Tag Archives: performance tasks

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.”

A Quiet Revolution: The Education Law, ESSA, May Change the Face of Education (If You’re in the Right State!!)

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

One of recurring themes in American history is the conflict between the powers of Washington versus the powers of the states. The 10th Amendment underlines powers “delegated” to Washington and “reserved” to the states; however, over time Washington has inexorably eroded the powers of states, especially in education.

In Brown v Board of Education (1954) the Court decided, ”separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and in the Court’s second decision in Brown II only ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provided funds to primary and secondary education.in high poverty schools; Title 1 of the statue emphasizes equal access to education and accountability. In addition, the law aims to shorten the achievement between students by providing each child with “fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education.”

The courts and the federal government were intruding where the states were failing in their responsibilities.

The 10th Amendment Center reports, “Since 1980 (the establishment of the US Department of Education), during the Carter Administration, America’s K-12 education system has come under increasing control by the dictates of the federal Department of Education (DOE) with failing results, taxing states and filtering the money through Washington to return a portion of it back to the states.”

The Brookings Institute calls the 2002.No Child Left Behind “… the most important legislation in American education since the 1960s. The law requires states to put into place a set of standards together with a comprehensive testing plan designed to ensure these standards are met. Students at schools that fail to meet those standards may leave for other schools, and schools not progressing adequately become subject to reorganization.”  The bipartisan law was praised across the political spectrum. As the years progressed the law was increasingly criticized, especially the testing regime required sanctions.

The Obama administration continued and expanded the federal role, the Common Core State Standards, sponsored by the National Governors’ Association, and adopted by 46 states, resulted in the formation of two testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, with funding from the feds. In effect, we now had a set of national standards.

The Race to the Top, over $4 billion in competitive grants required schools to commit to the Common Core, expand charter schools and create a student test score-based teacher evaluation system

Every classroom was influenced by Washington imposed regulations and parents, teachers and school leaders pushed back. In New York State twenty percent of parents opted out of the state tests. The opposition, supported by teachers and their union, bled into day-to-day politics. Electeds and candidates jumped on board sharply opposing the Obama education initiatives.

Slowly the opposition to Obama and NCLB resulted in the creation of bills, at first Republican bills in the House that died in the Senate, Senators Patty Murray (D) and Lamar Alexander (R) crafted a Senate bill that crept through both houses and was signed by the President. The law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) rolls back the federal role in education policy-making.

While the law continues the required grades 3-8 testing the law delegates to the states the creation of school accountability plans. The fifty states are in the process of creating plans; while the law grants states wide discretion the plans must meet rigorous evidenced-based standards.

Read draft ESSA regulations: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/05/31/2016-12451/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965-as-amended-by-the-every-student-succeeds.

New York State started quickly, targeting the March submission date, and, at the October Board of Regents meeting slowed down, agreeing to move to the July date.

The Commissioner has created a ESSA Think Tank made up of a wide range of stakeholders to participate in developing pathways. View the October Regents Meeting PowerPoint description of the process to date:  http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/ESSA.pdf

Read a lengthier description of the process:  http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa.html ,

ESSA retains many of the core provisions of No Child Left Behind (the previous reauthorization of ESEA) related to standards, assessments, accountability, and use of Federal funds. However, ESSA does provide states with much greater flexibility in many areas, including the methodologies for differentiating the performance of schools and the supports and interventions to provide when schools are in need of improvement.

View the beginning of the state plan: the Guiding Principles, the Characteristics of Highly Effective Schools and the High Concept Ideas at the links below.

Draft Guiding Principles

Draft Characteristics of Highly Effective Schools

High Concept Ideas

Among the controversial sections of the draft New York State plan is the question of proficiency versus growth. Should schools be “judged” based on the percentages of students, and subgroups of students that meet state-established proficiency or should growth play a major role: the percentage of students who show year to year growth on the state tests? Or should the accountability metric combine proficiency and growth, and, if so, what should the mix look like? For example, 85% proficiency or 85% growth?

The proficiency v growth issue is being hotly debated among the stakeholders and the advocacy community. For example, Education Trust – New York is supporting a proficiency-based model as well as vigorous interventions at the school level.

Ensure that academic achievement drives school performance determinations and improvement strategies. This should be done by maintaining high standards; ensuring that academic measures represent more than 75 percent of a school’s rating; and limiting the number of accountability indicators.

Require immediate action when schools are not meeting rigorous expectations for any group of students. Ambitious performance and gap-closing goals should be set for all groups of students, and — following a needs assessment and with school district and, where necessary, state support — evidence-based strategies implemented when those goals are not met.

See Ed Trust position papers here  and here.

At the October UFT Delegate Meeting UFT President Mulgrew supported the growth concept. He asked, “Why punish teachers in high poverty schools if the children are making progress?”

This will be a major point of contention as the Regents move toward crafting a final plan.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has produced a valuable document, a look at what a number of states and advocacy organizations are working on and advocating.

View Overview of Proposed Accountability Models: http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2016/ESSA/OverviewofProposedAccountabilityModels.pdf

Another organization, Chiefs for Change is working with fifteen states, in the creation of state plans. In a policy paper entitled, “ESSA Indicators of School Quality and Student Success” the Chiefs explore the research, for example, student attendance, teacher attendance, student suspensions, school climate, non-cognitive skills, etc., how do they impact student achievement? The Chiefs also have an interesting paper on evidence, ESSA requires that all plan meet high standards of evidence and Chief’s explore the question of what constitutes evidence. View paper: http://chiefsforchange.org/policy-paper/3096/

New Hampshire continues to move toward performance tasks in lieu of state tests, Vermont will explore portfolios, in the 1990’s they abandoned plans, an outside evaluation reviewer criticized their plans; it was not possible to create inter rater reliability. Will a portfolio reviewer in Scarsdale grade the same as a portfolio reviewer in East New York?

From coast to coast states are exploring evidence-based accountability proposals. Some will stick with the current PARCC or Smarter Balance tests or tests developed specifically for the individual states, some will move away from proficiency towards growth, a few will explore performance tasks and other authentic assessments. All have to pass the stringent evidence-based requirements of the law.

Perhaps for the first time in many decades educational decisions, reserved for the states, will be made by the states.