Sarah Garland, writing for the HECHINGER Report, says that the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” (1983) laid the groundwork for today’s regime of high-takes testing, longer school hours, and tougher accountability measures. The conservative Republicans he quotes express satisfaction with the Obama administration’s embrace of their agenda. The enduring puzzle: who stole the Democratic agenda of equity and teacher professionalism?
The Vermont State Board of Education adopted a resolution on assessment and accountability with a message: We will not let the federal government bully our children. We read research and incorporate it into our policy decisions. This set of principles and resolutions could serve as a guide for every state and school district about the appropriate uses of assessment and the true goals of education in our society.
Vermont State Board of Education
Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Adopted August 19, 2014
The Vermont State Board of Education is committed to ensuring that all students develop the knowledge, capabilities and dispositions they need to thrive as citizens in their communities, higher education and their careers in the 21st century. The Board of Education’s Education Quality Standards (EQS) rules aim to ensure that all students in Vermont public schools are afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality, and enable them to achieve or exceed the standards approved by the State Board of Education.
These rules were designed to ensure continuous improvement in student performance, instruction and leadership, so that all students are able to develop high levels of skill and capability across seven essential domains: literacy, mathematics, scientific inquiry and knowledge, global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression, and transferable 21st century skills.
To achieve these goals, educators need to make use of diverse indicators of student learning and strengths, in order to comprehensively assess student progress and adjust their practice to continuously improve learning. They also need to document the opportunities schools provide to further the goals of equity and growth.
Uniform standardized tests, administered across all schools, are a critical tool for schools’ improvement efforts. Without some stable and valid external measure, we cannot evaluate how effective we are in our efforts to improve schools and learning. Standardized tests – along with teacher-developed assessments and student work samples — can give educators and citizens insight into the skills, knowledge and capabilities our students have developed.
What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress.
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth.
Along a related dimension, the American Psychological Association wrote:
“(N)o test is valid for all purposes. Indeed, tests vary in their intended uses and in their ability to provide meaningful assessments of student learning. Therefore, while the goal of using large-scale testing to measure and improve student and school system performance is laudable, it is also critical that such tests are sound, are scored properly, and are used appropriately.”
Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation.
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
1. The Proper Role of Standardized Testing – The purpose of any large scale assessment must be clearly stated and the assessments must be demonstrated as scientifically and empirically valid for that purpose(s) prior to their use. This includes research and verification as to whether a student’s performance on tests is actually predictive of performance on other indicators we care about, including post-secondary success, graduation rates and future employment.
In addition, standardized test results should be used only in concert with a diverse set of measures that capture evidence of student growth and school impact across all important outcomes outlined in the Education Quality Standards.
2. Public Reporting Requirement – It is a state and local obligation to report on the quality of the schools to the citizenry. Standardized testing is part of this reporting obligation. The state board encourages local public reporting of a diverse and comprehensive set of school quality indicators in local school, faculty and community communications.
3. Judicious and Proportionate Testing – The State Board of Education advocates for reducing the amount of time spent on summative, standardized testing and encourages the federal government to reduce the current requirements for annual testing in multiple subjects in every grade, 3-8, and then again in high school. Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes.
4. Test Development Criteria – Any broad scale standardized assessment used in the state of Vermont must be developed and used appropriately in accord with the principles adopted by the American Educational Research Association, the National Council on Measurement in Education, and the American Psychological Association.
5. Value-added scores – Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. A strong body of recent research has found that there is no valid method of calculating “value-added” scores which compare pass rates from one year to the next, nor do current value-added models adequately account for factors outside the school that influence student performance scores. Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose.
6. Mastery level or Cut-Off scores – While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined, cut-off scores; employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. The skills needed for success in society are rich and diverse. Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical.
The use of cut-off scores reports findings only at one point on a statistical distribution. Scale scores provide significantly more information. They allow a more valid disaggregation of scores by sub-group, provide better measures of progress and provide a more comprehensive view of achievement gaps.
7. Use of cut scores and proficiency categories for reporting purposes – Under NCLB states are required to report school level test results in terms of the Percentage of Proficient Students. The federally mandated reporting method has several well-documented negative effects that compromise our ability to meaningfully examine schools’ improvement efforts:
Interpretations based on “percent proficient” hides the full range of scores and how they have changed. Thus, underlying trends in performance are often hidden.
