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NYC Chancellor Carranza’s Resignation Underscores the Insidious Link Between Standardized Tests and Segregation… and the Political Peril When That Link is Broken

February 28, 2021 Leave a comment

I was dismayed to read that NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza submitted his resignation to Mayor De Blasio today. Despite the pushback he received from tabloids like the NYPost and many politicians and most affluent parents, he continued advocating for the end of the tyranny of standardized testing, tests that are used to ostensibly to dispassionately and objectively sort and select students based on their “merit”. Moreover, after some initial hesitancy he seemed endorse the community schools movement whose success and failure defied could not be readily identified by the conventional measures used in public education. In a system based on the premise that “choice” was the only way White parents would remain in the schools and “choice” was limited for those who scored poorly on standardized tests, Mr. Carranza stood firm in his opposition to the use of test scores as a gatekeeping mechanism because the effect of that system was the re-segregation of schools.

Unlike most businessmen, politicians, and parents, Mr. Carranza understood that standardized tests are not the ultimate metric. He understood that using a single standardized test to identify “gifted and talented” 4 year olds has no basis in psychometrics and led to highly stressed childhoods for any children who aspired to enter those programs, especially if the parents of those children saw the scores on those tests as evidence that their child might not get accepted to a “brand name” college or university. Mr. Carranza also understood that use of standardized tests to sort-and-select rising middle and high school students re-segregated schools in the city and rejected the notion that standardized test scores are a valid proxy for “successful schools”. This stance made him a pariah to those who wanted to maintain the status quo and an especially fearsome opponent to the parents who believed that high test scores were evidence of merit on the part of their children.

We’ve use standardized test scores to “measure” students from the time I entered elementary school in the 50s, to “measure” schools since the passage of No Child Left Behind, and— had the “value added mentality of Race to the Top prevailed, would be using them now to “measure” teachers. Standardized tests are not useful for any of the above. They are a crude measure of student performance in any content area, of no use in determining “school quality”, and are absolutely wrong for the purpose of measuring teachers. Yet they persist. Why? Because they are a cheap, fast, and seemingly exact means of setting normative standards for cohorts of students based on age.

Formative tests, the ones developed by independent publicly funded research-based organizations or classroom teachers, provide a means of determining if an individual student has mastered a skill. They are valuable for teachers to use to identify where an individual student is encountering difficulty and to explain to parents how their child is progressing in a particular content area. How an individual student compares to his ager cohorts is immaterial in the learning process. What is important that the student is mastering skills he or she will need to progress.

Using standardized tests for anything else is absurd. Maybe Richard Carranza’s departure will lead to a dialogue on this issue.

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Tennessee’s Law Mandating Retention Based on Standardized Test Scores: Cheap, Easy-to-Explain, Appealing to Voters…. and VERY Stupid!

February 6, 2021 Comments off

Peter Greene tweeted a link to Andy Spears’ blog post about a preposterous bill passed by the Tennessee House and Senate that has the effect of mandating retention for 62% of current 3rd graders unless the cut scores change. Spears’ blog post is fittingly titled “I Don’t Even Have a Headline”. The one I offered above seems fitting after reading his post. The Tennessee legislature wants to make sure very child gets a wonderful education but doesn’t want to pay for it… so it implements a law that defies the realities of child development, ignores the realities of the impact of poverty and race on public school students, and relies on cheap, easy-to-administer-off-the-shelf standardized tests to determine if 8 year olds are “ready” to go into 4th grade. If they “fail” based on this test, they DO have a fall back: they can go to summer school.

Like Andy Spears, I have difficulty finding the words to describe the absurdity. But here’s what I’m willing to wager: the Tennessee Education Department (or whatever it’s called in that State) will tinker with the cut scores to make certain that 62% of the kids DON’T fail which will beg the question of why they are using a test that can be easily manipulated…. but that question has been around for two decades. I keep hoping the pandemic will be an opportunity to change the dominant paradigm of public education… but GOP legislatures keep beating a path to the good old days of NCLB-style accountability. Ugh!

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You Cannot Champion Open Inquiry and “Unreason” With a Curriculum Designed to Boost Standardized Test Scores

January 16, 2021 Comments off

David Brooks’ NYTimes column yesterday describes the pushback evangelical pastors are getting for taking the position that the President’s role in inciting last Wednesday’s invasion of the Capitol warrants his removal from office and that those who participated in the invasion were wrong to do so. This quote from the sixth chapter of Galatians has been paraphrased throughout the week:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Too many evangelicals placed their faith in a man who was clearly “of the flesh”. The corruption he brought to the government was evident to all those who were not blinded to his actions, blinded mainly because he kept one politically calculated promise: he would delivery jurists who were anti-abortion. In so doing, he retained the unequivocal support of many evangelicals despite his avarice, his misogyny, and his disparaging treatment of any who opposed him.

Now that this man of the flesh has advocated the overthrow of the government some evangelical leaders are supporting his impeachment and appalled at the conduct of the band of invaders who overran the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings of Congress. Some have gone so far as to declare his opponent the victor and asserted that they favor the rule of law over the rule of one individual. David Brooks captures the pushback from evangelicals and conservatives in this section of his essay:

The most popular piece on the Christianity Today website is headlined,We Worship With the Magi, Not MAGA.” In the world of secular conservatism, The Wall Street Journal editorial page called on Trump to resign. Addressing Trump supporters, the conservative talk show host Erick Erickson wrote, “Everything — from the storming of the Capitol to people getting killed to social networks banning you to corporations not giving you money — everything is a logical consequence of you people lying relentlessly for two months and taking advantage of American patriots.

One core feature of Trumpism is that it forces you to betray every other commitment you might have: to the truth, moral character, the Sermon on the Mount, conservative principles, the Constitution. In defeat, some people are finally not willing to sacrifice all else on Trump’s altar.

After describing the threatening and profanity laced phone calls these “deserters” are receiving from the true believers of Donald Trump, Brooks concludes his op ed with this:

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.

On the left, leaders and organizations have arisen to champion open inquiry, to stand up to the cancel mobs. They have begun to shift the norms.

The problem on the right is vastly worse. But we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.

Inquiry-based learning is essential to democracy. It promotes divergent thinking and open-mindedness and assumes that evidence-based reasoning might lead to differing opinions but those opinions are formed based on the application of reason.

For twenty years our schools have used standardized tests to measure learning. Those tests do not measure the ability to reason nor do they promote inquiry-based learning. MAYBE if Mr. Brooks is serious about his desire for ending the voracious beast that is unreason, he might consider replacing the test-and-punish accountability model  he has favored in the past.

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