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:
- 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.
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!
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.
The bottom line of two maddening NYTimes articles is captured in the title of this blog post… and until the newspaper of record understands the limitations of testing, the effect of testing on the curriculum, and the need to emphasize funding equity the sooner we will improve schooling for all children.
As noted in an earlier post, the opt out movement had a real impact in New York State where 20% of the students did not take the examination. The title of Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s paper, “Test Refusal Movement’s Success Hampers Analysis of New York State Exam Results”, indicates that the officials in the state acknowledge that the opt out movement had its intended effect… and it’s leader summed up the desired impact concisely:
“We always said that compliance just means more of the same,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a central figure in Long Island’s test-refusal movement. “The hope was to disrupt it to the point where it cannot be used,” she continued, to where “there are not enough children taking the test to close a school, or not enough data to fire a teacher.”
The Times, like most mass media, emphasize the second half of Ms. Deutermann’s statement while overlooking the first point entirely: the relentless emphasis on testing reinforces the factory school model that has failed and continues to fail children in all public schools.
“Opting Out of Standardized Testing Is Not The Answer”, the Times editorial today proves that point, It touches all the talking points of the “reform” movement and casts the opt out movement as a group of parents who “… say the tests are too difficult or do not track with classroom instruction”, effectively echoing Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, and all the neo-liberal reformers who believe that failing to use tests will only hurt those who are most disadvantaged. The only reliable data NYS gets is the same data states have been getting for decades: children raised in poverty do worse on standardized tests than children raised in affluence…. and children in affluent districts with high per pupil spending do far better than students in less affluent districts with lower per pupil spending.
Elizabeth Harris writes in today’s NYTimes that NYC is creating “…a task force to root out cheating by teachers and administrators in city schools” in response to recent reports of an increase in cheating on standardized tests. While the headline will grab people’s attention and may lead some to conclude that this is a new phenomenon, if one reads further they will come to these paragraphs:
In 2011, Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigations, said allegations of test-tampering and grade-changing had more than tripled since Mr. Bloomberg took office; he attributed that rise to the growth in the number of schools and the growing link between student performance and the evaluation of teachers and schools.
Nearly four years ago, responding to a suspiciously high number of high school students just barely passing state tests, the New York State Board of Regents said teachers could no longer grade the exams of their own students.
Alas, Bill de Blasio may come out on the short end of the stick by dealing with this problem… and pay a political price in addition to the actual price for investigating the cheating incidents, which is reportedly $5,000,000 per year.
And compounding his woes is the fact that he is being pressed to expand the number of buildings and/or classrooms he makes available to for-profit charter schools, space that taxpayers heat, light, and clean while investors pocket profits of the freeloading charters who inhabit the classrooms.
In the end, the “reformers” get the best of both worlds: they impose a testing regimen that creates an environment where cheating incidents increase among adults which undercuts the credibility of public schools and then insist that they get free space for their deregulated for-profit charters whose test results are no better and whose incidents of cheating are unreported.
“Giving Doctors Grades“, an op ed article in today’s NYTimes by Sandeep Jauhar, describes the consequences of using simplistic metrics to determine the effectiveness of a complex operation: heart surgery. In the early 1990s, NYS decided to issue “Report Cards” to surgeons in an effort to provide easy-to-understand information on the ability of various medical practitioners. The result?
(T)he report cards backfired. They often penalized surgeons, like the senior surgeon at my hospital, who were aggressive about treating very sick patients and thus incurred higher mortality rates. When the statistics were publicized, some talented surgeons with higher-than-expected mortality statistics lost their operating privileges, while others, whose risk aversion had earned them lower-than-predicted rates, used the report cards to promote their services in advertisements.
This was an insult that the senior surgeon at my hospital could no longer countenance. “The so-called best surgeons are only doing the most straightforward cases,” he said disdainfully.
This sounded VERY familiar to me… and I left the following comment:
This wrongheaded method of measuring the performance of surgeons is analogous to the “Value Added” evaluation methods promoted by “school reformers” and adopted by Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, the Regents, and host of other governors and State Boards. The standardized test scores used to “measure” teacher performance mirror the economic standing of the parents. Consequently teachers who choose to work with the most challenging students, like the surgeons who tackle the riskiest cases, could lose their jobs. Grading schools using test scores only serves to humiliate the entire faculty who choose to work with children raised in poverty. Both of these failed metrics have one thing in common: they are attempts to bring mathematical precision to fields of endeavor that are crafts more than sciences.
The notion that service organizations should be run like businesses leads to the need for “precise” metrics like mortality rates and VAM to be used in lieu of “the bottom line” so revered by businessmen. But service enterprises do not provide neat and tidy outcomes: they defy the kinds of measures that can be used to develop “stack ratings” or “grades” because they serve individuals who have different backgrounds, temperaments, and physical compositions. The desire to reduce everything to a single number to rank employees using some kind of “objective criteria” is ultimately a means to replacing the judgement of human managers with algorithms. It has not worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future— unless the future is led by robots.