Archive for July, 2015

Trouble with Testing #2

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Since the last post about testing trouble, written 6-15-15, the House of Representatives has voted for a bill on July 19, 2015. HR 5 is called the Student Success Act,  the newest House revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which has not been touched since 1965. All those interested in education issues heard from the Senate several months ago, but nothing has been forthcoming since then.  Even after reconciliation, the bill will be vetoed. That is assured. Can it then be resurrected by 2/3 vote? Unlikely.

PARCC elementary school

PARCC elementary school

Of course, resistant states’ tails are wagging in glee about HR 5. The four principles claimed by the House Education and Workforce Committee, sponsored by John Kline (R- MN) and Tom Rokita (R-IN), reduces the federal footprint, restores local state control, supports effective teachers, and empowers parents. The four principles are supported by two grants: Local Academic Flexible Grant and Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant.

In spite of glowing words used to describe HR 5, is this bill for real? Critics determine that resources are taken away from struggling schools. Most federal Department of Education requirements, including Title I, are said to be coerced and therefore are included in a block grant which local recipients can divide as they choose. School choices, i.e., vouchers are proposed (using taxpayer funds?) and called local opportunity for students and parents. Local-driven teacher evaluation systems are asserted, though not spelled out. What does the NEA and AFT say?

What is said about providing a decent set of standards so that teachers in any state can be assured that students who move into their classroom will be informed? HR5 declares states make their own standards that address the needs of each state’s students. Are we going back to the same spot the country was at 7 years ago?

Lovely words are written about accountability and evaluation, but few words address assessment and analysis. The bill scoffs at federal Adequate Yearly Progress, but calls for similar accountability.

So now what? A month ago, this post worried about the wealth of assessment (testing) and the poverty of inquiry about results to promote more learning.

Teachers and parents complain vociferously about testing, but ‘summative,” or once-a-year, tests won’t disappear until something better is advocated. However, with inquiry to analyze results, let us call for the assessment named criterion-referenced testing, the model that tells the school how well students have learned the subjects taught at the grade level. Not so helpful are norm-referenced testing results which only tell you how a student does in comparison to all students taking the test. A well-known test of that sort is the old Iowa Standardized Test that was given in the 1960’s.

Important! Once the state or whatever group like Measured Progress scores and analyzes the results to break down the assessed outcomes into strengths and weaknesses, teachers and administrators can then make an action plan on what to do the following year.

A far better alternative exists! This post recommends substituting “formative” tests instead of once-a-year exams. Using a “cycle of inquiry” students are assessed after each 8 or 10 weeks of instruction. Then teachers analyze how students are doing in that frame of time and make action plans to determine how to revise their teaching during the current year, not the following year.

You may have heard of a “cycle of inquiry,” a business strategy for improvement, used by some schools. Teachers unions, administration associations, SBAC, and PARCC should demand professional development money to train schools in this strategy. Thus, the purpose of testing is changed.

Funds, supposedly, will be available in any ESEA transformation. All those business-oriented legislators will love inquiry. Low-performing schools and high-achievement schools will have successful students, the goal of the 21st century.

*SBAC-Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

*PARCC- Partnership Assessment for Readiness for College and Career