The PARCC Test: Exposed

Exceptional Delaware

This was originally written on another blog.  I will just call it Celia’s blog.  It was about the PARCC Test, released by the corporate education reform monster Pearson.  Pearson made Celia take off some of what she wrote.  Now ALL of us are reposting the original material in support of Celia and to give a collective whatever to Pearson.  Below is the original.

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would…

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Kavips, Where Are You? We Need You!

I second that!!!

Exceptional Delaware

Kavips, you need to come back.  I haven’t seen anything on your blog since January 5th.  We had a major legislative battle with House Bill 50.  While the bill is still in limbo, aka Pete Schwartzkopf’s desk drawer, we need a rally.  I truly don’t think the House Republicans hail Mary bills are going to do anything except waste oxygen.  Once I discovered opt-out, your blog was the first place I found.  With all the Smarter Balanced Assessment questions and all the brilliant posts about why the test sucks so bad.  I don’t know if you are chilling for the winter, or up to other stuff, but your presence is needed!  You need to come back and help make sense out of all this as well as a way forward!  This year is crucial in education.  The reformers are getting their dream lists ready and going to town on them. …

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What is “The Delaware Way”?

What is “The Delaware Way”?

This is a question I have pondered for quite some time, though more intentionally lately than in the past. I finally broke down and typed the question into Google, and I read through several bits and pieces of articles where that phrase was used. Fascinatingly, the best, most concise definition I found was in a Delaware Online article from 2014, wherein former Delaware Supreme Court Chief E. Norman Veasey explained that the phrase should mean, “the good Delaware practice of seeking a “civilized, bipartisan approach for finding solutions to the State’s business and political problems”.”

What fascinated me about that was, earlier in the same paragraph, Veasey acknowledged that the phrase is more commonly used to describe Delaware’s “pay-to-play” type of political maneuvering, wherein gifts are given in exchange for legislative action…or inaction. In yet another 2014 Delaware Online article, former DNREC head Collin O’Mara also remarked that “The Delaware Way” is referred to by most people as a way to get things done through closed door discussions.

This made me feel a lot better about the way I’ve always perceived “The Delaware Way”. You give something, you get something, and no one is the wiser. There are a few recent examples of high-profile pieces of legislation that have been vetoed, “held hostage”, and/or “replaced” by Delaware politicians, and better bloggers than I have covered those stories. While I’m not inclined to bow to paranoid theories on the inner workings of the government, I will say that it’s quite clear to me, an outsider, that there ARE inner workings, and that those inner workings are not for public view. And this is what troubles me about “The Delaware Way”.

Do the ends justify the means? That is another question I’ve long pondered, especially as more and more evidence of backdoor deals come into the spotlight. There is absolutely nothing civilized about the fact that members of the General Assembly will refuse to allow certain pieces of legislation sponsored by certain individuals to be heard, regardless of their merit. There is nothing bipartisan about a Governor who vetoes legislation that passed by huge margins in the House and Senate, legislation supported by many entities in the state, because of his devotion to his own ideologies.

When it comes to democracy, this type of behind-the-scenes rigging of the game does not serve the best interests of anyone, and certainly not those of the people being governed.

One final note: I know that it may seem to people involved in Delaware politics that they are truly making gains and doing the best with good intentions. And I do not doubt that. But the fact remains that, as a direct result of this hidden negotiating, trust is eroding, and when trust goes, the goodwill of the people goes. Elected officials may not be voted out; change may not occur at that noticeable level. But the very facts that fewer and fewer individuals turn out for elections, that lawsuits have been filed that will effectively undermine the very fabric of the working class, that so many individual voices have cropped up and refused to be silenced… These things all speak to the discontent of the people. A wise leader would heed the signs and work towards transparency.

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Murder Town

I’m so fed up with this indignation about the “Murder Town” show. Where was the outrage when children were being struck by stray bullets? Where were the rants when mothers were holding bleeding sons?

