How Would We Assess Student Progress Without Standardized Tests?

In a recent blog post Diane Ravitch wrote,

After twenty years of trying, we should have learned by now that what matters most is having expert professional teachers and giving them the autonomy to do their job with out interference by the governor or legislature.

and Diane points to Finland as the model,

My favorite model remains Finland, where schools are free of standardized testing, teachers are highly educated, teaching is a high-status profession, and politicians and think tanks don’t have the nerve to tell teachers how to teach.

Without getting into a detailed “back and forth,” OECD data differentiates among nations, some data for Finland and the United States.

* poverty rate: Finland the fourth lowest poverty rate,  the US the 30th highest, we only beat out Israel.

* income inequality: Finland is the least inequitable, we only beat out Mexico.

Comparing high wealth schools with high poverty schools is as meaningless as comparing Finland to the United States. If we want to be compared to Finland we should sharply reduce the poverty and inequality gaps within the United States.

Let’s get back to the question of assessing student performance: if our goal is providing the best education, we have to define what we mean by the “best education.” If teaching a student to be literate and numerate is the “best education” we have to set benchmarks and some method of measuring if students are reaching benchmarks.

We currently use what are called “standardized” tests, meaning all kids in the state take the same tests. The grades 3-8 tests required by federal statutes as are exit exams in high school, in New York State, the Regents Exams.

When New York State precipitously  adopted the Common Core State Standards and Common Core tests proficiency rates on the test moved from 2/3 proficient to 2/3 not proficient; thereby angering parents and creating the opt-out movement.

About 20% of parents opt their kids out of the grades 3 – 8 exams, the opt-outs are concentrated in high wealth school districts (meaning folks pay high property taxes) in the suburbs and high achieving schools in New York City.

Tests are not new, prior to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) we tested kids in grade four and eight, and, New York City has a long history of testing; local school districts gave tests to monitor student progress along with citywide tests. Regents exams have been around since the 1880’s

The difference is tests are now used to assess teacher, principal and school performance, and, the results are accountability based; meaning possible school closing and teacher ratings. The new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) may, we’ll find out in a few weeks, include in the plan “growth” as well as “proficiency, and, perhaps an “equity” measure.

If we ditch tests, it is unlikely we can move to the Finland system: a nation with very low childhood poverty and among the lowest income inequality among the (Organization for Economic and Cultural Development) nations.

There are other tools that are currently being used to assess student progress.

A number of school districts in California are utilizing performance tasks developed by SCALE, a Stanford-based program that has developed a bank of performance assessments,

Unlike multiple-choice “bubble” tests, performance assessments require students to construct an original response rather than simply recognize a correct answer. The Performance Assessment Resource Bank includes high-quality tasks that engage students in multiple-step and extended performances, such as researching and developing mathematical models to write an article on the rising cost of college tuition. As tasks become more complex and require greater student direction they assess more complex and integrated aspects of learning and require the planning, problem-solving, and persistence that are necessary for success in the real world. This means that the use of performance assessment can both measure and encourage the development of many of the 21st century skills—critical thinking, inquiry, communication, collaboration—that are essential for success in college, career, and life.

See an example of a 9th grade Social Studies performance task/assessment here.

The New York City-based Performance-Based Assessment Consortium  (PBAC), currently 39 high schools, has been receiving waivers from the NYS commissioner, students utilize portfolio/roundtable assessment procedures in lieu of three regents (They still take the mathematics and English regents exams). The State Department of Education has been granting waivers for a cohort of CPBC schools since the nineties. The current waiver expires at the end of this school year. Check out the PBAC site here.

In the nineties Vermont moved to a statewide attempt to replace standardized with a portfolio system; after a number of years Vermont abandoned the initiative – an external report, authored by Harvard scholar Daniel Koretz and others, found inter-rater reliability was absent.

In 2004 Jay Mathews at Education Next explored a number of authentic assessments of student work alternatives to testing, and had doubts,

Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive officer of the Washington-based Education Leaders Council, said she thinks portfolios can help teachers assess their students’ progress, but are not a good tool for determining how a school or a district is doing. She remembers a visit to a northern Arizona school where “the writing teacher was showing me a portfolio of a student’s work in which the student was writing about kamikaze pilots during World War II.” Keegan was state school superintendent for Arizona at the time and saw that “the essay was horribly written, with glaring spelling and grammatical errors, and yet had received a score of 23 out of 25 points.

