Archives for category: Testing

Karen Wolfe reports here the precise language of the amendments that were added to the Democratic platform on charters, testing, restorative justice, and other important topics.

This is heartening.

When the election is over, and I hope that Hillary Clinton is elected, we will count on her to remember the party platform.

We also bear in mind that policy comes from people, more than from the platform. It is important to get the platform right but even more important to see who is named Secretary of Education, and who is chosen for top education policy positions. Those of us who want to see better public schools for all children must keep up the pressure, now and in the future.

Dana Goldstein, veteran education journalist, reports that Hillary Clinton is striking a very different note with teachers and their unions than Obama did.

Obama’s education policies were shaped to cut the power of unions and to reduce teachers’ job protections. His administration was openly hostile to public schools and teachers. In response to the hedge fund managers at Democrats for Education Reform, whose favorite he was, and to the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, the Obama administration invested heavily in privately managed charter schools and forced thousands of public schools to close, based on their test scores. The burden of school closings fell mainly on poor communities of color, which were destabilized by his punitive policies.

Goldstein says that Hillary is taking a very different tack:

Clinton’s speech to the NEA was notable both for what she said and, perhaps even more so, for what she didn’t say. She promised to expand access to child care and pre-K, pay teachers more, forgive their college debt, construct new school buildings, and bring computer science courses into K-12 education. While a brief mention of successful charter schools (most of which are not unionized) was met with scattered boos, for the most part the audience of activist teachers greeted Clinton ecstatically, chanting “Hillary, Hillary!”

Following eight years of federally driven closures and turnarounds of schools with low test scores, which have put union jobs at risk, it was music to the NEA’s ears when the presumptive Democratic nominee promised to end “the education wars” and “stop focusing only on quote, ‘failing schools.’ Let’s focus on all our great schools, too.” And in a big departure from the school-reform rhetoric of President Barack Obama, the only time Clinton referenced “accountability” was to refer not to getting rid of bad teachers, but to giving unions a bigger voice in education policy. “Advise me and hold me accountable,” she said. “Keep advocating for your students and your profession.”

This speech, the first big moment for K-12 education in this general election, signals a potentially meaningful shift in Democratic Party education politics. The Obama era has been, often, a painful one for teachers-union activists. Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007 as an ally of Democrats for Education Reform, a group of philanthropists (most with ties to the financial sector) who support weakening teachers’ tenure protections, evaluating teachers according to their students’ test scores, and increasing the number of public charter schools.

Obama held many positions with which teachers’ unions agreed, like helping teachers improve through peer mentorship programs and pushing states to embrace the Common Core national curriculum standards. Still, he represented a wing of the Democratic Party that thought unions held too much sway over education policy, and in 2008, the NEA chose not to endorse in the Democratic primary, while the other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Obama’s primary challenger, Hillary Clinton.*
As president, Obama followed through on his promises to union critics. He created a $4 billion program, Race to the Top, that tied federal education dollars to policies like evaluating teachers according to student test scores and weakening tenure protections, so underperforming teachers could more easily be fired.

Goldstein’s conclusion is premature:

It’s safe to say it is a new day for the Democratic Party on education policy. But here’s hoping that Clinton’s turn toward the unions doesn’t mean she lets go of some of the Obama administration’s more promising recent ideas.

It is too soon to say whether it is a new day for the Democratic policy on education policy. DFER has not gone away, nor have the billionaires who want to crush teachers, unions, and public schools.

And I wonder what the Obama administration’s “more promising recent ideas” are. I haven’t heard them. John King was known in New York for his zealous embrace of Common Core, high-stakes testing, opposition to opt out, and commitment to evaluating teachers by test scores. His brief tenure as Education Secretary does not show any disposition on his part to abandon those policies.

So, as the saying goes, time will tell. We should all give Hillary Clinton a chance to change direction. Heaven knows we can’t continue with the federal government making war on public schools and their teachers. If that’s what she means by ending the education wars, I am all for it.

This petition was started by a Florida BAT.

Maybe Hillary will meet with me if enough people sign.


Part of the standard reform lexicon is the word “rigor.” We are told again and again that standards must be rigorous, tests must be rigorous, teachers must be rigorous. That’s the trouble, we hear, with our schools. They lack rigor.


But what is rigor?


A reader who calls him/herself Brooklyn Teacher looked up the word “rigor” and supplied the following definition:


“ALL early childhood children, Pre-K through grade three, need to play. Here is the full definition of rigor from Merriam-Webster and it’s horrid that we apply this to learning at any age:
a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) : severity of life : austerity



b : an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
: a tremor caused by a chill
: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
: strict precision : exactness
a obsolete : rigidity, stiffness
b : rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
c : rigor mortis


I say, whenever you hear the word “rigor,” think rigor mortis.