The targets established for proficiency are subjectively determined and are not based on research. Interpretations based on “percent proficient” also lack predictive validity.
Modest changes to these subjective cut scores can dramatically affect the percent of students who meet the target. Whether a cut score is set high or low arbitrarily changes the size of the achievement gap independent of the students’ learning. Thus, the results can be misleading.
So that we can more validly and meaningfully describe school- and state-level progress, the State Board of Education endorses reporting performance in terms of scale scores and standard deviations rather than percent proficient. We will comply with federal requirements, but will emphasize defensible and useful reporting metrics.
8. The Federal, State and Local Obligation for Assuring Adequacy and Equality of Opportunity – Much as the state must insure a high quality education for all children, the school must be provided with adequate and equitable resources from the federal, state and local governments and must use these resources wisely and judiciously. Thus, any report on a school based on the state’s EQS standards must also include a report on the adequacy of resources provided by or to that school in light of the school’s unique needs. Such evaluations shall address the adequacy of resources, the judicious use of resources and identify any deficiencies.
Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Vermont State Board of Education
WHEREAS, our nation and Vermont’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s and the state’s social and economic well-being; and
WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and
WHEREAS, the overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in the nation’s public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and
WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and
WHEREAS, a compelling body of national research shows the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in areas such as narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, and undermining school climate; and
WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
In the New York Times, Motoko Rich reported Arne Duncan’s scathing criticism of Arne Duncan’s policy of test-based evaluation for teachers. The story shows that Duncan dreamed up this policy, that he promoted it in Race to the Top, and in the waivers he offered states to avoid the onerous conditions of No Child Left Behind. Rich points out that Duncan borrowed the rhetoric of his most scathing critics in offering states a delay. The story includes an excellent quote from Anthony Cody, recommending that the federal government butt out and leave decisions about teacher evaluation to states and districts.
Kevin Huffman said that Tennessee will continue with Duncan’s policy, even though Duncan has denounced it. “In Vermont, by contrast, the state board of education recently adopted a resolution saying formulas based on test scores would not be included in teacher evaluations.”
It is a good story about the politics of the issue.
The only point missing from the story is that the policy has failed to make a difference wherever it has been tried, that teachers in states like Florida are rated on the performance of students they never taught, and that the American Statistical Association warned that teachers affect only 1-14% of test score variance. In short, the policy doesn’t work. It demoralizes teachers to be judged by a false metric. It has failed. But its advocates can’t bring themselves to admit failure.
Arthur Goldstein teaches English to immigrant students in high school in New York City. He has taught for many years. He has written about the importance of tenure, which enables him to advocate for his students without fear of losing his job. He can be a whistle blower without fear of losing his job. He has academic freedom because he has tenure.
Frank Bruni of the New York Times doesn’t like tenure. He also doesn’t like public schools or teacher unions as he was possibly the only columnist in America to write a positive review of the movie flop “Won’t Back Down,” which was underwritten by the far-right billionaire Philip Anschutz.
In this post, Arthur Goldstein dissects Frank Bruni’s opinion column, in which he cites Whoopi Goldberg as an authority and State Senator Michael Johnston of Colorado, who wrote one of the most punitive teacher evaluation bills in the nation. Four years later, does Colorado have the great schools and great teachers Johnston promised when he pushed the bill through? Of course not. Smoke and mirrors. Another DFER triumph built on demoralizing teachers.
Give it up, reformers. The scores on the ACT are flat from 2010-2014, despite the billions wasted on testing, test-based teacher evaluation, and merit pay. Your reforms have reformed nothing. They have failed. Pay attention.
Improve the lives of children and families. Improve working conditions in the school. Demand equitable resources for schools. Reduce class sizes for needy children. Do what works. Throw your punishments and sanctions into the ash-heap of history. It will happen sooner or later.
Start now to build the structures that work for students and teachers.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468
for use with annual ACT scores on or after Wednesday, August 20, 2014
STAGNANT ACT SCORES SHOW TEST-DRIVEN U.S. SCHOOL POLICIES
HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS,
EVEN WHEN MEASURED BY OTHER TESTS
Another year of flat scores on the ACT, the nation’s most widely administered college admissions exam, provides further evidence that a decade of test-driven public school policies has not improved educational quality.
