Archives for category: Testing

Dawn Neeley Randall is a fifth grade teacher in Ohio. She speaks forthrightly on behalf of her students. She asks: Why are we inflicting this barrage of deceptive, confusing, demoralizing testing on our children? Parents need to know that today’s tests are not like the tests we took in school when we were children. They take time away from instruction–lots of it. They are designed to fail most students. They will crush the children’s spirits and their interest in learning.


“Probably the bravest thing I’ve done in my entire 25 year career. Let the chips fall where they may.


“Blubbered on the way home after the first round of English Language Arts testing today. Got pretty choked up in the back of the room during the test itself and I think the principal who was in the computer lab administering the tests probably wondered if she was going to need to deal with a full-fledged teacher meltdown (I worried about that myself). This is just all so, so wrong. This is only Day 3 of testing and we still have months to go. Some districts (not mine, thank GOD) in our own state are bullying parents who are refusing to allow their children to sit through tests. Some superintendents (again, NOT mine!) are getting their messages out loud and clear to teachers that they are not to talk about this testing situation with parents. Some schools are making students “sit and stare” after finishing testing in order to make them work longer during the tests. Some schools are offering incentives to students testing (like gift cards and trips to a water park), but disqualifying students whose parents preferred them not to take take these tests and now they will be left behind from a day with their peers.


“A teacher in another county told about her third grader crying during yesterday’s test and a local principal told about his child awaking in the middle of the night with anxiety about the upcoming tests. Why are we allowing this? I’ve been begging for help from legislators since last March. I’m done with that. As much as I hate to see myself on video (oh, boy, do I)…I’m going to try to do the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my professional career and tell you how a teacher truly feels. I bet there are a whole lot more out there feeling just like me.


This is one of the strangest political alignments ever: George W. Bush put annual testing into federal law, a practice unknown in the high-performing nations of the world. And Democrats–including President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Washington State Senator Patti Murray–are fighting to keep George W. Bush’s policy in place. In the case of Senator Murray, her role is especially puzzling because Washington State has been a stronghold of opposition to high-stakes testing–from the Garfield High School teachers’ refusal to give the MAP test to the Legislature’s refusal to evaluate teachers by test scores, which led to Duncan withdrawing the state’s waiver from NCLB. Now, in accordance with NCLB, every public school in the state of Washington is a “failing” school, having not reached the goal of 100% proficiency on state tests of math and reading. But Senator Murray blithely defends the obnoxious annual testing policy that has so infuriated educators in her home state.


Here is the latest from


GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR NCLB?: No Child Left Behind’s spectacular sputter in the House last week overshadowed headway being made in the Senate: HELP Committee aides working to craft a bipartisan NCLB bill have been inching closer to an agreement on Title I, according to several aides and lobbyists. An announcement could come as soon as today. What will the compromise deal look like? Tough to say. But HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray has been firm about keeping statewide annual tests and getting rid of the bill’s Title I portability provisions, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Washington Democrat is ready to give up to strike a deal.
- Of course, getting a bill through both chambers won’t be easy. Take last week’s House debate. Members approved an amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that would allow local assessment systems but chose not to take a recorded vote. It signaled that Democrats and Republicans expected the amendment to pass easily, and potentially with ample Democratic support. And it’s a sign that even if the Senate preserves annual statewide testing, the House may rebel and demand more flexibility for local districts.
- One more testing note: Political advocacy group Education Reform Now, a partner of Democrats for Education Reform, is calling out the National Education Association for a video [] aimed at persuading lawmakers to scrap the annual testing mandate. ERN’s own video [] tries to “fact check” the NEA ad – and warns the union’s stance “could cost you your child’s future.”

A comment on the blog:


“I am a 4th grade teacher in NYS. There is absolutely no consequence for students if they opt out. It does not impact report card grades. It does not impact advancement to next grade. (FYI public schools do not want to retain students – it costs money!). In our district this would not even impact whether a student got into an accelerated program because that is based on a different test altogether (not a state test)! There is no student consequence. The only way this madness is going to end if parents in droves refuse the tests. They won’t listen to teachers. But parents have a voice. Let’s get back to teaching and doing great projects in schools. We must end the testing insanity!”

