Archives for category: Testing

Stanley Kurtz has a very interesting article at the conservative National Review, calling out Jeb Bush for pretending that he does not really support the Common Core standards and that he is in favor of local control. At the Republican debate last week, Jeb was questioned about his strong support for Common Core, and he equivocated, trying to leave the impression that he had no particular allegiance to Common Core. He said, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum content. That is clearly a state responsibility.”

As Kurtz documents, Jeb has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for Common Core, even though federal involvement in its creation (requiring its adoption as a condition of eligibility for Race to the Top funding) and in directly subsidizing Common Core testing (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment) arguably violates federal law. Federal law explicitly bans any federal interference in curriculum and instruction, and no one can say with a straight face that CCSS has no connection to or influence on curriculum and instruction.

Kurtz is particularly good in describing the Orwellian language of “education reform,” in which reformers say the opposite of what they mean. Readers of this blog have long seen the way that “reformers” twist words to pretend that their corporate-model names and policies are “for the children” (like Students First, Students Matter, Children First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, and other poll-tested obfuscations of reality).

Kurtz writes:

The story of the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted by the states doesn’t end there. A devastating account by The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton (hardly a Geroge Will-style conservative) lays it out. Federal carrots and sticks, along with massive infusions of Gates Foundation money, at a moment when state budgets were stressed to the breaking point by the financial crisis, stampeded more than forty states into adopting a completely untested reform, often sight unseen or before the standards themselves had been finalized.

A deliberative process that ought to have taken years was telescoped into months. In nearly every case, the change was made without a single vote by an elected lawmaker, much less a statewide public debate. And all the while, the Obama administration intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states.

Common Core proponents have concocted a fiction according to which this travesty of federalism and democracy was “state led,” using the fig leaf of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), which helped to develop the plan. CCSSO is a private group, with no known grant of authority from any state. Likewise, NGA is a private group, and seems not to include all governors (the list of dues-paying members has not been made public, at least in previous years). None of this can begin to substitute for a truly “state led” process, which would change education standards via legislatures and governors, after full consultation with the public. The Obama administration has dismissed legitimate complaints about this process as a kind of conspiracy theory, yet its own liberal supporters have praised its tactics as a clever ruse to circumvent the constitutional, legal, and political barriers to a national curriculum.

I am sorry to say that Jeb Bush has been a leading supporter and cheerleader of this process from the start, often portraying what was in fact an illegitimate federal power-grab as a sterling example of local control.

In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.

Kurtz goes on to show how Jeb worked with Obama and Duncan to maintain the fiction that Common Core was “state-led” and was the answer to our problems:

The Washington Post recently reported on Jeb’s appearance with Obama in March of 2011 to push the president’s education agenda. Bush’s alliance with the Obama administration on education policy was in fact broad and deep. They differed on school choice, yet were aligned on much else, Common Core above all.

Consider the following 2010 video of an appearance by Obama education secretary Arne Duncan at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Duncan goes on about how many states have adopted Common Core (between 7:10 and 9:50), while repeatedly denying federal responsibility for the change. The secretary doth protest too much, methinks.

After Duncan’s talk, he and Jeb jointly take questions from the audience. Here it becomes obvious that on education policy, Jeb sees himself as allied with Duncan and Obama — in opposition to local-control-loving conservatives (as well as liberal teachers’ unions). Jeb’s political solution to attacks on the Common Core is to “push the two groups who are not reform-minded further away from what I think is the mainstream.” (See video between 27:30 and 29:30.)

There are two errors in the account above. First, Jeb and Obama do not differ on school choice except for vouchers. It may be awkward for an author to admit in a conservative publication that the Obama administration has been all-in for charters and private management of schools. Duncan has been a cheerleader for privately-managed charters and Common Core. Indeed, the administration has not fought vouchers, even as they spread from state to state. Duncan has been strangely silent on the subject of vouchers. Nor has the Obama administration done anything to defend collective bargaining, other than lip service. On March 11, 2011, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Secretary Duncan were in Miami celebrating the successful turnaround of Miami Central High School, ignoring the thousands of protestors encircling the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was enacting legislation to cripple the public sector unions (but not fire and police unions!).

