Archives for category: Standardized Testing

http://childrenaremorethantestscores.blogspot.com/2016/09/who-decides.html?m=1

Jesse Turner is known as “the walking man.” He walked from Connecticut to D.C. inn 2010 to protest the overuse of mandated testing and its negative effects on children. He did it again in 2015.

His blog is called “children are more than test scores.”

This is his latest. It is called “Who Decides?”

It begins like this. Please open the link and see where he goes with it.

I hear some educational activists want to be the deciders?
Who is authentic?
Who is a sell out?
Who is weak?
Who is pure?
Who is a real activist?

Who decides?
Who decides if you are an education activist?
Who decides if you can join the rallies against NCLB, RTTT, or ESSA?
Who decides if you can make your own sign for the cause?
Who decides if you can march?

Who decides?
I know something about activists.
I have been an activist since I was eight years old.
My first march was August 28, 1963.
I was the tag along company for my grandfather who decided he needed to be part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
At eight years old I had no idea I was an activist, but activist I became.
The only thing about the March on Washington I really knew was,
No one from the union hall would go with him.
No one from our church would go with him.
No one from his VFW would go with him.
I knew my grandmother was afraid to go.
My mother was afraid to go.
I knew they both loved Dr. King.
But, they read the newspapers,
They watched the news, and everywhere Black people marched back in 60’s they were met with hatred and brutality.
My mother loved justice, but she was afraid.
For weeks my grandfather asked friends and everyone he knew to go to DC,
He said I’ll drive,
I’ll pay for the gas,
I’ll buy lunch,
But no one would go.
My grandmother and mother prayed no one would go.
Why, because they loved him, and were afraid something would happen, and he would be hurt.
Finally he stopped asking people.
My grandmother hoped he would decide not to go.
He was going?
He fought in World War I, lived through the great depression, believed every American deserved a good job, and everyone had the right to vote.
My grandmother and mother prayed he would change his mind.
God did not answer their prayers.
They were afraid for their stubborn old man with a love for justice.
God did answer his marching prayers.
On the day before the march he washed his car, changed the oil, checked the tires, and filled up the gas tank. Laid out his best Sunday suit. Asked my grandmother if she could pack some sandwiches and his thermos. He said please in his best please voice.
There was an argument, my grandmother tried to get him to change his mind. He would not.
She called my mother crying. My mother went over. She took me with her.
They came to accept he was going to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
They were afraid, but proud of their stubborn old man.
They made sandwiches, brought an extra thermos one for the drive down, and one for the drive back. In 1963 he was 68. They calculated the drive time down would take 4 to 5 hours and another 4 to 5 hours on the way back, and figured the march would last at least 6-8 hours.
He would need to leave at 4:30 AM. They figured he would get there around 9:00, stay until 4 or 5, and drive home. They determined he needed coffee for ride down and back. None of this change the fact that they were afraid for him. People today have no idea how brave those 250,000 marchers were in 63.
My mother had brought a bag with pajamas and my only suit to my grandmother’s house. She had decided if the old man is going to Washington he needs company for the ride. She told my grandmother it’s a long ride, he’ll be lonely, and he could get tired. He needs someone to keep him awake.
Little Jess is the perfect person for that. He can’t stop talking. Plus if we send him with the boy he’ll be extra careful not to get into any trouble. If trouble starts he’ll take the boy and run.
So I began marching in 63 at the age of 8.
No one asked my grandfather are you for freedom?
No one asked are you for jobs?
No one asked my grandfather why is a White man marching with Black people?
Why did you bring a little boy?

Who decides?

All of us do what we can. I write. Jesse walks. I couldn’t do what he does. I say it is time for him to join the honor roll of this blog for his persistence, his goodness, his love for children, and his physical stamina.

