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Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

NY Regents Latest Gambit to Stem Opt-Outs Will Backfire

January 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch reported yesterday that the Regents are considering publishing the test results in towns where most students opt out of the testing. Their thinking is that the low scores that result in these districts where lots of students opt out will result in shaming them. Here’s the comment I left on this idea:

This just in: standardized tests prove nothing about the quality of schools and everything about the demographics of the communities. I doubt that realtors will be steering prospective homeowners away from those high-performing opt-out districts…. And they won’t be steering them toward “high-performing” districts that trade high scores for anemic elective offerings…

This gambit will backfire because it will underscore the preposterousness of using test results to “prove” that school quality is linked to test results.

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Could Maine’s Turnaround be a Harbinger for our Nation

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment

I worked for six years in Western Maine from 1977-1983: three as a HS Principal and three more as Superintendent. At that time, I was impressed with the leadership at the State level. The Commissioner was peripatetic, visiting schools and school districts, giving countless speeches and writing op ed pieces promoting the importance of public schools, and hiring bright people to support him even though his staff was being diminished on an annual basis by an increasingly fiscally conservative legislature.

Since leaving Maine I’ve followed their state politics from afar. I noted that they elected decidedly moderate and independent individuals to lead and represent their State, often rejecting either party by electing independents. Angus King embodied their politics in the 90s and early 2000s. But then the wheels came off when their wasn’t a viable independent-moderate candidate and the voters “chose” GOP candidate and Tea Party darling Paul LePage as Governor. I put the word “chose” in quotes because he won both elections when moderate-to-liberal voters split between two candidates paving the way for LePage to win with 38% of the vote in the first election and less than a majority the second time. Like our current President, Mr. LePage appeals to libertarians and other anti-government minded voters and, like our current President, Mr. LePage holds public schools in contempt. Consequently, like our current President. the Maine Governor appointed an education leader who loathed public schools. Here’s the way Diane Ravitch described his appointee to Commissioner: “Paul LePage appointed a homeschooling parent as Commissioner of Education. He made racist remarks. He followed Jeb Bush as his idol.” 

But now, after eight years of “leadership” by the GOP, the voters elected Janet Mills to office and, as Ms. Ravitch notes in her blog post yesterday, change is afoot. Ms. Mills has chosen Pender Makin, Brunswick’s Assistant Superintendent to be Commissioner, and Ms. Makin appears to be the polar opposite of Mr. LePage’s appointee. In addition to being a public school graduate and public school teacher and administrator, she has a stellar resume:

Ms. Makin has been on Maine’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group since 2014, and co-founded the Collaborative for Perpetual Innovation, a technical assistance, professional development, and consulting company for people in the education field. She has served on legislative work panels that aim to enhance educational opportunities for Maine students and promote the work of the state’s public schools.

The Maine Principal’s Association named her the state’s principal of the year for 2013-2014, and Makin also earned the MTV Local Hero and Milken Educator awards.

Better yet, from my perspective, she appears to have the right priorities:

Makin said her top priority as Maine’s next education commissioner will be to rebuild trust in the department.

“There’s been a revolving door of short-term commissioner posts, and the constituents – the schools, the superintendents and the districts – at this point have no faith and no trust that the existing structure is able to meet our needs,” she said.

There is also a need to rebuild trust in public education among all Mainers, Makin added.

Equity of access for all the state’s students to the best education possible is another objective. “We have a growing divide between children who are living in poverty and children who are quite privileged,” and there’s a difference between schools in big cities, the suburbs, and remote rural districts, Makin said.

Makin said she also wants to tackle school safety as proactively as possible.

“I would emphasize social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports (and) screenings,” she said. “Attention to those things is going to make us safer than any type of equipment ever will.”

WOW! Imagine that! A commissioner who wants to build public support and trust for public schools, cares about those who are economically deprived, and wants to invest in “social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports” instead of “equipment“. And Ms. Makin sees Maine as a potential national leader:

“I see Maine as being in a prime position to be influencing national education policy, rather than reactively responding to every little whim that’s happening (at the federal level),” Makin said.

“We have the most unique demographics, we have innovative people in our classrooms all across the state,” she added, plus “a lot of passion and determination, hard work, and all the things that make Maine a real leader educationally. I feel that we maybe have squandered every opportunity to highlight that at the national level.”