“The teacher was just glowing with what a mature and moving topic the student had chosen without any direction from her. I was less impressed and said so–something along the lines of how I could appreciate that the student had something interesting to say, but my first impression was that he didn’t know how to say it–and wasn’t that the first order task for the teacher?”

Having students display their personal strengths is fine, Keegan said, as long as they still learn to read, write, and do math capably before they graduate. “A collection of student work can be incredibly valuable,” she said, “but it cannot replace an objective and systematic diagnostic program. Hopefully, we will come to a place where we incorporate both.”

Daniel Koretz and others, raise questions about quality control in performance assessments,

 … direct assessments of complex performance do not typically generalize from one task to another and thus require careful sampling of tasks to secure an acceptable degree of score reliability and validity for most uses. These observations suggest the pressing need for greater quality control in the design and execution of performance assessments. If such assessments are to have lasting effects on instruction and learning, then their technical properties must be understood and appreciated by developer and practitioner alike.

A more recent report explores these questions, The Center for Educator Compensation Reform, “Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement  of Teacher and Principal :Performance Ratings,” February 2012, is a comprehensive look.

Moving from testing to performance tasks/assessments and portfolios will be challenging; however, now is the time for New York State to begin to move forward.

I suggest a number of pilots,  maybe in high opt-out schools, a few in New York City, others in suburban school districts.

For example, a number of schools in New York City are high achieving, high opt-out schools, perhaps candidates for pilots. On Long Island and a few other suburban districts, high opt-out schools/school districts might be candidates for district pilots.

Pilots must be partnerships with teacher unions and higher education institutions, moving to performance tasks and/or portfolios is a major instructional shift and will require both buy-in and an enormous dose of support. New Hampshire, the major example of a state that is moving towards performance tasks is hugely invested in supporting the folks on the front lines – classrooms teachers. Read an description of the New Hampshire efforts here.

We should not tarry.

There is an absence of leadership at the US Education Department, ironically, a good thing. Previously Washington administrations (Arne Duncan, John King) were intrusive, they attempted to drive their views of education down to the classroom level. The current administration clearly has no interest in teaching and learning, they are concerned with choice, i. e., charters and vouchers.

As soon as the ESSA plan is submitted, September, the state should begin the process of creating pilot schools and school districts, exploring the complexities of moving away from standardized tests to a system of performance tasks and portfolios. We don’t need a state-wide system, at this point let’s begin the process. Down the road we may have a system in which some schools/school districts stay with standardized testing while others move to other assessment systems.

There are times not being first, waiting and seeing how initiatives work out makes sense; other times being out front allows you to set the rules. Vermont and New Hampshire are well along the path, also, far different than New York State. A window has opened, teacher unions and some schools/school districts, are ready to move away  tests, it will be a complex task, very complex:  let’s get started.

Is It Time to Review High School Graduation Requirements? Regents Exams? Computer Science as a Required Course? Authentic Assessments?

The Commissioner and the Board of Regents have been totally focused on writing a new school accountability plan under the provisions of the new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Hopefully the plan will be more equitable, the plan will identify the Title 1 schools in the lowest five percent as defined by the metrics in the state plan.

Will the plan impact teaching and learning?  Will we be identifying the same schools we would have identified under the prior law, No Child Left Behind?

While I am hopeful that the new plan will be an improvement larger questions emerge: How do we define “college and career ready?” Do our current graduation requirements, courses and assessments, i. e., regents exams, lead to college/career readiness?

David Conley, “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness” is the national expert and has written extensively.

New York State uses a narrow definition: The City University (CUNY) defines college and career readiness as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents and 80 on the English Regents.  State Ed, under the leadership of acting commissioner Ken Wagner was planning to move to aspirational regents grades: five “levels” of achievement.

Level 5: Exceeds Common Core expectations

Level 4: Meets Common Core expectations

Level 3: Partially meets Common Core expectations … comparable to students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 65

Level 2: (Safety Net) Partially meets Common Core expectations (required for local diploma purposes), expect comparable percentages of students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 55.

Level 1: Does not demonstrate Knowledge and Skills.

These “levels” would be scale scores, the test would undergo psychometric massage to determine the level.

The Commissioner, quietly, backed away from the plan to move from the current  0-100 grading system with 65 passing to aspirational scale score levels.

