Archives for category: Testing

The series about the new Every Student Succeeds Act is concluded. I want to thank Senator Lamar Alexander and his staff, especially David P. Cleary, chief of staff, for responding to my questions. I know that readers have additional questions or want clarifications of some of the statements. The new law is the result of negotiations between the two parties. Questions will inevitably arise as the new law is implemented. Meanwhile, feel free to submit your questions and you can be sure that Senator Alexander’s staff will answer them as best they can. Let me add that there are things in this law I like, and things I don’t like. I will spell those out in a separate post.


Here are the links to each of the posts written by Senator Lamar Alexander’s staff.

1. ESSA and Testing

2. ESSA and Teacher Evaluation

3. ESSA and the Bottom 5% of Schools

4. ESSA and Opt Outs

5. ESSA and Special Education

6. ESSA and Teacher Education

7. ESSA and Charter Schools

8. ESSA and the Federal Role

9. ESSA and Common Core

This is the weekly roundup of testing resistance news from Fairtest, which has been fighting the misuse and overuse of standardized testing for decades:



Any notion that the new federal education law would slow the grassroots testing resistance and reform movement should be put to rest by even a quick skim of this week’s headlines. From Alaska to Florida and Maine to California parents, educators and community activists are escalating pressure on state and local policy makers to reduce testing volume, eliminate high stakes and support better forms of assessment.



National How Should Educators React to New, Federal ESSA?



Multiple States GED Lowers Passing Score, Tens of Thousand More Young People May Receive Credentials



Alabama Test-Based “Merit Pay” Has Serious Flaws



Alaska State Likely to Dump New Standardized Test
Alaska Why Administer Tests Whose Results Are Not Meaningful?



California Feds Urged Not to Intrude on State’s Assessment Reforms
California Students Stymied by Exit Exam May Now Qualify for Diplomas



Connecticut The Lies Behind Making the SAT a Mandatory 11th Grade Test
Connecticut Educators Seek Moratorium on Test-Based Teacher Evaluations



Florida Legislature’s Testing Proposals Are “Accoutabaloney”
Florida House Minority Leader Urges Parents to Consider Opting Their Children Out of State Tests
Florida My Son Should Dream, Not Have Testing Nightmares



Georgia Governor Backs Off on Plan for Test-Based Teacher Pay



Illinois Grassroots Opt-Out Campaign Derails Common Core Test



Indiana Governor Signs Bill Holding Schools, Teachers Harmless for Flawed State Test Scores
Indiana Trial Run of New Test Exam Reveals Technical Problems



Maine What Will Replace Smarter Balanced Testing?



Maryland Legislative Leaders Plan to Act on School Testing Reform



Michigan Teachers, Students Held Hostage By Endless Tests



Montana Senator Urges U.S. Ed. Department to Encourage States to Reduce Testing



Nebraska New Federal Education Law a Welcome Change from “No Child” Mandates



New Jersey Governor Signs Law Requiring Parental Pre-Notification of Testing Schedule, Assessment Details



New Mexico Legislature Preparing for Fight Over Third-Grade Retention Proposal



New York Hundreds of Teachers Received Erroneous Scores Linked to Student Tests



North Carolina Education Advocates Call for End to Test-Based Teacher Evaluation



Ohio Consider Source of School Grades



Oregon Open Letter Urges Supers and School Boards Not to Interfere with Opt Outs



Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Governor Joins Legislators in Supporting Exit Exam Requirement Delay
Pennsylvania Grad Test Delay is Well Justified



Rhode Island Panel Examining Alternatives to Testing



Tennessee Bill Would Let Parents Review Questions and Answers From Their Kids State Tests
Tennessee Teachers Could Get a Break From Some Testing Pressures



Vermont State Seeks New Way to Evaluate Schools Under Revised Federal Education Law



ACT/SAT New College Admissions Study Says SAT Should Be Optional
ACT/SAT Do Admissions Exams Predict Anything Colleges Need to Know
ACT/SAT Siena Heights University to Drop Admissions Test Requirements
SAT Integrity Falls Victim To Cheating Scandal



Overcoming the Pressure to Test



Let’s Replace Transcripts, Tests and Grades With Portfolios



Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468




This is the fifth installment in a series of exchanges about the Every Student Succeeds Act. I asked the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, answered them.


My question:

How does the law affect the testing of students with disabilities? I have heard that there is a limit of 1% of students who may be given alternative assessments due to their disabilities, but far more than 1% of students have IEPs. What does the law say?


The response:

The law allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to take alternate assessments aligned with alternate academic achievement standards.

The new law includes a cap on the total number of students that can take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards. The cap is set at one percent of all students in the state, which equates to roughly 10 percent of students with disabilities. This is the same as the regulation under NCLB that has been in effect since January 8, 2004.

