Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect. Especially when students at a low-performing Ohio school practice for a state test with questions virtually identical to the real test. When the new principal asked his boss how the scores could have risen so dramatically in a single year, he was fired.

Dayton Daily News columnist and blogger Scott Elliott has the practice and test questions and more on test security.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I can’t imagine being fired for asking an honest question. Testing is getting out of hand. There are a lot of teachers out there that would be doing a better job if they didn’t have to constantly focus on test preparation.

  2. Re: BettyB’s remark – What a load of absolute garbage.

    Teachers and administrators cheating, condoning cheating, and facilitating cheating (and that is precisely what this is) is WRONG, no excuses, no exceptions, no explanations. The lesson this provides for their students is quite clear to all, and is more destructive than can be undone by any number of ‘inspired’ teachers freed from the shackles of ‘teaching to the test’

    Much more to the point, one must ask WHY this was done. These weren’t deeply committed educators fighting a covert battle against the tyranny of testing, they were miscreants trying to make their numbers look better. Their actions are no different than hourly workers who have friends clock in for them or lawyers who falsify their billing records. This wasn’t done to help the students, it was done to help the teachers and administrators in their NON-educational pursuits.

    While they are an imperfect tool, tests are the ONLY effective way to measure performance that can be compared across environments with any degree of validity. I repeat, they are imperfect (reasonable people can disagree about just how imperfect), but without them, there is no way to measure performance either of the students or of the teachers. I can think of no other field of human endeavour (especially one as important as this) where we are supposed to simply take the word of the producer that the product is adequate and forgo any examinations on our own.

    Finally, lets put to rest this idiocy (and it is idiocy) that if it just wasn’t for the obsession with testing, somehow our dysfunctional education system would suddenly be graced by hosts of deeply committed creative educators who would motivate and inspire our students. No doubt there are some excellent teachers frustrated by the limits of a test-centric environment (I will concede that this may be a fairly large number), but even if we accept (which I do not) that they are handcuffed by ‘teaching to the test’, they are simply swamped by the hordes of bureaucratic time servers and drones who would escape any sort of accountability whatsoever sans testing. This mass-cheating exercise demonstrates quite clearly that the desire to be free of accountability runs deep and strong in the mess that is referred to as the teaching profession. We are supposed to trust these people?

  3. My mother always taught me to be a little bit nicer, Scott. It is difficult to truly understand a situation unless you have lived it. Have you ever taught school?

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If only clients would pay me whether my engineering achieved the desired results or not my life would be easier, too.

  5. Joanne left out an important detail, the school in question was a charter school. In fact, it was a charter school that had 0 kids passing the test last year in the 4th or 6th grades .

    In the meantime the crooks running the schools are sucking funds away from the local public schools.

  6. Ahh, just like at JennyD’s Allen is trying to steer debate away from the story.

    A charter school, the new wave of education reform, has been failing for 9 years and has resorted to cheating and firing anyone who threatens to expose them.

  7. And now for something a little more recent:

  8. First of all, in case someone thinks I’m sympathizing or condoning, I consider one of the most important things I teach my students by example is how to handle adversity, even impossible challenges, with character. Testing or no testing, I take the “role model” part of my job very seriously. Heaven knows I don’t want my students to be left only with politicians and business leaders when it comes to examples in that arena. Cheating is never excusable. Prepare for the test fairly, let your kids do the best they can. Failing when you’ve done your best is a lesson they can go forward from. Watching the adults who are supposed to be running things cheat is a lesson they’ll learn equally well, but not go forward from in the truest sense of the word.

    That being said, the agencies which try to govern whether kids are learning as a result of effective teaching rely heavily on standardized testing because it is cheap. Not because it is the best method for measurement, not because the are the only effective tool (hence the multi-part college application, right?) but because they are the cheapest tool which looks effective. The English Language Learner sub group which my school will likely “fail” because of is comprised of students who have been in the United States for 12 months – 3 years, and are expected to pass end of instruction tests at the same level as students who have grown up in the United States. There is no mandated test which shows the 2-5 years’ growth they will experience in eight months in my classroom, only a benchmark test which will show them as failing because, surprise, surprise – regardless of their effort or my teaching, they simply will not obtain 6-8 years’ of learning growth in eight months.

