Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

NYTimes Russ Douthat’s Assessment of Admissions Criteria Overvalues Tests

March 17, 2019 Leave a comment

Over the past week the NYTimes has been full of stories on the admissions scandal whereby millionaire parents have blatantly used their money to effectively buy their children’s way into school. At the end of the week, conservative columnist Russ Douthat weighed in on the the scandal advocating that concluding his analysis with this:

But the “more meritocracy” world — the world where bipartisan criticism produces a Harvard class of 2032 with fewer legacies and non-Asian minorities and an average SAT of 1570 — could be worse than what we have. Because such a change’s essential premise, that intelligence alone really merits power, is the premise that has given us many present difficulties, and if extended may only give us more.

This concluding paragraph illustrates how Mr. Douthat, like USNews and World Report and way too many parents and admissions counselors, views SAT scores as a sound metric for “intelligence” and evidence of “merit”. Standardized tests like the SAT are a poor proxy for “intelligence” or “merit”…. but they yield a seemingly easy and precise means for ranking students and colleges, they are relatively cheap to administer, and they can be used to short-circuit a more comprehensive and more time consuming method of analyzing an individual’s “intelligence” or “merit” or the “quality” of an educational institution. The SATs, then, are a easy, cheap, and fast way to assess “intelligence” and “merit”… and our politicians and voters are always seeking easy, cheap, and fast solutions to problems whose solutions are complicated, expensive, and time consuming.

If we ever hope to improve our public schools, we need to disabuse parents, voters, and politicians of the notion that there is a fast, easy, and cheap means of measuring “intelligence” and “merit” and MAYBE even re-think why this compulsion to measure is even important at all.


College Admissions Scandal is an Indictment of Our Competitive, Celebrity Driven Culture

March 13, 2019 1 comment

Yesterday the NYTimes and virtually every media outlet in America broke a story regarding the indictment of fifty individuals for their roles in conspiring to secure seats for their children in elite colleges and universities. As the NYTimes article reported:

The scheme unveiled Tuesday was stunning in its breadth and audacity. It was the Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution, a sprawling investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.

And there are more indictments to come. But as the MSNBC interview below with Anand Giridharadas and Tressy McMillan Cottom indicates, the biggest indictment is that of our culture:


After watching the interview and reflecting on this scandal, I recalled many parents who defended their decisions to “defend” their children when they were being disciplined by asserting that they were doing what any parent would do to support their child.  But, as these indictments indicate, not every parent is capable of doing what a billionaire can do.

But here’s are some tougher questions that I pose to myself and to other parents who are “…doing what any parent would do for their child”: 

  • Who is advocating for those children who DON’T have a parent capable of advocating?
  • If I can afford to have a realtor show me a house in any community, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • If I can afford to rent a house in an affluent community with prestigious schools for my family while maintaining another residence located in a less prestigious school district, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford to do so?
  • If I can afford to pay tuition for my child to attend school in a prestigious district and transport them to and from school, am I not “…doing what any parent would do for their child”? And if so, am I not am providing my child with a leg up on other children whose parents cannot afford a house anywhere?
  • The same kind of questions can be posed for parents who can afford tutors, music lessons, competitive team sports, and the books, electronic equipment, musical instruments, gear and coaching that accompanies those activities.
  • And, the same kinds of questions can be posed for parents who can afford to have family museum memberships, to send their children to summer camps, or take children with them on vacations abroad.

It would be beneficial of this scandal would compel us to look at the deep underlying inequities that impact children and recognize the need for our culture to be more compassionate toward those children who have the bad luck of being born to parents who care deeply about them but are financially incapable of “…doing what any parent would do for their child”?


If It’s Booker vs. Trump? I May Seriously Consider “None of the Above”

March 11, 2019 Leave a comment

A number of friends I know who do not follow the privatization movement closely see Cory Booker as a viable alternative to Donald Trump. An eloquent African-American who embodies racial justice and has ascended the political ladder from Mayor of Newark to U.S. Senator, Mr. Booker is the heir apparent to the Clinton-Gore-Obama legacy of centrism in the Democratic Party— a level headed moderate. But, as Jacobin writer Eric Blanc reports in his bluntly titled article “Cory Booker Hates Public Schools” Mr. Booker is really the embodiment of neoliberalism, a candidate who fully embraced every element of the so-called “school reform movement”, and— therefore— is a candidate who would attract both Wall Street and Silicon Valley backing.

I am among many voters who begrudgingly cast a vote for Hillary Clinton knowing that such a vote effectively endorsed the Obama-Duncan legacy but fearing (rightly as it turned out) that Donald Trump’s direction for public education would be even worse. If Mr. Booker is the nominee for the Democrats, who can public educators– or for that matter any public employees– turn to?

