Archives for category: Testing

I recently revised my 2010 book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” The revised edition reflects my understanding that national standards and tests do not improve education.

My opinion piece will appear in the Sunday New York Times.

One of the most powerful players in the corporate reform movement is Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), which represents the hedge fund managers who are eager to expand privately managed charters with public dollars.

Experienced journalist Alexander Russo writes here in the publication of the conservative American Enterprise Institute about the travails of DFER. From the outside, it appears that DFER is powerful for two reasons: its money (which seems to be endless) and its closeness to the Obama administration. President Obama took his cues from DFER, not the teachers’ unions. But Russo says that DFER is losing its grip and its sense of possibility. If it appears to be aimless and dispirited, it is.

The two issues that it fought for–charters and teacher evaluation by test scores–have not been the big successes that the hedge fund guys expected. Obama is leaving, and there is no certainty that Hillary will be as congenial as he was. She has a debt to the teachers’ unions, and Obama had none. On issue after issue, there have been no results–not for the agenda of privatizing the schools, nor for the fantasy of booting out all those “bad teachers.”

Money was never lacking, and the vision has all but disappeared. DFER exists because it continues to raise money, not because there is a groundswell of support for privatization and firing teachers based on test scores.

DFER’s long-time executive director Joe Williams has left to work for the Walton family.

Meanwhile, DFER’s real opposition is not the teachers’ unions but the parents and educators who are fighting back on their own dime. The grassroots opponents of corporate reform don’t have the money that DFER has, but they have passion, commitment, and the support of classroom teachers and scholars who oppose DFER’s goals. No one pays them. They (we) will outlast DFER because DFER will grow tired, tired of losing Friedrichs, tired of losing Vergara, tired of reading about the Opt Out movement, tired of being thrashed by bloggers like Mercedes Schneider and Peter Greene, tired of being vilified for their selfless investment in “reform,” tired of getting no returns on their investment.

The tortoise and the hare. Rabbit stew, anyone?

Andrew Rotherham, a key figure in the corporate reform movement, once worked in the Clinton White House. He has since gone on to found a consulting firm, Bellwether Education Partners, that represents many of the leading corporate reform groups.

Rotherham writes here that “education reform” (charter schools, high-stakes testing, and evaluation of teachers by test scores) is not dead. He writes to reassure his friends and allies in the corporate reform movement that Hillary will not abandon their ideas. No matter what the platform says, no matter what she told the AFT and the NEA, he says, you gotta believe that she still loves her friends in the corporate reform world.

The subtext is fear. Is she really going to expect charters to serve children with disabilities and English language learners, the charters wonder. Is she really going to listen to the hated teachers’ unions on the subject of education? Is she going to slow down the drive to privatize public schools? Is she going to stop closing schools in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods?

Never mind that all the reformers’ pet priorities have failed. Never mind that growing numbers of parents are opting their children out of state tests. Never mind that VAM has improved no school anywhere. Never mind that charters seldom outperform public schools and have often provided a platform for theft, fraud, and greed, whether they operate for profit or not-for-profit. Never mind that the Obama “reform” policies have helped to create teacher shortages in many states.

The Oregon legislature passed a bill requiring audits of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests (SBAC), the tests of the Common Core standards funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Oregon chapter of Parents Across America conducted its audit and determined that the tests are outrageously expensive in money and time. And, while so much attention is devoted to testing, the opportunity to spend time and money wisely and well are lost.

Here is a small sample:

Actual invoice costs of SBAC

Former Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton has been quoted as saying the actual dollar amount spent on SBAC is anywhere from $12 million to $27 million dollars, a sizable increase over the previously administered OAKS test said to have cost $7 million. What is the true dollar amount spent on SBAC for each of the years the test has been given in the state of Oregon? Include the per pupil cost of the test itself, proctoring, grading, retesting, communicating results, and in addition, itemize other cost directly related to the test.

What is the cost of resource materials purchased for both teachers and students to support SBAC?

What is the actual dollar amount spent to train teachers on how to proctor the test? Include any “professional development” that teachers are required to participate in to administer the tests.

What is the cost of substitute teachers for the test-related hours (days) classroom teachers were out of class?

In January, 2016, OEA president Hannah Vaandering told Symposium attendees that the SBAC was neither valid nor reliable, but the consortium had been invited back to “fix” that. How much does the fix cost? If such a thing can be fixed, how much has the state been billed? Was the test fixed before it was given in the 2015-2016 school year? If not, what is the cost of giving an invalid test?

