LA teachers boycott tests

United Teachers of Los Angeles is urging teachers to boycott assessment tests that cause  “the loss of valuable instruction time spent prepping students for the tests instead of teaching.” The tests were developed by the district to diagnose learning problems during the year.

Bad move, argues Fox & Hounds Daily.

In reality, the “periodic assessment” tests which UTLA finds so objectionable facilitate teaching the curriculum that these teachers are hired to instruct. The tests’ goal, as the Times has written, is “to give teachers insight into what students need to learn while there remains time in the current school year to adjust instruction.” A statistical analysis by the LAUSD has found that the assessments “contribute to higher student achievement.”

. . . The tests are designed to provide individualized data to the teachers, within 48 hours of having been administered, of what each student has mastered in English, language arts, math, science and social studies — core academic subjects. If teachers “prep” students for this test they are teaching the curriculum that it is their job to deliver, not teaching obscure skills that are only relevant to a test.

UTLA’s president never mentioned instructional time in a February letter to union members, writes Fox and Hounds.  The letter said the boycott was about “everyone’s health care, class sizes” and that “jobs are on the line…now is the time for unity among members—not division.”

Jobs are on the line: Los Angeles Unified is about to issue layoff notices to 5,500 teachers. Principals would like to keep their best teachers, but the current laws make seniority the only criteria.

Via Ed Policy.

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Comments

  1. Layoffs? They should be fired.

  2. I doubt if this is the real reason “the loss of valuable instruction time spent prepping students for the tests instead of teaching.”

    I suspect that not only do the test evaluate the learning of the students it evaluates the teachers also.

  3. ucladavid says:

    I’m a teacher in LAUSD who hates this the periodic assessments, and here is why:
    1) The time given to us to teach the material is way too short. On the first assessment, we should have given it to the students 3 weeks later. On the one that’s supposed to be given next week, we should be giving a month from now. Those times are based on the recommended time-lines given to us by the district and state. Most of the teachers at my school have no problem giving it IF it was done at the correct times.

    2) The material on the test is out-of-sync with the state test in May. My students could get perfect scores on the periodic assessments and remember everything, but only about half of the periodic assessment material would be on the state test.

    3) The questions are written horribly with confusing statements, maps and charts.

    4) The periodic assessments DON’T COUNT. I would rather prepare my students for the one that does count for my school and the students.

    5) A good teacher already knows how the students are doing and where they are struggling.

    6) It takes 2 days to give the test to some of my classes times 3 tests per year. That’s 6 days. PLUS the time I have to take out to prepare the students for the assessment. Let’s say that’s 2 days per test or a total of 6 days. That’s TWELVE days for a test that doesn’t count.

    7) I already use periodic assessments; I like to call them tests or quizzes or other projects in my class.

  4. LAUSD Teacher says:

    The boycott of assessments was intended to be a bargaining tool not about the assessments themselves.

    What outsiders may not understand is that these are tests designed at a cost of millions of dollars and are in a different format from both the math and language arts curriculum. So, while it may seem like students who don’t do well on these assessments are receiving poor instruction, in fact, it’s possible for a teacher to teach everything they’re supposed to and still have students who do poorly on periodic assessments. Doing well on the tests is a separate skill from simply learning the curriculum. It does beg the question why we do not use the unit assessments that come at the end of every unit in the curricular textbooks. Why do we have to pay additional money for extra tests that aren’t aligned with what we’re teaching?

    99% of LAUSD teachers are giving the assessments anyway but are not inputting the data for district use.

  5. The problem with assessment tests is that the lay public views them as achievement tests. Assessment tests have a particular limited purpose, but the results are often used outside that purpose.

    One would think that a single district-wide assessment test near the beginning of the school year would be enough for the central office planners to see just how the student population breaks out, and would also be helpful to the teachers to help them focus their instruction for the remainder of the year.

    Multiple district-wide assessment tests during the school year are insane. As one of the teachers commented above, classroom quizzes and tests are assessment tests. I once had a teacher who used quizzes as non-grade-counting assessment tests and tests as grade counting achievement tests. That makes sense to me.

  6. Andy Freeman says:

    > in fact, it’s possible for a teacher to teach everything they’re supposed to and still have students who do poorly on periodic assessments.

    Umm, the point is not whether the teacher teaches everything, it is whether the students learn everything.

    > Doing well on the tests is a separate skill from simply learning the curriculum.

    Are you saying that there’s no way to test whether someone has learned the cirriculum or that these tests don’t do so?

  7. “The periodic assessments DON’T COUNT.”
    “…PLUS the time I have to take out to prepare the students for the assessment.”

    Why would one take time to prepare for an assessment that doesn’t count? And why would one take time to prepare for something that is supposed to give insight into the current needs of the student? Wouldn’t the preparation obscure any useful information?

  8. A good teacher already knows how the students are doing and where they are struggling.

    Probably. But that doesn’t mean that district-wide tests are a bad idea in and of themselves. I am going to assume for a moment that teachers are on the most part normal human beings, arguably smarter than the average, but still subject to the same human flaws that other university-educated professionals like doctors, engineers and scientists are subject to.

    If my assumption is right, then testing is important any way, for the following reasons:
    1) It helps the unexperienced teachers, for example the new teacher just out of university, to learn how to tell how their students are doing and where they are struggling.
    2) An incompetent teacher is quite possibly a teacher who doesn’t realise their own incompetence. They may falsely think they are good at assessing how students are doing and thus don’t seek out feedback as to whether they are good at it. Science trys to deal with this sort of mental problem by requiring peer review and provision of data and encouraging publications of alternative hypotheses. See this article for evidence that this sort of problem does occur – http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf – the basic argument is that in many areas the skills required to assess how good you are at something are also the skills required to in fact be good at it, so people who are incompetent are rather handicapped at figuring it out, although admittedly this research doesn’t focus on teachers, so it is possible that teachers are special for some reason.
    3) Teachers are not the only people at schools who can affect learning. If the school administration, say, bans recess, or badly organises the school day, then feedback to the administration that there’s a problem is valuable in and of itself. Or if it turns out that a teacher is bad at self-assessment and thus thinks they are a good teacher when they are in fact not.

    This doesn’t address your other criticisms of course. I just wanted to point out that “A good teacher already knows how the students are doing and where they are struggling” isn’t actually a good argument against the use of testing.

  9. LAUSD Teacher says:

    @Andy
    > Are you saying that there’s no way to test whether someone has learned the cirriculum or that these tests don’t do so?

    As I wrote above, there are assessments at the end of every chapter in the district mandated textbooks which (obviously) align with the curriculum that is being taught. Those would be a fairer assessment of student learning than the district assessments that appear in a totally different format and at an additional cost.

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    > Those would be a fairer assessment of student learning than the district assessments that appear in a totally different format and at an additional cost.

    If students can only do something in the format in which it was taught, doesn’t that tell us something important?

    I ask because problems in the real world often occur in different formats.

  11. I have no time for anyone who uses the term “language arts” and then blatantly misuses “begs the question”.