Posts Tagged ‘National Education Association’

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.

Charter Schools-the Latest

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

David Sirota, liberal but not an expert on education details, wrote a piece for the New York Times, Friday, March 23, headlined “Charter schools aren’t solving education ills.”

a beach town elementary in California

a beach town elementary in California

No kidding! But dutiful as this blog is, earlier charter school posts, dated 9-9-2009, 12-9-2009, 1-27-2010, and 6-23-2010, were reviewed to see if some other answer could be found. Nope.

The topic is brought up every few months. According to Sirota “inevitably the conversation turns to charter schools-those publicly funded, privately administered institutions.” As of 2012 the statistics claim 2 million American students at charter schools all over the United States. Compare that number to 6 million students in traditional public schools in California alone.

In 2012, looking at current deficits, states can’t bear to rewrite state tests, put new evaluation procedures in place, provide adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools, the main reason education “experts” always claim charter schools are the “silver bullet.” Even so all those revisions must occur to close the achievement gap-the main goal for which charter schools have been contemplated.

The National Education Association (NEA) “believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.”

And there’s the problem as we’ve read in report after report, some mentioned in Sirota’s column. The main criticism is that the charter school close to your home may not improve the child’s academic success (as shown by test scores). Why? For all the same reasons that your traditional neighborhood pubic school may not be up-to-par.

Then, what’s to talk about for your next conversation? Here’s the list. Charter and traditional public schools can insist on a test that follows the Common Core Standards that all but a few states have agreed to. Doesn’t have to be the same test-who wants to be accused of manipulating the free market for developing tests. The question once the tests are developed probably should be can the tests be compared to find out if the achievement gap among students is closing.

Next, young children who enter Kindergarten before 5 years of age might be allowed more than one year to prepare themselves for the rigors of first grade reading and mathematics in a 21st century education. Is your child young and does the local school (charter or traditional) provide this transitional opportunity if he/she is not ready? It’s been put off in California.

Finally,many education go-getters advocate for “choice” by parents. Home-schooling is the choice of one GOP candidate. To top it off, a fee voucher is put forward by so-called authorities to choose a parochial, private, or charter school. Charters are authorized with the promise to improve student achievement as a condition of relief from some of the rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. However, since the public school district already pays for a chartered school, why would a voucher help?

For writers of this blog, as the NEA suggests, employees of such schools should be subject to the same public sector labor relations statutes as traditional public schools. In addition, charter school employees should have the same collective bargaining rights as their counterparts in traditional public schools.

There we are-stuck with a conflict that cannot and will not be compromised. No new state tests, no new evaluation procedures in place, no adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The education world has heard the word “achievement” many times, usually commenting on the current data or survey and explaining the wonder about the “student achievement gap.”

Monday on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, there was conversation with Education Trust’s Amy Wilkins and American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess about more questions showing an achievement gap. The discussion did not organize itself around student academic achievement data. Thank goodness since such statements always set off a flurry of comment about testing. Data involving current test scores can be argued for years.

Instead the study looked at income data. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions), students in low-income areas do worse on tests than children raised in high-income areas. Mr. Hess was talking about GIFTed children in low-income areas needing support while Ms. Wilkins looked at all children.

Now, what does such data tell the lay folk? It seems that it has been said for a long time that policies need to be started that help neighborhoods, regions, and states. Unfortunately, that policy alone is not supported by Congress as a whole. Those members don’t have the political will.

As the program went on, speakers applauded teachers who are doing well and reminded the listener that those teachers do well no matter where they are, but in the long term such teachers would do more for low-income children as long as the policy of Congress or the state addressed the same problem. Isn’t happening.

The United States Department of Education is meeting with teachers today, Wednesday, February 15, 2012. It starts by offering $5 billion in grants to revisit teacher policies and is backed by the National Education Association. Who would of thunk it?

What will be said? Reform evaluation for schools and teachers; improve tests-standardized or criterion-referenced; buy technology like in Mooresville, North Carolina schools; promote parents to help with homework; provide places to do homework; decrease dropouts from high schools and promote graduation; raise taxes- suburban areas are affected when students don’t improve; stop doing what doesn’t help-use money granted in useful ways. Re-establish funds for college (Ghana and many other countries pay for students to finish). Quit arguing. See our website for ideas how to succeed without arguing.

All of the above solve part of the problem and have been written about over and over. The low-income versus high-income gap is real. Congress will have to grab political will.

Or ways to make end runs will have to be found. Mr. Hess spent a good amount of time stressing high-achievers who must be allowed to think of the change. Let’s watch and see.

Money Trickles In

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

After rambunctious teacher demonstrations last week from San Diego to Humboldt, California, the news has changed. Not a mere hopeful whisper, the April state tax revenues have actually been tallied in California (and many other states). School districts, at least for the 2011-2012 year, won’t see further slice and slash to their funds.

