Archives for the month of: February, 2021

Review the list of organizations that signed a letter thanking the Biden administration for insisting on tests this spring. Some outspoken enemies of public education are there. Some rightwing groups are there. Supporters of school choice are there.

What do you make of this?

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, board member of the Network for Public Education, and expert on student privacy, pulls together some interesting threads in this post.

If Biden wants schools to reopen soon, she says, he should make sure that every teacher gets vaccinated so schools can safely reopen. Instead, he has broken his promise to get rid of the federal testing mandate and turned responsibility for the decision over to a junior staff member. She wonders who is making decisions at the Department of Education.

Why prioritize standardized tests over vaccinations for teachers?

The decision to restart testing was advanced recently by EdTrust. She shows how much money each of the signers has received from the Gates Foundation over the past decade. The total is at least $200 million.

Is the Biden administration dancing to the Gates’ tune?

Nancy Bailey explains why we should worry about who is making the decisions at the U.S. Department of Education before any of its top officials have been confirmed. She suspects it is Education Trust, which favors charter schools and high-stakes testing. EdTrust is Gates-funded, and its leader is John King, who served briefly as Secretary of Education in the last year of the Obama administration. King was Commissioner of Education in New York, where he was an enthusiastic proponent of the Common Core and high-stakes testing. His background is charter schools; he founded Roxbury Prep, a no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts with the highest suspension rate in the state.

EdTrust pushed hard to persuade Biden not to issue any testing waivers this year. The Department’s announcement was made by Ian Rosenblum, acting Assistant Secretary, who previously worked for…wait for it…EdTrust in New York, advocating for testing.

During the pandemic, most schools turned to remote learning as a matter of necessity. Some in the education biz think that the pandemic has created a new market for their products. Actually, most parents and students are eager for real schools with real teachers to open again. Contrary to popular myth, teachers too want schools to reopen, as soon as they are safe for staff and students.

Historian Victoria E.M. Cain of Northeastern University has written an engaging account of the hype associated with new technology in the classroom. It is a tool, it should be used appropriately, but it is not a replacement for teachers.

She writes:

The lessons for today’s enthusiasts are clear. It is wise to be humble about the possibilities of classroom technology. No one would deny that technology can provide invaluable tools to improve learning. (What teacher today would not want to have classroom access to the internet?) Too often, though, instead of being seen as a tool to help schools, new technology has been embraced as a silver-bullet solution to daunting educational crises. In desperate times, desperate leaders have clutched at overblown promises, investing in unproven ideas without demanding reasonable evidence of efficacy. 

In the current pandemic, it might be tempting for education leaders to hope that if only we can find the right balance of learning management systems, home Wi-Fi access, and teacher training, we can continue to provide the same education we always have, virus or no virus. But it is not that easy, and it never has been.  

If we have learned anything from the past two centuries, it is this: New technologies provide assistance, not solutions. Whether it was Lancasterian school buildings in the 19th century, television in the 20th, or Zoom classrooms today, new technology will not solve our problems on its own. In the past, overhasty investment has wasted millions of dollars. Perhaps more pernicious, it has given well-meaning reformers false confidence that they have taken care of the issue. It is far better to take an approach that might not be popular or simple, one that acknowledges the scope of the crisis and the variety of solutions we will need to address it. We need to avoid the temptation to grasp too quickly at a single technological response. 

Wise counsel. Hope and hoax are both four-letter words that start with the same two letters. Hype is also a four-letter word.

Jan Resseger is one of our wisest commentators of issues of education, equity, and social justice. She devoted her professional life to these issues. In her latest blog post, she is critical of Eve Ewing for ignoring the “economic catastrophe” that charter schools impose on public schools. She has seen it up close and personal in Cleveland and other cities in Ohio, where public schools suffer as charter schools expand, and most of the state’s charter schools are rated as “low-performing” by the state.

She begins:

I am a great fan of Eve Ewing’s book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard.  I have read the book twice, visited in Chicago some of the sites she describes, given the book to friends as a gift and blogged about it.  In that book, Ewing documents the community grief across Chicago’s South Side, where the now three decades old Renaissance 2010 “portfolio school plan” pits neighborhood public schools and charter schools in competition and closes the so-called “failing” neighborhood public schools when too many families opt for a charter school.

