Has the Testing Craze Gone Too Far? Will the New NYC Mayor Challenge the Commissioner Over Excessive Testing?

It’s been a tough week for John King, and, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier.

After months of planning, and whispering to anyone who would listen, the test scores were released – down 30% across the state.

The only other state to construct Common Core congruent state tests, Kentucky, saw 30% drops last year. In spite of careful planning, extremely careful “managing” of the cut score setting process, the lining up of Common Core supporters, and the release of the scores caused a firestorm.

In the final throes of the mayoral campaign the leading democratic contenders attacked the over-testing regimen, principals from high tax, high performing districts panned the tests, Diane Ravitch called for the resignation of John King and others called for his firing.

Only 3% of English language learners “passed” the ELA exams and kids of color fell into the single digit passing range.

At the July Regents meeting the commissioner passed up an opportunity to declare a moratorium year, instead he asked superintendents to be “judicious” in the use of the scores.

The tsunami is just beginning.

The powerful Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, John Flanagan, announced hearings across the state.

The current city administration and the state have a cozy noblesse oblige relationship – the state ignores whatever the city chooses to do and the city is totally silent re state policies. This will change dramatically on January 1 with a new mayor and a new chancellor, whoever it is will be far less compliant.

The governor, an expert at testing the direction of the winds, has absented himself from educational policy discussions, with the aroma of 2016 in the air, you may expect less enthusiasm for the test-test-test folks from the mansion in Albany. King has already signaled that just maybe some breathing room is needed. At the July Regents meeting and in an excellent Gotham Schools Geoff Decker post the commissioner indicates that maybe the 14-15 school year is too early to move to the PARCC tests.

A little history: while national curricula are prohibited by statute the feds and the governors worked out a slick way around the law. The National Governors Association (NGA) adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the feds funded two coalitions of states, the coalitions are developing Common Core aligned tests to replace current state tests. The plan is to sell the tests to the states; the tests will be computer-based, with a rapid turnaround time.

How you can create meaningful valid and reliable tests without a curriculum is another question. One of the major raps on the current round of Pearson-Regents Research Fund created tests is how can you prepare and test kids on topics that were never taught?

PARCC, the coalition in which New York State is a lead partner, was poised to replace the brand new tests with yet another brand- new test. The state is vigorously defending the current tests, arguing the scores cannot be compared to last year’s result – a new test – you cannot compare apples to oranges, a new baseline. Wouldn’t the PARCC tests also be a new test with a new baseline?
While I’m sure the commissioner and his minions can explain the nuances, the politics and the realities are huge obstacles. New York State, especially New York City and the low wealth districts are not capable of providing the hardware and software for a full computer implementation of the test. The early, very early plans were to spread the testing days over a longer period of time, all the kids would not take the test at the same time on the same day, different kids would answer different test items, you can imagine the uproar.

And, of course, there is the little question of money – will the Congress continue to fund PARCC, and, if not, can they raise sufficient dollars to continue to move forward? Will New York State, and other states, want to pay the estimated $30 per kid and the local hardware-software costs?

How would the public feel about a massive national databank of individual test scores as well as personal data about kids – in whose hands? The current outrage over the feds “collection” of phone records bleeds over into the same outrage over the I-Bloom databank that the state engaged.

This testing megalith is based on the premise that a combination of Common Core standards, rigorous testing, teacher assessment and the close scrutiny of data will result in higher achievement, aka, college and career ready students, a premise without any evidence.

A sports parallel: over the last few years Nate Silver and other kids who were not very good at actually playing baseball (only kidding!!) created a field that is called sabermetrics – the use of data to create algorithms to predict outcomes. From the traditional batting average and runs batted in, to WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), OBA (on-base averages), WAR and endless others (click above to join the cyber world of baseball)
The book and the movie, Moneyball, popularized the “new” scientific approach to the national past time.

No one predicted that the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven’t had a winning season in twenty years would be leading the National League Central, or, that the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were on the verge of firing their manager in June, would have a winning streak unparalleled in the history of baseball.

Data analysis is not destiny.

A teacher was telling me, she teaches kids in a high poverty school who are the same age as her daughter; her daughter’s vocabulary is way beyond the kids she teaches, her daughter spends hours “playing” challenging educational video games on an I-Pad, gobbling up book after book, sitting with other similar kids in school every day while in the class she teaches kids have never seen an I-Pad, have no books at home, commonly are poorly clothed and undernourished. The kids in her class can identify gang flags instantly and know to duck when they hear the “pop-pop” sounds from the streets.

“I’m an excellent, committed teacher, my Teacher Data Report grade is high, my principal loves me, the network crowd always wants to visit my class, and my kids show substantial progress. I see them in the streets a few years later, they’re in middle school, for too many the streets are winning.

The kids love Greek myths, I think next year I’ll teach them about Sisyphus.”

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2 responses to “Has the Testing Craze Gone Too Far? Will the New NYC Mayor Challenge the Commissioner Over Excessive Testing?

  1. Our billionaires want the testing, the charters, the turnover — anything and everything that smacks of positive change, effective reform. They can brag that they are helping society level the insanely uneven playing field that spawned and keeps them happy. Then they continue to shrug off their share of the taxes while reforming the rest of society through their increasingly funded political influence and social
    reform projects. They don’t realize that in the realm of Ayn Rand, THEY are playing the part of big, insane, ineffective, lying and cheating gov’t!

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  2. rachel de aragon

    Within the testing craze the hype and the politicians lose track of the purpose of testing. In this last go round, for example, they have neglected to say that the students were not taught the material that was on the test. So what was it testing? The non-pedagogical roar has drowned out good sense, let alone good teaching. Such catch phrases as ‘teaching to the test’, have surplanted the meaning of testing on the material that the student is suposed to be learning because it was taught.

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