No state is more in need of advocates for children and public schools in its legislature than Florida.

The Florida legislature at present is in the pockets or the hands (or both) of the privatization lobby. It enacts bill after bill to outsource its schools to private companies, many operating for profit. It pours millions into failing charter schools and failing voucher schools. It authorizes crooked operators and funds charters that never open. It enacts legislation that demoralizes and harms its teachers. Hurting teachers hurts children.

It is time for a change.

That is why the NPE Action Fund proudly endorses Rick Roach, a champion for public schools, who is running for a seat in the Florida State Senate.

If you live in District 13, please help Rick get elected. If you don’t, consider sending him a contribution.

Rick is the school board member in Orange County who took the state standardized test and wrote about it.

“I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Articles like this are sad and even sickening. It is the story of a 29-year veteran in Brookline, Massachusetts, who teaches first grade. He is leaving.

It is outrageous to see beloved, dedicated teachers leave the classroom. Yet when you think of the steady barrage of hostile propaganda directed at them by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, D.C. think tanks, and others, you can understand why they find it impossible to stay. I hope there is a new wave of articles about teachers who said: No matter what, I will not leave! I love my kids! I love my work! I will not let the reformers drive me away!

David Weinstein is throwing in the towel. He is in his early 50s. He shouldn’t be leaving so soon. He explains how teaching has changed, how much pressure is on the children, how much time is wasted collecting data that doesn’t help him as a teacher or his students.

He sums up:

I guess the big-picture problem is that all this stuff we’re talking about here is coming from on top, from above, be it the federal government, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the school administration. But the voices of teachers are lost. I mean, nobody talks to teachers. Or, if they do talk to teachers, they’re not listening to teachers.

Mike Klonsky writes tonight about John King’s efforts to circumvent the intent of the ESSA law and restore the punishments of NCLB.

Governor Jerry Brown wants to use multiple measures to judge schools, and King does not approve. He wants to impose an A-F letter grade, based primarily on test scores, a simplistic idea invented by Jeb Bush.

The schools that suffer most are those that enroll poor children and children of color.

“King claims it has to be a “simple” rating system so that parents can understand it. He thinks parents are too stupid to understand that there’s more than one way to tell how their schools and their children are doing. His approach is what led to the mass parent opt-out revolt in N.Y. under his administration.

“This is the same line we heard under Bush’s No Child Left Behind. It turned out that NCLB testing madness was just another form of social reproduction. Or more simply put, a way of replicating and enforcing existing inequalities by punishing schools and districts with the neediest kids. Testing mania only reinforced school segregation and hurt poor kids and children of color the most.

“Not to mention the discredited role of the use of standardized tests as a valid measure when it comes to evaluating teachers or schools.”

King claims he is merely enforcing the law, but Senator Lamar Alexander (who led the writing of the law) doesn’t agree with him.

King is trying to assert power he does not have. Senator Alexander is not going to let him get away with it. In a stand-off between a lame-duck Secretary of Education and the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, my money is on the Senator.

Chalkbeat Tennessee has an excellent report on Tennessee’s testing fiasco. State officials knew that the testing company was in deep trouble before the testing began, yet they plunged ahead, wasting millions of dollars.

Grace Tatter describes Tennessee’s “worst case scenario”:

Tennessee education officials allowed students and teachers to go ahead with a new online testing system that had failed repeatedly in classrooms across the state, according to emails obtained by Chalkbeat.

After local districts spent millions of dollars on new computers, iPads, and upgraded internet service, teachers and students practiced for months taking the tests using MIST, an online testing system run by North Carolina-based test maker Measurement Inc.
They encountered myriad problems: Sometimes, the test questions took three minutes each to load, or wouldn’t load at all. At other times, the test wouldn’t work on iPads. And in some cases, the system even saved the wrong answers.

When students in McMinnville, a town southeast of Nashville, logged on to take their practice tests, they found some questions already filled in — incorrectly — and that they couldn’t change the answers. The unsettling implication: Even if students could take the exam, the scores would not reflect their skills.

“That is a HUGE issue to me,” Warren County High School assistant principal Penny Shockley wrote to Measurement Inc.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February about technical problems with the state’s new online assessment.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February about technical problems with the state’s new online assessment.