Makin also said she sees Maine striving to achieve a world-class education for its students and pushing back against federal policies with which it doesn’t agree, instead of “absorbing blindly whatever gets handed down to us.”

She recalled implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001, which launched a period of externally driven policies that created a culture of fear-driven accountability. Non-educators were telling educators how to teach, she said, and using sometimes punitive methods to try to bring about success.

There are many Pender Makin’s in the pipeline. Vermont’s and New Hampshire’s former state leaders are cut from the same cloth and there are, I am certain, other state level leaders who could lead public schools out of the “culture of fear-driven accountability” if they were given the chance. But as long as Democrats ascribe to the neoliberal reform agenda we will witness the likes of Arne Duncan and John King being tapped to lead at the national level and testing will continue. I hope that Ms. Makin is successful in leading her state and that Maine IS the template for the future.

As those of us who value public schools look at the Democrat candidates for 2020 their position on “reform” should be a litmus test. If we get another six years of test-and-punish it will mean two full decades of carrots-and-sticks. Ugh!

Bill Gates REALLY Wants NY Parents to Believe in Tests

January 4, 2019 Comments off

I’ve written several posts about Bill Gates, often giving him the benefit of the doubt because I believe in his heart he wants to do what he believes is best for children and the world. His biggest problem is that what he believes is best for children is not what I believe is best… but more important it is not what a vast majority of parents, educators, and researchers believe is best for children.

A case in point is Bill Gates insistence on the use of standardized tests as an accountability tool. Mr. Gates sees standardized tests as the best means to hold students accountable for their learning and schools accountable for their students. To that end, he recently decided to fund a $225,000 grant to the NYS Board of Regents that would provide:

Consistent and targeted communication regarding learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies is key to maintaining transparency and promoting common understanding. In addition, a portion of the grant funding will advance the ability of SED to discern and respond to advocacy and communication needs as we explore opportunities to connect early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary student information. Specifically, both City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) are partners in the project.

Reading through the obfuscatory grantspeak, it seems that Mr. Gates has the sense that the parents, teachers, and researchers misunderstand the purpose for “…learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies” that he and his reformer friends favor and that he and his reformer friends can help those of us who fail to comprehend the benefits of said “…learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies” to gain a deep appreciation for their purpose and value. The Board of Regents agreed to accept the grant by a 14-2 vote… presumably hoping that Mr. Gates is correct in his assumption that better communication will change the minds of those who reject the notion that testing is the best way forward and implicitly endorsing his ideas about accountability.

Diane Ravitch flagged this “grant opportunity” in her post yesterday, reprinting an action alert from the New York State Allies of Parents and Education urging NYS residents to correspond with the Board of Regents to have them reconsider and reject the grant. The New York State Allies of Parents and Education’s basis for rejecting the grant was that it provided yet another means of collecting data on students despite the fact that the Regents have yet to develop a coherent policy on data collection that has been taking place for years.

Data collection is a problematic by-product of testing, one that arguably benefits software magnates like Bill Gates. But standardized testing itself is a bigger problem in my opinion for it reinforces all that is wrong with public school education and reinforces the notion that all children learn the same way and at the same rate. It manufactures failure and imposes conformity. Promoting standardized testing is bad… continuing the practice is worse.

 

Here We Go Again… Phonics is Ba-a-a-ack!

January 3, 2019 Comments off

I read Emily Hanford’s NPR report that students can learn how to read if teachers only took the time to teach them how to decode with a mixture of dismay, disappointment, and deja vu! Her report, titled “Why Millions of Kids Can’t Read and What Teachers Can Do About It” breathlessly reports on the findings of the administrative leadership team in Bethlehem PA who “discovered” that reading isn’t a natural process, it is one that is learned through repetitious practice. And because teachers in high poverty schools presumably don’t engage students in the hard work associated with such repetitious practice they are to blame for the low test scores in third grade. The article then described “the science of reading”, which, a reader was led to believe, was a recently discovered “secret sauce” of some sort. Ms. Hanford described a recent staff development workshop as follows:

This was a class on the science of reading. The Bethlehem district has invested approximately $3 million since 2015 on training, materials and support to help its early elementary teachers and principals learn the science of how reading works and how children should be taught.

In the class, teachers spent a lot of time going over the sound structure of the English language.

Since the starting point for reading is sound, it’s critical for teachers to have a deep understanding of this. But research shows they don’t. Michelle Bosak, who teaches English as a second language in Bethlehem, said that when she was in college learning to be a teacher, she was taught almost nothing about how kids learn to read.