Now we want to say it’s someone else’s fault. Well guess what. It’s not. It’s our fault. Mine and yours and everyone else’s who isn’t helping solve the problems.
So forgive me if I take this as just another fact of life and, instead of being angry that a show is being made, I do something about what caused it to be possible in the first place.
Actually, you know what? I don’t want your forgiveness. I want your action. You who send your kids to private and charter schools because of those city kids in your neighborhood schools instead of getting involved with your feeder school’s community to make a positive difference. You who won’t go to the city because of fear. You who vote against giving communities and schools the social supports they need to help. You who live a life of luxury while giving a pittance to help others. 

I truly do not care whether a tv show is made about the issues facing our city. 

I care about the actual lives of the actual people who actually endure the hardships and losses the show will portray. 

And I’m going to go out and make a difference. 

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The Opt Out Discussion

Wednesday night I had the opportunity to speak at the 14th representative district in Lewes, Delaware, on the topic of opt out. This came about because Mike Matthews was asked to speak but was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, and he was kind enough to think of me. Claire and Mikki Snyder-Hall communicated regularly with me, and when I arrived I was told instead of a debate we would be presenting our own particular viewpoints on the topic, as the other original debater was unable to attend and also had a different person speaking.

I had already prepared a 10-minute speech for the program, and as I sat and talked with people I really didn’t get much of a feel for how people felt about opt out in general. At the conclusion of my speech, and that of my fellow speaker, we fielded some general questions. Boy did that make me glad I read Diane Ravitch and Exceptional Delaware! I knew so much detail about things in education, funding, test scores, the test resistance movements, and legislation around education that I felt really well-equipped to address a lot of the questions.

Although there are still people out there who don’t know a lot about what’s going on in the schools and districts, there are certainly lots of people who do, and that number is growing regularly. I’m posting here for you the speech I gave Wednesday night. There are always two sides to an issue; this is mine.

“Good evening, and thank you for having me here to discuss the opt out movement and its importance in the greater educational environment. To frame my comments I’d like to establish that I will be specifically discussing the movement in Delaware, so any references I make will be related to Delaware happenings unless otherwise noted. Additionally, although much of my knowledge comes from being an educator, almost all of my passion for this comes from being a mom. As educators we are often caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, wanting to do what’s best for our students but not always knowing how to best advocate for them without potentially negative repercussions for ourselves. As a parent, however, I have found a voice to shape the change I wish to see.

“The first and most obvious issue with telling my daughter she doesn’t have to take the test is making sure she understands which assessments she must take. Having a fourth grader, along with a second grader, a pre-k student, and an almost-two-year-old, has made me super conscious of the amount of time being spent on different types of instruction at various levels of education. My background as an educator has been limited to secondary, with 11 years teaching grades 9-12 and another 3+ teaching grades 6-8. Seeing first-hand the increasing amount of time students spend preparing for and taking tests that aren’t for the sole purpose of evaluating learning for the teacher’s use in driving instruction, red flags were already going up. For the sake of ease in calculating, let’s assume a standard high school sophomore is taking 8 classes this year. That student can expect to take a minimum of 16 standardized assessments, 8 at the start of the year and 8 at its conclusion, to fulfill the evaluation requirement for educators (if for no other reason). That doesn’t seem too bad, right?

“Factor in mid-term and final course exams. That’s 32 total.

“That same student is taking 3 advanced placement courses; that’s an extra 3 exams, bringing our total to 35. Oops, can’t forget the PSATs!

“36 assessments that a sophomore student has to take at a minimum just to make it through course requirements. That does not include teacher-created tests and quizzes, to which some educators refer, tongue-in-cheek, as “old school”.

“Let’s assume those assessments each take one class period to complete. Out of a total of 180 school days, that reduces educational time to 144 days. Planning to prepare for those exams? Even discounting the pre-tests, that still gives us 20 days of preparatory time, assuming 1 day per test.

“That 180 day calendar is sitting not-so-pretty at 124 instructional days.

“What does this have anything to do with making sure my daughter knows which assessment she can skip? She’s in fourth grade, where they only use 8 or so assessments, and even then only 1-4 times each, for a minimum total of 19 assessments, taking about 20 and a half hours total…..

“Oh. That’s why. She may legitimately not be able to identify the assessments her teacher can and will actually use to actually determine her actual needs and then make changes in instruction accordingly.

