Archive for the ‘school reform’ Category

Trouble with Testing 

Monday, June 15th, 2015
SBAC elementary school

SBAC elementary school

Let us dig down into the trouble with testing – deeper than the Opt Out uproar. District representatives have spent a great deal of time explaining why assessment is important. It provides a set of statistics to compare the individual school to the district, to other regions in the state, and to the nation. It provides the teacher with an affirmation of his/her observations about the success of the single student. Analysis of the scores for a class tells what needs to be re-taught and taught next. But do those attributes provide a clue to the drawbacks to current  testing seen by teachers, parents, students?

At this time, the country is awash in opinions and myths about the new country-wide standards and the testing that has been devised to assess progress. Denise Juneau, Montana’s state Superintendent of Schools, fending off critics, reminded the state that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are about good teaching. Connecting CCSS to testing problems is misguided.

The drawback that has affected many states, whether using tests by Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC) or PARCC, the other test consortium, is the technological platforms that were assembled too quickly. For example, an article in Montana’s Billings Gazette discusses the glitches that delayed testing for eight days. Too many students tried to access the platform at the same time which brought down the entire system for two other states besides Montana. Measured Progress, the vendor assigned to oversee the testing technology, agrees that the project must be revised. See “Several Montana Schools to Continue with Smarter Balanced Testing After Glitches” by Alice Miller Missoulian, April 17, 2015, Billings Gazette.

In addition, not enough computers are part of the problem. Timelines for using computers, tablets, and laptops must be aligned. For example, Sedgewick Elementary in Cupertino, a district in the heart of Silicon Valley, is an example of these difficulties. The school spent weeks on assessment because the grade levels had to be assigned to go to the computer lab that was set up for their particular assessment. For students who missed a day, computer time had to be reserved to make up the tests missed.

Can you imagine the time needed to download the test level for the grade assigned to a session, the intricacy of allotting time for make-up exams, and time needed to show kids how to access the exams – even in a district where computers are part of every child’s home? Also, understand that district budgets set limits for the cost of upgrading computers, laptops, or tablets. Is it enough as the technology improves? In addition, think of the time, cost, and number of technicians needed to make sure the machines and servers are maintained.

Looking even deeper in the assessments, elementary students take exams that depend on the child’s understanding of word processing. They must write sentence answers in both the mathematics tests and the language arts tests. Teachers have said that the school curriculum will need to include how to word process. Do not use tablets as they do not have easily accessible keyboards. How will students show what they know if they are spending all the testing time searching for the question mark, deleting misspelled words, typing the equal sign rather than the plus sign, to name a few? Imagine the students who are learning English. Imagine students who live in a poor, rural area of the country where the school district does not have money for up-to-date computers and servers for a high school. SBAC and PARCC do have paper exams for such schools. Does that preserve equality?

Eventually, these difficulties will be corrected, but the next post will address the question of emphasis on the wealth of testing and poverty of analysis. What’s the purpose?

PS: And don’t count on fiscally stingy states to address these issues.  Several states have dropped out of the consortiums and refuse to adopt CCSS. Why? They want to change the standards for their students on their own. Do they think they can implement the technology needed, cultivate a set of standards different from CCSS, as well as create assessment that ensures student success in the 21st century?

The education administrators in those states are burying their heads in the sand. Have their tails begun wagging for help?


Three Ways to Help a School

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Believe it or not the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted last week to bring its revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known to teachers in the 21st century as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), to the Senate floor.

Understand, only the Senate’s committee has voted for any change – not the entire Senate — and reconciliation must occur with House of Representatives legislation. ESEA has not been revised—disagreement has reigned over options and policy — since NCLB was passed and signed in 2001. The original bill was designed to be revised every seven years to address poverty and unequal education in America.

Why hasn’t complete revision yet been made? These days, why does this blogger suspect politics — not success for students — is the culprit? Look at who is the current president. Look at the mean-spirited lawmakers who run the current Congress.

It can be said that the latest is an amazing reconciliation among 22 members of the Senate committee. Committee leaders, Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), must have patiently twisted recalcitrant arms after hearing enough from the public who, I’m thinking, said “We’re not going to take it anymore!” At least I wish they had.

According to Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers, the legislation “moves away from the counterproductive focus on sanctions and high-stakes test, and ends federalized teacher evaluations and school closings.” Opinion, p.2, New York Times, Sunday, April 19, 2015.