“It was very broad classes, vague classes and like a children’s literature class,” she said. “I did not feel prepared to teach children how to read.”

And who came up with this “science of reading”? It was, predictably, the pro-phonics fundamentalists who believe there is a one-size-fits-all method to teaching and learning that is best measured by standardized tests administered to students batched by age cohorts.

I indicated above the reading this report brought a reaction of dismay, disappointment, and deja vu…. deja vu because we are once again getting stuck in the quagmire of the reading wars where pro-phonics fundamentalists claim— without evidence— that all children can learn to read at the same rate if only teachers used phonics to teach them. Dismay because we’ve fought this war repeatedly over the decades and it always concludes with the pro-phonics crowd declaring that their defeat is based on the teachers’ inability to grasp and teach phonics while constructionists rip their hair out because they know that one-size-does-NOT-fit-all when it comes to reading instruction any more than it comes to fitting clothing or shoes. And disappointment because every decade or so someone “discovers” phonics as the ultimate solution to the reading problem.

 

Limited and Potentially Pyrrhic Victory in New New Jersey’s Use of PARCC Tests as Graduation Standard

January 1, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravitch reported in a blog post yesterday that the NJ appellate court prohibited the use of the PARCC test as a graduation standard, declaring at the end of the post that the ruling meant that a summative test, like the PARCC, could no longer be used as a graduation standard…

In reading a report on the ruling from New Jersey 101.5, a radio station in that state, it is evident that the victory against PARCC was more limited:

The court decision on New Year’ Eve may mean that the state will have to retool its testing plans altogether. The three-judge panel said the PARCC regulations violate state law requiring that a graduation test be administered in 11th grade. The PARCC regulations, on the other hand, require a language arts test in 10th grade and an Algebra I test in any year.

The state law requires a single graduation test for 11th grade students, but the PARCC regulations require multiple end-of-course exams.

The judges also found that the PARCC regulations do not allow students to retake the exams or provide non-standardized-testing alternatives in the way the law requires…

Although the lawsuit filed Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, the Paterson Education Fund, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the Education Law Center claimed that PARCC discriminated against poor and minority students because of its costs, the judges did not address that controversy, focusing instead on how the regulations violated the Proficiency Standards and Assessments Act enacted in 1979 and amended in 1988.

The act requires that a graduation test be given to all 11th grade students and to any 11th grade and 12th grade student who had previously failed it. Seniors who failed the test but otherwise met all credit and attendance requirements could graduate after completing an alternative assessment that was not a standardized test.

Under the regulations implemented by the Christie administration, students in the 2020 graduating class would have to take end-of-course PARCC exams for all their courses with alternative options for students who failed the 10th grade language test and the Algebra I test.

So… the legal issue wasn’t the use of a summative assessment designed to spread students on a bell curve, it was that PARCC’s regulations conflicted with the State’s regulations requiring that standardized graduation tests be administered in 11th grade , that re-takes be allowed, and that an alternative assessment would be put in place to offer those students who failed the test to complete an “alternative assessment”.  This narrow ruling does not overturn the use of a test to determine if a student graduates… it only requires that the test be administered in a single grade level AND that students be provided with an alternative assessment should they fail the standardized assessment… And there is another alternative: the law dictating the use of tests could be amended to conform to PARCC’s standards OR amended to eliminate the use of standardized testing altogether.

Make no mistake, the court ruling is a victory– albeit a narrow one– for those who oppose the use of high stakes tests… but the months ahead will determine if it is a real victory or a Pyrrhic one.

“Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

December 13, 2018 Comments off

Forbes education writer Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Why Knowledge Building Curricula Matter More Than School Choice” overlooks several fundamental realities. Contrasting the positions of “choice” critic Diane Ravitch and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ms. Wexler analyzes school choice to the choice one can make when purchasing toothpaste. She asserts that such a choice is bogus because:

…the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach, regardless of whether they’re charters or not.”

And what is that “dangerously flawed approach?

Government ratings focus on annual reading and math scores, just as the toothpaste ratings focused on yearly cavity rates. Schools can sometimes boost test scores in the elementary years by focusing on comprehension “skills.” But, as cognitive scientists have long known—and as few educators, education professors and education reformers are aware—the most important factor in comprehension is background knowledge. In high school, when the classwork and the tests start assuming more knowledge and vocabulary, things fall apart.

