Archives for category: Standardized Testing

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.

Many parents and educators are outraged by the over-testing and misuse of testing that has been embedded in federal policy since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year in grades 3-8, as we have since the passage of NCLB.

Young children sit for exams that last up to 15 hours over two weeks. The fate of their teachers rests on their performance. Parents remember taking tests in school that lasted no more than one class period for each subject. Their tests were made by their teachers, not by a multinational corporation. Parents can’t understand how testing became an endurance trial and the goal of education.

Politicians claim that the tests are necessary to inform parents and teachers and the public how children in one state are doing as compared to their peers in other states. But this information is already reported by the federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Parents have figured out that the tests don’t serve any purpose other than to rank their child. No one is allowed to see the test questions after the test. No child receives a diagnosis of what they know and don’t know. They receive only a score. In every state, the majority of children have been ranked as “failures” because the testmakers adopted a passing mark that was guaranteed to fail close to 70% of children. Parents have learned that the passing mark is not objective; it is arbitrary. It can be set to pass everyone, pass no one, or pass some percentage of children.

In the past 14 years, parents have seen the destruction of neighborhood schools, based on their test scores. They have seen beloved teachers fired unjustly, because of their students’ test scores. They have seen the loss of time for the arts, physical education, and anything else that is not tested. They have seen a change in their local public schools that they don’t like, as well as a loss of control to federal mandates and state authorities.

In the past, testing companies warned that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. Now, these corporations willingly sell their tests without warning about misuse. A test of fourth grade reading tests fourth grade reading. It should not be used to rank students, to humiliate students, to fire teachers and principals, or to close schools. But it is.

Communities have been devastated by the closing of their neighborhood schools.

Communities have seen their schools labeled “failing,” based on test scores, and taken over by the state or national corporate charter chains.

Based on test scores, punishments abound: for students, teachers, principals, schools, and communities.

This is madness!

What can we as citizens do to stop the destruction of our children, their schools, and our dedicated educators.

Opt out of the tests.

Use the power of the powerless: Say NO. Do not participate. Withdraw your consent from actions that harm your child. Withdrawal of consent in an unjust system. That’s the force that brought down Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walensa said no. They were not alone. Hundreds of thousands stood with them, and the regimes with their weapons and tanks and heavy armor folded. Because the people said no.

Opting out of the tests is the only tool available to parents, other than defeating the elected officials of your state (which is also a good idea, but will take a very long time to bear fruit). One person can’t defeat the governor and the local representatives. But one person can refuse to allow their child to take the toxic tests.

The only tool and the most powerful tool that parents have to stop this madness is to refuse to allow their children to take the tests.

Consider New York. A year ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in full attack mode against teachers and public schools, while showering praise on privately managed charters. He vowed to “break the monopoly” known as public education. The New York State Board of Regents was controlled by members who were in complete sympathy with Cuomo’s agenda of Common Core, high-stakes testing, and evaluating teachers by test scores.

But in 2015, about a quarter million children refused the state tests. Albany went into panic mode. Governor Cuomo convened a commission to re-evaluate the Common Core, standards, and testing. Almost overnight, his negative declarations about education changed in tone, and he went silent. The legislature appointed new members, who did not share the test-and-punish mentality. The chair of the New York State Board of Regents decided not to seek re-appointment after a 20-year career on that board. The Regents elected Dr. Betty Rosa, a veteran educator who was actively supported by the leaders of the opt out movement.

Again in 2016, the opt out movement showed its power. While official figures have not yet been released, the numbers evidently match those of 2015. More than half the students in Long Island opted out. Federal and state officials have issued warnings about sanctions, but it is impossible to sanction huge numbers of schools in middle-class and affluent communities. The same officials have no problem closing schools in poor urban districts, treating citizens there as chess pawns, but they dare not offend an organized bloc in politically powerful communities.

