Tag Archives: Standardized Tests

May 100 percent of our students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014

by Ray Guzman

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible.

An attributed Chinese proverb is often wished upon one’s enemies by asserting, may you live in interesting times… This understated “curse” levied upon one’s enemies has a restrained Buddhist sensibility even as one wishes ill toward others. Educators today are indeed living in interesting times. Students and parents are certainly living in interesting times as well. However, the curse placed upon us all is not restrained but rather overt.

The curse is well known to educators and asserts the following, may 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014. So then, who has placed this “curse” upon us all? I am certain we can think of obvious enemies. Nonetheless, I am not certain many of us are thinking about the less obvious and thus more lethal enemies. They give politically correct speeches, and radiate a fatherly presence. Their threat resides precisely in the proximity to their victims, us. We often develop a blind spot for such figures and hope that they will protect us from sorcerers and things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, simple examination of deeds, rather than speech, proves otherwise.

Their “curse” is characterized by dilution and diminution. Teachers, students, administrators and parents are diluted in endless paper chases disguised as tests, assessments and reports. Conversely, the edification of concepts and individual free will are systematically diminished. The combined effects may elicit the maddening image of a hamster running endlessly in a caged wheel. However, a more accurate image of these effects is more akin to desperate victims racing to the top of an inextinguishable inferno.

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014 is particularly stressful when father figures emphasize the deadline, by 2014. This has been the curse that has dominated the bulk of my teaching career. A curse so powerful it has decimated all attempts to render it inoperative. This “super curse” has brought forward other conjurers, who with wands in hand have temporarily waved away some provisions yet, have not been able or willing to undo this “super curse”. What would motivate someone to place such a curse?  Let’s entertain some thoughts.

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible. This cynical goal suffers from a pernicious pathology, which advocates forgive as a delusion for perfection. Shamefully, these apologists hide the correct diagnosis. It is not a delusion of perfection that motivates the jinxers, but rather a pathology of exclusion. We all know the consequences of not scoring proficient and obtaining AYP, -they close your (our) school. However, 2014 can’t seem to arrive soon enough for some hexers. Hence, the rush by officials –this year-, to close as many public schools throughout our country under the convenient excuses of “austerity” and “scores” is well afoot. The unprecedented shuttering of dozens of public schools particularly in largely African American communities, as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. etc. are justified under the rationale of budgetary challenges.

This rationale anchors itself on the operational premise of right sizing. Irrespective of the fact that we are talking about children and their development -this thinking may have legitimate administrative basis in the private sector. However, the current juxtaposition of private sector practices and public sector commitments, such as providing an adequate and free education as stipulated in the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have dissimilar agendas and unequal strengths. Why then the rush if the “super curse” will effectively close thousands of public schools all across our country within a year? We will surely have the right size and number of schools soon enough. Could it be that the proponents’ zeal for the “super curse” is waning? Hardly.

In fact the “super curse” is going very well. The political party, pardon, -the political parties, both of them, have put away their profound pedagogical partitions to unite in this effort. Likewise, the industrial testing complex continues to redact tests, assessments, practice workbooks, study programs, while hiring consultants, garnering ever greater budget allocations, and accumulating data all aimed to ensure that scores comply with targets of soon to be imposed common core standards. But above all of these machinations, one supersedes them all, the president’s silence on these matters is the best indicator that all is truly going well among the jinxers and hexers. Conversely, hope for a change is sequestered. So again I ask, why the rush? Could it be that the “super curse” itself is waning? Hardly.

In fact, the jinxers are emboldened by their powers and lack of meaningful restraints, -why wait? “Let’s exclude NOW!” they demand. What we have in front of us now is a turn to Kronos, but an inverted Kronos. We have all seen the depictions of Kronos devouring his children. His filicides are motivated out of fear, a fear of competition from his children. Thus, he eats them. In our case, our Kronos is not committing filicide, but rather devouring the children of others. One can imagine a repented titan with a renewed paternal instinct and displaced fear of competition in the presence of other children asking another titan, “How do we devour the potential competitors of our children?” The other titan may respond, “Well, one way is to be proactive. For example, you offer your children greater pedagogical and assertive experiences and opportunities. In addition, you enroll your children in a school that is free of stigma, for example, one that does not administer standardized tests, say a private school or a divinity school. In other words, enroll your child in a school that does not partake in omens or curses.”

