Archives for category: Standardized Testing

Writing in Forbes, where he is a columnist, Peter Greene explains why the Big Standardized Tests are a very expensive waste of money and rime.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and board member of the Network for Public Education, responded to Biden’s broken promise about suspending the testing.

She wrote:

Today, Ian Rosenblum acting Asst. Sec. of the US Dept. of Education announced that states would NOT be given a waiver from administering standardized exams – though ten had already requested them, including New York.  Rosenblum is the formerly the Ed Asst. to Cuomo, and then worked at the pro-testing outfit Ed Trust, headed by John King.

His letter is here; article in Chalkbeat here.  The letter does say that the tests could be shortened, given over the summer (!) or even next fall. 

Surprising and depressing that they would make this announcement before Miguel Cardona, appointed as Secretary of Education, even took office, in the midst of a pandemic.  Check out the video here where Biden promised at an AFT forum that he would end mandated standardized testing.  Watch his answer here. Makes you wonder who is really running the show at the Dept of Education.

If states have to give these exams remotely, watch out for the surveillance spyware schools will ask to install on your children’s devices.  Best advice is to refuse and opt out of these exams altogether.

Leonie Haimson 

Executive Director
Class Size Matters

124 Waverly Pl.

New York, NY 10011
phone: 917-435-9329
leonie@classsizematters.org

www.classsizematters.org

The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.

This is hugely disappointing, first, because it is a broken promise; second, because it imposes standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic when access to education has been grossly uneven and unequal; third, because it diverts the attention of teachers and students to a meaningless exercise.

Please read this article that I wrote a few weeks ago for Valerie Strauss’s blog: What You Need to Know about Standardized Testing. It begins with the history of IQ testing, which was the forerunner to standardized testing, and shows its relationship to eugenics and racism.

In the middle, I summarize the pointlessness of the tests:

Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.

This is wrong.

The tests are a measure, not a remedy.

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.

Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.

All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.

This is of little value to teachers.

This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.

Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.

In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.

If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.

So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.

Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.

But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?

All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.

As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.

We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.

We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”

We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.

For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.

It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.

The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.

At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.

American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.

Peter Greene notes the emergence of a new narrative among “reformers”: Whereas schools have long been failing kids, now the kids themselves are failures because of the epidemic of “learning loss.”

As usual, the disaster experts blame teachers, but now they say the kids are failures too.

But the other part of chicken littling about education is the constant declaration that Kids These Days suck. They can’t read or write. They aren’t ready to hold down a job. And like many other negative trends in education, this has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Now it’s not just that Kids These Days can’t read and write and math–numerous companies are telling anyone who will listen about the terrible threat of learning loss, and how all of America’s children are slowly backsliding, the “days of learning” dribbling out of their ears like meltwater sluicing off a snow-covered roof. They’re getting stupider and stupider by the day. They are a lost generation...

In the rush to indict the public school system, the teachers, the unions, some people have turned students into collateral damage, forcing them to live in a world of adults who are constantly broadcasting that Kids These Days are awful failures. And right now, as always, they are directing the worst of it at the students who already get the worst of it–Black, brown, poor. 

Today Chalkbeat is carrying a piece by teacher Selena Carrion that everyone should read– “Stop calling this generation ‘lost.’ It’s hurtful–and it’s wrong.” Carrion’s experience allows her to remember how to keep her eye on the ball:All this reminds me not to allow a deficit-oriented “lost generation” narrative to deny them their success. As educators, let’s think about their triumphs and how they are still finding joy and wonder amid chaos.

What would happen, I wonder, if the consultants from NWEA and McKinsey, rather than releasing white papers and “research” and talking to other folks in the education biz had to go stand in front of the actual young human beings and explain to those students that they are falling behind and getting dumber by the minute and are generally failing. What if they had to look into those students’ eyes while saying, in effect, “We do not believe in you.” 

Here is where market-based philosophy clashes with actual education. You market products by creating a compelling case for a desperate need. “Terrible things are happening,” a campaign screams, “and you need to hire us and buy our product if you want to survive, because without us you are not enough.” But you teach students by first believing in them, by assuring them that they are enough. You can’t have disaster capitalism without a disaster. You can’t teach students by telling them that they are a disaster.

It’s been a hard year for everyone: kids, teachers, parents. The kids need someone who believes in them, rather than looking at them as suffering from a social construct called ”learning loss.”

