People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Florida - SB6 : Our High-Stakes Standardized Testing Culture

SMW, April 13, 2010 12:02 PM


Updates:  4/16/10:

From Miami Herald:

"Gov. Charlie Crist's political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, resigned Thursday as Crist's campaign chairman in his race for the U.S. Senate.
Mack wrote a terse, two-paragraph letter to his one-time protege that said Crist was wrong to veto a bill (SB 6) that would have made it easier to fire teachers and tie their pay to student test scores.
"As you know, I strongly disagree with your veto," Mack wrote his fellow Republican. "Your veto I believe undermines our education system in Florida and the principles for which I have always stood."
New York Times link here:

"Gov. Charlie Crist has been jawboned and buttonholed as he has traveled around the state in recent days, and his office was deluged with 120,000 messages. Passions have not run so high in Florida, the governor said, since the controversy over ending the life of Terri Schiavo in 2005. . ."

From Mike Klonsky's Smaller Talk:

"Florida Republican Gov. Crist has vetoed the anti-teacher SB6 bill passed by a Republican legislature. Crist acted in response to massive and militant student/teacher protests. Lots of lessons here for us. #1 If you don't hit it, it won't fall. . . ." read more.


Why You Should Know What's Going On In Florida
Maybe It's Time We Rate, Rank & Sort Our Politicians' Performance

Check out this petition signed by 8,000 people and sent to Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida on 3/31/10, urging to kill SB 6, which ties teacher compensation to test scores.   See full petition here.  An excerpt via :

"While many Floridians agree that we need a better system of accountability, this bill punishes all public school teachers and students, especially those children most at risk. It would jeopardize the quality of public education in Florida, focusing inordinate attention on standardized tests and driving good teachers out of the public schools.
Florida would be the first state in the nation to tie teacher compensation (and job security) so closely to standardized test results. Our children won't be taught to think ... they'll just be taught to pass a test. We don't want Florida's classrooms transformed into test-prep factories."

Three highly recommended reads for the best background information and research on this subject are:

1) - check out this link and open your eyes to the high-stakes standardized testing world.

51+GsWVm43L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg2)   The book, "Measuring Up - What Educational Testing Really Tells Us" by Daniel Koretz, Professor of Education at Harvard University.  Written for a layperson to understand, every parent and educator should read this book, winner of the outstanding book award, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.  An excerpt:

"Achievement testing is a very complex enterprise, and as a result, test scores are widely misunderstood and misused.  And precisely because of the importance given to test scores in our society, those mistakes can have serious consequences.  The goal of this book is to help readers understand the complexities inherent in testing, avoid the common mistakes, and be able to interpret test scores reasonably and use test productively."

51fGxdFB-9L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg3)   The humorous and controversial, yet sobering must-read is "Making the Grades:  My Misadventures In the Standardized Testing Industry".  From a Washington Post review:

Farley spent almost 15 years working in the standardized testing industry for grades K-12, starting as an entry-level scorer and eventually becoming a test writer and scoring trainer who lived high on his expense account. His experiences led him to conclude that these tests are "less a precise tool to assess students' exact abilities than just a lucrative means to make indefinite and indistinct generalizations about them." Throughout his career, grade manipulation was the norm. He and his colleagues would change scores or toss some out in order to achieve "reliability," a measure of how frequently different readers scored a question the same way. Among scorers, he writes, "the questions were never about what a student response might have deserved; the questions were only about what score to give to ensure statistical agreement."
If you have the energy to read more, below are a few important government policy factoids worth knowing and/or to bookmark:

1)    ESEA - Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the new name for NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  To read blueprint, see videos, click here.

2)    Race To The Top - $4.3 billion toward education from the stimulus package (ARRA)
that will be divided and awarded to the individual states that present the best programs conforming to the requested stipulations.  Executive Summary here. . . all fourteen pages of it.
What does that tell you?

To just understand how complicated, political, and expensive the selection process of who will get the funds, click here and just take a look-see at the applications and "comments" from the reviewers.  Makes your head spin and think there must be a better way.  Why don't we give our politicians a score card like this for us to rate and rank and sort their performance?

Here is a quick glance at the first round of results. . . of how the states scored.

If you haven't heard by now, Delaware and Tennessee won the first round - more winners to come this September.

Keep you posted . . .
Below Orig. Published 1/14/10
By C.J. Westerberg

A Revamped NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND in 2010?
 Why We Need To Know.


We expect to see a lot of action from The White House and Capitol Hill on the education front in 2010.  Parents, teachers and administrators have much at stake with the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) looming.   This will most likely take shape under another name yet we all need to keep a close watch on how this will impact our entire edu-culture.

Most affected will be our kids.

