Archives for category: Testing

New York State’s Education Department has warned teachers that they can be fired and lose their teaching license if they discuss the Common Core tests they graded. The New York State United Teachers has filed a federal challenge to this restriction of teachers’ First Amendment rights. This is an integral aspect of the secrecy that surrounds the Common Core tests. Teachers are not allowed to know what their own students got right or wrong. They are not allowed to discover what their students learned or failed to learn. And if they graded the tests, they can be fired for talking about what they saw.

John Ogozolak, a teacher in upstate New York wrote me to say:

“The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday of behalf of five teachers who are challenging “confidentiality agreements” they were made to sign prior to grading state exams in 2014. The gag orders threaten teachers with punishment for even mentioning what they saw on the exams and restrict the teachers’ rights to talk freely in public as citizens. The punishment could include the revoking of teaching licenses and even criminal prosecution. According to a NYSUT press release,

“The suit charges SED’s rules unconstitutionally make teachers’ speech conditional on government approval while establishing a ‘system to police the free exchange of ideas and opinions regarding its compulsory and costly testing regime.'”

“It’s all somewhat amazing, really. Yes, I guess I’ve been somewhat naive all these years. Who would have ever thought it would come to this in our great country? Citizens in Hong Kong have been fighting all week for their rights and look what is happening in our own backyards, courtesy of the apparatchiks at the NYS Education Department. I guess the testmongers there believe that their bureacratic process of creating useless exams as well as the proprietary rights of the billionaires who are their corporate overlords trump our individual First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Who will be able to speak out for our students?

“And, what lesson does this crackdown really send to our kids? It certainly has a chilling effect on the rights to free speech in our public schools. My nominees for the 2014 Education Hall of Shame: NYS Commissioner of Education John B. King and all his enablers on the Board of Regents and at the NYS Education Department and as well as all those spineless lawmakers who are letting them get away with this power grab. Of course, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo is already there to welcome you to the Hall of Shame.

“I’m imagining a protest involving thousands of teachers and parents across New York State who for just a few minutes some morning at the start of the school day put black electrical tape over their mouths to draw attention to this outrage. And, wouldn’t it be great if our friends in the media world join us, too, in making that point? I’m wondering if the New York Times, those self-proclaimed protectors of the First Amendment, would have to cover that story then? If only…… “

Alyson Klein of Education Week reports that the powerful in Congress are beginning to hear the massive discontent of parent, educators, and local school boards about the excessive testing imposed on the schools by No Child Left Behind, and multiplied by Race to the Top. Some districts are developing standardized tests for pre-tests and post-tests. Some are creating standardized tests for pre-schoolers. Since most of the testing is going to be online, the tech industry is beside itself with joy. The testing industry is clapping its hands with delight. But parents are furious. They don’t see why their children spend so many hours taking tests. They don’t understand why their schools have cut back on teachers of the arts and on librarians and nurses, all to fund the new testing. Teachers rail against the loss of instructional time to testing mandates, which then require periodic assessments and test prep.

 

It is amusing that the article finds only one defender of the regime of nonstop annual testing: Sandy Kress, who was not only the architect of No Child Left Behind but is a paid lobbyist in Texas for Pearson whose nearly $500 million contract is being reviewed now.

 

My view: how about a 5-year moratorium on standardized testing, except for diagnostic testing that has no stakes for students or teachers? Let’s find out what it feels like to have standardized-test-free zones in schools. Let’s find out what happens when teachers write their own tests, based on what they taught. Let’s follow the example of Exeter, Andover, Lakeside Academy, Sidwell Friends, and other great schools where standardized testing is kept to a bare minimum if  used at all. Dream, imagine a better world, make it happen.

 

How can we make it happen sooner? Opt out. Don’t let your children take the tests. Let them take as many tests as they give at Lakeside Academy and Sidwell Friends. No more.

Jack Schneider, historian of education, has written a powerful column about why education is actually harder than rocket science.

 

He explains that reform after reform has failed because the reformers think that it is easy to change teaching and learning. It is easy (in their eyes) because they went to school, they were students. But they know nothing about how children learn, they know nothing about children with disabilities, they know nothing about child development. So, armed with ignorance, they assume they can “fix” education by eliminating unions or tenure or imposing a new curriculum or creating a computer-driven metric for evaluating teachers.

