Archives for category: Testing

Something amazing is happening. Parents have discovered that they have the power to bring corporate reform to a halt. They do it by telling their children not to take the test. No test, no data. No data, no punishments for teachers, administrators, schools. Opting out is a vivid demonstration of the power of the powerless.

In Washington State, an unprecedented 48,000 students opted put.

Most of the opt outs were in 11th grade.

Carolyn Leith calls this an “educational uprising.”

If state leaders don’t listen to stents, the uprising will spread.

It is important to remember a few key facts about the Opt Out Movement.

Number one: It was created and is led by parents, not by teachers or unions. In New York, where 20% of the students refused the mandated tests, the leader of the state’s teachers’ union did not endorse opt out until a few days before the testing started. The organizations promoting the opt out were grassroots, unfunded, and parent-led.

Number two: The opt out movement did not arise in opposition to the publication or implementation of the Common Core standards. It was only when parents received the results of the first round of Common Core testing that they got angry and got organized to fight the tests. Recall that 70% of the students in the state “failed” the first round of testing. Parents in districts where almost all the children graduate from high school, and where most are admitted to four-year colleges were told to their astonishment that their children were “failing.” The parent rebellion started, and State Commissioner John King could not quell it. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan referred to the protestors as “white suburban moms” who all of a sudden discovered that their child was not as “brilliant” as they thought. What an insult!

Number three: In three administrations of the Common Core tests, a majority of students has continued to “fail.”

*In English language arts 2015, only 31.3% of students reached the “proficiency” level across the state.

*Among black and Hispanic students, the “pass” rate was less than 20%.

*Students in New York City almost matched the statewide average, but in the state’s five big cities, only 11% “passed.”

*Among English language learners, only 3.9% “passed” the ELA test. Appalling!

*Among students with disabilities, only 5.7% “passed.” Appalling!

*Achievement gaps between racial groups were unchanged over three years of testing and quite large.

The math scores were better than the ELA scores, but still only 38.1 “passed,” and nearly 62% “failed.” The corresponding scores for black and Hispanic students, English language learners and students with disabilities were far lower. Read the report.

Why are most students failing the Common Core tests in New York? In the past, a majority passed. Did the students get dumber? No. The developers of the Common Core tests decided to use a “cut score” or “passing mark” that was set beyond the capability of the students in each grade. They chose to align the passing mark with the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s achievement levels. (See here and here.)

That decision was made two years ago. At that time, Catherine Gewertz of Education Week wrote:

The two common-assessment consortia are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.

“After all, fewer than four in 10 children reached the “proficient” level on the 2013 NAEP in reading and math.”

The NAEP “proficiency” level is not a pass-fail mark. It is not a “grade-level” mark. It is a level that represents solid academic achievement. I was on the National Assessment Governing Board for seven years, and I assure you that “proficient” represented work that I would consider to be an A or A- (the highest level, “advanced” is akin to an A+).

Please note that in no state other than Massachusetts has as much as 50% of students reached “proficient.” In no state have 60% reached the “proficient” level, and state scores have been calculated since 1992.

Thus, the developers of the Common Core tests chose a passing mark that they knew in advance would fail most students and would produce even higher failure rates among black and Hispanic students, as well as dismal passing rates for students with disabilities and English language learners. Based on NAEP, there is no evidence that harder tests and higher bars lead to smaller achievement gaps.

They set the bar so high that the tests are designed to fail most students. Do students feel motivated to work harder if they fail every year?

Parents figured this out, and they didn’t see why the state had adopted tests that most children were certain to fail.

And that is why there is an Opt Out movement. Parents do not want to participate in a system that is rigged against their children. They don’t want to be part of a system where their children’s test scores determine their teachers’ reputation, livelihood, and future. They want to bring that system crashing down and restore common sense to education.

Mercedes Schneider has followed the development of the new federal legislation to replace the failed No Child Left Behind. She is one of the few people in the U.S. who has actually read every word of both the Senate bill and the House bill.

She concludes in this post that there will be no federal sanctions for opting out. The Congress has made clear–in both houses–that it does not want the federal Department of Education to take an activist role in punishing states. Will states punish school districts where parents rise up in rebellion against high-stakes testing. Schneider thinks not.

