Archives for category: Every Student Succeeds Act

Scores of education deans signed a letter to Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), chair of the House Education Committee, in opposition to the recent announcement by the Biden administration that it would not grant waivers to states from the annual testing mandate in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which originated as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The letter was written before the confirmation of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The signatures were gathered by Kevin Kumashiro as spokesman for the group.

Dear Chairman Scott,

I am writing as a leader of Education Deans for Justice and Equity (https://educationdeans.org), an alliance of hundreds of education deans across the country with expertise in educational equity and civil rights.

We, in EDJE, are deeply concerned by the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that it will not grant state waivers of ESSA mandates for 2021 student testing, as it did in 2020. Two weeks ago, we sent the attached letter to Secretary-Designate Miguel Cardona, signed by over 200 deans and other leaders, that outlines what we believe the research makes clear, namely, that there are fundamental problems with these tests, that the administration and use of these tests widen (not remediate) inequities, and that these problems are exacerbated in the midst of the pandemic.

We agree that we need data to make informed decisions and to address long-standing and emergent challenges, but to do so, we describe the different types of data that are needed and the assessments–other than state testing–that are more appropriate for such purposes. We urge you and Congress to act quickly and forcefully to insist that the Department waive mandates for 2021 student testing, and we are available to work and meet with you in support of this change.

The letter, included in the link below, begins:

As the nation struggles to address the impact of the pandemic on public schools, we urge the U.S. Department of Education to waive federal ESSA student-testing requirements for all states for 2020-2021 (as was done for 2019-2020).
We, Education Deans for Justice and Equity (EDJE), are an alliance of hundreds of deans of schools and colleges of education across the country who draw on our expertise as researchers and leaders to highlight three research findings to support our request.


First, ​problems abound with high-stakes standardized testing of students, particularly regarding validity, reliability, fairness, bias, and cost​. National research centers and organizations have synthesized these findings about standardized testing, including the ​National Educational Policy Center​ and ​FairTest​. For example, some of the ​harmful impacts​ of high-stakes testing include: distorted and less rigorous curriculum; the misuse of test scores, including grade retention, tracking, and teacher evaluation; deficit framing (blaming) of students and their families and ineffective remedial interventions, particularly for communities of color and communities in poverty; and heightened anxiety and shame for teachers and students. Researchers have also spoken specifically about annual state testing, like in ​California​ and Texas​, arguing that such assessments should not be administered, much less be the basis for high-stakes decision making.


Second, ​these problems are amplified during the pandemic.​ The research brief, ​The Shift to Online Education During and Beyond the Pandemic​, describes the “law of amplification” and ways that the shift to online education widens long-standing inequities and injustices in education, particularly for groups already disadvantaged in schools. These challenges with technology, logistics, and safety would unquestionably apply to testing, whether in-person or online. For example, districts that administer computer-based tests in-person are now trying to determine how to recall computers that were loaned to students in order to have enough computers in school, which in effect, means that those students will not have computers for remote learning for weeks. In fact, with the vast changes and differences in curriculum and instruction that resulted from the shift to online education over the past year—that is, the reduction in opportunities to learn, particularly in schools that were already under-resourced—the content validity of the tests is almost certainly compromised, as described by the ​National Education Policy Center​. Furthermore, with so much trauma in the lives of students and families, schools need to invest all they can into quality time with students, supplemental tutoring, and enrichment and wellness programs, not stress-inducing, time-consuming tests that provide narrow data of limited use.

Maureen Tracey-Mooney joined the White House staff as a Special Assistant to the President for Education.

She is a graduate of the notorious Broad Center, the plaything of billionaire Eli Broad, which teaches its “students” the value of applying business principles in education and the benefits of closing low-performing schools instead of helping them. According to the Broad Center, “As a Broad Resident, Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked with Achievement First as Director of Extended Learning.” Achievement First is a “no excuses” charter chain that is known for harsh discipline. It is based in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York and was funded by billionaires like Jonathan Sackler, who made his billions selling OxyContin and creating an addiction crisis that took at least 200,000 lives. (In 2019, the charter chain announced it would take no new donations from Mr. Sackler, who had already given $1.6 million).