 

Thus, elected officials pass law after law, claiming they are “reforming” education, when they are only creating mandates that remove teachers’ professional autonomy.

 

Would they dare to tell rocket scientists at NASA how to do their work? Of course not. They respect rocket scientists, and the politicians know the limits of their knowledge. But when it comes to education, they feel free to impose mandates and interfere with the work of experienced teachers.

 

And that is why “reforms” imposed by politicians in DC and state capitols fail again and again and will always fail.

 

Schneider writes:

 

Imagine Congress exerting control over NASA through a bill like No Child Left Behind, or coercing policy shifts through a program like Race to the Top. Or well-intended organizations like Teach For America jumping into the fray—recruiting talented college graduates and placing them on the job as rocket scientists. Or philanthropists deciding to apply lessons from their successes in domains like DVD rentals to “disrupt” the NASA “monopoly.”

How long would any of this be taken seriously?

The point here is not that various groups involved in school reform should disengage from the field. Their energy and financial support can play a critical role in supporting communities and their schools. And for all their arrogance and errors, reformers have helped turn the nation’s attention to the importance of public education. NASA should be so lucky.

But the egotism and ignorance of the so-called education reform movement are all too often on display. Because the work of improving schools isn’t as simple as reformers believe.

Reformers would know this if they spent their days in schools. But most do not. Unlike working educators, most leaders in the reform movement have never taught a five-period day, felt the joy of an unquantifiable classroom victory, lost instructional time to a standardized test, or been evaluated by a computer. And unlike the vulnerable students targeted by so much reform, most policy elites have not gone to school hungry, struggled to understand standard English, battled low expectations, or feared for their personal safety on the walk home.

 

The other day when I was in Connecticut, an experienced teacher told me about his students. He teaches special education. His students are in ninth grade but they read at a third-to-fourth grade level. Reformers think they should be reading at ninth grade level. Arne Duncan wants them all enrolled in Advanced Placement classes. Why not invite legislators and governors and even Arne Duncan to teach that class for a day, even an hour. They are totally out of touch with reality. There are real children with real learning issues. Their teachers are heroic. They should not be evaluated by those who know nothing of teaching and learning.

 

I do not give “reformers” credit for turning the nation’s attention to “the importance of public education.” The reformers have created  world of illusion, in which 100% of children will succeed, regardless of their circumstances. If they don’t, blame their teachers. This is pie in the sky. It is unrealistic. It is a display of staggering and harmful ignorance.

 

The reformers are hurting children. They are undermining the teaching profession. They are damaging public education. They should be held accountable. And politicians should get out of the way, fund the schools appropriately, and shower respect on those who do the hard work of educating children.

 

 

Jeff Bryant, a sharp observer of education trends, points out that the well-funded corporate reform movement has hit a brick wall: they have lost the PR war against public schools and teachers, and they know it. It turns out that the public really does support their public schools, really does respect teachers, and thinks that their local public schools need more resources.

 

The evidence is everywhere, especially in their own publications. They write that they want a new conversation; they want a restart on accountability; they know that the public is rising up against their obsession with standardized testing. They surely know (although they don’t admit it) that charter schools do not outperform public schools unless they engage in skimming, and that many for-profit charter chains are frauds and scams that promise the moon but take public money away from public schools while providing a third-rate education to hapless children lured in by their advertising.

 

Do the reformers have any new ideas? No, it is the same old, same old. They will not give up their obsession with standardized testing; they will not give up their faith in test-based evaluation of teachers; they will not abandon their love of charters and other forms of privatization.

 

When you hear the reformers denouncing budget cuts or racial segregation or for-profit schools, when you hear them call for reduced class sizes and higher standards for new teachers, then you can believe in their sincere reformation. Until then, it is old wine in new bottles. Or old wine in old bottles, rebranded.

The Common Core standards are copyrighted. The copyright belongs to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Theoretically, states are not allowed to alter them. States can add standards, but they cannot alter what has already been written,  which is treated as a holy scripture or the two tablets brought down from Mount Sinai. This, in fact, is a major defect of the standards, because there is a protocol for standard-writing, which the CCSS violates. That protocol, described very clearly by the American National Standards Institute, says that any standard-writing process must include a means of revising them; CCSS does not. It also says that all stakeholders must be involved in the discussion; this was not true for CCSS. And it says that no single interest should dominate standard-writing (as the Gates Foundation did by paying for everything).