Over the past two decades I’ve witnessed NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA, take instructional decisions out of the hands of teachers and put them in the hands of those who design standardized tests. At the same time, governance decisions about public education moved from local school boards to the State Houses who favor test-and-punish methods and free market solutions to public schools. Ultimately vouchers will enable all but the neediest parents to abandon public education in favor of sectarian and/or high-priced private schools… and while those schools will be free from the constraints of teaching-to-the-test the public schools will continue to be “measured” by standardized tests linked to age-based grade-level cohorts.

Given the devolution of public schools under GOP and neoliberal leaders, I may well cast a vote for none-of-the-above if I am faced with Booker vs. Trump. I await some kind of word from the other Democratic candidates on their positions on public education… but do so in dread for I fear that the “reform” movement has captured the imagination of voters.

NYTimes, Implicit Supporter of High Stakes Test-and-Punish Reform, Notes Flaws in Texas Tests. Can it Abandon its Support for Testing Altogether?

March 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Earlier this week NYTimes published a story by reporters Dana Goldstein and Manny Fernandez titled “Texas Says Most of Its Students Aren’t Reading at Grade Level. But Are Its Tests Fair?” The answer to the question posed in the headline was unsurprisingly “NO!”. The article described flaws in Texas’ latest standardized tests, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or Staar, that is used to determine if individual students are reading on grade level  and if the schools are meeting standards based on their students’ performance. The article present the battle in Texas as a microcosm of the national battle school reformers are now fighting:

The battle over reading in Texas is the latest in a national war over the future of education reform. From teacher picket lines to the halls of state capitols, public school educators and their political allies are pushing back against decades of laws they say have been punitive to traditional schools.

A persistent narrative of failure, backed by low student test scores, has undermined the public’s trust in local education systems, critics say, and has paved the way for policies that shift students and taxpayer dollars toward charter schools and private school vouchers.

On the other side of the debate are school reformers who contend that tough accountability systems like Staar are a civil rights imperative, and that they protect low-income students and students of color from what President George W. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Fernandez then explain how the tests yield two different scores for students: one that places students in four bands:

“did not meet grade level,” which means a student failed the test and, in some grades, could be held back; “approaches grade level,” which means a student… did not meet all expectations and will be targeted for extra help; “meets grade level”; and “masters grade level.”

And a “Lexile score”, which determines the kinds of reading material a student would be assigned. The problem is that in some cases the two scores are in conflict with each other with the Lexile score giving the student an effectively higher score than the one used to determine the mastery of the individual student and the performance of the school.

The article does a good job of framing this battle, and a decent job of explaining the test scores, but it does a poor job of pointing out that ANY conversion of a raw score to a “grade level” score or a “mastery” score is a statistical artifact. The dilemma is that “grade level” itself is an artifact: it’s based on the wholly false premise that all children learn at the same rate and that batching children by age cohorts is the most efficient and effective means of delivering instruction and measuring student performance based on this premise is a valid means of determining the effectiveness of a school.

Maybe an article in a widely read newspaper is not the place to present this reality… but by accepting this wholly artificial construct for organizing schools and the statistical artifact called “grade level” that results from the adoption of this construct the NYTimes implicitly supports the rating systems that buttress the test-and-punish “reform movement” and the high-stakes testing that is used to sort and select students.

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I Hate the Idea of Public Employee Strikes… But… They ARE Working AND They Might be Showing the Way for Others

March 4, 2019 Comments off

For the past decade or so, no profession has been as demeaned as public education. Instead of facing the fact that schools and social service and public health agencies are woefully underfunded and the fact that the safety net for families has been shredded, school reformers and politicians blame “failing schools” on bad teachers and poor parenting. In doing so they have turned parents and taxpayers against public— make the “government”— schools making it increasingly difficult for public education to get out of the death spiral it’s been put into.

But thanks to persistent work by public school advocates like Diane Ravitch, Jeff Bryant, and a host of progressive politicians and writers the public is beginning to understand that the public schools aren’t “failing” because teachers are failing, they are “failing” based on meaningless data gathered from irrelevant and time consuming standardized tests that are making schools joyless places to learn. And now, after over a decade of stagnant pay and nearly two decades of test-driven instruction, teachers are coalescing around these issues AND the issue of privatization and getting some favorable attention and favorable results. As Axios writer Khorri Atkinson reports, there is no end in sight for the nationwide wave of teacher strikes because the teachers’ calls for “…smaller class sizes, fewer annual standardized tests, and opposition to the expansion of private-school voucher programs and charter schools” resonate with parents. Like the teachers, parents are tired of overcrowded classrooms, the mind-numbing test-driven curricula in many schools, and the closure of neighborhood schools to effectively push students into private for-profit schools located far from their homes and not necessarily with the playmates their children grew up with. And they are also tired of seeing teachers come and go from the schools in their communities and in many cases not seeing their children’s teachers in the community because the teachers cannot afford to live there.