An underlying issue: courses and assessment exams.

The high school graduation requirements are below:  22 units (44 one-term courses) click on the link for a more detailed explanation.

  1. English, four units of commencement level credit;
  2. social studies, four units of credit … ;
  3. science, three units of credit of commencement level science, at least one course shall be life sciences and at least one in the physical sciences, the third may be either life sciences or physical sciences;
  4. mathematics, three units of credit of mathematics, which shall be at a more advanced level than grade eight, shall meet commencement level learning standards as determined by the commissioner, provided that no more than two credits shall be earned for any Integrated Algebra, Geometry, or Algebra 2 and Trigonometry commencement level mathematics course;
  5. visual arts and/or music, dance, or theatre, one unit of credit; and
  6. health education, one-half unit of credit in accordance with the requirements set forth in section 135.3(c) of this Title. Learning standards in the area of parenting shall be attained through either the health or family and consumer sciences programs or a separate course.

In addition to the courses students must pass exit exams – the Regents Exams.


Mathematics (usually Algebra 1)

Science (usually Living Environment)

American History and Government (usually at the end of the Junior year)

Global History and Geography (currently covers two years (9th and 10th grades) of work, in June 2018 the exam will only cover 10th grade work)

Check here for a detailed description and alternative pathways

Let’s ask some essential questions:

* Should we continue to “nibble around edges,” namely, making it incrementally easier to graduate, or, address the essential questions?

Should we adopt a state-wide core curriculum with required readings? The current EngageNY curriculum modules are not required and the state tests are not based on a curriculum, they are based on a set of standards. Should state tests be curriculum and standards based?

Should instruction be grade level regardless of the level of the students?  Some argue that by teaching to the level of the kids we are assuring that kids will never reach grade level or higher?

There are school and grade organizational models that are far more instructionally impactful than others – is it the role of the state to “strongly encourage” evidence-based grade/school organizational/instructional models?

Should coding and computer science be part of  school curriculum and graduation requirements? New York City has announced a Computer Science for All initiative,

Through an unprecedented public-private partnership, by 2025, all NYC public school students will receive meaningful, highquality Computer Science (CS) education at each school level: elementary, middle, and high school. Over the next 10 years, the DOE will train nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring CS education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students. 

Hunter College made a presentation at the last Regents Meeting asking the State to approve a new teacher certification area: Teacher of Computer Science. – Grades 9 – 12. (Read proposal here).

Over 18 million students have accounts – has New York State adopted Has/should the state add computer science to the state curriculum? State graduation requirements?

And, the elephant in the room: moving from pencil and paper (or computer screen) examinations to performance task and portfolio/roundtable assessments, aka, authentic assessments. Are alternative assessments evidence-based assessments, or, the “softening” of assessments?

A cluster of New York City high schools have been granted waivers from Regents exams for twenty years, although the number of schools and the conditions of the waivers have changed (see the Performance Based Assessment Consortium here).

The state of Vermont spent years in the nineties trying to create a state-wide portfolio system that was eventually abandoned primarily due to the absence of inter-rater reliability (Check discussions here and here); Vermont is once again making an effort to move to classroom-based authentic assessments, read here.

The California Performance Assessment Consortium (CBAC) has created a bank of assessments and is working with a wide cohort of schools. Watch a live U-Tube of an  in depth discussion of the program here, including benchmarks and student work, the site of excellent!!

I am not advocating for any specific change – I am advocating for an investigation, moving beyond “playing” with graduation/testing requirements and exploring taking a deep dive into the base questions:

* Graduation requirements, are we requiring the “right” courses, and

* Should  the assessments reflect the curriculum as well as the standards, and

* Are authentic assessments, namely performance tasks and portfolios, “reliable” indicators of the quality of student work, and, if so, should we be moving forward with pilots?

Completing the ESSA school accountability plan is a beginning, a baby step, self-reflection is at the heart of effective teaching, and, effective leadership.

If we’re not satisfied with where we are now how we can we make the system better?

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT): Impeding Student Progress and Education Reform or Defending the Rights of Students, Parents and Teachers?