 

Mercedes Schneider brings up another worrisome, if speculative point: since the CCSS are copyrighted, could the holders of the copyright sell it? The likeliest buyer, of course, would be Pearson. Suppose Pearson offered the two D.C.-based organizations $100 million? Would they refuse it? In that case, a private, for-profit organization based in the United Kingdom would be sole owner of the United States’ standards. Why not? It makes about as much sense as having the “national standards” developed and written by a committee that included no classroom teachers, a committee led by a Yale- and Oxford-educated entrepreneur who had never taught, a committee that included no experts on cognition or early childhood education, a committee that had an ample representation from the testing industry.

 

Some supporters of CCSS think that the standards could be used all by themselves, disconnected from the testing. But that is not the plan. The plan is a system. The system begins with standards, then testing, then teacher evaluation based on the testing, the testing must all be done online, which makes possible data mining and the creation of a longitudinal data base that follows children from pre-Kindergarten through at least the end of high school. At every step along the way, some corporation has a stake in the process: the testing industry, the technology industry, the consultants who sell teacher evaluation rubrics, the data mining entrepreneurs whose numbers are multiplying, the Big Data industry. I am sorry if this sounds conspiratorial. I don’t believe in conspiracies. It is all out there in the open.

The school board in Portland, Oregon, may refuse to set annual achievement goals, in a show of resistance to Common Core testing.

“A month after asking the state to delay using Common Core-aligned state test results to grade schools, the Portland School Board appears ready to back that effort up with a refusal to set yearly achievement targets in three subjects linked to the new test.

“The board is set to vote next week upon the district’s proposed yearly goals for student achievement – which conspicuously don’t include targets for third grade reading, fifth-grade math and eighth-grade math.

“Oregon law requires school districts to file the yearly “achievement compacts” with the Oregon Education Investment Board, spelling out the district’s goals in areas such as student attendance, graduation rates, and state test pass rates. But during a meeting Monday night, the district committee charged with setting yearly targets declined to address the three subject areas linked to the state’s new Smarter Balanced Test, which is launching this year.

“The test, which students will take in the spring, replaces the longstanding Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. It is aligned with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, a controversial new set of criteria for measuring student achievement.”

The board is not convinced that the test is either valid or reliable and refuses to be pushed into endorsing a new test based on controversial standards.

If you were around in 2000, you surely remember George W. Bush’s boasts of a “Texas miracle.” I heard it often. Testing and accountability, applied every year to every child, had raised test scores and narrowed the gap between white and black students. Based on that Texas Brag, the nation got No Child Left Behind.

It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

Consider this: Texas students just registered the lowest score on the SAT math in 22 years. The reading score was almost as bad.

Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News writes:

“AUSTIN — Texas high school students slipped to their lowest SAT math scores in more than two decades this year, while reading scores on the college entrance exam were the second lowest during that period.

“Results being released Tuesday by the College Board, which administers the exam, showed that the average score on the math section of the SAT dropped four points from last year to 495. That was the lowest figure since 1992, when Texas students recorded an average score of 493. A perfect score is 800.

“In reading, the Class of 2014 in Texas scored an average 476. That was down slightly from last year but still two points better than their worst showing in the past two decades. That occurred in 2012.

“In writing, Texas students registered an average 461 for the third year in a row.

“Students across the U.S. saw their scores in math drop slightly. But the long-standing achievement gap between Texas and the nation grew significantly this year. In reading, the average score nationwide increased slightly and remained well above the average in Texas.

“State education officials have attributed the declining SAT scores in Texas to an increase in the number of minority students taking the exam. Minorities generally perform worse than white students on standardized achievement tests like the SAT and ACT, the nation’s two leading college entrance exams.

“However, California students outperformed Texans by big margins this year — 15 points in math and 22 points in reading.

“Demographics of the student populations in the two states are similar: California is 52.7 percent Hispanic and 25.5 percent white, while Texas is 51.3 percent Hispanic and 30 percent white.

“In addition, more than 60 percent of seniors in both states took the SAT. School districts have in recent years encouraged students to take either the SAT or ACT to get them thinking about what to do after high school.”

