Andy Smarick is a reformer with a low opinion of public schools, like other reformers. But in some of his writings, he has shown a willingness to challenge the formulaic party line of corporate reform.

In this post, he disagrees with his fellow reformers who scoff at parents who opt out. As he shows, the reformer party line is that parents who opt out are white suburbanites who fear accountability for their children and their teachers and don’t care about closing the achievement gap.

Smarick says that the opt out movement is a test of reformers’ humility. Will they stop scoffing at parents long enough to hear them?

Smarick writes:

“I don’t want to infer too much about these individuals’ [reformers] intentions. But I’m worried that such statements, when taken together, give the impression that education reform believes that the opinions of white or middle-class families should be viewed with skepticism or antipathy.

“Non-poor, non-minority families love their kids and have every right to participate in the public debate about public education. I’m a strong supporter of assessments and accountability, and I wouldn’t opt out. But I think it’s unfair to discount the views of those who disagree, and it would be untoward to suggest they don’t care about other kids or are insensitive to issues of race and income.

“My reading of the situation is that a significant number of American families have misgivings about what’s happening in their public schools. Most of the issues about which they have concerns—whether it’s standards, assessments, teacher evaluation, or something else—are policies developed at the state or federal level.

“Had these policies been created locally, families could petition their local school boards for redress. But now, unable to change decisions made by faraway state and federal policymakers, these families are employing a kind of civil disobedience. They are using the power they do have—to decline participation in state tests—to demonstrate their frustration with the status quo.”

I salute Smarick for recognizing that opt out parents are not tools of the unions, racists, dolts, or helicopter parents. He deserves credit for acknowledging that parents who opt out have no other way of making kmown their opposition to the status quo of high-stakes testing. When these decisions are made by politicians who would be unable to pass the tests they are imposing, it is doubly galling.

It would be good if reformers showed understanding of what is happening on the ground. Children as young as eight take tests in reading and math that may require 7 or 8 hours. Does that seem right? Why should a test in basic skills require so much time? Many adults would find it hard to sit for so long being tested.

Many teachers have reported that the tests are two grade levels above the students’ actual grade. This guarantees a high failure rate?

Teachers also criticize test questions with more than one plausible answer or passages that are confusing.

Do reformers agree with the testmakers’ demand that test questions never are released, that neither teachers or students are allowed to discuss the tests? Do they think it is reasonable that the tests report a score but release no individual report about what the student got right or wrong?

Why is it valuable to have a score for every student but nothing more? How can these scores, when aggregated, improve curriculum or instruction or help students?

I appreciate Andy Smarick’s willingness to listen. I hope he continues to do so.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Néw York Board of Regents, has delayed implementation of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s draconian and misguided plan to evaluate teachers by test scores.

When Néw York sought Race to the Top money, it promised that test scores would count for 20%. Under pressure from Governor Cuomo, the proportion rose to 40%. Cuomo was angry when almost every teacher was rated effective or highly effective. He wanted to fire teachers. Tisch wrote a letter to Chomo agreeing with his demand to raise the testing proportion to 50%.

The legislature caved during budget negotiations and passed a “matrix” that implies 50% but left the final determination to the Regents. Tisch decided more time was necessary and extended the deadline.

The sad part of this drama is that no one ever refers to research. Numerous studies and reports have refuted the validity of test scores for measuring teacher quality. Start with the American Statistical Association’s statement on VAM. There are too many variables that the teacher does not control that influence test scores.

The current dispute seems to be about whether to misjudge teacher quality sooner or later.

Randi Weingarten is on her way to speak at the Network for Public Education’s second annual conference in Chicago this weekend.

But she detoured to London to attend the Pearson shareholder meeting. She took the opportunity to tell Pearson to stop spying on children through their social media accounts. And she requested that Pearson stop lobbying and making campaign contributions to politicians for the sake of their testing business.

I am not sure that the folks at Prstson ever heard such straight talk.

MOOCs are Massive Open Onliine Courses. Many see them as the grand destiny for higher education, opening access for all at a low price. Some courses are taught simultaneously to thousands of students by star professors.

But here is a shocking statistic, reported by politico.com:

“A dismal 7 percent of MOOC students finish their courses.”

I can imagine huge improvements in online courses. They could take advantage of graphics and intetactive tools. Maybe they are the future. But we aren’t there yet.

Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest has kept track of computerized testing systems. They have failed in seven states:  Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

U.S. COMPUTERIZED TESTING PROBLEMS: 2013 – 2015

compiled by National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)

The ongoing litany of computer exam administration failures reinforces the conclusion that the technologies rushed into the marketplace by political mandates and the companies paid to implement them are not ready for prime time. It makes no sense to attach high-stakes consequences to such deeply flawed tools

Updates to this list will be posted at: http://fairtest.org/computerized-testing-problems-2013-2015

2015

INDIANA – “ISTEP Testing a Mess Again This Year,” WISH-TV, April 23, 2015

MINNESOTA – “Minnesota Suspends Statewide Testing Amid Technical Woes,” Minnesota Public Radio, April 21, 2015

NEVADA – “Breach of Contract Declared After Common Core Testing Crash,” KOLO-TV, April 21, 2015

FLORIDA –“Statewide Computer Glitch Causes More School Testing Woes,” Ocala Star Banner, April 20, 2015

NEVADA – “Common Core Test Crashes Again on First Day Back,” Associated Press, April 20, 2015

MONTANA — “Montana Lets Schools Cancel Smarter Balanced Testing After Technical Woes,” Education Week, April 15, 2015

NORTH DAKOTA – “More Glitches Plague Standardized Tests,” Bismarck Tribune, April 15, 2015

COLORADO – “Technical Difficulties Cause Statewide Shutdown of Standardized Testing in Colorado,” Colorado Springs Gazette, April 15, 2015

MINNESOTA – “Minnesota Student Assessments Snarled by Computer Crash,” Pioneer Press, April 15, 2015

WISCONSIN – “Latest Glitch Delays Common Core Testing in Wisconsin,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 26, 2015

COLORADO – “Computer Attack During Standardized Testing Delays Some Exams in Colorado Springs School District,” Colorado Springs Gazette, March 20, 2015

RHODE ISLAND – “Computer Glitch Forces Postponement of PARCC Tests in Bristol,” Providence Journal, March 17, 2015

CALIFORNIA – “New State Standardized Tests Begin After Rocky Trial Run,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2015.

FLORIDA – “Amid Technical Problems, Miami-Dade School System Postpones New Tests,” Miami Herald, March 2, 2015

GEORGIA – “Milestones Online Student Testing System Crashes in Test Run,” Athens Banner-Herald, January 21, 2015

ILLINOIS – “After Computer Hiccup, PARCC Test Up and Running at District 308,” Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2015

INDIANA – “Trial Run of ISTEP+ Online Exam Reveals Connection Issues,” Associated Press, January 16, 2015 and “When Testing Technology Fails, Students Fear They Will Too,” State Impact Indiana, February 5, 2015

MAINE – “Commissioner: State Will Look Into Lewiston Online Testing Concerns,” Sun-Journal, February 5, 2015

NEW JERSEY – “PARCC Tests Postponed at One School After Glitch,” NJ.com, February 20, 2015 and “Possible Hacking Postpones Tests in Union Township,” NJ.com, March 3, 2015

2014

ARKANSAS – “Dardanelle Experiences Testing Problems,” Courier News, May 13, 2014

CALIFORNIA – “State’s New Computerized Exam Tryout Plagued by Glitches,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2014

CONNECTICUT – “Stamford’s Common Core Testing Problematic,” Stamford Advocate, July 25, 2014

FLORIDA – “Computer Problems Shut Down FCAT Testing in Pasco, Hernando and Across the State,” Tampa Bay Times, April 22, 2014

INDIANA – “New ISTEP Glitches Put Educators on Edge,” Indianapolis Star, April 24, 2014

KANSAS – “Kansas Education Officials Extend State Testing Period Amid Computer Glitches,” The Wichita Eagle, March 30, 2014, and “Kansas Won’t Release Data From Reading, Math Tests,” Associated Press, July 8, 2014

MARYLAND – “Field-Testing of Common Core Exams Gets Off to a Shaky Start at MD High School,” Education Week, April 3, 2014 and “Md. School System Raises Concerns About Readiness for PARCC Common Core Exams,” Washington Post, November 9, 2014

NEBRASKA – “Problems With State Writing Tests Prompts Education Officials to Toss Results,” (Lincoln) Journal Star, July 22, 2014

NORTH CAROLINA – “North Carolina Warns About Problems with Online CTE Tests,” (Raleigh) News & Observer, May 22, 2014

OKLAHOMA – “President of CTB/McGraw-Hill Apologizes to Oklahoma for Disrupted Testing,” Tulsa World, April 25, 2014

SOUTH DAKOTA – “’Spinning Cursor’ Among Sioux Falls Common Core Testing Issues,” KELOland.com, May 12, 2014

WASHINGTON – “Glitches Disrupt Online State Testing for Students in Tacoma,” The News Tribune, May 1, 2014, “Digital Attacks on Kennewick School District Servers Affect Student Testing,” Tri-City Herald, May 30, 2014

2013

INDIANA, KENTUCKY, MINNESOTA, OKLAHOMA – “State’s Online Testing Problems Raise Common-Core Concerns,” Education Week, May 3, 2013

ALABAMA, OHIO – same problems with ACT testing technology as Kentucky

updated by Bob Schaeffer, 04/22/15

Jesse Ruiz, the acting superintendent of Chicago public schools, suspended the controversial $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES Academy. Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett has taken a leave of absence while the contract is investigated because she worked for SUPES before she took the leadership role in Chicago. However, Ruiz voted for the contract and defended his vote.