However, I now think that if the House and Senate conference committee whose task it will be to merge SSA and ECAA into a single bill decide against the SSA blanket opt-out and go with the state-level opt-out provision in ECAA, the federal government will not sanction states, regardless of state-level opting out.

In other words, if according to the future ESEA revision, states are supposed to set their own opt-out policy and include as much in the future ESEA Title I funding application, and if a state includes no opt-out provision in its future ESEA application yet dips below the 95 percent of students completing federally-mandated annual tests, the federal government is not likely to strong-arm states with federal sanctions.

I believe the federal government knows it has gone too far in strong-arming states via conditions attached to federal tests. For example, both the SSA and ECAA revisions include language to limit the role of the US secretary of education. The current US secretary, Arne Duncan, has actively promoted and defended Common Core and its annual tests; with the backing of President Obama, Duncan has lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen with the lure of Race to the Top (RTTT) funds; he has paid for two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced; he has made it a condition of states’ RTTT funding to use student standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and via his NCLB “waivers,” he has cornered states into agreeing to institute Common Core and its associated annual tests as well as testing teachers using test results as a condition for avoiding having the almost all schools in all states declared “failing” according to NCLB.

So, the fact that major news outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are doing their best to chastise those who support opting out of standardized tests is not enough to conceal what is obviously a federal blunder to make annual testing the end-all, be-all of American public education.

In its August 15, 2015, editorial, the New York Times points to possible federal penalties for New York State’s failure to test 95 percent of its students. It also notes that parents’ opting out of tests “could damage educational reform… and undermine the Common Core standards….”

Gee, that would be terrible.

It seems that the plan in New York is for state officials to put the squeeze on superintendents and principals to encourage participation in future annual tests– and to not encourage opting out. But the opt-out movement is not driven by superintendents and principals. It is driven by parents who are tired of the toll that test-centric education is taking on their children, including the artificially branding of their children as failures and the state’s allegiance to this branding…

The reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.

Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.

There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.

Federal and state officials need to take the hint as they formulate a non-test-centered Plan B.

Jonathan Pelto wonders whatever happened to the Common Core test scores in Connecticut. Why hasn’t Governor Malloy’s administration released them. If the scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment are similar to other states, Connecticut will discover that half or more of its students are “failing.”

Bear in mind that Connecticut is one of the top three states on NAEP. No matter. SBAC and PARCC set their passing scores so high that most kids will fail in most states. Diabolical or insane or incompetent?

The state’s Commissioner of Education blamed classroom teachers for growing public opposition to the tests.

Pelto writes:

“It what may be the most incredible, insulting, outrageous and absurd statement yet from Governor Malloy’s administration about the Common Core SBAC testing program, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education is now blaming teachers for the fact that there is growing opposition to the SBAC testing scam.

“In their warped world where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” these people have the audacity to blame the victims for the crimes that are of the politicians’ making.

“Forget that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Test (SBAC) is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory.

“Forget that the SBAC test is designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut students.

“Forget that the SBAC test is particularly discriminatory for children who come from poorer backgrounds, those who face English Language barriers and those who require special education services.

“Forget that the SBAC test results are being used to inappropriately “evaluate” teachers

“Forget that state taxpayers have paid well over $50 million for this disastrous test program just over the past two years and local taxpayers have paid tens of millions of dollars more.

“And forget that the SBAC testing has wasted hundreds of hours of instructional time, time that our children could have been getting the education they actually need and deserve.

“Forgetting all that and proving that Governor Malloy’s administration has lost all contact with reality, the Commissioner of Education is now claiming that the lack of support for the Common Core SBAC tests is the fault of Connecticut’s public school teachers.”

Anthony Cody was appalled to read an article on the “Think Progress” website with the headline “People Like Common Core Better When They Know What It Is.” Cody says, “Caution! Common Core Spin Doctors at Work.” We have recently seen the same spin from the New York Times and the Washington Post in what appears to be a desperate effort to save the Common Core from its toxic reputation.