In a column published in Monday’s NY Times, Eve Ewing wants to make peace with charter schools.  She writes that we should allow families to choose and ensure that neighborhood schools and charter schools can all be well resourced and thriving. Ewing grasps for a third way—some sort of amicable compromise in a very polarized situation.

Ewing is a University of Chicago sociologist, and, in her column she examines many of the factors by which neighborhood public schools and charter schools have been compared and rated. She points out that academic quality is a mixed bag with neighborhood and charter schools sometimes besting each other in terms of student achievement. Then she wonders, “What would it look like if we built an education policy agenda dedicated to ensuring… resources for all students?

The problem in Ewing’s column this week is that she never identifies or addresses the matter of public funding for education. I assume she wants to equalize school funding across both sectors. But when charter schools compete for students with public schools, there are now two separate education sectors to split what has proven to be a fixed pot of money.  In every single place I know about where charter schools have been allowed to open up, this is a zero sum game.  A sufficient and growing body of research demonstrates that there is no way to split the funding both ways without cutting the funding that most states and local school districts have been budgeting for their public schools.

Bruce Baker, the school finance expert at Rutgers University, explains that one must consider more than the comparative test scores and students’ experiences in neighborhood schools and charters, and instead examine the impact of adding new charter schools into what he calls the entire educational ecosystem of the school district: “If we consider a specific geographic space, like a major urban center, operating under the reality of finite available resources (local, state, and federal revenues), the goal is to provide the best possible system for all children citywide….  Chartering, school choice, or market competition are not policy objectives in-and-of-themselves. They are merely policy alternatives—courses of policy action—toward achieving these broader goals and must be evaluated in this light. To the extent that charter expansion or any policy alternative increases inequity, introduces inefficiencies and redundancies, compromises financial stability, or introduces other objectionable distortions to the system, those costs must be weighed against expected benefits.” “In this report, the focus is on the host district, the loss of enrollments to charter schools, the loss of revenues to charter schools, and the response of districts as seen through patterns of overhead expenditures.”  In his report, Baker calls charter schools “parasites.”

One issue is that charter schools tend to serve fewer English language learners and fewer students with extremely severe disabilities, leaving behind in the neighborhood public schools the children whose needs are most expensive to serve.  Research by Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin at Rutgers University demonstrates, for example, that: “New Jersey charter schools continue to enroll proportionally fewer special education and Limited English Proficient students than their sending district public schools. The special education students enrolled in charter schools tend to have less costly disabilities compared to special education students in the district public schools…  (D)ata…  show that many charter schools continue to enroll fewer at-risk students than their sending district public schools.”

In Pennsylvania, the state funds special education in charter schools at a flat rate of $40,000 per student no matter whether the child is autistic, blind, a victim of severe multiple handicaps or impaired by a speech impediment.  Peter Greene reports that in Chester Upland, where a charter school is sucking up a mass of special education funding, in a court decision, Judge Chad Kenney declared: “The Charter Schools serving Chester Upland special education students reported in 2013-14… that they did not have any special education students costing them anything outside the zero to twenty-five thousand dollar range, and yet, this is remarkable considering they receive forty thousand dollars for each one of these special education students under a legislatively mandated formula.”

The biggest financial loss caused by the introduction of a charter sector into a school district is that it is not possible for the school district to recover the stranded costs when children exit to  charter schools.  In a groundbreaking 2018 report, the Oregon political economist, Gordon Lafer demonstrates that California’s Oakland Unified School District loses $57.3 million every year to charter schools.  Here’s how: “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community. When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district…  If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.”

Lafer concludes: “If a school district anywhere in the country—in the absence of charter schools—announced that it wanted to create a second system-within-a-system, with a new set of schools whose number, size, specialization, budget, and geographic locations would not be coordinated with the existing school system, we would regard this as the poster child of government inefficiency and a waste of tax dollars. But this is indeed how the charter school system functions.”  In the same report, Lafer adds that in 2016-17, the San Diego Unified School District lost $65.9 million to charter schools.