It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) take regular assessments, and do not take an alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards.

The new law reaffirms and makes clear that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act law requires that the IEP team determine when a child with a significant cognitive disability should take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards.

The new law also prohibits the federal government or the state from imposing a cap on a school district regarding the percentage of students who may be administered an alternate assessment. Therefore, a school district or school could administer an alternate assessment to more than 1 percent of students.

Emily Talmadge, teacher-blogger in Maine, warns that the long tentacles of Bill Gates are infiltrating the Opt Out movement.



Why would America’s leading test autocrat join arms with test opponents? Well, it turns out that Gates and his buddies see the end game for the Big Standardized Test. What they are now planning is embedded assessment, where students work online and the instruction and assessments are intertwined and embedded. Testing is no longer a single event but a daily, continuous process.


So it makes sense for the technocrats to bury the stand-alone test and usher in the insidious embedded assessment. All-time, nonstop testing, adjusted to every student. Personalized, standardized, individualized, customized, mechanized.

David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, has prepared a series of answers to questions I posed about the new “Every Student Succeeds Act.” I am very grateful to have my questions answered by the staff of the Senator who led the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Instead of speculating about what the law says or means, we can get answers directly from those who drafted the law.

Readers, your comments are welcome, as always, but I ask you to be polite and civil. You may not like the law, but it is a darned sight better than NCLB, the Death Star of American education. It is now up to us as citizens to interact with our elected local and state officials to make the new law work to improve education.


David P. Cleary writes, to begin the discussion:




Thank you for giving us the opportunity to engage with you and your readers about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As with any new law, there are lots of questions that will take time to play out as the law is implemented both at the federal level and the state and local level.

Chairman Alexander plans vigorous oversight of the implementation of the law with hearings and regular meetings with the administration to ensure that the law is faithfully implemented. It is helpful to know what questions people have so we can work through hearings and oversight to ensure that the law is implemented as written.

One of the driving principles behind Chairman Alexander’s efforts to fix No Child Left Behind was to restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. This will enable governors, chief state school officers, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students, advocates, and the public could grapple with these difficult issues and reach conclusions that work for their state and community.

Most importantly, the new law ends No Child Left Behind’s accountability system and also allows states to move in a different direction, if they choose, from many of the policies of No Child Left Behind and the waivers of the past several years.

In many ways, ESSA is just the beginning of the story because states will now need to figure out what to do with all of this new flexibility and responsibility.

Thanks again for this opportunity.


David P. Cleary

Chief of Staff/HELP Committee Staff Director

I will post my question and the response of Senator Alexander’s staff every day for the next nine days.

The response:

1. How will ESSA affect testing? Most educators and parents believe that there is too much testing and they want less of it. What does ESSA do to reduce testing and the high stakes attached to it?

Short answer:

ESSA should significantly affect testing. Through testimony we learned that although the federally required math and reading tests provide valuable information on student learning to teachers, parents, states, and the public, many states and school districts administer many more tests than necessary, largely in part to prepare for the one-time high-stakes tests required under No Child Left Behind. State and school district leaders agree that shorter and fewer tests are needed. For example, we learned that a Fort Myers, Fla., school district gave its students more than 160 tests in preparation for the federal test[s] required under NCLB.

ESSA creates an opportunity for states to reevaluate the amount of tests their students take and how the results of those tests are used. While we kept the federal requirement that students take a total of 17 tests over a their 10 years of schooling from grades three through 12, we eliminated the federal requirement that determined whether a school is succeeding or failing based only, in effect, on federally-required tests. We also ended the waiver requirement for teacher evaluation linked to testing.

Moving forward, it will be up to states—as well as and governors, legislators, teachers, parents, and advocates–to decide whether to have more than the 17 federally required tests and how important those tests should be in determining whether schools are succeeding or failing. Additionally, the bill increases state flexibility around testing by allowing states to develop innovative assessment systems, such as competency based systems, in lieu of the existing state tests. ESSA also allows school districts to select a nationally recognized assessment, such as the SAT or ACT, that high schools can administer in lieu of the state math and reading test.

Long Answer:

The first issue Chairman Alexander tackled in 2015 was the question of overtesting due to No Child Left Behind. Our first hearing on January 21, 2015 looked at this issue and it feels like every conversation was dominated by the view that No Child Left Behind and the teacher evaluation mandate in the waivers created a massive proliferation of testing.

The requirement under NCLB was that states had to conduct annual tests in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school, and a science test in each of the grade spans three through five, six through eight, and nine through 12. That resulted in a federal requirement of 17 tests over a student’s 10 years spent in school from grades three through 12.

But the accountability system of NCLB was linked almost solely to the testing requirement. If student test scores didn’t meet federal requirements, federal sanctions were applied to the school in a one-size-fits all approach.