Nonetheless, there is still another way, a more reactive way, to devour your children’s potential competitors, -you close their schools and in doing so -eliminate the competition. Once shuttered, you place stigma upon the displaced children and adults. Moreover, you place a scarlet tattoo on both and you never lift the curse. The calculation is the following; the failure of some children will ensure that mine will thrive. This charter is an open collusion devoid of formalities.

I am well aware that we live in highly secular times, which are dominated by facts and figures. But for some of us who recognize the evil that lurk in men’s hearts, we cannot ignore the immutable. Those who conspire against children are devoid of judgment. Consequently, their motivations are drawn from an irredeemable well. They practice technical numerology, model apparitions, and consult conjurers. Some of them believe in curses. Others still are weary of omens. Some even fear children, often their own. I believe in God. Evil may cause great pain and destruction, but evil never prevails. Evil’s harvest never mature and eventually in its rage devours its own seed.

Colleagues, may 100% of your summer be a blessed one.

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Saying goodbye to Arne Duncan (and shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

by Christopher Paslay

Next week we will be getting a new president, and with him, a new Secretary of Education.    

With a new president comes a new cabinet.  And since October 17, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Department of Education Organization Act—which brought into existence the overbearing and bureaucratic United States Department of Education—this has included the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s appointment, has fit the job perfectly, which is to say he intruded on public education like the big government politician he is.  Now, before education advocates start belly aching about the importance of federally funded education programs, know this: on average, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to a public school district’s budget (90 percent of funds come from state and local government).

Interestingly, this doesn’t stop the federal government from bullying local school districts into following their laws and policies, like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama’s recent “National Reform Model” for overhauling failing schools; the U.S. Dept. of Ed. wants all the power, none of the responsibility, and in exchange covers a measly tenth of the cost.

But back to Duncan.  What has marked his tenure?  Duncan has fought to:

  • Increase the use of data and standardized tests to define student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

After four years of such policies, the racial achievement gap is as big as ever, test scores remain flat, graduation rates haven’t moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the toilet via President Obama’s education stimulus package; for those in Philadelphia, think of the three year tenure of Arlene Ackerman, and the nearly $10 billion she spent (stole/wasted).  What does Philadelphia have to show for it?  A gigantic budget deficit.

Which is why a new education secretary is going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The question, of course, is who?  Who will Romney’s education secretary be?

Before that question can be addressed, there is one fact that will make his appointee better off than Duncan: Romney has talked of shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed. by combining it with another agency, and this may limit the reach of the education secretary; some speculate that there is still a chance Romney will abolish the Dept. of Ed.—and education secretaries—altogether.

Again, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to the budgets of public school districts (in Philadelphia it is about 15 percent), so the Dept. of Ed.’s power should be reeled in; it should have a say in only 10-15 percent of public education policy.  But that’s not how big government and big bureaucracies operate.  They want control at all costs, and maneuver their way in via handouts (Race to the Top) and by making false promises; better to give federal education funds directly to the states, and let local districts, school boards, parents and teachers make their own decisions.

It’s interesting more public educators aren’t more agitated by the U.S. Dept. of Ed., by its intruding reach into their classrooms, by its regulations and red tape, by its out-of-touch policies and visions for reform.  Perhaps the most intrusive, frustratingly bureaucratic years in the past two decades in the Philadelphia School District were the Ackerman years from 2008-2011, driven by scripted curriculum and suffocating central office visits from the clipboard wielding Ackerman Gestapo.  This period was the direct result of Obama/Duncan’s “National Reform Model,” AKA: gotcha policies and stifling regulation trickling down from the control freaks known as the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

So who will Romney pick as his education secretary?  Here’s a list of possibilities, according to Education Week: Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Tony Bennett (Indiana’s superintendent of Public Instruction), Tom Luna (the Idaho superintendent of public instruction), Chris Cerf (a registered Democrat who works with GOP governor Chris Christie), Robert Scott (former Texas chief), Paul Pastorek (helped schools in Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina), Bill Green (executive chairman at Accenture, a consulting organization), and Joel Kline (former New York City chancellor), among others.  (To read about their backgrounds on education, click here).