Last weekend I was a delegate at the New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly (RA) along with 2,000 or so teachers. As the delegates debated constitutional amendments and resolutions my twitter feed pinged away as the legislature and the governor wrestled in the mud over the state budget. For some, the union was selfishly holding up the budget to prevent dollars for charter schools; for the union, fighting for equitable public school funding. The pro-charter school Republican  state senators oppose charter schools in their districts; however,  they support providing dollars for charter schools in exchange for political contributions from charter supporters.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa-versa)

NYSUT is a complex organization, an amalgam of hundreds of associations, large and small, urban and rural, K-12 and college, in many ways deeply rooted in the American culture.

In 1834 Alexis de Tocqueville toured the nation and upon return to France wrote Democracy in America, a foreigner’s impressions of a new nation.

I do not wish to speak of those political associations with the aid of which men seek to defend themselves against the despotic action of a majority or against the encroachments of royal power …  It is clear that if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and consequently more incapable in isolation of preserving his freedom, does not learn the art of uniting with those like him to defend it, tyranny will necessarily grow with equality.

Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.

And, unions, are the modern day associations.

The National Education Association (NEA), was founded in 1858 and the American Federation of Teachers, in 1916; the two teacher associations merged in New York State in 1972.

The history of the AFT, of particular interest to me, become communist dominated in the heart of the Great Depression, and factions within the union, communists, socialists scores of other factions vied for power. In the early 50’s McCarthy period, the Feinberg law in New York State forced teachers to sign a loyalty oath, to swear that “…they were not and had never been a member of the communist party.” The communist faction faded away.  In 1960 the Teachers Guild and the High School Teachers Association merged to form the United Federation of Teachers. The nascent union plunged into the civil rights movement and support and opposition to the war in Vietnam, strikes in 1967 and 1968 and the merger with the NEA in 1972: a turbulent dozen years.

If you want dig deeper: The Communists and the Schools, R. W. Iverson, 1961,  Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights and the NYC Teachers Union, Clarence Taylor, 2011, Richard Kallenberg, Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy, 2009 and Phillip Taft, United they Teach: The Story of the united Federation of Teachers, 1976.

NYSUT, with 600,000 members in each and every political subdivision of the state, proudly announced that voluntary political donations, the Committee on Political Education (COPE) reached $10 million in 2016. Yes, NYSUT is a political force in New York State.

The membership of NYSUT is extraordinarily diverse. The 70,000 members in the UFT, college teachers in the City University system, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and college teachers in the State University system, the United University Professions (UUP). Teachers in the “Big Four,” Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers; teachers in high wealth districts, the low wealth rural districts, the districts with single schools; an incredibly diverse membership.

The 700 school districts across the state, with 700 collective bargaining agreements, are represented at the state level by NYSUT.

The RA elected new leadership, Andy Pallotta the new president has New York City roots, although he has been an officer in NYSUT for ten years. Pallotta is only the fourth president, the former leaders all came from out of the city.

Pallotta has to blend the needs of teachers in Buffalo, teachers in villages deep in the Adirondacks, adjunct (part time) college teachers: how do you serve such a many faceted membership?

Driving members together:

* opposition to “test and punish” policies that are reviled by teachers across the state.

* the property-tax cap that restricts bargaining and erodes contracts

* opposition to the constitutional convention ballot initiative

* supporting increases in state funding

* electing school/teacher friendly legislators

* opposing the Washington De Vos agenda

As well as on the positive side: exploring authentic assessment of student progress and detaching student test scores from teacher evaluation.

175 years ago de Tocqueville saw an American uniqueness, creating associations,  as the most effective tool to fight tyranny.

In democratic countries the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.

Among the laws that rule human societies there is one that seems more precise and clearer than all the others. In order that men remain civilized or become so, the art of associating must be developed and perfected among them in the same ratio as equality of conditions increases.

And another reason to admire de Tocqueville, his views about American women,

I do not hesitate to avow that although the women of the United States are confined within the narrow circle of domestic life, and their situation is in some respects one of extreme dependence, I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.

de Tocqueville was prescient.

“Evening the Playing Field:” Will the ESSA Accountability Plan Acknowledge the Work of Teachers in “Truly Disadvantaged” Schools? Will the plan be “Equitable?”

A teacher: “We love our kids and love to teach in this school, we make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our kids are poor, really poor, some live in shelters, others in foster care, trauma is part of their daily lives. We’re building out our community school, we prepare our kids to learn by feeding them, by searching for contributions of clothes, and, make our classes as rich as possible. I wanted to take my class on a series of trips out of the neighborhood, my principal said wait till after the tests, the future of our school depends on six days of testing, it’s sad that no one cares about the social and emotional needs of our kids, needs that precede the ability to learn. We just want an even playing field.”

