Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Abandoning Norm Referenced Tests Means Abandoning it’s By-Products

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s post titled “The Obsolete and Costly American Faith in Testing“. The post draws from an Education Week article by Alyson Klein which calls for a more holistic approach to testing… but her article falls short of what is really needed, which is a total and complete abandonment of any effort to use tests and data to rank and rate individual students and schools.

As I noted in a comment I left on Ms Ravitch’s post, the faith in norm-referenced testing is rooted in our need to compare. As parents, if we worried less about how our child was doing compared to our neighbor’s child we wouldn’t be testing for anything: we would, instead, be celebrating our child’s growth and their unique talents and skills. Instead too many parents obsess over how their child is doing compared to other children and “the norm” and norm referenced tests that yield a bell curve are perfect for doing that. Norm referenced tests were introduced in the 1920s as a means of sorting and selecting children for placement into tracks… and they took hold because we love to compare. If we really believe and expect ALL children to learn, we should abandon norm-referenced tests as a metric… and while we’re at it we should abandon everything associated with norm-referenced tests: tracking; determining “valedictorians”; identifying “gifted and talented” students; and separating out “special education” students. All of these are by-products of norm referencing.



MIT Media Lab Joi Ito’s Imaginative Idea: Replace the Factory Model with the Four P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

The Eduction Tyranny of the Neurotypicals“, an article from Wired magazine by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, describes the adverse effects of the factory school model on “neuroatypicals” on the autism spectrum and suggests and alternative paradigm for schooling that might benefit ALL students: Lifelong Kindergarten. What is a “neurotypical”?

“Neurotypical” is a term used by the autism community to describe what society refers to as “normal.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 59 children, and one in 34 boys, are on the autism spectrum—in other words, neuroatypical. That’s 3 percent of the male population. If you add ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and dyslexia, roughly one out of four people are not “neurotypicals.”

Ito suggests that the factory model in place in public education since the 1920s favors the “neurotypicals” and works against any child who is “neuroatypical”, an observation that is difficult to refute. Worse, the factory model in place is outmoded and failing to prepare the kinds of learners our current culture and economy require:

Our schools in particular have failed… neurodiverse students, in part because they’ve been designed to prepare our children for typical jobs in a mass-production-based white- and blue-collar environment created by the Industrial Revolution. Students acquire a standardized skillset and an obedient, organized, and reliable nature that served society well in the past—but not so much today. I suspect that the quarter of the population who are diagnosed as somehow non-neurotypical struggle with the structure and the method of modern education, and many others probably do as well.

I often say that education is what others do to you and learning is what you do for yourself. But I think that even the broad notion of education may be outdated, and we need a completely new approach to empower learning: We need to revamp our notion of “education” and shake loose the ordered and linear metrics of the society of the past, when we were focused on scale and the mass production of stuff.Accepting and respecting neurodiversity is the key to surviving the transformation driven by the internet and AI, which is shattering the Newtonian predictability of the past and replacing it with a Heisenbergian world of complexity and uncertainty.

Ito describes several examples of how children on the autistic spectrum overcame their atypical learning patterns to achieve success, and transitions to a solution with this paragraph:

Unfortunately, most schools struggle to integrate atypical learners, even though it’s increasingly clear that interest-driven learning, project-based learning, and undirected learning seem better suited for the greater diversity of neural types we now know exist.

Ito offers “unschooling” as one alternative that would benefit ALL students, but accurately sees it as being perceived by many as  “…much too unstructured and (verging) on irresponsibility”. He offers instead a form of formal schooling that blends technology with loosely guided instruction that offers some structure without impinging on the freedom to learn that the factory model imposes on children or sorting and selecting students based on their neurotypical thinking:

In addition to equipping kids for basic literacy and civic engagement, industrial age schools were primarily focused on preparing kids to work in factories or perform repetitive white-collar jobs. It may have made sense to try to convert kids into (smart) robotlike individuals who could solve problems on standardized tests alone with no smartphone or the internet and just a No. 2 pencil. Sifting out non-neurotypical types or trying to remediate them with drugs or institutionalization may have seemed important for our industrial competitiveness. Also, the tools for instruction were also limited by the technology of the times. In a world where real robots are taking over many of those tasks, perhaps we need to embrace neurodiversity and encourage collaborative learning through passion, play, and projects, in other words, to start teaching kids to learn in ways that machines can’t.We can also use modern technology for connected learning that supports diverse interests and abilities and is integrated into our lives and communities of interest.