Kevin Kumashiro writes:

Dear Friends–I hope you’re well.  I wanted to be sure that you’re aware of three initiatives in which hundreds of educational scholars and leaders are pushing back on high-stakes standardized testing of students and teachers:


1)  Last week, the California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education (CARE-ED) sent a letter, endorsed by over 200 educational scholars in CA, and provided oral testimony to the CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing (at its 2/11 meeting) calling for an end — not merely a continuance of last year’s temporary suspension — of high-stakes standardized testing in teacher education.  Attached and available here: https://www.care-ed.org/


2)  This week, the national network, Education Deans for Justice and Equity (EDJE) sent a letter (dated 2/15), endorsed by over 200 deans and leaders across the country, to Secretary-Designate Miguel Cardona to urge waiving federal mandates for 2021 student testing.  Attached and available here: https://bit.ly/37oxIsC


3)  Next week, CARE-ED will present a letter, endorsed by over 400 educators across CA, to the CA State Board of Education (which meets on 2/24) to urge requesting a waiver of federal mandates for 2021 student testing as well as waiving additional state mandates and any consequences attached to such testing.  Attached and available here: https://www.care-ed.org/


Onward!

Kevin


***Kevin Kumashiro, Ph.D.https://www.kevinkumashiro.com

Movement building for equity and justice in education

Writing in ohiocapital.com, Jeanne Melvin and Denis Smith denounced the central role that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute plays in directing education policy in Ohio. TBF is the think tank of the Ohio Republican Party; that party has controlled the state in recent years. It is curious that TBF directs education policy in Ohio since TBF is based in Washington, D.C.

Melvin is a parent activist, and Smith worked for the Ohio Department of Education.

In Ohio, TBF has been a strong advocate for high-stakes testing and school privatization. It has pushed charter schools and other conservative reforms in Ohio.

As the article says, TBF is an advocacy organization, not a think tank. Its policy positions are aligned with other conservative organizations, still promoting the failed reforms of the past two decades, unable to imagine schools that are not subject to high-stakes testing, unable to imagine schools that are not governed by carrots-and-sticks. TBF is also a charter school authorizer and collects a percentage of the state revenue for every student who enrolls in one of their charter schools. Many of their charter schools have failed. Most charter schools in Ohio are rated low-performing by the state.

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.

Here we go again. Before either Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona or Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten have been confirmed by the Senate, key jobs in the Department of Education are being filled by staff from the Gates Foundation and DFER, both of which are champions of bad ideas and antagonists of public schools. From my experience in the U.S. Department of Education, it is customary to allow the Secretary and Deputy Secretary to choose their assistant secretaries, and the assistant secretaries choose their deputies. These appointments seem to have been made by the White House. Please note that the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development shapes policy for the Department. The administration previously announced a fervent supporter of high-stakes testing—Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust in New York—as the acting Assistant Secretary for that office.

Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers.

The Biden administration appointments, announced Feb. 3, fill spots in key offices, although nominees forthe top jobs in the office for civil rights and office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. (We gave folks a heads up about two of the most recent appointments hereand here before they were officially announced.) However, a few such jobs are being filled on an acting basis.

It’s difficult to discern just one trend or policy direction based on Biden’s Education Department appointments so far; those who’ve worked for and supported teachers’ unions in the past, for example, will be working alongside union skeptics and those who’ve drawn labor’s ire in the past. The administration announced its first set of department appointees last month, and it included two former National Education Association staffers.

Here are a few notable names from the latest round of appointments:

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers.  [I worked during the election on a committee on assessment chaired by Cardichon on behalf of Biden. I urged the committee to recommend a suspension of the federally mandated testing in spring 2021 and to propose the elimination of that part of the law. When my proposals were ignored, I resigned from the committee.]

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package. 

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments. 

Last year, DFER’s D.C. chapter under Taheri provoked controversy by singling out a candidate for the District of Columbia Council for wanting to cut police funding. Asked about the negative advertising, Taheri told the Washington City paper that the group wanted to inform voters about issues beyond education, and that the candidate’s position on police budgets was “deeply unpopular” with voters. (The candidate, Janeese Lewis George, who accused DFER of fearmongering, ultimately won her election.) The question of whether police should be in schools, and educators’ attitudes toward school resource officers, gained prominence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police last year. The City Paper’s story about DFER’s mailers focused on George was published three days after Floyd’s death. Taheri later said that the group’s mailers were a mistake. 

