Archive for the ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ Category

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




Opt Out

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Has the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) thought about the variety of students who must be assessed?

Or is each state, member of a consortium or not, only thinking of assessment in terms of the numbers No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires, which is still not revised in Congress?

The “opt out” strategy that has swept across the country, mainly in PARCC assessment states, but also in SBAC states, sheds glaring light. This post will look over the statements made about “opting out.”

“Opt out” supporters do not like the over-emphasis on testing; but also feel that student data privacy is not protected under the current assessment requirements. In reading various blogs and reports by parents on “opt out,” it can be claimed that middle class, educated parents and students are rebelling against the national fanaticism for testing. As has been said many times, students that come from high income, educated communities always do well. Testing all the time does not serve their learning well. Also, these parents have long been leery of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA. Note that in January 2015, President Obama called for revised federal legislation to regulate student data privacy. Up to Congress to change the current FERPA.

Let’s look at the national United Opt Out website. United Opt Out’s position is that corporations are dominating high-stakes testing decisions that the site intimates has influence over Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the consortia, and  the United States Department of Education. The website names ACHIEVE, a partner of the testing corporation Pearson, and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) which advocates for free markets, limited government, and federalism.

From my perspective, even more paranoid are the views named in the book Crimes of the Educators written by Alex Newman and Sam Blumenthal. Mr. Newman, in his post for Brave New Schools on WND News, “Common Core: Obama’s Assault on Children” (4/12/2015) wants to “stop the nightmarish plot and keep liberty alive.” He includes CCSS in the testing tirade. He has said that CCSS shapes minds with propaganda and reduces critical thinking for nefarious purposes. He asserts CCSS is a federal encroachment on every child’s education and that the assessments leave privacy of student records open to the world. He places guilt on the Obama administration, the UN, crony capitalists hoping to profit, population control zealot and Common Core financier Bill Gates, and “the whole corrupt educational establishment”. According to his convictions, students should “opt out.” Now, to whom is he speaking?

School districts from Seattle, Washington, to Pacific Grove, California, to the state of Colorado and New York have counted thousands of students and parents opting out of this year’s tests. Many districts have made applications that must be signed. Only California (SBAC) and Utah have regulations that allow parents and students to “opt out.” Since the country must still abide by the regulations under NCLB, state and school district administrators pale with fear of punitive measures because schools must include the number of test takers to fulfill the Adequate Yearly Progress, known as AYP, reports still required by federal law.

Before thinking that getting rid of the federal government’s place in schools will solve the CCSS and assessment problem, ask the administrators at SBAC and PARCC if they have thought of how to equip the United States’ diverse schools, students, and teachers for this future? Opting out does not help student achievement; supportive alternatives are the answer.

What about supporting diverse needs? Look for the next post that will address the problems for the actual tests.



SBAC Summative & Formative Assessments & Digital Library

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
From the SBAC Digital Library

From the SBAC Digital Library

Michelle Obama will travel to Japan and Cambodia in the middle of March 2015 to garner support for the Peace Corps and Japan’s Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (OCV). The visit will initiate USAID’s Let Girls Learn, “an international effort aimed at enabling millions of young women to attend, and stay in, school.” President Obama’s initiative introduced two weeks ago without much fanfare. Education opportunities for girls in eleven Balkan, Asian, and African nations are the Peace Corps’ and OCV’s focus in 2015. That means building school sites, finding books, purchasing uniforms.

Think about the United States. The states struggle over a new set of standards for learning called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the assessments for the standards devised by two consortia, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These assessments need computers, laptops, or tablets to take the exams; professional development to implement the standards and learn how to instruct students to take the exams; servers and cables, cables, and more cables. Are $$ ca-chinging in your brain?

Our last post discussed the problems for PARCC with the development of assessments handed off to Pearson, a UK education corporation. Let’s see how the 21 SBAC states have fared in 2014 and soon this year, 2015 Will the cost be supported?