Forget about all those stories you read that said the U.S. Department of Education had/has nothing to do with promoting the Common Core standards. Forget that it is a “state-led” initiative, that the standards were “written by the governors,” and that this just bubbled up from below while ED watched from the sidelines. Months ago, Chicago Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that the district was not ready, the students were not ready, the teachers were not ready. She said she would give the tests to 10% of the students, no more. But then the hammer fell, and the hammer is in Washington, D.C. The orders from ED (the Education Department): give the tests or Illinois will lose $1.4 billion in federal money. 


Is this legal? Three different federal laws prohibit any agent of the federal government from attempting to influence or control instruction or curriculum. It is a well-known fact that tests drive instruction and curriculum. Will anyone sue to stop this apparent, alleged, probable violation of the law?

Teacher Philip Kaplan left the following comment on the blog:


The plight of Our Children, our schools and our nation



The ranks of special education students are swelling, and as the breakdown of society continues to impact the ability of public schools to deliver resources and services, the crisis deepens. Teaching today’s students is difficult by any definition, and as educators are blamed for the consequences of society’s collective abandonment and subsequent surrender of their young people to technological marvels, enter the government with their ridiculous plans to hold us, and only us, accountable. Enter the right wing politicians, desperate to discredit teachers to ensure funding for their political campaigns. They have blindsided us, stabbed us in the back, and have squarely pinned the blame for America’s problems on America’s teachers



There are dozens of variables in a child’s education, and to choose one variable, the teachers, and to choose two arbitrary points during the school year to measure that variable, is statistically speaking, unsupportable by any stretch of any imagination.



As I watched my ten and eleven year old children sit before their computer screens, as springtime weather called to them from outside the windows, as dozens of tests collected into one big massive distaste in their minds, I thought how absurd this whole picture looked. For two hours of silence, a highly unnatural condition for them to endure, I watched them struggle to do their best.



Two measuring points on a 180 day continuum was going to translate into my measurement as a teacher. Two arbitrarily chosen points on a wildly fluctuating line that changed as quickly as a child’s mood and their willingness and ability to focus and discipline their minds.



Now I fully understand the need to ensure effective educators. I fully understand that bad teachers exist and that the right wing agenda is to kill all the apples in the basket because of the one or two rotten ones. I fully understand that most teachers, most of the time, work hard to create a small oasis of hope and happiness if many of our most troubled areas. But most importantly, I understand, from the moment a child is born, that single event of lottery predicts and creates (perhaps a self-perpetuating lesson) an environment that leads one way or another. To believe otherwise is pure hypocrisy or self-delusion.



I even support the idea of accountability, but only when calibrated properly against the other variables that impact a child’s future just as deeply as we do. Start with the school’s ability or willingness to enforce a behavioral code, making the students accountable for their behavior. We will call that the Coefficient of School Effectiveness (COSE) Does the school itself create a calm and safe environment in which both students and staff feel that effective learning can take place. Then widen the circle and look at the school district’s willingness and ability to provide the necessary curriculum and resources that should lead to good learning outcomes (Assuming the district has the school’s “back” when it comes to behavioral accountability). Does the district provide enough adults in each school? We will call that the Coefficient of District Effectiveness (CODE)

Looking at the next layer of accountability, the school funding formulas that the states and districts use to purchase all the resource’s necessary to lead to good learning outcomes. Look at the average per student expenditure. Is that funding stream secure, or is it open to the vagaries of a whimsical legislature, intent on securing the necessary votes to remain in office? Is there flexibility built in to ensure that the five year old who enters school reading already at a first grade level is properly challenged? Is there flexibility built in to ensure that the five year old who barely recognizes letters and colors has the necessary interventions to quickly bring him or her up to an equal footing as their peers? Let’s call that the Coefficient of Funding (COF). Let’s not forget to mention the state’s scrutiny on a district’s suspension rates or dropout rates, and whether or not those numbers impact present or future funding. Oh, and the various organizations who sue districts for suspension rates or special ed rates for minorities that are out of line with what they believe they should be.