Broad Resident: https://www.broadcenter.org/alumni/directory/profile/maureen-tracey-mooney/
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/05/white-house-announces-additional-policy-staff/

Maureen Tracey-Mooney, Special Assistant to the President for Education

Maureen Tracey-Mooney worked on the domestic policy team on the Biden-Harris Transition and supported the development of President Biden’s PK-12 agenda. Previously, she worked on President Obama’s campaign and transition. She served as then-Vice President Biden’s Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor in the first term of the Obama-Biden Administration, working on education, labor and other issues. In that role she supported the development of the Obama-Biden Administration’s successful Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge and President Obama’s Preschool for All plan. She left the Vice President’s office to earn her MPA from Princeton University and transition to local education work. Immediately before joining the transition she worked for the Newark Board of Education in New Jersey, where her work focused on the development of new teachers. Originally from Ohio, Maureen graduated from the University of Chicago; her life is possible because a generous friend gave her a kidney.

It’s heart-warming that President Biden has appointed genuine public school educators to the #1 and #2 jobs in the Education Department. Itis alarming that the education staff at the White House and among those surrounding Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Marten are from the Obama administration’s failed Race to the Top, TFA, and DFER. Will we have another four years of the punitive “bipartisan consensus” that melded NCLB, Race to the Top, and Betsy DeVos?

Are the real educators mere figureheads at the top of the Department, while the big decisions are made by deformers in the White House, and stealth political types like Ian Rosenblum, now Acting Assistant Secretary who announced the “no test waiver” policy, responding to a campaign by his former boss, John King of EdTrust.

Biden already lied about his promise to cancel annual standardized tests mandated by the federal government, a policy unknown in any high-performing nation, a policy that has produced zero gains on the National Assessment for a decade.

Will he resume the failed policies of the past or chart a new course in education? Right now, based on personnel, the auguries are not good.

Laura Chapman is a regular reader and contributor. She is a retired educator and a crack researcher. She writes here about a letter from Education Trust and other groups to Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona, urging him to deny all state requests for waivers from the mandated federal testing this spring.

She writes:

Kevin Ohlandt of Delaware and I looked behind the curtain of this attempt by the Education Trust and several other charter-loving groups to “demand” Secretary Cardona refuse state waivers on standardized tests.

I looked at the footnotes to discern what “authorities” this hastily assembled group relied on is issuing their demand. Their call included some footnotes as if to prove the wisdom and validity of the tests.

Here is an excerpt from one source: McKinsey & Company.

“We estimate that if the black and Hispanic student-achievement gap had been closed in 2009, today’s US GDP would have been $426 billion to $705 billion higher. If the income-achievement gap had been closed, we estimate that US GDP would have been $332 billion to $550 billion higher (Exhibit 1).”

This absurdity is from a report, dated June 1, 2020, offering several scenarios of possible outcomes for students who would receive instruction online, or in person, or in hybrid arrangements. The report is so out of date that it should be an embarrassment to EdTrust and others pushing these hypotheticals. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote comes from the charter-loving Bellwether Education Partners. It refers to their October 21, 2020 titled “Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis.” This report estimates that three million of the most marginalized students are missing formal education in school–virtual or in-person. The estimate of three million comes from mostly federal estimates of the number of students in higher-risk groups in every state and nationally: Students in foster care, Students experiencing homelessness, English learners, Students with disabilities (ages 6-21) and Students eligible for the Migrant Education Program.

This report, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, offers a series of recommendations already in the works for addressing the effects of the pandemic on K-12 education. Most of these recommendations have less to do with formal education than with tapping every possible community and state resource (except money) to provide food, shelter, and other necessities to survive unemployment and dodge the virus.
This Bellwether report also chases data from news reports from several large districts, the State of Florida and a study done in 2008.

