Archives for category: Testing

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the strange events surrounding Manuel Alfaro, an ex-College Board employee who has been complaining loudly about the defects of the redesigned SAT.

His home was raided by the FBI, very likely searching to find out if he was the one who released 400 test items to the media.

The day after the raid, he wrote a long commentary about the flaws of the new SAT.

A Florida judge supported parents who fought for alternatives to the mandatory state reading test. Some districts permitted alternatives, others insisted that children would be retained in third grade if they didn’t take and pass the third grade test.

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/judge-issues-mixed-ruling-on-floridas-third-grade-retention-law/2291108

“A Leon County circuit court judge has come down in favor of families challenging Florida’s third-grade retention practices, ruling that school districts ignored the children’s right to alternative forms of promotion and the state Department of Education allowed that to happen.

“In her order, Judge Karen Gievers highly criticized the Hernando County school district for its “illegal refusal” to allow students to have a portfolio option to demonstrate their reading abilities, as permitted in statute. Notably, she also included report cards “based on classroom work throughout the course of the school year” as an acceptable option.

“Gievers took a further step in undercutting Florida’s long-time reliance on testing by validating the Opt Out Network’s use of “minimal participation.”

“The statute does not define participation,” Gievers wrote in her order. “The children were present on time, broke the seal on the materials and wrote their names, thus meeting their obligation to participate.”

The article calls this a “mixed” ruling, but I think it looks like a home run for parents who didn’t want their child’s future to be tied to one standardized test.

Thanks to reader Sheila Resseger, who sent this article about the low PARCC scores in Rhode Island.

Here were the results for the kids with the greatest need for support:

Less than 22 percent of black and Latino students scored proficient in English compared to a statewide average of almost 38 percent on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a challenging test rolled out last year amid dismal results.

Less than 9 percent of English language learners reached the state standard, and that number fell to less than 6 percent for special-needs students.

The achievement gaps widened.

The State Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner (formerly deputy commissioner in New York state), is quoted.

Less than 22 percent of black and Latino students scored proficient in English compared to a statewide average of almost 38 percent on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a challenging test rolled out last year amid dismal results.

Less than 9 percent of English language learners reached the state standard, and that number fell to less than 6 percent for special-needs students.

Related content R.I. educators urge stay the course on standardized testsIn an interview yesterday, State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said poverty was not to blame for the chronically low scores among urban school districts.

“If you go back 40 years, we’ve always been at a 30- or 40-percent plateau,” he said, referring to the percentage of students reaching proficiency in English and math. “Part of the story is we need to stop changing our minds. We need take a common-sense approach and stick with it for the long haul.”

Rhode Island, unlike Massachusetts, has switched state tests. It has reversed course on whether passing a test should be a high-school graduation requirement. Legislative leadership has undermined the work of education commissioners.

Math scores increased by 5 points this year, with nearly 30 percent of all students meeting the standards. Students improved in every grade level. In English, scores improved by two percentage points, with almost 38-percent reaching proficiency. Students improved in five out of eight grade levels.

Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said Rhode Island is moving forward but “not fast enough.”

“The anxiety about the PARCC seems to have dissipated,” he said. “But the scores are stagnant at the upper grade levels, which reinforces that the test has to be part of the graduation requirements.”

Wagner moved this year to drop the PARCC as a graduation requirement after widespread criticism that urban students were not adequately prepared to take it, among other concerns.

The PARCC, which was originally adopted by 24 states, is down to seven. Rhode Island is the only state in New England to stick with the test, which has been confounded by technical problems and a huge opt-out movement in states like New York. Massachusetts switched to a hybrid of the PARCC and its own test, the MCAS, this past year.

Wagner denied that the test is too hard, a common criticism. Instead, he said Rhode Island has much work to do to put a rigorous curriculum in every school, ramp up teacher training and redesign the way schools, especially high schools, are structured.

High-school students across Rhode Island performed poorly on the tests. In Providence, every high school but Classical scored in the single digits on the math and English PARCC tests.

But it wasn’t just the urban schools that underperformed. At Burrillville High School, only 17 percent of the students scored proficient on the English test. In North Kingstown and South Kingstown, approximately a third scored proficient and in Westerly, 21 percent did.

Wagner says the tests are not too hard. Surely that can’t be an excuse for the vast majority that “failed.” Can’t blame poverty.