The story begins:

Acting Chicago schools boss Jesse Ruiz announced Wednesday that the district was suspending payment on a $20.5 million no-bid contract at the center of a federal criminal probe, but he also defended his own vote for the 2013 deal in his role as vice president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Speaking at the first board meeting since news of the investigation broke last week, both Ruiz and board President David Vitale sought to calm concerns over their support of the controversial contract with an executive-training company tied to schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She took a leave of absence Monday amid the federal probe, and Ruiz was chosen to become acting CEO.

Vitale said the school system followed specific procedures for reviewing a “sole-source” contract, which includes an extra layer of review to ensure standards are met, and the 6-0 vote for the deal with the SUPES Academy came after Chicago Public Schools “management” made the case for the “relatively unique” agreement.

When the deal was approved, there was “a great deal of public comment and concern about the nature of the contract,” he said. The board also was aware that Byrd-Bennett had worked for SUPES, Vitale has said.

“Shortly after the entering of this contract with SUPES Academy, in one of my meetings with the inspector general at that time, he and I agreed that there was enough noise around this issue that it is something that he should look into,” Vitale said during comments at the meeting.

Ruiz agreed with Vitale that the board followed its process and got answers to its questions before approving the deal.

“Given the information we had at that point in time, and given the information that we were provided as board members, I stand by that vote,” Ruiz told reporters before entering an executive board session where his appointment as interim CEO was formally approved.

The New York Times has written another article about the historic Opt Out movement in New York. Thus far, we know that 150,000-200,000 students opted out of the ELA, and we don’t know yet how many opted out of the math tests. The subject of the article is whether opt out students are treated unfairly when forced to “sit and stare,” rather than going to the library and reading while their classmates take the test. The article raises another point: Are the opt out students “bullying” their classmates who are taking the tests?

While these are interesting points, they seem to be trivial as compared to the reasons why parents opt out. It is not simply to protect their children. Is it not simply to thwart public officials who want data. It is because parents know that the tests provide no information of any value to their child.

I have in front of me a report from this year’s ELA exam in New York. It was for a third-grader. The names of the child and the school are removed. The report gives the child a score and a ranking. Of what value is that for the child or her teacher? How does that show whether the school is making progress? How does it lead to improved curriculum and instruction? The teachers and parents are not allowed to see the test questions and answers, or to know which ones the students got wrong. How can anyone learn from such paltry information?

The parents seem to understand this. Their numbers will grow, and as they do, the threats will grow shriller but more hollow.

Mercedes Schneider continues her slog through the turgid legislative language in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB. It matters because the revision of the law was supposed to happen in 2007, and because it defines the federal role in education. She reviews 20 amendments here.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs has surmised that this is an ominous situation. Before you go into a paroxysm of laughter, remember that life is ephemeral.

If you wonder why the outbreak of clamorous verbiage, please note that Jacobs has collected some of the unusual words that appeared on the 6th grade Common Core test in Néw York.

She writes:

“Arguably there is universal admiration for a command of vocabulary, but the thought of eleven and twelve year olds wrestling with these words in a timed pressure cooker suggests an “ominous situation”.

“What were these test makers thinking? Perhaps they yearn to design those SAT exams for seniors. The sobering fact that the results will have a direct impact on how a teacher is evaluated points to a profound disconnect.”

The Opt Out movement continues to grow. In Seattle, not a single junior showed up to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment at Nathan Hale High School.

Earlier this year, teachers at Nathan Hale passed a resolution against in the Common Core Standards test, but SPS Superintendent Larry Nyland threatened teachers with the loss of their teaching licenses if they didn’t administer the test, according to the Seattle Education blog.

Students who opt out were threatened with a zero.

Despite the threats and efforts at intimidation, the students did not show up.

This is civil disobedience in the finest tradition of American history. Think Henry David Thoreau, think Martin Luther King, Jr., think of the Suffragettes, think Nathan Hale.

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