‘Test and punish’ is a state of mind

Test-and-Punish Accountability is a State of Mind, not the State of Reality, argues Anne Hyslop , a New America Foundation policy analyst.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and AFT President Randi Weingarten want to move from “test-and-punish” accountability to a system built on “support-and-improve.”

President Clinton already tried that, Hyslop writes. “Support-and-improve”  became “do-nothing.”

Even when states and district do something to improve schools, results are meager.

After billions invested in retooled School Improvement Grants since 2010, with more resources and more intensive strategies, many under-performing schools have seen no improvements, and a third declines, under the program. Meanwhile, the research on NCLB-style accountability—with consequences—has found positive effects on student achievement, especially for low-performing students and in math.

Furthermore, the “punish” part of “test-and-punish” has vanished, Hyslop writes. “Thanks to the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers, there don’t have to be stakes, for anyone, on upcoming state tests. None.”

The accountability moratorium will last till 2017 — or longer.

Most reformers believes states should try new “support-and-improve” approaches “in tandem with meaningful accountability systems,” not as an alternative, she writes.

What is incompatible with the support-and-improve mindset is the choices of some elected officials, school administrators, and educators. If drill-and-kill, or weeks of rote test prep, or a testing week “pep rally” is the best you can come up with in response to a system of accountability, then something went terribly wrong, and it isn’t the test.

Transform the response to accountability, Hyslop argues. The test-and-punish culture is a very bad choice. “There are alternatives that don’t sacrifice high-quality, rich instruction at the altar of test-based accountability.”

‘Test and punish’ threatens Common Core

“When people talk about Common Core, they often mean the high-stakes tests attached to the standards and not the Common Core itself,” says Linda Darling-Hammond in an American Prospect interview, Pencils Out

The tests are a step in the right direction for most states in that they include more open-ended items. In most cases, they include at least one or two performance tasks, which require the kids to take up a problem, do an analysis, write a response, and sometimes revise that response. There’s real engagement in the work.

Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, is senior research advisor to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing core-aligned tests.

(Under Common Core) students will be asked to collaborate, engage in the use of technologies for multiple purposes, communicate orally and in writing, do extensive research, apply mathematics and English language arts in complex problem-solving situations. The tests are not designed to reach all of those Common Core standards. They tackle the ones that are closest to what traditional sit-down tests can accomplish. Many of the answers will still be close-ended—that is, pick one answer out of five, or drag and drop your answer, or identify it from something that is already provided.

Many high-achieving nations have fewer assessments, says Darling-Hammond. Some use only open-ended questions, such as writing an essay, designing a scientific investigation or inquiring into a social-science problem. 

Only in the U.S. are tests used, without other measures, to decide on promotion, high school graduation and teachers’ pay and employment, says Darling-Hammond.

“To move forward we have to change the accountability paradigm” from “test and punish” to “assess and improve,” she concludes. “If we try to pour the Common Core standards into the old No Child Left Behind accountability framework, it will be like pouring new wine into old bottles.”

Most top-scoring nations give high-stakes “gateway” exams that decide who goes into a college-prep or vocational program and who gets into college, reports NCEE.

What works for high-need students

Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond talked about educational equity and what works for disadvantaged students with as part of Education Sector’s Redefining Equity Up series.

Education reform’s future

It’s not quite the lion lying down the lamb, but Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford ed professor who served on Obama’s transition team, have co-written a New York Times op-ed, How to Rescue Education Reform.  They disagree on some key issues, but agree that the federal government should stick to what it alone can do and avoid trying to micromanage schools.

The first federal role is transparency:  No Child Left Behind required states to measure and report achievement, so parents, voters and taxpayers could “hold schools and public officials accountable.” However, states were allowed to set their own, low standards.

Instead of the vague mandate of “adequate yearly progress,” federal financing should be conditioned on truth in advertising — on reliably describing achievement (or lack thereof) and spending. To track achievement, states should be required to link their assessments to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or to adopt a similar multistate assessment). To shed light on equity and cost-effectiveness, states should be required to report school- and district-level spending; the resources students receive should be disclosed, not only their achievement.

The second federal role is “enforcing civil rights laws and ensuring that dollars intended for low-income students and students with disabilities are spent accordingly.”

Third is supporting basic research in fields such as “brain science, language acquisition or the impact of computer-assisted tutoring.”

Competitive federal grants can support innovation, they conclude. However, the “Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition . . .  ended up demanding that winning states hire consultants to comply with a 19-point federal agenda, rather than truly innovate.”

The feds should stop trying to improve schools by order from above, write Hess and Darling-Hammond. “The federal government can make states, localities and schools do things — but not necessarily do them well.”

Schizophrenic, responds RiShawn Biddle.

The odd couple call adequate yearly progress a “vague mandate,” but elsewhere  complain it’s too prescriptive, writes Andrew Rotherham.  The left and right are uniting to kill education reform, he adds in Time.

 

Recession makes teaching a hot job

Career switchers are eager for teaching jobs, reports the Washington Post.

In many places, there are more converts to teaching than there are jobs, except in hard-to-fill posts in science, math and special education classes.

. . . Career-changers are considered desirable because they bring maturity and outside experiences into classrooms. They also help solve a perennial problem in public education, particularly in math and science: Too few teachers have a solid grasp of the subject they teach.

About one-third of new teachers come through alternative certification programs, which often include intensive summer training and sometimes extend to classroom mentoring. Quality varies.

If they’re thrown into tough teaching situations with little preparation, the new teachers may become overwhelmed and quit, warns Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor.

However, The New Teacher Project estimates its retention rates are better than the average for urban districts, which often staff the toughest schools with the least experienced teachers.

Some districts have set up teaching “residencies” that let beginning teachers “learn under a great teacher in the same classroom for a year and take coursework to help analyze what they see,” reports the Post.

With a degree in Slavic linguistics, Betsy followed a traditional route to earn certification as a high school teacher.

In general, I found that my education courses were useless. The material that was useful on classroom management or lesson planning could have easily been delivered over a summer. . . . After that, the only thing is to throw new teachers into the deep end of either student teaching or a fellowship year but provide them with strong mentor and administration support. It will be a rocky experience, but I fail to believe that sitting around college classrooms taking education theory and psychology courses will do any better at preparing a novice teacher.

Knowing math isn’t enough to make a good math teacher, she believes. But it’s easier to teach a knowledgeable person how to teach than to make a person who doesn’t know math into a good teacher.

. . . I’d prefer to hire someone who had a history background and took a summer course on teacher training than hire someone who had an education degree with a few college courses in the history department. Both applicants might have trouble their first year, but mentor teachers at the school might have the time to teach the new hire how to present a good lesson; we don’t have time to teach the newbie all the history he or she needs to know to teach a high school class.

Newbies should be prepared for a tough job market, Betsy warns. Even North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows, graduates of a prestigious program, are having trouble finding work.