Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Expect More: It’s Easy, Fast and Cheap!

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

David Leonard’s Upshot article in today’s NYTimes describes the results from a recent study completed by Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills research at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group that brought us the PISA test. According to the OECD, US Principals are more likely than their counterparts in other parts of the world to “…believe that many of their students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.”  The study also reports that “Based on the views of principals, a larger share of children in the United States are “socioeconomically disadvantaged” compared with those in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries. 

Leonard offers a rationale for the first finding:

The usual caveats about correlation and causation apply, though. It’s also possible that an outside factor is driving the results of the survey question. The United States, for example, has an extensive and high-profile program of subsidizing lunches for lower-income children. If that program were driving principals’ definition of socioeconomic disadvantage, and other countries did not have similar programs, it could explain why this country is an outlier in the survey. In that case, American principals may or may not have lower academic expectations of their students.

Neither the OECD nor Mr. Leonard posed the question about the student demographics of “…Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries” but I would guess that none of those countries offer universal education to all students through high school and that many of them do not have or aggressively enforce child labor laws. Given those assumptions, it may be true that those countries, in fact, do have fewer “socioeconomically disadvantaged” children in their schools. I did some quick Google research and, using some of the data and some back-of-the-envelope lowball estimates offered the following comment:

Your notion that the principals answered honestly based on free and reduced lunch counts is plausible given the number of students who now qualify for that program, which is a proxy for “sociological disadvantage”. It is interesting that Mr. Schleicher is willing to suggest causality between expectations and performance based on the answer to a question posed to school principals on a questionnaire whose statistical basis is arguable but is unwilling to acknowledge ANY causality between poverty levels and academic performance as measured by a (presumably) valid standardized test (e.g. the PISA). Most voters and taxpayers like the notion that all you need to do is expect more from students and they will perform better academically. It’s an easy, quick and cheap fix to a complicated problem that requires time and— yes—money. 

Add “set higher expectations” to the long list of agreeable fantasies that fuel the fire of those who want easy, quick, and, most of all, CHEAP fixes to improving public education.

The Billionaire Boys ROI

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

I just finished reading “The Billionaire Boys Reinvesting a Small Percent of the Spoils of Capitalism“, a blog post on The Progressive’s web page written by Jan Resseger. The post opens with this short, concise, and accurate description of why the billionaires have so much to give:

One reason the Billionaire Boys have so much to invest through their mega-foundations is that tax cuts at the federal and state level have been tilted to favor the extremely wealthy and burden those whose incomes are far lower, exacerbating inequality and the plight of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

The post then covers the questionable effects of the trickle-down philanthropy-based economy, whereby a small group of extraordinarily wealthy billionaires get to determine public policy based on THIER beliefs and values. The post offers a series of ethical questions raised in a blog post by Reverend John Thomas. He enumerated “…three problems embedded in venture philanthropy”, attributing the identification of these broadly defined problems to Lester M. Salamon,  Director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. The three problems are particularism, paternalism, and insufficiency. That is, philanthropists tend to give to organizations whose missions and values match theirs, whose outcomes are of interest to them, but, in doing so, provide far less money than would have been available to the general welfare had the taxes been collected without loopholes.

The post concludes with a synopsis of an article Joanne Barkan wrote for Dissent magazine, describing the effects of this philanthropy-economy on public education.

Barkan describes the interests and passions in which the three giants of education philanthropy have been dabbling: “choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision making.  And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher.”

Resseger is concerned because the funding is continuing for these boilerplate initiatives despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that they are working. She concludes the post with this lament:

The fact that the Billionaire Boys can buy an extensive and long-running public relations and media campaign is one reason we haven’t had a thorough public conversation to compare the experiments of the philanthropists with our historic system of public education—publicly funded, universally available, and accountable to the public.  We ought to be asking which sort of schools do a better job of balancing the needs of each particular child and family with the capacity to secure the rights and address the needs of all children.

Here is what I find particularly distressing: after the recent Supreme Court decisions determining that campaign donations are a form of “free speech” I see no changes to the “test-punish-privatize” mantra. With “only” 4.35 billion spread over several years, RTTT became a de facto directive for districts to adopt the common core, to use standardized tests to measure everything about schooling, and to begin using Big Data to collect and store information on teachers, parents, and students. This proves Resseger’s point that “…controlling just a few billion dollars” of the $500 billion spent for public schools can make a huge difference.

Looking ahead, I would guess that most of the contributors to both parties campaigns are enthusiastic about the direction the federal government is leading us in terms of privatization of public schools, and the payback to technology companies, for-profit start-ups, and test companies will increase… for the campaign contributions to both parties won’t add up to “billions”… and I’d predict that those political contributions will have a great return on investment for the billionaire boys!


July 19, 2014 Leave a comment

The NYTimes editorial staff missed a great opportunity to educate the public about tests… and so for missed the chance. An op ed piece titled “How Testing Makes Us Smarter”, describes how low-stakes frequent tests for understanding, FORMATIVE assessments, work and high stakes periodic tests, SUMMATIVE assessments, do not. Without using the terms “Formative” and “Summative”, the article by Henry L. Roedinger III, advances an argument in favor of formative assessments but does nothing to distinguish formative and summative tests. His opening paragraph typifies the balance of the article:

TESTS have a bad reputation in education circles these days: They take time, the critics say, put students under pressure and, in the case of standardized testing, crowd out other educational priorities. But the truth is that, used properly, testing as part of an educational routine provides an important tool not just to measure learning, but to promote it.

This paragraph bundles “tests” together and makes no effort to distinguish summative from formative. The “critics” are NOT criticizing TEST per se: they are criticizing SUMMATIVE standardized tests that “…put students (and teachers) under pressure (and) crowd out other educational priorities”. I know of no teacher, administrator, or parent who opposes FORMATIVE tests that are “…part of an educational routine”. 

By NOT distinguishing between FORMATIVE and SUMMATIVE assessments the writer reinforces the notion that critics of “reform” are opposed to “testing” which is not the case. This “school reform” critic strongly supports well constructed tests that are part of an educational routine, tests that are designed to make certain that each and every student has gained a clear understanding of the content presented and has a grounding in the concepts needed to advance deeper understanding. What I strongly oppose is the misuse and overuse of standardized summative assessments.

The Times and Mr. Roedinger could have informed the public about the difference between these two kinds of tests, which would be a valuable service! Instead, the article subtly casts people into “pro-test” and “anti-test” camps, which is counterproductive.

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