Archives for category: Testing

Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann take issue with David Berliner and Gene Glass’s view about how high levels of child poverty in the U.S. affect our students’ performance on international assessments. In the following post, David Berliner responds to their critique.

Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do:
​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”
​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or “mal-employment” rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don’t go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor.
​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief.
​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.

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​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend.
​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point.
​Let’s switch to PIRLS.

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​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings.
​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.

Untitled3

 

​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.

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​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.

Untitled5

​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.

References

Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that
​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and
educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the
​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global
Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best
​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-
​Bass.

Robert Berkman, who has been teaching math for thirty years, takes issue with the article by Elizabeth Green in the New York Times magazine called Why Americans Stink at Math. While he has great admiration for Green’s writing skills, he thinks she is an American who is not good at math.

He writes:

“The first place where Green goes wrong is when she cites “national test results” about mathematics achievement in the U.S.. First, I wonder which “test results” Green is referencing here (you have to be suspicious when, in the days of the omnipresent interweb, a link is not included to the data supporting this point.) It may be significant that 2/3 of all 4th and 8th graders are not “proficient” in math, but again, this is a national standard, not an international standard, so this only points to the fact that U.S. children are not achieving according to some standard that was created where, in some dark cave where Dick Cheney and his family reside?

“Green goes on to state that half the 4th and 8th graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress could not read a thermometer, or that 3/4 of the test takers could not translate a simple word problem into an algebraic expression. Note that this is the National Assessment of Educational Progress – it doesn’t say anything about whether U.S. children are better or worse than anybody else around the globe; for all we know, 7/8 of the children in Helsinki and 11/13 of the children in Ibaraki couldn’t successfully answer these questions either. Look, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but even I know these numbers are insignificant without a context.”

If I may interject my view, NAEP proficient is a very high standard of academic proficiency, not a benchmark for what all students should know. Michelle Rhee constantly makes this mistake. It is like complaining that not all students are A students.

Berkman then chastises Green for comparing Massachusetts, a state, with Shanghai, a city (which excludes a significant number of students from the tests because their parents are migrants).

I confess I am tired of the constant barrage of articles and books about how terrible the U.S. is and how our public schools are the reason that we fail at this, that, or everything. I think this is a wonderful country, and I hope that one day soon we can take control back from the oligarchs that want to turn our children into standardized widgets (but not their own).

I like Elizabeth Green. I have known her for several years. I hope her next book will celebrate the success of American public schools in accepting all children and unleashing the genius of our best thinkers and creators, despite the contempt of the uber-rich and the war on the teaching profession. There is a reason that teachers say they work “in the trenches.” It’s time to celebrate their perseverance in the face of budget cuts and stupid federal policy.

Parents, educators, students and activists in many communities are using the “quiet” summer months to plan campaigns that will build the assessment reform movement’s power once schools reopen. Across the country, more and more media outlets are reporting on the impact grassroots organizing already has made on policy-makers.

Remember that archived issues of these weekly updates are online at http://fairtest.org/news — a quick review of the clips demonstrates how much progress Testing Resistance & Reform Spring made this year.

How California Can Drive Reform With Better Instruction Not More Testing
blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/2014/07/how_to_drive_reform_with_instruction_rather_than_testing.html

Connecticut Professor: We’re Teaching to the Test, Not for Students’ Futures

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/op_ed/hc-op-barreca-were-teaching-to-test-notstudents-fu-20140722,0,7046183.column

Florida Schools Need “Recess” From Test-Driven Evaluation

http://www.newsherald.com/opinions/editorials/our-view-they-can-t-live-on-tests-alone-1.346996

FairTest Challenges New Florida Test-Based Scholarship Program as Race, Gender Biased

http://news.wfsu.org/post/group-plans-federal-challenge-new-florida-scholarship-program

Louisiana Schools Stare Into Common Core Testing Abyss

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2014/07/common-core_fight_in_louisiana_.html

A “Test” for New Jersey Governor’s Standardized Exam Study Commission

http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-a-test-for-the-governor-s-study-commission-1.1053970

New Mexicans Test Legislators About Flawed Teacher Evaluation System

http://www.daily-times.com/four_corners-news/ci_26155309/educators-share-evaluation-system-frustrations-state-legislators