The opt out movement has been ridiculed by critics, treated by the media as a front for the teachers’ union, belittled by the former Secretary of Education as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed that their child was not so bright after all, stereotyped as privileged white parents with low-performing children, etc. There are indeed black and Hispanic parents who are part of the opt out movement. Their children and their schools suffer the greatest penalties in the current testing madness. In New York City, where opt out numbers were tiny, parents were warned that their children would not be able to enter the middle school or the high school of their choice if they opted out.

Thus far, the opt out movement has not been discouraged or slowed by these tactics of ridicule and intimidation. The conditions have not changed, so the opt out movement will continue.

The reality is that the opt out movement is indeed a powerful weapon. It is the one weapon that makes governors, legislators, and even members of Congress afraid of public opinion and public action. They are afraid because they don’t know how to stop parents from opting out. They can’t control opt out parents, and they know it. They offer compromises, promises for the future, but all of this is sham. They have not let go of the testing hammer. And they will not until opt out becomes the norm, not the exception.

In some communities in New York, opting out is already the norm. If politicians and bureaucrats continue on their reckless course of valuing test scores more than children, the opt out movement will not be deterred.

Save your child. Save your schools. Stop the corporate takeover of public education. You have the power. Say no. Opt out.

An insider in the Florida Department of Education leaked confidential information to this blog.

She writes:

The Florida Department of Education requires that 3rd grade students be promoted to fourth grade if they score Level 1 on the state reading test score or at least at the 45th percentile on the SAT 10. Or they may present a portfolio showing they meet grade level standards. How did the Florida Department come up with the score at the same 45th percentile as the bar? How did they set the bar? Have they mislead Floridians?

Attached is a study that shows that the Florida Department of Education set a standard above Level 2 to promote students:

“In order to promote a student from grade 3 to grade 4, the student should be at least in FCAT reading achievement level 2 or above. In other words, the student’s FCAT-SSS scale score should be higher than 258. The concordance table provides an equivalent Stanford 10 scale score that is 591, or the 25th national percentile on Stanford 10.”

See the report here.

A reader of the blog posted the following comment. She asks the question: What can a standardized test tell the teacher that the teacher doesn’t know already? The answer: nothing. To be precise, “absolutely nothing.”

 

 

She writes:

 

 

One of the most demoralizing moments of my teaching career was being forced to do ACT prep with my secondary ESL students. We would read the questions together, trying to figure out some way of breaking it down into something manageable, and then the students would furrow their brows or just check out completely, and we would all end up frustrated. And I would think, “I’ve spent the last 7 months building a safe classroom community in which students can grow and learn and express their ideas… and then I betray all of that with this absurdity?”

 

Another demoralizing moment was having to administer the ACCESS test to ELLs. We had to test every single student in the bilingual program even if they weren’t actually taking bilingual or ESL classes anymore. In addition to losing class time, the bilingual department teachers gave up every prep period and lunch period for about 5 weeks to test students individually on oral proficiency. You want to know about the life cycle of the boll weevil? I could tell you. That was on the test two years in a row. One girl had literally arrived to the U.S. the weekend before and enrolled the day before the testing began, and she had to take it. She opened the booklet, flipped through the entire thing not able to answer any of the questions and looked up at me in complete bewilderment. Luckily, I speak her native language and give her some reassurance, but I felt like a failure as a teacher and an abomination of a human being.

 

Those experiences affected me deeply, and I wish that I had had more knowledge then. I was young and new as a teacher, and frankly, I was overwhelmed. Now, I do my best to read up on what’s going on in education (thank you, Diane, for making that task infinitely easier!), and my mantra nowadays is “opt out.” There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that those tests could tell anyone that I, as the students’ teacher, couldn’t tell them first.

A growing number of studies conclude that students perform worse on tests when they take them online than when the questions are on paper.

A study published by MIT and conducted at the U.S. Military Academy found that the students who did not use computers scored significantly higher than those who did.

The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching.

The study divided 726 undergraduates randomly into three groups in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. The control group’s classrooms were “technology-free,” meaning students were not allowed to use laptops or tablets at their desk. Another group was allowed to use computers and other devices, and the third group had restricted access to tablets.

“The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,” the researchers concluded, suggesting that the distraction of an electronic device complete with internet access outweighed their use for note-taking or research during lessons.