The real problem, he says, is that we need to stick with the PARCC no matter how many kids fail.

Tim Duffy of the state’s school committees wants PARCC to be a graduation requirement (Wagner disagrees). What will Rhode Island do with all those kids who never pass? At this point, it would be a very large majority. Will they drop out? Will they get jobs without a high school diploma? Will they stay in third grade or fourth grade until they pass? Will third grade become a huge parking lot where few students make it to fourth grade?

Please, someone, explain how this would work. And Commissioner Wagner, how many years will it take until most students in Rhode Island “pass” the PARCC test, a feat not accomplished by any other state except Massachusetts? Will students with disabilities stay in school for the rest of their lives?

No surprise: Most students in Rhode Island “failed” the Common Core PARCC tests. As I have explained many times, the tests were designed to fail most students. They are aligned with NAEP Proficient, which most students have never reached, with the sole exception of those in Massachusetts, where slightly more than half have reached that standard.

What is the point of giving a test that is too hard for most students?

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote to say that the tests were designed to show college readiness, and only 40% (or less) are college ready. But 70% enroll in college. Thus, he writes, a remediation crisis in college.

But really, why should schools test third graders for college readiness?

Colleges set their own admission standards, they can accept or reject whoever they want.

I wonder if Michael Phelps or Simone Boles would have tested “proficient” on PARCC?

I posed these questions to him:

Making the passing mark so high that most kids fail is insane. Does that make them smarter? Will they be denied a high school diploma? Will they be retained in grade? Will the schools become giant holding pens where most kids never get past third grade?

Mike is never at a loss for words so I expect he will answer.

The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., has published a major paper that describes a new vision for American education.

Instead of focusing on goals like raising test scores, which narrows the curriculum and produces perverse results (like cheating, excessive test prep, and gaming the system), educators should be encouraged to emphasize the development of the whole child. This is not a new idea; its roots go back to the early twentieth century. But it is a research-based idea that promises to change the direction of education and to align teaching and learning with what is in the best interests of students and society.

The report was written by Elaine Weiss and Emma Garcia of EPI.

Here is the introduction.

Traits and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, persistence, and self-control—which are often collectively called noncognitive skills, or social and emotional skills—are vitally important to children’s full development. They are linked to academic achievement, productivity and collegiality at work, positive health indicators, and civic participation, and are nurtured through life and school experiences. Developing these skills should thus be an explicit goal of public education. This can be achieved through research and policy initiatives involving better defining and measuring these skills; designing broader curricula to promote these skills; ensuring that teachers’ preparation and professional support are geared toward developing these skills in their students; revisiting school disciplinary policies, which are often at odds with the nurturing of these skills; and broadening assessment and accountability practices to make the development of the whole child central to education policy.

Introduction and key points

The importance of so-called noncognitive skills—which include abilities and traits such as critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, social skills, persistence, creativity, and self-control—manifests itself in multiple ways throughout our lives. For example, having greater focus as a student improves the acquisition of skills, and creativity is widely associated with artistic abilities. Persistence and communication skills are critical to success at work, and respect and tolerance contribute to strong social and civic relationships.

But support for noncognitive skills—also commonly referred to as social and emotional skills—extends far beyond this casual recognition of their impact. Empirical research finds clear connections between various noncognitive skills and positive life outcomes. Indeed, researchers have focused on assessing which skills matter and why, how they are measured, and how and when these skills are developed, including the mutually reinforcing development of noncognitive and cognitive abilities during students’ years in school.1

At the same time, there are clear challenges inherent in this work, including those associated with data availability (in terms of measurement, validity, and reliability), the difficulty of establishing causality, and the need to bridge gaps across various areas of research. This points to the need to exercise caution when designing education policies and practices that aim to nurture noncognitive skills. Nonetheless, given the crucial role that noncognitive skills play in supporting the development of cognitive skills—as well as the importance of noncognitive skills in their own right—this is an issue of great importance for policymakers.

