Academics aren’t just a ‘white thing’

Standardized tests are a “racist weapon,” argues Ibram X. Kendi, a history professor at the University of Florida. “What if the intellect of a poor, low testing Black child in a poor Black school is different—and not inferior—to the intellect of a rich, high-testing White child in a rich White school?” he asks.

Image result for bell curve testing

“Gathering knowledge of abstract items, from words to equations, that have no relation to our everyday lives has long been the amusement of the leisured elite,” writes Kendi. He prefers to measure literacy “by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environment.”

A Mexican-American and a first-generation college graduate, Liz Reetz teaches sixth-grade social studies. Testing shows  how “our schools are not educating all students,” she writes on A Plus Colorado.

She “built a curriculum based on teaching students to think, read, talk, and write about history as it relates to identity and social justice,” she writes. Her non-elite students can handle abstractions, if they have “the opportunity to engage with ideas that are meaningful to them.”

Kendi’s ideas are dangerous, she believes.

“Equally intelligent in different ways” says to me: value survival skills in poor and brown people but leave the thinking about big ideas, governing, or improving the world to wealthy people and white people.

. . . You give the power to white teachers, white administrators, white legislators to say “you can’t hold me accountable for the fact that he can’t read, his intelligence is different” or “It’s not my fault she isn’t grasping algebra, her culture doesn’t value numbers or abstract thinking.”

The “notion that communities of color have fundamentally different kinds of knowledge” is racist and ahistorical, writes Reetz.

Pre-Columbian societies tracked the movements of stars and planets, understood complex mathematics, used chemistry and biology to create rubber, and engineered roads and buildings. Do not tell me that my culture doesn’t value abstract thinking.

Abstract thinking “is the heritage of humanity,” she writes. It’s not a “white thing.”

Who cares about high school achievers?

Only four states — Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — have accountability systems that encourage high schools to focus on high achievers, concludes Fordham’s High Stakes for High Schoolers

Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana and New York are moving in that direction.

Most states measure proficiency in English and math: Schools get no credit for helping students move from proficiency to excellence.

Twenty-two states give or plan to give accountability points for helping high school students earn college credits via AP, dual enrollment, and the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Enrolling students in challenging courses that they’re not prepared to pass does little good, argues Checker Finn. It may harm well-prepared students.

Twelfth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have flatlined; so have SAT and ACT scores, notes Finn. “As for international metrics such as PISA and TIMSS, we’re being sorely outclassed by far too many other countries, both in the fraction of our young people who reach the upper ranks on those metrics and in the representation of lower-SES and minority youngsters (save for Asian Americans) among those who do make it.”

Younger students do better in science

Fourth and eighth graders are doing better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam, but two-thirds of students aren’t proficient. Twelfth-grade scores remained the same.

A national sample of students were tested in physical science, life science and earth and space sciences.

2011 question for 8th graders

2011 question for 8th graders

Science instruction has improved for younger students, said John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. “We will see it reflected in the years ahead in the 12th-grade scores as well,” he said.

Fourth-grade girls closed the gender gap, while older girls improved more than their male classmates.

Black and Latino students also narrowed the achievement gap in science.

Sample science questions for fourth graderseighth graders and 12th graders start on page 17.

Is opt-out a ‘white power’ movement?

The opt-out movement is the Left’s “white power movement,” writes Derrell Bradford on Eduwonk.

“The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states a Teachers’ College report.

Image result for opt out testing“Annual testing, disaggregated results and an emphasis on year-over-year test score growth” has “radically changed the discussion around the education of low-income kids of color for the better,” he argues.

But when “white soccer moms decide they don’t like the most important device to help us fix”  inner-city schools, “left-leaning politicians listen,” he writes.  “The president makes a speech about too much testing. The Democrats revise their platform.”

“Opt-outers tend to consider themselves ‘progressives’ so they don’t like to see themselves as the privileged few who put their kids’ comfort ahead of the needs of other school children,” writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Citizen Ed. “But it turns out that’s exactly who they are.”

The Teachers’ College survey shows the opt-out movement is dominated by teachers’ concerns about tying test results to teacher evaluation, she writes. Almost a fifth of opt-out activists don’t have school-age children and some who do send them to private school.

Opt-outers don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

We now have the data that reveals opt-out for what it really is: a luxury, afforded to white, affluent taxpayers and parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success.