In a subsequent report, Lafer explains: “Public school students in California’s West Contra Costa Unified School District are paying dearly for privately managed charter schools they don’t attend… Charter schools add $27.9 million a year to WCCUSD’s costs of running its own schools… That’s a net loss, after accounting for all savings realized by no longer educating the charter school students.”

Please continue reading her excellent post.

Bob Shepherd is a polymath who worked in the education industry for decades and was recently a teacher in Florida. He spent many years developing standardized tests. He has written often about their poor quality, their lack of reliability and validity.

In this post, he explains why he has reached these conclusions:

The dirty secret of the standardized testing industry is the breathtakingly low quality of the tests themselves. I worked in the educational publishing industry at very high levels for more than twenty years. I have produced materials for all the major textbook publishers and most of the standardized test publishers, and I know from experience that quality control processes in the standardized testing industry have dropped to such low levels that the tests, these days, are typically extraordinarily sloppy and neither reliable nor valid. They typically have not been subjected to anything like the validation and standardization procedures used, in the past, with intelligence tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and so on. The mathematics tests are marginally better than are the tests in ELA, US History, and Science, but they are not great. The tests in English Language Arts are truly appalling. A few comments about those:

The new state and national standardized tests in ELA are invalid.

First, much of attainment in ELA consists of world knowledge–knowledge of what–the stuff of declarative memories of subject matter. What are fables and parables, in what ways are they similar, and in what ways do they differ? What are the similarities and differences between science fiction and fantasy? What are the parts of a metaphor? How does a metaphor work? What is metonymy? What are the parts of a metonymy? How does it differ from synecdoche? What is American Gothic? What are its standard motifs? How is it related to European Romanticism and Gothic literature? How does it differ? Who are its practitioners? Who were Henry David Thoreau and Mary Shelley and what major work did each write and why is that work significant? What is a couplet? terza rima? a sonnet? What is dactylic hexameter? What is deconstruction? What is reader response? the New Criticism? What does it mean to begin in medias res? What is a dialectical organizational scheme? a reductio ad absurdum? an archetype? a Bildungsroman? a correlative conjunction? a kenning? What’s the difference between Naturalism and Realism? Who the heck was Samuel Johnson, and why did he suggest kicking that rock? Why shouldn’t maidens go to Carterhaugh? And so on. The so-called “standards” being tested cover ALMOST NO declarative knowledge and so miss much of what constitutes attainment in this subject. Imagine a test of biology that left out almost all world knowledge and covered only biology “skills” like–I don’t know–slide-staining ability–and you’ll get what I mean here. This has been a MAJOR problem with all of these summative standardized tests in ELA since their inception. They are almost entirely content free. They don’t assess what students ought to know. Instead, they test, supposedly, a lot of abstract “skills”–the stuff on the Gates/Coleman Common [sic] Core [sic] bullet list, but they don’t even do that.

Second, much of attainment in ELA involves mastery of procedural knowledge–knowledge of what to do. E.g.: How do you format a Works Cited page? How do you plan the plot of a standard short story? What step-by-step procedure could you follow to do that? How do you create melody in your speaking voice? How do you revise to create sentence variety or to emphasize a particular point? What specific procedures can you carry out to accomplish these things? But the authors of these “standards” didn’t think that concretely, in terms of specific, concrete, step-by-step procedural knowledge. Instead, in imitation of the lowest-common-denominator-group-think state “standards” that preceded theirs, they chose to deal in vague, poorly conceived abstractions. The “standards” being tested define skills so vaguely and so generally that they cannot, as written, be sufficiently operationalized, to be VALIDLY tested.  They literally CANNOT be, as in, this is an impossibility on the level of building a perpetual motion machine or squaring the circle. Given, for example, the extraordinarily wide variety of types of narratives (jokes, news stories, oral histories, tall tales, etc.) and the enormous number of skills that it requires to produce narratives of various kinds (writing believable dialogue, developing a conflict, characterization via action, characterization via foils, showing not telling, establishing a point of view, using speaker’s tags properly, etc.), there can be no single question or prompt that tests for narrative writing ability IN GENERAL. This is a broad problem wtih the standardized ELA tests. Typically, they ask one or two multiple-choice questions per “standard.” But what one or two multiple-choice questions could you ask to find out if a student is able, IN GENERAL, to “make inferences from text” (the first of the many literature “standards” at each grade level in the Gates/Coleman bullet list)? Obviously, you can’t. There are three very different kinds of inference–induction, deduction, and abduction–and whole sciences devoted to problems in each, and texts vary so considerably, and types of inferences from texts do as well, that no such testing of GENERAL “inferring from texts” ability is even remotely possible. A moment’s clear, careful thought should make this OBVIOUS. So it is with most of the “standards” on the Gates/Coleman bullet list. And, of course, all this invalidity of testing for each “standard” can’t add up to overall validity, so, the tests do not even validly test for what they purport to test for.