Moreover, there is increased recognition, both domestically and internationally, that noncognitive skills are integral to a wider conceptualization of what it means to be an educated person. Indeed, UNESCO’s Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets forth an international consensus on the new vision for education for the next 15 years, states, “Relevant learning outcomes must be well defined in cognitive and non-cognitive domains, and continually assessed as an integral part of the teaching and learning process. Quality education includes the development of those skills, values, attitudes and knowledge that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions and respond to local and global challenges.”2

This policy brief, which focuses on a set of skills that can and should be taught in schools, is based on a body of scholarly literature that tends to use the term “noncognitive skills” over others. James Heckman, a prominent, Nobel Prize–winning economist, has dubbed these skills “dark matter” in recognition of their varied nature and the challenge of accurately labeling them. Various fields and experts call them social and emotional skills, behavioral skills, inter- and intra-personal skills, and life skills, among other terms, but this brief does not aim to settle this issue. We therefore use noncognitive throughout in many places, as well as social and emotional skills and other terms.

This brief explains why it is so important that we incorporate these skills into the goals and components of public education, and lays out the steps necessary to make that happen.

This is a report that will gladden the hearts of most educators. It calls for a paradigm shift at a time when policymakers are realizing that the past fifteen years of testing, carrots and sticks, and other efforts to raise test scores, has produced negative consequences. It is time to take another look at our goals and our vision. This is indeed a worthy project.

Michael Hynes is a veteran superintendent of schools in New York. His district–Patchogue-Medford– is one of those where about half the students opted out of state testing. He has a better vision for education than that of New York State or the federal government.

He writes:

Public Education and what it stands for has been taking a beating not only in New York but across this great nation for far too long. It is my belief that the people who think they know all the answers (policy makers and corporate reformers who are non-educators) are getting in the way of the leaders who understand what our students truly need and deserve.

There is no better time than right now since there is a four year moratorium in New York related to the development of new standards, teacher/principal evaluations and state assessments. Now is the time for our school leaders to have a collective voice about a number of items we have solutions to.

Nobody likes to live in regret….my biggest fear is ten years from now, history will question why school leaders didn’t push back or voice their concerns against the agenda of changing public education. Now is the time to have our collective voices known. A compendium of our ideas and opinions will be sent to the Board of Regents, Commissioner of Education, the heads of the Senate and Assembly and our Governor. It is my hope to have this information ready for the public by November.

Here is a letter that was sent to every NY Superintendent:

Dear Superintendent Colleague:

It is a privilege and honor serving our school communities as educational leaders. It is a remarkable experience like no other. As superintendents, we are entrusted and responsible for our communities’ most prized possessions, the children. We are responsible for everyone’s safety as well as a child’s academic, social and emotional growth. It is a tightrope walk between the balancing acts of educator and politician twenty-four hours a day… seven days a week.

Like any leadership position, a school leader deals with obstacles on a daily basis. But the impediments we face have grown tremendously because of the mandates our state and federal governments have put in place over the past several years. These mandates are at a point that I believe is interfering with our work to best serve our children and our communities. And while there is much anti-public school sentiment that we read about in the news, there is also a rising awareness of the harm that is happening as well as growing frustration among our parent bodies and community leaders. In light of the harm our schools and children have endured, and to put our schools back on the right track, I write to suggest that now is the time to speak out against:

• The overemphasis and overreliance on assessing our children

• The disproportionate use of state tests to evaluate students and teachers

• The hard push for technology as a substitute for teaching and the lack of professional development

• The demonization of teachers and administrators

• The over emphasis on ranking and sorting students and staff into impractical and unrealistic categories

• The early push to be college and career ready, even in Kindergarten

• The insufficient discussion about alternate paths for students, such as vocational school or military opportunities

• The chronic government underfunding of special education

• The use of un-validated and not-fully-transparent tests that have high stakes attached

• Curriculum that sets unachievable standards for our most vulnerable learners

• Protecting personally identifiable student data

The list can go on and on. I realize we have many educational leaders who are relentless advocates for their school district and students. They are innovators within their domains but are hesitant to voice their apprehensions outside of their schoolhouses. The messages from the state have led many to stay quiet, but I believe that now is the time we can act as a whole. By acknowledging our shared concerns, we can send our own message that the time for change and for putting children first is now.

I would love to see New York State educational leaders push for more recess, play and begin redirecting the important focus toward educating the “whole child.” Together we can concentrate on supporting all our children by addressing their social, emotional and academic needs. Now is the time to promote more project-based learning opportunities for our schools. Together we can push the pendulum toward a thoughtful school that will harvest the talents of our students so they are
educated … and move away from a clinical habitation where students are trained to perform well on standardized tests. Parents, students and educators are looking toward our educational leaders now more than ever.