In some school districts kids come into school knowing their letter and number facts, in other schools it’s  their first exposure; kids are behind from day 1.

In “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987)” sociologist William Julius Wilson details how programs across the political spectrum have failed the underclass, he is sharply critical of conservative and liberal policies.

Wilson posits social isolation–a distinction which shifts the problem from the psychological to the socio-economic realm. Instead of blaming poverty and its associated pathologies primarily on the individual, as conservatives do, or on the effects of contemporary racism, as some liberal scholars do, Wilson calls for a “refocused liberal perspective” which emphasizes “the dynamic interplay between ghetto-specific cultural characteristics and social and economic opportunities.”

Thirty years later our society, and especially our schools are even more segregated.

The result is islands of poverty, what Wilson called the “truly disadvantaged,” whose children enter school far behind other children.  The Harvard Education Letter writes,

  • According to a seminal 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 3-year-olds whose parents are professionals have vocabularies that are 50 percent larger than those of children from working-class families, and twice as large as children whose families receive welfare.
  • “We could eliminate at least half, and probably more, of the black-white test score gap at the end of twelfth grade by eliminating the differences that exist before children enter first grade.”
  • In a 2002 study, Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam of the University of Michigan found that at kindergarten entry, cognitive scores of children in the highest socioeconomic group were 60 percent higher than those of the lowest group.

From the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law up to our current iteration, the Every Student Succeeds Act administrations across the political landscape have tried to legislate equity. Previous leadership of education in New York State jumped on Common Core State Standards and testing: the unintended consequence, a massive opt-out movement primarily among middle class white parents.

The current Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa is a newer board. Former superintendents and teachers, a judge, a doctor, an attorney. a parent activist, a range that crosses the spectrum of experience and background.  The board is attempting to create, as required by the ESSA law, a new school accountability system that goes beyond test scores. The new law requires grades 3 – 8 tests in ELA and Math but does not limit the accountability system to test scores.

The process of building a new accountability system has been transparent. Scores of open, facilitated meetings, a think tank made up of stakeholders and hours upon hours of open meetings with national experts Linda-Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, the Center for Assessment.

Your correspondent has sat through them all.

This past Tuesday a three hour plus session with Darling-Hammond and Marion tele-communicating with the board. It was crunch time, decisions had to be made.

You can check out nine presentations here.

Or, check on the individual power points/reports below:

Status of Development of ESSA Plan

Promoting Diversity – Integration in New York State

Considerations for the New York State Assessment System

Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

Building an Accountability and Assessment system Under ESSA

Putting It All Together – Annual Differentiation Under ESSA

I know parents and teachers ask: why do we need state tests? The answer is simple: the law requires that each state include state tests in any school accountability system and the system must identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools.

If you’re going to go beyond test scores what would you add?

You can add other indicators: for example, growth, the increase in scores from year to year, you could add counting subgroups differently, you could add chronic absenteeism, maybe other items. Additionally you can weight the indicators: for example ELA and Math scores could count 30% each, growth can count 20%, other items 5% or 10% resulting in a cumulative score.

Think in terms of a dashboard with the indicators across the top and the levels down the vertical column. Do you use satisfactory, unsatisfactory, levels 1 to 4, ineffective, developing, effective highly effective? Do schools receive an overall numerical score? a letter grade? How do you identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools?

One of regents members asked if there was a “scientific” method of making these determinations. Scott Marion explained these were subjective decisions, capturing stakeholder values, for weighting indicators is a subjective decision. Marion explained that subjective is not a negative; Marion discussed “credible  defensibility,” making value-based decisions that reflected the experiences of the members..

After extensive discussion the members agreed on a weighted dashboard. The first draft will be released at the May regents meeting, public comments, meetings around the state, submitted to the governor and submission to the feds in September.

Colorado has completed and submitted a dashboard plan that goes beyond test scores: read a description of the plan here.

Hopefully, maybe, the changing of the metrics will “even the playing field” for the “truly disadvantaged.”

