Posts Tagged ‘ESSA’

Counterpunch’s Compelling Protest Notwithstanding, I Stand By Biden’s Decision on Tests Given the ESSA Consensus

March 30, 2021 Comments off

A few days a go i wrote a post on Biden’s broken promises that offered a tepid defense of his team’s decision to break the promise on standardized testing. After reading today’s compelling Counterpunch post by Gael Greene I felt my blood pressure rise and my bile start to circulate until I re-read a revision and expansion of that post that I recently submitted as an op ed piece to our local newspaper… a revision that appears below. I am sharing it as what I believe to be a reasoned rejoinder. Alas, as much as I agree with Ms. Greene, I believe that there is much more at stake in the early months of the Biden administration than standardized testing… and given the huge margins ESSA passed by in December 2015 (a 359-64 vote in th house and an 85-12 vote in the Senate), picking a righteous fight on testing seems foolhardy given the higher stakes in play with SB 1, the infrastructure bill, and the need to address climate change. As noted at the conclusion of this op ed essay, I think the time to pick this battle and fight it tooth and nail is when ESSA is up for reauthorization. Here’s the op ed submission:

I started this op ed essay in late February when I learned that Joe Biden broke his promise to end standardized testing in public schools. As one who has long decried the misuse of these tests, I was dismayed that he reneged on his pledge to end the use of standardized tests and perplexed at the logic his staff used when they issued an edict disallowing States from issuing blanket waivers for the tests, something even Betsy DeVos permitted.  The reasons for suspending tests during this year are particularly compelling. We didn’t need to give standardized tests to know that students who had high speed internet and computers would outperform the students who lacked either. We didn’t need to give tests to know that in-person instruction is superior to remote instruction. We don’t need another round of tests to prove what we already know: students from well-resourced schools in affluent communities with a good tax base will outperform students from under-resourced schools in poverty stricken communities with a weak tax base. 35 years of lawsuits in New Hampshire are based on that fact. Will taking yet another round of standardized tests in 2021 change the thinking of the NH legislature? What, exactly, will another round of tests tell us that we don’t already know?

But the battle over the American Rescue Plan (ARP) changed my perspective. A bill that was widely popular among voters in both parties, the ARP passed without a single GOP vote in early March. As a result of this purely partisan pushback, I began to appreciate the strong headwinds Joe Biden faced as he tackled a long list of daunting challenges and contentious issues, challenges and issues that include:

  • Unity: In the toxic environment in Washington, even Biden’s call for unity in his inauguration speech was seen as “partisan”. GOP heard “unity” as a call for the country to fall in line under the Democrat’s “socialist agenda”. Unity is impossible without bipartisanship, and bipartisanship cannot be achieved as long one party pledges to reject any legislation proposed by the other.
  • Resetting and reforming the economy: The pandemic exposed the deep flaws of our nation’s economy. Economic inequality, the lack of full-time jobs that pay a living wage, the lack of affordable childcare, and the lack of affordable health care all predated the pandemic and all undercut the strength of the economy.
  • COVID-19: The previous administration’s decision to politicize and federalize the response to the pandemic divided our country at a time when a unified and consistent approach was needed. Instead of following a coherent national policy based on medical science, each state issued varying guidelines on issues like mask wearing, social distancing, and the reopening of schools and businesses. Too often, these guidelines were driven by politics instead of medical advice. In addition to dealing with this disjointed framework, the Biden administration faces challenges in achieving herd immunity since recent polls show that 41% of the GOP voters do not intend to get vaccinated.
  • Racism: Racism existed before the pandemic. It is a complicated systemic problem, one that can only be addressed through earnest and honest debates and compromises. Branding COVID-19 as “the Asian Flu”, conflating BLM protests with the July 6 riots, and passing laws making voter registration more difficult for minorities make honest discourse about race more difficult.
  • Rebuilding International Alliances to solve International Problems: Joe Biden needs to mend fences with our allies in order for his administration administration to address the many complicated interdependent problems that affect everyone in the world. Problems like global climate change, endless wars, refiugee crises, and authoritarian rule and the erosion of democracy require international solutions and international consensus. America cannot solve any of these problems unilaterally.
  • Restoring faith in government and elections: For more than 40 years we’ve heard that government is the problem. Since the middle of last year we’ve heard that elections are rigged. Without faith in the government’s ability to help solve problems and without trust in the results of elections democracy cannot survive.
  • Fallout from the January 6 storming of the Capitol: The investigation of the riots of January 6 is fraught with political peril. The gathering of evidence for the trials of those who participated in the riots and the trials themselves will keep the July 6 riots in the news cycle and those in the House and Senate who believe the election was stolen will fan any flames of doubt and discontent.
  • Immigration: When Central American refugees sensed that new leadership in Washington might lead to less restrictive entry into the US, refugees seeking asylum began moving north. Biden’s early Executive Orders reinforced that notion. As a reult, immigration is an urgent—and divisive– crisis.
  • Guns: In the wake of two horrific shootings, the highly contentious issue of gun control requires immediate attention.

Given this list of tough challenges and highly partisan issues, I understand why Joe Biden decided to break his promise on standardized testing. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the law that requires States to administer standardized tests, was the last piece of truly bipartisan legislation. In December 2015 it passed in the House with a 359-64 vote and the Senate with an 85-12 vote. It is not surprising that an experienced politician like Joe Biden decided to break his promise on an issue that both parties supported, especially since the American Rescue Act provides a huge influx of cash for public schools.

ESSA is up for reauthorization shortly, though, and when it is considered in Congress I will finish my op ed article urging his administration to offer a new means of accountability. We need to use something other than pencil and paper tests as the primary metric of “success” for students and schools. The issues on the list above are, I must admit, far more urgent and important at this point. For now, I forgive Joe Biden for breaking his promise.