New York Teachers Continue “No Confidence” Vote in State Education Commissioner

http://wamc.org/post/nysut-not-ready-reverse-no-confidence-vote

North Carolina Grade Retention Test Policy Revisions Confuse Parents and Children

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/18/5050767/read-or-flunk-changing-nc-law.html#.U8lDVGOTHZc

Ohio State Auditor to Investigate Charter School Cheating

http://wdtn.com/2014/07/17/state-auditor-to-investigate-horizon-academy-accusations/

Oklahoma PTA Plans to Challenge High-Stakes Testing

http://www.newson6.com/story/26057102/oklahoma-state-pta-poised-to-take-school-testing-to-task

Repeal of South Carolina Graduation Test Creates Opportunities for Young People

http://www.thestate.com/2014/07/19/3573446/abolition-in-sc-of-high-school.html?sp=/99/132/

What Can Utah Learn from Finland?

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58166744-78/finland-teachers-students-utah.html.csp

Virginia Educators Appointed to Committee Reviewing State Assessments

http://theroanokestar.com/2014/07/22/local-educators-to-serve-on-sol-reform-committee/

Feds Require Washington State to Mislead Parents With Notice That All Schools Are “Failing”

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2014/07/no-relief-for-washington-schools-under-no-child-left-behind-law/

Wisconsin Schools Concerned About Impacts of Common Core Linked Tests

http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/next-phase-of-common-core-worries-revolve-around-test-b99309190z1-267243161.html

AFT Convention Adopts Resolution Blasting edTPA Teacher Licensing Test

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2014/07/aft_passes_resolution_knocking.html

Jeb Bush’s Reading Test Grade Promotion Strategy Loses Ground Nationally

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/jeb-bush-florida-education-reading-rule-108958.html

Half of All Kindergarteners Start Off Far Behind Due to Poverty

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/07/nearly_half_of_kindergarteners.html

Movie Review: Stop Standardizing Students for Profit

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/reader-view-stop-standardizing-students-for-profit/article_d96717bf-878f-5738-9bd7-fb228a0dbc48.html

British Headmaster’s Letter to Students Puts Exam Scores in Context

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/15/headteacher-note-pupils-viral-lancashire-primary-school-barrowford-nelson

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 696-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

Ira Shor is a professor at the City University of New York, where he teaches composition and rhetoric. Shor understands that standardized testing is the foundation on which the entire “reform” project rests. Take away the test scores, and the data-driven teacher evaluation collapses, along with the ambitious plans for privatization.

Shor writes:

“Opt-Out: The REAL Parent Revolution”

We parents can stop the destruction of our public schools. We can stop the looting of school budgets by private charters and testing vendors. We can stop the abuse of our children by the relentless hours of testing. We can stop the closings, the co-locations, the mass firings, the replacement of veteran teachers with short-term Teach for America newbies, the shameful indignity of public schools told they have 24 hours to clear out so a charter can seize their classrooms. To do this, we have to opt-out our kids from the new testing regimes—refuse to let the schools test our kids with PARCC or Smarter Balanced, boycott the pointless and punitive tests which make the best years of our kids’ lives into a digital hell.

I opted-out my 10-year-old son from all state tests this year and will continue to do so when the useless and costly PARCC tests arrive next year. I will encourage other parents to join me in boycotting such standardized tests, which Diane Ravitch has rightly called “junk science” because they cannot accurately report a student’s achievement, learning process, or academic needs, or a teacher’s competence. For commercial and political reasons, it pleases Duncan, Gates and Co. to spread such tools from coast to coast, but they offer no evidence that such tools can do the job they claim, despite the constant promotion financed by Gates’s millions to the two teacher unions, to the national PTA, to “Education Week” magazine, and other key players working on his side.

Neither CCSS nor PARCC can make our kids “college and career ready.” This is impossible from the rigidly-defined, narrow Common Core State Standards(CCSS) skill-sets or from the hours of standardized testing, which over-produce metrics that don’t amount to teaching or learning. First, of course, I ask, Who can predict what the job market will be like when my 10-year-old enters it? Also, school curricula which narrowly focus on skills under-develop the critical habits of mind and communication which children need to make sense of the world as they find it. Employers, in fact, report that narrow subject matter is not what they look for in candidates, preferring instead future employees who have learned how to learn, how to ask questions and to make sense of situations, how to ask for help, how to work in groups, how to learn from others by example, and how to communicate. Hours of standardized testing cannot lead to these outcomes.