When the Mississippi Department of Education released its plan for accountability, parents wrote letters of protest. The Parents’ Campaign organized the protest. The state made some changes to mollify the protest but will continue to rate schools based primarily on measures that reflect family income and demographics rather than evaluating the challenges schools confront and whether they have the resources to deal with their needs. The accountability system is premised on the infallibility of standardized tests, whose results are closely coordinated with family income.

The Parent’s Campaign

After receiving 139 comments from parents, educators, and concerned citizens, the State Board of Education has voted to adopt several changes to the rules that govern the accountability system that determines school and district ratings. I am proud to say that the majority of respondents were parents. Thank you for being attentive and for speaking up for our children and our public schools when you saw something of concern! We are grateful to the board for seeking and heeding the input of parents and educators.

The rules adopted by the board today require the use of cut scores, not percentiles, to determine school ratings. That is in line with what concerned citizens advocated in their comments, and it is in line with the clarification statement that was distributed by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). You can see the complete newly adopted Statewide Accountability System rules and the public comments that were submitted here.

Adopted changes in the Accountability System business rules include:

changes in the grade classifications component – school and district ratings (section 1)

changes in the growth component* (section 6)

changes in the acceleration component (section 9)

a retraction of the change in the College and Career Readiness component – Senior Snapshot will continue to be used (section 25)

*We support this new change to the growth component that will give credit to schools for students who show improvement within the “passing” achievement level.

After consulting with their attorneys, MDE officials determined that the difference between what was posted for public comment (use of percentiles) and what was outlined in the department’s clarification the following week (intent to use cut scores) was not substantial enough to require a new round of public comments. Therefore, the board was able to vote today on final adoption of changes to the system.

Thanks again for speaking up! Mississippi children are so very fortunate to have you in their corner. Together, we’ve got this.

222 North President Street, Suite 102
Jackson, Mississippi 39201
Phone 601.961.4551
http://www.msparentscampaign.org

Jim Horn has a website called “Schools Matter.” He opposes corporate reform, as I do.
I have never met him. I hear he doesn’t like me. I don’t know why. I thought we were fighting for the same goals.

The first time I became aware of his hostility was when he posted a photograph of me with the caption, “Nice face job, Diane.” Very puzzling as I have never had a facelift. Sexist too. I ignored him.

When Anthony Cody and I decided to create the Network for Public Education, aiming to build alliances among the many individuals and groups fighting against corporate reform, we selected a board and announced our existence. Horn emailed to say that he was going to attack us because we included a much admired NBCT African American teacher from Mississippi. Horn discovered that she had written an article praising merit pay. Many emails went back and forth among him, Anthony, and me. He decided not to poison us at our birth.

But he has an intense and personal animus towards me. Again, I can’t explain it. I don’t know why.

I thought I would share with you his latest blast, which was (I assume) a response to my post about how progressive movements die when they turn on one another. In the post, I urged us all to work together towards our shared agenda. Apparently he is angry that I supported ESSA; I supported it because it eliminated NCLB (No Child Left Behind), AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), and VAM (value-added modeling or test-based teacher evaluations). If ESSA had not passed, NCLB would still be federal law, and John King would have the authoritarian power that Arne Duncan had over the nation’s schools. If I were writing the law, I would have eliminated all federal mandates for accountability and testing, but I was not writing the law.

Despite what he writes, we are on the same side of the issues. Like him, I oppose standardized testing, other than for sampling purposes. I oppose evaluation of teachers by test scores. I oppose segregation. I support equitable and ample funding of schools. I support teacher professionalism and collective bargaining. I support public education and oppose privatization. Yet he says I am his enemy. He wants us to fail.

This is what Jim Horn wrote yesterday:

Today’s Communique to the Ravitch Forces

After what seems to me to have been a pretty effective skirmish, the Ravitch forces have climbed out of their tent at their permanent Basecamp, stomping the ground and waving their, um, whatevers. For those Ravitch acolytes who are not too drunk on revenge to read, here’s something to ponder, as I am working on a next book today and don’t have time to attend to your whining.