The research had an unusual twist: the students involved were studying at the West Point academy in the US, where cadets are ruthlessly ranked by exam results, meaning they were motivated to perform well and may have been more disciplined than typical undergraduates.

But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much, and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices.


“Our results indicate that students perform worse when personal computing technology is available. It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point,” the researchers concluded.

The Hechinger Report reported that writing online essays may contribute to a widening of the achievement gap.

The U.S. Department of Education launched a study of fourth graders using computers for writing compared to fourth graders using paper and pencil.

High-performing students did substantially better on the computer than with pencil and paper. But the opposite was true for average and low-performing students. They crafted better sentences using pencil and paper than they did using the computer. Low-income and black and Hispanic students tended to be in this latter category.

“(T)he use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap,” concluded the working paper, “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment.” If so, that has big implications as test makers, with the support of the Department of Education, move forward with their goal of moving almost all students to computerized assessments, which are more efficient and cheaper to grade.
In the study, high-performing students — the top 20 percent of the test takers — produced an average of 179 words per assignment on the computer, three times the number of words that the bottom 20 percent produced. They also used spellcheck, backspace and other editing tools far more often. The researchers found that these high-performing students were more likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

But these high achievers were in the minority. More than two-thirds of fourth-graders’ responses received scores in the bottom half of a 6-point scoring scale that rated grammar and writing quality. Overall, the average fourth-grader typed a total of 110 words per assignment, far less than the 159-word average on the 2010 paper test.

In looking for explanations for the disparity in performance, it seems likely that the high-performing students are more familiar with computers than low-performing students or even those in the middle.

But it is also likely, at least to me, that it is easier to read and re-read a passage when it is on paper than to read it online. Some young children may have difficulty scrolling up and down the page.

And there may be a difference in recall associated with the medium. That requires further study.

Let me confess that I have tried and failed to read books on a Kindle or similar device. It is easy to lose your place; it is hard to find it again. Maybe the difficulty is age-related; after all, I have only been using a computer for 32 years and began using it as an adult. Children who grow up in the digital age may not have the same visual problem that I have in reading large blocs of text. But it will take more studies to figure out when it is beneficial to use the computer and when it is not. Unfortunately policymakers have rushed into online instruction and online assessments on the assumption (untested) that there are no downsides. They do this, as the Hechinger Report says, because the computer makes it easier and cheaper to grade tests. Standardization has some benefits. But it also has drawbacks. We should be aware of both.

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial praising high-stakes testing. The News thinks the tests are necessary and valuable, even though parents don’t.

 

You can tell that no one on the editorial board has children in public schools, because they can’t understand why parents object to the state’s obsession with standardized testing. They congratulate patents got not opting out. They say nothing about the billions of dollars cut from Texas schools in 2011.

 

They just love that data. The kids, not so much.

 

They write:

 

“Dallas Morning News education writer Corbett Smith reports that only about 2,000 Texas families refused the test in 2015-16. That number is tiny compared with New York, where 240,000 opted out of the assessment, or Colorado, where 100,000 didn’t take it.

 

“Opting out of STAAR tests isn’t easy in Texas — but it is possible. So the low number leads us to hope that, despite the massive dislike of accountability exams, parents recognize STAAR’s importance.

 

“This newspaper shares that belief. That’s why our goals for 2016 include advocating for accountability and making a renewed case for the importance of testing, despite the system’s flaws. We have pledged to listen carefully to critics and bone up on best practices so we can urge reform that works.

 

“The first cleanup falls squarely on the state’s new testing vendor. New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services, which won a $280 million contract from the state, has left campuses mired in computer glitches and exam flaws. Just Thursday, it was accused of losing all the elementary and middle school tests in a small Central Texas school district.

 

“Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath assessed the mess this way: Those problems are “unacceptable” and must be fixed.

 

“But the solution isn’t to throw out the whole system, and it’s encouraging to see that most families and school districts get that.

