Tick, Tock: Nausea, Cold Sweats and Nightmares: School Begins in a Week

“Tommy, get up, you’re going to be late to school.”

“I hate school, I’m not going.”

“It’s the first day, you have to go.”

“The kids don’t like me; the teachers hate me and make fun of me.”

“Tommy, you have to get up and go to school, you’re the principal.”

Monday morning principals will be gathering for a meeting with their superintendents.  Some will be bubbly and evanescent, others, aloof.  The supe will praise the principals for raising state test scores and single out a few for special kudos. I spoke with a long time principal.

I can’t wait for these meetings to end. Everything is scripted; I learned not to ask questions, questions are construed as criticism. We have a top down system with no input from the field, I’m expected to salute and carry out orders. My kids struggle to pass regents exams and I’m expected to schedule Advanced Placement classes. I understand we all must accept kids with social and emotional problems; however, without accompanying services, how can I help the kids. Education by press release is not education.

Principals are not happy.

For teachers, another year.

Elementary school teachers will be arriving in a few days, a week before they are required to attend. It takes to few days to set up a classroom, cloths lines with geometric shapes, word walls, bulletin boards, checking out books and supplies: getting the classroom perfect for that first day of school.

Some schools will hold retreats, a full day of schoolwide planning. Setting up google.doc sites or drop boxes so teachers can share lesson plans and student work; a principal distributes the school schedule, “Any questions? Anything we should change?”  Building a team means distributive leadership, changing one schedule impacts another teacher; teachers must learn to resolve potential conflicts and problems. English teachers always discuss/debate the books for the school year, the assignments, and all grades and subject areas create a calendar of lessons, arranging for common planning time, and, curriculum maps.

A new teacher gets a call from an experienced teacher, “Hi. I understand you’re joining us; we’re on the same grade, let’s get together and plan together.”

For the school leader creating a collaborative and nurturing environment is crucial – schools are defined by the culture of the school.

First year teachers, mid-career and senior teachers must feel valued.

Whether the school is a Renewal School struggling to survive, a high functioning school or one of the hundreds in the middle culture defines schools.

A few principals in Brooklyn will hand out a list of bars that have special Happy Hour prices for teachers.

Some principals will warn teachers that just because scores jumped this year scores will have to jump again next year, an implied threat, others will begin by congratulating a teacher who became engaged, welcoming back a teacher from maternity leave – creating that nurturing culture.

A cluster of male teachers in a serious conversation around a computer: checking an education website? No – setting up the football pool.

For school leaders school opening is a series of typical crises:

  • An email from a teacher, “I’m not returning.” A last minute vacancy.
  • Budget questions that you thought were resolved last year – you have to make last minute budget cuts.
  • Kids show up with paperwork; they want to register, they’re all overage and years behind in test scores.

School climate and school culture are different qualities. Unfortunately as I visit schools, sadly, I don’t find enough  productive climates and cultures; in fact, too often I see toxic cultures; too many schools with adequate test scores and schools in which “bitching” and complaining is commonplace.

The principal who I referenced above:

I do what’s best for my kids and teachers, I learn how to navigate the system, I keep my head down, I ignore stupid rules, I don’t want any articles about my school, we have a great school and we know it. I measure my success by the comments from students as they succeed in high school and beyond.

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year.

Should Teachers Assign Homework? or, Does “Bad” Homework Drive out “Good” Homework?

A second grade teacher in Texas sent a letter home to parents announcing she would not be assigning homework telling parents there was no research supporting homework and “…encouraged parents to spend their evening doing what she says has proven to correlate with education success – eat dinner as a family, read together, have children play outside and get students to bed early.”

A parent posted the letter on the Internet and the letter went viral – including an article in the NY Daily News  and supportive comments from CUNY professor David Bloomfield in Business Insider.

Is homework an essential element in the teaching- learning process?

