Archives for category: Testing

Valerie Strauss describes what happened in Lee County last night when the school board voted 3-2 to opt out of state testing, and she reviews what the state might do in response.

She writes:

“The pushback from Lee County — the ninth-largest district in the state and the 37th largest in the country, with more than 85,000 students – is striking in a state that has been at the forefront of standardized test-based “accountability” systems that use student test scores to evaluate not only kids but their teachers, principals, schools and districts. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was a pioneer in test-based accountability and he continues to support it around the country, even amid a growing revolt around the country by parents and educators against test-based school reform, which has led to narrowed curriculum, obsessive test preparation and other negative consequences. Reformers have insisted that test scores are a legitimate high-stakes evaluation tool, even though assessment experts have repeatedly said otherwise.

“The Lee County school board voted to opt public schools out of all state-mandated testing. That includes standardized tests that will assess the new Sunshine State Standards, which were “adopted” after Florida pulled out of the Common Core and set forth new standards that were very similar. According to Armstrong, the boycott also includes state-mandated end-of-course exams, which are supposed to be given starting this year in every course that does not have a standardized test attached to it. The end-of-course exams, however, can be locally designed, do not have to be standardized computer or paper-and-pencil tests and can include a range of options.

“Asked what the state Department of Education could do to the county for taking this position, he said Florida could withhold state funds from the country and take other action, including removing a member from the board. A summary of possible consequences for the county, issued by the county’s school district attorney, included a number of other potential consequences, including the possibility that high school students could not complete state requirements to graduate. You can see the entire list here.”

Lee County, Florida, made history tonight. Despite threats from state officials that they might cut funding, the school board voted to opt the entire district out of state testing.

“The school board has voted to opt out the entire district from all statewide, standardized testing – effective immediately. The decision was received with overwhelming cheers and applause in the packed auditorium.

“The motion passed three to two, with board members Don Armstrong, Tom Scott and Mary Fischer in support of the vote.

“Board members Jeanne Dozier and Cathleen Morgan said they would prefer the district wait until an alternative plan is in place. Superintendent Nancy Graham warned the district that the abrupt decision could be harmful to students.

“There is an unmistakable emotion in the room tonight at the Lee school board meeting as the board deliberates a motion to opt out from all statewide tests.

“The standing-room only audience cheered and booed as more than 33 concerned citizens took the podium to speak their thoughts on the possibility of the district opting out of standardized tests. The audience was filled with protestors wearing red “#boycott shirts.”

“The flood of red represented various activist groups in Lee County, including Teaching Not Testing, Florida Citizens’ Alliance and the Libertarian Party of Florida.

“Because 33 people requested to give public comment tonight, each speaker only has one minute to voice their thoughts.

“Chairman Tom Scott reminded the audience that school board policy prohibits booing, cheering and clapping. The audience, at times, could not help itself as citizens gave impassioned one-minute speeches.

“Emotions came to a head when mother Lori Jenkins took the stand. She said her son has a terminal heart condition and was at home on a leave from school, yet the district still sent someone to proctor his exam at his home on his deathbed. The audience gasped with disgust.

“He’s terminal, he’s going to die, but he goes to school! He does the stupid remedial classes!” Jenkins yelled. The audio was cut off when she hit her one-minute limit. She continued to yell into the mic as the audience called for the board to let her speak. Jenkins received a standing ovation.

The ASCD published an eye-popping chart showing that NAEP long-term trend test scores for 17-year-olds were flat from 1971-2012. At the same time, economic productivity soared by 375%, and gross domestic product grew by 100%.

What do you make of that?

I have pointed out repeatedly that our students have never excelled on international tests. On the first international test in 1964, our students came in last of 12 nations. Yet as I explain in my book “Reign of Error,” over the next half-century we outperformed the other 11 nations who had higher test scores.

What do you make of that?

Mike Klonsky knows who is sucking the oxygen out of classrooms and killing the joy of learning: Arne Duncan.

Don’t take Mike’s word for it. Arne confessed. He said he would give schools a one-year reprieve from his testing mandates. One year to breathe deep and suck in some real oxygen. Then he returns to take your oxygen away again. Makes sense, no? No.

Remember that Arne Duncan said that there was too much testing, that testing was sucking the oxygen and joy out of classrooms? New York didn’t get the message. In that state, state tests count for 20% of educator evaluations, and local assessments count for another 20%. That is the agreement negotiated with the unions when the state won Race to the Top funding.