Reacting to ACT scores released today, Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) said, “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ ‘waivers,’ and similar state-level programs promised that focusing on testing would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between racial groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes,
K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in stubbornness, not meaningful school improvement.” (see http://fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-factsheet)
Stagnant scores and racial gaps have also been reported on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test.
Schaeffer continued, “The lack of progress toward excellence and equity will provide further ammunition for the country’s growing testing resistance and reform movement. Ending the counter-productive fixation on standardized exams is necessary to create the space for better assessments that actually enhance learning and teaching.” FairTest actively supported this past spring’s opt-out campaigns and other protests that focused attention on testing overuse and misuse.
FairTest is also a national leader for test-optional higher education admissions. More than 830 accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities now do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores (see http://fairtest.org/university/optional). Eight more schools – Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Hofstra University, Temple University, Montclair State University, Beloit College, Bryn Mawr College and Emmanuel College — dropped test-score requirements already this summer. In addition, Hampshire College, which long was test-optional, is now “test-blind.”
– – 3 0 – -
2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS AVERAGE ACT SCORES
1,845,787 million test takers
COMPOSITE SCORE FIVE-YEAR SCORE TREND
(2010 – 2014)
ALL TEST-TAKERS 21.0 0.0
African-American 17.0 + 0.1
American Indian 18.0 – 1.0
Asian 23.5 + 0.1
Hispanic 18.8 + 0.2
White 22.3 0.0
Source: ACT, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014
The New York State United Teachers decided not to endorse Andrew Cuomo for re-election, nor anyone else.
NYSUT has 600,000 members and a strong get-out-the-vote operation. It did endorse the Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“Those who earn endorsements are friends of public education and labor,” NYSUT president Karen Magee said in a statement. “Over the last two years, they earned our support by advocating effectively for our public schools, colleges and health care institutions; listening intently to the concerns and aspirations of our members, and voting consistently the right way.”
Cuomo is a staunch advocate of privately-managed charter schools and has received large campaign contributions from the hedge fund industry, which supports charter schools. 3% of the state’s children are enrolled in charter schools. Cuomo is also a firm advocate for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, although he gives no sign of knowing that it has been tried and failed in many other places.
Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.
Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.
But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.
“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.
“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.
““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.
Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.
She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.
The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.
Peter speculates on Michelle’s departure and hopes she understands why she provoked the reactions she did::
“Maybe education was providing too few rewards and too much tempest. People have called you some awful names and said some terrible personal things about you, and though I have called you the Kim Kardashian of education, I don’t condone or support the ugly personal attacks that are following you out the door. But I understand them– you have done some awful, awful things, and I’m not sure that it’s ever seemed, from out here in the cheap seats, that you understand that teachers and students are real, live human beings and not simply props for whatever publicity moment you are staging. I’m not saying that you deserve the invective being hurled at you; I am saying that when you poke a bear in the face repeatedly, it eventually gets up and takes a bite out of you.”
As Michelle leaves, stage right, she hands off the baton as leader of the campaign against “bad teachers” to Campbell Brown, who explained her goals in an opinion piece. Since she is not an educator, he feels he must explain that her effort to take away tenure from “bad teachers” will take away tenure for ALL teachers. He asks how she will judge the quality of teachers. If she really wants to protect those who are caring, dependable, and inspiring, how can she be sure that these are the same teachers whose students get higher scores?
Ultimately, he wants know how removing employment protections will attract more “great” teachers to the classroom.
Campbell would do well to listen to Peter.
Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.
“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.
“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”
Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.
Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.
District of Columbia Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the suspension of the practice of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores. This practice was considered the signal policy initiative of Henderson’s predecessor Michelle Rhee.
Henderson described the move “as necessary in order to allow students to acclimate themselves to new tests built around the standards established by the Common Core.”
The Gates Foundation applauded the retreat on test-based evaluation, as did Randi Weingarten of the AFT. The U.S. Department of Education released a statement expressing its disappointment. It said: “Although we applaud District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for their continued commitment to rigorous evaluation and support for their teachers, we know there are many who looked to DCPS as a pacesetter who will be disappointed with their desire to slow down.” Since test-based evaluation is the centerpiece of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, this is surely a setback for Duncan and his theory of change. On the other hand, D.C.’s test scores have been stagnant since 2009, which does not speak well of test-based evaluation, whether pushed by Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan.
By the way, Michelle Rhee has apparently changed her name to Michelle (Rhee) Johnson.