From the latest updated SBAC website, the most controversial of the assessments given once a year over a period of several days, is the summative test explanation. The site shows a summary of the content of the exams and description of the revisions and analysis of the Pilot and Field Tests. The Field Test Report outlines the 2014 results from the 13 field test states, used to gauge accuracy of questions and school readiness for 2015. It also describes support for students with learning disabilities, second language issues, and physical constraints like hearing and vision. Unlike the PARCC model, 65 teachers, administrators, and parents from 17 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands determined the achievement levels for 2015 exams.

Second, anyone who is interested can look over the practice tests and the Digital Library of teacher resources to prepare grade 3-12 students for the collaborative thinking and problem solving the assessments require. SBAC practice, however, is as sparing and confusing as PARCC practice critics claim.

When you look at the English/Language Arts practice tests, it is apparent that only some lucky students, but certainly not the majority, will be able to handle the punctuation, grammar, and formatting requirements asked of them. Think of your third grader. The parent can, however, buy as much practice as she can afford from a multitude of education companies. Browse the internet.

Last, the most vigorous outrage has unfurled over the numerous testing days, preparation for, stress for students, outcomes already long suspected, privacy of information analyzed and held on databases. Each state’s department of education, whether a PARCC or SBAC affiliate, will have to come to terms with the backlash generated, NOT by the standards, but by the lack of long-range planning before the actual implementation of assessments for CCSS.

However, roiling from budget cuts to its once outstanding school master plan, California has centered on new directives to forge an array of measures to gauge school success. For one, the California State Board of Education voted to suspend for another year the Academic Performance Index (API) that gave schools a score used to evaluate performance of teachers, students, and schools in boosting academic achievement. The API and the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) score, mandated by the federal NCLB legislation, had yearly distinguished success from failure.

In addition, the state’s “school quality” measures will take in not only assessment scores, but student attendance, English proficiency, access to educational materials, suspensions, graduation rate, dropout rates, and performance in college-level courses; all factors that indicate whether or not the achievement gap is closing. Hallelujah! The aspects that make up the climate for a succeeding school will be addressed.

You have most likely heard of “continuous improvement”-a way to examine how a school is improving. The strongest change for California is the State Board of Education’s decision to designate an agency of highly-qualified (recognize that term?) teachers, administrators, superintendents, and County Office of Education experts to form the California Collaborative of Educational Excellence (CCEE). Its duties are to support learning, share knowledge, evaluate a school’s needs, and provide sources of direct intervention so that California schools, public and charter, well-heeled and low income, succeed for every student. To come is the $$ assessment!

Fortunately, the United States doesn’t need the Let Girls Learn initiative. Think about it: teacher, parent, business person, Congress person! Our job is to suck up our complaints and embark on the long road to raise the educational stakes for all our children.




Small, Not Large

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Do you know that only 2000 schools in the United States produce 60% of the dropouts? Those schools can have about 3000 students each. The number accounts for middle and high schools since any statistician knows that students begin to drop out as young as 14.

The 2000 schools (often called dropout factories) are found in low-income neighborhoods where the students come from families with little education in their experience. The students have had poor academic success during the elementary school years so that by now they are below and far below on assessments for proficiency in math and reading. However, the National Education Association (NEA) has a lofty goal to create great public schools by 2020.

How will this happen? Here is an example. In New York City since 2002, large high schools have been remodeled to provide small high schools with academically rigorous curriculum and a personalized learning environment, long considered necessary to help poor-performing students improve. These small high schools, about 100 students per grade level, have reached their goal of increasing the number of students who graduate and go to college.