Ito concludes with a description of Lifelong Kindergarten that sounds very appealing to me, someone who admittedly learned more from scanning encyclopedias on Saturday mornings and roaming in the woods than I learned in elementary school classrooms:

At the Media Lab, we have a research group called Lifelong Kindergarten, and the head of the group, Mitchel Resnick, recently wrote a book by the same name. The book is about the group’s research on creative learning and the four Ps—Passion, Peers, Projects, and Play. The group believes, as I do, that we learn best when we are pursuing our passion and working with others in a project-based environment with a playful approach.My memory of school was “no cheating,” “do your own work,” “focus on the textbook, not on your hobbies or your projects,” and “there’s time to play at recess, be serious and study or you’ll be shamed”—exactly the opposite of the four Ps.

As we rate schools based on standardized test scores we are clearly NOT rating them based on their ability to “learn in ways that machines can’t“. And as schools focus on children doing their own work and focussing on textbooks and worksheets that prepare them to do well on standardized achievement tests we are denying them the opportunity to direct their own learning and discover for themselves that there is a joy in learning.

Moreover, the notion of Lifelong Kindergarten appeals to me because it is evident that the ideas put forth by Robert Fulghum in his best selling book from the 1980s never took hold. In All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten Mr. Fulgham offered a short list of lessons he learned as a five year old that are worth repeating in today’s toxic world: 

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

I might add one more item to Mr. Fulghum’s list based on my experience:

16a. Remember what your father taught you: LISTEN to everyone. They all have something to teach you.

Instead of grading schools based on standardized tests as we’ve done for the past 17 years we might have a better world if we graded them based on the lessons Mr. Fulghum suggested.


Waco TX Columnist Calls on Texas Board to Change It’s Revisionist Social Studies Curriculum… and Underscores ESSA’s Glaring Deficiencies

September 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Cary Clack’s op ed column in the Waco Tribune-Herald urges the Texas State Board of Education to use the review of it’s Social Studies curriculum to rectify the revisionist history embedded in the current standards. Mr. Clack explains why such a revision is needed, noting that the current standards were decried by stalwart conservative think tanks like the Fordham Foundation:

State Board of Education members lack the power to bend history to their will. But they can distort history to fit their political agenda, and it’s an ability exercised with alarming disregard to truth.

The SBOE adopted the current social-studies curriculum standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), in 2010. It is such a masterpiece of misrepresentation and propaganda over actual history that it was singled out for criticism by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in its 2011 report, “The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.”

The report chastised the standards for using a thematic structure more often used by “the relativist and diversity-obsessed educational left.” It accused the SBOE’s conservative majority of openly seeking “to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims. Indeed, the SBOE majority displayed overt hostility and contempt for historians and scholars, whom they derided as insidious activists for a liberal academic establishment.”

The Fordham Foundation’s critique notwithstanding, the 2010 Board adopted these standards. And they include some egregious misinterpretations, several of which Mr. Clack flags:

SBOE members in 2010 were especially shameless in perpetuating the lie that slavery was one of several causes for the Civil War when it was THE REASON. Lost Cause advocates always ignore the Lost Clauses in the Declarations of Secession of the Confederate states, including Texas, which explicitly cite slavery as their reason for seceding.

But this seems to have been an uncomfortable truth for some SBOE members in 2010, as was the more expansive and indispensable roles which Native Americans, Latinos and women played in our nation.

History is full of uncomfortable truths. Reality doesn’t have an ideological slant, and historical facts don’t always coincide with our politics. But they must be studied, taught and discussed. There’s something wrong when what children are taught depends on whether the State Board of Education has a Republican or Democratic majority, whether it has a greater representation of conservatives or liberals.

Mr. Clack urges the State Board to eliminate “…the distorted, politicized history the 2010 board wove into the current standards” this time around. And while Mr. Clack doesn’t say so, in the new era of ESSA the State Standards especially crucial since they will serve as the basis for measuring the effectiveness of schools going forward. And if Texas schoolchildren are taught that slavery was a secondary cause of the Civil War, that Native Americans, Latinos and women played an insignificant role in the history of our nation, and that our forefathers based the constitution on the teachings of Moses they will be learning a different history than that of the rest of the country.

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Has Bill Gates Seen The Light on School Improvement? His “Squishy Idea” Might Be a Sign He HAS….