One side of the equation is the teaching side; the teacher – the writer, director, producer and actor in a play with run of one day – creates the “play,” the lesson, a forty minute period or other fixed set of time to “transfer knowledge and or skills.” The creativity of the teacher, the motivation, the activities, the questions, hopefully results in student acquisition of knowledge or skills.

However, how do we “measure” the learning side of the equation?  Teach five spelling words each day Monday through Thursday and a spelling test on Friday, a “do now” at the beginning of each lesson, exit slips, all tools to measure the success of a lesson.

Let me be clear: mindless homework is a waste of time, and can be counterproductive.

Homework should be a link: one day’s lesson to the next day’s lesson as well as reinforcing the day one lesson; preparation for the following day’s lesson.

Homework can serve as an assessment of the previous day’s lesson.

Is it useful to give homework if the teacher does not assess the work and give feedback?  BTW,  this issue is at the front and center of the homework issue.  After all, what difference does it make?

In our increasingly cyber world homework can take place online – easier for a teacher to review the submissions.

Homework should be creative, it should not be rote, and to use a student’s favorite word boring.

We think we know a great deal about the teaching side of the equation – Danielson rubrics, student engagement, the quality of questions, the complexity of questions, “arrow of recitation,” (questions moving from teacher to student to student to student); what we’re unsure about is the “learning” side of the equation.  Of course we can ask students, and, some teacher assessment methods include student comments.

I am extremely fortunate to interact with my second grade granddaughter:  she loves to read, she likes to write stories and especially to draw. How much has she “learned” in school?” How much has she “learned” from her parents?  That never-ending nature-nurture debate.

Creative homework assignments can motivate the following day’s lesson, they can be exciting for the student, and just as we assess the quality of the lesson we should also assess the quality of the homework assignment. During common planning time teachers can share homework assignments as well as share the actual homework submitted by the students.

Ill-conceived homework should not drive out creative homework assignments.

The Politicization of State Tests: Creating Tests in Which “All Students in New York State Are Above Average”

When the dust cleared the greatest ally to the anti-testing clique was (roll of drums!!!)  MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Commissioner of Education.

The deeply flawed state tests (“All children are above average”) reignited the argument – why do we have state test at all (aside from the federal requirements)?

Statewide ELA test scores jumped by around 7% – although the racial achievement gap remained the same.

A magic potion, incompetence or simply political legerdemain?

A little review: in September, 2015 Governor Cuomo reconvened a blue ribbon panel, actually a process to repair the Governor’s foolhardy attacks on teachers and parents. In 2014 it appeared that Cuomo had a clear path the Democratic nomination for his second term and deep pockets for the November general election. Seemingly out of nowhere Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham challenged Cuomo for the Working Families Party spot on the ballot and challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary. While the teacher union made no endorsement some members and locals were on the Teachout side. After defeating Teachout and Rob Astorino, his Republican challenger Cuomo decided to punish teachers. He cozied up to the charter school folks, used the budgeting process to tack on legislation to extend teacher probation, and, was nastier than usual.  NYSUT, the statewide teacher union responded with a series of aggressive TV ads and the opt-out movement was created, 20% of kids opted-out of the 2015 state tests.

Cuomo’s popularity rating tumbled.

I suspect clearer heads prevailed.

The purpose of the Task Force was to guide education policy from afar and place the Board of Regents and the commissioner in the foreground. The recommendations were more than recommendations; they were a pathway for state education policy. (Cuomo: This is the endgame – you figure us out how to get us there)

The Task Force Report (Read here), which was released in December, contained twenty-one recommendations, the last recommendation was a moratorium on the use of state tests to evaluate principals and teachers for four years, applauded by the teacher union.  The recommendations called for a thorough review of the Common Core Standards and teachers would be included in every step of the process.

Recommendation 15: Undertake a formal review to determine whether to transition to untimed tests for existing and new Standardized tests aligned to the standards; not controversial, garnered little,  if any discussion; perhaps a pilot in a few schools and school districts across the state.

Surprisingly, very surprisingly, without any discussion with the Board of Regents, the Commissioner announced that the 2016 state tests would be untimed.