Teachers have already been notified by union negotiators that announcements will soon be made to withdraw lay-off notifications. The sigh of relief is more like a cumulative whoosh. No one was looking forward to next year and its combination of draconian cuts in services.

A brief update of why: during the first days of the 2007-2008 recession, state budgets were too optimistic about turn around in revenues. That error was soon obvious and so legislative budgets set cautious estimates, too cautious as it turns out. In California, it’s possible that $6.6 billion more revenue will be collected than last year, most of which will go to fulfill the state’s formula for funding schools.

As the demonstrations last week clamored, even while rumors made the rounds, the state still has a large imbalance to the budget. The tax legislation that will sunset this year must be extended to begin to balance the state budget over time.  But the conflict over spending cuts vs. raising revenue remains.

At the state and federal level, for whom and to where money is allocated continues to hurt the actual detailed reforms that numerous public school think tanks wish to implement. It has been a year since Congress began to fiddle with revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Teachers unions want changes to testing, student achievement benchmarks, and accountability. Most conservatives in Congress want to cut various programs funded by ESEA as a way to reduce the deficit. Others feel the state and local Departments of Education should take all the responsibility for flexible dispersal of funds in a state.

The last possibility affects federal Title I monies for disadvantaged children and Title II funds for English Language Learners. How will compromise be made when the National Education Association (NEA) sees that flexible use for those monies only means disadvantaged and ELL students will be short-changed as states try to balance budgets?

Most education think tanks that want to see reform begin, advocate for fully-funded models. Any kind of evaluation is for teachers, administrators, and school boards, including tenure issues. Plans must be clearly designed to support teachers, administrators, and school board members not meeting standards.

Now, with conflicts in many states between teachers and public employees’ benefits and pensions and state legislatures effort to decrease deficits, it seems improbable to bring reforms into the public schools.

Let’s hope the increase in tax revenue isn’t ephemeral, but the forefront of an improved economy.

(See article about tax revenues in The New York Times, May 18, 2011, “For States, a Glimmer of Hope on Deficits” by Michael Cooper.)

Not a Gap-It’s a Chasm

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

In California education talk, the most important words are “achievement gap.”  Next most important are the tangle called “school finance reform.”

The two problem/solutions are as thorny as the briar patch at the edge of the moat surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

As if more money in itself is going to solve the multitude of education needs to close the achievement gap, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling a special session in the Fall to design legislation ensuring the state’s ability to compete for Race to the Top (RTTT) federal funds.

Actually, the education world should be relieved that the real issues may finally come to the fore.

Federal Department of Education guidelines for any state plan expect measures to turn around struggling schools.  This blog has outlined one of many proposals and its recommendations (post 6/30/09).

Lawmakers’ first argument will be about repealing California’s charter school cap, a no-no for the National Education Association (NEA).  Their argument is that school governance by charter schools is only one of many options to improve the chances for low-income, at-risk students to achieve, while in the federal RTTT guidelines charter schools are being treated as the one best way to achieve student progress.

California students will benefit from the guidelines’ focus on the 5% of consistently under-performing schools.  It will, however, require money to provide consistent staff development for on-site assessment and analysis tools that help students; train, recruit, and retain highly-qualified teachers; and supply resources to keep those schools running smoothly.

Which highlights the section in the governor’s proposal to retain highly-qualified teachers and administrators.  For a long time, education articles have argued for pay arrangements to accommodate the difficulties for teachers in the most under-performing schools.  In truth, coaches or advisors to support the teacher’s best practices and counseling services for students and parents would do as much if not more to create incentives for achievement.

The last two pieces of the federal Department of Education guidelines to be debated in the legislature’s special session will leave lawmakers teetering on the edge of the chasm.  Improving accountability and linking student achievement to teacher performance are the most prickly of issues.

First, think about accountability.  How the state uses the data from one summative exam a year to designate successful and unsuccessful schools does little good.  How each school analyzes all the data collected from formative tests and uses it to diagnose what to teach next has been proven, for the few staffs trained in the techniques, to help students improve.  How will schools improve student performance with no funds to train teachers how to analyze the data?

Next, as the NEA in its letter to the U.S. Department of Education says, “It is inappropriate to require that states be able to link data on student achievement to individual teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.”  Governor Schwarzenegger’s press release notes linked data may provide transparency, but numerous sources give reasons why it’s difficult for a single test’s data to inform anyone  how one teacher assures that an under-performing school closes the achievement gap.

It will take a lot of compromise to fairly make choices about evaluation of highly-qualified teachers and a process to ensure proficient student achievement.

Have your eyes caught the words “money” and “funds?”  In California (post 8/19) the tallest thorny vines surround the abysmal school finance system that hides the chasm, delicately referred to as the “achievement gap.”

No matter the bite from the $4.3 billion RTTT funds California might get if the legislature manages to rewrite education policies, one sure way to seal the achievement gap is to reform how state money is allocated to school districts.