The article cites the recent poll published by the conservative journal Education Next that showed the opposite to be the case. Among teachers, who certainly know what Common Core is, support is plummeting. 76% of teachers support Common Core in 2013, but in 2015, support has fallen to 40%. Among the general public (which is not necessarily well informed about Common Core), support fell from 65% in 2013 to 49% in 2015.

Cody points out that these poll numbers do not support the headline. The people who know the CCSS best (teachers) like it less and less each year.

He also writes that:

If your bank account dropped by 12% last year and another 4% this year, would you feel as if your situation was “stabilizing”? And just so we are clear on sources here, Education Next is a publication which lists as its prominent supporters the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B Fordham Institute. It exists to promote corporate reform.Some bastion of “progressive” thought. The credibility of organizations like the Center for American Progress and Think Progress suffer when they publish this sort of propaganda.

The very real problem that this propaganda is attempting to distract us from is that we are seeing a huge drop in student test scores as a result of the new, “more rigorous” tests.

Some people (like me) believe that the Common Core architects and planners designed the tests to have a passing mark so ridiculously high that most students were doomed to fail. The cut scores on the tests are aligned with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Proficient on the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment is supposed to be the same as “proficient” on NAEP. But in no state in the nation other than Massachusetts has 50% of students reached the “proficient” level on NAEP. This kind of blue-sky goal makes as much sense as NCLB’s requirement that all students must be “proficient” by the year 2014. This is failure by design.

When it comes to Common Core, we should ask the experts: the teachers who are expected to implement it every day in the classroom. As the Education Next poll shows, they started off liking it, and their like has turned to rejection.

Fred Klonsky’s blog carries a post by retired educator Sandra Deines about a fateful decision in Illinois:

“Starting this fall Pearson will be in the business of deciding who becomes a teacher in the state of Illinois.

“The Illinois State Board of Education has adopted a rule that designates Pearson’s “edTPA” as the means by which student teachers will be evaluated and granted certification.

“As the fall semester begins, all student teachers in the state will be required to pay an extra $300 (on top of the tuition they are already paying) and arrange for videotaping so that they can submit a lengthy narrative that covers the planning, execution and evaluation of a series of lessons with one of their classes as well as a ten-minute video of themselves carrying out their lesson with a class.

“Student teachers are required to get parent permission for their children to be video-taped.

“Pearson owns the video.

“Once submitted to Pearson, an “evaluator” will apply rubrics and 2-3 hours of their time to decide whether or not the student teacher “passes” and can be licensed to teach by the State of Illinois.

“That’s right—no longer will the evaluations of cooperating teachers, university field instructors and education professors determine the success of a student teacher.”

To learn about how to resist the Pearson takeover of teacher certification in Illinois, read the test of the post.

This is the official reaction of the National Education Association to the new PDK-Gallup poll.  The three key findings that the NEA highlighted are that the American public thinks there is too much testing; 41% of the public think that parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing; and only 31% support vouchers that send public money to pay for private schooling.

WASHINGTON – The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which was released today, reinforced—yet again—what students and educators nationwide have been saying: there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“All students, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve a great public school education. But the high stakes obsession of test and punish has only served to widen the gap between the schools in the wealthiest districts and those in the poorest,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education children receive. The pressure placed on students and educators is enormous. We wantstandards to succeed and be challenged by teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as creativity.”

NEA has been instrumental in advocating for policies that do just that. As Congress is considering reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), key aspects of NEA’s Opportunity Dashboard have been a part of the discussion. The Dashboard includes a menu of indicators of school quality and student-centered success, such as access to advanced coursework, school counselors or nurses, and fine arts and regular physical education. Our focus should be on ensuring access to those types of programs because they are much more likely to lead to student success than rote memorization and bubble tests.

Key findings of the 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools include:
• 64% say there is “too much emphasis on testing”
• 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing
o 57% of Blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child
o Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%
o But among Whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes”
• While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide
• 95% of Americans rated “quality of the teachers” as very important for improving local public schools, putting it at the top of a list of five options
• Nearly all adults surveyed (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools
“NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose,” said García. “But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
The poll also showed that many Americans have come to accept school choice and charter schools as part of the education landscape. But that support declines when vouchers are introduced. Only 31% of Americans favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at the public’s expense.