The January announcement, entitled “Changes for the 2016 Grades 3-8 ELA and Mathematics Tests” begins,

This memo outlines changes made as a result of feedback from the field:

* Greater involvement of educators in the test development process

* Decrease in the number of test questions, and

* A shift to untimed testing

The announcement came from Angela Infante, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Instructional Support and Peter Swerdewski, Assistant Commissioner, Office of State Assessment.

The state document states, “…students will be provided with as much time as they need.” No pilot, no transition, jumping off the diving board into the pool, and, the state made no attempt to identify students who took additional time.

The scores soared, the state commissioner, in the Daily News admits the scores are “not exactly a perfect comparison,”

After widespread opposition to the difficulty of the tests erupted in 2015, state education department officials shortened the exams for 2016 and eliminated time limits.

“Because of the changes in testing, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison,” Elia said. “And even with the increases this year, there remains much work to be done.”

The state spent many millions of dollars purchasing tests, teachers and students months of test prep, to collect data from what turns out to be a non-standardized test. A test that might not even meet federal requirements, although I’m sure the feds will simply ignore the faux jump in scores.

Was the test itself “harder” or “easier;” many months down the road a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will release a report, hundreds of pages of dense analysis that few will read and fewer will understand.

The basic questions: are the results of the test useful?  Can they be compared with the previous year? Can schools and school districts be compared? And, at the top of the list: are the schools in New York State making academic progress?

Howard Wainer, a Distinguished Research Scientist, the author of innumerable books and articles, an internationally recognized expert writes,

Because of the changes this year’s scores can’t be compared to last year’s and because of the untimed nature of the test (and there being no record of how long anyone took) you can’t compare scores of students who took it this year with one another. It is, in no uncertain terms, an unstandardized test.

This test is akin to measuring children’s heights but allowing some students, we don’t know who, to stand on a stool, we don’t know how high, and then declaring some taller than others.

Fred Smith, another testing expert, writing in City Limits, had doubts about the validity of the test before the test administration.

Either the state education psychometrician is lacking in competence, or knew by adopting untimed tests scores would likely jump – either is unacceptable.

If the state continues down the same path, retaining the untimed tests, even if it keeps track of students who take extra time, and the amount of extra time, we will be once again be comparing apples to oranges. Kids who take extra time or choose not to take extra time may not be the same kids as this year – we simply can’t know.

Will states across the nation also jump on the untimed tests bandwagon?

In the politicized world of education the charter school folk and their acolytes beamed at higher scores, of course, we have no way of knowing why charter school scores were generally higher than public schools, and, the pro-charter print media crowed. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina also took a victory lap, and the Mayor immediately claimed the scores were proof that mayoral control be made permanent.

Board of Regents Chancellor Rosa reminded us it’s not time for a victory lap, unfortunately everyone else is milking the results – de Blasio and Farina, the charters and principals and teachers are breathing a sigh of relief.

A perverse kind of victimless crime: except for the kids who were tortured preparing for a non-standardized test.

Although the law has changed, No Child Left Behind has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act; the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 remains. The Leadership Conference is an umbrella group representing the major civil rights organizations across the spectrum has strongly supported the accountability requirements, aka, testing and reporting scores by subgroup, and, the law is not changing.

Testing is here to stay.

The US Department of Education has announced they will be selecting six or so states or consortiums of states to play with alternate assessments.

The anti-testing crowd points to the new law and the testing kerfuffle in New York State, why not move to portfolios and performance tasks to current replace testing? This is not a new idea.

Vermont spent a decade working to create an assessment system based on portfolios, and after an external report pointed to fatal flaws, abandoned the effort.

…report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low. The researchers urged the state to release the assessment results only at the state level.

Daniel M. Koretz, a senior social scientist at RAND and the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

Can thousands of teachers be expected to rate portfolios the same?

The portfolio process was expensive, extremely time consuming  and there is no guarantee the portfolio work was not “assisted” by parents or others .

