Archives for category: Standardized Testing

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post hates the teachers’ union. It hates the union so much that it blames the union for whatever it doesn’t like. Today, the Post says the massive opt out in New York was controlled by the union. Imagine that: the parents of 220,000 children take orders from the union. Wow, who knew that parents were so easily manipulated?


As the Post sees it, the union doesn’t want teachers to be evaluated at all, so they pulled the puppet strings and the parents did as the union bosses told them. The stronghold of the union is New York City, where the number of opt outs was minuscule. Why didn’t the opt out movement succeed where the union was strongest?


Note to the editorial board of the New York Post: Please meet with the leaders of New York State Allies for Public Education. Let them explain to you why they led the opt outs.

Kipp Dawson is a veteran teacher and union activist in Pittsburgh (she also spent a decade as a coal miner, this is one tough lady).


She is as as brave and clear-eyed a thinker as I have met. She recently received a form letter from President Obama expressing his new views about testing, and she decided to share her reply. Personally, if I got the form letter, I would ask the President why he thinks it is up to him and Secretary Duncan to tell the public schools of the United States how much time to devote to testing. This is not part of the federal role. In fact, federal law clearly states that no officer of the federal government may seek to influence, direct or control curriculum or instruction. Anyone who works in a school will tell you that testing has a direct influence over curriculum and instruction, especially when high stakes are attached to it and the survival of the school depends on it. Neither the President nor the Secretary was ever a teacher or an administrator in a public school. Why do they think they should tell the nation’s schools how much testing is “just right”? They have neither the authority nor the knowledge to do so.


Kipp Dawson writes:



Dear President Obama,


While I abhor the scurrilous racist attacks which have been hurled on you, I must respond to you from the opposite corner of the room.


Your recent statements on the over-testing of our children came like salt into the gaping wounds your administration has inflicted on our public education system. I speak here as a teacher, a parent, a citizen, a human on this planet of ours


Starting with the unbelievable (I wish) concept that schools and cities should compete against one another for funding for their schools (“RACE to the top,” really?!) to each and all of your DoE’s undermining of our public schools, teachers, and communities — historians will have to put on your “legacy” list the destruction of public education in our country.


While it will take decades to undo and turn around the damage, it is not too late to try.


Too little, too late, as your “apology” on testing is, is not the best way to leave us.


Imagine your two beautiful daughters in the public school system in Chicago, and place yourself alongside the other parents, and the teachers and community members who are giving their all to try to save and really build public schools there. Then say what really needs to be said.


It is not too late.


Very truly yours


Kipp Dawson

The Momma Bears of Tennessee see a disaster coming. It is called TNReady, the new online test that is confusing, requires keyboard skills that many children lack, and is certain to label their children as failing.


Momma Bears are a group of anonymous parents who are fierce protectors of their children, just like bears.


What can they do?


They can protest and demonstrate in their legislators’ offices.


They can insist that the legislators take the tests and publish their scores.


They can build and organize a massive opt out movement, as New York parents did. No matter how much school officials warn of punishments to come, opt out. The more students opt out, the more school officials will cringe and back away. The punishments will never materialize unless only a handful opt out. Get 20% to opt out, as in New York, and the Mamma Bears and their cubs win.


OPT OUT! It is  your most powerful tool. You have the right and the power to defend your children. Use it!


The Momma Bears took sample questions from the test and concluded that they were NOT ready for use. The tests are a mess.


Some of our Momma Bears bloggers spent a precious Saturday taking the sample TNREADY tests and trying to get answers. Here is what we observed on the Sample TNREADY computerized tests:
Difficult to read passages: A tiny 4-inch scroll window to read long passages of text. This requires good mouse skills and eye tracking. (see pic below) Students with knowledge of how to expand the reading pane using the little tab in the middle, and collapse it again to get to the test questions, will fare better. This format isn’t like any of the internet sites or reading apps that most children are accustomed to; they will need to be taught how to navigate those tools for the sole purpose of taking this test.
Tiny window for the test questions: It was barely large enough to show all the answer options, and not large enough to show the “RESET/UNDO” buttons at the bottom of the question unless the student scrolled lower. See the photo below to understand how students are supposed to write an entire essay response in a text box that is about 4″ square. Typing, mind you, which elementary students aren’t fluent in doing; their hands aren’t even large enough to reach all the keys properly. So, they will be hunting and pecking letter keys to write an essay in a box the size of a cell phone screen.
Distracting numbers on ELA test: Bold paragraph numbers along the left margin of the text passages.
4 Quite distracting
5 if you’re trying
6 to read something.
7 Isn’t it?