“The drop in SAT math scores is likely to rekindle debate over the state’s recent decision to no longer require that all high school students take Algebra II. Over the objections of business and minority-rights groups, the Legislature and State Board of Education dropped Algebra II as a requirement except for students in advanced graduation plans.

“Among those groups were the Texas Association of Business and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Bill Hammond, a former Texas House member who leads the influential business group, said at the time that the state’s retreat on Algebra II and other more challenging courses “dooms generations of students to a mediocre education and low-wage jobs.” Hammond also pointed out that research shows students who skip the course get lower scores in math on the SAT and ACT and are less prepared for college.”

Ah, yes, Bill Hammond, the man who raised no objection to multi-billion dollar budget cuts, the man who thinks that more tests cure all problems.

If Texas doesn’t restore all of the $5.3 billion cut from the public schools in 2011, why should it expect better results? Stop funding Pearson and start funding students.

FairTest
National Center for Fair & Open Testing

Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468

SAT SCORE TREND REMAINS FLAT;

TEST-FIXATED SCHOOL POLICIES HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS

EVEN AS MEASURED BY OTHER STANDARDIZED EXAMS

SAT scores for the nation’s high school seniors continue to stagnate according to data being released on Tuesday by the test’s sponsor, the College Board. Overall SAT averages have dropped by 21 points since 2006 when the test was last revised. Gaps between racial groups increased, often significantly over that period.

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), said, “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ and similar state-level programs promised the testing focus would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in futility, not meaningful school improvement. Nor will revising the SAT, as currently planned, address the nation’s underlying educational issues.”

Schaeffer continued, “At the same time, the number of schools dropping SAT and ACT admissions exams requirements has soared. This year at least 14 more colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies for all or many applicants.” A list of more than 840 such bachelor-degree granting institutions is posted at http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS SAT SCORES — with score changes from 2006*

READING MATH WRITING TOTAL
ALL TEST-TAKERS 497 (- 6) 513 (- 5) 487 (-10) 1497 (-21)

* High school graduates in the class of 2006 were the first to take the SAT “Writing” Test. The “No Child Left Behind” mandate to test every child in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school went into effect in the 2005-2006 academic year.

More details on 2014 SAT score trends and an extended analysis will be posted at fairtest.org after the College Board’s public release of the results

When is cheating not cheating? When it happens in a charter school whose owner is politically powerful. When it threatens the very foundations of test-based accountability, the foundation of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.

The story begins:

“The odds that 11th-graders at Strawberry Mansion High School would have randomly erased so many wrong answers on the math portion of their 2009 state standardized test and then filled in so many right ones were long. Very, very long. To be precise, they were less than one in a duodecillion, according to an erasure analysis performed for the state Department of Education.

“In short, there appeared to be cheating — and it didn’t come as a total surprise. In 2006, student members of Youth United for Change protested being forced out of class for test-preparation sessions and won concessions from the district. In 2010, principal Lois Powell-Mondesire left Strawberry Mansion; after her departure, test scores dropped sharply.

“But despite the erasure analysis and those suspicious circumstances, neither Powell-Mondesire nor any other teacher or administrator at Strawberry Mansion was ever disciplined. On the contrary, Powell-Mondesire was promoted — to a job at school-district headquarters, earning more than $145,000 as a “turnaround principal” charged with helping other administrators boost student achievement. (Powell-Mondesire, who retired July 1, could not be reached for comment. Neither the District nor the state would say whether her exit was related to the cheating investigation.)…

“After all, politically, the state would have a great deal to lose by prosecuting cheaters. Some of the most damning evidence of cheating has come from Philadelphia, a district run by the state since 2002, and from charters, including a Chester school run by a prominent leader in Pennsylvania’s self-described school-reform movement who is a backer of Gov. Tom Corbett. But more than that, bubble tests have become the high-stakes centerpiece of American public education; when the scores are tainted, it could throw an entire way of running schools into question.

“Given the scope of the issue and the lack of action since, it appears Pennsylvania is covering up one of the country’s largest cheating scandals — and doing so in plain sight.”