Yes, portfolios and performance tasks are effective classroom tools and in the perfect world might be a way of assessing student progress, in the real world, the world in which we live, it is not reasonable to expect inter-rater reliability.

The anti-testing movement will not disappear and the opt-out movement is alive.

What is absent is leadership – Arne Duncan drove us down a path for seven years that divided education: reformers versus deformers, marketeers versus public schools, unions versus the hedge funders: education is bitterly divided. Will the next president nominate an education leader who can bring together the disparate constituencies?

Education is adrift and the unstandardized testing regimen in New York State is a prime example.

Are Suspensions a Pipeline to Prison or a Valid Response to Unacceptable Behavior? How Do Suspensions Impact the Behavior of the Other Students in the Class? Are Afro-American Parents Opposed to Suspensions?

Three years ago we were in the midst of a hotly contested mayoral election. Four high profile Democrats were battling for the democrat line on the November ballot. Bill Thompson, an Afro-American, had given Bloomberg a close run in 2009, the President of the City Counsel, Christine Quinn, the Comptroller, John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio were dashing from forum to forum. When the dust settled not only did de Blasio win he won 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff. A key was clearly his early and vigorous opposition to Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” and the Dante TV commercial..

de Blasio received more Afro-American votes than Thompson, the only Afro-American in the race. Virtually every Afro-American male in the city, regardless of their income or residence has a story. A cop stopping them for no apparent reason, treating them as if they were a  criminal, a victim of “walking or driving while black.”

During his three years de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promises, he has been the progressive mayor, seemingly vying for the leadership of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and, watching polling numbers drop.

The NY Post and the Daily News have criticized him daily, the Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Initiate also taking shots at the mayor and Governor Cuomo has made it clear, he, Cuomo, not de Blasio, is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state.

A year away from the next election and the vultures are circling, de Blasio seems wounded, and possible opponents are smelling the carcass.

At this point there is no “Stop and Frisk” issue, at least not until after the November presidential. A Hillary presidency would put a totally different spin – she could endorse de Blasio, or, send out an “I support Bill” message, or, remain aloof. Crime continues to fall to historic levels; the city is prosperous, what are the issues?

Lack of affordable housing, high taxes, homelessness, poverty, undocumented immigration, crowded subways: the list goes on and on; are any of these issues core election issues? Can they grab the electorate?

The Dante TV commercial and de Blasio’s early outspoken opposition to Stop and Frisk, in my view, catapulted him to victory in 2013.

Is there a core issue in 2017 that will create a path to victory?

First, who are the potential voters?  An NYU Wagner report in 2013 parsed likely voters. Older, better educated, higher incomes and union members are more likely to vote,

See a detailed analysis of likely voters by neighborhood before the 2013 mayoral election:

Prime voter lists and detailed voter information can be purchased – see what you can find out about likely voters: http://gograssroots.org/files/analyzevoters.pdf

Potential voters are extremely diverse, by ethnicity, by income, by age, by education, by race and by religion or lack thereof.

Getting back to issues: will suspensions be the stop and frisk issue of 2017?

Are schools (i. e., suspensions) the pipeline to prison tropes so deeply ingrained in minority and liberal voters that it will emerge as the core issue? See Atlantic articles here  and here; and, as the Department of Education, perhaps responding to harsh criticism from the teacher and principal unions, backs away, even ever so slightly the Atlantic and progressives shove back.

While the suspension/pipeline to prison issue resonates in progressive circles, both white and black, does it resonate among Afro-American parents?

A year or so ago I was at an education forum, during a break a teacher was engaging with an Afro-American charter school parent. The teacher was telling the parent, “Charters throw out the disruptive kids.” The parent answered, “That’s exactly why I send my child to a charter school.”

You cannot simply use the term, “Afro-American voters,” who do you mean?   Older black voters?  Millennial black voters? Caribbean voters? See fascinating breakdown of voting trends by neighborhood here.

