Ed Reformers Turn Against Testing, But For the Wrong Reason

Photo Credit: J. Sanna (CC-By-2.0)

Chalkbeat reports that education reformers turned against standardized testing, but not for the reason you and I are against standardized testing. 

They say standardized testing goes against personalized learning.

I say both are dateless examples of education reform that have turned K-12 education on its head with nothing to show for it.

Matt Barnum for Chalkbeat writes:

Those comments reflected the prevailing mood at the event, where testing was criticized for being at odds with the increasingly popular “personalized learning” models that allow students to progress through material at their own pace. Others, including Ferebee, complained that in their states, testing regimens have changed too frequently to be useful.

Such rumblings of discontent with testing are not entirely new among the education reform crowd. Free-market-oriented advocates like Betsy DeVos, for example, have downplayed test scores, suggesting the more important issue is whether parents are satisfied with a given school.

But the pervasiveness of the complaints about testing was striking, given that many education reform advocates have long championed using test scores to measure schools and teachers and then push them to improve.

It would be great to see they are wisening up to the foolishness of the testing and accountability method of education reform, but, unfortunately, they are jumping to another top-down education reform which is just as foolish since it’s the shiny new thing in the education reform universe.

Florida Teacher Who Resigned: “Children Are Not Data Points”

Photo source: PureParents.org

The Orlando Sentinel reported about a teacher’s resignation letter that went viral after she shared it with friends over the summer. 

Leslie Postal writes:

Maren Hicks often jokes that she was “Leo the Late Bloomer,” coming to a teaching career six years out of college. But once in the classroom, she found her passion and fell hard for education’s “noble aims.”

In June, however, Hicks left her teaching job at an Orange County public school after penning a two-page resignation letter that warned “our village is on fire.”

In her letter, Hicks, 36, said she was one of many fed up Orange teachers and urged school district leaders to heed their concerns about standardized testing, burdensome record-keeping and policies that lose sight of the children in their care.

“Children are not data points. Teachers are not cattle herders,” wrote Hicks, who taught at Arbor Ridge K-8 School in east Orange. “Yet, the district maintains an incessant and desperate need to pigeon hole education and goat herd bewildered students through an algorithm of disappointment and forced uniformity.”

Read the rest

University of Chicago Joins Growing List of Colleges Not Requiring ACT or SAT

University of Chicago Main Quad
Photo Credit: Ndshankar via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 4.0)

The University of Chicago joins a growing list of colleges that will no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores as an admission requirement.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A growing number, including DePaul University, have opted to stop requiring the SAT and ACT in their admissions process, saying the tests place an unfair cost and burden on low-income and minority students, and ultimately hinder efforts to broaden diversity on campus. But the trend has escaped the nation’s most selective universities.

Until now. The University of Chicago announced Thursday that it would no longer require applicants for the undergraduate college to submit standardized test scores.

While it will still allow applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores, university officials said they would let prospective undergraduates send transcripts on their own and submit video introductions and nontraditional materials to supplement their applications.

“We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at U. of C. “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you. We wanted to really take a look at all our requirements and make sure they were fair to every group, that everybody, anybody could aspire to a place like UChicago.”

Read the rest.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing states that there are over 1000 schools across the nation that do not require ACT or SAT for admissions. They report that half of the U.S. News “Top 100” liberal arts colleges are on their list of test-optional schools. So are a majority of all colleges and universities in New England and more than 50 percent in such states as Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“Studies show that an applicant’s high school record – grades plus course rigor – predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam. By going test-optional, colleges increase diversity without any loss in academic quality. Eliminating testing requirements is a ‘win-win’ for both students and schools,” Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, stated back in January when their list first topped 1000 schools.

“College and university leaders are sending a clear message,” Schaeffer added. “Test scores are not needed to make sound educational decisions. It’s time for K-12 policy makers to pay attention and back off their testing obsession for public schools.”

Teacher Shortages Become More Acute

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post writes about the teacher shortages every state is facing this school year, a problem that has become acute in recent years.

An excerpt:

Teacher shortages are nothing new — most states have reported some since data started being kept more than 25 years ago — but the problem has grown more acute in recent years as the profession has been hit with low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.

According to a 2016 report by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, teacher education enrollment dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35 percent reduction, between 2009 and 2014, the latest year for which there is data. And there are high levels of attrition, with nearly 8 percent of the teaching workforce leaving every year, the majority before retirement age.