In everything I have seen from D. Ravitch and the band of intellectual eunuchs who comprise the NPE echo chamber, a theme stands out, which is that we cannot afford to fight among ourselves, that allies cannot be ripped asunder, that we must stick together in the same tent, blah blah. So let me speak to Diane directly here, and I hope that all of her disciples will read this carefully.

The problem is, Diane, our goals are not the same. My goals are ending testing accountability in all forms, ending segregated classrooms in all forms, and ending corporate education reform in all forms. I can’t work toward those goals with any effect while misleaders like you and the union suits are cutting deals on ESSA to guarantee another generation of testing accountability, segregated classrooms, and corporate control. Have you read the history of NCLB?

We are on different sides of these issues, regardless of how much braying and foot stomping you are able to stir up. We are not allies. I am your enemy. Get used to it.

What is competency-based education? Twenty or thirty years ago, it referred to skill-based education, and critics complained that CBE downgraded the importance of knowledge.

Today CBE has a different meaning. It refers to teaching and assessment that is conducted online, where students’ learning is continuously monitored, measured, and analyzed. CBE is invariably susceptible to data-mining of children, gathering Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that can be aggregated and used without the knowledge or permission of parents.

The first time that I heard of CBE (although it was not called that) was in a meeting in August 2015 with The State Commissioner of Education in New York, MaryEllen Elia, after her first month in office. I organized a discussion between Commissioner Elia and several board members of NYSAPE (New York State Allies for Public Education), the group that created New York State’s massive opt out that year (and again this year). It was a candid e change, and at one point, Commissioner Elia said that the annual tests would eventually be phased out and replaced by embedded assessment. When asked to explain, she said that students would do their school work online, and they would be continuously assessed. The computer could tell teachers what the students were able to do, minute by minute.

This kind of intensive surveillance and monitoring is very alarming. Once teaching and testing goes online, how can parents say no?

A group of bloggers wrote posts last week to express their concern and outrage about the stealth implementation of CBE. The lead post warns that opting out of annual tests is not enough to stop the digitized steamroller. It’s title is: “Stop! Don’t Opt Out. Read This First.” The author argues that parents are being deceived.

The blogger warns:

Schools in every state are buzzing this year with talk of “personalized” learning and 21st century assessments for kids as young as kindergarten. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its innovative pilot programs are already changing the ways schools instruct and assess, in ways that are clearly harmful to our kids. Ed-tech companies, chambers of commerce, ALEC, neoliberal foundations, telecommunications companies, and the government are working diligently to turn our public schools into lean, efficient laboratories of data-driven, digital learning.

He or she recounts the ways the technocracy responds to parents’ concerns and fears. The new way, they will say, is “personalized learning.” Don’t worry. We know what is best. When the parent objects that the test results come back too late to inform instruction, the technocrat says, “embedded instruction provides real-time feedback. No problem.” Parent asks, what about the stress? Technocrat: “Children won’t even know they are being tested.”

The blogger doesn’t actually say to parents, “Don’t opt out.”

Quite the contrary:

“Opt out families nationwide are encountering these same arguments, as though a pre-set trap is being sprung. Great. So opting out of end-of-year testing isn’t the silver bullet we hoped it would be. Now what?

Now that we know the whole story, go ahead and opt out of the end of the year tests. No child should suffer through them. But we have to expand our definition of opting out, to protect our children from data mining and stop the shift to embedded assessments and digital curriculum.

In addition to opting out of end-of-year testing, there are other important steps we need to take to safeguard our children’s access to human teachers and to protect their data, their vision, and their emotional health. There is no set playbook, but here are some ideas to get us started.

1. Opt your child out of Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

2. If your school offers a device for home use, decline to sign the waiver for it and/or pay the fee.

3. Does your child’s assigned email address include a unique identifier, like their student ID number? If yes, request a guest log in so that their data cannot be aggregated.