But the best hope, of course, is that Romney won’t pick a new secretary.  That is to say, that the newly elected president will make his first order of business to send the U.S. Dept. of Ed. the way of the blue suede shoe, and allow local school boards, parents, and teachers the true freedom to drive policies and reform.

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K-12 cuts and consequences

The results of Pennsylvania’s annual standardized tests came out recently, and it seemed everyone was pointing fingers. Math and reading scores are down an average of 1.5 points statewide – 8 points in Philadelphia. Teachers’ unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump, and they have a point.

Last school year, Gov. Corbett cut $860 million in funding for K-12 education, or about $410 per student. This hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student. “When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “K-12 cuts and consequences.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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State’s Analysis of Drop in 2012 PSSA Scores is Political

by Christopher Paslay

The drop in PSSA test scores cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  Cuts in education funding, though not acknowledged by state officials, are also to blame.

The official results of the 2012 PSSA exams are out and it seems everyone is pointing fingers.  Math and reading scores are down 1.5 points statewide, and an average of 8 points in Philadelphia.  Teachers unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump in student performance, and it appears they have a legitimate argument.  Last school year Governor Corbett cut $860 million from K-12 education, which translated to about $410 per student.  These cuts hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student.

“When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis insisted the drop in PSSA scores had nothing to do with recent changes in funding.  “I don’t buy the excuse the numbers went down because of budget cuts,” he said.  According to Tomalis, scores are down because of heightened test security put in place during last spring’s PSSAs.  This conclusion was backed by the state’s Technical Advisory Committee, which studied three possibilities for the drop in scores: funding, changes in the test content, and tighter test security.

The data to support TAC’s findings in the recently released 2012 PSSA Official Report is insufficient, however.  Although TAC states “that the only scientific cause for the drop in scores from 2011 to 2012 was the Department’s investigation of past testing improprieties which has led to heightened test security measures,” no analysis of the effect of changes in funding is given in the 2012 PSSA report.    

How did cutting $860 million from K-12 education impact testing, exactly?  How did losing hundreds of teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and school police affect test scores?  How did losing art, music, foreign language, sports programs, clubs, and a multitude of other extracurricular activities impede education?  TAC never adequately addresses these issues in the report.          

 Selective interpretation of test data seems to be the Pa. Dept. of Ed.’s modus operandi.  Also missing from the 2012 PSSA report are the forensic audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs, as conducted by the Data Recognition Corporation—the makers of the PSSA.  A neatly arranged, prepackaged analysis of the state’s “Integrity Investigation” into cheating on past exams is contained in the report, but this investigation is by no means an adequate substitute for the original audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs themselves.  Pennsylvania tax payers have a right to review the primary documents and draw their own conclusions about which schools and districts cheated on the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs; my gut feeling is still that the Philadelphia School District, although clearly guilty of widespread cheating, was made the primary scapegoat by the state.

The state has also failed to explain why they waited until shortly before the start of the 2012 PSSA to announce its new security policies regarding the administration of the exam, and why only Philadelphia and a handful of other districts were required to abide by the new security measures.  If cheating was so widespread, why weren’t the security measures mandated statewide?

Tragically, it appears that the state’s obsession with testing and test security is only going to get worse.  While Corbett’s 2012-13 budget keeps school funding generally flat, it increases spending on educational assessments by 43 percent to $52 million.             

The drop in PSSA test scores, especially in large urban districts such as Philadelphia, cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  The state’s claim otherwise is purely political, and until supported by sufficient data, lacks legitimacy.

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Are Chicago 8th Graders Really Less Literate Than Slaves?

by Christopher Paslay

Writer Greg Lewis suggests Chicago 8th graders have reading levels far lower than former American slaves.

According to Greg Lewis, Chicago 8th graders read worse than American slaves.

Who is Greg LewisThe New York Times called him “the most ass-kickin’ writer to come along in a decade.”  Lewis, Ph.D., is also the author of The Politics of Anger and is a regular contributor to the conservative news website American Thinker.  (For the record, I’ve written three articles for American Thinker in the last five months.  Click here to read them).

On September 12th, Lewis published “The Results of Radicalism in Chicago’s Education System” on American Thinker.  I’m not sure if Lewis is attempting to be sensational to gain readership or if he truly believes his own hot air, but I can tell you one thing: he has little understanding of what constitutes literacy and even less of a grasp of standardized test scores.