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading a post from Diane Ravitch that takes Bill Gates to task for his latest effort at reforming public education. Diane Ravitch and many of the bloggers she draws from and many of her commenters have a deep antipathy for Bill Gates, who they (perhaps rightfully) view as the paradigmatic “clueless reformer”. Mr. Gates, like his antecedents in the Gilded Age, sees himself as one who can cut through the complicated problems of the world. He holds this view because he believes he is necessarily wise because he has made a fortune for himself thanks to his acumen.

Here’s a quote from The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie I read recently:
“The man of wealth should consider himself the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, brining to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer”.

As anyone who’s read Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency realizes, the factory school model in place today is the result of the “superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer” Mr. Carnegie brought to public schools… a model Gates previously used as the basis for his “reforms”. The problem with THAT model is that it led to the conclusion that “fixing schools” was a COMPLICATED problem that could be achieved by applying engineering skills.

I am heartened that Mr. Gates is now advocating a “very squishy” means of improving schools… it might be an indication that he realizes “fixing schools” is a COMPLEX problem that will require the engagement of human beings and may elude the simplistic metrics that are the basis for the factory school model. Standardized tests are anything but squishy… but they are also anything but helpful in determining “success”. Caring teachers, nurturing parents, and a sense of well being on the part of all students are all “squishy”… but they are far more important than high test scores.

New Yorker’s Sheelah Kolhatkar Profile of Doomsday Investor Explains “Reform” Mindset

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

The August 27 edition of the New Yorker features a lengthy article by Sheelah Kolhatkar profiling Paul Singer, “…the founder of Elliott Management and one of the most powerful, and most unyielding, investors in the world.” Titled “The Doomsday Investor“, Ms. Kolhatkar uses a case study of Elliott Management’s take down of Athenahealth, a publicly owned company founded and led by Jonathan Bush, to describe how Mr. Singer operates. In reading the article I came to the conclusion that it is no surprise that the hedge funders are underwriting “school reform” and somewhat alarmed at the effectiveness of their approach to date.

Basically, a vulture capitalist firm like Elliott Management makes a relatively small but significant investment in a corporation they identify as “underperforming” and, in doing so, gain a platform to present their findings on the deficiencies of the organization to the board of directors. In the case study in the New Yorker, Elliott Management bought just 9.2% of the shares. Elliott then calls the CEO of the corporation they have targeted and offers to “work with them” to increase profits, which can be readily accomplished by slashing the workforce, selling off portions of the business that are siphoning funds from the bottom line, outsourcing relatively unprofitable functions in the organization, and/or reducing wages and benefits. Should the CEO be reluctant, as was the case with Jonathan Brush at Athenahealth, Elliott Management will do everything possible to undercut the leadership by either sharing examples of mismanagement with Board members or, as was the case at Athenahealth, undertaking ad hominem attacks on the CEO.

In the article, Ms. Kolhatkar notes that Mr. Singer not only invests in the private sector, he also invests in politics and making his voice heard in the public forum. The following is a synthesis of his efforts in these arenas:

Singer has been deploying his riches in Republican politics, where he is one of the G.O.P.’s top donors and a powerful influence on the Party and its President… Along with Charles and David Koch and Robert Mercer, Singer is one of the largest financial donors to Republican political causes. During the 2016 election cycle, he contributed twenty-four million dollars. He is described as a “donor activist,” a reference to his deep involvement with candidates and campaigns…

Like many financiers who have achieved his level of success, Singer sees himself as more than a skillful player in the markets; he conducts himself like a public intellectual whose ideas on policy—on everything from taxation to regulation, education, and foreign affairs—should be heeded by politicians and other decision-makers on both a national and a local level…

Singer supports numerous media outlets and research institutes that disseminate his ideas. He is the chairman of the think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which encourages free-market policies as a means of addressing domestic-policy issues. It hosts dozens of fellows, who write op-eds, give speeches, and publish books. Singer sits on the board of the magazine Commentary and is also a major financial backer of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news publication edited by Matthew Continetti, the former opinion editor at The Weekly Standard.

Toward the conclusion of the article, Ms. Kolhatkar details Mr. Singer’s increasingly “sophisticated” investments in forming public policy since the two thousands, investing in GOP presidential and gubernatorial candidates and causes. She writes:

After President Obama was reëlected, Singer and like-minded donors from the financial industry, many of whom had poured millions into Romney’s losing campaign, pledged to be more strategic in the future. Singer formed a donor network, called the American Opportunity Alliance, which includes wealthy Wall Street executives and hedge-fund moguls who coördinate political spending. “I think it’s important for informed citizens to try to give assistance,” Singer said, in April, of his political involvement. “We have less parochial interests in the things we talk to policymakers about than most folks.”