“The opt out movement specifically targets the statewide standardized test, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This test is given once a year, in the spring, and results for the most recent year were available in the fall. This is not even remotely close to being useful data to inform instruction, and I believe everyone involved in this debate is aware of that as a major flaw in the argument for forcing students to take this particular test. It would seem, in fact, that the SBA is really only intended to be used to evaluate educators, which is also a poor argument because the scores are received far too late for inclusion in the Delaware Performance Appraisal System.

“But I digress.

“At its most basic level, the opt out movement has a simple elegance: parents are refusing to allow their children to take tests that have no potential to make an impact on their child’s educational progress. Unless forced to take this test for entrance into certain programs or schools, the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores do not in any way change any thing about the educational life of the student.

“What I mean to say is, unless an artificial use of this test is enacted, such as in the examples I just mentioned, there is no reason my child needs to take this particular assessment.

“Are there concerns with data mining and privacy? Absolutely. However, that is a sort of idealistic argument, to my mind, especially since most people voluntarily place an excess of information online through social media. Yes, I want my child’s privacy to be maintained, but do I not already post her pictures, birthday, friends, school, extracurricular activities, boo-boos, good days, bad days, and vacations online myself?

“There is a concern with narrowing of the curriculum, in addition to the concern over the test itself. In essence, education has become so focused on increasing scores in math and English language arts that students are spending more time in those two subjects than in all others. COMBINED.

“I teach in a middle school in the Christina School District. We operate on a block schedule that has opposing days: blue and white, our school colors. Students take four classes and a shorter support or enrichment course daily. This schedule has potential for eight courses per year, plus the two additional “extras”. In reality, students are taking six courses per year; math and English language arts classes meet daily, while science, social studies, and all elective courses meet every other day. To paraphrase Delaware’s own Joe Biden, don’t tell me what you value; show me where you spend your time, and I’ll tell you what you value. By giving students twice as much seat time in math and English language arts than in any other class, the system is setting the focus up to be on math and English language arts.

“A quick anecdote about having so much instruction in one topic: Earlier this week, a colleague who teaches English language arts and I were discussing the enrichment course. She told me that she has a student who has first block ELA, then ELA for intervention during the skinny class, and then a reading support block. In a row. That’s a lot of ELA instruction, and it isn’t that ELA isn’t important, but English reading, writing, and speaking are taught in all classes, so there are opportunities for students to learn these skills regardless of whether they are in ELA-specific courses. We are denying students the opportunity to learn a variety of subjects, and you better believe that is having an impact on the interest and engagement of students in school.

“Will opting my child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment make an impact in the narrowing of the curriculum, or in the amount of time spent on test preparation? Nope. Not one iota, to my mind. However, if enough students were to refuse to take this test, maybe, just maybe…

“Nationwide, scholars, psychologists, educators, administrators, parents, and legislators have come out in opposition to the excessive use of high-stakes standardized testing. The test, label, punish system is responsible, in part if not entirely, for the decreasing value of public education in the eyes of the American people. By removing my child from this system, I remove her from the stress and anxiety of being labeled a failure on the basis of ONE test. One of…how many did we say? About 20. 20 tests, 18 of which might say that she’s doing really well, or that she’s growing, which the SBA will NOT show. Not on a school-year basis, anyway. It also won’t show what observations her teacher has made, and the impact that has on a student’s performance.

“Another anecdote: When in the first grade, my second grader was pulled out of class by an educator assisting the classroom teacher in testing the students to determine their reading levels. He scored quite poorly, and his teacher thought that was strange. So she re-tested him herself. He scored above-average. His shyness and anxiety about testing with someone he didn’t know, the mere fact that he was removed from his classroom environment and taken out of his regular schedule, was enough to drop this bright young man who enjoys and is good at reading from above average to struggling. Why would I ever trust a test over my child’s teacher?

“Recognizing that we haven’t touched on any issues of test validity, cultural bias, absenteeism, transience, or ability to utilize the technology required to take the test, I’d also like to address one final, major reason often cited in favor of all students taking standardized tests: needs identification and resource allocation.

