The Use of Data Walls In Classrooms

An example of a data wall.

Data walls are an education trend implemented in some classrooms. The idea is that it would motivate students by providing them with a sense of their progress on assessments and where they stand in comparison to their classmates. Their identity is hidden, but teachers provide students a code so they can see their score and the unidentified scores of their classmates. Sometimes data walls are not displayed where students and parents can see (like in a teachers’ lounge), but in some cases they are.

EdSurge has a story that says data walls may cause more harm than good. You think?

Tina Nazerian, reporting for EdSurge, writes:

One such critic is Launa Hall. Back when she was a third grade teacher at a school in Virginia, Hall put up a data wall in her classroom. But the data wall, which tracked students’ scores on state standards, didn’t stay up for long. 

Hall, who chronicled her experience for the Washington Post back in 2016, wrote that the first morning after she put up the data wall, one of her students had a negative reaction. She “lowered her gaze to the floor and shuffled to her chair” after she saw where she was placed on the math achievement chart, she wrote. Since then, Hall has come to believe that the “public marking of where people are” is ineffective. 

“It doesn’t give them the actual tools to fix the problem,” she says. 

And what’s more, she doesn’t think public displays of their data tells students anything they don’t already know about their performance. Instead, she says data walls emphasize the wrong thing.

There are some kids that I am sure are motivated by this like those who do well. For those students who are struggling the data wall becomes a wall of shame. What a lame-brained idea, not to mention it would not be that hard for students to figure out whose scores belong to whose.

Read the full article.

New York City Mayor: Scrap the Specialized High School Placement Assessment

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote an op/ed for Chalkbeat over the weekend that called for changes in how New York City Schools assesses middle school students for placement in their eight advanced placement high schools. He said the high-stakes placement assessment that is used has disproportionately kept black and Latino students from being placed in those high schools and it needs to be scrapped.

He wrote:

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

He said New York City Schools would start to open more spaces in these high schools for economically disadvantaged students and minority students who missed the cut-off.

Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

He said he was going to work with the New York Legislature to replace the assessment with a different placement process:

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

Read his entire op/ed.

A True Abuse of Opt-Out Rights

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Do you know what is truly abusing a parent’s right to opt their children out of assessments? It has nothing to do with what the parent does. What’s abusive is when a school selectively chooses students they think will fail and then tell those parents about their opt-out rights.

That is exactly what happened in Alexandria, VA as reported by The Washington Post:

As schools were busy readying students for state exams, teachers at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, a high-poverty school in Alexandria, were poring over data to determine which students would probably not do well on the tests.

But according to a school district investigation, the effort wasn’t aimed at giving those students extra help. Instead, Principal Brandon Davis allegedly told teachers this spring to call the parents of students who appeared on the brink of failing the exams to inform them of their right to opt out of the tests, according to the investigation. Three dozen parents decided to pull their children from the state Standards of Learning exams; no parents at the school had done so the previous year.

The move, which meant those students’ scores would not be considered for state accreditation purposes, probably artificially inflated the school’s overall performance and masked the fact that some students were not performing up to standards. It also means the data used to evaluate the school is potentially flawed and presents evidence that a new Virginia law allowing students to opt out of tests without it affecting a school’s rating could compromise the ability to assess schools.

Shameful. What’s ironic if the school’s principal taken the time to inform all parents about their right to opt-out he may have gotten the results he was hoping for.

All parents and students have the right to opt-out, not just the ones who will help boost a school’s scores by missing. This principal’s concern was not about his students who struggle with standardized assessments. His actions were not taken in order to take on a high stakes testing culture. No, he did what he did simply to pad his numbers.

Democrat Platform Avoids Common Core, Supports Opt-Outs

Photo credit: Democratic National Committee

Photo credit: Democratic National Committee

The Democrat Party released its final draft of the 2016 party platform that will be voted on at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia. The platform makes no mention of the Common Core State Standards, but does address standardized assessments and parental opt-outs.

Here is the pertinent language:

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must be reliable and valid. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

Unfortunately the party also doesn’t say anything about student data privacy and call for the elimination of a federal mandate for testing so they do not go far enough. Also Democrats want to expand federal involvement in education through universal preschool and the expansion of Title I funds. While there is something praiseworthy in the Democrat’s education platform it also represents a missed opportunity.