So what will help a school succeed, if a low-performing school no longer spends the day on high-stakes tests and teacher evaluation? The country is full of foundations researching and reporting on good educational programs that succeed in low-performing neighborhood schools. One foundation study that has caught my eye is the series of reports from The Wallace Foundation relating to the need for valuable leadership in a school. Since the possible – notice, I said possible – revised ESEA legislation will support strategies for under-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods, it behooves districts to train new principals to be those leaders. Read the reports! They emphasize the ways for a district to expand the number of quality principals. They provide tools to achieve leadership quality.

Once strong leadership is established, and once high-stakes testing is no longer the be-all and end-all of the school year, an abundance of programs can help teachers improve student behavior and academics. Articles from workshops and education magazines have shared math projects, said to improve both confident behavior and student academic success.

Have you, high school teachers, been introduced to Build, a program that leverages both reading and math literacy? Districts using this model can be found on both coasts. In a ninth grade course, students form a partnership of four and divide responsibilities to design and produce a product, design a business plan with a budget, marketing plans, and consumer services. One product I read about was a bracelet made from melted toothbrushes decorated with motivational slogans. Sweet, as kids say. Designed in 1999 for East Palo Alto schools by Suzanne McKechnie Klar, by now students even make pitches to venture advisors.

A larger project motivates middle school students in a school with math abilities from kindergarten to eighth grade levels. It’s called School of One and it’s expensive. However, it uses computers for teaching, not playing computer and video games, it does more for teachers than design, administer, and score tests. At one school, on any day, you may see four seventh grade math teachers work with 120 kids, some individually, some small group, others working on a group math project. The teachers’ computer program analyzes the quizzes from the previous day, organizes the period for the day, and students check the monitors when they enter to know what their station is. At the end of the day, they take quizzes again which tell the teachers what the student should do the next day.

Critics have said that such a model is disruptive and hard to organize. So? It’s disruptive when students are not being taught at their level. The organization is geared to improve their achievement. New Classroom Innovations Partners can support introduction and management. Again this teaching model can be found across the country.

Three strategies to implement if school boards no longer have to spend time on high-stakes tests and sanctions: good school-site leadership, and two math models to improve achievement for all the graduates in the 21st century. Cross your fingers!




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.




Take the Math Gap and See

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

It’s enough to make you slap the side of your head. Why can’t policy makers recommend projects that close the achievement gap in spite of obstacles?

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) in Atlanta, Georgia, released a report Friday, January 16, 2015. In “A New Majority Research Bulletin” (at right on SEF home page), an average of 51% of public school students in the United States are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. The statistic infers that they come from low-income families. Only the Agriculture Department can be smiling.

Currently, 2/3 of the states are in the south. However, the West shouldn’t gloat. Utah (59%), New Mexico (68%), and California (55%) should frown at their number of students.

Lots of hand wringing, but few improvement ideas are proposed. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association (NEA) thinks that policy makers should look at wealthy districts with strong student outcomes and provide all public schools with the models used there. In California, the new funding formula for schools specifies more money to schools with low-income student needs.

Match is a program that has shown positive results, especially in high school which is the last resort to get students from low-income neighborhoods to succeed. One would guess that English/Language Arts is attacked. But no, Mathematics is the draw.

The model treats boys who fare worst on every tenet of academic achievement. As results brought out by the University of Chicago Crime Lab show, the improvement in math can happen quickly and carries over to non-math classes. In many cases the students become more focused on graduation and moving on to higher education. Key components of the tutoring model include the following:

  • Tutoring is a continuous, intensive experience; tutoring is provided to students every day.
  • Tutorial is embedded into the school day as its own period; it is not a pull out or a push in model.
  • Tutors tutor full class sections of students so that the classroom teacher is free during those periods.
  • Tutoring happens in small groups (1:2, 1:1).
  • Tutor/student pairs remain consistent throughout the year.
  • Tutors receive two full weeks of initial training and extensive and ongoing support and monitoring (tutors are observed daily).
  • Tutors have the opportunity to take on other school-based projects in their extra time.

In 2008, the model began in Boston as the Match School Foundation which has focused on low-income charter schools. In addition, the Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education offers a Master’s Degree in Effective Teaching. Graduates train tutors in schools asking for help.