Kids with highly educated parents arrive at school with more knowledge and vocabulary and continue acquiring it outside school… (and) that enables them to get higher test scores, because they’re better able to understand the reading passages. But their schools get the credit, regardless of whether they actually provided the knowledge.

In Ms. Wexler’s world, the lack of a curriculum based on knowledge-building is the problem, a problem that she believes is slowly being addressed:

The good news is that several elementary curricula that do focus on building knowledge have recently been developed, and an increasing number of schools—in both the charter and traditional public school sectors—are adopting them. But they still constitute only a small fraction of the total, and school rating systems, which place primary weight on test scores and little or none on curriculum, don’t help parents find them.

But Ms. Wexler’s world, like that of E.D. Hirsch, the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, poverty is an immaterial exogenous factor and test scores that measure “core knowledge” replace those that (presumably) measure academic achievement. And that world, devoid of the realities of poverty and politics, has nothing to do with the real world public education lives in.

Ms. Wexler concludes her essay with this analysis of the school choice debate:

I agree with Pondiscio that it’s unfair for wealthier parents to have the ability to choose a school while lower-income parents don’t. And I agree with Ravitch that charter schools have drained resources from traditional public schools and made it harder for many to succeed. But I also think that, given the far more fundamental problems with our education system, those issues are largely beside the point.

Unfortunately, by viewing the “fundamental problem with our education system” as being the lack of a curriculum based on “knowledge building” Ms. Wexler overlooks the REAL fundamental problems, which are the underlying disparities in preparedness for school caused by poverty and the overriding desire to use standardized testing to measure “school effectiveness”.

Good News For Underachievers (and the Well-Being of Students): Straight A’s Do NOT Translate to Success in Life

December 10, 2018 Comments off

In writing this post, I initially thought I would title it “This Just In: Grades Don’t Matter” because I thought that the lack of a correlation between high grades and “success” was as self evident as, say, the correlation between poverty and test scores. But I went with the title above because, as one who was labelled an “underachiever” because I failed to earn straight A’s in middle school I think it better reflects the reality of the mindset of public education when I attended school in the 50s and 60s, a mindset that persists today.

The post was prompted by an article in the Sunday NYTimes by Adam Grant titled “What Straight A Students Get Wrong”, and the “what” is that in the final analysis the grades you earned in high school and college do not matter once you get in the real world. In his op ed, Dr. Grant describes counseling a distraught college junior who had just received her first A-, a blot on her academic record that she was certain would doom her to some kind of second class citizenship in the future. Dr. Grant then revealed what underachiever like me have known for decades and used to comfort ourselves (or rebut our parents):

Getting straight A’s requires conformity.Having an influential career demands originality. In a study of students who graduated at the top of their class, the education researcher Karen Arnold found that although they usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” Dr. Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

Dr. Grant then offers a long list of individualists who did poorly in school but made a name for themselves in their chosen areas of interest: Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have provided a much longer list, but those three clearly made the point.

He concludes his essay with advice for universities, employers, and students, suggesting to students that they recognize that “…underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life” and that getting a B might be the best thing for them.

I wholeheartedly agree. As a high school student I never aspired to be valedictorian, perhaps because I did not (and still do not) have the temperament needed and did not (and still do not) see the point in it. As a parent I celebrated the first B my children brought home in high school because I knew that they would no longer be able to become valedictorian and would, therefore, be able to dedicate their time to other pursuits… ones that satisfied their curiosity and not the needs of the schools.

There is a place for evaluation in school. Students need to master fundamental math skills and need to be coached to become good communicators. And once students have these baseline skills in place— and certainly by the time they are in college– there is no need for assigning letter grades or numeric grades. Narrative descriptions of a student’s performance are far more beneficial to the student and compel the teacher to get to know each student in their class deeply.

Alas… binary pass-fail grades on fundamentals and narrative descriptions once a student has progressed to higher levels of education do not yield rankings, and without rankings there can be no “competition” and without that, well, what? I suppose some will posit that without competition our “economic system” will collapse. I prefer to believe that without competition the well-being of children will improve and our political system will improve. Evidently I am not alone in this belief. The renegades who did not conform in school and spent their time working on computers send their children to Waldorf Schools and Montessori programs where doing things and being human is valued more than getting good grades and conforming to a system that measures skills needed in the early 20th Century. Maybe it’s time to re-think grades altogether… in doing so we would necessarily be re-thinking school.