    Of course, if a group of public employees must be saddled with impossible challenges, I put my money on teachers. We are the Ginger Rogers, if you will, of the public servant sector (care to take us on for a little one-on-one, FEMA?) – backwards and in high heels.
    While we would prefer a system which invests the time and money to use a multi-faceted approach (how many business consultants just give employees a standardized test?), we will continue to labor under the most current one. Most good and great teacher see state and federal mandated testing as yet another hoop we’ll coach and cajole our kids to jump through so we can get down to the important part of our job … We are good enough to teach in spite of, not just to the test. Ultimately, though, we are up to this challenge, too … Illogical, ulterior motive-ridden, unfunded mandate driven, impossible challenges? Please. I work with teenagers for a living.

  9. wayne martin says:

    > Carl Robinson, who joined the charter school as
    > principal last summer, said he was fired Nov. 28
    > after he approached school Superintendent Roseda Goff
    > and began asking questions about the legitimacy
    > of the test results.

    This story does not pass the “smell test”. What is clearly missing is any mention of a “wrongful discharge suit”. If this principal just asked “why” or “how” and was fired, he’s got grounds for a great suit. However, best to wait and see if there is a probe of this situation, and what the results of the probe might be.

  10. As any good journalist, she didn’t leave out an important detail. That public school should have been closed if it failed students and values. Closed if it were a district school, closed if it were a charter school – the type of public school matters not.

    They were taking funds away from public education.

    Mike in Texas writes:
    Joanne left out an important detail, the school in question was a charter school. In fact, it was a charter school that had 0 kids passing the test last year in the 4th or 6th grades .

  11. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Ahh, just like at JennyD’s Allen is trying to steer debate away from the story.

    What steering?

    The story is of a public school in which cheating was promoted by the administration to achieve falsely what they couldn’t achieve honestly. Same as the story I linked except there were quite a few Texas schools identified and probably plenty more then that. But you’ve got to stop somewhere lest the public come to the conclusion that, when something important is at stake, public schools need to be watched lest they cheat.

    A charter school, the new wave of education reform, has been failing for 9 years and has resorted to cheating and firing anyone who threatens to expose them.

    But a district school with an identical or worse record and significantly more per-student funding is valiantly trying to do the impossible with inadequate funding and has been for a couple of decades. Why you almost lose sight of the fact that it’s the public education system and not the public employment system.

    Debbie wrote:

    Not because it is the best method for measurement, not because the are the only effective tool (hence the multi-part college application, right?) but because they are the cheapest tool which looks effective.

    You’re long on denunciation and short on alternatives. So what is it that wouldn’t be quite that cheap but which would be effective? I ought to be as objective as it’s possible to be as well as accurate and, oh yes, it ought to measure if what the public is paying for is getting done.

    You know, the funny thing is that standardized testing, and NCLB, is the best friend a good teacher has. Between the two you’ve got a reason to identify good teachers, and bad, and a reason to do so. If you really think kids ought to learn then you have to come to terms with the fact that lousy teachers have just as much job security as good ones. How’s that support the learning process?

  12. Allen,

    Good to see you haven’t lost your skill at being wrong, or trying to dodge the facts.

    It was a charter school this occured at. You know, those hotbeds of innovation and market driven forces that are going to change education? Except the school mentioned has been doing neither for 9 years now.

    I noticed how you forgot to include the follow up stories on TAKS cheating; the Texas Education Agency has severed ties with the company making the allegations once it discovered how flawed their methodology was. You also forgot to mention how 592 schools were immediately cleared of any wrongdoing.