Third, nothing that students do on these exams even remotely resembles what real readers and writers do with real texts in the real world. Ipso facto, the tests cannot be valid tests of actual reading and writing. People read for one of two reasons—to find out what an author thinks or knows about a subject or to have an interesting, engaging, significant vicarious experience. The tests, and the curricula based on them, don’t help students to do either. Imagine, for example, that you wish to respond to this post, but instead of agreeing or disagreeing with what I’ve said and explaining why, you are limited to explaining how my use of figurative language (the tests are a miasma) affected the tone and mood of my post. See what I mean? But that’s precisely the kind of thing that the writing prompts on the Common [sic] Core [sic] ELA tests do and the kind of thing that one finds, now, in ELA courseware. This whole testing enterprise has trivialized responding to texts and therefore education in the English language arts generally. The modeling of curricula on the all-important tests has replaced normal interaction with texts with such freakish, contorted, scholastic fiddle faddle. English teachers should long ago have called BS on this.

He wrote to explain why all standardized tests are not equally invalid:

Standardized tests are not all the same, so talk about “standardized tests” in general tends to commit what linguistic philosophers call a “category error”—a type of logical fallacy. George Lakoff wrote a book about categorization called Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. He took the title from the classification system for nouns of the indigenous Australian language Dyribal. One of the noun categories in this language includes words referring to women, things with which one does violence (such as spears), phenomena that can kill (fire), and dangerous animals (such as snakes and scorpions). What makes this category bizarre to our ears is that the things in the category don’t actually share significant, defining characteristics. Women and things associated with them are not all dangerous. Speaking of all things balan (this category in the Dyribal language) therefore doesn’t make sense. The same is true of the phrase “standardized test.” It lumps together objects that are DIFFERENT FROM one another in profoundly important ways. Imagine a category, “ziblac,” that includes greyhound buses, a mole on Socrates’s forehead, shoelaces, Pegasus, and the square roots of negative numbers.” What could you say that was intelligible about things in the category “ziblac”? Well, nothing. Talking about ziblacs would inevitably involve committing category errors—assuming that things are similar because they share a category name when, in fact, they aren’t. If you say, “You can ride ziblacs” or “Ziblacs are imaginary” or “Ziblacs don’t exist,” you will often be spouting nonsense. Yes, some ziblacs belong to the class of things you can ride (greyhound buses, Pegasus), but some do not (shoelaces, imaginary numbers), and you can’t actually ride Pegasus because Pegasus exists only in stories. Some are imaginary (Pegasus, imaginary numbers), but they are imaginary in very different senses of the term. And some don’t exist (Pegasus, the mole on Socrates’s forehead), but don’t exist in very different ways (the former because it’s fictional, the latter because Socrates died a long time ago). When we talk of “standardized tests,” we are using such an ill-defined category, and a lot of nonsense follows from that fact.

Please note that there are many VERY DIFFERENT definitions of what “standardized test” means. The usual technical definition from decades ago was “a test that had been standardized, or normalized.” This means that the raw scores on the test had been converted to express them in terms of ”standard scores”–their number of standard deviations from the mean. You do this by starting with the raw score on a test, subtracting the population mean from it, and then dividing the difference by the population standard deviation. The result is a Z-score (or a T-score if the mean is taken to be 50 and the standard deviation is taken to be 10). People do this kind of “standardizing,” or “normalization,” in order to compare scores across students and subpopulations. Let’s call this “Standardized Test Definition 1.” Many measures converted in such a way yield a so-called “bell curve” because they deal with characteristics at that are normally distributed. An IQ test is supposed to be a test of this type. The Stanford 10 is such a Standardized Test, Definition 1.