Caribbean voters (Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti) tend to be socially conservative, church-goers, union members, prefer kids to wear uniforms to school, and, I would argue far more likely to support strict discipline in schools. Highly educated black intellectuals firmly support the school to prison pipeline concept: David Kirkland director of  the Metro Center at NYU chairs the  Commission for Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

 If we trace backwards: are kids who end up in criminal justice and/or fail to graduate high school more likely to have been suspended in school. Did the suspension(s) lead to poor academics and/or antisocial behavior? Could alternative disciplinary procedures such as restorative justice practices or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports  (PBIS) avert the negative outcomes associated with suspensions?  Do suspensions so stigmatize the student that future negative behaviors are to be expected?  On the other hand, how do suspensions impact the other students in the classroom?  Does the removal of disruptive students improve educational outcomes for the remainder of the class?

Complex issues and issues that are firmly held.

Interested in becoming a campaign consultant?

Suspensions, the School to Prison Pipeline, de Blasio and the 2017 Mayoral Election: “All Politics is Local.”

A few weeks after de Blasio won the election in November, 2013 I wandered over to the transition tent on Canal Street; the de Blasio transition team was sponsoring a series of panels. Experts and the “community” was expressing opinions and asking for public input: infrastructure, policing, sanitation and education. The education panel was made up of a leader of the Harlem NAACP, pastors from a few churches and community activists. One of the speakers decried the large numbers of black children suspended in pre-kindergarten. I was sitting next to a high-ranking Department of Education official, I looked over at him, he shrugged and began tapping into his phone – he shook his head – the assertion was totally wrong; however, it didn’t matter.  The panelists “knew,” beyond a doubt, that school was the pipeline to prison and that there was a direct link between suspensions of Afro-American males, high school drop-outs, and prison,

Read an ACLU Report here.

Read Tavis Smiley article here.

As we inch toward the September, 2017 Democratic mayoral primary and the November general election the potential candidates are maneuvering, de Blasio’s approval ratings are in the tank and he is appealing to his base constituency, the Afro-American community.

The suspension rules are explicitly spelled in Department regulations.

New York City has a detailed discipline code; a code that was revised last year limited student behaviors that were subject to suspensions.

New York City School Discipline Code: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/CD69C859-524C-43E1-AF25-C49543974BBF/0/DiscCodebookletApril2015FINAL.pdf

 As a result of the changes, and mostly because of pressures from the top, suspension rates have dropped sharply. The New York Daily News reports,

Starting in 2015, city Education Department officials made it more difficult for principals to suspend students as part of a larger effort to improve school climate.

As a result of the changes, city schools boss Carmen Fariña reported in March that suspensions fell 31.7 % from July to December 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

The push came at least in part from de Blasio, who had criticized suspension policies as discriminatory toward black and Hispanic kids since his days as Public Advocate.

A few weeks ago the Department announced that suspensions in grades K – 2 would be bared completely.

Teacher union president Michael Mulgrew, in an op ed in the New York Daily News was critical,

In a perfect world, no child under the age of 8 would ever be suspended. Every student having a discipline crisis would have the proper interventions. Every classroom would be a positive learning environment.

Unfortunately, children in crisis who are disrupting classrooms are not going to be helped by the latest plan by the city’s Department of Education to ban suspensions outright in grades K-2, and neither will the thousands of other children who will lose instruction as a result of those disruptions.

Mulgrew was reflecting the views of his members as well as the principals across the system. I called a principal acquaintance,

“Yes, I plead guilty, I suspended kids in grades K – 2, and I doubt it resolved anything except it gave the teacher a respite from dealing with a few kids who are out of control. I wish I had a behavior specialist, a psychologist on staff, I don’t. A suspension gets the parent or the caregiver up to school and maybe we can work together and find some outside assistance for the kid. I suggested at a principal’s meeting that we chip in and hire an expert who we could share, my senior colleagues told me to back off, it was perceived by the superintendent as a criticism of her leadership.