  13. wayne martin says:

    The following is an audio report on cheating in Texas District schools—

    Texas Testing Cheating Scandal:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4544036

  14. In reply to BettyB’s question…yes, I did teach, both at the High School level (long, long ago….for a short time) and at the university level (for the last several years), though none of this is even remotely relevant. Cheating on an exam is WRONG…what part of that don’t you understand?

    As for having to live an experience to truly understand it…what a lovely way to avoid any real moral or ethical responsibility, just fall back on the teacher equivilent of “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”. In the real world, you cannot simply pretend than anyone not doing YOUR job has no ability (or right) to evaluate the work you produce. In my ‘day job’ I am a DBA…if the databases crash and there aren’t any timely backups, I have failed. If my customers (the users of those databases) expect to see useful metrics to show that I am doing my job, they have every right to expect my cooperation. That is called professionalism, and it is something sadly lacking among the overwhelming majority of those in the educational system these days.

    As for your mother’s comment regarding being nicer, I’ll bet she taught you that cheating was wrong. Since you seem to be able to ignore that second lesson, I feel comfortable ignoring the first one.

  15. Save your elaborate sarcasm for some more profitable occasion.

    I know the school’s a charter and so does everyone else who read the article. I’m sure if there was any attempt to obfuscate then this paragraph…

    But Carl Robinson, who joined the charter school as principal last summer, said he questioned the scores, particularly after he had assessments done on some of the students who did well on the tests. Robinson said he was fired in November, one day after approaching Goff about his concerns.

    ..would’ve been worded a bit differently don’t you think?

    You know, those hotbeds of innovation and market driven forces that are going to change education? Except the school mentioned has been doing neither for 9 years now.

    Let me see if I can parse out the implications.

    Since it’s a charter school and it isn’t doing well, all charter schools don’t do well. Since it doesn’t appear to be particularly innovative, all charter schools aren’t, to borrow your phrase, hotbeds of innovation.

    Must be a bit tiring wielding a brush that wide.

    I noticed how you forgot to include the follow up stories…

    Because there isn’t any follow up story? Links please and none of your editorials in a union publications/websites either or “research” by a former president of a teacher’s union. Some source with, at least, a theoretical claim on accuracy and truthfulness.

    But let’s not miss the forest for the tree. There were, no doubt, schools in Ohio that raised test scores the old-fashioned way: they did a better job this year then last.

    Would those schools have improved without the impetus of a test that measured their performance?

    Who knows? But the converse, that some schools did more poorly as a result of the test seems singularly unlikely. After all, it’s not that tough a test so test anxiety is a thin reed to lean on.

    Wayne, thanks for the link to the NPR story.

  16. Well. Seems like we have enough hobby horses here to have a parade.

    1) Someone appears to have cheated. I’ll phrase it this way because I have not seen the *prior* year’s test. If the prior test had questions analgous to the current year’s test and the practice test, then it might not have been.

    2) The cheating was at a charter school and, if Goff is to be believed, must have occurred at a high level.

    3) Cheating occurred at Texas public schools last year also.

    4) Most of us agree that cheating is wrong. Some more “relativistic” types say it is also understandable.

    5) Personally, I believe that people knowingly involved in this kind of thing should go to jail, since tests are the only accountability we have at the moment.

    6) If someone actually has an alternative, they should bring it forward.

    7) Personally, I’d like to see dozens of low-stakes tests every year rather than one high-stakes test. However, there is nothing preventing principals and school districts from instituting such if they felt they wanted to.

    8) Teachers who say that teaching kids enough to pass a standard test is too hard remind me of trailer park residents who think carrying their garbage away is too hard.

    9) Clearly there are exceptions, such as persons of limited English proficiency. There should be a method of dealing with such, but it should be strictly controlled to prevent gaming by lazy school systems. The only purpose of lower tracks should be to move the students on to the normal track, not to park them forever or to hide a school’s mistakes.