She lists the five key factors that the Learning Policy Institute cited in their report:

The Learning Policy Institute report found five key factors that influence whether a teacher decides to enter, remain in or leave the profession: salaries and other compensation; preparation and costs to entry; hiring and personnel management; induction and support for new teachers; and working conditions, including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning.

Read her whole article here.

Like Strauss said this has been a problem for years, but it has become worse over the years. I can’t help notice the spike between 2009 through 2014. What was introduced? What changed?

While there isn’t empirical evidence to point to this as the cause I believe Common Core along with the accompanying assessments has been a factor. The Learning Policy Institute cites working conditions – I have heard from numerous teachers they no longer feel like they are in control of their classrooms. Also linking teacher evaluations to assessments impacts morale among teachers.

We’ve seen the 2014 teacher of the year call it quits over Common Core. Elementary school teachers have struggled with Common Core math. Another teacher in Colorado is just another example of teachers who have left the profession over Common Core.

We have no idea how many have decided they do not want to enter the profession because of top-down education reforms. I’m sure it isn’t an insignificant issue.

Killing Curiosity

I wanted to draw your attention to an interesting article written by Scott Barry Kaufman this week for The Atlantic. He notes that curiosity is a unique marker of academic success underemphasized in the classroom.

He writes:

The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events.” In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.

Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, The Hungry Mind, amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place. As she notes, teachers rarely encourage curiosity in the classroom—even though we are all born with an abundance of curiosity, and this innate drive for exploration could be built upon in all students.

Curiously (pun intended), curiosity is also virtually absent from the field of gifted-and-talented education. A recent survey of required identification methods across all states found that only three considered motivation a part of giftedness. IQ, on the other hand, is required by 45 states, while 39 require standardized tests of achievement.

Emphasis mine. One-size-fits, top-down reforms are curiosity killers.

Frankly, this is something that parents need to foster at an early age, but teachers can help as well. Kaufman continues:

Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions, and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgment-day-style testing.

But these experiences happen outside of the classroom as well. The Gottfrieds investigated the role parents play in fostering in their children an affinity for science by exposing them to new experiences that make them curious, for example, like taking them to museums.

Those who promote social-emotional learning may say this is something they are trying to foster. I disagree. Teachers can’t teach it. They certainly can’t grade it. They also shouldn’t test on it. They can, however, not kill it.

Killing curiosity is exactly what Common Core and the standardized testing scheme does.

Another Example of “Flexibility” Under the Every Student Succeeds Act

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

Politico’s Morning Education reports that the U.S. Department of Education will publish finalized standardized test rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

One of those rules is that states have to cap those who can use alternative tests at one percent of students in their state.

They write:

ESSA has a 1 percent cap on the number of students that states can test with alternate exams, which is typically reserved for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. States can request a waiver of that cap, but state and local education officials thought language proposed by the Education Department earlier this year would make it really burdensome for states to ask for and receive a waiver. In asking for a waiver, the draft rule said states must pay attention to school districts exceeding the 1 percent cap and school districts that “significantly contribute” to the state exceeding the cap — for example, districts that tested .9 percent of students on alternate tests. But now, the Education Department has taken a step back and just wants states to focus on districts that exceeded the cap.

The rules have also created a pilot program where up to seven states can experiment with “new and innovative tests.”

The pilot will allow states to experiment with new test formats, like competency-based tests, in which students might show they’ve mastered certain skills by applying them to a task or project they’d face in the real world. The Education Department wants states to experiment with these kinds of tests as long as they produce some kind of annual, grade-level score or evaluation for each student. States would have to prove that the results of the innovative tests are comparable to traditional state tests if they want to eventually take their pilot statewide. In the final regulation, the Education Department also stresses that test results should be comparable across districts participating in the pilot.

Yes, please tell me how ESSA returns control back to the states… what a crock.

The Education Legacy Obama Is Not Talking About

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post before the weekend reported on a speech that President Barack Obama gave at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC noting that the President did not really put a spotlight on his actual education legacy.

He did not mention by name the Common Core State Standards initiative, another big priority for the administration during Duncan’s seven-year tenure running the Education Department, during which he wielded more power than any previous education secretary while also attracting more opposition than his predecessors.

Adopting common standards was also on Race to the Top’s list of preferred reforms Duncan sought from applying states, and the administration spent some $360 million for two multi-state consortia to develop new Core-related standardized tests. Duncan himself promised that the new tests would be “an absolute game-changer” in public education.