The national CCSS-machine also ignores the most important factor in a child’s test scores: family income(widely-discussed since 1966 and the famous Coleman Report, reiterated again and again by social research.) SAT/ACT/high-school and college graduation rates have always correlated closely with family income. Because our society has the highest rate of child poverty of any developed nation(about 35% of Black and Hispanic kids, about 11% of white kids), our national averages on standardized tests are pulled down. The strongest policy, then for raising average scores would be an anti-poverty program, what Christopher Jencks 40 years ago called “an incomes policy,” that is, equalizing family incomes. When he proposed equal izing incomes, policy in the U.S. tilted towards the bottom 80%, especially the bottom 20% of families, as research by Saez and Piketty and by Robert Reich have shown; in that era, Black kids closed about 20% of the “achievement gap” with their white peers(see Jencks’s “The Black-White Achievement Gap.”) CCSS and its PARCC testing will fail just like NCLB and RTTT failed before them, fail to close the achievement gap, fail to produce deep learning for the vast majority of children, fail to close the huge income gap.

Because our children are in this together, so are we. Because our kids cannot defend themselves, we have to defend them. We parents must step in to stop it. We should put our foot down and say, “Do it to your own kids first before you experiment on ours!” Tell that to Bill Gates, to Arne Duncan, to Eli Broad, to Daniel Coleman, to Michelle Rhee, to Wendy Kopp, to Eva Moskowitz, to Govs. Cuomo and Christie, to the hedge-funders in Democrats for Education Reform, who send their own kids to test-exempt private schools with small classes, well-paid veteran teachers, handsome campuses, and field trips so that their kids “feel at home in the world,” as the elite prep of certain kids is sometimes called.

If we parents opt-out, we remove our kids from the commercial machine invading and destroying public schools. We refuse to let our kids become mass subjects tested to distraction. We insist that inspired teaching and complex learning and rich arts should be at the center of every school.

Authorities count on our quiet compliance to cement their plans into place. We need defiance instead, for the sake of the kids and for the sake of the public sector without which democracy cannot survive. When we opt-out we rescue our kids, our public schools, and our society at the same time. Our opposition will force authorities to retreat, if we stick together, get tough on behalf of our kids, and insist that public schools belong to us for the public good, not to the private sector or to the commercial parasites stealing our children’s futures.

Go to United Opt Out and learn more about how to join the cause.

New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James wrote the following letter to John King but has received no answer. King believes that children must be tested as a matter of civil rights. James, who is also African American, does not agree. What do you think?

PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK

Letitia James

June 25, 2014

Commissioner John King
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234

Dear Commissioner King:

I am writing you to express my concern regarding the New York State Education Department (SED) stand-alone field testing policy. I am strongly recommending that the New York State Education Department ban field testing for all New York City students. SED’s $32 million, five-year contract with test publisher Pearson did not include stand-alone field testing of multiple-choice items in math and English language arts (ELA). Pearson’s approach to test development is costly and unworkable and uses our students as guinea pigs.
My office met with educators, parents and advocates who are concerned about stand-alone field tests. They are frustrated with the SED lack of transparency and the pressure for teachers to teach to the test. High stakes testing has put unnecessary pressure on many families and educators and averts schools from developing curricula that promotes critical thinking. Stand-alone field testing is yet another test that takes teachers away from the classroom. In a 2011 report to Congress, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed America’s test-based accountability systems and concluded, “there are little to no positive effects of these systems overall on student learning and educational progress.”

The data generated by students taking a stand alone field test is unreliable and does not provide Pearson with meaningful information needed to design a valid test. This flawed approach is evident in the poorly developed 2012 and 2013 ELA and math exams. As field tests continue this June, these problems will still be prevalent and irrelevant exams will continue to be produced. Teachers and parents have publicly criticized testing materials stating that the items were not aligned with children’s developmental levels.