Esther Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist, has returned to teaching in a Chicago suburb. (I think she may be teaching at my old high school, which is now 20 percent Hispanic.)

She defends testing as imperfect, but essential. “On the whole, the tests are, like pulse and blood pressure, vital signs of how students progress academically.”

Here’s the Ed Next forum on the opt-out movement.

EdNext poll: Core support slides

“The demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated,” concludes Education Next in reporting on its survey of 10-year trends in education opinion.

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the survey found. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

In 2016, 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 83% in 2013. Republican backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The slip among Democrats is from 86% to 60% over this time period. Eighty-seven percent of teachers supported the initiative in 2013, but that fell to 54% in 2014 and to 44% in 2015, stabilizing at that level in 2016.

When “Common Core” is not mentioned, two-thirds back the use of the same standards.

Nearly four out of five respondents, about the same as in 2015, favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school. However, only half of teachers support the testing requirement.

A “federal policy that prevents schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students” is very unpopular, backed by only 28 percent of the general public and of teachers.  In 2016, 48 percent of black respondents express support for the idea, down from 65 percent in 2015. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics express support, showing little change from last year.

Respondents rated local schools more favorably than in the past, but continued to give low marks to schools nationally.

Test our kids, say art, music teachers 

Worried that only what’s tested is valued, art and music teachers are trying to develop common assessments of their students’ skills, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz. It’s not easy.

In New Hampshire, the experimental exam asked high school students “to research an artist, create a piece of art inspired by the artist’s work and then write a reflection about the experience,” writes Butrymowicz.

Teachers met over the summer to see whether they could agree on grading and tweak the assessments.

Elementary school art teachers Sarah Boudreau and Justina Austin “laid out about two dozen self-portraits drawn by their fourth-grade students,” reportsButrymowicz. “They needed to agree on a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each piece, based on predetermined grading criteria, such as drawing skills and oil pastel blending technique.”

Meanwhile, music teachers tried to assign scores to “improvised student performances on the recorder” based on “pitch, tone and rhythm.”

In its arts tests, Florida has incorporated multiple-choice and short-answer questions that are easy to score efficiently. New Hampshire and Michigan are trying something more ambitious: devising tasks that require a student to submit a finished piece of artwork or perform a piece of music. These tests are time-intensive to administer and grade, however, and the results are difficult to translate into a single numeric score.

“When the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, included an arts test in 1997, it required students to produce real works of art in addition to answering standard multiple-choice questions,” writes Butrymowicz.  NAEP ended up with “semitractor-trailers full of student-created clay bunnies.”

Arts tests in 2008 and 2016 relied on digitized photos and videos.

Even the best scoring systems won’t capture everything, said Timothy Brophy, director of institutional assessment and professor of music education at the University of Florida.“We’re all pretty glad that Monet and Da Vinci didn’t go to a school that said, ‘You need to [paint] in this way to meet a rubric,’ ” he said.

To save the Core, states dump Core tests

Most Common Core states are sticking with the controversial standards, but writing their own tests, report Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn in Education Next. Since 2010, 38 states have dropped out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), or both.

Fourteen states plan to administer SBAC in the 2016-17 academic year, and just six states plan to administer PARCC.

Political pushback is a major factor, they conclude.

“The new SBAC and PARCC assessments have Common Core written all over [them]—federally funded, part of a national effort,” said Mike Cohen, who directs the advocacy group Achieve. “In many states where opposition to the Common Core emerged, the compromise was to hold on to the standards and get rid of the aligned tests.”

Massachusetts and Louisiana have both moved forward with “hybrid” state tests that combine consortia- and state-designed assessment items. That may be the future of Common Core testing.

Too hard to fail?

Is it becoming too hard to fail?, ask Moriah Balingit and Donna St. George in the Washington Post.

School districts are making it harder to fail by banning zeroes for missed or failing work and letting students retake exams and turn assignments in late.

Under a new policy in Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school systems, middle and high school students can earn no lower than a score of 50 if they make a “reasonable attempt” to complete work. And for the first time this year, high school teachers who were going to fail a student had to reevaluate the student using “quality points,” making an F less detrimental to a student’s final grade. Prince George’s County in Maryland will limit failing grades to a 50 percent minimum score when students show a “good-faith effort.”

