The anti-testing zombie apocalypse

Grrrrrr….testing ruin flavor of BRAINSSSZZZSSSS!!!!

Could Congress eliminate testing for accountability? Matthew Ladner has heard rumors of  The Anti-Testing Zombie Apocalypse, he writes on Jay Greene’s blog. I couldn’t resist the headline and photo.

Duncan: Rate teacher ed programs

States will be required to rate teacher training programs on job placement, retention rates and their graduates’ success in raising student achievement, under a new Education Department proposal. Low-rated programs’ students wouldn’t be able to get federal TEACH Grants to pay for their training.

Although the rules do not require tests, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed with the Department of Education to develop teacher performance ratings that include test scores.

Critics, including teachers’ unions, say such measures are unreliable and difficult to link to the quality of training.

“New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often, they struggle at the beginning of their careers” because they’re not well-prepared for the classroom, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“After prolonged negotiations—with stakeholders including teachers’ unions and teacher colleges—failed to bear fruit, the Obama administration said it would move ahead on its own,” reports Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the regulations’ reliance on test scores. “Teacher preparation programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools, where research shows the test scores are likely to be lower and the teacher turnover higher, will receive lower ratings and could lose funding,” Weingarten said.

Earlier this month the National Council on Teacher Quality lambasted teacher education programs a report titled Easy A’s. Would-be teachers can earn high grades for undemanding work, leaving them poorly prepared for classroom challenges, charges NCTQ.

The proposal is in line with the Obama administration’s “gainful employment” rule, which tries to regulates job training programs at for-profit career colleges (and community colleges), notes Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week. “It signals the agency’s intent to try to hold higher education more accountable for outcomes.”

High-tech valley, low-performing schools

More than 15,000 students in Silicon Valley attend 28 persistently low-performing schools, according to Innovate Public Schools’ new report. Over the last five years, these schools have done worse than schools with similar populations of high-need, low-income, Latinos.

I helped edit the report for Innovate.

The report lists high-performing Silicon Valley schools — mostly charters — that educate disadvantaged students. It also includes profiles of successful turnaround efforts nationwide and research on what’s worked elsewhere.

I was very impressed by a rural California district, Sanger, that’s raised achievement levels dramatically.

Not surprisingly, the report has been controversial, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Superintendents say their schools, which haven’t improved reading and math scores in the last five years, are improving in other ways.

The move to Common Core standards has led to a moratorium on reporting test scores. It will be hard to track schools’ results over the next few years.

We’re not Chinese

Chinese “super-schools” are a myth, writes Diane Ravitch in a New York Times review of Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama and legislators want to be like the Chinese, Ravitch writes.

Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

China can’t maintain its economic growth without innovation, argues Zhao. That won’t “unless it abandons its test-based education system, now controlled by gaokao, the all-important college entrance exams.”

Zhao “does a wonderful job of challenging the lazy nostrums peddled by those suffused with China envy,” writes Rick Hess.

The Chinese education system is “an effective machine to instill what the government wants students to learn,” Zhao writes. Students excel because of “families’ high expectations” and students’ “hard work and diligence.”

Chinese immigrant workers’ children study in Shanghai. Photo: Nir Elias / Reuters / Corbis

It’s true that the U.S. has been a world leader despite mediocre scores on international tests, writes Neerav Kingsland on relinquishment. And “rote learning and high-pressure cultures” are nothing to emulate. However, Ravitch presents no evidence that testing reduces innovation and creativity, he writes.

If China isn’t innovative, is it the testing? “It’s more plausible that China’s rote learning and testing regimes are manifestations of their culture,” writes Kingsland.

While Ravitch argues against top-down reforms, she thinks her vision of schooling “will be good for everyone,” he writes. Ravitch and Zhao call for:

schools where students produce books, videos, and art, where they are encouraged to explore and experiment … the individual strengths of every student are developed, not under pressure, but by their intrinsic motivation … schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be … confident, curious, and creative.

Not every family sees creativity as the highest value, responds Kingsland. While innovation, creativity, originality and invention are “core values of our nation,” so is liberty.

“Educators should be able to develop . . . different types of schools that meet the different needs of the millions of children in our country,” he concludes. Some schools will have creativity as the highest value. Others may not.

Bureaucratic creep threatens charters

Bureaucratic “creep” is creeping up on charter schools, writes Jenn Hatfield on AEIdeas. Charters are supposed to be freed from the usual rules and red tape, but the bureaucrats keep trying to re-regulate.

A woman who works for a highly successful charter school network in the Northeast told Hatfield she receives 50 to 60 requests for compliance information annually from 15 government entities, including the charter authorizer, the state department of education and the city department of education, the state comptroller, the city office of disability services. Many requests overlap, but “each entity wants the information reported using its own system,” she says.

Image Credit: shutterstock Charters are forced to spend time, energy and money on filling out forms instead of teaching children. That can threaten the viability of small, start-up charters, writes Hatfield.

To comply with a Title I audit, her interviewee’s charter network assigned two employees to work full-time for weeks to provide thousands of pages of documentation. “The Department of Education only briefly reviewed the documents, claiming that it was understaffed.”