 

“Families deserve to know how their students are progressing against the state standard; without a consistent scorecard, too much is left to chance. That can be a special problem as children move into the later years of elementary school and into middle school, where students most often slip.

 

“Likewise, school districts need to know not only how their students are performing, but how to evaluate teachers and help them grow to be the best possible educators.”

 

 

This is an astonishing post by Mercedes Schneider. She details the charges of a whistle blower at the College Board, who was hired by David Coleman but couldn’t tolerate the manipulation of test items and use of U reviewed items that were fixed after the actual testing. Manuel Alfaro has left the employ of the College Board, but he couldn’t remain silent about the abuses he witnessed.

Alfaro writes:

David Coleman and the College Board have made transparency a key selling point of the redesigned SAT. Their commitment to transparency is proclaimed proudly in public documents and in public speeches and presentations. However, public documents, such as the Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT (https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/pdf/test-specifications-redesigned-sat-1.pdf), contain crucial statements and claims that are fabrications. Similar false claims are also included in proposals the College Board wrote in bids for state assessments—I got the proposals from states that make them public.

To corroborate my statements and allegations, I needed the College Board to administer the tests. If I had gone public before the tests were administered, the College Board could have spun this whole matter as “research” or some other nonsense. Now that the PSAT and SAT have been administered; now that the College Board has committed an insurmountable violation of trust; we the people can decide the future of the SAT.

He goes into great detail about the manipulation of data, the lack of transparency, and violations of trust at the College Board.

This is the open letter that he circulated to the staff at the College Board:

Dear Colleagues:

Over the last year, I’ve explored many different options that would allow me to provide students and their families the critical information they need to make informed decisions about the SAT. At the same time, I was always seeking the option that would have minimal impact on your lives.

I gave David Coleman several opportunities to be a decent human being. Using HR and others, he built a protective barrier around himself that I was unable to penetrate. Being unable to reach him, I was left with my current option as the best choice.

For me, knowing what I know, performing most tasks at the College Board required that I take a few steps onto a slippery slope. Where my superiors stood on that slope was influenced by the culture at the College Board, but ultimately it was their personal choice. They chose to conceal, fabricate, and deceive instead of offering students, parents, and clients honest descriptions of the development processes for item specifications, items, and tests.

I feel bad for all of us and wish that there was a better solution. Like you, I owed allegiance to the College Board, but my first allegiance was, is, and always will be to the students and families that we serve. Please understand that. Millions of students around the world depend on us to protect their best interests. When we forget that, and put the financial interests of the organization first, it is easy to justify taking a shortcut here and a shortcut there in an attempt to meet unrealistic organizational goals.

You are good people. You just need better bosses.

Best wishes,

M

As the new vendor of testing for Texas, ETS is off to a rocky start. It lost all the grades 3-8 test scores for Eanes, Texas. Think of all the weeks wasted on test prep: for nothing!

 

“The state’s new testing vendor reportedly lost all tests taken by elementary and middle school students in central Texas district of Eanes, according to a report from The Texas Tribune.

 

“The site reports that Educational Testing Services told officials at that district that it lost tests taken by students in third through eighth grade, potentially impacting up to 4,000 students.

 

“This is yet another problem in an ever-growing list of concerns for New Jersey-based ETS in its first year of administering the STAAR test. Problems have ranged from the tests missing a correct answer to scoring problems to security concerns.

 

“The problems started getting reported in March with computer glitches that gave students the wrong version of tests, locked up or even erased answers. About 14,220 students across the state were impacted.

 

“In the Burkburnett school district, for example, some students had to rewrite their essays as many as three times after the system repeatedly kicked them back to earlier questions in the test English I end-of-course test.

 

“One student, after redoing her essay several times, finally typed ‘whatever’ in her essay out of frustration,” superintendent Tylor Chaplin wrote in a letter to the Texas Education Agency in April as he expressed his growing frustration.”

 

If a teacher or a school did this, they would be in deep trouble.

 

Mistakes were made!

 

Who will be held accountable?

I wrote before that I would support the nominee of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton won a decisive victory in California last night, and she will be the nominee, opposing the execrable Donald Trump.