    10) One possible method of accountability is to make schools responsible for their product – ie kids who have certain skills, and allow the next school up the line to backcharge a school for any remedial classes for a student. When accountability equals lost money, schools will find ways not to drop the ball.

  17. Mike – one more expensive method is already in place and very effective, employed by College Board as part of their Advanced Placement program. Students write two essays and complete three multiple choice tests in about 3 hours. The essays are evaluated by a group comprised of high school teachers and college professors. Extensive training for teachers who teach these courses is provided throughout the year.

    Dozens of low-stakes tests would also be a more expensive but much more effective method of assessment which allows feedback for teachers and students.

    Most businesses who want to gauge the performance of employees in their companies hire consultants who observe the employees at work. “One-on-ones” weekly, for an hour or so, with your supervisor also work quite well (imagine if I had the time to do that every week with each of my 140 students. Imagine if my administrator had the time to do it with me!) It would be great to have an outside consultant observe the effectiveness of schools as well as the aptitude of the students, in conjunction with dozens of low-stakes tests, both multiple choice (cheap to grade with a machine) and written (not so cheap to grade but so much harder to cheat on).

    I guess the bright side is that people would only be so inflamed over something very important to them; namely, creating and maintaining the best public schools in the world; educating our kids.

  18. Twill00 wrote:

    1)Either they’re cheating or they’ve developed some teaching methodology that results in spectacular score increases. Common sense suggests the former since, if it were the latter, it wouldn’t require investigation to uncover. The school would be trumpeting their exciting discovery to anyone who’d listen.

    2)Yeah. My beef with Mike in Texas is his fairly clumsy intimation that cheating is a common feature of all charters.

    3)Interesting. Maybe if the responsible parties had a bit more to lose the practice would be deterred.

    4)Yes it’s wrong, yes it’s understandable. Understanding, however, doesn’t equate to acquiescence.

    5)I suppose summary execution in the parking lot is a bit extreme….

    6)Huh?

    7)If accurate feedback is what you’re after then a lot of small tests are a better bet then one, big test per year.

    8)Teachers who say that teaching kids enough to pass a standard test is too hard are being understandably self-protecting. Not justifiably self-protecting but understandably. I’d fire ’em.

    9)No. No exceptions or as close to that ideal as is at all possible.

    10)I think accurate, timely, accessible testing results combined with parental choice would achieve much the same result without having to create a whole, new area of law.

    Debbie wrote:

    Dozens of low-stakes tests would also be a more expensive but much more effective method of assessment which allows feedback for teachers and students.

    Hey, finally a role for computers in education. With the right software testing could be done at pretty much any reasonable frequency via computer.

    Most businesses who want to gauge the performance of employees in their companies hire consultants who observe the employees at work.

    Not in my experience. Most companies use performance reviews by the employee’s boss who’s reviewed by his boss. That way the person most familiar with the job and it’s contribution to the organization goals is making the determinations. But, the boss has to be judged on the same basis by their boss.

  19. http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=5819619&nav=menu73_2_17

    http://www.oaoa.com/news/nw121506a.htm

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-caveon_15met.ART.North.Edition1.3ddd219.html

    2 minutes of seaching would have found these for yourself, but you chose instead to imply that Texas public schools cheat, without noting that an outside company was hired to find problems, and surprise, surprise they did. I don’t suppose their contract would have been renewed if they hadn’t. But then again, their contract isn’t being renewed because of their shoddy work.

    Or how about the Republican appointed Texas Commissioner of Texas?

    “The integrity of the testing program must remain above reproach. But it is imperative that we all remember that significant and large performance gains can and do occur legitimately. Good instruction improves academic performance. Any number of other factors can drastically change performance. For example, a school could become a magnet program, attendance boundaries and consequently the student population could be altered, intensive tutoring programs could be provided,” Neeley said.