Skyrocketing Technology Costs

What are the technology costs related to SBAC testing? How much is spent on computers to support testing?

Computer labs and entire libraries are dedicated to SBAC during testing season at many schools. What is the cost in lost learning when students can’t have access to books and the Internet because of weeks and months of testing?

There seems to always be money for technology and software when there is money for little else. Is the testing culture dictating school and district spending? How do we calculate the opportunity costs related to the favored testing agenda?

Poverty, Race, Cultural Bias, and Pushouts (Suspensions and Expulsions)

The Impact of Poverty, Race, and Cultural Bias on Educational Opportunity (July 2015) (PAA) presents data that exposes the price children pay when standardized test scores are the key measurement of success.

The basis of standardized testing is embedded in eugenics and is unfairly biased against students of color. (More than a Score) by Jesse Hagopian.) How do you put a price tag on that?

The correlation between poverty and school achievement cannot be denied. Numerous studies show that providing children with the necessities of life including housing, food stability, and healthcare are imperative to assure success at school. Covering the cost of these services to level the “testing field” seems to be a fair and logical step in assuring that all students are prepared for success at school. Should those costs be considered?

Testing has not closed the “achievement gap” between African American and white students. Since the mantra of the USDOE/ODE has consistently been that rigorous standardized testing is needed to close the achievement or opportunity gap, when do we finally stop and say, “Enough is enough! We will not waste another cent on this folly.” SBAC is not valid, reliable, or fair. Over 100 Education Researchers Sign Statement Calling for Moratorium on High-Stakes Testing, (SBAC/California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education.)

Rebelling against the test curriculum results in many more students being suspended or expelled from school. The number of kindergarten suspensions has skyrocketed — especially for African American boys. Wages lost and the cost of alternative childcare arrangements is an extra cost that parents cannot afford and is directly related to the testing curriculum.

High school students who do not pass the SBAC are more likely to drop out of school. The cost of completing a GED or attaining further future education can be attributed to punitive standardized tests.

Inane standardized testing policies have contributed to a school-to-prison pipeline culture. The costs of incarceration amounts to much more than properly educating a child. This cost may be an unintended consequence of SBAC, but it is a cost related to the test nonetheless.

Valerie Strauss interviewed Samuel Abrams, director of the Teachers College, Columbia University, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, about his important new book, Education and the Commercial Mindset. The book is an in-depth, beautifully written history of the privatization movement.

Read the interview. It will make you want to read this brilliant book.

Here is one small excerpt:

Abrams: Privatization takes the form of nonprofit as well as for-profit school management, as privatization technically means outsourcing the provision of government services to independent operators, whether nonprofit or for-profit. Insufficient transparency and, thus, accountability can become problems. While nonprofit charter operators must file 990s with the IRS documenting expenses and salaries, for instance, many are less detailed in their reportage than they should be. Moreover, these charters report only indirectly, if at all, to elected school board members.

Yet there are far greater issues with outsourcing school management to nonprofit charter operators: First, this outsourcing generates the atomization of school districts, meaning the diminishment of neighborhood schools and the civic involvement such neighborhood affiliation involves; second, this atomization makes for navigational challenges for many parents, who either have a hard time finding the right school for their children or getting them there day after day when the school is across town; third, this atomization translates into “good schools” and “bad schools,” with students who can’t succeed in the “good schools” concentrated in the “bad schools,’ which are often default neighborhood schools, where learning can become far harder given the negative effects struggling students can have on other students. In sum, such outsourcing leads to opportunities at high-performing schools for some students but leaves many others behind.

Privatization accordingly amounts to a flawed response to state failure, not a solution. The solution calls for investing the resources necessary to make all neighborhood schools solid in the way all neighborhood schools are solid in middle- and upper-class suburbs, with well-paid teachers, good working conditions and smaller classes. But we have to go further than that. We have to invest in quality preschool, with college-educated teachers, so children show up to school ready to learn. We have decades of evidence of the positive impact of quality preschool. It’s expensive, but only in the short run. We likewise must invest in school-associated medical, dental and counseling services, which are also expensive but only in the short run. Privatization has brought many bright, dedicated agents of change, but it diverts us from addressing our state failure squarely.

When Strauss asked him what was the change he would make immediately if he could, he said he would abolish the annual testing that was mandated by No Child Left Behind, continued by Race to the Top, and is embedded in the “Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Rhode Island teacher Shelley McDonald resigned from her position before the school board of North Kingston fired her. She is a woman of conscience. I name her to the blog’s honor roll for standing up for principle.