4. Refuse biometric monitoring devices (e.g. fit bits).

5. Refuse to allow your child’s behavioral, or social-emotional data to be entered into third-party applications. (e.g. Class Dojo)

6. Refuse in-class social networking programs (e.g. EdModo).

7. Set a screen time maximum per day/per week for your child.

8. Opt young children out of in school screen time altogether and request paper and pencil assignments and reading from print books (not ebooks).

9. Begin educating parents about the difference between “personalized” learning modules that rely on mining PII (personally-identifiable information) to function properly and technology that empowers children to create and share their own content.

10. Insist that school budgets prioritize human instruction and that hybrid/blended learning not be used as a back door way to increase class size or push online classes.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, and students must begin to look critically at the technology investments we are making in schools. We have to start advocating for responsible tools that empower our children to be creators (and I don’t mean of data), NOT consumers of pre-packaged, corporate content or online games. We must prioritize HUMAN instruction and learning in relationship to one another. We need more face time and less screen time.

Every time a parent acts to protect their child from these harmful policies, it throws a wrench into the gears of this machine. The steamroller of education reform doesn’t stand a chance against an empowered, educated army of parents, teachers and students. Use your power to refuse. Stand together, stand firm, be loud, and grab a friend. Cumulatively our actions will bring down this beast!”

Kevin Ohlandt blogs at Exceptional Delaware.

He left the following comment in response to Peter Greene’s post about “Lab Rats for America.”

“But where oh where would all of this become incorporated? Look no further than the home of 85% of U.S. companies… the First State… Delaware. On May 2nd, Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced his state would begin to look at changes in state regulations and state code to allow for Blockchain start-ups to come to Delaware.

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/governor-markell-launches-delaware-blockchain-initiative-300260672.html

“As well, we have a coding school in Delaware which was founded by Ben DuPont, of the legendary DuPont family of Delaware. The same family that actually created many of the “brown schools” in our state in the early 20th Century. Also a big supporter of charter schools.

“This is what is has all been leading up to. And opt out? They love it. As long as they resist it just enough to issues threats and build the base for more parents opting out. Not wholesale, but steady increases. That way they can “realize the error of their ways” and lead us to a digital personalized learning competency-based education paradise where the state assessment is no longer given once a year, but throughout – in the form of end of unit online assessments. At the end of the year, the total scores will be calculated and serve as the official state assessments.

“Because these are also part of students grades and their ability to move on, the ability to opt out becomes moot. Teachers (or rather, glorified digital moderators), will get immediate feedback. The tests won’t be as long, so parents won’t have to worry.
They are three steps ahead of us, always. While we are lashing out about PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and teacher evaluations, they are laying the groundwork for all of this.

“They can say this is an attempt to erase all inequity, but we know that is a false narrative. This is the corporate takeover of America. This is the end of public education.
But the question we ALL need to ask ourselves… how do we stop it? We are seeing coding classes in 3rd grade in Delaware. Are kids actually laying the groundwork for a lot of this already? You know this is a data-mining paradise for them.

“The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has been pushing this in our state for a long time. Our State Board of Education and Dept. of Education are the most deceptive and fraudulent parts of our state.

“If we want to save public education and, I’m going to say it, the future of the country, we have to act now.”

Two researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, surveyed parents who opted their children out of state tests and confirmed what leaders of the test refusal movement have long asserted. Parents don’t opt out because they are controlled by unions. They don’t opt out because, as Arne Duncan once said, they are fearful that their child is not as smart as they thought.

“Teachers College unveiled the findings of Who Opts Out and Why?—the first national, independent survey of the “opt-out” movement—which reveals that supporters oppose the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and believe that high-stakes tests force teachers to “teach to the test” rather than employ strategies that promote deeper learning. The new survey also reports concern among supporters about the growing role of corporations and privatization of schools.