The emails contain numerous alarming reports about practice tests gone awry. They also show that miscommunication between officials with the Tennessee Department of Education and Measurement Inc. made it difficult to fix problems in time for launch.

And they suggest that even as problems continued to emerge as the test date neared, state officials either failed to understand or downplayed the widespread nature of the problems to schools. As a result, district leaders who could have chosen to have students take the test on paper instead moved forward with the online system.

The messages span from October until Feb. 10, two days after the online test’s debut and cancellation hours later. Together, they offer a peek into how Tennessee wound up with a worst-case scenario: countless hours wasted by teachers and students preparing for tests that could not be taken.

Despite the best efforts of the Florida legislature to give every possible financial and regulatory break to charter school operators, the charter industry is having many problems.

Charters in Duval County are not doing well at all. The legislators and former Governor Jeb Bush have promised again and again that the move to private control would unleash a new era of excellence and innovation, but it hasn’t happened.

Duval’s charter schools performed worse than the district’s public schools on state tests.

Recently released results from the annual Florida Standards Assessments and from state end-of-course exams reveal that in 17 out of 22 tests on reading, math, science, history and civics, charter schools averaged fewer students passing the tests than those in district schools.

In some tests and subjects, far fewer. The biggest differences were in science.

Nearly three out of four Duval students taking biology last year passed its end-of-course exam, compared to less than half, 48.4 percent, of charter school students. Fifty-two percent of Duval’s fifth-graders passed that grade’s science test, compared to 41 percent of their charter school peers.

In every tested grade except sixth, Duval students’ English language arts passing rates and math passing rates exceeded charters.’

“You can see that our schools are improving at a faster clip,” said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

There were exceptions, where charters decisively outperformed district schools.

In sixth grade, 48 percent of charter school students passed math, compared to nearly 40 percent at district schools.

In algebra 1, charter schools passed 53 percent of students, 5 percentage points more than the district’s 48 percent. In Florida, high school students need to pass algebra 1 to graduate.

Also, in geometry, the difference between charter and district schools was about 19 percentage points; nearly 56 percent of charter school students passed compared to 37 percent of district students.

(The comparisons are estimates, because Florida obscures scores in grades with few students to protect their identities. That affects charter schools more than district school data.)

Charter schools are independently operated schools that compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars. Charter school students take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter advocates will leap to celebrate the grades and subjects where charters got higher scores than public schools, but it should be remembered that charters (unlike public schools) are free to choose the students they want and free to throw out the students they don’t want. They should be superior across the board, but they are not.

This is one of the few articles I have read that acknowledges that charters “compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars.” Many people do not realize that charters–even low-performing charters–drain money from the public schools.

Georgia’s elected officials have chosen charter schools as their way to improve education. Thus far, their bet has not paid off.

A new report from the State Charter Schools Commission finds that charter schools perform about the same as public schools. This is similar to the conclusions of many states and districts and studies. Charter schools are free to choose their students and free to push out the ones they don’t want. They are free from most state regulations and are lightly supervised. But there are few differences in performance between the charter sector and the public schools. Some might argue that test scores should not be used as the yardstick of quality, but low test scores–and the promise of raising them–was the rationale for creating charter schools. So, it is duplicitous to make excuses for their inability to bring every child to high levels of proficiency, as they once claimed they could do.

A new report about the performance of schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission finds a mixed bag, with 15 statewide charter schools neither excelling far ahead of nor dragging far behind the traditional public schools against which they’re meant to compete.

At the elementary school level, most of the charter schools performed as well as the average traditional school in 2014-15, says the report by Georgia State University, which provides significant detail about the performance of each school. In general, by middle school, the charters were performing as well as or better than average. High school was a mixed bag.

The Charter Schools Commission was established in 2012 by a state constitutional amendment and began working in 2013. It authorizes a subset of charter schools, with local school districts still the lead authorizer for most (the local districts work with the Georgia Department of Education, a separate entity from the Commission).

As of December, 91,000 Georgia students were attending 441 charter schools, including 97 “start-up” charter schools, 18 “conversion” charter schools, and 326 “charter system” schools in 32 charter systems, which are regular school districts that have signed charters with the state, according to a recent Education Department report. The number of charter systems is growing, though.

Here is a link to the full report, written by Professor Tim Sass of Georgia State University.

Georgia plans to create an “Achievement School District,” based on the failed model in Tennessee. It promised to take over the state’s lowest performing schools (in the bottom 5%) and move them in five years to the top 25% in test scores by turning them over to charter operators. But the schools it has turned into charters have remained mired in the bottom 5-6%.


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