This whole effort relies on out of date “estimates” of this and that, and offers recommendations of little use in addressing the systemic and immediate needs of students, teachers, their families and caregivers.

The last thing we and they need is to have anyone telling the Secretary of Education to keep the meaningless standardized tests.

Opt out and do so proudly.

The standardized tests to which our students have been subjected for two decades have not improved American education. They have degraded it into endless months of test preparation, for tests of dubious reliability and validity. Schools have reduced or eliminated the arts, recess, civics, and other subjects because they “don’t count.” Only the tests count.

Standardized tests do not reduce achievement gaps. Standardized tests do not increase equity. Standardized tests label children as winners or losers, and the same students are labeled “losers” or “failures” year after year by these flawed instruments. Standardized tests are highly correlated with family income. Standardized tests had their origins in racist and eugenicist theories. They should be thoroughly discredited, but our policymakers refuse to see the harm they do.

Federal law requires that every student in grades 3-8 take standardized tests in the spring. The teachers are not allowed to discuss the questions. The scores are returned 4-6 months later, when the students have different teachers. The teachers are not allowed to know which questions students got right or wrong. The tests have no diagnostic value. None.

FairTest              
National Center for Fair & Open Testing

for further information:
Bob Schaeffer    (239) 395-6773
            mobile    (239) 699-0468

WHAT:    National Town Hall on Suspending High-Stakes Testing in Spring 2021 

WHO:     U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman, New York — House Education Committee 
                Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dean, University of Kentucky College of Education 
                Dr. Lorrie Sheppard, Distinguished Professor of Education, University of Colorado 
                Dr. Jack Schneider, Asst. Professor, Leadership in Education, University of Massachusetts 
                Dr. Lisa Escarcega, Colorado State Board of Education 
                Roberto Jiménez, School Committee Member, Chelsea, Massachusetts 
                The event will be MC’d by Bob Schaeffer, Executive Director, FairTest, 
                            and Ilana Spiegel, University of Colorado Board of Regents. 

WHEN:   Tuesday, January 26, 2021 — 6:00pm EST 

WHERE:  online via Zoom webinar 

HOW:      Register at:  https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_FCKpfQKmSqmXKMo-KKH3Og  — recording available via Facebook after the event

WHY:       Public school parents, educators, and community leaders believe that no test score is worth risking the lives of students and school personnel. Forcing children to return to classrooms to take government-mandated standardized exams would be dangerous and irresponsible. No one needs a test to know that many low-income children in under-resourced schools have fallen further behind. Results from tests administered this spring could not be valid or reliable; the conditions in which students tried to learn have not been “standardized.”


                Parents and educators overwhelming support canceling spring 2021 exams.  According to the “Understanding America Study” by the University of Southern California, nearly two thirds of parents agree with suspending this year’s testing mandates. Fully 72 percent of Black parents favor cancellation. So do the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.


                The time and resources spent administering tests this year would be better invested in educating students while supporting their emotional needs.  Federal testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act and state high-stakes exam mandates must be suspended for at least another year.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the mandated federal tests should be administered this spring. When the pandemic was first acknowledged last March, Betsy DeVos offered waivers to states that wanted to suspend the testing. Although Biden has publicly expressed disdain for standardized testing, there has been no hint of whether he will appoint a Secretary of Education with instructions to do as much as DeVos did in deferring the annual testing.

My view: Resumption of standardized testing is completely ridiculous in the midst of a pandemic. The validity of the tests has always been an issue; their validity in the midst of a national crisis will be zero. They will show, even more starkly, that students who are in economically secure families have higher test scores than those who do not. They will show that children in poverty and children with disabilities have suffered disproportionately due to lack of schooling. We already know that. Why put pressure on students and teachers to demonstrate what we already know? At this point, we don’t even know whether all students will have the advantage of in-person instruction by March.