As a beginning, I am looking to collect the thoughts/opinions of superintendents from across the great state of New York in a qualitative nature that support the bulleted items above as well as other issues you think need attention. My hope is to collate the majority of our sentiments on the above mentioned items listed in this letter and with your permission, send a compendium to our state’s education policy makers, including the Board of Regents, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the heads of the Senate and Assembly, as well as the head of the Education Committees, and Governor Cuomo. I am happy to include anonymous postings if that is what anyone wants. I am requesting that your statement is limited to 300 words or less. It would be beneficial if your statements were sent via email to me at mhynes@pmschools.org no later than Friday, September 30th. Once completed I will send
you a copy.

Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience with any questions you may have. Thank you for your time and continued commitment to all our children.

Respectfully yours,

Michael J. Hynes, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

No big surprise here: Most students in Maryland did not pass the PARCC tests.

A majority of Maryland’s students failed to meet academic benchmarks on state standardized tests linked to the Common Core this year, a disappointing result for educators and state officials who had hoped to see major upticks as teachers and students become familiar with the exams.

New data released this week showed that many grade levels saw overall passing rates of about 40 percent in the second year of testing using PARCC exams, which are intended to measure readiness for college and careers. Maryland students in grades three through eight showed gains in math, but English scores remained flat.

“We’re sure not seeing a heck of a rise on these results,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Forty percent is nowhere near good enough, and the gains, where there are some, are small.”

State data showed that most grade levels saw improvement in math, with proficiency inching up nearly three points in seventh grade and almost eight points in third grade. Third-graders did best, with 44 percent meeting or exceeding expectations, and eighth-graders lagged, with just 22 percent meeting or exceeding expectations. There was little change in English scores in third through eighth grades, with 37 to 40 percent of students reaching performance targets.

As I have pointed out many times, both of the federally-funded Common Core tests (PARCC and SBAC) set their passing marks so high that most students were expected to fall short of “proficient.” Long ago, the test developers decided that NAEP proficient was the right benchmark, even though most students consistently fail to reach NAEP proficient. Only in Massachusetts have half the students in the state reached that goal.

Put another way, the Common Core tests were designed to fail most students. That allegedly would inspire them to try harder and every year they would do better and better until everyone reached NAEP proficient.

That was the theory. But it remains to be seen whether the majority who allegedly “fail” will be incentivized to try harder or will give up.

Meanwhile, only seven states and D.C. still administer the PARCC exam, which is developed by Pearson. Originally there were 24. Most have abandoned PARCC.

Checker Finn wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan (as did Marc Tucker and I, in large part to counter what Checker wrote).

Many readers wondered why anyone would write an open letter to the founder of Facebook and advise him what to do about reforming American education.

Nancy Bailey puts those concerns, that skepticism, and that sense of outrage into a post directed to Checker Finn.

Finn just wrote a letter to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for all of us to see, like we are the bystanders in their goofball, grand design of schools. Schools will no longer be public–other than they will still receive our tax dollars.

It is hard not to be struck by the arrogance of it all.

If one understands what a democracy is, and how it relates to public schools, they will be puzzled as to why Finn isn’t writing a letter to the American people–you know–the ones who are supposed to be the real owners of their schools.

But instead, he writes to Chan and Zuckerberg. He wants them to think about school reform. He sees them as the owners of America’s schools. They, like Gates and the other wealthy oligarchs, assume they know best how children learn because they made a lot of money and got rich.

She is especially repulsed by his reference to “personalized learning,” which is now a euphemism for sitting in front of a computer and letting the computer teach you. Some call it CBE, competency-based education, since the computer uses algorithms to judge your readiness for the next question or activity. The idea that computers might teach children with special needs is particularly troubling.

But real education is an exchange between people, not a machine and a person.

I have known Checker Finn for many years, almost forty. Our friendship was impaired when I left the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and publicly rejected school choice and high-stakes testing. I have always had a fondness for Checker and his family. But Checker went to Exeter, and his wonderful children also went to elite private schools. I don’t begrudge them that, but I think Checker really is out of touch with public education and with the work of teachers in public schools. I am not making excuses for him, just explaining why I think he really doesn’t understand the disastrous consequences of the ideas he has promoted and believes in–for other people’s children.

