Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

Two Technology “Eduprenuers” Offer Good Advice and Scary Insights on ESSA

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

School Media reporter Maris Stansbury posted a summary of a Webinar held earlier this week offering educators a description of what they need to know right now regarding the implementation of ESSA. The webinar was led by two technology “edupreneurs”, Steve Rowley and Michael Campbell, and focussed on the need for educators to focus on their state’s accountability system. They indicated that as it stands now, each state will need to develop it’s own peer-reviewed accountability plan using “the Obama accountability template”:

Under the Obama Administration’s accountability template, accountability systems (supported by tracking and data technology) involve four primary indicators: proficiency on state tests; English language proficiency; another academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup; and a “wild card” item that each state can choose within certain guidelines.

States can also set additional benchmarks; for example, these may allow for certain high school benchmarks which would not apply to elementary or middle schools. Each state must be aware of how to accurately track their benchmarks.

This is sound advice from my perspective. The state accountability metrics will inevitably determine the priorities in each school given that the high stakes consequences of failing to meet standards remain in place with ESSA.

But what Rowley and Campbell foresee as possible modifications to ESSA regulations is troubling:

Though DeVos says states should move along with their ESSA plans, the Obama administration’s accountability template part of ESSA is currently under review by DeVos and Congress.

According to DeVos, she and her team are reviewing the Obama administration’s ESSA accountability template because some measures may not be “absolutely necessary.” The new department may release a revised or completely re-written template for states by mid-March this year.

Another potential change is that DeVos’ department may also allow a state or group of states to work together to write their own template through the CCSSO.

If DeVos does allow a state or group of states to devise their own accountability template, it may prove difficult for peer reviewers to determine quality and manage expectations due to a lack of uniformity. However, DeVos and her department could also change the guidelines for peer review—something her camp has not yet mentioned.

It is not surprising that DeVos and “her team” are reviewing the “Obama accountability template” with the intention of eliminating measures that may not be “absolutely necessary.” When that statement is combined with the one indicating that “…DeVos and her department could also change the guidelines for peer review and the fact that she wants States to “fast track” the development of their plans, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if DeVos’ “team” determined that States could rely on off-the-shelf standardized tests to measure school performance. Oh… and if a State wanted to use those same test results to calculate the “value added” by teachers they would be free to do so— without any peer review or input from educators, researchers, or school leaders.

The best piece of advice Rowley gives is this:

“I can’t stress enough—find your state accountability plan and become very familiar with it,” he said. While there is no designated area for locating each state accountability plan, Rowley recommends becoming familiar with your state education agency’s website and keeping a lookout for announcements of things like requests for comment and draft plans.

Outside of state agency websites, keeping abreast of policy news out of Washington, can help you ask the right questions of your state leaders.

With all the news currently pouring out of Washington relative to Russia’s involvement with advisors to President Trump, all the Executive Orders and legislation gutting environmental and banking regulations, and all of the other news reports on things like weather events, accidents, and international clashes, it would be easy for the public to lose sight of announcements on the State Department of Education website seeking comments on draft accountability plans that are likely to be voluminous. And the reality is that there is only so much bandwidth an individual has when it comes to juggling news and the day-to-day responsibilities of work. When tracking all of the news cited above and all of the news about state accountability is added to the workloads of teachers, administrators, and Board members, it will not be surprising if some very bad regulations are put in place in some states.

Welcome to the wonderful world of ESSA….

Metrics Matter… and PISA is the Wrong Metric for What Employers Seek: Creativity, Innovation, and Collaboration

February 14, 2017 Leave a comment

One of the under-reported consequences of ESSA is the fact that STATES will be free to determine the metrics they use to hold schools accountable. As we have witnessed since the advent of NCLB, there is truth in the aphorism “what gets measured gets done”. Fearful that they will be identified as “failing” and potentially closed, public schools across the country have focused on the standardized tests used to measure “success”. In some cases, as described in this blog, schools have eliminated “frills” like art, music, libraries, and recess in order to provide more time for academics so students can succeed on the high stakes standardized tests.