If anything, we need a thorough review of the value, validity, and reliability of annual standardized testing, a practice that is unknown in any high-performing nation in the world. We are choking on the rotten fumes of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here is a letter sent by several organizations in support of high-stakes standardized tests.

Politico wrote yesterday:

TESTING TIME — A major test awaits President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Education secretary. The question is whether to waive federal standardized testing requirements this spring for K-12 schools for a second year or to carry on, despite the pandemic. There’s no easy answer.

— A host of education and civil rights groups say statewide testing will be important to gauge how much students have fallen behind during the pandemic, particularly for the most vulnerable kids. Even before the coronavirus, “The Nation’s Report Card” revealed children across the country have fallen behind in reading, with the largest drops among lower-performing students.

 Statewide testing will “give us a snapshot, if an incomplete snapshot, of what happened this year. How close did students get to the standards?” said Brennan McMahon Parton, director of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign.

— Teachers unions and standardized test opponents, however, say this isn’t the time. “Battle lines are being drawn,” said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a group that opposes what it calls the misuse of standardized tests. “The vast majority of parents and teachers think it’s ridiculous to believe that you can get meaningful results from a standardized test in the middle of a pandemic.”

Andrew Ujifusa writes in Education Week about the battle over whether to resume standardized testing as mandated in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Pressure is growing for schools to get some kind of relief from traditional standardized tests as coronavirus cases reach new highs, and education officials in at least a few states are responding. 

In Washington, President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will have to decide whether to grant states waivers from federally mandated tests soon after he takes office Jan. 20. But the validity and usefulness of tests during the pandemic has been a concern for months. And at this point, states are clearly not content to wait for input or leeway from any new U.S. Department of Education leadership about the issue in general. 

  • On Thursday, the Georgia state board of education voted to virtually eliminate the role state standardized tests play in students’ course grades this school year. Board members voted 10-3 to make several end-of-course exams count for just .01 percent of those grades, down from the normal 20 percent, the Associated Press reported. State Superintendent Richard Woods backed the moved. Woods sharply criticized U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ announcement in September that states should not expect testing waivers for the 2020-21 school year, a position that could change after Biden’s inauguration of course. 
  • South Carolina announced a similar move late last month regarding end-of-course exams; districts will be allowed to decide how much those tests count for students’ grades, instead of the typical 20 percent. The Post and Courier reported that district leaders welcomed the decision
  • On Nov. 19, the Virginia education department announced that students can take “local assessments” instead of the state Standards of Learning exams in history, social science, and English writing. “The waivers and emergency guidance will simplify the logistics of SOL testing this year and ensure that [the] COVID-19 pandemic does not unduly prevent any student from earning a diploma,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. However, the state did not adopt those changes for the science, reading, and mathematics tests required by federal law; Lane told state school board members that it’s “unlikely” the feds will waive those tests. 
  • Earlier this month, California announced it would replace traditional Smarter Balanced exams with shorter versions of the test, EdSource reported. 
  • A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers say they want state superintendent Mike Morath to either cancel state STAAR exams this school year, or at least not use them to rate schools and districts. “The last thing they all need right now is the extra and added stress of STAAR,” state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat, told the Texas Tribune, referring to educators, parents, and students. Morath gave a noncommital response to the idea, although last summer he said he wanted the exams to be administered as usual. Like all states, Texas got a federal waiver last spring not to give exams that are typically required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. (“STAAR” stands for “State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.”)

This kind of momentum isn’t universal. Utah recently announced that it plans to forge ahead with its regular standardized exams. “We believe there’s actually an increased need for us to be able to attain data that can inform and enlighten us about the impacts of this pandemic on student learning,” state Assistant Superindendent Darin Nielsen said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Last summer the Council of Chief State School Officers stressed that while state leaders must be “nimble and innovative” in what tests are used and what they’re used for during the pandemic, “Assessment tools must continue to play a key role in our education system.” On Friday, a coalition of groups including the National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the Education Trust called on the federal government not to grant waivers from exams because “our families and communities cannot afford to go two years without knowing how well our students are doing in school.” The groups also hailed recent federal guidance on assessments and accountability released in October.