The next steps will be to begin to explore alternative assessments, aka authentic assessments. Vermont and New Hampshire involved in pilots; however, the path is long and complex, and to quote Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

ESSA, Lake WoeBeGone and Confronting Authentic Assessments and the Pernicious Impact of Poverty

BUDGET UPDATE: It’s Sunday afternoon and to the best of my knowledge a New York State budget is still not in place. In “usual’ times as the clock ticks down the governor acts as a mediator and works with the Assembly and Senate leadership to cobble together a budget as the clock strikes twelve and nobody turns into a pumpkin. This year: lots of pumpkins. The Democrats in the Assembly despise the governor, he scuttled a raise in the waning days of the last session. The legislature has not had a raise since 1999, and this year everything seemed to be in place. An external panel supported a raise and the New York City Council voted themselves a substantial raise. The governor, arrogantly, set many preconditions, the raise faded away. There is no love in Albanytown for the chief executive. For the Republicans Cuomo is a potential presidential candidate, and he has to run again next year. No budget, blame the governor, maybe a campaign issue next year and a smear on his presidential resume. Yes, the issues are important, Raise the Age, Foundation Aid, aka, the state share of school funding, dollars for charter schools and the charter school cap. If no budget by later today an extender budget, meaning, let’s wait until the mid May release of a detailed Trump budget. It also means that school districts will have to create school budgets with the same dollars as last year.


Last week I spent seven hours listening to Linda Darling Hammond and Scott Marion lead the commissioner and the regents in the early stages of creating a state accountability plan as required by the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) law.  On Wednesday I attended and participated in one of the State Regional ESSA feedback sessions. About 75 parents, teachers and supervisors, sitting at tables with facilitators discussing questions proposed by the State Ed folks. The answers are required by the ESSA law.  It seemed mechanical.

The entire process will create a metric to determine the least effective schools in the state; instead of focus and priority schools, new names, same problem.

No matter how the plan is framed, no matter how the plan defines success: proficiency or growth or progress, we still identify the same number of schools.

The entire discussion almost sounded like an episode from National Public Radio’s  Prairie Home Companion  which takes place in the village of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

A significant number of parents chose to opt their children out of the exams, and, are sharply critical of the tests  themselves. Last year the State moved to untimed tests, and, not surprisingly the scores jumped, with a reluctant admission that comparing scores with the previous year was comparing apples to oranges.

There are alternatives to standardized tests.

One of the documents distributed, and not discussed, during the retreat is entitled, “15 Assessment Designs for the Innovative Assessment Pilot” (Read here)

One section of the ESSA law, allows the US Department of Education to permit selected states to establish an “Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority.” The feds have not released any info on how the states will be selected. There are a handful of states who are currently piloting alternative assessment designs approved by previous administration.

New Hampshire is in year four of a pilot, each year the number of schools has increased.

Currently, the nine NH PACE school districts are the only districts in the country that the U.S. Department of Education has exempted from giving all students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 a single statewide standardized assessment.  After years of preparation, the PACE districts will augment the statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment at grade bands with locally managed performance based assessments and the SAT for all students at grade 11.  PACE will demonstrate to the nation a new approach to assessment, one that goes beyond standardized testing to support locally managed assessments, developed BY OUR NH TEACHERS, that support the learning process while providing the accountability required by state and federal governments.

We’re not talking about a portfolio of student work “graded” by teachers, we’re talking about a major shift in instruction. Check out what are called Innovation Studios:

What is referred to as authentic assessment revolves around assessing actual student work, performance tasks, and a rubric to assess the level of the work. The Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity (SCALE) has developed a range of performance tasks and rubrics (Check out here).   Students progress at different paces and achieve levels of competence at differing times, a classroom individualized to the individual student level is a different kind of classroom.

In the past the state has identified low performing schools based on test scores and graduation rates, what were called focus and priority schools, sent in a reviewer with a checklist, and moved on. New York City has spent many, many millions of additional dollars in the lowest achieving schools, called Renewal Schools; without significant progress.

Has the instructional focus changed?  Has the quality of leadership changed?  Yes, many schools have longer school days; however, if what we were doing  from 9 -3 wasn’t’ working well what make us thing that  9 – 5 will work better?

Have we designed a structure to scale up what does work?

