Tag Archives: Mike Schmoker

The Assessment Wars: Is a Grassroots Revolution Bubbling Up Across the Nation Opposing Punitive Annual Testing?

The education community has been fighting the Reading Wars for decades, and, continues, unabated.

“Why Johnnie Can’t Read” became a national best seller in the 50’s and the battle simmered for decades. For some “whole language instruction” was a political attempt to capture the minds of our children, for others, namely, ED Hirsch, phonics was the path to effective reading instruction.  “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” even became a popular song.

 They’re back. Or maybe the “reading wars” never really went away. For decades, political skirmishes have raged between supporters of phonics instruction and proponents of language.

 Recently the skirmishes have boiled over into battles

The Assessment Wars are not far behind.

20% of parents in New York State have opted their children out of state tests, the  Long Island Opt Out Facebook page  has 25,000 members who are active in local politics, endorsing candidates and working in campaigns, they are a political force.

Is testing of children “new”?

We’re tested children for decades; in New York State children in the 4th and 8th grades were tested annually, additionally there were city and school district tests. The Regents Examinations, required for a diploma in New York State have been around for over 100 years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan law widely heralded in 2002 required testing of all children in grades 3-8 in ELA and Math, and, states had to establish Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal of the law was that by setting AYP goals states would incrementally more forward with all children being at grade level of 2014. The law seemed like NPR Garrison’s Keller’s mythical town of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average. If schools failed to meet goals, higher test scores, the law required interventions, i. e., schools closings, re-staffing, conversion to charter, and the punitive section of the law.

The successor law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues annual testing; the law does change the school measurement metric from proficiency to a combination of growth plus proficiency. Major civil rights organizations strongly supported annual testing. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights , an umbrella advocacy organization, that was led by Wade Henderson  insisted on continuing annual testing.

“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

 In spite of efforts by unions and other advocates to test every third year and other compromises the law continued annual testing.

Has annual testing improved student outcomes?

The answer is a resounding “no.”

With a roll of drums the Obama administration rolled out the Common Core standards followed by Common Core based testing, the result: student scores declined, and, failed to recover.

The National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), called the nation’s report card, compares educational progress by state and large urban districts. Over the last few years New York State is moving in the wrong direction,; scores flat or actually regressing.

How do we assess student learning:  the collision of teaching and learning, that point at which the light bulb goes on, that magical moment in which a student “learns?”  Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institution sees more research needed to uncover the “secret sauce.” For others the “solution” was the stick, use test scores to assess teacher effectiveness, use Value-Added Measurements, and reward and punish teachers. VAM has been trashed by leading statisticians; reformers ignored the criticism.

The reformers who led the VAM crusade ignored the “Cuban-Tyack Principle.”, unless teachers and parents embrace the innovation, the reform, it is doomed.

David Steiner challenges a basic premise, Common Core is not an “answer,” the answer should be curriculum; we should test what we actually teach.

Are there alternatives to the current testing regimen?

New Hampshire and a number of school districts are using performance tasks, Louisiana has an approved federal waiver to use periodic tests instead of end year testing, forty schools in New York State use portfolios in lieu of Regents Exams,

Can testing be useful?

Testing to inform teachers, to inform instruction is used every day, that Friday spelling tests, the math problems; Mike Schmoker in Focus  suggests multiple tests for understanding in every lesson.

Statewide testing has nothing to do with individual students, the purpose is to assess school/school district or state “progress,” or lack thereof. It is also used to shame and stigmatize, and, has created a growing opposition among parents.

The opt outs are now a national political movement. In the recent election teachers and parents played a major role. The “blue wave” included massive numbers of teachers, both in service and retired teachers; not only at the polls but in the trenches, ringing door bells, manning phone banks oft times side by side with active parents.

All politics is local, and, the revolt against testing is bubbling up across the nation. In New York State progressives rolled to victory first in the September democratic primary and in the November general election. While education has been on a political back burner the new crop of progressive electeds might very well be at the heart of a growing anti-testing revolt.

As Jefferson wrote 1787, “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“All Politics is Local,” The Saga of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), Assessing Teacher Performance and the Underside of Law-Making in Albany

Mike Schmoker, the author of Focus, wrote a prescient article in Education Week, “Why I’m Against Innovation in Education” at the same time that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced yet another richly funded innovation,  “The State of the Art Ideas for Schools,” Schmoker writes,

I’m against innovation in education—as currently conceived and conducted. I’m not against small-scale educational experimentation, where new methods are tested, refined, and proved before they are widely implemented. But I’m against our inordinate obsession with what’s new at the expense of what works—with exceedingly superior (if much older) evidence-based practices

 “Inordinate obsession” is the appropriate term; education policy has been driven by billionaires, economists, statisticians and psychometricians, experts on one field setting policy in another field. A prime example is the work of Raj Chetty, who uses “big data,” statistical tools to analyze huge datasets. Chetty and others, in “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood” concludes that high Value Added teachers have a substantial positive impact on students into adulthood; however, warns that VA should not be used for teacher evaluation

… our study shows that great teachers create great value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers. However, more work is needed to determine the best way to use VA for policy. For example, using VA in teacher evaluations could induce counterproductive responses that make VA a poorer measure of teacher quality, such as teaching to the test or cheating. There will be much to learn about these issues from school districts that start using VA to evaluate teachers.