That was then, this is now.

The Néw York Board of Regents want state test scores to count for 40% of the evaluations of teachers and principals. This report was was confirmed to me by someone in Albany.

It matters not to the Regents that test-based evaluation is not working anywhere else. It matters not that the AERA and the National Academy of Education warned against it, warned that it would incentivize teachers to avoid high-needs students. It matters not that the American Statistical Association warned against using test scores to rate individual teachers since they affect only 1-14% of variation in student scores.

The ASA said: “Attaching too much importance to a single item of quantitative information is counter-
productive—in fact, it can be detrimental to the goal of improving quality. In particular, making changes in response to aspects of quantitative information that are actually random variation can increase the overall variability of the system.”

Unlike the state of Vermont, which refuses to rate teachers and principals by test scores, Néw York’s Regents will plunge ahead, regardless of the damage they do to teachers, principals, students, and communities.

Peter Greene calls attention to a new federal grant program of $28.4 million, to pay for low-income students to take Advanced Placement courses. AP courses are a source of revenue for the College Board, whose president is David Coleman, architect of the Common Core.

Greene writes:

“I will remind everyone, as I always do, that the College Board (home of the AP test and the SATs) is not a philanthropic organization, administering these tests as some sort of public service. They are a business, one of several similar ones, selling a product. This program is the equivalent of the feds saying, “Students really need to be able to drive a Ford to school, so we we’re going to finance the purchase of Fords for some students.”

“What does the College Board get out of this program?

“Huge product placement. David Coleman’s College Board has been working hard to market the AP test as the go-to proof that a student is on the college path. Some states (PA is one) give extra points to school evaluation scores based on the number of AP courses offered. The new PSAT will become an AP-recommendation generator. This program is one more tap-tap-tap in the drumbeat that if you want to go to college, you must hit the AP. The program can also be directed toward IB tests or “other approved advanced placement tests,” but it’s the AP brand that is on the marquee.

“The product placement represents a savvy marketing end run. The AP biz has previously depended on the kindness of colleges to push their product. But colleges and universities weren’t really working all that hard to market the College Board’s product for them. Now, with the help of state and federal governments and their own PSAT test, the College Board is marketing directly to parents and students, tapping into that same must-go-to-college gut-level terror that makes the SAT test the must-take test.

“$28.4 million.

“What do low-income students get out of this?

“A chance to take an AP test. Not, mind you, more resources to get ready for it, nor do they get help with actually going to a college after taking the test (which may or may not give them any help once they get in).

“These grants eliminate some of the financial roadblocks for low-income students taking Advanced Placement courses, letting them take tests with the potential of earning college credit while in high school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.”

So it’s not help to prepare for the tests, no guarantee of earning college credit in high school, just a chance to take a test that you may not be prepared for. And a nice addition to the College Board’s bottom line. Let us not forget that Coleman got his start at McKinsey. He is a businessman, not an educator. And the College Board’s relationship with the DOE is good business.

Fred Smith, a testing expert who worked many years at the New York City Board of Education, has become a mentor to the opt-out movement in New York. In this article, which was published in the New York Daily News, Smith writes, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the half-truth, the partial truth and nothing like the truth? Apparently, that’s the vow press officers who work for the New York State Education Department take.”

“Why was half of Thursday’s announcement of the 2014 test results devoted to testimonials, mainly from selected superintendents, on how educational gains are being made due to implementation of the Common Core?”

Smith writes that:

“The 2014 tests were given in April and scored in May, with the results and press release issued in August. Why the delay. The same pattern was followed in 2013.

“The delay is unexplained, and it feeds suspicions that the state is sitting on the results trying to figure out the most advantageous way to package them.”

Under pressure from parents, the state released half the test questions. Smith wonders, why not release them all? By the time teachers get the test results, the children are no longer in their class. Nor do teachers learn which questions their students got right or wrong. If teachers can’t learn anything about their students other than whether he or she was rated as a 1, 2, 3, o4, of what value is the test?

The state’s contract with Pearson stipulates that test questions may not be used again, so why not release to the public the entire test that the public paid for?

Sarah Garland, writing for the HECHINGER Report, says that the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” (1983) laid the groundwork for today’s regime of high-takes testing, longer school hours, and tougher accountability measures. The conservative Republicans he quotes express satisfaction with the Obama administration’s embrace of their agenda. The enduring puzzle: who stole the Democratic agenda of equity and teacher professionalism?

