Friday, April 22, 2016

Interim State Superintendent Lonny Rivera says, "We Need Testing."

In my in-box today from Ohio's Interim Superintendant Dr. Rivera...

"I know you appreciate the crucial importance of maintaining student progress in an effective education system — for students, their parents, teachers, school administrators and the taxpayers who support your district. Testing shows evidence of student progress. It provides much needed information to classroom teachers and others, so they can monitor and improve our efforts in service of students. Results of these assessments provide the whole community perspective on what their students are able to retain and apply long term, allowing for reflection and improvement. Especially at a time when we must prepare our students for the high-skill demands of today’s workforce, we need testing — and test results — to tell us how to best help our students succeed."

As a teacher in an urban high school, I do appreciate the importance of maintaining student progress. Students in my school often have a multitude of obstacles to overcome prior to being able to make adequate academic progress. Sometimes students have health concerns, family problems, emotional issues, developmental concerns, problems related to poverty, parental unemployment, homelessness, and poor diet, among many others. I'm sure you understand.

Unfortunately, that progress has recently been stymied by a month of testing. 

Here's the thing, though, with all due respect to Dr. Rivera, who I'm sure means well, testing has never helped any of my students overcome the obstacles that prevent their progress. Furthermore, these assessments provide very little in the way of evidence with any real value. They've never really provided me with "much needed information." The way I understand it, school districts will get overall results from these assessments in June, parent reports in July. I hope to get the data related to my students this summer, but I've gotten no guarantees. Even if I do, my sophomores are gone June 1st, and my school is so big, I may never see them again.

As a teacher, the "reflection and improvement" that I make use of most effectively is done moment to moment in the classroom based on student responses, or lesson to lesson, day to day, unit to unit. I use formative assessments almost daily and summative assessment every few weeks. When I analyze those moments, or grade those tests, the results are in my hand, right then. At that point I make informed decisions about instruction. If I am unsure of something, then I discuss matters with the many effective professional educators who I am proud to call my colleagues.

All Dr. Rivera's test results do, is to provide us with information on how we can best help students succeed on tests. And while test scores may improve...I know much has been made lately of our "success" on the third grade reading guarantee...what we have improved is test performance. If success on assessments is our goal, then yes Dr. Rivera, "we need testing." However, if we are truly interested in student progress, and legitimate preparation for the high-skill demands of today's workforce, then we should probably reconsider our priorities.

It is widely understood that these assessments primarily reflect economic status. We don't need standardized tests to tell us who is economically vulnerable. We need remediation of their conditions, solutions to the obstacles that prevent student progress in an effective education system.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Testing Window Has Opened.

Goal: End unnecessary state testing.
The testing window has opened here in Ohio, and students across the state, at all levels, have begun to sit for 3 hour assessments in a variety of subjects. At the younger grades a lot of districts are giving the tests in two parts because it's easier for an 8 year old to sit for 90 minutes. (I said easier, not easy)

I coach a youth soccer team of 11 and 12 year olds. At practice on Thursday, they were wild before we started. A bit nuttier than usual. We did our lap, had a stretch, and before I introduced our plan for practice I asked them, "So, how many of you had to take a really long test this week?" The majority of them raised their hands and this same group of boys who, 5 minutes prior, had been energetic and joyful, immediately became sullen, if not angry and defeated. I made an on the spot decision to play the 3 or 4 small sided games that they love the most.

It was the least I could do. I certainly couldn't tell them that their 5th and 6th grade tests were meaningless, even though they are, or that their grades on them aren't a real grade. Their teachers won't even see their scores until well after the school year has ended, and when they do, those scores will indicate what they always do, that rich kids outperform the poor.

The state tells their parents that the assessments are valuable so that we can have apples to apples comparisons of students, teachers, schools, and districts through the ever important value-added measure. But this logic has long since been proven flawed.

So, if I were to attempt to provide a legitimate reason why these kids were subjected to a 90 minute test multiple times this week, I simply cannot come up with anything good enough. The whole damn system exists because of the Texas Miracle of more tests and accountability equating to greater performance and lower dropouts. We all know that it was a lie. And yet state authorities persist with a system of assessment that has yet to have much, if any, positive impact on education.

Forgive me, but I'm not going to be the one to explain to these boys that they're taking standardized tests because a long time ago, some powerful adults lied about these tests being a good thing, and some other powerful adults (including the President) promoted the lie and made some laws as a result. Then, once everybody figured out they were all lying, it was too late, and nobody did shit to change the system.

The reasons we administer these assessments simply aren't good enough. I'm advocating for change, and I believe that my team (and their peers) would agree with me.

In the mean time, we're going to have a kick around and try to forget about the testing window.

Friday, April 1, 2016

They want input, but they don't want input.

The kids aren't alright, Jim Wright.
The Ohio Department of Education has made much lately of their interest in having a collaborative process in reviewing standards and creating assessments. I have personally received no fewer than a dozen emails over the last 2 weeks encouraging me to get involved in the review of the ELA and Math standards. I forwarded the information to the English and Math Department Chairs at my school and encouraged them to participate. It is good to feel like a part of the process.