The Center for New York City report, A Better Picture of Poverty tells us,

Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty–high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, male unemployment, and low levels of parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard for schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of schools with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading–and most scored far below,

The Report continues,

… we’ve also looked at these absenteeism-endemic schools through the lens of what we characterize as a “total risk load” of social and educational factors in the schools … Some urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects …

Inspired by recent research on truly disadvantaged public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools. When, for example, some 80 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful.

Read the entire Report here.

If we simply redefine struggling schools we are failing the poorest families in the state.

If we not embark upon an exploration of rigorous alternative assessments we will continue to antagonize parents and educators.

If we ignore the pernicious impact of poverty we join the educational ostriches who continue to blame schools and teachers.

Be bold!!

* Include poverty risk load factors in any school accountability rubric

* Whether the feds chose us or not begin to explore alternative assessments, and,

* Explore the changing nature of classrooms that any assessment changes will require.

Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB

New York State is making every attempt to include whomever wants to be involved in the creation of the Every State Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan. A series of facilitated engagement sessions across the state, an online survey and an all-day retreat of the entire board facilitated by Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, Center for Assessment.

Almost seven hours of discussion, a working lunch, with another session next Tuesday after the scheduled regents meeting.

Read a couple of hundred pages of supporting documents here.

Read my live-time tweets from the meeting at #edinthepple

Under the new law, ESSA, each state must construct an accountability plan, which means, within the confines of the law, select indicators, including but not limited to standardized test scores that will identify the lowest 5% of schools.

An overriding question: proficiency (only giving credit for a fixed point, a score) versus growth (progress for last year to this year) – how do combine the two concepts?

The entire board wants to include equity, how do you define and measure equity?

How many indicators do you want to identify? Remember, you must include standardized test scores.

Let’s get deeper into the weeds, should you weight the indicators?  Scott Marion, one of the facilitators gave examples of weighted indicators, the many paths all lead to identifying the bottom 5% in the state.

A number of the regents were getting edgy, Regent Johnson asked: Are we recreating NCLB?

The regents questions increased:

How do you account for schools/districts that have substantially differing access to supports due to lack of dollars and geographic constraints?  How do you “compare” schools with large percentages of ELL and Special Education with schools with much smaller percentages? Poverty really, really matters: how do we account for poverty in a plan? Should you reward schools with large percentages of kids who graduate with higher level diplomas?  If so, are we rewarding parental income and education rather than school achievement?

When the dust settles we’re going to have the same number of  lowest performing schools: will we be identifying schools with the same characteristics?  Schools in the highest poverty zip codes in the state?.

(Take a look at Center for NYC Affairs A Better Picture of Poverty report).

Once we identify the schools, how do we report the results?  letter grades? number grades? other options? That “scarlet letter” problem: shame and punish or identify, assist and improve?

The identified lowest 5% schools must use “evidence-based” solutions, the term “evidence-based” is defined in detail in the law. Should the state have an “approved list” of interventions?  Should schools pick off the approved list or have discretion as long as they are evidence-based?

As we discussed the issue of interventions the state staffer leading the discussion seemed to be recreating the same state interventions we are currently utilizing. Basically the state sends a outside contracted assessor into a school with a checklist, using a state rubric.

A SED staffer asked:

Should teachers new to 5% schools have to be rated “effective” or “highly effective” in their previous schools?  The problem is staff retention, “effective” and “highly effective” teachers tend to leave and move to more successful schools and the 5% schools are staffed with newer teachers. There was no discussion of teacher retention and the high teacher turnover rate in the lowest ranked schools.

Should principals have had successful experience in leading similar schools? Should they receive special training? Sounds like the state might want to move towards a Principal’s Academy approach, not successful in New York City.

To what extent should the state interventions be proscribed (top-down) or created and owned by the school? Top-down approaches only work with school district leadership that is skilled, in most places authoritarian leadership is resented in the trenches.

How do you differentiate between schools in NYC, the “big four” (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Yonkers), small. rural schools/districts?

The ominous sword hanging over the process is not ESSA, its the New York State Receivership Law. For schools that continue to stumble, by which I mean fail to get off the 5% list, or, get off and fall back on the school faces closing, combining with another school or receivership.  In 2015 the governor aggressively pushed the concept.  I wrote about receivership: click to read:  “Cuomo. ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work,” and “Receivership: A Magic Bullet for Struggling Schools or Another Chimera: Castor Oil or Ambrosia.”

