Archives for category: Testing

Caitlin Emma, Benjamin Wermund, and Kimberly Hefling, staff writers at, took a close look at Michigan and answered the question, what hath Betsy DeVos’s obsession with choice done to the schools of Michigan?


Unless you are a choice fanatic like DeVos, the answer is not encouraging.


Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.


Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.


The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.


“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?’” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin, a DeVos critic who also describes himself as a strong charter-school supporter. “It’s destroying learning outcomes … and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that.”


The links are in the article, as well as a puzzle. Check out the link to CREDO at Stanford (funded by the Walton Foundation), which issued a report on Michigan charters and praised them extensively. How does the CREDO finding make sense to Michigan’s low standing on the National Assessment of Education Progress? How does it make sense in light of the fact that Detroit is the worst-performing urban district tested by NAEP?



Marge Borchert was a member of the Blog’s honor roll. She recently died, only months after her retirement as principal of Allendale Elementary School in upstate New York. This is the post where I named her to the honor roll. I did so because of a letter she wrote to the children in her school. Also, because she got a zero growth score after many of her students opted out. She wore her rating as a badge of honor. She loved the children in her school. She was kind. She was a good principal.


This is the letter:


Dear Boys & Girls,


I wanted to write you a letter telling you how very much I enjoyed and continue to enjoy all of the painted rocks that you made. They are a great addition to our beautiful garden. I loved looking at each and every one of them this summer. I stopped to admire them when I checked on the flowers that were planted by your parents. Quite honestly, they brought a smile to my face even on rainy days. The rocks are as unique and colorful as each one of you. Each rock is painted with your own unique story.


The butterfly bush that is growing outside of my office window is blooming, and it is the most beautiful shade of purple that I have ever seen. A ruby throated hummingbird has been visiting that bush every day since it bloomed. I am looking forward to seeing a butterfly visit. The baby sparrows in the birdhouse have learned to fly, and have moved away. The crow that was tormenting the baby rabbits seems to have learned not to poke its beak in their home. Several of us watched in astonishment as the mother rabbit chased after that crow, jumped in the air and batted at that crow with its front paw. This was the first time that I have ever seen such a sport! That mother rabbit had strong protective instincts– just like your moms. We can learn so much by observing nature. Who knew that there was so much to !earn by just taking some time to stop, look, and listen.


So… now all of you are wondering why I was inspired to write you such a long letter. It is simply for this reason. I want each and every one of you to know that you inspire me on a daily basis. Each and every one of you is unique and colorful in your own special way. Each of you has a special talent, and you are loved. I intend to hold on to these thoughts when I look at the New York State scores, and I encourage your parents to do the same. The scores are not a true picture of who you are in this world. You can and will bloom when you are ready. You will fly when you are ready. It is entirely up to you to decide what you will grow up to be in life. It all depends on you. Remember the mother rabbit who used her own unique talents and skills to “fear that nasty crow nevermore. ”


In my heart — you truly rock!!! I can’t wait to see you in September!!


Love Always,


Mrs. Borchert


P.S. These are the books that I read this summer:

The Diary of Anne Frank

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Recidicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Story Killers by Terrence 0. Moore

David & Goliath by Macolm Gledwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Children of the Core by Kris L. Nielsen

The Bible


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Yong Zhao is one of the foremost experts in the nation on international comparisons. He was born and educated in China, but has worked in American universities for a number of years. He recently moved to the University of Kansas, where he holds a Distinguished Professorship.

He analyzes here how U.S. students in fourth and eighth grades performed on the TIMSS, which is focused on mathematics and science. Politicians like to bemoan the fact that U.S. students are not #1 in the world on this test or on PISA. As I have previous written, American students were never #1 on international tests. Back in the mid-1960s, when these tests began and fewer nations participated, we were dead last. I wrote about it here and here and also in my book Reign of Error, where I documented in detail how poorly we have always done on these tests, how little it means, and why these tests have zero predictive value for our economy. Also, see here.

Open the links to see the scores and graphs.

Zhao finds little change in the relative standing of American students, despite 15 years of berating teachers, students, and public schools. We changed the standards, the curriculum, and the tests, but none of that made much difference.