“For activists, the concerns are about more than the tests,” said Oren Pizmony-Levy, TC Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education, who co-authored the study with Nancy Green Saraisky, Research Associate and TC alumna. “We were surprised that the survey reveals a broader concern about corporate education reform relying on standardized test-based accountability, and the increased role of ‘edu-businesses’ and corporations in schools.”


Who Opts Out and Why? also reveals that opt-out proponents oppose high-stakes, standardized testing because they believe it takes away too much instructional time.”

This is an instance where research confirms common sense.

Chalkbeat interviewed one of the authors of the study, who said:

It’s the breadth of the movement that’s noteworthy, explains Oren Pizmony-Levy, one of the report’s authors.

“It’s not just about the tests. They’re saying something bigger about the direction of education reforms in the U.S.,” Pizmony-Levy said. “It does bring together all sides of the political spectrum.”

The most common reason opt-out supporters cited for boycotting the tests was opposition to using test data to evaluate teacher performance, with 36.9 percent of respondents listing that as one of their top two reasons to support opting out (45 percent of the respondents work in education). That was followed by concerns over teaching to the test (33.8 percent), opposition to the growing role of corporations in schools (30.4 percent), fears that the tests cut into instructional time (26.5 percent), and opposition to Common Core standards (25.8 percent).

Roughly half of those surveyed self-identified as liberal, while nearly 18 percent identified as conservative.

The authors noted that there is some potential bias in the data because it depends on accurate self-reporting, and was disseminated electronically, which largely excludes those who don’t have internet access.

But Pizmony-Levy said the survey still begins to sketch out a more detailed profile of who opts out and why. (On the most recent math and English exams, 21 percent opted out across New York state, as did 2.5 percent in New York City.)

“I think what this is telling us is activists disagree with the current direction of education reforms [which include] … ideas about accountability from the business world,” he said. “They’re saying maybe there are other directions we should go.”

Vermont is the smartest state in the nation. Not because of test scores, but because the officials in charge of education actually care about children and about education. When they look at the state’s children, they see children with names and faces, not just data. When they think about their schools, they see them as places where children should experience the excitement and joy of learning.

Vermont did not apply for a Race to the Top grant, meaning that it never was compelled to adopt Arne Duncan’s ideas about how to reform schools (which he failed to do when he was superintendent in Chicago).

Vermont never enacted charter school legislation. Vermont has its own kind of school choice program. If a district or town does not offer a public elementary or high school, students may receive a voucher to attend a private (non-religious) school. Such vouchers (called “town tuitioning”) are available only when there are no public schools available.

Vermont education officials think for themselves. Read their brilliant letter to Secretary of Education John King, advocate of high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, about the inadequacies of ESSA and his proposed regulations.

They say:

The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better.

This thinking perpetuates a disabling narrative about public schools. We ask for leadership from Washington that celebrates the glories of what we can accomplish rather than unrelenting dirges.

We are dismayed that the federal government continues to commoditize education and support charter and private schools which segregate children and show no particular learning advantage. We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools. We are disappointed that the federal government could not embrace and promote a more expansive understanding of the purpose and value of public schools in creating a strong citizenry.

We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.

The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.

The letter can be found here.

Michael Barber and Joel Klein have written a report for the World Economic Forum about how to achieve greatness in education. Their report is titled “Unleashing Greatness: Nine Plays to Spark Innovation in Education.”

Michael Barber is the chief education advisor for Pearson. Joel Klein is the ex-chancellor of the New York City public schools, former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify (which lost $500 million and was sold off by Murdoch), and current chief policy and strategy officer to Oscar Health Insurance, which recently announced a radical downsizing.

The old ways no longer work, they say. What is needed for the future is “whole system reform,” which has happened or is happening (they say) in Madrid, Punjab, London, and New York City. Presumably, Barber takes credit for London and Klein takes credit for New York City. (I note, however, as a resident of New York City, that the schools continue to struggle with many problems, and no one refers to the “New York a City miracle” these days.)