To be clear, there was no mention of receivership at the plenary session, in the small group meeting a State Education staffer responding to the dilemma of “on, off and on” the 5% list indicated the next step was receivership.

At the end of the day the commissioner mentioned the section of the law that allows for up to seven states to apply for pilot status, to create assessment tools other than standardized tests. The feds have not issued an application, and may not; however, the commissioner and the regents expressed considerable interest. In the hundreds of pages of materials one was a brief description of alternative assessments (Take a look here)

Back on Tuesday afternoon for the continuation of the discussion, a draft plan at the May board meeting, public comments, approval by governor, August submission to the feds.

Kudos to the commissioner, the chancellor and the board members active participation along a winding and complex path. To quote the president, “This is complicated.”

Is New York State Facing a Budget Crisis? We Have Won a Battle, the War Will Be Long and Difficult

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children     shout,

But there is … joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

Casey at Bat (edited)

The last week has been incredible, a grassroots campaign of unparalleled passion. The offices of House members overwhelmed with phone calls and faxes, thousands upon thousands of men and women who had never been involved picking up a phone and urging friends to do the same. When the dust settled Speaker Ryan pulled the “repeal and replace” Trump Care bill. Endless finger pointing and blame placing, Trump acolytes hinting that Ryan should be the fall guy; however, who wants to be Henry the VIII’s next wife?

Journalism has been at its best: Read Maureen Dowd in 3/25/17 NY Times.

A battle has been won, the war goes on.The heart and core of the Republican policy is that tax cuts to the wealthy will trickle down and create economic growth with cuts in spending across the board, except for the military and homeland security,  theoretically stimulating the economy. The budget hawks advocate reducing the deficit by cuts in non-discretionary spending. As I have written before, the Adam Smith/Milton Freedman crowd versus the Keynesians. The Republicans are sharply divided, the Freedom Caucus aka, Tea Party, who refuse to compromise one inch versus the run-of-the mill conservatives.

The Trump Care bill may be dead for now; however, the HHC Secretary Tom Price and the Seema Verma the new administrator of Medicare/Medicaid have sweeping powers to direct healthcare policy.  For example, there are twenty plus states, red states, with only one Affordable Care Act provider, without support from Price/Verma it is likely that a number of states will have no providers, and no ACA. Without any formal legislative action millions of Americans will lose healthcare, through a “Repeal” without any “Replace.”

Will the red state voters who lose healthcare blame the Republicans, who were unable to craft a new plan, or, blame the Democrats for defending a plan that ultimately failed (with the active acquiescence of Republicans)?  The 2018 Congressional elections may be twenty-one months away; the campaign is already moving forward.

Part of “Repeal and Replace” was to move $800 billions in healthcare costs from the feds to the states. The only way to pay for a Trump Care plan is to move costs to the states as well as sharply reduce benefits through the rule-making powers of the feds and/or slashing the budget. The Affordable Care Act increased eligibility for Medicaid, 74 million Americans are now covered by Medicaid, one in five Americans. New York State is extremely generous, Alabama spends $8,000 per “elderly and disabled ” person while New York State pays $27,000. As the feds reduce support to the state the more generous states will either have to reduce benefits or pay for the benefits by cutting funds for other areas, perhaps education.

The budgeting process has been broken for years. The inability of the Republicans and Democrats to reach a budget agreement in the past has  led to a process called sequestration.

… sequestration is the employment of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to reduce annual budget deficits.

We are faced with some iteration of the Trump budget, or sequestration, both incorporate staggering cuts

.Read details about the sequestration process here and here.

As the legislators leave Albany next week satisfied that they have passed a budget, a cloud, a very dark cloud hangs over the state. If the Medicare costs are transferred to the states, if the feds are less generous in supporting Medicare, if federal education dollars are cut, and many, many other state agencies receive fewer federal dollars;  how will the state respond?

It is likely the legislature will return to Albany later in the year. With a governor who sees himself both as a presidential candidate in 2020 and who is running for office in 2018, the special session of the legislature will be crucial. For the 213 state legislators the question always centers around the next election. For some, not all on the right, a Constitutional Convention, which will be on the ballot, may be an opportunity to change the constitution and save dollars. These are dangerous times.

The defeat of Trump Care is a lesson, a lesson in persistence. The question: is the incredible motivation of masses of ordinary people a blip on the radar or the beginning a movement that will sweep into the 2018 election cycle?