Another, much broader definition is “any test that is given in a consistent form, following consistent procedures.” Let’s call this “Standardized Test Definition 2.” To understand how dramatically this definition of “standardized test” differs from the first one, consider the following distinction: A norm-referenced test is one in which student performance is ranked based on comparison with the scores of his or her peers, using normalized, or standardized, scores.. One of the reasons for standardized scores as per Definition 1, above, is to do such comparisons to norms. A criterion-referenced test is one in which student performance is ranked based on some absolute criterion—knowledge or mastery of some set of facts or skills. Which kind of scoring one does depends on what one is interested in—how the student compares with other students (norm-referenced) or whether the student has achieved some absolute “standard”—has or has not demonstrated knowledge of some set of facts or some skill (criterion-referenced). So, Standardized Test Type 2 is a much broader category, and includes both norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. In fact, any test can be looked at in the norm-referenced or criterion-referenced way, but which one does makes a big difference. In the case of criterion-referenced tests, one is interested in whether little Johnny knows that 2 + 2 = 4. In the case of norm-referenced tests, one is interested in whether little Johnny is more or less likely than students in general to know that 2 +_2 = 4. The score for a criterion-referenced test is supposed to measure absolute attainment. The score for a norm-referenced test is supposed to measure relative attainment. When states first started giving mandated state tests, a big argument given for these is that they needed to know whether students were achieving absolute standards, not just how they compared to other students. So, these state tests were supposed to be criterion-referenced tests, in which the reported was a measure of absolute attainment rather than relative attainment, which brings us to a third definition.

Yet another definition of “Standardized Test” is “any test that [supposedly] measures attainment of some standard.” Let’s call this “Standardized Test Definition 3.” This brings us to a MAJOR source of category error in discussions of standardized testing. The “standards” that Standardized Tests, Definition 3 supposedly measure vary enormously because some types of items on standards lists, like the CC$$, are easily assessed both reliably (yielding the same results over repeated administrations or across variant forms) and validly (actually measuring what they purport to measure), and some are not. In general, Math standards, for example, contain a lot more reliably and validly assessable items (the student knows his or her times table for positive integers through 12 x 12) than do ELA standards, which tend to be much more vague and broad (e.g., the student will be able to draw inferences from texts). As a result, the problems with the “standardized” state Math tests tend to be quite different from the problems with the state ELA tests, and when people speak of “standardized tests” in general, they are talking about very different things. Deformers simply assume that is people have paid a dedicated testing company to produce a test, that test will reliably and validly test its state standards. This is demonstrably NOT TRUE of the state tests in ELA for a lot of reasons, many of which I have discussed here: Basically, the state ELA tests are a scam.

Understanding why the state ELA tests are a scam requires detailed knowledge of the tests themselves, which proponents of the tests either don’t have or have but aren’t going to talk about because such proponents are owned by or work for the testing industry. Education deformers and journalists and politicians tend, in my experience, to be EXTRAORDINARILY NAÏVE about this. Their assumption that the ELA tests validly measure what they purport to measure is disastrously wrong.

Which leads me to a final point: Critiques of the state standardized tests are often dismissed by Ed Deformers as crackpot, fringe stuff, and that’s easy for them to do, alas, because some of the critiques are. For example, I’ve read on this blog comments from some folks to the effect that intellectual capabilities and accomplishments can’t be “measured.” The argument seems to be based on the clear differences between “measurement” as applied to physical quantities like temperature and height and “measurement” as applied to intellectual capabilities and accomplishments. The crackpot idea is that the former is possible, and the latter is not. However, t is OBVIOUSLY possible to measure some intellectual capabilities and accomplishments very precisely. I can find out, for example, very precisely how many Kanji (Japanese logograms) you know, if any, or whether you can name the most famous works by Henry David Thoreau and Mary Shelley and George Eliot and T.S. Eliot. If you choose to disdain the use of the term “measurement” to refer to assessment of such knowledge, that’s simply an argument about semantics, and making such arguments gives opponents of state standardized testing a bad name—such folks get lumped together, by Ed Deformers, with folks who make such fringe arguments.