Seeing this issue, Sen. Alexander came to the conclusion that the federal requirement for testing wasn’t necessarily the problem, it was the accountability system that was attached to it.

With that in mind, we decided to focus on reducing the federally determined high stakes attached to the tests—creating an environment where states could reduce the extra tests they were administering and, most importantly, develop their own accountability system to judge whether schools and teachers were succeeding in educating students.

Through testimony we learned that states and school districts were creating and administering dozens or even hundreds of extra tests to ensure that they were on track for all students to perform well on the annual test required by the law and the teacher evaluation mandate in the waivers. This outcome is almost expected because the annual test became almost a death penalty moment for schools—if you didn’t perform according to the plan, you faced severe federal sanctions. NCLB became a “punish your way to success” accountability system.

In ESSA, states have much more freedom to determine whether a school is succeeding or failing. Tests do not have to be the only measure of performance.

A state has to include test results, graduation rates, English proficiency, and another measure of school quality or student success in its accountability system. If a state chooses, it could also include non-academic measures having nothing to do with tests.

But how much each of these indicators count in the accountability systems is up to the states, and the Secretary is prohibited from regulating precise numbers or even ranges of weights in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(IV) of the new law.

So now states have the flexibility and responsibility to determine how to establish an accountability system. What matters to Tennessee may differ from what matters to Minnesota. Some states may indeed keep all of their tests and the high stakes associated with them, while others will reduce testing and reduce the amount that tests count in accountability systems—but they key with ESSA is that it is entirely up to the states to decide what to do.

Steven Singer, a teacher and blogger in Pennsylvania, takes on the myth that high-stakes testing is a civil rights issue. It is curious that this myth gained any traction, because civil rights groups used to sue to block high-stakes tests because they violated the rights of black children. They argued that the tests were biased and unfair. They argued that it was wrong to label children with such tests.

He writes:

“Standardized testing has never been shown to adequately gauge what students know, especially if the skills being assessed are complex. The only correlation that has been demonstrated consistently is between high test scores and parental wealth. In general, rich kids score well on standardized tests. Poor kids do not.

“Therefore, it is absurd to demand high stakes standardized testing as a means of ensuring students’ civil rights.

“Judging kids based on these sorts of assessments is not the utopia of which Dr. King dreamed. We are not judging them by the content of their character. We’re judging them by the contents of their parents bank accounts.

“There are real things we could be doing to realize racial and economic equality. We could do something about crippling generational poverty that grips more than half of public school students throughout the country. We could be taking steps to stop the worsening segregation of our schools that allows the effects of test-based accountability to disproportionately strike schools serving mostly students of color. We could invest in our neediest children (many of whom are minorities) to provide nutrition, tutoring, counseling, wrap around services, smaller class sizes, and a diverse curriculum including arts and humanities.”

Tom Cahill describes the five famous billionaires who are intent on dismantling public education, especially public education for African American children.


He writes that “The charter school movement is particularly insidious, as it’s essentially a form of institutionalized racism veiled in altruism.”


They call themselves “reformers,” but in fact they are destroying a vital democratic institution.


The process, he says, begins with Common Core standards that disregard all individual or local differences. That is followed by high-stakes testing that fails most students.


Finally, schools are labeled as “failing” due to the lopsided evaluation process, and privately-run charters are forced onto inner-city populations, paving the way for the privatization of public education in predominantly black and latino communities. (Actually, the “failing schools” narrative was launched prior to Common Core. Arne Duncan started closing public schools in Chicago when he was Superintendent. NCLB prescribed school-closings as an antidote to low scores. Low test scores, wherever they came from, were used as weapons to replace public schools with charter schools. Common Core just speeded up the demolition strategy.)


The five white billionaires he points to are: Mark Zuckerberg; the Walton family; Carl Icahn; Bill Gates; and Rupert Murdoch.


The list of billionaires who want to privatize the public schools should include Eli Broad, John Arnold, Michael Dell, the Koch brothers, and Michael Bloomberg. I may have missed a few billionaires, but you get the picture. The free market worked for them; why should schools operate in a free market? Why pay attention to the mounds of research showing that charter schools do not get higher test scores when they enroll the same children? Why care that minority children are enrolled in charter schools with harsh and punitive discipline policies that would not be allowed in public schools? Why care if there is no evidence that charter schools and Teach for America do not “close the achievement gap” and have no discernible impact on reducing poverty?


How many times have you read in a report or in the newspaper that X method or Y school was able to produce an extra 40 days or extra weeks of learning in reading or math?


How do gains in test scores get converted into days or weeks or months?


The answer, according to Gary Rubinstein, is that they don’t. Or they shouldn’t. It is nonsense.