Maybe… just maybe… the tide is turning and the respect for teachers will return and with it a chance to restore public education to its rightful place as a hallowed institution in our country.

Betsy DeVos’ Advocacy for Vocational Focus Leads Me to Think: MAYBE We Need to Restore Public Education’s ORIGINAL Mission

February 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent New Republic article about Betsy DeVos’ misunderstanding of the history of public schools written by Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, got me thinking that maybe we should restore the original mission of public education. In the article, titled “Betsy DeVos Is Fabricating History to Sell a Bad Education Policy“, Mr. Schneider asserts that Ms. DeVos is either unknowingly or intentionally misrepresenting the true history of education to satisfy her intent to narrow its mission to vocational training. He writes: 

Over the past several years, DeVos…  has argued, (that schools) were modeled after factories, and “students were trained for the assembly line.” But as the economy shifted over time, schools failed to keep pace. As she has repeatedly insisted, schools remain “stuck in a mode” from 100 years ago.

The solution, then, is seemingly quite simple. Schools need to be overhauled so that they focus on preparing young people for the jobs of the future. According to DeVos, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

But as Mr. Schneider accurately notes, the factory school was a construct that emerged in response to Taylorism that swept the nation at the turn of the 20th Century, a construct that altered the original purpose of public education. And what was that purpose?

As historian Ethan Hutt told me, “Early advocates of public education were generally unconcerned with what we would think of as workplace training. Their priorities were social and political in nature.”

State constitutions enshrined public education as a right in the nineteenth century, yet they hardly mention vocational instruction. The most common educational aim described in these documents is the “general diffusion of knowledge” for the “preservation of rights and liberties.” Many of these constitutions go so far as to confirm the value of education for its own sake. Tennessee’s, for instance, “recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support.” Montana’s states that public schools should “develop the educational potential of each person.” And the Illinois constitution supports “the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” Only six states make any mention of training for work.

So the progressive ideals of John Dewey are enshrined in laws and constitutions written well before his time while the ideals of efficiency and training advocated by the Robber Barons are embodied in today’s schools. And Ms. DeVos wants to focus more on the training and less on learning for learning’s sake. Based on historic precedent, Mr. Schneider doubts that this change is focus will occur:

Jobs certainly matter, and the future labor productivity of today’s students will impact the entire economy. Yet even if schools could be reoriented to focus effectively on job training, the result would hardly be an unqualified good. Any shift in the present orientation of schools will come at the expense of school activities organized around the preservation of rights and liberties, as well as the inherent value of education. By and large, Americans of the past were unwilling to make that trade-off. If they’re aware of what’s happening, Americans of the present may be no different.

I share Mr. Schnieder’s broad optimism… but fear that too many of the recent graduates of public education never experienced “education for the sake of education”; they only experienced “education for the sake of passing tests” and, consequently, are comfortable with the notion that “test scores” are a proxy for “merit” and, consequently, are the desired end of education.

Advice to a Parent Concerned about their Child’s Test Score

February 16, 2019 Comments off

My older daughter has a colleague who wants to talk to me about a concern she has concerning her daughter who makes the Honor Roll but struggles on standardized tests. I haven’t had a chance to talk with the parent yet, but the question gave me a chance to reduce my thinking about testing to writing… and this is what I came up with in “blog form” (as opposed to a polished op ed piece):

It is a shame that your daughter feels diminished because she does not do well on standardized tests, because they do not begin to measure what is most important. An aphorism that applies here is this: everything that can be measured is not important and everything that is important cannot be measured. Here are some important items that standardized tests do NOT determine:
  • Does your daughter enjoy learning for learning’s sake? Does she read on her own and avidly pursue things that interest her?
  • Does your daughter relate well to others… classmates and adults alike? 
  • Is your daughter engaged in the life of the school or the community (i.e. athletics, clubs, music, drama, church, etc.)
  • Does your daughter enjoy school in general? 
My hunch is that if your daughter is on the Honor Roll you can probably answer yes to all of these… and if that is the case… who cares about a test score? I am confident that she will get into college and, once there, will find a path that guarantees she will be learning for learning sake, be associated with like-minded people whose passion will energize her, and will fully engage her in the life of the school she attends and the community where she lives…. and most importantly, she’ll enjoy herself. 
BTW, once I was accepted into college and grad school, no one cared what my SAT or GRE scores were… they only cared about the quality of the work I submitted in my classes and my job performance… and once I found a college major and a career that interested me I had no problem finding my way in the world. I’m not sure how “finding my way in the world” is measured… but I don’t think it can be reduced to a number and I wouldn’t want the Educational Testing Service to design a standardized test for it.