Rather than administering field tests, schools should focus on spending more time in the classroom to improve performance and encourage students to reach their potential. I trust that you understand the pressures that these students must be experiencing and urge you to stop field-testing in our state.

Please feel free to contact my office with any further questions and I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely,

(signed)
Letitia James
Public Advocate of the City of New York

1 CENTRE STREET NEW YORK NY 10007 TEL 212 669 7200 FAX 212 669 4701 WWW.PUBADVOCATE.NYC.GOV

The regular report from Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest:

The accelerating testing resistance and reform movement is beginning to produce modest victories across the country. Reflecting constituent pressure, more politicians are speaking out against over-testing. A few have established commissions to investigate the problem (and solutions). Several state legislatures have voted to cut back the number of tests and reduced their consequences. Classroom teachers have pushed their national associations to adopt stronger positions. More news stories and opinion columns recognize the failure of test-and-punish policies and examine alternatives. The grassroots movement continues to build power as local activists plan to be even more effective in the 2014-2015 school year.

Of course, much more fundamental changes are needed — an interim goal should be a moratorium on high-stakes testing, allowing time to develop and implement better assessment systems. That, in turn, will require an overhaul of both state and federal testing mandates, which will increasingly be organizers’ focus in the coming year.

California Governor Brown Denounces Testing Overkill

http://www.aft.org/newspubs/news/2014/071114brown.cfm

Colorado Test Review Commission Begins Work

http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/07/15/as-a-state-panel-convenes-to-examine-state-testing-a-look-at-the-big-issues/#.U8VMp2OTHZc

Critics of D.C. Education Policies Question Reported Test-Score Gains

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/critics-of-dc-education-policies-question-test-score-gains/2014/07/09/fa0cf064-0789-11e4-8a6a-19355c7e870a_story.html

Orlando School Board Member Says Purpose of Florida Test is to Flunk Kids, Build Support for School Privatization

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-fcat-sour-note-myword-071514-20140714,0,5203556.story

Choosing Between Testing and True Learning in Illinois Classrooms

http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/28420660-452/choosing-between-testing-and-true-learning.html#.U8EhwWOTHZc

Kansas Won’t Release Any Scores From Disrupted 2014 State Test Administration

http://www.kansas.com/2014/07/08/3544578/kansas-wont-release-data-from.html

Michigan’s Deceptive Private School Test Scores

http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/07/julie_mack_test_scores_school.html

New Jersey Rolls Back Test-Based Teacher Evaluation Rules; Commission Will Study Role of Exams

http://www.northjersey.com/news/christie-delays-use-of-student-test-scores-in-teacher-evaluations-1.1051272

New Mexico to Correct Flawed Teacher Evaluation Scores

http://www.abqjournal.com/428843/news/corrected-teacher-evals-due-before-school-starts.html

Test Scores Are No Sure Guide to What New York Students Know

http://online.wsj.com/articles/test-scores-are-no-sure-guide-to-what-students-know-1405122823?mod=rss_US_News

Grassroots Revolt Against Test-Driven “Reform” Changes Oklahoma Politics

http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-21757-education-for-the-pe.html

Portland Oregon School Board to Call for Delay in Common Core Test Based Evaluations

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/07/portland_school_board_poised_t.html

Rhode Island Legislators Did Right Job in Voting for Grad Test Delay

http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/commentary/20140712-gregg-amore-assembly-did-its-job-in-necap-delay.ece

Tennessee Educators Criticize Use of Standardized Tests as “Be-All, End-All” of Education

http://www.claiborneprogress.net/news/opinion_columns/5218828/Professional-Educators-of-Tennessee-releases-statement-on-TCAP-results

Meaningless Texas Test Scores

http://educationblog.dallasnews.com/2014/07/the-story-of-tom-ratliffs-daughter-one-data-point-about-texas-testing.html/

Number of Required Virginia Tests Reduced

http://www.fauquier.com/news/article/public_schools_ease_pressure_for_students_cutting_number_of_standardized_te

Beyond Bubble Tests: Why We Need Performance Assessments

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2014/07/beyond_the_bubble_test_why_we_need_performance_assessments.html

What Would Mark Twain Think About Common Core Tests?