In fact, districts across the country have requested the foundation’s support in building tutoring programs within their schools, mainly in large urban districts: Chicago, Houston, ARISE Schools in Louisiana, and Summit Charter Schools in the Bay Area in California.

Many reports conclude that intervention must begin early which is true, but never give up. Public or charter, students who need help, no matter what age, are entitled to support. Policy makers must take the bull by the horns. No fear allowed. No excuses.



Colorado Standards and Assessments in Pussyfoot Mode

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

“Fog comes on little cat feet,” wrote Carl Sandberg, American poet. None know that better than members of Colorado’s HB14-1202 Task Force on Standards and Assessments. Despite expectations, no testing clarity will likely come from the Task Force. Instead, there will be a lot of pussyfooting in the fog.

As predicted, the 1202 Task Force breaks about 7-7 on the most important issues. Susan Van Gundy, the committee member paid by test consortium PARCC of which Colorado is a member, would be the tie-breaker if the committee decided to vote on recommendations.

The Task Force will apparently offer two types of recommendations: one from those who want to stick with almost all of the Colorado mandated tests and another from those who want to trim way back.

The 1202 committee agrees on eliminating state mandated tests for high school seniors. But seniors took care of that themselves when they didn’t show up for the CMAS social studies and science tests this fall.

The Task Force will probably recommend making non-ACT tests in ELA and math optional for 11th graders. Another brave recommendation may be to make 9th grade ELA and math tests optional. The ELA and math state assessments will occur in 10th grade.

Other than that, the Committee tiptoed away from tough decisions. The two assessment experts on the Task Force, Lisa Escarcega from Aurora Public Schools and Syna Morgan from Jefferson County Public Schools, brought specific recommendations of what they deem a reasonable testing schedule. Both educators cited research that says ELA should be tested in third grade. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirms that proficient 3rd grade reading is a critical skill that affects high school graduation rates.

But they also said that annual testing in every subject every year is repetitive and unproductive. Local assessments conducted by school districts provide much more refined and timely data related to reading progress, for example. The assessment educators offered a rotation in which each subject, ELA, math, science, and social studies, gets tested once every three years.

Task Force members supporting the status quo are insisting on continuous, annual testing. They believe that standardized tests and the Colorado Annual Growth Model are the most reliable tools for measuring teacher and school performance and improving student achievement. They brought no research that proved their contention. Flat TCAP and CMAS scores don’t make their case.

The Colorado Annual Growth Model is premised on comparing cohorts of students’ scores from year to year. Students who have the same test scores in year one are compared to each other in year two by subject. When students test above their cohort average, they’re deemed to have made progress and teachers get credit. When students test below their cohort average, they haven’t made progress and teachers are dinged.

The state averages credits and dings across subjects by student, class, and school to come up with a credit/ding number used in teacher and school performance evaluations. Teacher salaries may depend on their average of credits and dings involving up to four subjects for elementary school teachers.

It’s easy to see how the Growth Model gives screwy end-results. A child may score very high in reading and very low in math and the teacher’s performance evaluation will tip in one direction or another depending on how high in one subject and low in the other. None of this crediting and dinging and averaging really helps the student.

Task Force parents Bethany Drosendahl and Ilana Spiegel question the Colorado Annual Growth Model. Ilana Spiegel pointed out that a student can advance and go backwards at the same time. That is, some students may progress compared to their non-proficient peers but regress in relation to proficiency.

Parent Task Force members also reminded their colleagues that state mandated tests don’t diagnose ELA, math, science, and social studies challenges. They take resources, money, and teacher-to-student intervention time away from remediation and advancement. Tests don’t get students to proficiency; steady application of intensive effort gets students to the next level.

The status quo members have not identified a pathway to get non-proficient students the actual support they need to meet the standards.

So the Task Force is stuck: no change v. big change. Governor John Hickenlooper acknowledged the need for modifications in high school and social studies testing in his State of the Union. But he, like the status quo members, wants to hang on to the Colorado Annual Growth Model despite its dubious value.

This may be a matter of pride and stubbornness. Many other states are using the Colorado model. But if the Task Force ends up pussyfooting, and the legislature ends up tiptoeing, they can expect big cat parents and students to strike. Watch out! In the electric words of British poet William Blake:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?