Since the Great Recession of 2008 the numbers of psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses in schools has been sharply curtailed. Yes, it is helpful to have reading and math specialists; specialists can only assist students who are ready to learn. How many of our students live in shelters, in foster care, have an incarcerated parent, a substance-abuse addicted parent or guardian, how many are food insecure, live in gang and crime infested neighborhoods?  The answer is simple: far too many. Principals and teachers must deal with the impact of the world outside of school in classrooms. Not an excuse, we take full responsibility for improving student outcomes; addressing the burdens placed on students and families by factors beyond the control of school must be the responsibility of our elected representatives.

A principal arranged for brand new winter jackets to be donated to all of his kids: attendance improved. Another held a barbeque once a month at the end of parent meetings, parents began coming to the meetings. Did the principal training program include teaching you how to check social media to see if there were any fights over the weekend that might spill over into your building?

Has anyone done a study of the impact of out of control kids on the rest of the class?

I asked an experienced principal if suspensions had a positive impact on the kid who was suspended.

There are some egregious acts, bringing a weapon to school, serious fights that must be dealt with sternly. Suspensions may impact the student who committed the act as well as the rest of the school. Restorative disciplinary practices are fine, principals and their staffs must have access to  a toolkit;  a wide range of approaches that fit the situation – removing a tool, suspensions simply makes the job harder and solutions more difficult.

I asked the same principal, a thoughtful guy, whether, in his view, suspension, was an essential part of the school to prison pipeline.

Don’t get me started, can I single out kids in early childhood grades that probably won’t graduate and will get in trouble with the law – sadly, yes. Try as we might, each year we lose a few more kids to the culture of the streets. The signs are clear: poor attendance, more fights, the wrong friends, we see it every year. We try to reel them back in, sometimes successful, too often not.

Believe it or not we are only thirteen months away from the Democratic mayoral primary. Shortly after the presidential election candidates will have to begin their campaigns: raising dollars and raising their profile. With low polling numbers will a Democrat decide that de Blasio is so damaged that he’s vulnerable?  Does Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, or Letitia James, the Public Advocate want to give up their positions to run for mayor, or, wait four years? How about Reuben Diaz, the Bronx Borough President? Or, maybe a Republican who can raise the mega-dollars – is there another Rudy Giuliani?  For twenty years the heavily Democratic city had Republican mayors. How about Eva Moskowitz?

In my mind there is no question that the UFT, the teacher union is firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Politico has doubts.

The political harmony between Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew has faded in recent months, with Mulgrew issuing a series of denunciations of City Hall’s key education agenda items.

“We strongly believe that if the DOE properly managed existing programs, the number of suspensions for students under the age of eight would be greatly diminished,” Mulgrew wrote. “Better management would also result in more schools developing a positive culture of discipline and respect. Given the DOE’s poor track record in this area, we cannot support the plan at this time.”

To criticize actions of the Department of Education is not a “series of denunciations;” in mature labor-management relationships the parties can “agree to disagree.”  The actions of the chancellor in whittling away at the discipline code, in sharply reducing the number of suspensions,  we understand, is a political act; an appeal to a constituency that firmly believes that the act of suspension leads to dire consequences for Afro-American males.

All politics is local.

The union president is acting responsibly – he is representing his members, and, the parents of children across the city – you cannot simply bar suspensions without addressing the underlying issues – unacceptable behavior.  The Department cannot simply wave a magic wand and claim restorative justice practices are an alternative to suspension. Principals and teacher must have a wide range of tools to address unacceptable behavior, and to address the social and emotional deficits that result in these behaviors. Schools needs mental health professionals to work with children and their families as well as to work with school staffs and a wider range of alternative settings.

To call out the chancellor is not a sign of political dissatisfaction with the mayor; it is a union leader representing his members.

In the cauldron od politics someone is polling to see whether supporting suspensions will have a positive political impact.

A political axiom: win the election first, making a better world comes next.