Of course, the home environment itself, out of fashion with the fantastic number crunchers and ivory tower academicians running education, has no impact on how well the young lady or man performs on those two arbitrarily chosen measuring points. Ask anyone making policy, and there will be a collective sigh and then the inevitable answer that goes something like this, “We have no control over the home environment and we can only control the school’s environment (Keep in mind the COSE, CODE and COF), so we have to have something to measure the success of our teachers.



Let’s take a collective pause in our discussion. Perhaps we need to clear our throats to rid ourselves of the collective crap collecting in our craws. The successful education of any community’s young people is the lynchpin for that community’s future success, but as anyone with more than a sliver of common sense can attest to, we are what we choose to immerse ourselves in. We are what we eat, and our most chronic sicknesses, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, have direct links to the choices individual people make on a daily basis. While the big companies that push GMO’s and sugar laced foods are doing what they are designed to do, create and market products, they are only as successful when we choose to buy their products.



Ok. back to education. Schools market a product. It’s called education. It’s called reading and writing and math and social studies and science. It is called college and career readiness. But most importantly, it’s called hope and dreams. It is the future we market. Or at least we used to. Nowadays, we’re forced to market high test scores and low suspension rates.

But if we are true to our convictions as educators (and not pyramid scheme salesmen) our product requires more than just a passive recipient mentality, the same mentality that laps up technology and sugar laced foods with impunity. Our product requires a mutuality of expectations and a relationship based on trust, responsibility and accountability. Successful schools mirror homes in which the people in that home are more involved with each other than they are with their own individual pursuits.



Let’s take another pause from education and examine oncology. Yes, oncology. An oncologist diagnoses, treats and hopefully rids the body of cancerous cells. If the oncologist is good, the average life span and quality of life of his or her clients improves, clearly a measurable outcome. Let’s take two randomly chosen days in the nine months that the patient is undergoing treatment and then create a test that measures that person’s quality of life. Should that person be throwing up or weak that day, that’s too bad, as the test was scheduled for that particular day, and to reschedule impacts other tests. Oh, and let’s make sure we only select patients for this test who follow all the doctors’ recommendations. That would make the numbers look really good, but in education, most caregivers do not follow our basic recommendations.



Returning to our nation’s classrooms, where education happens, relationships dictate outcomes. Good bad or indifferent, relationships build results, In a healthy environment, there are relationships with shared expectations between home and school adults within which a child benefits. It is that simple. In an unhealthy environment, the adults at home and at school have different expectations, little or no communication, and the child’s future suffers. It is that simple. If a child respects the adults in his personal environment, it is more likely they will respect the adults in the school environment. If a child is left to his or her own devices without adult supervision, it is more likely their behavior will challenge the structure within which a school must operate to be successful.



Let’s take another side trip, a corollary to this education essay, to look at the latest results from a test given every four years at the fourth, eight and tenth grade levels, a test that measures math and reading proficiency, as calibrated against the rest of the world’s industrialized nations. At all levels, across all demographics and grade levels, we are on the lower rungs, but digging more deeply, we are competitive at the elementary level, less so in middle school and by high school, are so far out in left field, that we are for all intent and purposes, not even part of the game any longer.



Again, the reason for this is simple. In elementary, children benefit from the village approach to education, where several people get to know and work with the students, where parent teacher conferences are more common, and where the home school connection is at its peak.



Suppose we all take a step into the kindergarten room, on the first day of school, where everyone is filled with excitement and where parents and guardians are the most involved. That enthusiasm and energy should be the norm as children move through the grades, so that by the time they reach middle and high school, home and school are irrevocably and positively committed to working together as a team. But something (or everything) runs amok of the goal and the goal of raising a child is bastardized until it resembles, of all things, a goddamn number. What’s the test score, what’s the numbers say, the numbers dictate everything but tell us nothing we do not already know.