Fortunately, Professor Stephen Dinham of the University of Melbourne in Australia took on the job of analyzing the Barber-Klein formula for greatness.

He sees the report as an illustration of what Pasi Sahlberg called the “Global Education Reform Movement” or GERM.

He writes:

“The terms ‘playbook’ and ‘unleash’ are loaded and instructive. A playbook, in sports, provides a list of strategies or moves for players and teams to follow. These are essentially step-by-step formulae intended to achieve success. In the case of this report, there are nine. Oh that education – and interrelated services such as health, employment and public infrastructure – could be reduced to such a simplistic list. The term unleash implies releasing from restriction and confinement, in this case, opening up education to ‘choice’ and the ‘free’ market. As I have noted, typically, ‘Choice, competition, privatization and the free market are [seen as] the answers to almost any question about education. (Dinham, 2015a: 3).

“Let’s now consider the latest simplistic recipe designed to address the ‘manufactured crisis’ in education (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Berliner & Glass, 2015), a crisis that is in danger of becoming reality if we ignore the evidence and follow such ideologically and financially underpinned and driven prescriptions (Dinham, 2016).

“The authors’ ‘plays’ are:

“Provide a compelling vision for the future

Set ambitious goals to force innovation

Create choice and competition

Pick many winners

Benchmark and track progress

Evaluate and share the success of new innovations

Combine greater accountability and autonomy

Invest in and empower agents of change

Reward successes (and productive failures).

“Detail on ‘how’ to achieve the above is lacking, although brief case studies where these have purportedly been successful are provided (e.g, New York, Chile). A common theme is the belief mentioned previously that deregulation, competition and choice will deliver an overall lift in educational performance. The evidence is however, either weak (e.g., on greater school autonomy) or contradictory (e.g., vouchers, charter schools, free schools, chains or academies) (Dinham, 2015a).”

Read both the report and the critique. Funny the authors don’t look at Chile and Sweden, two nations that took the path they recommend, with disastrous results.

We now know that the national convention of the NAACP endorsed a strong resolution opposing the expansion of charter schools, saying that they foster segregation, target communities of color, remove community and parent voice, and impose harsh discipline.

But what do civil rights groups think about testing?

Our reader Laura Chapman wrote about this question.

She wrote:

Before ESSA was passed, about 30 members of the 200 member of the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” lobbied Congress and USDE to continue the use of use of disaggregated test scores as if this was the only “objective” way to identify disparities in education. NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., participated in this effort.

Of course, the charter industry exploits these disaggregated measures to justify their test-centric schools and to promise they can do better than public schools in providing ”high quality seats” in struggling urban districts.

In April of 2016, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to John King requesting that these features of ESSA not be compromised in the guidance letters he might issue to states.
http://www.civilrights.org/advocacy/letters/2016/ESSA-implementation-framework.html

Also in April, the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” published a survey of African American and Latino parents on what they want from schools. The survey promotion had this headline and lead-in:

“Parents: Schools Not Preparing Students of Color for Future.” http://www.colorlines.com/articles/parents-schools-not-preparing-students-color-future

The survey was conducted by Anzalone, Liszt, Grove Research “a public opinion research firm specializing in message development and strategic consulting. For nearly 20 years, we have helped clients ranging from President Obama, to EMILY’S List, to Microsoft achieve their goals.”

The Survey promotion continued “From lack of funding to low expectations, a new survey finds that Black and Latino parents don’t trust public schools to help their kids succeed.”