Why Did the State Test Scores Jump? What Do You Think? Join the Discussion

A few days ago I mused about the sharp jump in test scores across the state, especially in New York City (Read here)

Leonie Haimson, in a Daily News article avers State Ed simply changed cut scores to jump the overall scores,

“It’s unconscionable that the state should put out numbers to show big improvement where none seems to exist ….There is enough evidence to put these big jumps into proficiency into a lot of doubt.”

And a college professor has grave doubts,

“The increases are illusory,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor, citing the changes in the test and scoring

Columbia professor Aaron Pallas says we really can’t tell why the scores spiked, and a number of frequent commenters on my blog comment about possible reasons. What do you think? Extended time? Better teaching? Did the large jump in charter school scores  bump up the overall scores? . Write a comment.

Frequent commenters Ken and Mark muse:

 Ken Karcinell

 “I prefer to discount the “shenanigans theory”, in favor of saying that part and parcel of the improvement is owed to better modes of instructional delivery. That being said however, the test engineers did shorten the test, and lifting the time constraints had to be a big help. add these considerations to my own personal beliefs that these tests in and of themselves should never be the sole criteria for measuring pupil intelligence and comprehension of curricula, I feel that the modifications made this year are a step in truly getting to the point where more valid conclusions about pupil comprehension of curricula can be assessed.
From time in memoriam we have all seen how some students do horribly on math exams and by contrast perform satisfactorily on English, Science or Social Studies exams. The reason for this is in no way associated with measuring student intelligence or comprehension of curricula. A long time ago, when I was getting started in education, I was living with my mom, who was legally deaf, but could read lips. On one particular evening, I was sitting at the dining room table, grading some social studies exam papers.

As each paper was given a 40% or 30% grade I began talking to myself and getting very agitated. My mom read my body language, and asked me what the problem was. I told her that I couldn’t understand why paper after paper was a failing one. I explained that I had given pre-tests, review tests, take home tests and as recently as the day before had orally drilled the class on the test material. My mom asked me, do you have good control? Do they listen to you? I assured her that I did. She then, bent over the table and selected 3 different failing test papers, and told me that I should call these students one, by one, in an isolated situation to me, and ask them to answer the questions that they got wrong.

When I started to protest, she said,” just do it”! Can’t argue with mom, so the next day while my class was at gym, I asked the Phys Ed Teacher if I could see a couple of my students for a few moments, and he approved. When the first student came over, I asked him, one of the questions marked wrong on his test paper and he verbalized the correct answer. After repeating the process several times, the flow of correct answers continued. I repeated the exercise with the other two students whose papers my mom had selected, and the results were exactly the same. That night, I asked her, how did you know? She said, that she didn’t know until she asked me if I had good control and when I said I did, then she knew. She explained to me that her belief was that my students in this case lacked writing skills and literacy skills. But, because they paid attention, their auditory skills were heightened and therefore were sharper than their other senses. Going forward, I developed a system of giving grades as fractions or slashes so that a student could receive a grade of 80/40. I also sent home a letter to parents explaining how to interpret the grade. Of course, I didn’t inform the Principal of this communication, not because of any intended effort to disrespect him, but more so owing to my own ignorance as a novice teacher, in terms of protocol. In the final analysis, I have always held that test assessment.is essential in designing models for instructional delivery. However, I also have held that without a provision in that assessment for oral inquiry, that test assessments as they are presently constructed are lacking”

