Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

NYS Businesses Solution to Common Core: “Re-Branding”

October 2, 2015 Leave a comment

In one of the most disingenuous ploys ever concocted, High Achievement New York, a self-identifed “coalition of teachers, parents, civic, civil rights and business groups who share a commitment to a brighter educational future for every child in New York” is advocating that the state stay with the Common Core standards and offer a seven step plan for implementing them. Here’s the first step of the groups plan:

  1. Renaming the Standards: Several states have dropped the “Common Core” moniker to put their own stamp on the standards, something Chancellor Tisch suggested last week.  For instance, the standards in Arizona, Florida and Iowa are now known as “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” the “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” and “The Iowa Core,” respectively.  Survey after survey shows strong support for higher learning standards in ELA and Math, and annual assessments of college and career readiness, but support drops when those components are called Common Core.

One of the Uniserv reps I worked with in MD had a great aphorism for this kind of thing: “You can’t paint C-O-W on the side of a horse and expect to get any milk”… and re-jiggering these standards or shortening the time for summative assessments will not address the fundamental problem, which is the use of common core test results as the sole metric for determining “success” in school and now, in NYS, “success” as a classroom teacher. Nor will it address the fundamental assumption of the common core, which is that all children are expected to develop at the same rate intellectually in all content areas, an idea that is preposterous on its face yet implicit in the way the common core is presented. We won’t get better performance from a re-branded set of standards any more that we could get milk from a re-labelled horse.

Washington Posts Concludes That Americans Can’t Write… and Blames Teachers!

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?

Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.

Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.

What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.

We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.

Will Udacity’s Nanodegrees lead to Perelman’s Micro-Vouchers?

September 17, 2015 Leave a comment

In 1993 Lewis Perelman wrote a thought provoking book titled “Schools Out” which described how computer technology could eventual lead to a fragmentation of public education through the creation of “micro vouchers” that would enable students to take courses where they wanted to and when they wanted to. That same year, libertarian writer David Boaz wrote a book titled “Market Liberalism: A Paradigm for the 21st Century” that included a chapter by Perelman titled “The Learning Revolution” that provides a blueprint for what is transpiring today in education.  Some excerpts from Perelman’s essay make eerie reading in today’s world:

The productivity-focused goals of the new paradigm of national learning policy that should replace intrusive and irrelevant “national education goals”(NOTE: This was G.H.W. Bush’s initiative to address “failing schools”) can be summarized in four simple words: More, Better, Faster, and Cheaper. That is, policy needs to ensure the rapid development of HL (Hyper-Learning– a term Perelman coined to define the faster, more focussed instruction that technology could provide. See elaboration on this, below.) systems that enable citizens of all ages to learn more about everything; to learn better, especially those things that are relevant to productive work; to learn faster, with less waste of time; and to do all that at lower and steadily declining cost.

Perelman offered an action plan to make schools achieve the goals: de-credentialize; commercialize; capitalize; and bypass. The section on commercialization is particularly relevant, because it is one concept that conservatives and neo-liberals– both of whom believe in the magic of the marketplace– embrace. In this section Perelman introduces the concept of “micro vouchers”. Some excerpts from this section:

In recent years many politicians, business leaders, and families have begun to appreciate the essential importance of breaking up the socialist monopoly of the government-controlled education system. “Privatization” of public education is much needed and should be a national goal of the new president (i.e. Bill Clinton). But “school choice” is an inadequate strategy for achieving the benefits of a market economy in the learning sector or for unleashing the growth of the strategically crucial HL industry…

Instead, the new administration should be committed to commercial privatization of the entire education sector, based on a strategy of mi- crochoice using the financing mechanism of microvouchers.

To illustrate the idea of microchoice: If our choice of television channels worked the way school choice is proposed to, changing channels from HBO to CNN would require unplugging the TV set, taking it back to the store, exchanging it for a different model, and moving to a new neighborhood. In reality, of course, choosing among dozens or hundreds of video options requires no effort more strenuous than pushing a button. Similarly, modern HL technology can offer the individual even more choices of “teachers” and “schools” than of cable TV channels. HL’s broadband, intelligent, multimedia systems permit anyone to learn anything, anywhere, anytime with grade-A results by matching learning resources precisely with personal needs and learning styles.