 In spite of Chetty’s caveat states across the nation hopped on the “assess teachers through student test results” bandwagon. The NYS Board of Regents held a summit, experts from across the nation, expressing opinions on the use of student data as assessment tools. The experts warned that the use of Value-Added was ill-advised; teachers teach different kids each year, as well as different grades and different subjects, the errors of measurement, plus/minus ten, twenty, thirty percent makes the data useless. Another vampire idea, a refuted idea that refuses to die; popping up again and again.

The New York State Race to the Top application, in exchange for $700 million, included a multiple measures plan, teachers rated by a combination of supervisory observations and student test scores. Without going too far into the weeds, the current system, called a matrix, combines supervisory observations and student learning objectives (SLO) also referred to as measurements of student learning (MOSL).

Three years ago the governor agreed to a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores and this year the commissioner was in the early phases of constructing an alternative plan. The commissioner has used a consultative process, task forces or work groups, the names are interchangeable, to propose changes in state policies.

Apparently the state teacher union (NYSUT) had been working with the Assembly leadership to craft a plan, a bill was introduced the day before the state teacher union convention and passed, with only one negative vote a few days later. The commissioner was clearly stunned, and not happy. While changing the law is the responsibility of the legislature, the commissioner is the leader, the CEO of the state education establishment amd would expect to be part of the bill drafting process.

A summary of the changes and the opinions of the stakeholders, read here .

The bill passed in the Assembly was introduced as the Senate, a “same as” bill, and, sponsored by the Senate education chair; however, not so fast. Chalkbeat, the online education website muses over the future of the bill.

Senate Majority leader John Flanagan has a dilemma, the bill is popular with parents as well as teachers, the Long Island Opt Out Facebook page proudly boasts 25,000 members, a number of them in Republican senatorial districts. Flanagan needs cover for his Republican colleagues, and his presser speculates over whether the bill will increase the number of tests, clearly an appeal to Opt Out parents.

Since it was first introduced, the State Education Department, the New York State School Boards Association, and the New York Council of School Superintendents have raised concerns that the legislation as written could inadvertently open the door to even more testing than we have now.  Nobody – not students, not parents, not teachers, nor myself or my legislative colleagues – wants that outcome.  With this in mind, we are performing an extensive review of this legislation to determine the best path forward. 

The School Boards Association also questions the bill, a bill that requires negotiations with the collective bargaining agents

We are concerned that if enacted, proposed APPR legislation that has passed the Assembly would result in additional student testing. 

Unless the state wants to forfeit federal ESSA funds, it still must administer grades 3-8 ELA and math state assessments. Under the proposed APPR legislation, students could have to take both the state tests as well as alternative assessments that would be used for teacher and principal evaluation purposes.

In addition, we have serious concerns about the requirement in the legislation for school districts to negotiate the selection of alternative assessments through collective bargaining. This represents a step backward, as school districts presently have the authority to determine assessments used in teacher evaluations.

School boards would rather see unions disappear than work with them in a collaborative manner.

The leader of Long Island Opt Out sees the proposed law as a “small step,” and is agnostic.

Jeanette Brunelle Deutermann

Admin · May 2 at 6:31pm

I want to be clear on what went down/is going down with the new APPR legislation. First and foremost, this legislation does absolutely nothing for children. Not that all legislation has to be centered around children, but I just want to ensure that if you hear ANY INDIVIDUAL or ORGANIZATION proclaim that it is, they are lying. All this does is take away the REQUIREMENT for districts to use 3-8 scores in evaluations, the way it used to be before the moratorium. After this law is passed, districts will continue to be forced to use test scores as 50% of their evaluation, but now in addition to local computer assessments, the science test, or regents tests being a choice, now 3-8 assessments are back on the list. A minuscule positive detail – they don’t HAVE to use 3-8 tests (as they would have had to use as the moratorium comes to an end). Those involved in creating this bill are celebrating this as a huge win. A more appropriate response would be “very sad that this is all our elected officials could muster.” Some have said “but it’s a step.” I guess that all depends on what shoes you’re wearing.

 The legislature will plod along, adjournment around the end of the third week in June and won’t return, except for an unusual special session, until January, 2019; the governor has until the end of the year to sign bills that pass both houses.

Will the Republican leader bring the bill to the floor for a vote? Will the governor sign the bill?

Flanagan has a conundrum,

  •  Should he try and extract a quid prop quo from the Democrats in the Assembly – signing the bill in exchange for, let’s say, raising the charter school cap in New York City, or, approving pre-K classes in the Success Academy charter schools? Actions probably resulting in dollars from the charter school political action committees.
  • Should Flanagan, sub rosa, try and get NYSUT, the teacher union, not to vigorously oppose fellow Republicans in the November general election? Unlikely
  • Should he simply “say no,” it’s a bad bill, without changes palatable to the commissioner and the school board association? In other words use the commissioner and the school board association as cover.

Or, oppose the bill and try and trash the teacher union as being self-serving.