Marc Korashan

 “The first question that occurs to me is how tests which have a single correct answer are expected to measure the effectiveness of Common Core instruction to which, at its root, is expected to help students become critical thinkers. Critical thinking leads students to look at test questions very differently than students instructed in rote, drill and kill fashion. Knowing history means more than just knowing the names and dates of all the presidents. It means understanding the issues that impacted on the country during their tenure and how and why they dealt with them as they did and how that is still resonating today.
The second issue is that shortening test decreases its reliability. This is just arithmetic, but decreased reliability can explain the increase in scores.
Ken raises a third issue, and one that I agree is central to the issue of how we assess students. Different students will have different ways of expressing what they know and reliance on highly verbal tests where many questions use nuanced language to make questions work to discriminate among students penalizes many students. When the Department started urging teachers to dig deep into the data, I participated in a demonstration of the program. Choosing a question at random, I found that nearly a quarter of the class chose each of the available choices. Looking carefully at the question, I found that all four choices were correct, but the question asked for the “best answer.” This meant that only students with the verbal skills to determine which of four correct choices was the “best,” meaning the most comprehensive, could get the answer correct. The lesson for teachers from this was to do more test prep.
I have argued elsewhere and in comments on this blog for a different approach to evaluating students (and by implication teachers), one that uses growth portfolios where students enter work that shows what they have learned during the year. I think this is the real solution to the problems referred to in this post and hope the Regents/SED will begin to look outside the testing industry for solutions.”

 

What do you think? Join the discussion

Why Did New York State Test Scores Jump? Better Instruction? Untimed Tests? All the Kids Got Smarter, or, Shenanigans?

If you want to bury a news story you issue the press release on a Friday afternoon, if you want as much mileage as possible you issue the release on a Tuesday morning, followed by a press conference, in person and online, followed by laudatory speeches across the state and try to maximize the time the story garners headlines and clicks.

The State Education Department released the 2016 grades 3-8 ELA and Math scores on Friday afternoon with an odd presser. The test scores up, way up; why is the SED ashamed?

You can take a deep dive into the New York City Scores here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/data/TestResults/ELAandMathTestResults

The SED analysis of the state scores with many disaggregated charts here and here.

The Commissioner was careful not to publicly laud the increase in the scores,

But rather than celebrate the largest bump since New York adopted new tests tied to the Common Core Learning Standards, education officials reported the increases with caution. They suggested that changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also warned against making comparisons with previous years, which is typically done to evaluate schools and teachers.

“It’s not an apples to apples comparison and should be viewed in that context,” Elia said during a news conference when the results were released Friday.

For the data wonks who want to parse the results check out the files here and here.

The SED states, “…  changes in how the tests were given – not actual improvement by schools and students – may have accounted for the gains;” however, a deeper analysis is necessary.

If the increases are due to fewer questions and untimed tests, we should know, if both teachers and kids have been exposed to the more effective Common Core instruction and better professional development, we should know, or, if the SED, as some suspect, manipulated the process, we should know. All of the kids in New York State getting smarter just doesn’t seem creditable.

Under Commissioner Mills test scores increased year after year, when Chancellor Tisch and new Commissioner Steiner took over they asked a Harvard professor, Daniel Koretz to take a look – sure enough – the SED had been using many of the same questions year after year. Whether incompetence, or, more likely a method of increasing scores, we’ll never know. Scandals in Atlanta and accusations elsewhere have cast doubt on the entire testing regimen. Jumps in test scores are treated with skepticism.

For years Howard T. Everson chaired the Regents Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and was sharply critical of test score inflation.

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

Each year after the release of the state tests scores the TAC issued a lengthy analysis of the quality of the test. Recently the TAC process has changed, as I understand the current process the TAC report goes to the test creator, Pearson, (now replaced by Questar) who vets the report, over the last few years the report was released a year after the test and was so heavily “massaged” it was meaningless.

The SED/Regents should, in the footsteps of Tisch and Steiner, immediately ask Everson or Koretz or a colleague with equally impeccable credentials to examine the current state test results.

If, in fact, the Commissioner doesn’t know why scores jumped we have to ask: why not?  If untimed tests resulted in higher test scores shouldn’t Regents Exams be untimed?  If the increased exposure to better Common Core instruction resulted in higher scores why are the Algebra 1 and Geometry scores not increasing?

Shrugging and simply saying we’re happy with increased scores but we’re clueless as to why is simply not acceptable. Data should influence policy at all levels, and, we have to be confident that the testing regimen is creditable.