I will vote for her.

Readers will say that she is too close to the people who are promoting charters, high-stakes testing, and the destructive policies of the Bush-Obama administrations. That is true. I have fought with all my strength against these terrible policies. I will continue to do so, with redoubled effort. I will do my best to get a one-on-one meeting with Hillary Clinton and to convey what we are fighting for: the improvement of public schools, not their privatization or monetization. The strengthening of the teaching profession, not its elimination. We want for all children what we want for our own.

Which is another way of saying what John Dewey said: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

Hillary Clinton wants the best for her grandchildren: a well-equipped school in a beautiful building; experienced and caring teachers and principals (not amateurs who took a course in leadership); arts classes; daily physical education; the possibility of a life where there is food security, health security, home security, and physical security. That is what we want for our children. That is what we want for everyone’s children. I think she will understand that. Not schools run by for-profit corporations; not schools where children are not allowed to laugh or play; not schools where testing steals time from instruction; not inexperienced teachers who are padding their resumes. That is what I want to tell her. I think she will understand. If she does, she will change the current federal education policies, which are mean-spirited, demoralizing to teachers, and contemptuous of the needs of children.

Now we must turn our energies to fighting together to make clear that we are united, we are strong, and we are not going away. We will stand together, raise our voices, and fight for public education, for our educators, and for the millions of children that they serve. And we will never, never, never give up.

I am grateful to Bernie Sanders for pushing the Clinton campaign to endorse the issues of income inequality and economic fairness. I am glad that he made the privilege of the 1% a national issue. I am glad that he will continue the struggle to really make this country just and fair for all. Bernie has made a historic contribution. He has organized millions of people, enabling them to express their hopes and fears for our nation and our future.

We must work together to harness that energy to save our schools. We must remind the Clinton campaign that every one of the policies promoted by the privatization movement, ALEC, and the whole panoply of right-wingers and misguided Democrats have been a massive failure. They have destroyed communities, especially black and Hispanic communities. They have hurt children, especially children of color. They are destroying public education itself, which is a bedrock of our democracy. We can’t let this happen.

Our task is clear. We must organize as never before. We must push back as never before.

Start by joining the SOS March on July 8 at the Lincoln Memorial.

I will be on a <a href="http://“>webinar tonight at 8 pm to discuss the SOS March and the issues we now face. The timing is perfect to plan for the future.

Please join us at 8 pm EST. We need you. We need your energy and your voice.

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8824328855840974852&#8221;

Linda McNeill is a well-known scholar of high-stakes testing at Rice University in Houston.

She writes here about the ominous role of testing companies in data mining students as they are studying or taking tests online. They gather confidential data about every child. That data may later be used for commercial purposes.

Even as they regularly invade the privacy of unknowing children, they fiercely resist any attempts to make public their tests, on which the fate of students, educators, and schools hinge.

Any discussion of the test content will lead to claims of copyright infringement and threats of legal action. And as we have seen in recent weeks, the test publishers contact Twitter, Facebook, and other social media and lodge complaints that lead to the deletion of tweets, posts, and comments. The testing companies assert the right to censor other people’s products, while shielding their own from public scrutiny.

McNeill writes:

Corporations – from testing companies to third-party marketers to unknown (and perhaps international) vendors – can scoop up personal information on young children and teenagers to use for their own profit. And parents have few ways to find out what these strangers know about their children and how the data collected from year to year will be used to manipulate their children lives.

So are the testing companies advocates willing to have their “data” open to outsiders? It would seem the answer is a clear and resounding NO!….

We’re learning that questioning the tests can put the questioner in jeopardy. Anyone – including teachers – who wants more public scrutiny of the mandated standardized tests that so dominate our schools these days, may be “surveilled.” A teacher or blogger who raises questions about the tests is in danger of being threatened by – yes, the testing companies that have no problem gathering and selling data on young children but do not want anyone to know what they are doing.

What is sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander. They have a right to collect data about us without our knowledge, but we have no right to know how they are spying on us and data mining our children.

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