But two things go wrong on the way to this ideal world. First of all, increasing numbers of our young people arrive at schools unprepared to learn in the school settings. So accustomed are they to the fleeting and momentary focus that screen time creates, their minds are literally wired contrary to what real world learning demands. So accustomed are they to a sense of behavioral entitlement that altering their behaviors to the currency of conversation and cooperation is difficult.



I recall a survey I gave students at my school several years ago, and of the 300 or so that replied, over 90% have a TV and computer in their bedroom. Over 80% have dinner with their good friend, Mr. Screen, a inanimate but strangely comforting friend who offers nothing but what the user desires.



What can we expect from a society that delivers their collective offspring to us with their minds already wired to expect instant gratification and immediate satisfaction and attention to their needs? Should there be any surprise that increasing numbers of our young people have no regard for behavioral norms.



The real surprise is that we, in public education, have managed to hold this crumbling infrastructure together for so long. As custodians for fifty million young people, we are the only institution with the ability to transform a nation and deliver it from its own nightmarish future. But there are some basic transformations that must take place, or we will become just another appendage to the unrelenting appetite of politicians, bureaucrats and business people whose credibility is dependent upon their ability to mislead, misdirect and otherwise confuse the vast majority of consumers that education’s maladies have nothing to do with them but everything to do with us.



Making a shift in education means a shift in checkbook policy. Take a look at a person’s checkbook and you understand more about that person than you can gather in conversations. It also means fundamentally altering the infrastructure that underlies most secondary scheduling. But most importantly, it means redefining and molding the home school partnership, so that as our young people move through the years, parents and caregivers are in constant communication with us, the educational experts.



At the end of the day, public schools can be the saviors of a nation. As the only institution in America that routinely sees 50 million young people a day, we have a chance to redefine our future. But instead of leading the way, we have lost our way and our mission, once clear as a bright sunny day, has become muddied and incoherent. Business and politics have so polluted our ranks that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish among educational, political and business leaders.



Our leaders in education, at the district, state and national levels, have permitted the discussion to steer away from what is best for kids to what is best for funding, or what is best to avoid lawsuits, or what is best to hold onto jobs, or what is best to satisfy the incompetent meddlers. In other words, we have lost the voice of reason we once had, and we have lost the respect we once had and we have lost power to truly educate. Instead, we have become pawns in someone else’s game.



We give lip service to what is best for kids, but operationally, we don’t follow through. We are not allowed to. If we did what was best for kids, we would enforce behavioral codes uniformly, restructure our secondary schools to create a relationship rich culture, reform funding structures to ensure equality in opportunity, build strong home school partnerships and reestablish the teaching profession as the expert in all matters educational.



Until we regain our leadership role, public education will continue to be bullied and dragged into the mud. Teachers’ unions at all levels must reinvent themselves as leaders in best practices, and until that occurs, they will continue to loose footing with both the public and legal infrastructures of our country. Education leaders have embraced the conversation about single data point testing, instead of fighting against the flawed logic driving it. In backroom conversations, we all talk about the absurdity of it, but in public view, we refuse to take the lead, instead ignoring common sense and the legions of evidence that undermine its credibility.



Somehow, somewhere between common sense and now, yellow journalism in its most sinister form, has managed to shape our nation’s educational policy.



There over three million teachers in America, but somehow the shameful cases of a few scattered situations has been parlayed into a national image of incompetence, laziness and general indifference.



Real education requires an involved and active relationship between the teachers and students, and that active relationship in turn, requires ongoing conversations that mirror mutual respect and most importantly, a shared behavioral code. No one ever talks about the role students’ behaviors play in the education world, but that is the most important variable over which we pretend does not exist. Until behavioral codes are enforced across all demographics, in the busses that carry our students, in the cafeterias that feed our students, at the sports arenas that hold our students, in the hallways through which our students pass, and of course, in the classrooms in which learning must occur, nothing of lasting worth can occur. And until we, as public educators, take the lead in all things relating to a learning, and education, we will continue to lose those daily battles of attrition with which we are all familiar. And in the end, we will lose the war that profit hungry corporate America, aided and abetted by irresponsible members of the political establishment, is waging on all of us in public education. The children of America deserve better. They deserve our leadership, not our blind allegiance to an educational hierarchy intent on bartering with the enemy.