The second error in Kurtz’s account is to assert that the teachers’ unions were against Common Core. Both the NEA and the AFT were early supporters of Common Core; neither has renounced the standards.

And there is another error in this claim: Bush touts his education accomplishments as Florida governor, and they were real. But Jeb raised a bottom-performing state to average, which is easier than moving from the middle of the pack to the top.

Many critics think that Jeb Bush’s education accomplishments are a sham. His A-F school grading system punishes the schools with the neediest children. His dramatic expansion of charters has created a corrupt industry of hucksters who open and close charters and take the money to the bank. He fought for vouchers, tried to amend the state constitution, but was rebuked at the polls on vouchers by a vote of 58-42. Florida has a lower graduation rate than Alabama. With “accomplishments” like this, he could destroy public education and ruin the nation.

This post was written by Phyliss Doerr, an experienced kindergarten teacher in Néw Jersey.

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.” We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things? “Different stuff.” Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?” “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing. As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.” I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.” It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.

Leonie Haimson, writing on the NYC Parents Blog, wonders whether the New York state tests contain questions as embarrassing as the infamous “Pineapple and the Hare” story, which caused a great national controversy in 2012. Haimson broke the story, and it was covered by almost every national media outlet.

Stay tuned. When Pearson asks a third-grade question about a reading passage that even the author can’t answer, there is a problem. Ya think?

We learned a few days ago that Connecticut will require all juniors to take the SAT instead of the Smarter Balanced Assessments. This is a solution to the problem that most students fail the SBA, and that creates a dilemma: what will the state do with the majority of students who won’t graduate? The SAT doesn’t have a passing mark, no one “fails,” and schools can really use multiple measures.

States will replace PARCC or Smarter Balanced with the SAT because:

1) David Coleman is president of the College Board (salary: $750,000), and he aligned the SAT with Common Core. So, no difference.

2) More than 800 colleges and universities no longer require the SAT, which is a threat to its income.

3) if more and more states require all juniors to take the SAT, it is a huge bonanza for the College Board.

SAT scores are closely correlated with family income, so states will get a close measure of affluence and poverty.

Researchers have. found that high school Grade Point Average and course taking were better predictors of college success than the one-shot SAT. That’s why many colleges have become test-optional.

Question: when did the SAT become a measure of career readiness?

Mercedes Scheider notes that NPR produced a segment about PARCC that glossed over its woeful situation and promoted it as a way to compare students across state lines, ignoring the fact that NAEP has been doing since 1992.

The story gushes over PARCC, but never mentions the number of states that have dropped out or the protests against its validity.

The NPR piece states that PARCC tests are “considered harder than many of the tests they replaced.”

“Harder” is not the same as “better.” Since I wrote a ten-chapter book in ten weeks, I could require my sophomore English students to do the same, and that would indeed be harder than what they are used to, but it is not necessarily better.

It sure would make me look like a “rigorous” teacher. And if anyone complained, I could just brush it off as their not being willing to challenge students to r a i s e t h e b a r.

I could even set a passing cut score, say, if they produced even half of a book. Forget any side effects of such pressure, any self-esteem issues, any loss of the joy of learning, any loss in developing a spectrum of interests and pursuits.

If it cannot be measured, it does not matter. End of story.

Those pushing Common Core have made a lot of airy promises about Common Core being the bar-raising solution to all that ails American public education. And since Common Core has been set up to justify itself, no matter the outcome– no matter if test scores rise or fall– no matter if state education reputations rise or fall in the PARCC-comparison rankings– Common Core as that K12 education center will be absolved of any fault. Its ideologues will still be able to deflect any unseemly results as “poor implementation” and any test-score-founded improvement as “good implementation” and proof that Common Core was what lower- and middle-class America needed all along.

Duane Swacker, teacher and loyal blog discussant, redponds to a comment with a suggestion:

“I teach in SC and we have the same pressure.”