The Vermont State Board of Education adopted a resolution on assessment and accountability with a message: We will not let the federal government bully our children. We read research and incorporate it into our policy decisions. This set of principles and resolutions could serve as a guide for every state and school district about the appropriate uses of assessment and the true goals of education in our society.

Vermont State Board of Education

Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Adopted August 19, 2014

The Vermont State Board of Education is committed to ensuring that all students develop the knowledge, capabilities and dispositions they need to thrive as citizens in their communities, higher education and their careers in the 21st century. The Board of Education’s Education Quality Standards (EQS) rules aim to ensure that all students in Vermont public schools are afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality, and enable them to achieve or exceed the standards approved by the State Board of Education.

These rules were designed to ensure continuous improvement in student performance, instruction and leadership, so that all students are able to develop high levels of skill and capability across seven essential domains: literacy, mathematics, scientific inquiry and knowledge, global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression, and transferable 21st century skills.

To achieve these goals, educators need to make use of diverse indicators of student learning and strengths, in order to comprehensively assess student progress and adjust their practice to continuously improve learning. They also need to document the opportunities schools provide to further the goals of equity and growth.

Uniform standardized tests, administered across all schools, are a critical tool for schools’ improvement efforts. Without some stable and valid external measure, we cannot evaluate how effective we are in our efforts to improve schools and learning. Standardized tests – along with teacher-developed assessments and student work samples — can give educators and citizens insight into the skills, knowledge and capabilities our students have developed.

What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress.

Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth.

Along a related dimension, the American Psychological Association wrote:

“(N)o test is valid for all purposes. Indeed, tests vary in their intended uses and in their ability to provide meaningful assessments of student learning. Therefore, while the goal of using large-scale testing to measure and improve student and school system performance is laudable, it is also critical that such tests are sound, are scored properly, and are used appropriately.”

Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation.

Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.

1. The Proper Role of Standardized Testing – The purpose of any large scale assessment must be clearly stated and the assessments must be demonstrated as scientifically and empirically valid for that purpose(s) prior to their use. This includes research and verification as to whether a student’s performance on tests is actually predictive of performance on other indicators we care about, including post-secondary success, graduation rates and future employment.

In addition, standardized test results should be used only in concert with a diverse set of measures that capture evidence of student growth and school impact across all important outcomes outlined in the Education Quality Standards.

2. Public Reporting Requirement – It is a state and local obligation to report on the quality of the schools to the citizenry. Standardized testing is part of this reporting obligation. The state board encourages local public reporting of a diverse and comprehensive set of school quality indicators in local school, faculty and community communications.

3. Judicious and Proportionate Testing – The State Board of Education advocates for reducing the amount of time spent on summative, standardized testing and encourages the federal government to reduce the current requirements for annual testing in multiple subjects in every grade, 3-8, and then again in high school. Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes.

4. Test Development Criteria – Any broad scale standardized assessment used in the state of Vermont must be developed and used appropriately in accord with the principles adopted by the American Educational Research Association, the National Council on Measurement in Education, and the American Psychological Association.

5. Value-added scores – Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. A strong body of recent research has found that there is no valid method of calculating “value-added” scores which compare pass rates from one year to the next, nor do current value-added models adequately account for factors outside the school that influence student performance scores. Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose.

6. Mastery level or Cut-Off scores – While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined, cut-off scores; employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. The skills needed for success in society are rich and diverse. Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical.
The use of cut-off scores reports findings only at one point on a statistical distribution. Scale scores provide significantly more information. They allow a more valid disaggregation of scores by sub-group, provide better measures of progress and provide a more comprehensive view of achievement gaps.

7. Use of cut scores and proficiency categories for reporting purposes – Under NCLB states are required to report school level test results in terms of the Percentage of Proficient Students. The federally mandated reporting method has several well-documented negative effects that compromise our ability to meaningfully examine schools’ improvement efforts:

 Interpretations based on “percent proficient” hides the full range of scores and how they have changed. Thus, underlying trends in performance are often hidden.

 The targets established for proficiency are subjectively determined and are not based on research. Interpretations based on “percent proficient” also lack predictive validity.

 Modest changes to these subjective cut scores can dramatically affect the percent of students who meet the target. Whether a cut score is set high or low arbitrarily changes the size of the achievement gap independent of the students’ learning. Thus, the results can be misleading.

So that we can more validly and meaningfully describe school- and state-level progress, the State Board of Education endorses reporting performance in terms of scale scores and standard deviations rather than percent proficient. We will comply with federal requirements, but will emphasize defensible and useful reporting metrics.