But what if the standardized tests we are using are not a valid measure of success? What if they do not measure the skills employers are seeking today? What if the international standardized tests used to “prove” that our schools are “failing” as compared to other countries in the world are invalid?

According to a recent post by Valerie Strauss the “gold standard” PISA tests are NOT valid measures of national schooling, do NOT measure the skills employers seek, and do not “prove” anything about the quality of our schools. And here is the really bad news for “reformers” who use tests like the PISA as the basis for decrying our schools: there are three assessments of national performance that prove the opposite of what they assert. In fact, the US schools are doing an excellent job in developing the skills that matter to employers.

Ms. Strauss reaches this conclusion based on research done by consultant Nancy Truitt Pierce, a member of the Monroe School Board in Washington state who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to his STEM Alliance Advisory Board. In monthly meetings with Seattle executives she found that they seek the following skills in hiring new staff:

What I hear from the key corporate leaders I meet monthly with is that they want candidates coming out of our public schools who are creative, innovative, collaborative problem solvers. Yes, the candidates must also have strong foundational skills of math, science and language arts but I suggest we are putting too much emphasis on the PISA math score as a key indicator of public school quality. I suggest there are other indicators that would serve us in much better ways. 

Ms. Pierce illustrates why the PISA scores are an invalid metric for a host of reasons and offers three alternatives to PISA, alternatives that measure the skills employers need in today’s workplace. She finds the United States comes out at or near the top on each of them:

• The Global Creativity Index ranks the United States second of 139 countries in the latest results, 2015.
• The 2016 Global Innovation Index ranks the United States fourth out of 128 countries.
• The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Index ranks the United States first of 121 countries.

These findings undercut the notion that our schools are “failing” and will cause us to “fall behind” in the international competition. Moreover, when you drill down on her findings it becomes evident that our schools are “failing” on the PISA scores only because the US measures the performance of ALL students while other nations measure only the performance of children who come from the most affluent and well educated families.

Ms. Strauss concludes her post with the results from these assessments and this hope for the future from Ms. Pierce:

My hope is to get policymakers to:

1) Clarify our overarching goal to include creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship as key outcomes of our public school system.
2) Focus on the indicators above to demonstrate success.
3) Reduce the overreliance on math tests as the primary metric for success.

I have the same hope for State Departments of Education as they begin the process of designing accountability measures in the coming months. There ARE alternatives to the current metrics. We should use them.

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What Values ARE We Teaching in Schools… and What Values SHOULD We Be Teaching in Schools

January 29, 2017 Leave a comment

As noted in this blog and in almost every publication I read, there is a tremendous pushback against Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of education. This pushback has led opponents to dig deeply into the myriad donations Ms. DeVos and her husband have made to anti-public school organizations and, in doing so, they have uncovered some alarming speeches and reports. In a post yesterday, Diane Ravitch flagged a Huffington Post article by Rebecca Klein that reported on one such speech:

A conservative Christian group with ties to Donald Trump education pick Betsy DeVos once released a promotional video that proudly featured a speaker describing how Adolf Hitler and others indoctrinated children.

The undated video by the Student Statesmanship Institute ― which trains Christian kids to bring their “biblical worldview” to politics and media careers ― opens with a speech by Michigan leader Richard Posthumus, who describes how Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin used children to spread their message.

“Sometimes, it seems like it’s very hard to change the world, the world is so big,” Posthumus says in the video, over a dramatic soundtrack. “But what SSI has done is equip young people with the tools to go out and be ready for the competing ideas that’s in this world.”

The video immediately cuts to another comment.

“Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin: They knew one thing, that to change a culture, to change a country, they had to reach the children,” he says.

