A lot of news on the testing front in the last week. From last Friday's Seattle Times:
A tall man with a booming voice, [third-grade-teacher Damian] Joseph has a way of inspiring his students to work harder. He knows the challenges some of them face because he, too, grew up poor. But he also knows they can do it, because he did.
All the way to the testing room, he kept the pep talk going.
"Let's do this," he said, as students lined up at the door. At the first corner in the hall: "We don't back down." At the top of the stairs: "Everybody say it: 'Finish stronger.' "
Not that it's all about testing. While Joseph and the other teachers want scores to go up, they also want to inspire students to love learning, to be good citizens.
That said, they concentrated heavily throughout the year on the tested subjects — mostly reading and math. It wasn't until after the tests were behind them, with just a few weeks of school left, that Joseph started cursive writing and brought out one of the science experiments he'd felt were too time-consuming to do earlier.
From Moday's New York Times:
Catching up to the reality already faced by many of its members, the nation’s largest teachers’ union on Monday affirmed for the first time that evidence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations of school teachers around the country.
In passing the new policy at its assembly here, the 3.2 million-member union, the National Education Association, hopes to take a leadership role in the growing national movement to hold teachers accountable for what students learn — an effort from which it has so far conspicuously stood apart.
But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.
“N.E.A. is and always will be opposed to high-stakes, test-driven evaluations,” said Becky Pringle, the secretary-treasurer of the union, addressing the banner-strung convention hall filled with the 8,200-member assembly that votes on union policy.
From Tuesday's New York Times:
A [Georgia] state investigation released Tuesday showed rampant, systematic cheating on test scores in this city’s long-troubled public schools, ending two years of increasing skepticism over remarkable improvements touted by school leaders.
The results of the investigation, made public by Gov. Nathan Deal, showed that the cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved at least 178 teachers and principals, almost half of whom have confessed, the governor said. A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence, he said in a prepared statement. “There will be consequences,” Mr. Deal said.
That will certainly include dismissals, according to school board members and the interim superintendent, Erroll B. Davis Jr., and could possibly result in criminal charges.
The Seattle Times has been following the progress of West Seattle Elementary over the past year. The story that appeared last week was intended mainly as a celebration of the hard work done by teachers like Damian Joseph and his students at that school, and I would like to offer my congratulations to them as well. But the real story is how teaching to the test distorts the entire educational process. Read the story that's being told between the lines.
It's no wonder TFA alum Chrissie Coxon/Wright is quitting teaching. What sane person would want to live with that kind of insane pressure from year to year. It's not teaching; it's more like training for one of these Darwinian TV reality shows like "Survivor". Is this what we want to subject our third graders--or any of our elementary age kids--to on a continuous basis? I'm all for students and teachers working hard and striving for excellence, but this is not the way to do it. Damian Joseph and his kids shouldn't be put through that kind of pointless stress. Joseph's energies and talents could be put to much better use.
Then Monday this story of how the NEA is caving to pressure to make student performance a criterion for teacher evaluations. The union says it's opposed to high-stakes standardized testing as a way to do that, but the fact is that that is pretty much the only way it's being done where it's already being done. It's all the rage among elites who think they know better. So how long will the union be able to hold the line on that? The pressure to make the standardized test the whole point of American public school education is enormous.
And then a few days later, this story in the New York Times about massive cheating in Atlanta. A perfect example of Campbell's law in action. This is the future of education in America unless we start pushing back on the local level against this insanity.
Diane Ravitch in a blog post last year discusses the destructive effect of testing on schools nationwide:
Over the past several years, efforts to "hold teachers accountable" and "hold schools accountable" have produced perverse consequences. Instead of better education, we are getting cheating scandals, teaching to bad tests, a narrowed curriculum, lowered standards, and gaming of the system. Even if it produces higher test scores (of dubious validity), high-stakes accountability does not produce better education.
In their eagerness to show "results," states are dumbing down their standards. The New York state education department dropped cut scores on the state tests from 2006 (the year that annual testing in grades 3-8 was introduced) to 2009. In 2006, a student in 7th grade could achieve "proficiency" by getting 59.6 percent of the points correct on the state math test; by 2009, a student in the same grade needed only 44 percent of the available points. Back in the pre-accountability days, a score of 60 percent would have been a D, not a mark of proficiency, and a score of 44 percent would have been a failing grade. According to a report by The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the gains registered in the elementary schools of Chicago during Arne Duncan's tenure were almost entirely the result of changes to the scoring of the tests, rather than evidence of any genuine improvement in student learning.
When gains are manufactured in these ways, children are cheated. Children who need extra help don't get it, but adults trade high-fives for their "success" in raising scores and enjoy the adulation of the media.
Standards, yes. Standardizaton No. High-atakes testing does not promote higher-quality education for our kids, if anything it is driving out the teachers who are capable of delivering it. It's not just that good teachers are quitting; it's that they're being fired if they resist this insanity in any way. High-stakes testing follows Campbell's Law in one way in Seattle and in an another more extreme way in Atlanta--it distorts and corrupts the social processes it is intended to monitor.
But it doesn't matter because the "best and the brightest", who know nothing about real education as it happens in the classroom, think they know better any way--and they insist on it. It's a solution only a control-freak bureaucrat could love.
If you were teaching a low-performing third-grader who came to you who wanted to learn piano, would you pressure her to perform as well as the other kids, or would you work with her to help her to take the next step at a pace she could handle comfortably? Yes, you want to challenge her to do her best. Yes, you want to encourage her for every step forward she makes. Yes, you want to get excited when she passes important benchmarks in the development of her skill. But more than anything, you want her to feel some excitement about the progress she is making and some love of the music that someday she will be able to make. Should there be some standard by which her effort and level of skill should eventually be measured? Yes. But not with some super, high-pressure standardized test that everybody is freaking out about.
Is teaching reading and math skills to 8 and 9-year-olds really any different? Why in the world would you put a third-grader through this kind of torture? Is this some kind of Darwinian Survivor What exactly does it accomplish in the long run? Isn't it just as likely to reinforce a sense of failure in those who didn't make it to 200 points?
The story of the kid in the Seattle Times story who got only 199 points was just heartbreaking. Why does he have to know? For all practical purposes when you take into consideraton the statistical deviation, he does meet the goal--for him to be told he didn't is ridiculous. But the bigger problem is that these tests if they are used at all, and I don't think their expense justifies it, should be used only to give teachers some idea where their kids are so they can design learning programs for them and get them the extra help they need if they aren't making the progress they should be.