You can read the entire Democrat platform on education here on pages 32-34.

Alaskan Parents Opting Kids Out of Assessments Are Not a Threat

Alaska State Flag by Ed Keith (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo credit: Ed Keith (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

The Alaska State Department of Education and Early Development prepared a packet for the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development’s meeting held this week in Juneau. Included in the packet were notes from a power point presentation. Whoever was doing the presenting would point to the results of a SWOT session that was held. SWOT is a strategic planning method that allows a group to consider their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

This is a process I have taken groups through as a moderator in several non-profit organizations, and have also participated as a participant in numerous sessions. In this case I’m not sure what group completed the process – whether it was their advisory council, the state board of education or a group of bureaucrats within the Department.

Notice what they list as the top “key threat.” – “Parents can opt out of testing and schools will bear the brunt of that decision without change to AK law.” Twenty people in their group saw that as a “threat.”

Screenshot 2016-03-21 14.56.05

This document and the group involved in doing the SWOT are completely tone deaf.

Alaskan parents are not the threat. They are the ones who are the chief stakeholder in their child’s education. If they want to list a “threat” then instead of complaining about parents opting-out they should complain about the federal testing threshold that puts this burden on them to begin with.

HT: Alaskans Against the Common Core

Education Researchers: No Compelling Evidence Common Core Will Improve Education

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post reported that over 100 education researchers in California are calling for the end of high-states testing and claim that there is no “compelling evidence” that the Common Core State Standards will improve education for the state’s K-12 students in a research brief released in February.

The California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education is, according to their website, “a statewide collaborative of university-based education researchers that aims to speak as educational researchers, collectively and publicly, and in solidarity with organizations and communities, to reframe the debate on education.”

In their brief they state, “Overall, there is not a compelling body of research supporting the notion that a nationwide set of curriculum standards, including those like the CCSS, will either raise the quality of education for all children or close the gap between different groups of children. Therefore attaching high-stakes testing to the CCSS cannot be the solution for improving student learning. “

“Yet, with the CCSS comes even more testing than before, and based on those test scores, any number of high-stakes decisions may follow, all of which are decisions using scientifically discredited methods, namely, the use of value-added modeling that purport to attribute gains in test scores to such factors,” they warn.

The group states that independent examiners found that the Common Core assessment systems “lack validity, reliability, and fairness.”

They call for a halt on all high stakes testing.

…we support the public call for a moratorium on high-stakes testing broadly, and in particular, on the use of scientifically discredited assessment instruments (like the current SBAC, PARCC, and Pearson instruments) and on faulty methods of analysis (like value-added modeling of test scores for high-stakes decision making). Instead, our schools require more robust instruments and the use of assessments in ways that are formative and that aim for improvement of systems, not merely individuals.

You can read the entire research brief below:

Take Heart and Keep Fighting

Photo credit: Ian McWilliams (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Ian McWilliams (CC-By-2.0)

I read a quote from President Abraham Lincoln today that I think we can apply to our current situation fighting for sound education policy.  He said, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Some of us feel discouraged about the House approving H.R. 5, the Student Success Act last week, and the U.S. Senate yesterday passing S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act.  We need to “have faith that right makes might.” Our message is going out.  It is resonating.  Even if the votes didn’t go our way we are still making a difference in the national conversation. We are forcing our leadership, candidates, etc. to discuss federalism as applied to education.

Our opposition to Common Core was cited numerous times, that is something we didn’t see even two years ago.  Notice also that three of the four presidential candidates in the U.S. Senate (U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) voted “no” on S.1177.  U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) didn’t vote at all.  We are making a difference, politicians are feeling the pressure we are bringing to bear as grassroots

So we need “to the end, dare to do our duty.”

Take heart.  Even this fight over No Child Left Behind is not finished.  The U.S. House and the U.S. Senate agreeing on a conference report reconciling their two bills is not certain.  President Obama may not yet sign any reauthorization.

If the bill does become law we will have to hold our elected officials accountable to what they promised us – greater local and state control.  If that does not happen we must hang them with their talking points.