This statement reflects the thinking of many that our public schools are NOT “equipping young people with the tools to go out and be ready for the competing ideas of in this world”. Based on this statement, I sense that SSI is seeking to have the “Christian kids” infuse their work with a “biblical worldview”, an effort that is antithetical to the values I believe are needed to provide students with the skills students need to succeed in the world they are about to enter. And what are those skills? A recent article by Penny Loretto in The Balance provides a good list that mirrors virtually every list I scanned in a quick on line search:

The ability to assess a situation is important in all career fields. Being able to gather information and understand multiple perspectives is critical to moving up in your career.

No matter what the job most of them require a minimum understanding of computers. As a recent college graduate you will have a heads up due to your knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, and email.

The ability to manage multiple priorities by being adaptable and flexible will make you a successful employee in almost any field. Things are changing so rapidly in today’s job market that anyone who cannot change course in mid-stream is bound to be left behind.

The ability to solve problems through creativity and a logical thought process will make you a very valuable member of the team. From handling customer complaints to managing a small or large group of people, these skills are a must.

Since so many jobs require people to effectively work teams in order to get work done, one of the things that employers look for when hiring on new people is previous examples of working on teams either in the classroom or previous internships or jobs. 

The ability to plan, organize, and set realistic goals to get the work done in a realistic timeframe, is most important for anyone starting a new job.

Since many company decisions are based on gathering and analyzing data, it’s imperative that a company’s employees know how to take the raw data and translate it into something meaningful and concrete.

The ability to determine the best course of action based on evaluating all options on logic and fact, directly results in creating intelligent solutions to any problem.

The ability to direct and motivate others is a skill that employers extremely value in the workplace. Employees that move up quickly in an organization usually possess this valuable skill. It is also a skill that can be learned through specific training and experience.

The SSIs predominant goal of training “…Christian kids to bring their “biblical worldview” to politics and media careers” is antithetical to the boldfaced items above. Someone trying to impose their views on other individuals will not be able to “gather information and understand multiple perspectives”, “be adaptable or flexible”, “solve problems through creativity and a logical thought process”, “take the raw data and translate it into something meaningful and concrete”, “(evaluate) all options on logic and fact”, or “direct and motivate others”. These inter-related skills all require the ability to be empathetic: to strive to understand the other person’s viewpoint and find a middle ground between their viewpoint and yours or generate a new way of thinking about things that draws on both backgrounds. If one is unable to understand their own mental formations they will be incapable of understanding another person’s.

While I do not believe SSI’s values will help provide students with the skills listed above, I am not certain that our public schools are based on values that will help develop those skills. Our measurement systems place no value on the instruction of “soft skills” and our schools implicitly overvalue competition and undervalue cooperation. The values our schools need to inculcate will have to wait for a future blogpost… but any insights readers might provide are welcome.

“What the hell do you have to lose?”

January 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch cross-posted a post written by blogger Bill Boyle titled “Betsy DeVos and the Problem of Institutional Racism”. In the post Mr. Boyle suggests that the implementation of the privatization that resulted from NCLB and RTTT was a form of “institutional racism”. This assertion was challenged by many of her readers, including me.

As I wrote in a comment I left, the problem isn’t that the individuals like DeVos, Rahm Emanual, Gates, and the Waltons are racist. The “reform” narrative they bought into is deeply flawed. The narrative crafted by well-intentioned legislators in Washington DC ultimately played into the hands of the privatization crowd and is now leading us to the doorstep of Milton Friedman’s dream of a deregulated privatized free-market education system driven by vouchers.

When Ted Kennedy— hardly a racist— helped pass NCLB he was convinced that the system put in place as a result of that law would help address the inequities of public education. President Obama— again, hardly a racist— instituted his misbegotten RTTT initiative he reinforced the “accountability” model implicit in NCLB. In championing “rigorous interventions needed to turn around the lowest-performing schools”, RTTT encouraged the privatization of “failing” schools, most of which served children raised in poverty. He sincerely believed this kind of “tough love” approach would improve the lives of children of all races. Indeed, until recently organizations like the NAACP supported the accountability systems put in place by NCLB and amplified by RTTT. Why did they abandon their support late last year? In large measure because they saw that the system they initially supported was yielding disproportionate outcomes.