Andy Goldstein addressed the school board of Palm Beach County, where he teaches, at a recent meeting:

Why My Wife and I Are Opting Out Our Daughter From Third-Grade High-Stakes Testing

Transcript of the original text:

Good evening. My name is Andy Goldstein. I’m a teacher at Omni Middle School and the proud parent of an eight-year-old daughter who attends one of our public elementary schools.

It seems like it was just yesterday when my daughter entered kindergarten. At that time, I talked about her at our August School Board meeting in 2013.

I said that my hopes and dreams for my daughter were that she would develop a lifelong love for learning that would serve her well as she learned to construct a life that would serve her and serve others as well.

I told this board that my wife and I were not particularly interested in having her be seen as a data point for others to make money from.

Now, three short years later, which seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye, she is entering third grade.

Tonight, I’m speaking as a parent, who also is a teacher.

In Florida, third grade is the beginning of high-stakes, standardized testing for our children.

What are the high-stakes?

• Our children, on the basis of one test, will receive a number, a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, which, will serve to define them.

Some students, may do well learning throughout the year, but do not test well and may receive a 1, a one being the lowest possible score.

Some may come from disadvantaged backgrounds and will receive a 1.

Some may be special needs students, who receive a 1.

These numbers work to define our students as to whom they are. “I’m a one. I’m a Failure.”

This high-stakes testing policy, mandated by state law, works to stigmatize our students and they grow up with a limiting self-concept of who they are and what they are capable of doing and becoming.

• On the basis of this one high-stakes test, some schools—those comprised of the poorest students, who need the most help—are labeled with an “F.” Failures. This stigmatizes these schools, whose faculty and staff may be working hard to meet the high needs of the surrounding neighborhood they serve. It also serves to increase the segregation at these already segregated schools. What parents, given the means to choose what community they will move into, will choose a neighborhood with a school labeled “F.”

• There is a lot of money being made on the part of testing companies, publishers, and vendors, based on this annual imposition of this high-stakes testing.

• This high-stakes testing is part of a corporate agenda, an agenda by the rich and powerful to demonize our public schools and privatize them through the rise of publicly funded, privately managed schools called charters. Our state legislature, bought and paid for by corporate interests, is cheating our children by defunding our public schools.

• “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital,” says Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor.

• Our third graders are still babies, really. Do they really need the pressures of this high-stakes testing?

Recently, I read one account from a parent recounting the experience of her son when he was a third grader taking the FCAT. He was a good kid. He worked all year to learn. But he missed passing the FCAT by one point. He went to summer school to do more work and took it again. And again, he missed passing the test by one point. His mother was afraid to tell him, but he could tell by her reaction that he had not passed. He was crushed by the sense of failure. His mother, working on making dinner in the kitchen, called him to come down to eat. He did not respond. She had a premonition that something was the matter. She rushed up to his bedroom and found him hanging by a bedsheet. She got him down.

• Is there anyone who thinks this high-stakes testing is worth such a price?

• As a parent, I can answer with a resounding NO!

• My wife and I believe that our public schools should work to develop the whole, creative child in all of our schools, and in all of our communities of all colors and all socio-economic backgrounds.

• For these reasons, I’m announcing to you, our school board, that my wife and I do not support high-stakes testing in Florida, and will be opting out our daughter. Evidence for her learning will be through a portfolio.

• Thank you.

Perhaps you don’t know who Peter Cunningham is. I didn’t know until he went to Washington as Arne Duncan’s chief PR guy (Assistant Secretary for Communications). I met Peter a few times, and I thought he was charming. We always disagreed with a smile or a laugh. He knew he would never persuade me, and I knew I would never get him to admit that Race to the Top was all wrong.

I recall a discussion of testing. I tried to persuade him that the most important things in life can’t be measured. He replied, “You measure what you treasure.” I of course responded, “what you really treasure can never be measured.” What about your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your pets? Come on! I love certain paintings, certain music, certain movies. How much? I don’t know. What difference?

Mike Klonsky has been arguing on Twitter with Peter.

Peter has decided that it’s too late to worry about racial segregation. Apparently he thinks that talking about poverty is a distraction from school reform. Peter has become the voice of corporate reformers. They have controlled the narrative for at least 15 years. Where are the success stories?

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