Zhao writes:

Reflections and Questions

Can we ever catch up? Is it necessary to catch up?…
It seems clear that after tremendous efforts to catch up to the high performing education systems in test scores, the U.S. has not succeeded. Two questions arise. First, can the U.S. ever catch up? Second, is it really necessary to catch up? My answer to both questions are no. Interested readers can read my books Catching up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Is it worth the cost?

While test scores went up in math in both the U.S. and East Asian countries, more students lost confidence in math and valued math less. If it is true that whatever policies and practices that resulted in higher test scores also make students less confident and less interested in math, are these policies and practices really educationally sound? Don’t we want more people have confidence in math and value math?

How much does curriculum matter?

The U.S. has “fixed” its curriculum but has not narrowed the gap. All the efforts that went into fixing the curriculum did not produce the results promised by those who adamantly believed and argued that American schools have lower standard and fragmented curriculum. Was the diagnosis wrong? Does curriculum and standards really matter that much?

Should we keep “fixing” American teachers?

TIMSS and other international tests have resulted in waves of teacher bashing in America, suggesting that they are less qualified and less mathematically knowledgeable than their counterparts in East Asian education systems. Bashed have also been teacher education programs in the U.S.. But the data does not really support the blames. Perhaps American teachers are great at doing something more important than simply raising test scores.

My Conclusion
I have questioned the value of international tests, and for that matter any standardized test, for improving our children’s education in many places. Test scores simply do not reflect what our children need to live in the future, let alone what they need to defend and improve a democratic society. Test scores are simply the indicator of one’s ability in taking the test. We should never read too much into it and attempt to draw conclusions that fuels actions that could affect the future of millions of children and the future of our society.

I have also raised questions on many occasions about copying policies and practices from other systems. It is not to say that we cannot learn from others. But education is both deeply rooted in and an integral part of culture, hence they mutually enhance and perpetuate, as I have argued in my book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Different cultures impose different values and expectations on education. Different cultures also support and suppress different educational practices. Unless one is ready and able to redefine one’s culture and society, copying isolated educational policies rarely works.

The lesson from all these: Stop copying others’ past and start inventing our own future.

Reformers have been trying to figure what to say about Trump and DeVos. It is embarrassing for people who call themselves “progressives” to acknowledge that their agenda of charters and choice has been embraced by the most rightwing president in the past century, if not all of American history. They want more charters, as Trump promises, but they have to distance themselves from a president who has been warmly embraced by the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups.

Shavar Jeffries of DFER and Peter Cunningham of Education Post (and former aide to Arne Duncan) try to wend their way through the political thicket in this article. THE LINK IS NOW WORKING. 

First, they list all the Democrats (like Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo) who support school choice. But they include Albert Shanker without admitting that after promoting the idea of charters in 1988, he denounced them as no different from vouchers in 1993, when he saw the business groups vying to run schools for profit. Documented in my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, pp. 127-128, revised edition).

Second, they give a nod to their friends in the unions, neglecting to mention that 93% of charters are non-union and are endorsed by all the Red State governors and right wing think tanks as a way to break unions.

Their biggest concern seems to be that DeVos might not adhere to the accountability regime established by George W. Bush. For them, high-stakes testing is a civil rights issue. Critics of high-stakes testing know that these tests measure family income and cause immeasurable harm to children who are poor, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. Just look at the Common Core scores in any state: most kids “failed” a test that was a grade level or two above their real grade. The highest failure rates were among the children with the greatest needs.

Accountability belongs at at the top. That’s where crucial decisions are made about resources and leadership. Yet the “reformers” still want to pin it on teachers and students.

As for “choice,” the results of 20+ years of vouchers in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Detroit, and of charters there and  in other cities should persuade everyone that neither vouchers nor charters address the needs of our children, especially those who are poorest. Their most damaging result is to drain resources from the public schools that enroll all children, making them less able to do their job.

Yong Zhao, born and educated in China, is one of our  most perceptive scholars of schools and society. He holds a professorship at the University of Kansas.

In this article, he reports the results of the latest international test, TIMSS. Once again, the East Asian nations topped the charts. Aside from 8th grade math, which are up, U.S. scores are unchanged.