“I had the pleasure of testifying before the House Education Committee about House Bill 50, commonly known as the opt out bill. What was interesting was, having public comment after the legislators themselves spoke, I was able to modify my statement. And I did. Several legislators expressed that opting out would not be good for the “at risk” populations; specifically, the low-income, single-parent, inner city households. They questioned how those families would be told they could opt out, and how we would support them if the data for the school no longer showed they were struggling academically and needed additional support.

“I’m hoping you see the same issue with that argument that I see.

“If you can already tell who needs the extra support and resources, why force them to take a test to justify giving them those additional aids?

“If we’re using the test to determine who needs the extra support and resources, why aren’t we giving those students and schools the extra support and resources?

“And we’re not. Let’s be clear about that. We absolutely are not giving students who need additional help smaller class sizes, more access to technology, books to read, food to eat, shelter over their heads, mental health counseling, access to physical health needs like glasses, safe playground equipment, clean and comfortable classrooms and schools, or toiletries and clean clothing.

“No. Instead, we spent millions of dollars on this assessment we can clearly see has no value to the education of our children, and said we have no money for all the other things.

“Thank you.”

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“Setting Absurd Standards And Then Announcing Massive Failures Has Undermined Public Support For Public Schools. . . . We Are Dismantling Public School Systems Whose Problems Are Basically The Problems Of Racial And Economic Polarization, Segregation And Economic Disinvestment.”

Genius status.

kavips

(Educational Researcher, August/September 2014, p.286)  Gary Orfield.

Instead of reporting in terms of performance categories, we could report performance in terms of scale scores. A solid body of empirical research suggests that scale scores provide more complete information on performance and are more useful for the purpose of informing improvement efforts.

But unfortunately for corporate America, scale scores do not promote the lie that our educational system is failing… That lie is only propelled by reporting performance “categories” which are made up structures having no relevance outside the committee making them up……

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What Scares Me

There is a lot of misinformation, intention (good and bad), double speak, and confusion floating around these days about standardized testing and its myriad uses. I’d like to go on record about this, and about why I object to the use of standardized tests as part of educator evaluations.

What scares me about using standardized test scores in educator evaluations is NOT fear of being held accountable for the scores of my students because I am a bad teacher.

What scares me is the students who have a bad day and bomb the test, or don’t take the test seriously and bomb it, or are all tested out and bomb it, or didn’t get enough sleep or enough to eat or had no where to stay or had a fight with a best friend or…. And bomb the test.

What scares me is there being no good back-up plan for when something planned OR unplanned happens and I miss part of the school year because I had a baby or cancer surgery, and my students don’t have the benefit of my teaching, yet my worth and value as an educator is still based on their test scores.

What scares me is the thought of losing my entire livelihood due to any combination of those factors, my family losing their home and security.

What scares me the most is how no one who has the power to make a difference seems to see the reality of the situation, to listen and take action.

Would you live with that fear?

Think about it honestly. If you knew you would be fired because your patients had a high mortality rate, would you become an oncologist?

If you knew you would be fired because you didn’t get the EPA estimated gas mileage out of your bus on its daily route, would you become a driver?

If you knew you would be fired because too many people didn’t return their items on time, would you become a librarian?

Certainly, in any profession there must be accountability for performance of job duties. I have zero issue with being evaluated based on working my expected hours, getting the job done right even if it means working unpaid hours, being prepared, attending meetings, delivering engaging lessons, and even demonstrating that my students are gaining knowledge in my class. I wrote a whole post on that once…

What I DO have an issue with is a test that exists for the sole purpose of evaluating student learning with the end goal of using that knowledge to close schools and fire educators.

What I DO have an issue with is spending thousands, millions, even billions of dollars on these tests, money that would be much better spent in the classrooms using a well-crafted, need-based funding method.

What I DO have an issue with is folks openly discussing the underserved, “failing” student populations while stubbornly clinging to the belief that somehow the diverting of funds from the classrooms to the testing system will make things better. What good is identifying these students if we’re not going to make significant, real changes to the very system that is forcing the inequities in education?

What scares me is that this seems for all the world like straight up common sense to me, yet I am clearly in the minority. And there would appear to be nothing I can do about that.

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