The nonprofit MDRC (Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation) with sites in New York City and Oakland, California, has reviewed data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse. The review has found that in spite of family income, race and ethnicity, and previous low academic achievement students from the small schools have graduated and gone on to college, four year college as well as community college. In addition, the small high school model costs less per student mainly because students do not need five years to graduate. Find out details of the model at

Now, to ease the number of students who dropout by middle and high school, the emphasis on pre-school programs implemented in many states can address the issue. As of 2011 the federal and state governments have allocated $30 billion. However, children entering pre-schools from low-income families have shown poor literacy and math skills. In addition, programs want to avoid “fade out” of skills learned as has been noted for the premier pre-school project Head Start.

With its emphasis on services for low-income children, MDRC has research on a project focused on enhancement of social and emotional behaviors for small children. Teachers need resources, so the study programs have funding for professional development and coaching. The outcome leads to more instructional time in the pre-school day. The most important point of the study shows that pre-school youth read better by grade 3, a goal of the current federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), when their instructional time focuses on math. This means more than teaching shape names and counting and recognizing 1-20. Many pre-schools and daycare centers have opted for a model called Building Blocks based on views held by the National Science Foundation and that meet standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Young children manipulate hands-on materials and computer-based designs. For details:

We need to change our outlook. Small is the word whether size of the child or size of the school.


Testy Words About Testing

Monday, April 8th, 2013
analyzing data from test results

analyzing data from test results

Them’s fightin’ words! Atlanta schools’ superintendent and a throng of teachers are alleged to have manipulated yearly tests in an effort to improve Atlanta’s public schools’ reputation. The last few months Atlanta’s school superintendent is the center of news attention.

You can bet there’s evidence on both sides of the question. You can put money on the fact that the case will erupt into a huge controversy of pros and cons about testing in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation (not revised since 2007).

There are advantages to testing as promoted since 2003 by NCLB.

  • State departments of education have been forced to regularize state testing.
  • State departments of education can use data to see which public schools are doing well and which are not, so various remedies can be applied.
  • This tool can be used in plans for evaluation of schools, administrators, and teachers. This idea led to the controversial “value-added” assessments in Los Angeles.
  • Assuming knowledge is cumulative, tests let the analysts know if the test-taker has accrued the learning expected at a certain grade level.

Testing controversy has been addressed regularly by American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and affiliates. President Obama in 2009 called on Congress to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the actual name for NCLB. Ultimately the federal Department of Education under the new superintendent set out its own new guidelines which started a rapid change for each state to upgrade its public schools, in spite of the recession. Came further lobbying for charter schools and choice-vouchers. Came Common Core Standards. Came federal waivers as 2014 neared and states complained that they could not reach the absurd goals set by the un-revised  NCLB.

Little federal word came out about testing design or strategy. Hard to believe! The disadvantages of the current testing model enrage all types from Diane Ravitch to Bill Gates, not just AFT and NEA.

  • The current goals set by NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress plan can’t be reached by all students in the country.
  • States were allowed to design their own tests and decide on levels of student proficiency. Results can’t be compared state by state from the outcomes of tests taken.
  • State promoted tests are not required by parochial or private schools. How can those schools be championed to be “best?”
  • Failing schools have received less money or been closed. While the issues of school districts may require some closures, the problem of testing is not helped or discussed in the debates.
  • Preparation for yearly testing has left less time for art, music, physical education in the elementary grades.

What is not addressed? All the difficulties with the current model of testing.

Who takes the test? Is it a criterion-referenced test like authorized in California or a standardized test? (A degree in statistics is needed to understand the difference.) How is each test designed? (Common Core Standards have been developed to make exams comparable.) Why does “proficiency” depend on which state you live in? (Only the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress provides a nation-wide sample of how students are performing in math and language arts and it has many critics.)

Last, but not least, recall that private companies design the tests for public school districts and make a lot of money nation-wide.

Until tests are designed and implemented so schools and teachers can analyze how to help students; until it is recognized that some children are not good test takers but may have other traits to be supported; until a magical test is designed that can evaluate a highly-qualified teacher, arguments will only be arbitrated in the court.

Public schools and students deserve better.