We now know that neither NCLB nor RTTT made any difference whatsoever, and we see that the pro-voucher, pro-privatization crowd is using this “waste of money” as evidence that the only way to help parents in the cities “full of failing schools” is to give them the opportunity to choose the schools their children can attend. And if there are no acceptable public schools to choose from, those parents should be able to enroll in a private school of their choice… even if the school is a de-regulated for profit school or a sectarian school.

When now-President Trump was on the campaign trail seeking African American voters, he talked about the sad state of the cities and schools and gave them this rationale for their support: “What the hell do you have to lose?”

We’re finding out the answer to that question now.

And it’s the same answer DeVos should have learned from based on her experience in Michigan. When you use test scores as the basis for defining “failure” you invariably identify schools serving children raised in poverty as “failing”…. and closing schools is faster, cheaper, and easier than taking the steps needed to eliminate the effects of poverty.

Lamar Alexander’s Response to Democrats Request for More Time to Grill DeVos Underscores Democrats DeVos Dilemma

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Today’s Politico education feed offered this synopsis of the request made by Senate Democrats to ask Secretary of Education designee Betsy DeVos more questions:

DEMOCRATS LOSE BID FOR A SECOND DEVOS HEARING: Senate Democrats are continuing to press for a second confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, arguing they need more time to question her about her qualifications and potential conflicts of interest. But they’re not going to get one, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Monday evening.

– Alexander rejected a formal request for an additional hearing from the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), other Democrats and Sen. Sanders. Democrats wrote in a letter Monday that “the secretary of Education is too important a position for the country and for this committee to jam a nominee through without sufficient questioning and scrutiny.”

– Alexander said that DeVos has spent considerably more time answering questions of committee members than either of President Obama’s education secretaries, and I do not know why our committee should treat a Republican nominee so differently than the nominee of a Democratic president.

– Democrats have submitted more than 800 written questions for DeVos to answer since her confirmation hearing last week. Alexander said that Republicans asked only 53 and 56 written follow-up questions, respectively, of Obama’s two Education secretary nominees.

I don’t know if it’s true that Duncan spent less time as was asked fewer questions, but Wikipedia indicates that Duncan’s appointment was relatively easy and all news accounts regarding his successor’s appointment indicate that there was minimal pushback when he was confirmed:

Duncan received broad bipartisan support during his confirmation hearing in front of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on January 13, 2009. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said of Duncan, “there is no question that schools across America can benefit from the same kind of fresh thinking that (he) brought to Chicago public schools.

And what was that “fresh thinking“? We saw it embodied in Race to the Top: high stakes tests, punishment for low scores on those tests, closing of “failing” schools, privatization welcomed. OF COURSE “Duncan received broad bipartisan support during his confirmation hearing”… he was doing exactly what the Republican party and the “reformers” wanted him to do. 

Now we have the logical endgame of “reform”, which is deregulated privatization and vouchers… Alas, THIS— the confirmation of Betsy DeVos or someone else who espouses her philosophy— is President Obama’s true legacy for public education.

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Harvard, MIT MOOC Study Illustrates Conundrum Faced by Public Schools

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

I just scanned a report from HarvardX and MITx, the joint venture of those two renowned institutions into the world of MOOCs and it brought to mind a conundrum public education faces in dealing with on-line courses. Here’s an overview of the dilemma:

  • Teachers organizations and state school board regulations are generally opposed to awarding credits to students who earn credits through on-line courses or through any means other than “seat time” …. BUT
    • Teachers need to complete coursework for re-certification.
    • Teacher pay scales are typically designed to offer an advancement in compensation by accumulating graduate courses at an accredited college and, in some cases through the accumulation of “course equivalency units” set by the school district.
    • Teachers are ALL pressed for time and teachers in rural areas are often a great distance away from a site where courses are offered…. SO
  • Colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to complete necessary course work to remain certified AND on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits AND courses that students in small rural schools can complete on line… AND
  • Those same colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” developed on-line methods for other professionals (e.g. lawyers, medical professionals, any profession requiring a license) to complete necessary course work to remain certified

During my last years as Superintendent this confluence of events posed some difficult questions for us.