“At the end of the day, there’s going to be an asterisk around any 2020-21 [test] results if they’re given,” Stephen Pruitt of the Southern Regional Education Board told our colleague Sarah D. Sparks in July. 

Even more than an asterisk, the pandemic should underscore that the traditional standardized tests mandated by federal law simply haven’t worked as desiged, and push the Biden administration and others to rethink the entire system, said Joshua Starr, the CEO of PDK International, a professional association of educators. 

“This is the time to actually challenge the assumption that the state testing regimes will give us what we want,” said Starr. “I have no confidence that state standardized tests this year will do that. I don’t know that they’ve ever done that, and they certainly won’t do it this year.”

While Starr said that formative assessments, for example, could be useful to students and educators. But he said that in general, given the pandemic’s clear and disproportionate impact on underserved students and communities, education leaders should move straight into directing more resources and support to students and families in need, without depending on tests to do so. 

The ability of tests to discern trend lines in a typical fashion has also been disrupted beyond the point of being useful, including for accountability, said Daniel Koretz, a research professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who focuses on assessments. And more broadly, he said, potential disruptions for students at home and other factors unique to the pandemic present an environment that tests simply can’t control for. 

“Even for diagnostic testing, there is a pretty high risk I think that we would not be able to trust comparative data,” Koretz said, adding, “I wouldn’t want to see what little instruction we’re able to give kids now consumed by test prep.” 

Veteran educator Nancy Bailey has some very clear ideas about the next Secretary of Education. All her proposals are premised on Trump’s defeat, since billionaire Betsy DeVos would want to hang on and finish the job of destroying public schools and enriching religious and private schools.

Let’s hope that the next Secretary of Education has the wisdom and vision to liberate children and teachers from the iron grip of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, High-stakes testing, privatization, and a generation of failed federal policies.

Bailey begins:

During this critical time in American history, that individual should be a black or brown woman, who has been a teacher of young children, and who understands child development. She should hold an education degree and have an additional leadership degree and experience that will help her run the U.S. Department of Education.

Children deserve to see more teachers who look like they do, who will inspire them to go on and become teachers themselves. A black female education secretary will bring more diverse individuals to the field and set an example. This will benefit all students.

Many individuals, including accomplished black men, have brilliant minds, and understand what we need in the way of democratic public education. Leadership roles should await them in the U.S. Department of Education, in schools, universities, or states and local education departments.

But with the fight for Black Lives to Matter and for an end to gender inequality, a knowledgeable black woman with a large heart to embrace these times should take this spot. The majority of teachers have always been women, and while men are critical to being role models for children and teens, it is time for a black woman to lead.

We have had eleven education secretaries, and only three of them have been women, including Shirley Hufstedler, Margaret Spellings, and Betsy DeVos. None of these women were educators or had experience in the classroom. Only two African American men have been in this role, and neither of them could be considered authentic teachers and educators. Both had the goal to undermine public schools.

The time is now for a black female education secretary who will set a positive example and be the face of the future for children from all gender and cultural backgrounds.

David Berliner and Gene Glass are leaders of the American education research community. Their books are required reading in the field. They shared with me their thoughts about the value of annual testing in 2021. I would add only one point: if Trump is voted out in November, Jim Blew and Betsy DeVos will have no role in deciding whether to demand or require the annual standardized testing regime in the spring of 2021. New people who are, hopefully, wiser and more attuned to the failure of standardized testing over 20 years, will take their place.

Glass and Berliner write:

Why Bother Testing in 2021?

Gene V Glass
David C. Berliner

At a recent Education Writers Association seminar, Jim Blew, an assistant to Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, opined that the Department is inclined not to grant waivers to states seeking exemptions from the federally mandated annual standardized achievement testing. States like Michigan, Georgia, and South Carolina were seeking a one year moratorium. Blew insisted that “even during a pandemic [tests] serve as an important tool in our education system.” He said that the Department’s “instinct” was to grant no waivers. What system he was referring to and important to whom are two questions we seek to unravel here.