The idea that Chicago students are less literate than slaves is both offensive and ludicrous.  Lewis suggests that Outcome Based Education, an instructional philosophy adopted by many large urban school districts including Chicago, is producing reading levels in students that are far worse than those of former American slaves.  Although OBE does promote a suffocating brand of educational socialism that is harming education as a whole, especially America’s high achievers, Lewis’s claim that it is producing sub-slavery reading levels is still a bit of a stretch.  Lewis turns to the 2011 NAEP scores of Chicago’s 8th graders to make his point.  According to CSN News:

Nationally, public school 8th graders scored an average of 264 on the NAEP reading test. Statewide in Illinois, the 8th graders did a little better, scoring an average of 266. But in the Chicago Public Schools, 8th graders scored an average of only 253 in reading. That was lower even than the nationwide average of 255 among 8th graders in “large city” public schools.

With these NAEP test results, only 19 percent of Chicago public school 8th graders rated proficient in reading while another 2 percent rated advanced—for a total of 21 percent who rated proficient or better.

The scores of the NAEP allowed Lewis to conclude the following:

One of the headlines accompanying the current Chicago teacher walkout has focused on Chicago students’ inability to read at their grade level.  Chicago’s school system has brought the level of reading proficiency among its 8th-graders down to 21 percent.  There’s only one parallel to the OBE results in Chicago: slavery. . . .

In colonial Boston, for instance, the literacy rate [for slaves] was nearly 100 percent.  Virtually everyone knew how to read, and anyone who didn’t could easily find someone to teach him.  Girls, boys, women, men…everybody could read.  So easy is it to learn to read that it was necessary to forbid teaching slaves.  You can sit down with a book and someone who knows how to read, and that person, even if he or she is not a licensed teacher — or, as is more appropriate today, especially if he or she is not a licensed teacher — can very likely teach you to read.

Ph.D. or no Ph.D., Greg Lewis is a first rate ignoramus.  Scoring proficient on the NAEP reading test does not correlate with being literate, nor does it correlate to being on grade level.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch debunked this myth when she reviewed Davis Guggenheim’s propagandistic documentary “Waiting For Superman” in the New York Review of Books 

NAEP doesn’t report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does [Guggenheim] understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP’s “proficiency” level really is. To score below “proficient” on NAEP does NOT mean “below grade level.”

NAEP has four achievement levels.

The top level is called “advanced,” which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are “advanced” probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.

Then comes “proficient,” which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below “proficient” cannot read at “grade level.” He is wrong.

The third level is “basic.” These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP’s “basic” as their own definition of “proficient.” This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be “A” students.

In other words, failure to score proficient on the NAEP does not mean you are below grade level, and it especially doesn’t mean you are illiterate.  To be “literate” on an 8th grade level means basic reading comprehension, the ability to decode text and understand meaning; the vast majority of Chicago 8th graders can read and comprehend text and are by all means literate.  NAEP tests go way beyond reading comprehension and into the complex analysis of literature, testing students’ knowledge of allegory, symbol, theme, and figurative language; I’d be hard pressed to believe that former American slaves could read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece Uncle Tom’s Cabin and analyze the text’s vast literary devices.

Suggesting that Chicago 8th graders read worse than former American slaves is hurtful and in poor taste–and is flat out untrue.  Greg Lewis, Ph.D., should make more of an effort to take the high road and avoid such insulting comparisons, and learn to get his facts straight to boot.

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The Romney Education Plan: ‘Get the teacher unions out’

by Christopher Paslay

Mitt Romney’s school reform plan calls for confronting unions, ignoring class size, and discounting teacher experience.    

Mitt Romney’s new message on the education front is his pledge to take on teachers unions in an effort to—cue the Michelle Rhee drum roll—put students first!  “We have got to put the kids first and put these teachers unions behind,” Romney said recently on Fox News Sunday.  “. . . I want there to be action taken to get the teacher unions out and to get the kids once again receiving the education they need.” 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Romney had just finished watching Waiting for Superman.  His belief that teachers unions are stopping public school children from receiving proper educations scores a “10” on the cliché meter and shows just how lazy he’s been when it comes to rolling up his sleeves and doing some real, evidence-based research into the many challenges facing America’s public schools. 