Also, as far as the fight against Common Core is concerned, nothing has changed.  The battle has always been at the state level.  We need to continue to fight, but now we can not let legislators use the excuse of waivers or grants to do nothing (provided this bill passes).  We’ll also continue to encourage and support opting out of assessments as it is a parent’s natural right to decide that for their children.

Take heart, you are making a difference.  Let’s take a collective breath, put some dirt on it, get back up and get back into the fight. Our kids are too important for us to drop out.

Massachusetts Teachers’ Union Passes Anti-PARCC Resolution

massachusetts-state-flagAFT-Massachusetts delegates passed the following resolution at their convention on May 2nd that was published yesterday on the union’s website:

WHEREAS: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam system is scheduled for review and a future implementation decision in the fall of 2015 regarding its use as a statewide assessment; and
The very data that is part of this review process is unclear or not fully known to at least the public whose children would be subject to PARCC exams if implemented; and

WHEREAS: Actual complete PARCC exams or discussions of those exams are not accessible to the public and teachers; and

WHEREAS: The PARCC exams, thus, can neither be assessed by the public and all educators for their fidelity to the state curriculum frameworks in the first place nor for their appropriateness as valid assessments to measure student performance; and

WHEREAS: Student performance on PARCC exams may influence students’ academic transcripts that impact their futures; and
Student performance on state assessments is or will be a component in teacher evaluations; and

WHEREAS: The implementation of PARCC exams requires massive infrastructure expenditures in technology with no financial plan to support these costs in an era in which school budgets are strained with accelerated, decreasing state aid; and
Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ Chair of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), is also the National Chair of the PARCC Governing Board, which is a significant conflict of interest that calls into question the integrity of PARCC use in Massachusetts; and

WHEREAS: The implementation of PARCC exams takes away from teaching time; and

WHEREAS: Massachusetts’ students are already sufficiently assessed by state mechanisms and, collectively, excel on related exams internationally,

WHEREAS: The delegates to the 47th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts assembled here in Burlington strongly oppose the implementation of PARCC, be it therefore:

RESOLVED: That the AFT Massachusetts president send the result of this vote to the president of every local and every central labor council, and be it further:

RESOLVED: That a committee of the AFT Massachusetts be formed to bring locals together to organize against high stakes testing; and be it further:

RESOLVED: That the president of every local affiliated with the AFT Massachusetts will encourage the department heads to refrain from recommending ordering text books or teacher supplies or material from Pearsons Corporation; and be it further:

RESOLVED: That the president of every local affiliated with the AFT Massachusetts communicate the results of this vote to the superintendents and school committees in their districts and urge them to adopt the same position.

ADOPTED May 2, 2015.

(Video) New Yorker Performs “Opting Out” Parody of Billy Joel Song

I missed this little gem that was posted on YouTube last month and has over 91,000 views so far.  “Bald Piano Guy” has several parodies like this.

Here is “Opting Out (Cuomo’s Song).”  Enjoy!

His latest offering on YouTube is “Hypocritical.”  One thing is certain, this guy is a talented piano player.

New Jersey Education Association Runs Anti-PARCC Ads

The New Jersey Education Association launched a six week television and online advertising campaign targeting PARCC.  At the end of each 30 second video viewers are encouraged to go to NJKidsandFamilies.org.  These are pretty powerful videos.  A move to delay PARCC’s impact on student progress and teacher evaluations is already underway in the New Jersey Legislature.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

With the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) about to be presented to students in grades three through 11 starting March 1, the ads criticize standardized tests as causing stress in children, narrowing education, and taking time and resources from other subjects and programs.

“Parents are fed up, and they’re ready to speak up,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). “This ad campaign gives parents and teachers a voice in a debate that’s been dominated for too long by people with no connection to what’s really happening in classrooms today.”

At the end of the 30-second ads, viewers are invited to visit njkidsandfamilies.org, a website created by the NJEA. It contains information about standardized tests and allows viewers to sample PARCC questions and to download anti-PARCC material.

With parent push-back and the state’s largest teachers union running ads against PARCC it’s future in the state is very much in doubt.

You can watch the ads below.