Without question, the “system” of the U.S. Department of Education has a huge stake in enforcing annual achievement testing. It’s not just that the Department’s relationship is at stake with Pearson Education, the U.K. corporation that is the major contractor for state testing, with annual revenues of nearly $5 billion. The Department’s image as a “get tough” defender of high standards is also at stake. Pandemic be damned! We can’t let those weak kneed blue states get away with covering up the incompetence of those teacher unions.

To whom are the results of these annual testings important? Governors? District superintendents? Teachers?

How the governors feel about the test results depends entirely on where they stand on the political spectrum. Blue state governors praise the findings when they are above the national average, and they call for increased funding when they are below. Red state governors, whose state’s scores are generally below average, insist that the results are a clear call for vouchers and more charter schools – in a word, choice. District administrators and teachers live in fear that they will be blamed for bad scores; and they will.

Fortunately, all the drama and politicking about the annual testing is utterly unnecessary. Last year’s district or even schoolhouse average almost perfectly predicts this year’s average. Give us the average Reading score for Grade Three for any medium or larger size district for the last year and we’ll give you the average for this year within a point or two. So at the very least, testing every year is a waste of time and money – money that might ultimately help cover the salary of executives like John Fallon, Pearson Education CEO, whose total compensation in 2017 was more than $4 million.

But we wouldn’t even need to bother looking up a district’s last year’s test scores to know where their achievement scores are this year. We can accurately predict those scores from data that cost nothing. It is well known and has been for many years – just Google “Karl R. White” 1982 – that a school’s average socio-economic status (SES) is an accurate predictor of its achievement test average. “Accurate” here means a correlation exceeding .80. Even though a school’s racial composition overlaps considerably with the average wealth of the families it serves, adding Race to the prediction equation will improve the prediction of test performance. Together, SES and Race tell us much about what is actually going on in the school lives of children: the years of experience of their teachers; the quality of the teaching materials and equipment; even the condition of the building they attend.

Don’t believe it? Think about this. In a recent year the free and reduced lunch rate (FRL) at the 42 largest high schools in Nebraska was correlated with the school’s average score in Reading, Math, and Science on the Nebraska State Assessments. The correlations obtained were FRL & Reading r = -.93, FRL & Science r = -.94, and FRL & Math r = -.92. Correlation coeficients don’t get higher than 1.00.

If you can know the schools’ test scores from their poverty rate, why give the test?

In fact, Chris Tienken answered that very question in New Jersey. With data on household income, % single parent households, and parent education level in each township, he predicted a township’s rates of scoring “proficient” on the New Jersy state assessment. In Maple Shade Township, 48.71% of the students were predicted to be proficient in Language Arts; the actual proficiency rate was 48.70%. In Mount Arlington township, 61.4% were predicted proficient; 61.5% were actually proficient. And so it went. Demographics may not be destiny for individuuals, but when you want a reliable, quick, inexpensive estimate of how a school, township, or district is doing in terms of their achievement scores on a standardized test of acheievement, demographics really are destiny, until governments at many levels get serious about addressing the inequities holding back poor and minority schools!

There is one more point to consider here: a school can more easily “fake” its achievement scores than it can fake its SES and racial composition. Test scores can be artificially raised by paying a test prep company, or giving just a tiny bit more time on the test, looking the other way as students whip out their cell phones during the test, by looking at the test before hand and sharing some “ideas” with students about how they might do better on the tests, or examining the tests after they are given and changing an answer or two here and there. These are not hypothetical examples; they go on all the time.