And, will the governor sign the bill without an endorsement from NYSUT?  The small number of union locals that endorsed Zephyr Teachout four years ago might decide to endorse Cynthia Nixon this time, clearly engendering the animosity of the governor.

The end of the legislative session is called “the big ugly” for a reason.

Oddly, this is not an issue in New York City. The City and the Union agreed upon a system of using SLOs and MOSLs and a sophisticated set of alghorisms that satisfies their needs. Under the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, under the current matrix, less than 1% of teachers received ineffective ratings. The question of the number of observations will be part of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

Maybe a sentence that should be posted above the Albany legislative chambers:

“No mans life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Gideon J. Tucker, NYS Surrogate, 1866

Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms.

When the number of initiatives increases, while time, energy and emotional energy are constant, then each new imitative … will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.
Doug Reeves

Some years ago The Department of Education, with fanfare, and an 80+ million dollar price tag, announced the creation of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS)”… a single place where educators can find important information to use to accelerate student learning.”

“ARIS,” the Department gloated, “… provides New York City educators with a secure online platform for:

• Exploring data they can use to improve student outcomes
• Sharing what they have learned by publishing documents and taking part in discussions and blogs
• Finding other educators facing similar challenges
• Creating collaborative communities to solve problems together
• ARIS Parent Link

I sat at an ARIS training session a few weeks before the rollout run by a training company – we got to play around with a beta version of the final product – it was cool! The “one-stop” stopping was useful – the collection of a number of systems on one site, the promise of a platform on which teachers can post and discuss and blog.

The promise was not the reality, the Department realized that “discussions” and “bulletin boards” and “blogs” on a Department site had to be curated and the Department did not have the will or the capacity to curate a site with tens of thousands of users.

Today ARIS “clicks per school” by teachers are meager, the goal of a “data central” that would drive instructional practice and invigorating conversation has morphed to a convenient site to access student bio-data.

The answer to a key questions is embarrassing: do “high-click” schools show higher student growth? How do end users utilize the ARIS data?

The answer, I am told, there is no correlation between the use of ARIS and pupil achievement growth, and, the use of ARIS is overwhelmingly not for instructional purposes. (Commonly checking attendance and bio-data)

Sadly, over 400 schools in New York City purchase a proprietary product, DataCation, which principals find far more useful. You will note I write “principals,” not teachers.

The State Education Department is in the midst of creating its own version of ARIS, called an Education Data Portal (EDP), a tool that was in the Race to the Top application is under construction, at a cost well north of 50 million plus.

“The EDP,” says the state, “will help educators, students, and their families improve student outcomes by:

• Providing tools to accurately monitor academic progress and other indicators, such as attendance.
• Providing access to curriculum and instructional resources aligned with standards, including curriculum modules and teacher practice videos.
• Bringing all of these resources together on one site that can be enriched with additional local school and district data and curriculum resources to support data driven improvement to practice.

Sounds just like the ARIS campaign.

The State Ed dataphiles have joined a Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), run by InBloom, a not-for-profit funded primarily by Gates-Murdoch dollars.

Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) – a not-for-profit, state-led effort created to help states, districts, schools and teachers more easily and effectively personalize education for students through open and non-proprietary standards and services.

SLC work will allow SED, school districts and schools to build or buy technologies that work on open, non-proprietary standards and services so that fiscal resources can be used to provide the most educational value and choice at the lowest cost for teachers, students, and their families.

A State Ed generated power point attempts to answer the many, many criticisms of this data-sharing collaborative.

While InBloom is a not-for-profit the data they collect and the tools they create will be for sale around the nation. Why doesn’t New York State share in whatever dollars are generated by the tools?

When the dust settles, a year or two down the road school districts will have a vast array of tools, if they wish to expend local dollars; however, will the tools make John Doe and Linda Smith better teachers?

The answer is no. The tools will enable superintendents to produce glossy power points, not help the folks in classrooms.

Currently principals can use state testing results without these new tools – download and disaggregate the scores by question – create an error matrix and ask teachers to address deficits in lessons.

The most common use of technology by teachers is Dropbox and Google.Docs, free available apps that allow teachers within or among schools to collaborate.

The feds, state departments of education and school districts use data – simple uses like creating report cards or student scheduling or tracking lunch forms – all necessary – the tools are not driven by the needs of the end users – the classroom teachers, in fact, the endless data entry and report creation adds needless complexity to the lives of teachers.

“Data-envy” is an infatuation, a compulsion, we lust after each new tool, perhaps we need a “twelve-step program” to cure this compulsion which is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, endless energy and alienating end users.

Mike Schmoker in Focus makes a simple proposal:

There will be no more initiatives – at least for a time. Instead we will focus only on what will have an immediate and dramatic impact on learning in your classrooms: ensuring implementation of a common, content-rich curriculum; good lessons; and plenty of meaningful literacy activities (such as close reading, writing and discussion) across the curriculum. What is essential? Three simple things: reasonable coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach) and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline (authentic literacy).

Simplicity always trumps complexity.

UPDATE: See just released reserch paper “If You Build it Will They Come? Teachers’ Online Use of Student Performance Data,”