In a major story today in the New York Times, Governor Cuomo of New York is said to be backing down from his rigid stance on evaluating teachers by test scores. This represents a huge victory for the parents of the 220,000 students who opted out of state testing last spring.


Kate Taylor, the reporter, says that Cuomo may not only reduce the role of testing in teacher evaluation, but eliminate it altogether, which has been the main demand of parents. Parents have been outraged to see their teachers rated by their children’s test scores, which has made the testing more important than any other aspect of schooling. They are outraged to see their school’s resources diverted to test prep and time stolen from the arts, physical education, and everything but the tested subjects of reading and math.




But beware, parents. This may be a hoax, a temporary moratorium intended to deflate the Opt Out Movement and cause it to disappear. Do not rest until the law is changed to delink testing and teacher-principal evaluations. The new federal law–not yet enacted–eliminates the federal mandate that Duncan imposed without authorization by Congress. New York may now permanently eliminate this punitive, anti-educational requirement.


New York parents: As Ronald Reagan said,  “Trust, but verify.” I suggest turning that saying around: “Verify, then trust.” Meanwhile, to quote an even older saying, keep your troops together and “keep your powder dry.”


The leaders of Long Island Opt Out and the New York State Allies for Public Education have proven to be effective, organized, strategic, and articulate. They have attended every meeting of the Regents, of legislative hearings, of Cuomo’s Common Core task force, and show up wherever they can inform other parents and policymakers. Their dedication and relentlessness made a difference.


I travel the country, and parents everywhere are in awe of the organized parents who opted out in New York. One of every five children did not take the tests, and that number could only go up.


Let’s remain watchful and wait to see what happens. In the meanwhile, this is reason for joy on the day before Thanksgiving.


Democracy works. It can even overcome billionaires when the public is informed, alert, and organized.

In this post, a high school history teacher says that his students are utterly confused by the new requirements for high school graduation.

So is the teacher.

“Fortunately for our students, the ODE has made the path to graduation simpler by making it more complex. Students may graduate through an acceptable score on a certification in a vocational field. OR They may graduate through receiving a remediation free score on a college entrance test (scores not yet verified). OR They may graduate by earning 18 combined points on the aforementioned state assessments with a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in mathematics, a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in English Language Arts, and a minimum of 6 points from assessments in Biology, American History, and American Government equaling a total of 14 points with the 4 additional points picked up when students score 3 or higher, which is to say “Proficient or Above.”

“Does that make sense? My sophomores couldn’t explain it to me either, and they’re expected to graduate under that system. Fear not, I provided a thorough and engaging explanation replete with visual aids and low brow humor that seemed to do the trick. I could not, however, provide them with a satisfactory explanation as to why they “have to deal with this sh*t.” (Their words, not mine)….

“Look, maybe my scenario here is confusing. On a very basic level, this new testing system is terribly problematic. The issues lie in the fact that it is new, and being created as we go, but also in the nature of the convoluted paths to graduation themselves. The sheer number of variables at play here are impossible to fathom, from student strengths to test performance, low scores in these areas, but not those, 2 points here, other scores there, nothing formalized until very late. Now, take this level of absurdity and factor in real problems like hunger, poverty, instability in the home, disability, health problems, you name it, and you have a recipe for disaster.

“What seemed like a more humane system to someone is turning out to be nothing short of a nightmare. And now the tests are changing again in ELA and Math. Who knows what new issues may arise?

