose does not have to take the test at all. But it
seems that my students have a deeper understanding of what is fair and
unfair. When a student overheard me talking to David and realized that
David would have to take the test, he was outraged. “Does he get to take
it in Spanish?” he asked. I told him David would have to take the test in
English. “But that’s not fair!” he said in shock.

Not only is it not fair, it simply doesn’t make sense. And of course,
no matter how much we do in the next few weeks, there is no way, we can
ensure that these children will pass. They couldn’t possibly and nor could
any one of us if we were required to move to another country and take a
reading test in a language other than English after just one year. These
children’s test scores will cause people to express concern over the low
performance of English language learners instead of causing them to ask
the more obvious question, which is, “Why, why did they have to take this

Our policy makers are in love with standardized tests. They
can’t talk about education without talking test scores. If I could
wave a magic wand, I would have every politician, every pundit, and
every state commissioner take the 8th grade math test and publish
their scores. Or take the PARCC test for 8th grade. If they did,
the results would be interesting and there might be less
complaining about our kids, our teachers, and our schools. Peter
Greene explains
why standardized tests are meaningless. I think they
may be useful for diagnosing problems and helping kids. I think
they are useful for trends. But their limitations and gym flaws are
too great to use them to rank and rate children or determine their
life chances.

John Ogozalek teaches in upstate Néw York. He read Tom Friedman’s column in the Néw York Times on Sunday and had a strong reaction of cognitive dissonance, as in, why can’t Tom be consistent?

Tom Friedman’s describes a thrilling ride on a nuclear submarine, where there is no room for error. At one point, an admiral says, “There is no multiple-choice exam for running the sub’s nuclear reactor.” If you want to be certified to run any major system on this ship, he added, “everything is an oral and written exam to demonstrate competency.”

John hopes that Tom will remember that when he returns to land.

John writes:

So, Tom Friedman gets a free ride on the U.S.S. New Mexico under the Arctic ice, leading him to gush warmly in today’s Sunday Times. “My strongest impression… was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: ‘excellence’”, he wrote.

What was so excellent? “‘There is no multiple-choice exam for running the sub’s reactor,’” according to an admiral Tom quotes with obvious admiration, noting that the commander added, “‘Everything is an oral and written exam to demonstrate competency.’”

Okay, Tom. So, mind-numbing, idiotic multiple-choice exams are okay on land, as long as you’re sitting high and dry in public school classrooms across our country. But somehow the laws of physics (not to mention basic common sense) function differently under water?

Is Tom Friedman a hypocrite or is he simply blind to the crappy, half-assed testing being inflicted on our students each day -thanks to the rush to implement the Core-porate curriculum?

Tom, here’s a REAL lesson for you about excellence. One of my former students has served bravely on an attack sub. He’s one of those smart, dedicated young sailors you admire. He stopped by my house not that long ago when he was home on leave. We were talking and, at one point, he dropped the phrase, “NUB”, as in, “That guy was a real nub”.

N.U.B. translates to “Non-useful body”, he told me. It refers to a person not pulling his or her weight on the sub. It’s a big insult, Tom. It’s the people who just use up good air.

You want to improve education? Start with getting the adult NUBs who are clogging our schools off our backs. Who am I talking about? Let’s start with the overpaid consultants who never really teach, useless state bureaucrats spewing their political doublespeak, corporate greed heads peddling nonsensical tests and those hedge fund managers who would last about ten minutes running a real classroom.

Next thing you know Tom Friedman and his cronies at the Times will be supporting efforts to put charter school students on nuclear submarines.

On the sub, “The sense of ownership and mutual accountability is palpable,” according to Tom.

Wouldn’t it be nice if he had the same goals for our children and their teachers back here in the United States.

-John Ogozalek


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