Archives for the month of: April, 2012

This is the National Resolution Against High-Stakes Testing.

Please read it:

If you agree, I hope you will sign it.

Let’s all raise our voices together against this nutty regime of ranking, rating, grading, evaluating every child, adult, school. Anything that moves.

Say no. Make them stop.


New “blueprint” for Philadelphia calls for closing of 40 public schools of the city’s 249. They will be replaced by charters.

With more to be closed in the years ahead.

Similar shutdowns of public schools have started or been projected for Detroit, St. Louis, D.C.,  Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Kansas City.

School districts in Pennsylvania are facing bankruptcy, due to competition with charters.

Make no mistake, this is a blueprint for privatization.

This is a reversion to the early 19th century, when wealthy men provided “public” schools for poor children. They were charity schools, managed by philanthropists.

Now in the name of “reform,” the public schools are to be handed over to for-profit and non-profit corporations.

Children, especially minority children, will depend on the charity of the rich.

This is not innovation. This is a return to the way we provided schools for the children of the urban poor 200 years ago.


A reader said it would be expensive to release all test items as the test publishers would have to spend lots more money creating new ones.

Actually there is another way to think about all this. Release all the items as a public bank of thousands of items. Each year’s tests can be reviewed and howlers would be omitted from future use. No student could possibly take or memorize every item. The bank of tens of thousands of items would make good fodder for test prep.

Let’s face it. The items are recycled now. It is a time-honored practice in NY state for teachers of Regents exams to use old versions of the Regents. Sometimes the old questions appear again–either in exactly the same form or so slightly modified that it doesn’t matter.

Why did Pearson charge NY $32 million for a lot of items that had been pulled out of its old testing bank, recycled from other states. The Pineapple story had been used and ridiculed in other states but Pearson didn’t retire it. Now they have pineapple juice on their corporate face. Why did Pearson charge Florida $250 million for a test that students took in two shifts, with no change in the items? Now Pearson will up their fee to pay themselves for test security.

At some point, the public will see all this as a great farce that takes money away from instruction and plows it into redundant and error-prone testing.


Great common on my Edweek blog. Often I wish I had a way to call attention to smart comments like this one. My new blog gives me the chance to give additional attention to the ideas of thoughtful writers. This one comments as “laborlawyer.”

Objecting to high-stakes-testing cannot stop high-stakes-testing unless those objecting can offer a reasonable alternative to high-stakes-testing as a way to identify/remove ineffective teachers. The high-stakes-testing supporters argue that there are ineffective teachers in the schools, that current teacher evaluation systems are not identifying/removing those ineffective teachers, and that these ineffective teachers are a major cause of poorly-performing schools (that is, of low test scores in inner-city schools). These arguments are superficially compelling. It’s true that there are ineffective teachers in the schools (just as there are ineffective employees everywhere) and virtually all citizens have personal recollections of ineffective teachers from their own school days. It’s also true that current teacher evaluation systems are not identifying/removing ineffective teachers — in most school systems, the traditional principal-observes-and-evaluates evaluation system results in very few, if any, discharges. It’s probably not true that ineffective teachers are a major cause of poorly-performing schools (that is, the poorly performing schools are concentrated in low-income areas while the ineffective teachers, even if somewhat more common in the low-income areas, are certainly not concentrated in the low-income areas to the same extent as the low test scores are). But — it’s impossible to prove that ineffective teachers are not a major problem and, in any event, arguing in favor of ineffective teachers has zero appeal. High-stakes-testing is an inexpensive solution to the identify/remove-ineffective-teacher issue. So — to win the debate, opponents of high-stakes-testing must provide an alternative solution. An obvious possibility is a peer-review evaluation system similar to that used in Montgomery County, MD schools since 2001. This system — called “PAR” — has been amazingly successful at removing ineffective teachers with over 500 teachers discharged or resigned-in-lieu-of-PAR-evaluation. The teachers union supports PAR. There have been few litigation challenges to the discharges. The overwhelming majority of teachers think the system is fair. There is no high-stakes-testing, with all its adverse side effects. Briefly, principals identify teachers as possibly poor-performers; senior consulting teachers (who do not report to the principal) intensively monitor/evaluate the identified teachers; a consulting-teachers/principals committee makes the final discharge decision. It’s unclear why PAR has received so little public attention. The NY Times wrote a column praising PAR. But, the media and ed bloggers have otherwise largely ignored it. Opponents of high-stakes-testing should study and publicize PAR — or something like it — as an inexpensive, productive alternative to the destructive high-stakes-testing as a way to identify/remove ineffective teachers.