“How many students will be adversely affected? I don’t know. The ODE deals in percentages, I deal in human beings, the 140 plus sophomores I’m teaching. Like the one who told me, “I left half that math test blank. We hadn’t even learned that stuff yet.” Or the other kid who said, “There were some questions…I didn’t even know what they were asking.” These are good people, hard working kids that we’re simply grinding through this machine for some political rhetoric regarding career and college readiness….

“I have no interest in a punitive high stakes testing system. I am only interested in “Proficient and Above” percentages inasmuch as they impact the kids I teach. I am ashamed to be a part of the implementation of such a system, and I work every day to attempt to remediate its terrible impact. Like many of you, I am angry.”

Since Eva Moskowitz explained in the Wall Street Journal that the iron discipline at her school was devised by a veteran teacher named Paul Fucaloro, I decided to google him.


The first thing that popped up was this reference to him in an article about the high test scores of Success Academy charter schools:


Because the state’s exams are predictable, they’re deemed easy to game with test prep. But in contrast to their drill-and-kill competition, Moskowitz says her teachers prepped their third-graders a mere ten minutes per day … plus some added time over winter break, she confides upon reflection, when the children had but two days off: Christmas and New Year’s. But the holiday push wasn’t the only extra step that Success took to succeed last year. After some red-flag internal assessments, Paul Fucaloro kept “the bottom 25 percent” an hour past their normal 4:30 p.m. dismissal—four days a week, six weeks before each test. “The real slow ones,” he says, stayed an additional 30 minutes, till six o’clock: a ten-hour-plus day for 8- and 9-year-olds. Meanwhile, much of the class convened on Saturday mornings from September on. Fourth-grader Ashley Wilder thought this “terrible” at first: “I missed Flapjack on the Cartoon Network. But education is more important than sitting back and eating junk food all day.” By working the children off-hours, Moskowitz could boost her numbers without impinging on curricular “specials” like Ashley’s beloved art class.


The day before the scheduled math test, the city got socked with eight inches of snow. Of 1,499 schools in the city, 1,498 were closed. But at Harlem Success Academy 1, 50-odd third-graders trudged through 35-mile-per-hour gusts for a four-hour session over Subway sandwiches. As Moskowitz told the Times, “I was ready to come in this morning and crank the heating boilers myself if I had to.”


“We have a gap to close, so I want the kids on edge, constantly,” Fucaloro adds. “By the time test day came, they were like little test-taking machines.”



Then came Juan Gonzalez’s article in 2014 describing Eva’s move from Central Harlem to Wall Street offices, where the rent will be $31 million over a 15-year period. We learn too that Paul’s salary as director of pedagogy jumped from $100,000 to $246,000.


Then I read an article about the “miraculous” transformation of an elementary school in Queens, financed by Wall Street hedge fund manager Joel Greenblatt, working with the same Paul Fucaloro; the key to the dramatic rise in test scores was adoption of the scripted Success for All curriculum. That was in 2002. I searched some more and found that on the latest state tests, the same school did not do very well. Despite the hype, it was ranked 20th among 36 schools in the same district in New York City. Virtually 100% of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is struggling. Greenblatt and Fucaloro have moved on to Success Academy charters.


(The original name of the chain, which is a category on the blog, was Harlem Success Academies; the word “Harlem” was dropped as the chain moved into other neighborhoods across the city, like Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, a solid middle-class community.)

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita at Lesley College and eminent defender of childhood, recently was honored with the Deborah Meier award by Fairtest. She is a founding member of Defending the Early Years, which commissions research about early childhood education and advocates for sane, kind, loving policies for young children.


It may be superfluous, but I would like to take this opportunity to name Nancy as a hero of American education for her fearlessness, integrity, and deep understanding of children.


Nancy was honored along with Lani Guinier, professor if law at Harvard Law School.


This is Nancy’s speech, accepting the award:


“Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb. Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.


“When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here. So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf—all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.


“It’s wonderful to see all of you here—so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all– not just some–of our children.


“I have loved my life’s work– teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.


“So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.


“Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”


“And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.


“Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal–as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.


“But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”


“I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.


“I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess—often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even Pre-K. Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends. They spend their first days getting tested. Here are words from one mother as this school year began:


“My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.


