Rhee: Opting out of tests is wrong answer

Opting out of standardized tests is the wrong answer, argues Michelle Rhee in the Washington Post.

Stepping on the bathroom scale can be nerve-racking, but it tells us if that exercise routine is working. . . . In education, tests provide an objective measurement of how students are progressing — information that’s critical to improving public schools.

“Test-crazed districts need to be reeled in,” Rhee writes. But urban students spend just 1.7 percent of class time preparing for and taking standardized tests, according to a Teach Plus study.

 Tests are just one measure, of many, that we should consider when determining how well public schools are serving kids. Let’s gather every piece of information available, and let’s not forget that standardized tests are meant to be objective, unlike other indicators such as peer reviews.

We need better tests, writes Rhee. “Well-built exams can tell us whether the curriculum is adequate. They can help teachers hone their skills. They can let parents know whether their child’s school is performing on par with the one down the street, or on par with schools in the next town or the neighboring state.”

Rhee doesn’t think much of the argument that testing is stressful for kids. “Life can be stressful,” she writes. “The alternative is to hand out trophies just for participating, give out straight A’s for fear of damaging a kid’s ego — and continue to fall further and further behind as a country.”

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  1. I’m not totally opposed to some standardized testing but clearly in the US today the standardized test tail is wagging the education dog.

  2. PhillipMarlowe says:

    When the name Rhee and education come together, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” comes to mind.

    Like her falsified resume, Rhee’s 1.7% figure is bogus:
    it shows, once again, how Rhee is incapable of reading and understanding even the most basic pieces of education research.

    Notice that she claims here that “… just 1.7 percent of classroom time is devoted to preparing for and taking standardized tests.” Is that what the Teach Plus report measures? Here’s page 4:
    For this research, we compare publicly available district and state test calendars to teacher reports of test administration time. District and state calendars are an important baseline in the test-time dialogue in that they are a primary way officials communicate the amount of time spent on testing to parents and the public. While most state and district officials would acknowledge that testing takes longer than the amount of time reflected in the district calendar, ours is the first piece of research to measure the gap between the minimum time allocated for tests by administrators and the real time costs experienced by teachers.
    In addition to the time it takes for students to complete an assessment and for teachers and staff to administer it, teachers also experience an impact on instructional time when they have to prepare students for the assessment or when they put other instructional plans on hold for the administration of required assessments. Our research examines this impact on instructional time through survey data from over 300 classroom teachers. [emphasis mine]
    So the report has two parts: an examination of the time it takes to administer tests, and a look at the preparation time involved. The 1.7 percent figure is specifically referenced on page 7:
    According to a 2013 Education Commission of the States (ECS) report on the minimum amount of instructional time per year, the average time for a kindergarten student in the 12 states featured in this report is approximately 885.9 hours, assuming a full-day kindergarten program. With an average of 3.1 hours of testing per year, the typical kindergarten student is tested for less than one percent of the year. In third grade, the amount of required state instructional time across the 12 urban districts in this study is 953.7 hours, meaning 1.7 percent of the typical third grader’s year is spent on state- and district-mandated testing. Likewise, in seventh grade, the average number of instructional hours is 1,016.8, and the average time spent on testing is also 1.7 percent. These 1.7 percent figures do not reflect the many time demands that may be associated with testing such as preparing students or analyzing data. However, it is an important baseline figure. It reflects the cumulative time impact that districts currently use to communicate with parents and the general public about the time students are being tested. [emphasis mine]
    Let’s be very clear: in direct contradiction to Rhee, the Teach Plus report specifically says the 1.7 percent figure does not include test preparation time.

    • Ignoring the gratuitous, and predictable, insults that follow any mention of Michelle Rhee, that “1.7%” figure isn’t Rhee’s and, given Phillip’s propensity to trim the truth to fit his needs, it’s understandable why he wouldn’t provide a link to the report he references. It doesn’t support his smear.

      But you don’t even have to hunt up the report to find evidence of Phillip’s indifference to the truth. His own quote makes a liar of him – “The 1.7 percent figure is specifically referenced on page 7: According to a 2013 Education Commission of the States (ECS) report on the minimum amount of instructional time per year…”.

      So Rhee was quoting from a report by the Education Commission of the States and the disagreement between the two reports centers on how define “instructional time”.