    “Texas educators are working hard to provide students with a better education each year. Don’t rush to judgment just because scores on a test increase rapidly. That result is more likely to mean that it is time to celebrate, rather than investigate,” the commissioner said.blockquote

    Allen wrote:

    My beef with Mike in Texas is his fairly clumsy intimation that cheating is a common feature of all charters

    Once again Allen, you’re wrong. The point I was making was here we have a charter school in horrible shape for 9 years, despite the fact people like yourself claim they would be hotbeds of innovation and if they were failing market forces would have driven them out of business.

  20. Mike raises two valid questions: Why isn’t a long-term non-performing charter closed; typically a charter runs for no more than five years but this school is in it ninth year. And, why don’t parents pull their kids out?

    The answer is that some charter authorizers, having no experience closing bad schools, are reluctant to pull the plug even when a charter isn’t doing a good job. Often it takes financial problems, not academic problems, to pull a charter. In addition, the charter may be doing about the same as neighboring schools, so expectations are low. Charter supporters want bad charters to close.

    Why don’t parents leave? Because they prefer the charter to other alternatives available. Test scores may be low at all accessible schools. Parents who live in gang neighborhoods also put a high value on school safety, even at the expense of academics.

    To clarify, the new principal wondered why the scores had jumped, interviewed teachers who said the students had not made a great leap in reading or math skills and went to his boss, who has the title of superintendent. (I’ve never heard of a charter superintendent, but that’s her title.) The superintendent, who’d supplied practice questions virtually identical to the test questions, fired the principal. It is very, very suspicious.

  21. wayne martin says:

    http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=5819619&nav=menu73_2_17

    600 Schools Cleared Of Possible TAKS Cheating

    An investigation into possible cheating on the state’s standardized Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test cleared almost 600 schools of wrongdoing, according to the Texas Education Agency.
    Analysis earlier this year flagged 700 schools as having irregularities during the TAKS 2005 testing period.
    The agency’s task force on test integrity says security audits and some on-site investigations found no evidence that 592 schools had violated the state’s test security system.

    Cases remain open for 105 schools that were flagged for potential problems.

    Three other schools questioned have since closed.
    ——-

    If almost 600 schools out of 700 flagged for potential test security violations were cleared by investigation, it doesn’t speak highly of the analysis that raised the red flags in the first place.

    > Three other schools questioned have since closed.

    Presumably these were charter schools. Anyone in Texas know anything about the details of the closure of these three schools?

  22. random person says:

    > It is difficult to truly understand a situation unless you have lived it. Have you ever taught school?

    Is this what’s being taught in school? Argument by logical fallacy? But don’t worry, I’ve never taught middle school, so you can safely ignore anything I say.

  23. Catch Thirty Thr33 says:

    Re: BettyB’s whine “Have you ever taught school?”

    The funniest thing is that you ask that, and yet you more than likely cry about why and how teachers get no respect (or at least the same level of respect as other professions). It is perhaps because teachers like yourself have an arrogance/inflated ego about themselves to the point where they well and truly believe they are 1000% above criticism?

    See, in the Real World, where I am from, I am constantly and relentlessly questioned by others. When working in a warehouse, if I was ever to be written up for the lack of productivity, and responded to that by whining “Have you ever selected orders?”, the management would have a great laugh before tossing me out onto the street. As a military officer, I constantly endured criticism from within and without, and had no complaints about that, as I viewed myself as a professional. Today, I find myself in the world of transportation once again, and again am subject to the criticism of others. If, for instance, a company begins to gripe about the service we provide for various reasons, I cannot whine “Have you ever shipped products by road?”…that is, if I like retaining contracts and remaining in business.

    BettyB, before whining like that again, I suggest you take a good hard look at the Real World that surrounds you (yet for some reason you are not a part of). Besides, as shocking as that may be, civilization has gotten on for thousands of years without public schools; in fact, they are quite a recent phenomena. In my case, NO teacher taught me to read or write; that was done by my family because they cared enough to teach me both. In fact, I had very few good teachers, quite a few bad ones, and mostly mediocre ones.