This echoes Andrew Carnegie’s belief that “the ‘man of wealth’ should view himself as “the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer“, and also mirrors the notions of “reformers” who are convinced that they alone know how to oversee public schools. Indeed, the “reformers” underwritten by hedge funders like Paul Singer want to dissemble public schools in the same manner Elliott Management dissembles corporations, and they have used their political influence to enact legislation that helps  promote the privatization of public schools. NCLB, with its test-driven means of identifying “failing schools” that would be closed and re-opened under new leadership opened the door for privatization… and once that door was opened low-cost high-profit organizations ran in. And networks of conservative funders with high-minded names like the the “Manhattan Institute for Policy Research” or the “American Opportunity Alliance” helped promote the meme of “failing government schools” and the notion that “choice” was the best solution.

It is alarming to see how successful the “reformers” have been over the past several years, particularly in their effort to equate “quality” with “high test scores”. As noted in yesterday’s post, it is relatively easy to convince voters that “high test scores” are indicative of “success” because that is what students have been told for decades… and all of those former students who equate “high test scores” with “success” are now the voters who are being asked to underwrite FAILING schools with LOW test schools! The idea that norm-referenced standardized tests necessarily result in a bell curve where 50% of the schools will score below average is lost on the average voter who doesn’t realize that the tests teachers use to grade students are criterion referenced.  Statistical niceties like that are unimportant to those who want to make a profit at the taxpayers expense… and after reading The Doomsday Investor you will see that civility and niceties are unimportant to investors. The only important metric is profit.

Houston Parent’s Experience Exposes Preposterousness of Measurement Based on Single Test

September 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Despite the fact that no educator ever believed that a single test should be the basis for determining the rating of a school, the rating of a teacher, or the acceptance of a student into a school, politicians, parents, and voters continue to conflate high test scores with high performance. The result? A laser like focus on test scores strips public schools of the elective offerings that make them attractive to children and parents and reinforces the misguided belief that public schools are failing.

A recent blog post from Sarah Becker, a Houston Independent School District parent illustrates this consequence perfectly. The post opens with Ms. Becker describing her children’s experiences at a “failing” Houston public school.

A couple of weeks ago the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released their ratings of schools and school districts. I am the mother of two children at a school in Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest school district and the seventh largest district in the country. How did my kids’ school fare in this year’s accountability system? The school failed, receiving an “Improvement Required” rating.

Does that give me pause about sending my kids there? Not one bit and I’ll tell you why.

This past year was the first one my children spent at their elementary school. From the moment they set foot on campus, my children were accepted and loved. The physical environment of the school is welcoming, and they have a nice, new building with lots of natural light. And in a time when public school budgets are incredibly austere, my kids’ elementary school found a way to hire a PE teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, a nurse and a social worker last year. To have all of those is incredibly rare in HISD-in fact, this elementary school was the only one within driving range of our home to offer those.It has a rooftop garden and a makerspace. And finally most amazingly, my children learned AN ENTIRE SECOND LANGUAGE last year. We literally dropped them into new classes having had almost zero exposure to Spanish and they ended the year speaking, reading and writing two languages. The progression has been amazing to watch. Their worlds are bigger and more beautiful because of their new school.

So how does a school like this end up getting a “failing” grade? Here’s Ms. Becker’s answer:

The system used to identify “failing” schools is unsound and inaccurate. It is based solely on how certain students perform on a single standardized test on a single day. 

You have probably seen the meme floating around social media with the following quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As cliché as that quote is, I find much truth in it when applied to our “accountability” system. If you judge every school by the standards of the TEA, some very successful schools will receive failing ratings not because they fail to educate, but because the accountability system demands that fish ride bicycles by making children conform to tests.

Yet test-based accountability persists. Why? In large measure it’s the result of the mental formations voters have based on their personal experience in schools where they were conditioned to believe their “success” was solely based on how they performed on tests given by teachers in class. Didn’t the valedictorian at their school achieve that ranking because they did well on a succession of tests administered by teachers? Didn’t the National Merit Scholars in their school achieve that distinction because they did well on a single test? Didn’t their classmates get into a prestigious college and win a scholarship there because they did well on the SAT and a succession of tests administered by teachers? And because voters are conditioned to believe that tests determined the personal “successes” in school based on their own personal experience it seems reasonable to them that tests should be used to judge schools. In the meantime, politicians LOVE using tests to judge schools! They are relatively cheap and fast to administer and they provide seemingly precise results that can be used to rank schools the same way schools rank students.