  • If other professions grant re-certification through on-line courses why shouldn’t teachers earn their re-certification courses the same way?
  • If  colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits why should we require them to drive 100 miles round trip to complete graduate courses at the closest State college offering courses— especially when those same institutions were offering courses on-line?
  • If we are willing to offer teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credits for on-line courses, credits that would advance their pay, why should we offer students the same opportunity to earn credit for high school courses that would enable them to graduate earlier? or enable them to expand their part-time work hours? or to devote more time to athletics? or to devote more time to playing on-line games?

As you can see, the advent of MOOCs posed some perplexing questions about the potential for technology to disrupt the usual and customary methods for schooling. The answers to these questions will define the direction of public schooling in the future… as well as the role of school boards, government regulations, and teachers in the future.

Sorry, FairTest! ESSA is NOT Going to Save the Day… and ALL Teachers are NOT Ready to Administer Well Conceived Assessments.

January 7, 2017 Leave a comment

I generally agree with FairTest’s perspective on the overuse of standardized testing and periodically pore through and greatly appreciate their carefully archived articles describing the flaws of those tests. But I find myself at odds with Mr. Neill’s optimism regarding ESSA, his faith in the ability of all teachers to develop and thoughtfully use assessments, and his unwillingness to accept any form of computerized testing. All of this was prompted by an article of his published in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet titled “How Testing Practices Have to Change in US Public Schools”. The following is an elaboration on the comment I left on-line in response to the article:

Mr. Neill overlooks some sobering political realities in his rosy assessment of the status of standardized testing:

First, 35 states are under the control of Republican governors and/or legislatures and many of those states are of a mind to “run schools like a business”. In doing so they will likely continue their use of standardized tests as the primary metric for “school quality”.
Second, the ESSA rules are likely to be undone by the incoming administration in a fashion that might effectively encourage (or mandate) the restoration of standardized tests. Mr. Neill undoubtedly recalls that the VATs included in RTTT were not a legislated mandate; they were a de facto administrative mandate foisted on public schools and states by the USODE.

Third, there is an implicit belief that the end of standardized testing will result in the simultaneous advent of well conceived teacher developed tests. Having led public school districts from 1981 through 2011 I can attest to the fact that testing practices vary wildly from classroom to classroom and that most teachers never had training in the development of effective assessments. And despite their uneven quality and inconsistency, those teacher developed tests were always “high stakes assessments” from the student’s perspective since they were used to determine if a student passed or failed a course. Moreover, since the advent of NCLB the teacher’s ability to develop assessments has eroded. Teachers in all but the most affluent school districts are primarily focussed on improving standardized test scores. The bottom line on teacher developed assessments: if Mr. Neill hopes to rely the their use for accountability purposes it will require a massive staff development initiative.

Fourth, the call to avoid the use of computerized formative assessments is misguided. Teachers routinely give pencil-and-paper assessments and— yes even in this day and age— worksheets that are presumably designed to determine if a student has mastered the content the teacher presented. Administering those routine assignments via computer frees the time teachers use for grading those quizzes and worksheets enables them to use that time to individualize instruction. The use of well-crafted computerized formative assessments would be a huge step forward if it displaced the quizzes and worksheets that to this day are used as “seat work” in schools.

Mr. Neill’s cause is a righteous one, and I believe we ARE making progress in the way we use assessments at the national level. But I also believe we need to be clear-eyed about the ability for public schools to move in a different direction when it comes to accountability.

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