It didn’t work out that way. The tests were nowhere as sophisticated as originally promoted. The rush to get them into schools led to computer troubles in some states, some of them severe. One of the tests, known as PARCC, was abandoned by most of the states that had agreed to use it, and the overall idea behind the standards and aligned testing — that test results would be comparable across states — has not been accomplished.

The Education Department’s ties to the Gates Foundation, which funded the creation and implementation of the Core, also sparked criticism that the administration was too close to wealthy philanthropists who were intent on driving their own personal vision of school reform.

He also isn’t talking about his feeding education reformer’s standardized testing obsession.

The administration’s obsession with standardized tests led to a rebellion by parents, students, teachers, principals and even superintendents. Many spoke out against testing policies — and many parents refused to allow their students to take exams mandated by states for federal accountability purposes. In New York, with the most active movement, 22 percent of students “opted out” of at least one test, and opt-outs were reported in numerous other states. It was only after the “opt out” movement began to grow that the administration conceded that kids were being tested too much.

The New York State commissioner of education who pushed the test-based teacher accountability system — which has been crashing and burning for years — was John King Jr., who left the job early after 3 1/2 years, essentially getting a public shove by Gov. Andrew Cuomo not only for the teacher evaluation fiasco but for a botched implementation of Common Core. The reason this is worth mentioning is that King — who has an inspirational personal story — is now Obama’s second education secretary.

Read the whole thing.

He Sued The School System (Video)

This spoken word video by Prince Ea highlights problems with the public school system in particular it’s one-size fits all approach.

Watch below:

I don’t agree with everything he says here. I think the argument about teacher’s pay falls flat, sorry, it just does. I worked in a non-profit for 20 years and would have loved to have the salary and benefits many teachers had while only working 10 months a year. Now in the early to mid 20th century I think you could make that argument, but not today in most school districts.

My two cents.

I’m also leery about promoting online education which he seems to be doing. As a supplement it’s a good tool, but I’m not a fan of it being the primary source for education. Not that the quality is necessarily bad, but because kids already are in front of a screen a lot.

In terms of school being one-size-fits all, and his comments about Common Core and standardized testing. Spot on.

HT: Andrea Dillon

South Carolina Special Ed Teacher Punished for Protecting Students

Tracie Happel was a special education teacher in the Oconee County School District in South Carolina until she protested her students having to take a standardized test by sending a letter to school administrators. She was placed on administrative leave, and still has not heard the outcome of her school district’s investigation.  This news first broke in April, check out EAGNews.org’s articles here and here. Last week she recorded a video sharing her story for U.S. Parents Involved in Education.

We need more teachers like Tracie, not less.

PARCC Quashes Discussion of Assessment

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

How do we know if the assessment our kids take is bad if we can’t talk about it?
Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Some teachers wanted to make a point that PARCC was developmentally inappropriate for their students. In order to do that they had to give some examples from the assessment, but PARCC wasn’t about to let that happen.

USA Today reports:

A long-simmering dissatisfaction over standardized testing came to a head this month when an academic uploaded a handful of test items to the Internet and promptly got a note from the test’s creator, threatening legal action if she didn’t take down the items — and name her source.

The academic, Celia Oyler of Columbia University’s Teachers College, took down the items, which she said came to her anonymously. But the episode is irking educators and other observers who already believe that the powerful forces behind the tests are hijacking not just the educations of millions of children but, in this case, teachers’ rights to free speech. They note, for instance, that tweets about the episode have been taken down at the test publisher’s request.

The controversy began nearly two weeks ago, when Oyler posted a lengthy essay by an anonymous teacher who set out to show that the fourth-grade reading test designed by the non-profit Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is “developmentally inappropriate” for the children taking it this spring in a handful of states. The blog post included details from three test items.

Five days later, after other bloggers had shared the post, Oyler got an e-mail from PARCC CEO Laura Slover, who respectfully asked her to remove the items. They were protected by copyright, she said, and were “live” test questions, still being used in schools. The postings, Slover said, “threaten the utility of the assessments, both as their administration is completed over the next few weeks and in versions of the assessment to be administered in the future.”

She said the anonymous teacher, who’d admitted in the essay that he or she had “breached a written undertaking not to reveal any of the material,” was clearly avoiding personal responsibility by remaining anonymous. Slover said PARCC would waive any damage claims if Oyler would take down the items and “turn over to us any information you may have about the teacher.”

Gotta love the transparency. While I understand that they can’t have the entire test floating out on the internet, it is impossible for parents and policy makers who are outside the loop to evaluate the assessment. It is also impossible to be able to explain why the assessment is bad if you can’t talk about it.

Who does that help? Certainly not the kids taking the test.