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Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

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.  
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College Board’s Two Key AP Courses COULD Put Democracy on the Right Track

February 13, 2019 Comments off

As readers of this blog may hove noted, I often disagree with NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably supports neoliberal ideas about “school reform” and often reinforces the ideas set forth by Anand Giridharadas’ MarketWorld proponents. But I found myself nodding in agreement with his column today that supported the College Board’s assertion that two AP courses are needed to set a better course for democracy: Coding and the US Constitution.

The coding course focuses not on a specific computer language. Instead it focussed on the self-actualization that is possible when one learns how to DEVELOP uses for the computer as opposed having the computer dictate uses to students. Here’s the pitch the College Board used to attract a larger and more diverse enrollment in AP Computer Science:

What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, (College Board President David) Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

Both Mr. Friedman and College Board President David Coleman view the AP US Constitution course s being essential for future success. Why?

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said (Stefanie) Sanford, (the College Board chief of global policy), who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

I completely agree with Mr. Friedman’s thinking about the essential need for informed citizens of the future to have a deep and fundamental understanding of both coding AND the constitution. In tandem they offer an opportunity to develop both convergent and divergent thinking and, most importantly, provide the skill sets students need to function in a democracy.

And while I generally oppose high stakes tests, I DO think that requiring all students to pass two AP tests like these would improve the pool of voters substantially. So here’s the question: which state will sign on first to make this happen?

Oregon Legislators Mull “Too Young to Test” Legislation… But Luddite Parents Across the Country COULD Undercut Effectiveness of Tests Altogether

January 28, 2019 Comments off

Some Oregon legislators have had enough high stakes testing… and to ensure that it does not spread any further than it already has they’ve introduced a “Too Young to Test” bill that will forbid the use of standardized tests in the early grades. But there may be a way to end all testing according to a Eugene Weekly Op Ed piece by Roscoe Caron and Larry Lewin, retired Eugene School District middle school teachers, and Pat and Jan Eck, retired elementary educators.

Oregonians have an opportunity to change things in a good way. We have the chance to say “No” to the developmentally inappropriate and harmful practice of testing-sorting-tracking little children.

We can say “No” to the drive to minimize their other important qualities, such as creativity, divergent thinking and problem-solving.

One way to change things is for all of us to tell our legislators to support the “Too Young to Test” bill (HB 2318) that has been introduced by Rep. John Lively (D- Springfield). It would prohibit the state government and local districts from standardized testing children from pre-kindergarten through grade 2.

It is modeled on legislation in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. It would allow teachers to make their own professional decisions about which assessments to administer.

The second way is for parents to “Just Say No” to every form of standardized testing that they can.

This is where the ultimate power is: If parents say “no more” — by opting their children out — the testing juggernaut will begin to collapse. We could then join much of the rest of the world in giving a few well-constructed, classroom-based assessments, and save our kids from harm, save our teachers and principals from dispirited burnout and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

It struck me as I read the second option— a complete bail out of testing— that parents who opt out of standardized tests are the modern day version of the Luddites. Here’s a description of the Luddite movement from Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization of English textile workers in the 19th century, where a radical faction destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.

I see a clear analogy between the opposition to standardized testing and the opposition to textile machinery. Luddites did not oppose “technology”, they opposed the erosion of skills that accompanied the spread of technology. Wikipedia continues:

Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.

The standardized testing “machinery” undercuts the “standard labor practices” of teacher-craftsmen in the same way that textile machinery was a means of undercutting the “standard labor practices” of making stockings by hand… and the use of machine scored standardized tests as a substitute for the hand-crafted tests of teachers IS letting the craft of teaching go to waste.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to note that the Luddite movement was grassroots, emerging over time as a result of economic hardships:

The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers.[20] The movement began in Arnold, Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years.[21][22] Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery. Textile workers destroyed industrial equipment during the late 18th century,[20] prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.

We haven’t gotten to the point of having organizations burn boxes of standardized test scoring sheets or vandalizing the various computer centers where high-stakes tests are scored. But in many respects, the recent decision of the Regents to punish schools where parents opt out of tests is analogous to the Protection of Stocking Frames Act of 1788.

History has not been kind to Luddites. Their movement ended badly as profiteers eventually replaced hand crafted stockings with those made by machine and the craft of stocking making has gone to waste. But more and more people are coming to the conclusion that machinery of all kinds reduces the humanity of all… and that awareness is at the root of the movement to address climate change. MAYBE the teachers, parents, and grandparents who oppose the displacement of teacher judgment by standardized tests can join with workers whose work has been displaced by technology and develop a vision for a different kind of economy.

 

Focus on Test Scores Demoralizes Committed Parents in NYC Public Schools

January 27, 2019 Comments off

Late Friday I received a plaintive email from my younger daughter in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn about the travails at her son’s elementary school at roughly the same time as Diane Ravitch uploaded a post about a NYC Principal who was wrote a letter of protest about the ratings of their school. Ms. Ravitch’s post was one of several she has written about the Regent’s misguided rating system that is based almost entirely on test results, a post that echoed points I’ve made repeatedly for several years in my career and on scores of blog posts since I retired seven years ago. My daughter’s email, though, put a human face on the issue of test-based ranking.

In the email she described a recent PTA meeting where the Principal explained why the school was branded as “failing”. She explained how parents’ decisions to withhold children from the testing on the principle that the test-and-punish policy is misguided can result in the entire school being deemed a “failure” and consequently closed. Here’s the way my daughter put it:

There was a big meeting yesterday at our school to explain why we look bad to the state–basically they only look at testing results, and if students don’t take the test, they get a zero and all those zeros are averaged in.

There was also some thing where they don’t count English language learners unless you have 30 or more students designated as such and we have 29….which was really disappointing for the principal because her English language learners are doing really well.

She included a link to a Daily News article that she felt did a good job of explaining the situation before concluding with this:

What is really worrying everyone is that this will keep parents from attending our school and we’re already losing so many local parents to charters and private schools. And it’s just demoralizing in general–for parents and teachers.

Her son is in first grade and loves school and my daughter believes the teachers and administrators do an exceptional job of working with all the children in the school, getting to know them personally and tailoring their teaching to meet each child where they are. The school serves a section of Red Hook that is gentrifying and a section of the housing projects and neighborhoods that border the projects. It is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and economically diverse. It has everything a parent would want from a public school: a good arts program; after school programs that serve the varied interests of the diverse student body; a bi-lingual program for a cohort of children at the school; knowledgeable and caring teachers; and a core of parents who want to see the school serve every child. But because the State assigns zeros to those students who miss the tests, fail to factor in ELL scores for want of a single student, and heavily weight test scores in the ranking algorithm, her school… the school my grandson looks forward to attending every day… is a failure. And “it’s just demoralizing in general”.

It’s time for the Regents to stop relying on spreadsheets full of data and start listening to parents like my daughter and teachers and administrators at schools like hers in Red Hook. There is a movement afoot that appears to be toppling the current status quo of testing-punishing-and-privatizing. Let’s hope that grassroots movement catches fire and gets the attention of neoliberals who are making policy for schools today.

 

NY Regents Latest Gambit to Stem Opt-Outs Will Backfire

January 15, 2019 Comments off

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.

Could Maine’s Turnaround be a Harbinger for our Nation

January 10, 2019 Comments off

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.