Being a Social Studies teacher at the High School level, I've recently been less concerned with the aforementioned Common Core standards and more concerned about the alarmingly low End of Course assessment scores.

In my last post, I mentioned a few of the reasons why Ohio's new Three Paths to Graduation could be problematic. I admit to not being an expert. My wife, however, is becoming one. She recognized the degree to which I was legitimately concerned about the issue, and spent several weeks studying the report card data for our district and others like it. She also compiled information on the ACT remediation free path, as well as percentages of vocational ed students. She then sent info in multiple short blasts to all Ohio State School Board Members, as well as all members of the House and Senate Education Committees. You can see the scope of her research here...   and here...

Here is a brief piece of her correspondence with the state...

To Whom It May Concern:
While I was pleased to learn that over 100 Ohio educators played an integral role in setting the performance standards for this year’s ELA and Math AIR tests (unlike last year where we let PARCC decide the standards for us), I am still very concerned with the projected number of students who will score proficient on the different components of the high school level state tests. As you can see from the chart below, 41% of kids are expected to score a 1 or 2 on the Geometry test. When you compare that to the percentage that scored a 1 or 2 on last year’s Algebra test (49.1% of kids in my similar district study which I sent you last week received a 1 or 2 on the Algebra I test) you should realize that there is cause for concern. Students need 4 points total in Math to fulfill that requirement for graduation. I think that you can fairly assume that some of these students that scored a one or a two on the Algebra I test could be the same ones that score a 1 or a 2 on the Geometry test. You also cannot assume that these kids will be getting 3’s and 4’s on their ELA tests. 59.9% of the kids in the districts I studied last year received a 1 or a 2 on the ELA I test; 48% of kids across the state are expected to get a 1 or a 2 on the ELA II test. You can assume that the similar districts studied would have an even higher percentage only getting a 1 or a 2 on the ELA II test based on their past performance on state tests and the number of studies done that rightly suggest that students in high poverty areas (like the ones I studied) tend to not do as well on standardized tests. You can see the latest study that happens to address these differences in scores from last year’s Ohio tests here:
You must also keep in mind that students have to score a total of six points across the Science and Social Studies tests and receive a total of 18 points all together. If there are so many students that could struggle to meet the requirements of each separate component, it will be nearly impossible for them to make up the additional 4 points they will need to get 18 total points.

Her research and concerns are legitimate, and her numbers are accurate. Director of Assessment, Jim Wright, sees things differently. In his patronizing response, he trots out the state's tired old bullshit about raising the bar. By raising the bar he means fewer poor kids and minorities will graduate. He also wows us with the Ohio Department of Education's Holy Trinity, the "Three Paths to Graduation." I guess he figured we were unaware of the fantastic bounty of options awaiting Ohio's students. Go ahead, check it out.

Ms. Jablonski,
Thank you for your email and sharing your concerns pertaining to the high school graduation tests. Ohio continues to raise the bar for students to ensure that they are prepared for postsecondary opportunities, whether college or a selected career. The new graduation requirements offer three pathways to demonstrate their preparedness through either the end-of-course exams, remediation-free scores on a college readiness exam (ACT/SAT), or with WorkKeys and a career credential. For the end-of-course pathway that you are addressing, students have flexibility in attaining the needed 18 points with the minimums in content areas as you describe. Most of these seven courses will be completed during the early high school years, and this will allow for multiple opportunities for retakes. The state high school end-of-course tests are currently offered three times annually, including a summer administration.

Jim Wright
Director, Office of Curriculum and Assessment

So, it appears that the Ohio Department of Education wants a collaborative process that includes educators and community members when that involves participating in a convoluted survey regarding standards. That way they can show us their many invitations to become a "part of the process," without ever doing a damn thing with the information provided.

However, if the "community" researches a legitimate concern, compiles data that seems to suggest a scenario that will prohibit thousands of students from graduating, the ODE is unwilling to seriously consider the information, or begin a discussion regarding its ramifications.

To make matters worse, in this case, Jim Wright seems to agree that there will be an issue. At least he did on January 26, 2016 when he said as much at a meeting of the Ohio Technical Advisory Committee. Here is a quote from the minutes of that meeting...

Jim Wright noted that there are three pathways to high school graduation, but recognized that the new proficiency cuts for End of Course assessments will be challenging if used in defining high school graduation. 

So, which is it then, Mr. Wright? The email to my wife seems to suggest that the kids are alright if they only follow one of the three magical pathways to graduation. And yet, in the above meeting with your colleagues, you've admitted the situation will be challenging IF the assessments are used in defining high school graduation. Those assessments ARE being used in defining high school graduation. The other two paths are NOT as viable as you and the Ohio Department of Education would have us believe.

To make matters worse, Mr. Wright cc'd all of the State School Board members in the email he sent my wife, as if he wanted to assure them that the kids are alright, as well as discredit her concerns. All he has done is to provide limited and misleading information to community members and the State School Board. The kids aren't alright.