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/what-would-mark-twain-have-thought-of-the-common-core/374114/

Why is Arne Duncan Still Pushing The Dangerous “Low Expectations” Myth?

http://www.alternet.org/education/why-arne-duncan-still-pushing-dangerous-myth-low-expectations

When Will the Testing Obsession End?

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2014/07/when_will_the_testing_obsession_end.html

One Reason Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-can-t-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/

AFT Escalates Fight Against Common Core Assessments

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/american-federation-of-teachers-common-core-108793.html

NEA Advocates Cutback in Federal Exam Mandate — Cyber-Lobbying Link

http://www.nea.org/home/59488.htm

Teachers Unions Latest to Back Away From Common Core Testing Embrace

http://voiceofrussia.com/us/news/2014_07_12/Major-Teachers-Union-Latest-to-Back-Away-from-Common-Core-Support-2363/

Special Education Taken Over By Testing Frenzy

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/07/special_education_taken_over_by_testing_frenzy_letter.html

Here’s Why We Don’t Need Standardized Tests

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/07/09/36jouriles.h33.html

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 696-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

Zephyr Teachout, who is opposing Governor Cuomo in the New York Democratic primary, explained her strong opposition to the Common Core standards, which Cuomo supports.

She writes:

“Common Core forces teachers to adhere to a narrow set of standards, rather than address the personal needs of students or foster their creativity. That’s because states that have adopted the standards issue mandatory tests whose results are improperly used to grade a teacher’s skill and even to determine if he or she keeps their job. These tests have created enormous and undue stress on students, and eroded real teaching and real learning. What’s more, there’s sound reason to question whether these standards even measure the right things or raise student achievement. No doubt, many teachers have found parts of the standards useful in their teaching, but there is a big difference between optional standards offered as support, and standards foisted on teachers regardless of students’ needs.

“Widespread outrage from teachers and parents has led Gov. Cuomo to tweak the rules around the implementation of the Common Core and call for a review of the rollout. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not addressed the real problem with Common Core.

“The fundamental issue is not the technicalities of how the standards are implemented. It is not even that Gov. Cuomo allowed this regime even as he was stripping schools of basic funding, leading class sizes to swell and forcing schools to slash programs in art and extra help. The root problem with Common Core is that it is undemocratic. It is a scheme conceived and heavily promoted by a handful of distant and powerful actors. Here in New York, it was adopted with insufficient input from local teachers, parents, school boards or students, the very people whose lives it so profoundly affects.

“Bill Gates’ coup is part of a larger coup we’re living through today – where a few moneyed interests increasingly use their wealth to steer public policy, believing that technocratic expertise and resources alone should answer vexing political questions. Sometimes their views have merit, but the way these private interests impose their visions on the public – by overriding democratic decision-making – is a deep threat to our democracy. What’s more, this private subversion of public process has come at the precise time when our common institutions, starved of funds, are most vulnerable. But by allowing private money to supplant democracy, we surrender the fate of our public institutions to the personal whims of a precious few.”

Teachout concludes:

“As did the founding generation in America, I believe public education is the infrastructure of democracy. The best public education is made democratically, in the local community: when parents, teachers, and administrators work together to build and refine the education models and standards right for our children.”

Meredith Broussard, a professor of data journalism at Temple University, was helping her son with his homework, and she made a discovery: he could not find “the right answer” to homework questions unless they were in the textbook. But on further investigation, she learned that the public schools of Philadelphia don’t have a textbook budget. So not only do students not have access to the answers that will be on the test, they don’t have a chance to succeed.

In an article that she wrote for “The Atlantic,” she concluded that after $1 billion in state budget cuts, the Philadelphia public schools had a budget of $0 for textbooks. These students don’t have a chance.

Writing in The Atlantic, high school English teacher David Perrin tries to imagine what Mark Twain would think about Common Core testing.

 

He begins:

 

I’ve been teaching high school English in Illinois for over 20 years, but have only recently come to believe that I am complicit in a fraud. For nearly a decade, I have dutifully prepared college-bound students for the rigors of the ACT and the Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature and Composition exam. Even though I believe there’s an undue emphasis on testing in our current school culture, I have considered this preparation an important part of my job because these tests are important to my students both academically and financially. But I question what, if anything, the new Common Core test—which will include writing components graded in part by computer algorithms—will have to offer my students.