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Biden’s Broken Promise on Tests Revisited: MAYBE His Team Decided that Undoing a Bi-Partisan Agreement Was Unwise

March 24, 2021 1 comment

Over the past several days I have gleaned a fat virtual folder full of articles bemoaning Biden’s broken promise on standardized testing. The sources include the Washington Post, Education Week, Forbes, the Progressive, and USA Today… and there were countless others that covered the same ground. 

The reasons for suspending tests during this year and giving policy makers a chance to figure out a better means of assessment are compelling. We know that not all students will take the tests since many students have “disappeared”. We know that many students were able to make a rapid transition to online learning because they had the connectivity and hardware to do so and it is a safe bet that THOSE students will outperform the students who lacked wither bandwidth or hardware. We know from decades of testing what the results will be: students from affluent communities or neighborhoods and/or with college educated parents will outperform students from poverty stricken communities or neighborhoods and/or with parents who failed to complete formal schooling. So what will the tests show us, exactly? Some policy makers claim it is necessary to underscore the deficiency inherent in online learning. Others claim it is necessary to show us how much “learning loss” occurred on the presumption that standardized tests measure “learning” and failure to do well on these tests means that students learned less. 

I am disappointed that the Biden administration did not seize this opportunity to postpone the tests with the stated purpose of replacing them with some other metric… but then… I looked at the long list of highly partisan issues he faces as he enters his Presidency. In his first few moths, Mr. Biden will need to deal with:

  • The January 6 insurrection: the trials of those who breached the Capitol, the handling of the elected officials whose fabulation of a stolen election might have contributed to that insurrection, and the possibility that some of the elected officials may have directly aided and abetted insurrectionists.
  • The mismanaged response to COVID-19, the so-called “Chinese flu”. The decision to federalize the response  resulted in uneven management of supplies and mixed messaging at the state level while the repeated use of the misnomer “Chinese flu”, often delivered with a sneer, resulted in the scapegoating of Asian Americans.
  • The predictable immigration crisis that resulted when Central American families sensed that new leadership in Washington might lead to less restrictive entry into the US. 
  • The need to mend fences with former allies attempting to address a multitude of complicated interdependent problems like climate change, regional wars, the imposition of authoritarian rule, and the refugee crisis that results from all of the above. Solving these problems will require consensus building and a major shift in the thinking of many voters. 
  • The need to restore faith in the government and competent leadership through qualified appointees. Mr. Biden’s challenges are best exemplified by the current state of the US Post Office where a Trump mega-donor is using the slash-and-burn tactics that resulted in several lost lawsuits in the private sector and whose actions appeared to undercut the public’s confidence in mail-in voting in the lead up to the election. 
  • The need to push back against 22 State AGs who do not want the billions in ARP funds earmarked for their states to be distributed based on the funding formula built into the legislation. 

And now, in the wake of two horrific shootings, Joe Biden needs to tackle the highly contentious issue of limiting the acquisition of firearms. Looking at this list of highly contentious and partisan issues, I can understand why Joe Biden might have decided to defer action on standardized testing. The laws requiring the administration of standardized tests were enacted with the support of both political parties and they will be open for debate when the funding for it expires at the end of this fiscal year. Moreover, he can point to the huge influx of cash he included for public schools in ARP and the many infrastructure projects that will help public schools as evidence that he wants to restore the public’s faith in their mission and purpose. I will hold my critique of Mr. Biden until ESSA is up for reauthorization, at which point I hope he will offer a new path forward for accountability. 

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Biden’s Biggest Blunder and Biggest Broken Promise: Refusing to Abandon Mandated State Standardized Tests

February 24, 2021 Comments off

I was dismayed but not all that surprised that Joe Biden’s administration has decided to proceed with the State standardized tests mandated by ESSA. I was dismayed because I was hoping that despite his dedication to bipartisanship he would keep his promise to teachers that he would dismantle the test-and-punish regimen that has been in place now for nearly two decades at the national level and countless more at the state level. The rationale for giving the tests was particularly lame:

…a letter sent Monday by acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum to state school superintendents (informed) them that the department will not invite state requests for “blanket waivers of assessments” required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though such waivers were granted last year due to the pandemic.

It is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” the letter states. “We know… that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”

It is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” the letter continues.

Wait? What? If it is clear that “…the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year” why mandate an INFLEXIBLE mandate that all states give all students whatever standardized assessments they’ve designed as a metric for “student learning”. And no one needs to give a test to every child in America to “…understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning“… especially since no standardized test EVER showed anything other than what we all know: children from homes in districts or schools with highly educated and engaged parents “outperform” children raised in poverty. Standardized tests have shown us this for decades! Why do we need to show it again? And it doesn’t require the administration of a universal standardized test to “prove” that children who had no access to the internet learned less on Zoom than children with fiber connections. Moreover, what will result from this “finding”? Will schools serving children raised in poverty get more money? Will funds be made available to upgrade internet connectivity in poor neighborhoods and remote communities? We know the answer.

Mercedes Schneider, an insightful blogger who has over 30 years of experience in the classroom, offered these insights:

“…surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of U.S. Department of Education time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing,” stressed Schneider. “They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.”

The only good news for teachers is that Betsy DeVos is no longer around at the Federal level. The bad news is that once these results are made public, the 20+ states who have adopted DeVos-ian voucher plans will use the “evidence” to convert more schools to charters… and the Venture Capitalists whose contributions seemingly had some influence on Biden will be very happy. Teachers, on the other hand, will not be so happy.

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