Please put March 9 on your calendar if you live in or near Long Island, Néw York. There will be a major event at C.W. Post University to discuss current trends in education and how to set them right. The event was originally set for Hofstra but the auditorium had only 1,000 seats, and the organizers quickly ran out of tickets. The event has been moved to the Tilles Center, which holds 2,200 people. Tickets are free. Reserve a seat here.

Long Island is the epicenter of test rebellion. Most of Néw York’s 60,000 plus students who opted out were in Long Island. Principals and superintendents have been outspoken against high-stakes testing.

I will speak, so will Carol Burris as well as parents and others who object to the plague of high-stakes testing.

Thousands of students refused the PARCC test in Néw Jersey, including 1,000 students at Governor Christie’s alma mater, Livingston High School.

In one district, 30% of the students refused to take the test.

Hundreds of high school students walked out of Common Core tests in New Mexico, despite administrators’ threats that they may not be able to graduate. Many carried hand-lettered signs with statements like “We are not a test score.” U.S. News reports on the walkout here. 


State Commissioner of Education Hanna Skandera, who previously worked for then-Governor Jeb Bush in Florida, is an avid supporter of Common Core and the PARCC tests. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and previously worked for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. The Senate in New Mexico delayed her confirmation because she has never been a teacher, which is a requirement for her post.


Problems with the new, computer-administered Florida Standards Assessments are widespread. At least a dozen school districts, including Broward, Hillsborough, Miami- Dade, Orange, Oskaloosa, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia reported total breakdowns or significant testing delays.
According to Bob Schaeffer, a Florida resident who is Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which monitors standardized exams across the country, “Florida computerized tests are clearly not ready for prime time. The reason is that they were rushed into place based on a Tallahasee-mandated schedule not technical competence or educational readiness.”
Schaeffer continued, “Parents, teachers, superintendents and computer experts all warned that such breakdowns were inevitable. Yet, policy-makers ignored the warnings as well as evidence of similar problems last year in Florida and a dozen other states.”
“Today’s fiasco once again demonstrates that Florida testing policy is being driven by politicians and ideologues, not educators,” Schaeffer concluded. ”Florida schools and the children they serve need a pause in testing insanity and a thorough overhaul of the state’s assessment system. Enough is enough”
FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer has lived full-time in southwest Florida for fifteen years. He works closely with assessment reform groups in Lee County and across the state.

Fox News reported that an eighth grade student was suspended in New Mexico for telling her classmates about their right to opt out. She found the forms for opting out on her own school’s website. The Santa Fe school district reiterated that students have the right to opt out. Yet she was suspended for doing what everyone seemed to agree was legal and right. For her common sense and courage, I place Adelina Silva on the blog’s honor roll. Not only did she do the right thing, she said she would do it again.



12-year-old Adelina Silva printed out the forms from her own school’s website and was rewarded with a trip to the principal’s office.


Adelina and her mother, Jacqueline Ellvinger, appeared on “Fox and Friends” this morning to explain what happened and why Adelina was punished.


“I wanted the parents to know that they had the option to let the student either take the test or not,” Adelina said.


“I was sent to the principal’s office for an hour and 20 minutes and then at the end of the day she ended up suspending me.”


The school district released a statement, saying, “Santa Fe Public Schools supports a parent’s right to opt his or her child out of state-mandated standardized testing … no students in the district have been disciplined for supporting or promoting this district policy of a parent’s right to opt their child out of testing.”


Ellvinger said her daughter’s rights were violated even though she didn’t do anything wrong.


“She did absolutely nothing wrong and yet they are making her feel like she did,” Ellvinger said, adding that she’s “furious” and has spoken to the state’s senators.


Despite the negative reaction from the school, Adelina said she would do the same thing again.


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