 

Perrin has no doubt that Twain would have skewered the Common Core curriculum, as he skewered the curriculum of his own time:

 

Mark Twain had an abiding concern with education, and he treated formal schooling derisively in his writings. His 1917 autobiography describes his education in the mid-19th century, at the dawn of the public school movement; his acerbic portrayal of Mr. Dobbins in the school scenes of Tom Sawyer is based on Twain’s remembrances of his own teachers and experiences. In one scene, set on Examination Day, Twain mocks the vacuous nature of writing instruction as he shows Tom Sawyer’s classmates reading their essays aloud: “A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of ‘fine language’; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out.” The examinations come to an abrupt halt when Tom and his friends hide in the garret, lower a cat on a string, and watch it snatch the wig off the teacher’s head.

In 1887, Twain penned an introduction to English as She is Taught, a parody of sorts written by a Brooklyn school teacher who had crafted together her students’ most outlandish and misinformed answers. Twain quotes his favorite passages: “The captain eliminated a bullet through the man’s heart. You should take caution and be precarious. The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the perennial time came.” His real target isn’t the writing itself but the school system that gave rise to such disjointed answers. “Isn’t it reasonably possible,” he asks, “that in our schools many of the questions in all studies are several miles ahead of where the pupil is?—that he is set to struggle with things that are ludicrously beyond his present reach, hopelessly beyond his present strength?” He notes, for example, that the date 1492 has been drilled into every student’s memory. In the book’s essays, it “is always at hand, always deliverable at a moment’s notice. But the Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another matter.”

 

Twain would have had fun at the expense of the Common Core standards and the computer-graded tests, writes Perrin:

 

The Common Core standards and their assessment tools would have given Twain plenty of fodder for his sardonic wit. The first “anchor standard” for writing at the grade 11–12 level declares that students will “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” This goal will be assessed by Pearson, one of America’s three largest textbook publishers and test-assessment companies. Pearson will, at least in part, be using the automated scoring systems of Educational Testing Services (ETS), proprietor of the e-Rater, which can “grade” 16,000 essays in a mere 20 minutes.

 

And he would have been suspicious of the profit motive of the corporations that are likely to make $1 billion or more by testing students. Perrin feels sure that Twain “would have almost certainly had something to say about essay-grading software and corporations that refuse to reveal their testing methods. With so little transparency, and with so many dollars and futures at stake, Twain might have condemned an “assification of the whole system….” He would not be one of those who stand with the corporations that stand to profit and the politicians who couldn’t pass the tests they insist upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every state that has adopted Common Core tests has seen a sharp decline in test scores.

Maryland is the latest to discover that its scores fell thanks to Common Core tests.

“Reading and math scores on state tests for Maryland elementary and middle school students have dropped to their lowest levels in seven years, according to a Washington Post analysis of 2014 test data released Friday. Some Maryland officials expected the drop because schools are transitioning to new national academic standards that do not align with the tests.

“State and county educators said the across-the-board decline on the final Maryland School Assessment (MSA) was largely a result of the state’s move to a curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The new curriculum shifts some academic topics to different grade levels, especially in math, making the MSA obsolete.

“Students’ scores had been steadily inching up until 2013, when there were sharp declines in reading and math scores, a slide that continued this year. In 2014, overall proficiency scores in reading and math among elementary students fell 5.2 percentage points to 80 percent proficiency. Middle-schoolers fared worse — 71.4 percent proficiency, a drop of 6.5 percentage points. Drops in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties roughly mirrored the state averages.

“During the past two years, the state has shifted its instruction to prepare for the tests by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which are aligned with the Common Core and were recently field-tested in Maryland.”

The two federally-funded tests used NAEP “proficient” as their passing mark, a standard that is equivalent to high performance, not grade-level performance.

One reason–perhaps the main reason–that so many conservatives and entrepreneurs like the Common Core testing is that they hope it will convince suburban parents that their schools are no good and create new markets for charters, vouchers, and expensive new software. In other words, the Common Core tests are designed for failure.

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