Microvouchers that use modern electronic card–account technology can enable individual families or students to choose specific learning products and services, not just once a year or once a semester, but by the week, day, hour, or even second by second. Unlike vouchers for school or college tuition, microvouchers will create a true, wide-open, location-free, competitive market for learning that has the elasticity to efficiently and quickly match supply and demand.

After acknowledging that over 90 percent of funding for U.S. public education is supplied by state and local governments, Perelman suggests “the new president” could take two major steps “…to commercialize the government-controlled education sector and to pro-mote the development of the American HL industry that must replace it.” The two steps were the replacement of the current Federal funding mechanisms with “Federal micro vouchers”. Perelman envisioned the micro vouchers being

…allocated directly to households, in proportion to individual or family need, to be used for the purchase of any service or product that is demonstrably relevant to learning and development needs. The instrument of expenditure would not be paper stamps or vouchers but electronic account cards similar to credit or bank cards. The HL microvoucher program should leave families free to decide how best to distribute the account resources between adults and children and generally among the members of the household. That provision would recognize that the needs of disadvantaged children in many (perhaps even most) cases may be serve best by immediately improving the economic opportunities and status of the parents, as well as by developing the parenting skills.

All of this came to mind today when I read “Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast”, an article in today’s NYTimes by Farhad Manjoo, who, based on his thumbnail picture, was probably in elementary school when Perelman was writing about micro-vouchers. How? Udacity, one of the first organizations to offer MOOCs, has determined that while MOOCs face major obstacles in providing full-fledged degrees, they can provide “nano degrees” that meet the unique and specific needs of businesses. And what is a nano degree?

The nanodegree works like this: Last year, Udacity partnered with technology companies to create online courses geared toward teaching a set of discrete, highly prized technical skills — including mobile programming, data analysis and web development. Students who complete these courses are awarded the nanodegree, a credential that Udacity has worked with Google, AT&T and other companies to turn into a new form of workplace certification.

“We can’t turn you into a Nobel laureate,” Mr. Thrun told me. “But what we can do is something like upskilling — you’re a smart person, but the skills you have are inadequate for the current job market, or don’t let you get the job you aspire to have. We can help you get those skills.”

And how does Mr. Thrun envision them being funded? By students who are willing to pay a relatively modest tuition to get a credential that may, or may not, lead to employment. And so far it seems to be working for Udacity:

So far, Udacity’s new model shows a glimmer of success. A year after the program’s start, the company has 10,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree courses, and the number is growing by a third every month. Udacity charges $200 a month for the courses (students can take as little or as much time as they want to finish). When they successfully complete a course, Udacity gives back half the tuition. The company says that a typical student will earn a nanodegree in about five months — in other words, for around $500.

Because students take several months or longer to complete their degrees, it is too soon to tell exactly how many will finish. So far, Udacity estimates the graduation rate to be about 25 percent. Thousands of workers have earned degrees, and hundreds have found new jobs as a result.

I linked these nano degrees with Perelman’s micro vouchers because I see a connection between them. Thrun’s nano degrees seem analogous to Perelman’s micro-vouchers and both models are predicated on the notion that the market place should dictate what courses are offered and where students might get their education. Both rely more on technology than human interaction, and both aspire to the same four, simple goals set forth 22 years ago by Perelman: More, Better, Faster, and Cheaper… and Perelman’s claim that this would be advantageous for children raised in poverty notwithstanding, I remain unconvinced that this will provide more opportunity for them, be a better way for them to master the content we expect all students to learn, or enable them to learn more quickly. In the final analysis, the students who WILL benefit from opportunities like nano degrees will be those whose parents and districts spent money on… a lot more money than was spent on the children raised in poverty.

NYS Commissioner Misses the Point on Tests… Makes VAM Even Shakier

September 17, 2015 Leave a comment

NYS’s new Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, walked into a mess and seems to be doing her best to make things even worse.