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer. 

Although Lee previously managed $10 million in annual education grants covering both K-12 and higher education, according to his LinkedIn profile, he’s now listed himself as an assistant secretary for higher education at the department as of this month. Garcia also has a background in higher education, and used to work on the Senate education committee for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is now chairwoman of the committee.

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students. 

In recent years, the foundation has shifted its focus to support higher education access for students of color and disadvantaged students. (Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides general operating support to Education Week, which retains sole editorial control over its content.) 

The full list of appointments announced Feb. 3 is here.

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-more-biden-harris-appointees

This article was co-authored by a group of educators who oppose privatization. They have identified the primary driver of privatization in their different communities: The City Fund, subsidized primarily by corporate “reformers” Reed Hastings and John Arnold. The City Fund is led by experienced privatizers who have tried their hand in places like Tennessee and New Orleans, where the PR was great but the results were not. It opened its operations with $200 million in hand from its funders. Lots of money, no members, and a charge to go out into the nation and find cities where they could disrupt the local school board elections by underwriting advocates of privatization. They are undermining public schools and democracy at the same time. They should hang their heads in shame. They won’t.

The authors of the following are: Dr. Tracee Miller was an elected member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Dr. Keith Benson is president of the Camden Education Association. Christina Smith is Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition. Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6. Bobby Blount is a San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee. Don Macleay is a member of Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

They wrote the following article:


Education Privatization: Eerie Similarities in Stories from 15 Major US Cities

A new education reform movement has made its way across the country whose goal is not reform, but privatization. That coalition is led by billionaires forcing their extreme market bias onto our school system. Its framework steers tax dollars away from the public schools and toward their chosen consultants, partner groups, curricula, and other products and services without oversight from elected officials. The movement manifests in the expansion of charter schools and their enrollment, division of public districts into factions, incubation of community advocacy groups, promotion of anti-public school legislation, and influencing of state and local campaigns. 

To say that the proponents of this model engage in deceptive tactics would be a gross understatement. Aside from disguising their approach with buzzwords like innovation, transformation, and social justice, they funnel money through PACs, then through individuals and groups, to make their funding difficult to trace. This shroud of financial and ideological secrecy also makes the money, desperately needed in public education, easier for schools and organizations to accept.

One major national funder of this reactionary education philosophy is The City Fund. The City Fund distributes money from corporate school reform philanthropists, such as John Arnold and Reed Hastings, to local city organizations to accomplish the goals listed above. Its political organization, Public School Allies, makes campaign contributions to local school board candidates who are likely to adopt the same philosophy. “Reform” money has changed what used to be $1,500 local campaigns into $20,000 races for school board.The model being promoted by The City Fund and its affiliated organizations has been seen nearly to fruition in New Orleans and Indianapolis, and the stories being played out in other cities where The City Fund operates are eerily similar. 

We are education experts and advocates who represent cities and schools across the country that are being impacted by this movement and we refuse to be complicit. Our stories from Camden, Oakland, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis account for only a fraction of the cities where these movements are underway, and we hope that sharing our experiences will help others recognize the tactics wherever they appear.

Recent articles about The City Fund and its influence in St. Louis and in local school board races inspired us to contact each other. What we discovered is unsettling. The organizations funded by The City Fund present themselves as local grassroots organizations when nothing could be further from the truth. While propping up these local organizations with millions of dollars, The City Fund also places its own supporters on the organizations’ boards to influence their ideology and decision-making. These groups and their partner community advocacy groups have equivalents in at least 15 cities. A few examples of umbrella groups sponsored by The City Fund include The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, the Camden Education Fund in Camden, City Education Partners in San Antonio, redefinED in Atlanta, RootED in Denver, The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis, San Joaquin A+ in Stockton, REACH in Oakland, and New Schools in Baton Rouge. 

Naming more equivalent organizations here would be unhelpful, but recognizing their actions is critical to identifying their influence. In addition to the strategies listed earlier, organizations affiliated with The City Fund have engaged in a variety of similar behaviors. In most locations they have created a school-finder tool and promoted a common application for traditional and charter schools. These groups host community events or support the publishing of reports where skewed data imply the deterioration of public education, and often push the idea that charters are the only solution. They make similar demands of school boards and of individual board members to conform with their ideals, and react with similar misinformation when confronted by the public or the media.  The uniformity across cities is so striking that on several of our joint calls there was audible relief when one of us realized we weren’t the sole target of this deception.

