Online testing is coming — with glitches

Online testing promises to help teachers hone instruction by providing instant feedback on what students are learning and what they’re missing, notes the Hechinger Report. Online tests also should make it easier to spot patterns that suggest cheating. With backing from the Obama administration and new tests under development, a majority of students could be taking standardized math and English tests online in three years.

Delaware already has moved all state testing online.

 On a recent afternoon at Townsend Elementary School here, a little boy squinted at a computer screen and gripped his mouse. He was stuck. Half of the screen contained an article about rainforests. The other half was filled with questions, some multiple-choice, some not.

One question asked the boy to pick two animals that belonged in the rainforest from a list of pictures and written descriptions. Then he was supposed to drag the animals across the screen onto the rainforest background. Next, he had to move two correct descriptions of rainforest characteristics into boxes.

Test developers hope the next generation of online tests will be more challenging and stimulating.

In these new exams, a student might be asked to use a mouse to move the sides of a shape on screen into an isosceles triangle, highlight the main idea of a passage, or write an essay about two articles supplemented by their own online research.

But Delaware’s current test, which students take three or four times a year, doesn’t break down students’ scores on specific skills. Townsend Elementary also is testing students three times a year on a more sophisticated test that gives teachers feedback on where students are struggling. That means students spend more time taking tests.

Some early adopters are struggling with technical problems.

Wyoming abandoned online testing, after adopting it in 2010, and is back to pencil and paper. The technical problems were overwhelming. Every school was routed through a single, private network, which “collapsed under the weight of more than 80,000 public school students.” In addition, some schools didn’t have enough working computers.

On the other hand, Virginia, which invested $650 million in new technology, has rolled out online testing without major problems.

Race to the muddle

Hundreds of New York principals are protesting plans to use test scores to evaluate principals and teachers, reports the New York Times. To qualify for Race to the Top funds, the state put together a new evaluation system.

Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.

Delaware, one of the first states to get Race to the Top funds, also has rushed through “ludicrous initiatives,” writes Hube at The Colossus of Rhodey.

Administrators, who’ve evaluated countless teachers through the years, are required to attend “training” sessions to … evaluate teachers.

Teachers will support a fair evaluation system, he writes.

. . .  why not take a few master teachers from each subject area and pay them to, say, three times a year visit the classrooms of district teachers for the latter’s evaluations? . . .  not only would these evaluators be experienced teachers, they also know the subject area as well. . . . I bet this idea’d be a heck of a lot cheaper.

Teachers and their unions should rethink their lockstep support of Democrats, Hube writes. “George W. Bush was blasted by these folks for No Child Left Behind, but Obama’s initiative is NCLB on steroids.”

 

Delaware cuts 'read alouds' on reading test

In response to a decline in reading scores, Delaware officials say they’ve cut down on  “read alouds” for special education students taking reading tests, reports The News Journal.

In 2009, 6,321 students had portions of the reading test read aloud to them. In 2010, 1,435 got that assistance during the test.

Accommodations on tests are supposed to measure disabled students’ abilities fairly, not inflate their scores, points out Christina Samuels of On Special Education.  A report by the National Center on Educational Outcomes report finds conflicting research on whether “read-aloud” accommodations raise scores for disabled students. “It also seems particularly challenging to assess students’ reading skills without actually asking them to read,” Samuels writes.

Indeed.

Race winners set low standards

Tennessee and Delaware, the first-round Race To The Top winners, set low standards for their students, concludes a new report on state proficiency standards by Paul Peterson and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón in Education Next.

Tennessee earned an F, as did Alabama and Nebraska.

Based on its own tests and standards, (Tennessee) claimed in 2009 that over 90 percent of its 4th-grade students were proficient in math, whereas NAEP tests revealed that only 28 percent were performing at a proficient level. Results in 4th-grade reading and at the 8th-grade level are much the same. With such divergence, the concept of “standard” has lost all meaning. It’s as if a yardstick can be 36 inches long in most of the world, but 3 inches long in Tennessee.