The goal is to keep students from giving up and give stragglers more time to learn the material. However, some teachers are dubious, reports the Post.

Forty-two to 69 percent of high school teachers had concerns about the proposed grading policy on a recent survey, said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.

“We have no problem being fair to students,” she said. “But if they are not doing the work and not performing, and we give them a grade they did not earn, how does that make them college and career ready?”

Sam Hedenberg teaches English to special education students at Fairfax’s Mount Vernon High School, where zeroes are banned. t=The lowest possible score is a 53.

“It definitely provides that opportunity for a kid to catch up,” Hedenberg said.

But he also has seen students game the system. One student was able to pass his class even though he skipped several essay-writing assignments. “Many students have already started to figure out that they don’t have to do very much but they can still pass,” he said.

The trend also is to base grades on students’ mastery of coursework, not on whether they do homework, turn assignments in on time or other measures of work habits.

At a Los Angeles charter network, seniors advised against test retakes in “exit interviews,”  reports KPCC.

Kayla Martin, who’s among this year’s graduates from PUC Community Charter Early College High, said some students felt comfortable blowing off tests because they could retake them. But that left them feeling less-prepared for college.

“Once you get to college, you can’t retest,” she said. “Once you get that grade, that’s it. You try to go to a professor and say, ‘Retest,’ and they’re going to laugh at you and say, ‘We don’t do that.'”

Now, students can retake quizzes, but not tests.

Who opts out?

Opt-Out Reflects the Genuine Concerns of Parents, argues Scott Levy, a New York school board member and parent, in an Education Next forum.

New York State’s high opt-out rate reflects parents’ worries about testing time, test quality, transparency and the link to teacher evaluation, he writes.

Outside of New York City, where nearly all students took the tests, the opt-out rate reached 30 percent, he estimates.

This Issue Is Bigger Than Just Testing, counters Jonah Edelman, who runs Stand for Children, which advocates for college and career readiness.

ednext_XVI_4_forum_fig02-smallAlthough 2015 opt-out students were much less likely to be economically disadvantaged or English Language Learners, they also tended to be modestly lower-achieving than those who took the test, he writes.

Stand for Children works with many low-income parents who think their children are doing well because they earn good grades, writes Edelman. Without standardized test scores, they don’t know their kids are behind.

“I’m talking about the African American grandmother in Memphis who was horrified to discover after we taught her how to interpret standardized test results that her four grandchildren—all of whom were getting As and Bs in school—were up to three grades behind in reading. With the assistance of Stand for Children, she found the children extra help right away, and they’ve caught up.”

Latino immigrant parents in Phoenix’s Murphy School District “were dismayed to learn their district was chronically failing to educate their children,” he writes. “Armed with that information and empowered by the state’s open-enrollment law, they moved their children to better public schools.”

Why are these kids doing so well?

Octavio Gutierrez previews lessons for students learning English. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

The kids are doing alright on Common Core tests in a small Los Angeles-area district, reports Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. In Wiseburn Unified, low-income blacks, Latinos and English Learners significantly outperform similar students elsewhere.

In fact, the district’s 55 percent of the district’s low-income black students passed the English exam, 11 points above the state average for all students.

Statewide, only 13 percent of low-income black students passed in math. In Wiseburn, 29 percent passed, the largest percentage of any district with significant black enrollment.

Superintendent Tom Johnstone said the district started teaching math differently in 2009, before the Core.

In the lower grades, teachers get on the floor with their students to work with brightly colored blocks and chips to assess their mathematical thinking and problem-solving strategies. In the middle and upper grades, students spend whole class periods on a handful of math problems, rather than racing through reams of equations.

An engineering curriculum called Project Lead The Way has students work together to build things. Johnstone says that program has been key to getting young students – particularly girls and minorities underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – interested in math, science and the robotics team, which competes in world championships.

In English Language Arts, Wiseburn gives English learners what amounts to 27 extra days of instruction, with previews of what they’ll learn later in the week in English together with their native English-speaking peers.

Wiseburn is a predominantly Latino district with a high tax base from nearby aerospace companies. It’s a district of choice: 43 percent of students have transferred in from neighboring districts with struggling schools.

However, success isn’t just a matter of parental buy-in and funding, Johnstone told Felton. “Much of this was accomplished during the fiscal crisis, when we weren’t able to give out any salary increases for five years.”