I reviewed A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door in The New Republic. It is an important book that pulls together all the threads of the privatization movement and shows that their agenda is not to improve education or to advance equity but to destroy public education. The review is here.

Tonight, I will join the authors at a town hall Zoom meeting in Seattle at 9 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. PST. Please join us!

It begins like this:

Two years ago, Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s secretary of education, and Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s secretary of education, wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post lamenting the decline of public support for the bipartisan consensus about education policy that began under Ronald Reagan. Elected officials strongly supported a regime of testing, accountability, and school choice, they wrote, but public enthusiasm was waning due to a lack of “courage” and “political will.”

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of Schoolby Jack Schneider and Jennifer BerkshireBuy on BookshopThe New Press, 256 pp., $26.99

They were right. Elected officials, educators, and parents were rapidly losing faith in the bipartisan consensus. For a decade, it had failed to produce any improvement on national tests. Parents were opting their children out of the annual testing mandated by federal law; in New York, 20 percent of eligible students refused to take them. Teachers went to court to fight the test-based evaluation methods imposed by Duncan’s Race to the Top. Communities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia were complaining about the growth of charter schools, which diverted funds away from public schools. A year after Spellings and Duncan’s essay appeared, teachers across the nation, from West Virginia to California, went on strike to protest low wages, low funding, and large class sizes, issues that were ignored during the era of bipartisan consensus.

What went wrong? Why did the bipartisan consensus that Spellings and Duncan praised fall apart? In their new book, historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire provide a valuable guide to the history and the politics of the rise and fall of the bipartisan consensus. Theirs is indeed a cautionary tale, because they show how Republicans and Democrats joined to support failed policies whose ultimate goal was to eliminate public education and replace it with a free-market approach to schooling. Betsy DeVos was publicly reviled for her contemptuous attitudes toward public schools, but she was not an exception to the bipartisan consensus: She was its ultimate embodiment. She was the personification of the wolf at the schoolhouse door. 

Schneider and Berkshire write that they began the book to answer “a puzzling question: Why had conservative policy ideas, hatched decades ago and once languishing due to a lack of public and political support, suddenly roared back to life in the last five or so years?” Their prime example was private school vouchers, an idea first promoted by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s and rejected at that time by Congress. Private school vouchers were not the only policy prescription that was recycled from the ashcan of failed ideas. There was also “market-based school choice, for-profit schools, virtual schools,” and deregulation. These ideas were repackaged as innovative while their history and their conservative ideological origins were obscured. True believers, intent on eliminating public schools, built donor networks, cultivated political alliances, and churned out ready-made legislation. A key element in this network-building was the enlistment of billionaires who were enamored of free-market solutions and who opened their wallets to persuade national and state elected officials to inject competition and private-sector solutions into the public education system. 

This is a book you will want to read. Give it to your local school board members and your legislators.

Many of you have asked how to express your indignation and outage about the decision by Acting Assistant Secretary Ian Rosenblum to require all states to administer standardized testing this spring at a time of great stress on students, families, teachers, schools, and communities.

I have repeatedly explained why the federally mandated tests are worthless. The teachers are not allowed to see the questions or the answers that individual students gave. The scores are returned 4-6 months after the tests. The teacher learns nothing about how students are progressing. The tests measure, above all, family income and education. They provide no information of value.

I suggested that you write your members of Congress.

You should also write the author of this absurd decision, Ian Rosenblum. At the moment the Department of Education is leaderless, having no confirmed leaders. Ian was never a teacher. He worked for Education Trust, the pro-testing organization funded by the Gates Foundation.

You might want to remind Ian that standardized tests do not promote equity. The bottom half of the bell curve produced by these tests is dominated by the kids with the highest needs: those whose families are poor, those who are not fluent in English, those with disabilities. They are demoralized year after year by standardized testing. They need smaller class sizes, not tests.