These organizations are not home-grown local groups established to solve local problems, but are experts at pretending to be. While they employ well-meaning advocates who  are energized  by words like equity or opportunity and promote themselves as organizations who seek to understand community sentiment, these groups are the local arms of The City Fund, whose model seeks to, and has experienced frightening success in, advancing the privatization of public education. With privatization comes the loss of local control and democratic ideals. 

The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city; fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to stop the corruption before it becomes so deeply embedded in our systems that it can’t be reversed. The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward their private programs and gain financial and political capital until we decide public education is too important to jeopardize for a scheme. We are all complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue now that we know the truth.

Co-authored by: 

Dr. Tracee Miller, former member of the Board of Education for St. Louis Public Schools; 

Dr. Keith Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and author of Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ; 

Christina Smith, Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition; 

Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6; 

Bobby Blount, San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee; 

Don Macleay, Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

David Berliner and Sharon Nichols wrote this opinion article for the San Antonio Express-News. The headline: “STAAR Outcome Obvious; Test Is a Waste of $90 Million.” Nichols is a professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio and Berliner is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University.

They write:

Published in the San-Antonio Express-News, Wednesday 2/3/2021

STOP THE STAAR TESTING—TEXAS’S STANDARDIZED ACHIEVEMENT TEST

Sharon L. Nichols is professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas, San Antonio. David C. Berliner is Regents’ Professor Emeritus at the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University.

The Texas Education Agency is submitting a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education seeking to pause the A-F school grading process this year. This is good. Continuing the charade of grading schools on the social-class makeup of their students has always been unethical. That is because “who” attends the schools is the overwhelming determinant of the standardized test scores on which school grades are based. So, calling schools “A” or “D, “good” or “bad,” without visiting schools and evaluating staff and the quality of instruction that kids get is unintelligible—if not simply mean. 

However, according to the waiver notice put out by the TEA, we should still make students take the annual STAAR test this year because “it remains critical that parents, educators, and policymakers understand the impact of the pandemic on student learning.”

This is absurd. Let’s just admit kids have fallen behind in learning the standard curriculum. Most of us are sure that is the case. But we have no way of estimating what they might have learned from time at home: cooking, gardening, playing educational games, practicing instruments, tutoring siblings, reading on their own, etc. They weren’t all watching cartoons! 

It costs Texans $90 million to test students every year. Why would we want to spend $90 million of taxpayer money on an endeavor that will yield information Texas already has. Data from other states’ testing programs inform us that year-to-year school scores are correlated so high, that if state testing were to be suspended for one or two years, there would be hardly any change in what was learned about a schools’ performance and its relative rank among the state’s schools. Texas already has 2019 test scores. So, if you give the test this year, you will spend $90 million only to learn something already known. Surely such money could be used for some other educational needs. 

Furthermore, if you want to know how the students are doing vis-á-vis the desired school curriculum, ask a teacher. Studies show they can predict the rank order of their students on the state’s test amazingly well. 

Another important reason for not testing this year is that content coverage by students has been uneven. Some kids took to remote learning, some didn’t; some kids had an adequate computer and a reliable Wi-Fi signal, but some did not. Some had a parent at home working with them, some did not. Some grappled with COVID-19 directly having to cope with sick family members, some did not.

We know that depression rates skyrocketed over the past year, with three times as many Americans meeting criteria for depression during the pandemic. We have no idea how this has affected millions of school-aged children. So, if the Texas curriculum for, say, 5th grade mathematics or language arts was not taught fully, or not received by every child, the test is patently invalid. That is because the test designers assume all kids have had an equal chance at exposure to the content of a state’s required curriculum. 

If that assumption has clearly not been met, as in the 2019-2020 school year and now the 2020-2021 school year, the test scores obtained are prima facie uninterpretable. Furthermore, to use such a test for any consequential decision-making is in violation of the code of ethics of the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education. Consequential decisions made on the basis of those invalid tests are easily and rightfully challenged in court. STAAR data for 2021 are tainted. 

So, do we really want to spend $90 million dollars of our education budget on standardized achievement tests when it is clear students need new curriculum to discern facts from lies; when they need to deal with history and contemporary issues related to racism, sexism, social class differentiation, and climate change; or when they need to learn the rights and obligations of citizenship in our state and nation? Surely, in Texas, there are better ways to use $90 million dollars.