One of the most contentious elements of NCLB is its reliance on high-stake test scores.  Reduced to its most simplistic essence, NCLB provides carrot and stick incentives:  monies to schools that meet their proficiency goals and/or improvements; those that don't receive funds and can be closed. 

We have already seen the way foul play, juking the books, lowering standards and outright cheating has occurred to influence test score data.  If we succeed in creating or furthering "a test score national culture" in the U.S., then our educational system will be firmly ingrained in the "teach to the test" mentality, with students "learning to the test" and learning how to better "play" the education game.  

NCLB focuses much of our strategy and tactics of on bringing up the bottom 5% because this segment has reached crisis proportions.  As a culture, we also focus on the top 10% with the expectation that these are the best and brightest who represent the highest benchmark.

Yet are we "forgetting" the vast middle, creating a mediocrity in learning expectations instead of a meritocracy?   This group is entering college in need of remedial courses at increasing rates.  Professors and employers see the growing mechanization of writing matching the "five paragraph rule" favored by SAT tests.  Our obsession with improving math and reading is producing a student body composed of students who don't understand how to apply math contexually (a national lament) and who are not reading beyond what they will be tested on the next day.  How can one learn math and reading without the arts and humanities, which are getting short shrift today (although we give them a good cheer every so often)?   Is this middle group being led to believe that  "good enough" and "getting by" is the goal?   Isn't this sadly ironic?

Shouldn't the quality and level of work produced by a student be a critical indicator of their knowledge/skill proficiency and progress level?        

In other words, we continue to dumb down many students with tactics inadvertently supported by parents, teachers and administrators, assisting with the multiple ways to increase test scores.  While we may feel momentarily better when the graph chart of scores go up, don't we also have a creeping sense that much is data in a vacuum?  Not on sure footing as to usefulness or future relevance?   Is this kind of "learning" going to help one iota with a student's ability to excel in college (or even graduate), or assist in functioning in a new "flat world" of work where anything that can be automated will go oversees, or help contribute to society and to a student's personal goals in a meaningful way? 

Tests have their place in education.  There are breakthroughs for better assessments and measures of accountability (i.e. inquiry-based tests, display and presentation of work produced by students) for both teachers and students that are simply not mainstream yet.  Great work is being done in this critical arena yet often falls down the black hole of status quo.

Tests can serve as effective tools for teachers and schools.  However, until we provide safe and healthy environments for our students, until we establish a more specific process to select, train, continually develop and better reward great teachers and administrators  (and fire ineffective ones), until we understand and implement the curriculum and pedagogy that is most effective for this new world, test scores will always be a band-aid approach to education.  Think about it:  with all the great minds in this country, we cannot even agree on the best curriculum and pedagogy in math, which is the least sensitive to local variations (such as one would experience with the humanities).  While we are developing national standards, where is the road-map?

There are many who cling on the outdated beliefs that if "it was good enough for me, then it is good enough for my kids", referring to the way they learned and were taught.  These are the same people who believe that a college degree will guarantee students a good job for life...because that is way "it worked" in their day.

Is the role of formal education only for career and/or work preparation?  Of course not.  But, especially in today's world, without work, one can kiss good citizenry and self-actualization good-bye.  (One's life work does not have to be financially-driven). 

There are critiques on the monumental work of Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children Zone/Promise Academy based upon test score comparisons.  In other words, the racial achievement gap is singularly expressed and weighed by standardized test score comparisons and the efficacy of a program or a school is validated by a single snapshot in time, not a period of significant time.

Let's look again at High Tech High, a public charter school, which has 100% college acceptance rate, including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford, Howard, USC,  NYU and Northwestern.  HTH has a  different modus operandi from Promise Academy.   Yet both share an important trait of high expectations for all students with a clear roadmap and consistent culture allowing students to achieve their fullest capacity (with teachers sharing this mission).  Each takes into account the local enivironment, challenges, culture and realities.

More than half of HTH are first-generation college students.  Approximately 55% are minority with 22% on reduced or free lunch program, an indicator of poverty.    

"But High Tech High does not track students by ability or offer any AP courses in its academic program.  Although the California accountability system (called the Academic Performance Index) reports the HTH schools' test scores as among the highest in the state, the schools steadfastly refuse to teach to these tests, in the belief that doing so would dilute their curriculum.  Test-prep simply has no place at High Tech High."   Global Achievement Gap

Want to know more about NCLB and hear a few other perspectives?  Two highly recommended:

1)   U.S. News & World Report has a round-up this week here with:

 Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers;  Margaret Spellings, Sec'y of Education under George W. Bush; Michael Cohen, president of Achieve;  and Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector.

2)  Mr. Obama: Kill NCLB by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post.  Link here.  Comments are interesting too.
  • Anonymous

    Farley's is a helluva book. We are trusting for-profit corporations to make decisions about teachers and schools? Since when has that ever been a good idea?

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