First the mess. Governor Cuomo passed legislation that binds schools to an evaluation system that is heavily dependent on value added measurements (VAM) based on standardized test results. Parent groups in NYS, particularly those in middle class districts, launched a successful opt-out movement against the standardized tests, a movement that makes the use of VAM in many districts an impossibility. The Board of Regents does not wholeheartedly support VAM (see previous post) but their chairman champions it.

In addressing these concerns, Ms. Elia seems to have come up with solutions that will ultimately alienate everyone. She’s recommended trimming back on the length of the tests– which will arguably make their VAM applications less valid. She’s switched vendors from Pearson to Questar, a company that will devise a completely new set of tests— further diminishing the validity of VAM measurements. In doing so, she has completely sidestepped the real concern of parents, which is the effects of test-based accountability on the curriculum in their schools. As one opt-out leader noted, Commissioner Elia’s actions will NOT change their thinking:

“Half a disaster is still a disaster,” said Loy Gross, a co-founder of the parent activist group United to Counter the Core, who added shortening the tests was just tinkering around the edges of a very large problem.

“And no,” she added, “it’s not going to appease parents who will continue to opt their kids out of tests.”

Based on her previous performance in FL, Ms. Elia is unlikely to back away from using tests as a major component of teacher evaluation, contentiousness over standardized testing will continue indefinitely, and children and teachers will have to wait for another Governor to take office before the problem is resolved… and by then the full privatization plan may be implemented. I hope this prognosis is wrong!


The Regents Tests and the Kid With The Clock

September 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post late yesterday lamented the Regent’s decision to continue using VAM as a basis for teacher employment, referencing an article that appeared in the Gannett papers that explained the background behind the 10-6 vote to support the state law enacted at the behest of governor Cuomo. Two of the Regents quoted in the article clearly see the flaws with the system:

“Quite frankly, I have met with hundreds of people, and all I hear is the joy of teaching is being squeezed out of them as a result of this process,” said Regent Judith Johnson, whose district stretches from Poughkeepsie to Westchester County. She voted against the proposal.

Having worked in that region for five years I am confident Ms. Johnson got an earful! One Regent who was among those who held their nose and voted in favor of the proposal on the grounds that they were compelled by law to devise an evaluation system in accordance with the law, wanted to be on record for his skepticism:

“We have to express a lack of confidence in the current evaluation system,” said Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island, who voted for the rules. “We have to express a lack of confidence in the current growth model. We have to … call for changes to the evaluation system as it currently exists.”

Diane Ravitch, concluded her post with this question:

Has anyone in Governor Cuomo’s office figured out where they will find better teachers to replace those who are fired as a result of his eagerness to oust teachers?

Having just read about the ridiculous arrest of a student in TX who brought a home-made clock to school to show his science class in TX, I left the following response to Ms. Ravitch’s question:

Where will Cuomo find better teachers to replace those who are fired? If teaching to the test is the goal (and it clearly IS the goal of the Regents and Mr. Cuomo) they might look to hire computer programmers and security guards. Programmers know how to develop algorithms for tasks that are iterative and standardized: they can write the programs for the inexpensive computer tablets that will be issued to each child. Security guards can maintain order and arrest creative students who make things at home— like the young man in Texas who made his own clock. With this combination NYS won’t need as many old-fashioned “teachers”— you know, the kind that get to know each child and design differentiated lessons that meet their needs.

My concern is that some charter school owner might read this and take it seriously… because that seems to be the staffing configuration many virtual schools favor.

Privatizing Tax Collection vs. Privatizing Schools: BOTH Bad Ideas

September 14, 2015 Leave a comment

The NYTimes wrote an editorial today in opposition to the idea of privatizing tax collection. Why?

Private tax collection was tried in the 1990s and in the 2000s. Both times it lost money. It increases the cost of handling complaints and appeals at the Internal Revenue Service, and it is far less efficient than simply increasing the collection budget of the I.R.S.