You can contact Ian to express your views at the following email addresses:

Three researchers published an article in the Kappan that is highly critical of the edTPA, a test used to assess whether teacher candidates are prepared to teach. Over the years, there have been many complaints about the edTPA, because it replaces the human judgment of teacher educators with a standardized instrument. It’s proponents claim that the instrument is more reliable and valid than human judgment.

Drew H. Gitomer, Jose Felipe Martinez, and Dan Battey disagree. Their article raises serious criticisms of the edTPA.

They begin:

The use of high-stakes assessments in public education has always been contested terrain. Long-simmering debates have focused on their benefits, the harms they cause, and the roles they play in decisions about high school graduation, school funding, teacher certification, and promotion. However, for all the disagreement about how such assessments affect students and teachers, and how they should or should not be used, it has generally been assumed that the assessment instruments themselves follow standard principles of measurement practice.  

At the most basic level, test developers are expected to report truthful and technically accurate information about the measurement characteristics of their assessments, and they are expected to make no claims about those assessments for which they have no supporting evidence. Violating these fundamental principles compromises the validity of the entire enterprise. If we cannot trust the quality of the assessments themselves, then debates about how best to use them are beside the point. 

Our research suggests that when it comes to the edTPA (a tool used across much of the United States to make high-stakes decisions about teacher licensure), the fundamental principles and norms of educational assessment have been violated. Further, we have discovered gaps in the guardrails that are meant to protect against such violations, leaving public agencies and advisory groups ill-equipped to deal with them. This cautionary tale reminds us that systems cannot counter negligence or bad faith if those in position to provide a counterweight are unable or unwilling to do so. 

Background: Violations of assessment principles 

The edTPA is a system of standardized portfolio assessments of teaching performance that, at the time this research was conducted, was mandated for use by educator preparation programs in 18 states, and approved in 21 others, as part of initial certification for preservice teachers. It builds on a large body of research over several decades focused on defining effective teaching and designing performance assessments to measure it. The assessments were created and are owned by Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) and are now managed by Pearson Assessment, with endorsement and support from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). By 2018, just five years after they were introduced, they were among the most widely used tools for evaluating teacher candidates in the United States, reaching tens of thousands of candidates in hundreds of programs across the country. They have substantially influenced programs of study in teacher education. And for the teaching candidates who take them, they are a major undertaking, requiring them to make a substantial time investment, as well as costing them $300.  

In 2018, two of us (Drew Gitomer and José Felipe Martínez) participated in a symposium at the annual meeting of the National Council of Measurement in Education (NCME), which included a presentation on edTPA by representatives of Pearson and SCALE (Pecheone et al., 2018). We were struck by specific claims that were made in that presentation: Reported rates of reliability seemed implausibly high, and reported rates of rater error seemed implausibly low, implying that a teaching candidate would receive the same scores regardless of who rated the assessment. A well-established feature of performance measures of teaching, similar to those being used in edTPA, is that raters will often disagree on their scores of any single performance and, therefore, the scoring reliability of any single performance is inevitably quite modest. The raw data on rater agreement that edTPA reports are consistent with the full body of work on these assessments. Yet, the reliabilities they reported, which depend on these agreement levels, were completely discrepant from all other past research. 

At the NCME session, we publicly raised these concerns, and we offered to engage in further conversation to clarify matters and address our questions about the claims that were made. Upon further investigation, we found that the information presented at the session was also reported in edTPA’s annual technical reports — the very information state departments of education rely on to decide whether to use the edTPA for teacher licensure.  

In December 2019, we published an article detailing serious concerns about the technical quality of the edTPA in the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ), one of the most highly rated and respected journals in the field of educational research (Gitomer et al., 2019). We argued that edTPA was using procedures and statistics that were, at best, woefully inappropriate and, at worst, fabricated to convey the misleading impression that its scores are more reliable and precise than they truly are. Our analysis showed why those claims were unwarranted, and we ultimately suggested that the concerns were so serious that they warranted a moratorium on using edTPA scores for high-stakes decisions about teacher licensure.  

Then they discovered that members of the Technical Advisory Committee had not met very often.

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  

The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!