“School vouchers divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real ‘choice’ for the overwhelming majority of students and their families— and particularly not for the parents of children with special needs, low test scores or behavioral problems,” said García.

Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial in defense of Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and the Common Core. The editorial scoffed at the idea that the federal government had anything to do with the standards and commended Bush and Cuomo for their sensible support of these state-led standards.

Mercedes just published a book about the Common Core called “The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

I recommend it to the editorial writers at the Washington Post.

They can save some time by reading Mercedes’ advice to them in this post.

The Post asserts that the CCSS were developed by the states and merely “encouraged” by the federal government.

Mercedes patiently explains how the U.S. Department of Education used the lure of bilions of dollars to entice states to adopt common standards and assessments, to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores, to turnaround low-performing schools (firing staff or closing the schools), and to create a longitudinal data base of student information.

These governors were led right into the federal will for state-level education by the promise of federal money. It was just that easy.

The governors traded state autonomy for federal money. And the federal government– US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed by President Barack Obama– encouraged them to do so and allowed it to happen….

The Washington Post editorial board assumes that the governors who signed on for Common Core did so for some primary reason greater that the federal dollars doing so would possibly bring into their states. However, any governor who really wanted “higher standards” would surely have insisted on some empirical evidence that the resulting standards were indeed “higher” prior to agreeing to adopt them. Yet this common-sense insistence did not happen.

The promise of federal dollars won.

The near-simultaneous appearance of editorials at the New York Times and the Washington Post in defense of the floundering Common Core tests does make you wonder which important person is making the calls.

In an editorial that is remarkably uninformed, the Washington Post defends the Common Core, insists that it was created by the states, and asserts that the federal government “merely encouraged” states to adopt them.

None of this is factually accurate. The Common Core standards were written by a small group of Washington insiders, with the largest contingent coming from the testing industry. There were few classroom teachers on the writing committee. Early childhood educators were not at the table, nor were those familiar with children with disabilities or English language learners. The standards were written behind closed doors; their development was underwritten by the Gates Foundation. The federal government paid $360 million for two testing consortia to create Common Core-aligned tests. Most states adopted the standards in 2009 because the U.S. Department of Education dangled nearly $5 billion in Race to the Top funding, and states had to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” to be eligible for a piece of that huge pie. The standards were not actually finished until 2010, meaning that most states adopted them without having read or reviewed them. They are copyrighted and cannot be revised. It is a basic principle of standard-setting that stakeholders must be represented at the table, that no single interest should dominate their creation (e.g., the Gates Foundation), and there should be a process for revision to correct errors. None of these criteria was met.

The editorial says:

“The pressure [against Common Core] is built on bogus premises. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility. The federal government merely encouraged states to adopt them, as it should have. The standards also aren’t some conspiracy to force children to learn about climate change and evolution; they cover basics in language arts and math. Even so, Republicans in various states are trying to repeal them, in some cases successfully, or to at least defund implementation.”

“Liberal opposition to Common Core, meanwhile, is proving at least as harmful. Teachers unions have resisted the accountability that consistent and meaningful testing might bring, and they have used their own form of Common Core sabotage: Along with misguided anti-test activists, they have encouraged parents to refuse to let their children take exams meant to assess how well students are meeting Common Core expectations. They have succeeded in undermining educational standards in New York: Parents pulled an astonishing 20 percent of students grades 3 through 8 out of the tests last school year, upsetting efforts to track student progress.”

So the Washington Post puts itself in the position of opposing those–like the American Statistical Association–who challenge the validity of test-based accountability for individual teachers. It criticizes parents who object to their children losing weeks of instruction to test prep. It criticizes the opt-out movement, which has mobilized parents to say “no” to the misuse and overuse of standardized testing. And it fails to explain how the parents who opt out upset efforts to track student progress. And not a word about the Common Core tests with their absurd passing marks (cut scores), designed to fail the majority of children.

I am shocked that the Washington Post could be so misinformed.

It is all so predictable. With New York’s “rigorous,” confusing standardized state tests, most students “failed” to meet a standard set unrealistically out of reach. And the ones who were least likely to “pass” are the students with disabilities and English language learners.

Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said a few weeks ago that if she had a child with special needs, she would “think twice” about letting the child take these tests. She was right. But in the latest press release, she insists that everyone should take the tests because the children will be ignored if they don’t have demonstrable evidence that they failed. Say what?

The state acknowledges that some 20% of students opted out of the test. That is the 200,000 that opt out leaders claimed.

The press release says about the opt out students: Department data show that students who did not take the 2015 Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests and did not have a recognized, valid reason for not doing so were more likely to be White, more likely to be from a low or average need district, and slightly more likely to have scored at Levels 1 or 2 in 2014. Students who did not take the test in 2015 and did not have a recognized, valid reason for doing so were lesslikely to be economically disadvantaged and less likely to be an ELL.

A majority of students across the state scored a 1 or 2, so this is not surprising.

Once again, a majority of the students across the state “failed.”

The department released test scores and opt-out data late Wednesday morning. They showed that 31.3 percent of students scored proficient on the ELA tests, and 38.1 percent of students scored proficient on the math tests.

Only 3.9% of current English Language Learners scored at level 3 or above (proficient) in English Language Arts and only 5.7% of students with disabilities.

Please bear in mind that “proficient” is used as a pass-fail mark. Please bear in mind that this is absurd. As defined by the two federally-funded testing consortia, “proficient” on the Common Core tests is aligned with the “proficient” achievement level on the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). I served on the governing board of NAEP for seven years. “Proficient” doesn’t mean “passing” or “grade level.” It represents a very high level of academic performance. On the NAEP, only one state–Massachusetts–has had as much as 50% of its students reach the proficient level. The national average hovers around 35-40%.

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.” Certainly it cannot be done for students in grades 3-8. There is no evidence behind the claims now made for the Common Core tests, for the cut scores, or for the predictions about which children are ready for college and career in third or fourth grade or any of the other tested grades.

What we can say with certainty is that these standardized tests–like all standardized tests–are unusually difficult for students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, and students of color, all of whom scored well below the state’s already abysmal averages.

The State Education Department press release (included in link above) said:

The State Education Department today released the results of the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests. Overall, students statewide have made incremental progress in ELA and math since 2013, the first year assessments aligned to the more rigorous learning standards were administered in grades 3-8. In ELA, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) remained consistent in 2015 at 31.3 compared to 30.6 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013. In math, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by seven points in two years to 38.1 in 2015 from 36.2 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013.

Progress for Black and Hispanic students held steady in 2015 ELA and math. While the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level edged up slightly in both subjects, Black and Hispanic students still face a significant achievement gap. English Language Learners (ELLs) also made small gains in 2015 in ELA and math but still lag behind their non-ELL peers. However, in New York City, Ever ELLs— students who received ELL services in years prior to the 2014-15 school year but not during the 2014-15 school year—had higher levels of ELA and math proficiency than NYC students who never received ELL services (Never ELLs).

In 2015, ELA performance for Black and Hispanic students remained consistent with prior year levels, while math performance improved slightly. In math, 21.3 percent of Black students scored at the proficient level this year, up from 19.8 percent in 2014 and 15.3 percent in 2013—a six point gain in three years. The percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency in math also jumped six points in three years to 24.5 percent in 2015, compared to 23.4 percent in 2014 and 18.5 percent in 2013. However, the achievement gap continues to persist statewide for Black and Hispanic students, as well as for ELLs. Current ELLs made small gains in ELA and math, yet they continue to lag behind their non-ELL peers.

In the state’s view, minimal progress means “held steady” or “consistent.”

The department’s leadership made clear that they had no intention of turning back from their course of high-stakes tests that “fail” most of the students in the state:

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

“We must also do a better job of explaining to parents the benefits of higher standards and annual testing,” Commissioner Elia said. “Since I became Commissioner, I’ve made it a priority to establish a dialog with parents so they better understand why we test. Annual assessments provide important information about individual students for parents and classroom teachers and allow us to keep track of how all student groups are doing. This year’s results show our scores are not yet where they need to be, but we will work to ensure continued improvement.”

So, once parents understand, they will feel good about their children’s failure. Maybe in thirty or forty years, we will see most children reach “proficient” or the cut scores will be dropped.


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