      Here’s a link to the report – you’re welcome Phillip – http://tinyurl.com/nwtljdj

      Here’s a link that gives a few details about Teach Plus – http://tinyurl.com/bcm7eyg

      For those too time-constrained to read the New York Times story, Teach Plus appears to be an extension of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the lead-off informs us that the organization “helped persuade state (Indiana) lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies”.

      • phillipmarlowe says:

        It is mildly amusing to imagine the blank, empty look that appears on allen’s face as he tries to quote something and appear intelligent.
        Rhee got it wrong again.
        This is another insult toward her, allen, in case the stupid look is still on your face:
        “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’

        Here’s the link to the article I quoted, since you are too stupid to put a quoted line into Google to find the source, allen:

        Well, at least we know allen knows how to Google Holly Michaels.
        Onan lives!

        • You do seem to live to a great extent in your imagination but this isn’t your imagination so you don’t get to dictate the outcome.

          Rhee was quoting a perfectly valid study and the disagreement was about methods by which to measure prep time. She didn’t lie and you’ve offered not a lick of evidence that she did.

          As for your link, you would have been better off struggling to avoid posting it. It’s just you at length. Given the quality of your posts, and the sort of person that implies, I’d think you’d want to distance yourself, from yourself.

          God knows you’re not doing yourself any good by quoting someone who comes across as mindlessly, and impotently, vitriolic as yourself.

          By the way, it looks like Oklahoma’s going to pass an tax credit-based scholarship program to help poor kids get out of rotten district schools. Any thoughts on that?

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            “God knows you’re not doing yourself any good by quoting someone who comes across as mindlessly, and impotently, vitriolic as yourself”

            Pot, meet kettle.

          • Ah, sufficiently great moral elevation renders the mugger and the victim equally culpable.

            Got it.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Come on, Roger! allen always wins on style points if not absolute content.

          • Uh, thanks?

            My thoughts on the subject of testing are near the top of the thread as a reply to Beth Donovan.

            As a reply to Rhee’s thoughts on the subject of testing and who is owed what, the only reason to believe that kids ought to be required to take tests is that kids have a responsibility to the public education system.

            As a matter of fact and law that is the relationship between kids and the public education system. Left unexamined that relationship rationalizes a responsibility on the part of kids to take tests and in that context Rhee’s right. But only in that context.

            The widely-held misconception is that the public education system exists to educate kids which would put the responsibility on the public education system to educate kids as well as possible. Yet there are numerous facts and factors which undercut that belief not the least of which is the indifference of the public education system to teaching skill that I’ve been flogging for some time.

            In a world in which the public education system has as its primary, perhaps only, goal educating kids testing would be integrated into instruction so as to be as unobtrusive as possible. That unobtrusiveness would make comprehensive measurement more difficult so a balance would have to be struck between the quantity/quality of information gathered and the impact of that information-gathering on instruction. But the natural tension between trying to do as well as possible and taking time out to see how well you’re doing would hone testing to a fine edge and reward handsomely those who are capable of reducing the impact of testing on instructional time.

            But that’s not the world in which we live.

            The world in which we do live is the one in which the convenient assumption that if experts are given enough authority and resources good things will follow is wearing thin and the new regime, in which experts are assumed to be very much out for themselves and ought to be granted only as much faith as they’ve earned, is still developing. So we’ve got elements of accountability band-aided on top of a system that’s inherently resistant to accountability. Not a comfortable state of affairs to be sure but I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of a Soviet Union-style collapse. Maybe that’ll help.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            It’s OK, allen.
            I understand what it is like to feel the stupid one.
            Growing up, I always thought I was the dumb one.
            Until my parents decided my brothers and I should play with the neighborhood kids.
            Boy, was that ever a disaster.

            So, Rhee was cherry-picking from a study to support her point, as she always does. And as also, (“every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’”) she was wrong.
            You blather some more, trying a lazy, stupid put down and bring up the mate of the Duke girl.
            Too bad you didn’t bring up that nutter you admire who spouts pearls like President Obama being a “racist hate monger.”

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Oh, and on the situation in Oklahoma. To be expected.
            The Republicans have been trying different ways to keep the classes and races separated. But if I lived in that state and my tax dollars were going, however indirectly, to supporting clown schools that teach Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a dinosaur and an ass, I’d want the ability to keep my money for myself and save it for my grandchildren’s education.