However, don’t the principals and superintendents need the test data to determine which teachers are teaching well and which ones ought to be fired? That seems logical but it doesn’t work. Our colleague Audrey Amrein Beardsley and her students have addressed this issue in detail on the blog VAMboozled. In just one study, a Houston teacher was compared to other teachers in other schools sixteen different times over four years. Her students’ test scores indicated that she was better than the other teachers 8 times and worse than the others 8 times. So, do achievement tests tell us whether we have identified a great teacher, or a bad teacher? Or do the tests merely reveal who was in that teacher’s class that particualr year? Again, the makeup of the class – demographics like social class, ethnicity, and native language – are powerful determiners of test scores.

But wait. Don’t the teachers need the state standardized test results to know how well their students are learning, what they know and what is still to be learned? Not at all. By Christmas, but certainly by springtime when most of the standardized tests are given, teachers can accurately tell you how their students will rank on those tests. Just ask them! And furthermore, they almost never get the information about their students’ acheievement until the fall following the year they had those students in class making the information value of the tests nil!

In a pilot study by our former ASU student Annapurna Ganesh, a dozen 2nd and 3rd grade teachers ranked their children in terms of their likely scores on their upcoming Arizona state tests. Correlations were uniformly high – as high in one class as +.96! In a follow up study, with a larger sample, here are the correlations found for 8 of the third-grade teachers who predicted the ranking of their students on that year’s state of Arizona standardized tests:

Screen Shot 2020-08-11 at 12.16.01 PMIn this third grade sample, the lowest rank order coefficient between a teacher’s ranking of the students and the student’s ranking on the state Math or Reading test was +.72! Berliner took these results to the Arizona Department of Education, informing them that they could get the information they wanted about how children are doing in about 10 minutes and for no money! He was told that he was “lying,” and shown out of the office. The abuse must go on. Contracts must be honored.

 

Predicting rank can’t tell you the national percentile of this child or that, but that information is irrelevant to teachers anyway. Teachers usually know which child is struggling, which is soaring, and what both of them need. That is really the information that they need!

Thus far as we argue against the desire our federal Department of Education to reinstitute achievement testing in each state, we neglected to mention a test’s most important characteristic—its validity. We mention here, briefly, just one type of validity, content validity. To have content validity students in each state have to be exposed to/taught the curriculum for which the test is appropriate. The US Department of Education seems not to have noticed that since March 2020 public schooling has been in a bit of an upheaval! The chances that each district, in each state, has provided equal access to the curriculm on which a states’ test is based, is fraught under normal circumstances. In a pandemic it is a remarkably stupid assumption! We assert that no state achievement test will be content valid if given in the 2020-2021 school year. Furthermore, those who help in administering and analyzing such tests are likely in violation of the testing standards of the American Psycholgical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education. In addition to our other concerns with state standardized tests, there is no defensible use of an invalid test. Period.

We are not opposed to all testing, just to stupid testing. The National Assessment Governing Board voted 12 to 10 in favor of administering NAEP in 2021. There is some sense to doing so. NAEP tests fewer than 1 in 1,000 students in grades 4, 8, and 12. As a valid longitudinal measure, the results could tell us the extent of the devastation of the Corona virus.

We end this essay with some good news. The DeVos Department of Education position on Spring 2021 testing is likely to be utterly irrelevant. She and assistant Blew are likely to be watching the operation of the Department of Education from the sidelines after January 21, 2021. We can only hope that members of a new admistration read this and understand that some of the desperately needed money for American public schools can come from the huge federal budget for standardized testing. Because in seeking the answer to the question “Why bother testing in 2021?” we have necessarily confronted the more important question: “Why ever bother to administer these mandated tests?”

We hasten to add that we are not alone in this opinion. Among measurement experts competent to opine on such things, our colleagues at the National Education Policy Center likewise question the wisdom of a 2021 federal government mandated testing.

Chalkbeat reports that Colorado has canceled state academic tests for 2020.

Colorado will cancel state tests in light of coronavirus school closures, officials say

Any state that insists on giving the federally-mandated tests should be prepared to answer how they expect to test children who have been out of school for several weeks without instruction.

Under the best of circumstances, the scores reveal little more than family income and education. In the current circumstances, what will they mean? Nothing, although the differences between haves and have-nots might be accentuated.