One question asked for the number of books in each classroom, an “obsolete” question in a digital age, notes Hatfield.

“Bureaucratic creep” threatens the charter movement “by decreasing autonomy without any clear payoff in terms of accountability,” she concludes.


No testing isn’t the cure for overtesting

Too much testing is a real problem, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee, the new superintendent of a network of six urban Catholic schools But the solution isn’t no testing at all. “Standards-aligned, summative tests are really, really important to providing students — especially our most disadvantaged students — with the education they deserve.”

Capitalizing on anti-Common Core sentiment, the National Education Association launched a campaign against “toxic testing,” writes Porter-Magee. The union’s new president, Lily Eskelsen García, charged Core-aligned tests are “corrupting the Common Core”.

When she got her six schools’ results on New York state exams, it was “tough,” Porter-Magee writes. But she was reminded “of the power of hard facts.”

Because our school culture is strong, because our teachers and principals are so hard working, and because there are so many adults genuinely working to serve the needs of the children in our care, it would be easy to assume that our students are just fine. These data provide an important reminder that we need to do more . . . or rather, we need to do different.

The reality is that there is no replacement for external, impartial, evaluative achievement data.

At her six schools, the test results “are helping to refocus and shift the conversation,” she writes. “It’s hard to imagine it happening if we relied only on norm-referenced tests and/or classroom-level assessment data.”

HarvardX: What happened to our schools?

Saving Schools, a free MOOC (massive open online course) by Paul E. Peterson, launches on Sept. 8 on HarvardX, part of the edX platform. Four mini- courses on U.S. education history and politics will be offered sequentially.

Students who want credit can sign up — for a fee — with the Harvard Extension School, which will provide discussion groups.

Can teachers hold teachers accountable?

Test-based accountability is “doing untold damage to the profession of teaching,” Marc S. Tucker argues in Fixing Our National Accountability System. And it’s not improving student performance, Tucker tells New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Instead, we need to do what works in high-performing countries:  Treat teachers as professionals.

That means that teachers are as well paid as other professionals, that they have a career ladder, that they go to elite schools where they learn their craft, and that they are among the top quartile of college graduates instead of the bottom quartile.

In  high-performing countries,  tests are used to hold the students accountable, rather than the teachers, says Tucker.

Meanwhile, he writes, “in most of these countries, the primary form of accountability for the school and its staff is high-profile publication of the average scores for the exams for each school, often front-page news.”

When a school falls short, instead of looking to fire teachers, the high-performing countries “use the data to decide which schools will receive visits from teams of expert school inspectors. These inspectors are highly regarded educators.”

Tucker envisions teachers “holding each other accountable for the quality of their work, as professionals everywhere do.” Teachers would help colleagues improve and get rid of those who didn’t cut the mustard.

And the teacher’s unions? I keep looking for flying pigs.

City College was ‘too big to fail’

City College of San Francisco has dodged an accreditation commission’s closure order and won two more years to improve. With 77,000 students, City College was “too big to fail,” writes Kevin Carey.

Why they cheated

Christopher Waller, the principal of Parks, was lauded in Atlanta, and became a minor celebrity of the school-reform movement.

A former math teacher at a high-poverty Atlanta middle school explains why the principal and teachers cheated in a sympathetic New Yorker profile.

Students who’d passed a competency test in fifth grade arrived at Parks Middle School with first-grade reading levels. The elementary schools were cheating, Principal Christopher Waller concluded. And his supervisors didn’t care.

Waller recruited Damany Lewis to lead a team of teachers willing to change wrong answers. He told them the school would close if it didn’t meet Superintendent Beverly Hall’s unreachable targets.

During testing week, after students had completed the day’s section, Waller distracted the testing coördinator, Alfred Kiel, by taking him out for leisurely lunches in downtown Atlanta. On their way, Waller called the reading coördinator to let her know that it was safe to enter Kiel’s office. She then paged up to six teachers and told them to report to the room. While their students were at recess, the teachers erased wrong answers and filled in the right ones. Lewis took photographs of the office with his cell phone so that he could make sure he left every object, even the pencils on Kiel’s desk, exactly as he’d found them.

As the school’s scores soared, it was lauded for its success, attributed to a “relentless focus on data.” Waller was lauded for his success.

In the spring of 2008, Parks’s scores were almost as high as those of a middle school in Inman Park, a gentrified neighborhood with yoga studios, bike paths, and million-dollar houses. Waller thought the results seemed obviously false, and he called his supervisor, Michael Pitts, to warn him.

Nothing happened. Year after year, improbable numbers were accepted as valid. Complaints were ignored.

Parks attracted so many visitors who were eager to understand the school’s turnaround that teachers had to come up with ways to explain it. At Waller’s direction, they began maintaining what they called “standard-based mastery folders,” an index of all the objectives that each student needed to grasp in order to comprehend a given lesson. Lewis, who was taking night classes at the School of Education at Clark Atlanta University, wrote his master’s thesis on the technique. “It was a wonderful system,” he said. “But we only put it in place to hide the fact that we were cheating.”

Believing the tests weren’t valid, teachers saw cheating as a “victimless crime.”