Worse, it fosters taxpayer abuse. The debts involved are ones that the I.R.S. has not been able to collect, in part because the taxpayers are too hard-pressed to pay up. A private company is probably not going to have better luck unless it uses abusive tactics.

And yet, private tax collection is an idea that keeps resurfacing. Why? One reason is that it would be a cash cow for the four companies likely to win tax-collection contracts, two in New York, one in California and one in Iowa.

So… let’s change a few words:

Private tax collectionPrivatizing schools was tried in the 1990s and in the 2000s over the past decade.Both times it lost money. It has produced no evidence that it is any better than public education. It increases the costsaves no money and has not of handlingreduced complaints and or appeals for improvement. at the Internal Revenue Service, and it is far less efficient than simply increasing the collection budget of the I.R.Seach and every school in the country. 

Worse, it fosters taxpayer abuse. The debts involved are ones that the I.R.S. deficiencies and disparities in performance are the result of factors outside of school, factors that has not been able to collect, in part because the taxpayers are too hard-pressedseemingly unwilling to pay for. to pay up. A private companyprivatized school is probably not going to have better luck unless it uses abusive tactics like expelling students, cheating on examinations, or firing veteran employees in school districts. 

And yet, private tax collectionprivatization of schools is an idea that keeps resurfacing. Why? One reason is that it would be a cash cow for the four companies likely to win tax-collection contracts, two in New York, one in California and one in Iowa. testing companies, Big Data companies, and deregulated for-profit schools. 

The similarities are eerie… but probably lost on the NYTimes editorial board.

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This Just In: New CA Smarter Balanced Tests Measure Parent’s Affluence… and Nothing Else

September 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Mercedes Schneider, author, teacher, and blogger, wrote a post earlier this week that Juan Vasquez Heilig cross posted in his blog Cloaking Inequality. In her post Schneider describes the efforts of Dr. Doug McRae, a retired test and measurement specialist, to get the CA State Board to demonstrate that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are reliable and valid measures, a standard that is required by State policy. As Schneider notes, that hasn’t happened thus far, and it’s a problem because:

The absence of evidence that Smarter Balanced tests are reliable and valid means that there is no evidence that the tests measure what they purport to measure (i.e., “college and career readiness”), nor is there any evidence that the tests measure anything consistently.

The fact that the tests don’t measure anything consistently did not stop the State Board from administering them, using the results to rank schools, and championing them. Here’s a quote from a press release that comes from Schneider’s post:

The results show our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards that emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical writing,” (CA State Superintendent) Torlakson said. “California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards. However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress. Our job is to support students, teachers, and schools as they do.”

So… if you’ve been reading this blog or are at all familiar with the way standardized test results play out, you will NOT be surprised to learn that the students, teachers, and schools that nee to make progress are those on the lower end of the economic scale. As Schneider reports and concludes:

Almost 1.9 million students were classed as “economically disadvantaged” (defined by the CDE as “students eligible for the free and reduced priced meal program, FRPM, foster youth, homeless students, migrant students, and students for whom neither parent is a high school graduate”).

The remaining 1.3 million were classed as “not economically disadvantaged.”

The CDE divided the test results by percentage into four categories, which it termed “exceeding standards,” “meeting standards,” “nearly meeting standards,” and “not meeting standards.”

From “exceeding” to “not meeting, the economically disadvantaged percentages were 8, 23, 28, 41– which means that the economically disadvantaged tended toward lower scores.

Compare the above to the “not economically disadvantaged,” whose corresponding scoring percentages were 29, 35, 21, 15– which means that students who were not economically disadvantaged tended toward higher scores.

Given the results above, the onus rests upon the CDE and SBAC to present to the public empirical evidence demonstrating that the Smarter Balanced tests do more than simply mirror the socioeconomic status of test takers.

In conclusion, the SBAC tests, like the standardized achievement tests used in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the myriad state tests introduced since the implementation of NCLB all prove the same fact: children raised in affluence outperform children raised in poverty. Do you think that poverty might be a contributing factor? After five decades I think the evidence is compelling… but it requires us to all spend more money so we are unlikely to draw that conclusion, obvious as it is.