Ms. Becker was dismayed that her children’s school “failed”, but she is astute in noting that “…no part of my kids’ experience at our school last year was a part of any accountability data.” And what part’s of her kid’s experience did she focus on in her opening paragraph?

  • they have a nice, new building with lots of natural light.
  • they have a PE teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, a nurse and a social worker
  • they rooftop garden and a makerspace

These features are easy to measure, but they are often dismissed by those who criticize “input” measures that are not only easy to measure but also costly. After all, if every school was required to be up-to-date with PE, art, music, health and social services, and technology it would cost millions! And in the end, I did not get the sense that Ms. Becker saw those as important metrics. Rather, she believed that the current method of measurement was flawed because it failed to capture what was most important to her:

Until this system is overhauled, I will continue to pay no mind to it and pay attention to the very clear evidence in front of me: my kids are excited to show up to school every morning and love their school. Their teachers are caring professionals.That is enough accountability for me.

Can these items that are important to parents be measured? Of course! ASK parents to rate whether their children are excited to show up to school every morning and love their school and ask parents if they sense that the teachers in the school are caring professionals. THAT is the accountability that matters most. Test scores? They are not as important as we believe they are.

NYS’s Hold Harmless Provision Proves that Money DOES Make a Difference

September 4, 2018 Comments off

When states wrestle with ways to equalize funding, one of the problems they face is how to deal with district who would end up with less revenue if the existing funds were redistributed using a formula that is more equitable. The legislative workaround is the introduction of “hold harmless provisions” that guarantee that no matter what happens in the future, no district will lose any state revenue.

When NYS enacted their most recent effort to reallocate funds, they included such a provision, which ended up protecting those districts that were experiencing enrollment declines. This provided an opportunity for Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany to do a real world investigation of the effect of increasing per pupil spending on test scores. Here’s what they found as reported in Chalkbeat:

Set to be published in the peer-reviewed Economics of Education Review, the study takes advantage of a provision in the state’s funding formula known as “Save Harmless” that allows districts to maintain their funding even if they lose students. Since many districts across the state have suffered enrollment declines, they have boosted the amount of money they spend per student. (New York City was excluded from the study because of its unusually large size and technical issues matching its data with other districts.)

By comparing districts that lost students — resulting in more money spent per remaining student — with those that saw smaller declines, the researchers were able to isolate the effect of the funding increases. Using data from 2007 through 2015, they found that a $1,000 in increase  per student corresponded with an increase of one-seventh of a grade level in math and one-ninth of a grade level in English.(On average, districts spend just over $23,000 per student across the state, a 15 percent increase since 2007.)

“The fact that we find positive effects of increased spending even in New York State, which boasts the highest per-pupil spending in the country, suggests that resources are important even above some adequacy threshold,” wrote co-authors Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen…

Chalk beat writer Alex Zimmerman DOES note that there are some caveats that education policy makers Gigliotti and Sorenson advance:

First, their study focuses on districts that lost enrollment, mostly in upstate New York. That means their findings could be less relevant among districts that have seen enrollment hold steady or even increase.

Second, there could be factors associated with declining enrollment that the study doesn’t account for. While the authors control for changes in student demographics associated with the enrollment declines, other factors that could contribute to changes in performance, such as student motivation, are more difficult to measure.

Third, it’s hard to know why the spending increases boosted student achievement. One possible answer is that many of the schools reduced class sizes, the authors note, which has been linked to gains in student achievement. But the study does not focus on how the funding was spent and what drove the gains in student learning.

Finally, the authors caution against interpreting their results as evidence that increased funding is a silver bullet, especially in reducing disparities in student achievement between students of different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. Increasing per-student spending by $1,000 would only close the national gap between rich and poor students by roughly 5 percent, Gigliotti said.

“These effects are moderate,” he added. “They don’t imply that achievement gaps are something we can overcome by just spending our way out of the problem.”

While they don’t offer proof that increased funding will invariably result in better academic performance as measured by standardized tests, they clearly do not provide evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, they might provide an opportunity for further research on those districts that experienced the greatest gains to determine what drove the gains in student learning, because I am confident that whatever it was, it was enhanced by additional per pupil spending… additional per pupil spending that would greatly benefit those property poor districts who are spending far less per pupil.