Best course of action for every state: Cancel the tests now and focus instead on making sure that students have food, social supports, and access to medical care.

Cancel the tests. Care for students.

 

Alfie Kohn has written many books critical of competition and ranking in schools. This article appeared in the New York Times.

 

For a generation now, school reform has meant top-down mandates for what students must be taught, enforced by high-stakes standardized tests and justified by macho rhetoric — “rigor,” “raising the bar,” “tougher standards.”

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose that next year virtually every student passed the tests. What would the reaction be from politicians, businesspeople, the media? Would these people shake their heads in admiration and say, “Damn, those teachers must be good!”?

Of course not. Such remarkable success would be cited as evidence that the tests were too easy. In the real world, when scores have improved sharply, this has indeed been the reaction. For example, when results on New York’s math exam rose in 2009, the chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents said, “What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating,” but instead “that New York State needs to raise its standards.”

The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.

The standards-and-accountability movement is not about leaving no child behind. To the contrary, it is an elaborate sorting device, intended to separate wheat from chaff. The fact that students of color, students from low-income families and students whose first language isn’t English are disproportionately defined as chaff makes the whole enterprise even more insidious.

But my little thought experiment uncovers a truth that extends well beyond what has been done to our schools in the name of “raising the bar.” We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of any group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut. In America, excellence is regarded as a scarce commodity. Success doesn’t count unless it is attained by only a few.

One way to ensure this outcome is to evaluate people (or schools, or companies, or countries) relative to one another. That way, even if everyone has done quite well, or improved over time, half will always fall below the median — and look like failures.

Kohn quite rightly concludes that the nature of the standards-and-accountability regime of federal policy (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act) requires that most children are left behind, most children will never reach the top, and most children will not succeed. The reliance on standardized testing, normed on a bell curve, guarantees that outcome.

 

Betsy DeVos’ team warned Arizona that it could lose $340 million in federal funding if it persists in offering options to students taking standardized tests. The state has to pick one test for high school students—either the state test, SAT or ACT-or it may lose Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students.

Leave aside the fact that the SAT and the ACT are designed for college admission, not as a high school accountability test. Leave aside the fact that all standardized tests are normed on a bell curve to produce “winners” and “losers” and are completely misaligned as high school tests of competency. Leave aside that using these two commercial tests is a multimillion dollar windfall for two private testing corporations.

The federal government should not be holding any state hostage over its decision about how or whether to use certain tests. It should not threaten to withhold funding for the neediest students to force states to do what the U.S. Department of Education or Congress prefers. Congress should use its powers to protect the civil rights of students, not to interfere in how to educate students, a subjectwhereit is woefully and demonstrably ignorant.

This is a stellar example of federal control of education, which was banned by federal law in the early 1970s. Using a standardized test to judge the “success” of every student will predictably rank students by family income with only rare exceptions. The students from low-income families will cluster at the bottom, along with children English-learners and students with disabilities.

This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level.  ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.

For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test…

The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote.

What’s more, Arizona hasn’t had a single high school test for several years. Instead, students are allowed to take one of three end-of-course math and reading/language arts tests, Brogan’s letter says. The failure to offer students the same test statewide is the reason the state has been put on high-risk status.

The state needs to pick one test for high school students, Brogan says, or it may lose federal Title I funding for disadvantaged students. It’s up to Arizona to decide whether the single test is the AzMerit, the ACT, the SAT, or something else.

Congress needs to abandon its belief that tests improve outcomes and that it can use federal funding to force uniformity of testing. NCLB proved that this theory was wrong.

After almost 20 years of failure, after a decade of flat test scores, isn’t it time for the members of the Congressional education committee to reflect on the bad ideas they have been promoting and figure out that it is time to stop compelling states to adopt harmful practices? Don’t they know they are still inhaling the toxic fumes of a failed NCLB? Or do they still believe that there was a “Texas Miracle”?