8. The Federal, State and Local Obligation for Assuring Adequacy and Equality of Opportunity – Much as the state must insure a high quality education for all children, the school must be provided with adequate and equitable resources from the federal, state and local governments and must use these resources wisely and judiciously. Thus, any report on a school based on the state’s EQS standards must also include a report on the adequacy of resources provided by or to that school in light of the school’s unique needs. Such evaluations shall address the adequacy of resources, the judicious use of resources and identify any deficiencies.

Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Vermont State Board of Education

WHEREAS, our nation and Vermont’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s and the state’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in the nation’s public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, a compelling body of national research shows the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in areas such as narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.

I apologize to you, dear readers, in advance, but I must ask you to read the latest balderdash written by someone who works for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. From my days working in the U.S. Department of Education in 1991-93, I know full well that Cabinet Secretaries have several writers and don’t actually write anything themselves. Okay, so this latest statement from Duncan says that there is too much emphasis on testing. Testing is taking the joy out of teaching. It is sucking the oxygen out of the nation’s classrooms. Nowhere does he acknowledge that his very own Race to the Top demanded more high-stakes testing, demanded that teachers’ evaluations depend on the test scores of their students. Nowhere does he acknowledge his cheerleading for VAM–value-added measurement–or his hearty congratulations to the Los Angeles Times when it published the ratings of teachers based on the test scores of their students. Over the past five years, we have learned that what Arne says bears little relation to what he does. In the same breath, as this statement shows, he is both for and against testing. He seems not to see the connection between toxic testing and the policies he has put in place.

Fortunately, two of our best thinkers have written excellent responses to the new Duncan line on testing.

Anthony Cody says that Duncan is responding to the call of Gates for a moratorium (the point is illustrated by an old advertisement for a phonograph that said “his master’s voice”). He also believes the new tack is Duncan’s response to polls that show a decline in support for the Common Core. Cody points out that the most onerous demands for high-stakes testing were initiated by Arne Duncan. What is Duncan really offering, asks Cody: a one-year moratorium on the punishments attached to testing.

Cody writes:

“But a one year deferral does not do much to fundamentally alter the systemic change that is under way. The new Common Core tests are still being rolled out and will be given this coming spring. This only amounts to a one year delay to the time when those scores will be used for evaluative purposes.

“Duncan makes it clear that the purpose of this delay is to allow for a successful transition to the new standards, testing and evaluation systems. There is actually no real change in any of the substance of any of these programs, and he reiterates the Department’s commitment to the new tests.

“If Duncan is serious in his concern about tests are “sucking the oxygen” out of schools, he should begin to listen to teachers when they tell him to stop using these tests for their evaluations and to close schools. Until then, test scores will continue to rob children of the vital learning environments they need, and teachers will continue to object.”

Peter Greene also has a withering analysis of Duncan’s new line on testing.

Greene writes:

“Duncan is shocked– shocked!!– that anyone would think it’s a good idea to make a high stakes test the measure of student achievement or teacher effectiveness. “Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone –” And here comes the vertiginous woozies (dibs on this as a band name) again, because that would be a heartening quote if it did not come from the very same office which decreed that by order of the federal government high stakes tests must be used as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Duncan is talking about this test-based evaluation of students and teachers as if it just spontaneously occurred, like some sort of weird virus suddenly passed around at state ed department sleepover camp, and not a rule that Duncan’s office demanded everyone follow. Has Duncan forgotten that he just made the entire state of Washington declare itself a Failing School Disaster Zone precisely because they refused to use high stakes tests as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness?”

And Greene adds:

“As far as Duncan’s other concerns go– a year will not matter. Much of what he decries is the direct result of making the stakes of these tests extremely high. Student success, teacher careers, school existence all ride on The Test. As long as they do, it is absurd to imagine that The Test will not dominate the school landscape. And that domination is only made worse by the many VAMtastic faux formulas in circulation.

[Says Duncan: Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.]

Oh, the woozies. Duncan’s office needs to do one thing, and one thing only– remove the huge stakes from The Test. Don’t use it to judge students, don’t use it to judge teachers, don’t use it to judge schools and districts. It’s that attachment of huge stakes– not any innate qualities of The Test itself– that has created the test-drive joy-sucking school-deadening culture that Duncan both creates and criticizes. If the department doesn’t address tat, it will not matter whether we wait one year or ten– the results will be the same.

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