Given this lead-in, I thought the survey might deal with “trust in public schools.” Not so. In fact we do not know much about the survey other than the published methodology does not meet minimal standards for research: For example, we do not know if the parents who participated in the survey by landline or mobile phone had children in public, charter, or parochial schools. We do know that the 400 African American and 400 Latino participants lived in Chicago or in Philadelphia. Perhaps Julian can discern the messaging function of the survey get the full survey not just the survey, and discern why the headlines were framed around “trust in public schools.”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/99tklsqp6aykxgk/New Education Majority poll summary.pdf?dl=0

My impression is that this is a push poll created to support a messaging campaign. I note, for example, that the “Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights” received $878,338 in October 2015 from the Gates Foundation ”to make the national education policy conversation more reflective and inclusive of a civil rights framework of equity and access by including more diverse voices and perspectives.” That is Gates-speak for promoting access to charter schools.

The Gates Foundation has a sure-fire method of winning hearts and minds.

Your advice is needed. What is the best way to improve graduation rates, without cheating or gaming the system.

The Los Angeles Times recently published two editorials about high school graduation rates.

The first looked at the new phenomenon of “online credit recovery” as a means of helping students get credits to graduate. As a general rule, online credit recovery has a poor reputation. A few years ago, the NCAA conducted its own investigation and found online programs in which the questions were so simple that students breezed through them. In some cases, they were given more than one chance to answer a multiple choice question. The Los Angeles public schools are using a program with a better reputation than most, but questions still remain about the educational value of online courses for students who should have face-to-face encounters with teachers.

The second editorial reviewed the methods that states have devised to boost their graduation rates, such as lowering standards, eliminating exit exams, online credit recovery, reclassifying students as “leavers” rather than dropouts, etc.

The editorial contains some startling good sense, as in this section:

Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara, is not a fan of measuring a school’s success by its graduation rate for precisely that reason: Doing so encourages schools to lower their standards or to use misleading numbers or to find ways to get failing students out of their schools without having to count them as dropouts. In any case, he says, “a diploma is a blunt instrument” for measuring learning; one study found that low-income students need to show better mastery of the material than merely a pass in order to have a real shot at reaching the middle class.

Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers.
Like it or not, Rumberger says, higher standards — such as those in the Common Core curriculum standards recently adopted in California and most other states — tend to mean lower graduation rates, and it’s disingenuous for states to say they can raise both at once, and quickly.

This is the first time I have seen a public admission in the editorials of a major newspaper that raising standards lowers graduation rates. This is a contrast with the usual blithe claim by pundits and legislators that making tests harder will force kids and teachers to try harder, to “up their game,” thus producing more learning. Rumberger is right: When the tests are harder, more students will not pass.

The editorial concludes:

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which never did much to encourage higher graduation rates, might be dead, but its successor will have little chance of succeeding if policymakers aren’t realistic about the work and patience required to raise standards, test scores and graduation rates. It’s slow, hard, incremental work without magic solutions, and improved numbers aren’t always evidence of better-educated students.

The editorial is thoughtful, and I don’t mean to cast aspersion on the writers’ efforts to puzzle through this dilemma. But the quest for higher test scores and higher graduation rates was the singular goal of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. An honest assessment compels a frank admission that NCLB and RTTT failed. Even if one can find examples of higher numbers, do they really demonstrate that students are better prepared or do they reflect the result of twelve years of test prep?

Chasing better data is not the purpose of education, and we make a grave error by doing so. As the LA Times acknowledges, most of what has been produced at a cost of many billions over the past 15 years are creative efforts to game the system.

It would be far more fruitful to ask different questions: How can American schools do a better job of preparing students to succeed in life after high school? How can they encourage students to pursue learning on their own? How can they awaken a need to know? How can we reduce the growing racial segregation in our schools? (If only the $5 billion wasted on Race to the Top had been used to promote desegregation and to collect data on successful efforts to do so!) Are they adequately resourced and staffed to meet the needs of children growing up in extreme poverty, students without medical attention, students who come to school hungry, students who are homeless?

Until we ask these questions, the data are meaningless, as are such noble aspirations as “No Child Left Behind” by the magic of annual testing or “Every Student Succeeds” by a combination of standards, testing, and data.