As you may have noticed, we are getting swamped with messages from the corporate reformers about how it is time to restart the conversation. Presumably that is a recognition that the previous conversation wasn’t working. The American public is fed up with high-stakes testing and increasingly suspicious of the grandiose promises about the miracles that privately managed charter schools will accomplish. Having noticed that the charter schools don’t want children with disabilities, don’t want English language learners, and are likely to encourage kids with low test scores to find another school, the public is waking up to the game played by corporate charters. It’s all about the test score, which takes us back to the overuse and misuse of standardized testing. This failed conversation seems to have gotten mixed up, inevitably, with the Common Core, and the public is overwhelmingly opposed to CCSS and federal takeover of state and local decision-making.

 

So, in the face of a growing public resistance to their plans, we hear more and more about starting over.

 

In this post, Peter Greene deconstructs the latest effort to begin again, this one from the Center for Reinventing Public Education in Washington State. CRPE was founded by Paul Hill and has been an advocate for “portfolio districts” made up of charter schools, public schools, and other types of management. The basic idea of the portfolio is that district boards should act like stockbrokers, keeping the winning stocks and selling the losers. But the losers, in this case, are public schools that would be closed and replaced by charters.

 

The authors of the proposal that Greene dissects are our friend Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (a relentless advocate for Common Core), Paul Hill, and Robin Lake of CPRE.

 

As you can imagine, Greene is critical of the report, but he does see some useful issues raised. The proposal says:

 

States should hold schools, not individual teachers, accountable for student progress.

 

Hey look! Something that is, in fact, different. Not new, actually– threatening to punish just schools is what we tried under NCLB, and it didn’t work. Not to mention that we don’t know how to do it, just as we don’t know how to hold individual teachers accountable. This is no more useful than saying “Santa should lend us his naughty and nice list for accountability purposes.”

 

The article also provides a list of Things To Worry About While Pursuing Accountability.

 

How to avoid specifying outcomes so exhaustively that schools are unable to innovate and solve problems.
How to drive continuous improvement in all schools, not just the lowest-performing.
How to coordinate and limit federal, state, and district demands for data.
How to prevent cheating on tests and other outcome measures.
How to motivate students to do their best in school and on assessments.
How to give children at risk new options without causing a constant churn in their educational experience.
How to adjust measurement and accountability to innovations in instruction and technology.
This list is actually the best thing about the whole article. There is nothing remotely new about the list of Things To Do– it’s the same old, same old reformster stuff we’ve heard before.

 

But this list of problem areas? That’s a good piece of work, because it does in fact recognize a host of obstacles that generally go ignored and unrecognized. These are “problems” in the sense that gravity is a problem for people who want to jump naked off high buildings, flap their arms, and not get hurt. I don’t know that CRPE, given its clear focus on charters, finance, and high stakes standardized testing, has goals and objectives any different from a few dozen other reformy iterations. But the recognition of obstacles shows some grasp of reality, and that’s always a nice sign.

 

Greene actually sees a hopeful sign in this proposal. The writers say:

 

These problems are solvable, but they require serious work, not sniping among rival camps. It is time to start working through the problems of accountability, with discipline, open-mindedness, and flexibility.

 

“We—all the co-signers of the September 24 statement—are eager to work with others, including critics of tests and accountability. Issues of measurement, system design, and implementation must be addressed, carefully and through disciplined trials.”

 

And Greene responds:

 

I’ll accept that from a step up from, “Shut up and do as you’re told. We totally know exactly what we’re doing.” I’m not seeing much in CRPE’s ideas that represent a new direction on the issue; it’s basically reframing and repackaging. But the recognition of real-world obstacles is more than a simple shift of tone. (And there’s still the Whose Party Is This problem). But keep talking CRPE. I’m still listening.

 

My guess is that the September 24 statement is a recognition that parents and educators are rising up to fight the test mania that has gripped policymakers and state education departments. More and more of the public is saying: “Enough is enough! Stop the testing madness!”

 

In the face of the growing tide of anti-testing sentiment–which is not so much anti-testing as it is opposition to the sheer quantity of time devoted to testing, and the billions stolen from schools to fund Pearson and McGraw-Hill–the reformers are regrouping, trying to find a way to save testing and accountability from a rising public anger. I don’t think it will work. After all, a statement from CPRE is not exactly a big newsworthy deal. The public, quite rightly, will keep on protesting, the government will keep on sending billions to the testing and technology companies, and kids will still be subjected to take tests for many hours each year for no purpose other than evaluating their teachers by failed methods.

 

 

 

 

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