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) beat PISA by two weeks. It just released its 2015 results. Within hours of the release, Google News has already collected over 10,000 news stories reacting to the results from around the world, some sad, some happy, some envious, and some confused. The biggest news is, however, nothing new: Children in East Asian countries best at maths. They were the best 20 years ago when TIMSS was first introduced in 1995. They were the best in all subsequent cycles.

Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan are the top performers. In 4th grade, the lowest East Asian country is 23 points above the next best country, Northern Ireland for 4th grade, the same gap as was in 2011, and in 8th grade, a whopping 48 points lead ahead of the next best country, Russia, a 17 point increase from 31 in 2011.

Yong Zhao analyzes the reasons for their high scores.

Gary Rubinstein entered teaching via Teach for America, but unlike most TFA recruits, he made teaching his career. He is also TFA’s most incisive critic, sometimes a critical friend, other times a critic of TFA hypocrisy.

In this post, Gary deconstructs TFA’s statement on Trump’s nomination of choice zealot Betsy DeVos. TFA, like other reform organizations, is in a dilemma because they want to be on the side of social justice, but they also want to be on the side of the new administration, which will be very good indeed for TFA. More charters mean more jobs for young recruits. Billions of dollars for school choice are heading the way of the “reformers,” and it is hard for them to seem sad about that. Gary wishes the TFA statement had included a few good words on behalf of public schools and on behalf of teachers. It didn’t.

The TFA statement includes 11 policy priorities, and Gary analyzes each of them. He wishes TFA had called on DeVos to stop the teacher bashing. It didn’t. He wishes it had called on DeVos to protect the funding of public schools while promoting choice. It didn’t.

Read the whole post for links and analysis.

Gary concludes:

Accountability has been used as a weapon to fire teachers and close schools throughout the country based on highly flawed metrics. Obama and Duncan did a lot of damage with this one and maybe TFA feels that they used it in a fair way, even if I don’t. But that same weapon in the hands of Trump and DeVos should be something that TFA should be concerned about. I don’t think that this was something that TFA needed to ask the new Secretary to be vigilant. Based on the contempt she has shown for public schools and teachers over the years, it’s pretty clear that DeVos will use her power to try to make it even easier to fire teachers and close schools. This could have a negative effect on not just all the TFA alumni who are still working in public schools, but also for the ones who are at the few charter schools that try to keep their most needy students and whose test scores suffer for it. In the bigger picture, I think that having DeVos too strong on accountability will negatively affect so many students in this country.

Finally there’s policy number nine about using “evidence and data” to ‘drive’ “teacher improvement and development over time.” This is code for trying to use test scores and value-added metrics to rate teachers, no matter how inaccurate those metrics are.

More telling than the policies TFA chose to include on this list is the ones they chose to exclude. Knowing that DeVos is planning to use her power to divert funds from the public schools (and charter schools too) for vouchers for private schools, perhaps TFA could have asked that she not cut funding to schools. Knowing how much contempt DeVos has shown toward public school teachers, TFA could asked her not to bash teachers so much. Knowing that DeVos has funded reform propaganda sites like Campbell Brown’s The Seventy Four, TFA could have suggested that she spend time in public schools and see what great work is being done.

There’s a lot they could have said to help stave off the at least four year battle everyone in non-charter schools is going to have to fight daily. Instead they padded their valid concerns about discrimination with a bunch of reform code.

Of their nine policies that TFA is urging DeVos to consider (three of the eleven are basically saying, make schools safe for all students), six of them are things that she was already on board with. It’s the TFA way of saying “We are already in agreement with you on most things so you can trust us and work with us to help you out in general.” They seem to care more about their own survival and the continuation of Duncan’s reform strategies than they do about the potential damage that the Trump / DeVos duo can wreak on the children of this country.

Peter Greene opened his email and found an invitation to attend the annual convening of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence. Bush may have done poorly in the 2016 campaign but he still wants to remake American education in the image of Florida: charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing for students and teachers.