“By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.


“The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking—these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.


“Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments. Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.


“The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low income community in north Miami. Most of the children were on free and reduced lunch.


“There were ten classrooms–kindergarten and Pre-K. The program’s funding depended on test scores, so—no surprise—teachers taught to the test. Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art. They used a computer program to teach 4 and 5 year olds how to Bubble. One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.


“In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room. The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room. There was no classroom aide. The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board. The words were: “No talking. Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”


“The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner: Be quiet! No talking!


“Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone. He was quietly crying. I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.


“It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests. Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning. It’s poverty—the elephant in the room—that is the root cause of this disparity.


“A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler? Why and for what? The very concept is bizarre and awful. But 8,000? And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.


“There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing. They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply. Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.


“I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair. But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing. With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years. We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins). We speak in a unified voice for young children.


“We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.


“We’ve done it all on a shoestring. It’s almost comical: The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million dollars just to promote the Common Core. Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006% of that.


“We collaborate with other organizations. FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Bad Ass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there– of educators, parents and students—and we see the difference we are making.


“We all share a common vision: Education is a human right and every child deserves one. An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful– with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate—actively and consciously–in this increasingly fragile democracy.


News flash! There is a national test that enables us to compare reading and math scores for every state! It is called NAEP. It reports scores by race, ELLs, poverty, gender, disability status, achievement gaps. This is apparently unknown to the Néw York Times and the Secretary of Education, who has said repeatedly that we need Common Core tests to compare states.

The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, has a story today about Massachusetts’ decision to abandon PARCC, even though its State Commissioner Mitchell Chrster is chairman of the board of PARCC. True or Memorex? Time will tell.

But the story has a serious problem: the opening sentence.

“It has been one of the most stubborn problems in education: With 50 states, 50 standards and 50 tests, how could anyone really know what American students were learning, or how well?”

Later the story has this sentence:

“The state’s rejection of that test sounded the bell on common assessments, signaling that the future will now look much like the past — with more tests, but almost no ability to compare the difference between one state and another.”

What happened to the National Assessment of Educational Progress? It has been comparing all the states and D.C., as well as many cities, since 1992. Has no one at the New York Times ever heard of NAEP?

Ted Dintersmith is a most unusual venture capitalist. He recently co-authored a book with Harvard professor Tony Wagner called “Most Likely to Succeed,” and also produced a documentary of the same name that is critical of rote learning, standardized testing, and no-excuses charter schools.

In this post, EduShyster interviews Ted Dintersmith, and he will surprise you with his candor. He has taken the documentary on the road, to show parents and students the value of project-based learning.

EduShyster asks Dintersmith whether there is any hope, and he tells her to look at any kindergarten and think about ways to capture the spirit and motivation you see there. (That is, unless it is a kindergarten that is subject to standardized testing.)

He answers:

When people say *is there any hope?* I say walk with me through kindergartens all over your state. Look at the the characteristics of every five year old. If we just didn’t screw that up there is every reason to be optimistic. If we could take those characteristics and develop them and make them more powerful through education, there’d be all sorts of reasons for optimism. What kids tell me in state after state—and I’ve now been in 25 out of 50 states with this film—is that when they have the chance to experience project-based learning, they thrive and blossom and develop confidence.

Dintersmith is a huge supporter of projects driven by students’ passions as opposed to adults compelling students to do what they expect of them. This is good news! A venture capitalist who has seen the light.

I am currently reading the book and enjoying it.

Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker here assesses President Obama’s seeming change of heart about standardized testing.

She welcomes the fact that he recognizes the administration’s role in promoting the current obsession with testing. But she also notes that the President’s body language suggests that he is not entirely supportive of his script. Is it because he knows that standardized testing has not been a lever for better education?

She notes that the administration’s proposed cap of 2% on time for testing is not in fact a reduction of time for most students and may actually be an increase.

I am very happy to see Rebecca Mead writing about these issues in the New Yorker. Most of its readers probably do not follow what is happening in education as closely as readers of this blog.


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