I recently read a Mathematica Policy Research report on the Teacher Incentive Fund (merit pay), which claimed that a 1% increase in test scores was equivalent to an additional three weeks of learning. See here (study snapshot) and here (executive summary) and here (full report).

Performance Bonuses for Educators Led to Small Improvements in
Student Achievement


Educators’ understanding of bonus program improved, but challenges remain


New findings from Mathematica Policy Research show that a federal program providing bonuses to educators based on their performance had a small, positive impact on student achievement. In the first report to describe the effects of pay-for-performance bonuses within the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) program on student achievement, researchers found that student scores on standardized reading tests rose by 1 percentile point—the equivalent of about three weeks of additional learning. The study also showed similarly positive, but statistically insignificant, improvements in math.


I asked Gary if it made sense to translate a one-point gain into three weeks of learning, and he replied:


Mathematica should stop using that ‘weeks of learning’ metric. They use a calculation that says that average teachers don’t teach very much so that they maybe get the kids to increase their scores from 24 percent passing (if they did not teach anything) to 34 percent in the entire year. So each ‘point’, by that logic, amounts to about a sixth of the year. A teacher with merit pay, then who gets that extra ‘point’ would be teaching 10% more in that year which is an extra three weeks. I wish they would just give the raw score which people could relate to, like there were 50 questions on the test and students of people without merit pay got 25 correct and students of people with merit pay got 26 correct. Then people would be able to put these numbers into perspective and realize that they are not a big deal.





This article by Andrew Ujifusa in Education Week is a good summary of where the opt out movement stands today. In addition, it describes the Network for Public Education’s 50-state report card, which will be released in D.C. on February 2 at the National Press Club at 1:30 pm. If you are in the area, plan to attend and learn which states support and value public education.



Ujifusa writes:



Activists driving the resistance to state exams are attempting to build on their state-level momentum over the past year, while also venturing into a new political landscape that will test whether the energy behind their initial victories will last.

And they say they’re forging ahead with their plans regardless of how much support they get from traditional education advocacy groups, including teachers’ unions.

Several leaders within the so-called testing opt-out movement, which has gained considerable traction in New York and also found a foothold in states like Colorado and Connecticut, say they will continue to push parents to refuse to allow their children to take standardized exams, particularly state tests, for as long as it’s necessary.

They’ll stop, they say, when states adopt accountability policies that prevent tests from being used to rank, sort, and impose what opponents consider unfair consequences on students, teachers, and schools.

Some groups also are looking to extend their influence beyond testing fights to push in states for higher and more equitable levels of school funding and changes to K-12 governance to increase what they say is more local and more democratic control.

Peter Greene writes here about a scary article in Catalyst Chicago by a teacher who explains how she taught her five-year-olds to love testing. It should not surprise you to learn that this teacher is teaching in a charter school and that she hails from Teach for America and Teach Plus.


He writes:


Well, we can at least thank Bailey Reimer for giving us one more look at how reformsters think, and a chance to confront just how wrong-headed that thinking is.


Reimer is the author of “How Bailey Reinmer’s kindergartners came to love testing” (nothing about if they stopped worrying), and the piece in Catalyst Chicago is every bit as bad as you would imagine.


Reimer loves the Test, and her love leads her to say some astonishing things. She loves it, and she opens with the astonishing story of how much her students love it too– so much that they are sad when they learn they won’t be taking one tomorrow. “They love the uninterrupted work time and comparing their new score to their old one.” Because, yes, five year olds are famous for their long extension spans and their desire to do seatwork.


Reimer correctly points out that ESSA has cemented the Big Standardized Test into schools, and so her school figures why not just get started practicing with kindergartners (because apparently her charter school is run by people who don’t know much about child development). As Reimer tells her story, she throws in this set of non sequitors:


“To get to a point where my students appreciate and understand testing, I had to first appreciate it myself. I love tests that give me relevant, timely information about how my students are doing, from how many letter names they know to how many words per minute they read. According to reports by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school.”


If you need regular daily testing to tell how your kindergarten students are doing, you do not belong in a kindergarten classroom. And before one cites research, one should be clear on the difference between correlation and causation. However, Reimer might want to check out the research that shows that early “head starts” in learning pretty much disappear within a few years.


But that’s not the most astonishing thing she says.


“Of course, 5-year-olds don’t come to school automatically loving testing. As educators, it’s our job to build that appreciation and understanding.”


No. No no no no no no no no no, no. No, Ms. Reimer, that is most decidedly NOT our job. It is our job to build appreciation and understanding for reading, art, math, running and playing, and learning in general. It is not our job to make them love the test. It is certainly not our job to teach that school is a place we go to take tests and get ready to take tests.


Read on. This article by Bailey Reimer is one of the most horrible statements I have ever read. She needs help in learning about the purposes of education.



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