Can we get 50 states chiming in???

I teach in MO and we have the same pressure.

I teach in ____ and we have the same pressure.

Celeste Richter, a highly rated Florida teacher, does not want a bonus for a test she took nearly 25 years ago.

The legislature passed a plan to award $10,000 to teachers who had high SAT scores in high school. The bonus is also available to currents teachers who are rated “highly effective” but only if they had high SAT scores. Veteran teachers may not be able to obtain their SAT scores, or learn whether they were in top 20%, as the law requires.

“I refuse,” said Richter, a highly-effective rated AP government teacher at Wesley Chapel High School. “A test I took in 1991 is not valid to say what a quality educator I am.”

“Richter, who’s entering her 19th year of teaching, isn’t looking up her SAT scores, though she recalls doing well. She doesn’t want the state’s award of up to $10,000, though she really could use it.

“As a moral principle, I don’t believe this is an effective way to reward teachers for a good job,” she said, further noting that the final amount will likely be far less than the maximum. “I’m not going to run after crumbs.”

For standing on principle, for courage and candor, Celeste Richter joins the blog’s honor roll.

Many people think the law is a giveaway to Teach for America, who will earn more than 10-year veterans and leave in two or three years. Its author, Erik Fresen, is a member of a family that owns a large charter chain, Academica.

The New York Times reports today that Connecticut has decided to drop the Smarter Balanced Assessment for 11th graders and require all students to take the SAT instead.

Although it is not clear in the article, it appears that students in other grades will still take the Smarter Balanced tests.

Since David Coleman was “architect” of the Common Core and is now President of the College Board, the SAT will be aligned with the Common Core.

This is, of course, a tremendous financial coup for the College Board, which charges for every student who takes the SAT.

But it will also benefit Connecticut students, because the cut score (passing mark) on the SBA is set so high that most students are certain to fail and would not be eligible to graduate from high school. Connecticut has now finessed that problem.

The federal government requires that states assess students in both reading and math once during high school. Because so many Connecticut public school students take the SAT anyway, replacing the existing high school test, given in 11th grade, with the SAT would leave young people with one exam fewer on their roster.

State officials said that while scores had not yet been set on what would count as meeting or exceeding “achievement level,” a particular score on the SAT would not be required to graduate from high school or to rise to the 12th grade. Instead, the test will be used as one of several measures, including grades and attendance, to decide if a student has met the requirements necessary to move on.

Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department, said that several states, including Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin, already use the ACT college admissions exam to fulfill their high school testing requirement.

Jonathan Pelto reports a very important story from Washington State. As we have learned to expect, a majority of the students in the state “failed” the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Why?because the testing groups set the “cut score” (passing mark) unrealistically high.

Remarkably, the state board of education lowered the cut score so that most students would be able to graduate.

Pelto writes:

“Yup, you read that correctly, after taxpayers were forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing the Common Core and the Common Core Tests and students and teachers wasted unfathomable amounts of time prepping and taking the tests that were designed to label the vast majority of students as failures, the “lead” state behind the SBAC testing scheme simply threw out results.

“Instead of going with the cut score that was adopted by the SBAC coordinating committee last November, an unfair rating system that was adopted with the support of [Connecticut] Governor Dannel Malloy’s representatives, the Washington State Board of Education choose a new “passing” level , “where about as many kids are expected to pass the exams as passed the state’s previous tests.”

Now, Pelto wonders, what will Connecticut do?

His answer:

“Okay everyone – now would be a good time for Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers to start screaming out of utter frustration and anger!

“And then let’s go get the pitchforks!”

The reality is that no one knows how the cut scores were set, whether they actually predict college and career readiness, or why they were set so high that most students fail in every state.

While cleaning up my files, I discovered this excellent article by Alan Ehrenhalt, contributing editor to Governing magazine (and formerly executive editor for 19 years). It was written in 2013, but remains pertinent today.

Ehrenhalt sees through the fraud in the high-stakes testing obsession of our day, in which scores on standardized tests are used to label children, rate teachers, and close schools.