A friend has been corresponding with a college professor in Arkansas. He asked about well prepared students are for college studies. This was the answer he received. As usual, in the current world of education, no one’s names will be mentioned for fear of offending the vindictive and powerful:

“How are you????

“In response, from the Higher Education end, we see these overly tested students and it affects them through their senior year. They expect you to tell them what is going to be on the test, review that, give them the test over exactly that material, and then review the entire test on what they missed.
They do not know how to take notes, outline a chapter for studying, what their learning style is, how to use deductive reasoning and have no critical thinking skills. This is common talk amongst University professors.
In my human physiology class, I have to teach note taking skills and resist them when they want study guides, word list, etc. Anything that is spoon-fed is what they want. NCLB Baby Birds.
Given all these paper tools and a plethora of online tools, they are not used. We can track their usage statistics. I don’t think they know how to use them to self-educate or supplement what they are to be learning.
They cannot Google because they do not know how computers work, the guts of it all, like Boolean logic.
Therefore, they will not be prepared for the workplace after a degree if they are allowed to be No College Left Behind.”

Many people have wondered how the New York State Education Department permitted the nonsensical story about the pineapple and the hare to get onto the state test.

This is not the first time a really bad reading passage got onto the test and it won’t be the last.

State Commissioner John King was quick to issue a defensive statement saying that people were reading the story “out of context,” as if the full story made sense (it didn’t). And he was quick to pin the blame on teachers, who supposedly had reviewed all the test items. It was the teachers’ fault, not his. In an era where Accountability is the hallmark of education policy, King was quick to refuse any accountability for what happened on his watch. These days, the ones at the top never accept accountability for what goes wrong, that’s for the “little people” like teachers and students, not for the bigwigs. No one holds them accountable, and they never accept any. None of them ever says, as President Harry S Truman did, “the buck stops here.”

So this is the reason that even a stupid, pointless story like the pineapple story–so thoroughly bowdlerized that it was disowned by Daniel Pinkwater, its original author–got past the review panel. I know about this process because I spent seven years as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and served on a committee where we read every single question that would appear on a national test. When the review committee gets the items, with questions and answers, you are told that this particular item has been thoroughly field-tested. It has appeared in a children’s magazine; it has been used in a state assessment. Here are the results with all the accompanying statistics for this item. You are also told that the publisher’s own technical reviewers approved the item; so did the publisher’s bias and sensitivity reviewers.

By the time the item reaches the teachers or external panel, it has been vetted, you are told, by many others. There is tremendous implicit pressure to go along with the judgment of others whom you assume are very professional. They all agreed it was fine. Who are you to raise a question or complaint?

Since I am by nature a skeptic, I always read test passage and their questions and answers as if no one  else had. And on more occasions than I can count, I said, “Stop. Wait. This doesn’t make sense. The question isn’t clear. None of the answers fits the question. There are two good answers,” or words to that effect.

But I  understand the social pressure, the social consensus, that discourages questioning and criticism.

And that is how bad questions get onto standardized tests, and why the Pineapple question was not the first and will certainly not be the last to slip past the review panels.

The best remedy for this problem is to publish the questions and answers when the tests are finished. That way, everyone can see them. After all, as Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo and Secretary Duncan often remind us, when speaking of teacher evaluation ratings, “The public has a right to know.”

Since the tests are the linchpin of every national education policy today, the public has a right to know if the tests are fair, valid, reliable and reasonable ways to assess student learning.


I decided to start my own blog because I was overusing Twitter and treating it as a miniblog, which it isn’t.

My weekly blog at Bridging Differences is great fun for me, and I love the format of exchanging letters with Deborah Meier. That format creates a certain aura of informality and encourages me to speak freely in a non-academic tone, the way one speaks to a friend. So, I don’t know where this will go, and I don’t know if I will succeed in remembering: 1) how to access my new blog; 2) my user name; 3) my password.

But if I can overcome these hurdles, I look forward to writing blogs on a near-daily basis, unconfined by the 140 character limit of Twitter, thus relieving my Twitter followers of the cascade of tweets that now clutter their Twitter feed from me.