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I think most of the parents in the ‘opt out’ movement are correct to opt out. Why? Because if your kid regularly tests in the 97-99yh percentile, the annual tests tell you NOTHING. There’s no room for improvement, you could let your kid skip school every day, or just drop her off at the public library, and she’d STILL do just as well.

    The tests seem to give the most info for average kids. Which is fine, as far as it goes… But maybe we should test kids based on grade-level, not age? If the third grader is reading and doing math like an 8th grader, give her the 8th grade test, not the third grade one…..

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Deirdre – Do you really think “most” of the kids being opted out are in the 90 something percentile? Seems statistically unlikely.

      Your error is in thinking many kids are high performers. If yours are or you were, I can understand the concern, but it is probably misplaced when talking about a larger group or movement.

      • Agree. The opting out families here are the ones who want their child to be in the honors program without doing the necessary afterschooling, since the gardener has neglected to water or fertilize anyone that isn’t a ‘1’ or a ‘2’. The 8th grade Algebra fail rate is quite revealing.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Depending on how you look at it, that 40 year figure is either too long or too short. Since the beginning of public schools in America a century and a half ago, there have been tests. But statewide standardized tests only became common after the beginning of the millennium.

    I suspect that private school tests aren’t any better. Private schools cost money, so their students mostly come from families that care enough about school to pony up the tuition (and that can afford to). Not surprisingly, those students do better, on average, than public school students.

  5. Private schools expel the disrupters and intentional non-learners.

  6. Two hikers are out in the woods in an area well known to be inhabited by aggressive bears. One hiker’s wearing light weight running shoes and the other heavy, hiking boots.

    The hiker wearing the boots says, “You think you can outrun a bear in those things?”

    The hiker wearing the running shoes replies, “I don’t have to outrun a bear. I just have to outrun you.”

    Private schools enjoy a performance umbrella provided by the public education system so private schools don’t have to be good and get better. They just have to be better then the public schools which in many areas is a painfully low standard.

    Test results will become important when they’re a matter of school survival, not when some law’s passed mandating their importance. School accountability standards are, like cigarette taxes are an invitation to smuggling, an invitation to every circumvention highly-motivated individuals can construe.

    They’re a step in the right direction, signaling as they do a growing impatience with the endlessly inventive excuses public education excuse-makers dream up for failure but they’re a first step. Hopefully it’ll be short walk to the realization that the public education system’s a bad idea.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    I really admire teachers who take the position that standardized testing, grades, SAT or ACT scores, and general educational outcomes are largely determined by socio-economic status rather than educational inputs . It seems very brave to suggest your profession has no influence on those subjected to its practice. It renders your whole professional life nearly pointless. What a relief to know that we can simply stop spending those dollars on a pre-determined outcomes.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I think you’re approaching this wrong, Stacy.

    There is a world of difference between a gardener who tends to the things you’ve planted, keeps them watered and trim, and the landscaper who has to design the entire yard from the ground up.

    Those are two different jobs.

    Teachers are the gardeners. They are not supposed to be the landscapers. Children already are supposed to have landscapers: they are called parents.

    Unfortunately, there is a substantial portion of the country that thinks the job of the public schools should be landscaping. They are routinely disappointed.

    I don’t think it’s fair of you to criticize the gardener because he or she is being realistic about the fact that he or she isn’t really in a position to do the landscaping.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    By the by, I’m not saying that institutional landscaping is impossible. Just that the institutions we have aren’t designed for it.

    If you want landscaping, you have to have a more immersive, controlled environment than you get with the typical public school. You need to indoctrinate a culture of some sort, to create a society.

    But we can talk about that at length elsewhere.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    Hmmm. Obviously teachers aren’t monolithic, but public education claimed for generations the ability to ‘landscape’ – to you use your analogy – and it still claims to do so when it reflects positively on them . It seems to me teachers/public education proponents conveniently claim or don’t claim that capacity when outcomes benefits or penalizes them.

    Educational environment matters a great deal regardless of parenting. The anti-test hysteria coming from some is in part a desire to deny that – to obfuscate the value of objective measures.

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:

    So chew out the teachers for taking credit where it’s not due.

    Or don’t — because it’s the harmless sort of puffery everyone engages in from time to time.

    But just because my doctor takes credit for my good health in an annoying, smug sort of way, doesn’t mean I’m thereby right to blame my doctor when I get sick.

    This is real life, not litigation. Estoppel means crap compared to truth.