He begins by writing about the Tony Bennett grade-rigging scandal in Indiana, then moves on to Florida, where Jeb Bush launched measurement mania.

He writes:

The Tampa Bay Times newspaper lamented that “after grading schools for 15 years, Florida’s education leaders still cannot get it right.”

One might easily go further and argue that changing the results to make the picture look brighter, whether it involves outright cheating or not, is cause for embarrassment all by itself. If new test questions can have that much effect on a school’s overall performance grade, then why should anybody believe in the integrity of the system?

What’s especially humiliating is that Florida is the birthplace of the school testing movement, the state where former Gov. Jeb Bush decided in 1999 to begin awarding overall letter grades to individual schools to provide information for parents and help assess statewide educational performance. More than a dozen states have begun using a similar system since then, several of them just in the current year. Now they are being told that the Florida model they dutifully copied is too full of flaws to be trusted.

That matters a great deal because a lot more is riding on FCAT test scores than just local bragging rights. If a school receives repeated grades of D or F, it can be required by the state to take a variety of drastic measures, such as making the entire faculty reapply for their jobs, converting the school to a charter or closing it down altogether. So public confidence in the grading process is essential if the state is to have any credibility as a dispenser of draconian educational remedies.

States applying or adapting the Florida model have learned that changing the questions on the test, or switching to a new type of test altogether, can result in wildly fluctuating school grades. School officials in New Mexico this year were delighted to find out that the number of schools receiving A grades had more than doubled in comparison with the results from the year before. Was this the product of innovative new pedagogical techniques? Well, no. It was because the state had abandoned the federally designed No Child Left Behind test and switched to a new one designed by state education experts. Mississippi had a similar experience. Its school test scores went up dramatically because state officials took the expedient step of removing high school graduation rates from the list of test criteria for some schools.

The dramatically higher scores that resulted were a cause for initial state elation. But on further review, they raised another serious question. If the testing process is based on solid educational research, then the results from different tests ought to be reasonably congruent. If the results are dramatically disparate, there is a disturbing suggestion that the people writing the tests aren’t sure what it is they are supposed to be measuring.

Then he shifts his focus to Maine:

Maine is another state that has endured a season of controversy based on the introduction of its new school grading procedures. Gov. Paul LePage, a tireless advocate of school measurement, pushed through a new system this year based largely on the Florida model. Schools were evaluated on student test scores in reading and math; the percentage of students who had shown improvement in their scores during the past year, especially among the bottom 25 percent; graduation rates among upper-level students; and percentage of students who take the national SAT exam.

When the statewide results were tallied, Maine’s schools averaged a C grade—a reasonable enough sounding score. But when researchers in the state began looking at the results in greater detail, they found something that disturbed them. What the tests were really tracking was demographics. Schools in poorer communities around the state nearly all finished lower than their counterparts in affluent suburbs, regardless of academic methods. High schools that were graded A had an average of 9 percent of their students on free or reduced price lunch. Schools that got an F had 61 percent of their students receiving subsidized lunches. To a great extent, the test was simply a measure of poverty, not school quality.

He recognizes that testing has become a problem in itself:

It is hard not to conclude in the end that the school testing movement represents a popular fad in educational policy that is desperately lacking in either substantive methodology or common sense. Its fundamental assumption, underneath all the jargon, is that schools fail because they just aren’t trying hard enough, not because they are being asked to educate pupils who are culturally and socially unprepared to learn. Cooking the books on the tests won’t do anything to solve this problem. All it will do, when the extent of the mischief is revealed, is undermine public confidence in the entire enterprise of school testing.

We have gotten into the business of measuring school performance with precise testing numbers because it’s something we know how to measure. In doing so, we leave aside the subtler and more personal things that teachers and principals do all the time to make their schools function in an orderly way and disseminate as much learning as they possibly can. In the words of Roger Jones, a professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia, one of the states that enacted an A-F grading system this year: “We have gotten so caught up in testing that we have lost sight of a true education.”


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