Facing termination from the North Kingstown School Department because of her refusal to administer testing last fall, high school math teacher Shelley McDonald has decided to resign. Her decision, accepted by the school committee at its June 28 meeting, comes after a long fight with school administration on testing which she felt, if she consented to give the tests to students, had the potential to violate her privacy.

“I chose to resign because I just no longer had the energy, the support, nor the finances to fight what clearly looked to me like an unwinnable situation,” she said on Wednesday.

This past February, McDonald went before the school committee because of her refusal to administer PARCC tests to students in March and December 2015. She has been a long-time opponent of the school’s installation of wifi in classrooms, citing health concerns with electro-magnetic radiation created by the technology at numerous committee meetings over the past two years.

She had also claimed that the terms and conditions of the test’s publisher, Pearson, Inc., include the potential release of personal information, such as social security numbers, to unknown third-party groups, something to which she did not want to agree.

A memorandum of agreement was drawn up between the school department and the North Kingstown teacher’s union which stated that only very specific items of personal information, such as the teacher’s name and district email address, would be accessible by Pearson. The MOA added that teachers would be held ‘harmless’ in administering the test unless in cases of ‘gross negligence.’

Superintendent Philip Auger declined to comment specifically on McDonald’s resignation. He has been adamant throughout the ordeal that McDonald’s termination was decided because of her insubordination in administering the tests when no other teacher held such opposition, not her repeated claims that wifi was potentially harmful to students.

The U.S. Department of Education wants schools to offer a well-rounded curriculum. But it is not letting up on the pressure to raise test scores in math and English. John King has long believed in closing schools with low test scores and firing teachers who don’t raise test scores. So why should anyone take him seriously when he says he wants students to have a well-rounded curriculum? Next thing you know, he will suggest testing all those subjects too.

From Politico:

HELP WITH THE HUMANITIES: The Education Department today is releasing a Dear Colleague letter as part of the Obama administration’s push [http://bit.ly/29A4ne7 ] to help schools, districts and states deliver a more “well-rounded” education to students. That means teaching not only math and English, but also including art, music, civics, world languages and more. The letter is meant to help states and districts when it comes to using federal funds to improve teaching of the humanities, such as the study of history, philosophy, literature and languages. The department says in the letter that states and districts can use federal funds to purchase humanities-focused materials or devices, provide teachers with professional development in the subjects or better serve students with disabilities or English language learners through humanities courses. The letter: http://politico.pro/29LTFVX.

Pass the bread, here comes the baloney (or bologna, if you please).

Politico reports that Democrats for Education Reform, the hedge funders’ charter advocacy group, is not happy with the amendments to the platform proposed by supporters of public schools Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Chuck Pascal of Pennsylvania:

NO CANDIDATE LEFT BEHIND: While Democrats have yet to publish their most recent platform language, education-focused groups are already sniping about it. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the new language “represents a refreshing sea change in its approach to public education” and “makes it clear that Democrats are committed to ending the failed era of test-and-sanction.” AFT is pointing to amendments to the draft language it says were adopted in Orlando during the weekend platform meeting – amendments that voice support for parents who want to opt their children out of standardized tests, demand more accountability for charter schools, and oppose using student test scores in teacher evaluations. All of those stances are favored by teachers unions.

– But Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, called the amendments an “unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy” and said that these changes came about because the platform drafting committee “inexplicably” allowed the process to be “hijacked.” Your dutiful Morning Education scribes will post the final platform draft as soon as it’s available.

Wendy Lecker warns the people of Connecticut that the New Haven public schools have made a deal with the Relay “Graduate School of Education,” which trains robot teachers who value compliance and arrive with scripted lessons. Why contract with Relay, she asks, when there are highly reputable teacher education programs in the neighborhood?

When you consider that Connecticut is one of the highest achieving states in the nation on NAEP, you have to wonder how the charter industry captured the state’s political leadership.

This interview with John Fallon, the CEO of Pearson, was conducted at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an event that is held annually and completely dominated by reformers and entrepreneurs.

Pearson has a responsibility to end educational inequities, he says.

Perhaps someone might explain to him that standardized tests are normed on a bell curve and the bell curve never closes. The bottom half is always populated by disproportionate numbers of children who are disadvantaged by poverty, by language, by disability.

Inequity is baked in to standardized tests. By design.

And, the states and districts that spend hundreds of millions to test children are diverting that money from teaching them.

Even worse, the tests are so secret that teachers and parents never learn about the strengths and weaknesses of individual children.

And that doesn’t even touch on the problems with the EdTPA and the GED.

Perhaps Mr. Fallon can tackle these problems.

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