Teachers Unions: The Root of All Evil?

Since Romney deals in clichés (and fails to acknowledge all the good things teachers unions have done over the past 150 years, like improve conditions in schools, upgrade curriculum and teacher credentials, and make it so every child can learn to read and write, regardless of race, social class, and gender) let’s analyze the three most fashionable criticisms of teachers unions: that they give bad teachers a lifetime appointment in the classroom; that they receive cushy contracts from politicians in exchange for political support; and that they stand in the way of progress.               

As I’ve written about before (see “Ending the Myth That Tenure Protects Bad Teachers,” 3/20/12), public schools are self-regulating: teacher turnover is costing America over $7 billion annually; 17 percent of all of public school teachers quit every year; 56 percent of America’s new teachers quit within five years; and over one-quarter of America’s public school teachers have five years experience or less.  Where is the “lifetime appointment”?      

Here are the numbers behind the “cushy contracts” garnered by unions: the median salary of kindergarten teachers in 2011 was $31,500; for elementary school teachers it was $49,200; and for high school teachers it was $52,700.  As for benefits, most public school employees contribute to their pensions and medical insurance (teachers in Pennsylvania contribute 7.5 percent of every check to their pension).  This can hardly be considered “cushy”.               

As for standing in the way of progress, teachers unions opposed No Child Left Behind (but this didn’t stop it from being passed), a school reform bill that has been criticized by educational policy experts across the political spectrum for it’s over reliance on flawed test data and the narrowing of school curriculum; Romney himself said it needs to be significantly changed and reauthorized.  NCLB has been in place since 2002—over a decade—and the racial achievement gap hasn’t changed, nor has the achievement gap between the rich and the poor; the wealth gap has gotten bigger.

Teachers unions also oppose taking public tax dollars and putting them into privately operated charter schools (but this hasn’t stopped every state in America from doing it), a practice that has gotten mixed results at best. Charter schools perform no better academically than traditional schools, yet have the luxury of removing failing or disruptive students.  Financial mismanagement and lack of oversight are recurring problems for charters, and growing research is showing they are not equitable—English language learners, special needs students, and minorities are being weeded out.

Is this the “progress” critics of unions are talking about?   

 Teacher Pay: Old vs. New

Romney wants to pay new teachers more.  “We should pay our beginning teachers more,” Romney said at a recent campaign stop in Illinois. “The national unions are too interested in benefits for the older teachers.”

By “older teachers” does Romney mean the ones with the most skills and experience?  The ones that have dedicated their entire careers to their students and survived the poorest neighborhoods with the least amount of resources?  The ones that have for years paid out of their own pocket for classroom materials, endured the insanity of misguided school reform, forged lasting relationships with their students, and saved the lives of some of America’s most troubled youth?  Those “older teachers”?             

By “beginning teachers” does Romney mean the ones with less than five years experience?  The ones that studies show are still learning their craft and struggle with instruction and classroom management?  By “beginning teachers” does Romney mean the ones who enter the profession through Teach for America, over half of which quit in two years?  Or those who enter the field via the traditional route, over half of which quit in five years?    

 Class Size

Romney doesn’t think class size matters.  In other words, he doesn’t feel the need to increase educational funding, or worry about per pupil spending.  “I studied [class size],” Romney said in Illinois.  “There was no relationship between classroom size and how the kids did.” 

Really?  So there’s no difference between teaching a class of 33 or 23?  No difference in classroom management?  No difference in the amount of time for individualized instruction?  No difference in time for grading papers and contacting parents?  Or the money needed for resources and supplies?  Money for paper?  Books?  Laptops?  Field trips?  No difference between 23 and 33, huh?             

There is, of course, plenty of research that says class size does matter, like the U.S. Department of Education’s report analyzing the multitude of benefits achieved via Bill Clinton’s National Class Size Reduction Program.  And then there’s the State of Tennessee’s STAR report.    

From his recent remarks on the campaign trail it’s become obvious that Mitt Romney has limited knowledge of public education in America, and is simply using talking points to pander to his base.  Either way, he’s alienating millions of hard working school teachers across the country, and putting politics ahead of the educational interest of our nation’s children.

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