Greene wonders:

I am interested in seeing what happens next to Jeb!, who now occupies a weird sort of reformster twilight zone. On the one hand, Herr Trump appears to fully embrace Bush’s education policies, or at least the Let a Million Charters Bloom part. But Bush himself–well, it seems unlikely that Jeb is in line for Trumpian Ed Secretary. And that bitter taste resting on Bush’s ivy league palate must be getting only more and more bitter as it becomes obvious that President Trump will be following a lot of the policies that Candidate Trump used to smack Bush over the head. What happens when hated political enemies actually stand for pretty much the same policy ideas? How exactly do you criticize someone for pursuing policies that you totally agree with?

Who will the conventioneers hear from? Open the post.

Marc Tucker posted two incredibly important articles about testing, from an international perspective.

First, no high performing nation in the world tests every child every year.

Second, taking a standardized test every year is not a civil right and does nothing to close the achievement gap.

Children don’t get smarter because they are tested more often.

Standardized testing is normed on a bell curve. The bottom half of the bell curve has a disproportionate number of children who live in poverty, children who don’t read or speak English, and children with disabilities. The top half has a disproportionate number of children who grow up in stable, secure homes.

The bell curve never closes. It is built into the standardized test. Test makers know in advance how each question will “perform.” The test is designed to produce a bell curve.

The standardized test assesses whether children know the skills and content that are tested. Teacher-made tests assess whether children have learned what they were taught. As we know from Howard Gardner’s work, children have many different abilities; they may not be good at test-taking, but they may be wonderful at making things, doing things, building things, figuring things out, creating things, inventing things.

When Tucker wrote that annual testing did not promote civil rights or narrow achievement gaps, he set off a firestorm of criticism from the reformers (see here and here).

He had evidence on his side. They had ideology. They were wrong. If we hang on to testing and privatization as our weapons to create equity, we will never get there. These are the strategies of the 1% meant to avoid paying a fair share of their vast wealth to close the income inequality gap.

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, writes frequently about education issues.

In this post, written a year ago, he warned that the real problem in education is that we fail to prepare our students for the challenges of citizenship. The post was prophetic.

The phrase college and career readiness has become ubiquitous in education debates, but as a slogan without significant transformational direction. Of course, students should leave K-12 education with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the next phase of their lives. Of course, students’ experiences should open rather than restrict their choices and opportunities when they graduate. Of course, they should all graduate. Of course, young people need to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be successful in the world of work. Ignoring that would be an irresponsible abdication, especially for students whose parents already struggle to make a decent living. It’s not that that these are misplaced goals. They are just insufficient.

We need an education system intentionally designed to engage students to understand their values and to learn how to become effective citizens. Which questions teachers ask or do not ask influences how their students understand the world and their role in it.

There are ways to teach that promote passivity, he writes. And there are ways to teach that encourage active engagement:

In the past, how have people worked together to improve the human condition in different societies? What has supported and thwarted those efforts? What features of governments support or impede peaceful resolution of conflicts? How do scientists make discoveries? How do engineers design solutions that improve people’s lives? How do literature and the arts help us understand and value one another and our environment? How can mathematics be used to help make better decisions? What changes are you interested in investigating? These are change-oriented questions that affirm students’ capacities and encourage them to imagine themselves as agents of improvement. These are engaging motivational questions. When student engage in such action-directed learning they can develop the values, confidence and mindset to make things better.

We need a rebirth in the teaching of history and civics. We need more than ever to teach students the importance of living together with others in peace and mutual respect. We need to teach them to respect the humanity and individuality of others.

Perhaps this is the state we are in after 16 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, focused exclusively on test scores, standardized testing, basic skills, and getting the right answer.

Civics is about asking the right questions, and questioning why those questions are “right,” not picking a bubble and saying it is the “right answer.”

Helen Ladd of Duke University debated Marty West of the Harvard Kennedy School about the cost and quality of American education. It is a podcast and I think you will enjoy listening when you have time.

They were invited to talk about whether the U.S. spends more money than other countries and gets worse performance than other countries on international tests. Ladd disputes both parts of the question, while West is on the side that says we spend more to get less quality.

I would like to see a debate about how the U.S. could have such a “terrible” school system, as the reformers allege, yet have the world’s most powerful economy, with the most innovation, the best military, and the best technology. It is a puzzle.