Delaware earned a grade of C-  for claiming that 77 percent of its 4th-grade students were proficient in math versus 36 percent on NAEP. “In 8th-grade reading, Delaware said 81 percent of its students were proficient, but NAEP put the figure at 31 percent.”

. . . Tennessee earned almost full marks (98 percent) on the section of the competition (weighted a substantial 14 percent of all possible points) devoted to “adopting standards and assessments,” even though its standards have remained extremely low ever since the federal accountability law took hold. The proof will be in the pudding. If Tennessee and Delaware and other states now shift their standards dramatically upward, RttT will win over those who think it is performance, rather than promises, that should be rewarded.

Five states — Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, and Washington — earned an A for world-class or near-world-class standards. Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont earned a B.

In Ed Next’s blog, Peterson worries that national standards will end up slightly above the C level.

The selection of Tennessee and Delaware was “subjective and arbitrary,” concludes an Economic Policy Institute report, Let’s Do the Numbers.

Delaware, Tennessee win Race to Top

Delaware and Tennessee have won Race To The Top funding in the first round.

Both had stakeholder buy-in (from the unions and school boards), the Education Department says. Politics K-12 points out another factor:

. . . Tennessee and Delaware just happen to be the home states of two powerful, Republican lawmakers the Obama administration is trying to court in its bipartisan push to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Both chair the subcommittees in their respective chambers dealing with K-12 policy, and both are considered leading moderate voices on education who have worked well with Democrats in the past.

Also noticing the Alexander and Castle factor, Flypaper’s Andy Smarick credits the Department for choosing only two winners, but says Delaware and Tennessee had plans that were good but not great.

The story here is just how important “stakeholder support” turned out to be. Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island had very good plans, but their unions didn’t buy in, especially in RI and FL.  So those states lost.

Two other finalists, North Carolina and Kentucky, had weak plans but high stakeholder support. They lost too.

. . . Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island now have to wonder, “What reforms do we give up in order to get our stakeholders to support the plan? Do we lighten up on teacher evaluations? Do we give up performance pay? Do we take it easier on failing schools.”

The need for stakeholder support could give unions and local school districts a “veto” over their state’s proposals, Smarick writes.

Giving a veto to the status quo’s defenders will make RTTT “meaningless,” writes Jay Greene. “If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will apply in the future unless they have union support.  This means that the unions will dictate what reforms will be pursued, which means that there will be virtually no reform.”

Rick Hess calls the results the Race To Consensus.

Looking at Delaware and Tennessee leaves me thinking that all the talk about bold reform was window dressing. The states that explicitly set out to blow past conventions, and devil take the hindmost, fell by the wayside. Florida and Louisiana’s bold, action-backed plans — which reflected a belief that they could push forward if they did so only with the eager and willing — lost out to states that obtained laughable levels of buy-in from school districts, school boards, and local teachers’ unions.

Tennessee’s plan is bold, writes J.E. Stone.

Mike Petrilli is better at handicapping RTTT winners than college basketball teams. His short list included: Delaware, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts. Union support made a big difference, he writes.

Lifted from Russo, a cartoon by my old friend Signe Wilkinson, the mother of two blogging teachers, one in Philadelphia and one in Taiwan.

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Poor Robert couldn't 'walk'

For threatening to punch a teacher, Robert Storms Jr. was put on “social probation” and  barred from graduation ceremonies at Sussex Central High in Delaware. He’ll get his diploma in the mail.

Storms and his family picketed the ceremony to protest the decision.

His aunt, Lillian Mitchell, said her son, Anthony, graduated from SCHS last year despite being caught with drugs on school property.

“He was found getting high in school and all they did was make him get drug rehab,” she said. “And even though he failed all them drug tests, they still let him walk. All Robert did was threaten someone verbally.”

. . . “I don’t care if I have to sell my house, I’m going after the school by any means needed,” Robert Sr. said.

The photo shows that Robert Jr. is a large young man. He has a short temper.  He believes his actions should have no consequences. Have a great life!

Hube at Colossus of Rhodey sees misplaced priorities.