Rebutting Rhee

About the Rhee Opinion of the Opt-Out Movement: [NOTE: if you are not familiar with the Rhee agenda, 2012 critique from Idaho view provided here]CEMeQqMVIAEDorC

First, let’s clarify “standardized tests.” A standardized test is any form of test that (1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a “standard” or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students. (From the Glossary of Education Reform – who knew?)

O.K., so then, I’m going to make an assumption that confusion has occurred.

I see standardized tests in two different lights. In many of my large classes in college, college professors wrote up multiple-choice tests (fill in the bubbles), which covered the material they taught or that they expected students to learn, and ran them through machines to score. Those are “standardized tests” by definition but I’d call them “internally developed.”

It is not really “standardized tests” that parents are objecting to; it is externally developed standardized tests that are being misused and their worth is being misrepresented to the public with scores being used for propaganda purposes.

Ms. Rhee is wrong in thinking that externally developed standardized test scores are “critical to improving public schools.” The only period of time during which this country was actually narrowing the achievement gap (judged by standardized tests pre yearly mandated) was the period when the original “Effective Schools Research” was done. External tests were not correlates of those schools. External tests did not improve those schools.

Ms. Rhee is wrong in thinking that “better” design of external tests will “measure how well our schools are teaching our children.” These tests cannot distinguish between a test prep curriculum and the one that is best for the individual student. They cannot accurately judge the quality of a whole school. Study James S. Coleman’s work more closely, Ms. Rhee.

Ms. Rhee is wrong to judge our nation’s education system based on international standardized tests scores. Should we monitor trends? Absolutely, but international standardized tests don’t tell the whole story of the American education system.

The Sandia National Laboratories exploration of education that provided “Perspectives on Education in America” (Journal of Educational Research May/June 1993) explained our seemingly poor international performance based on several “issues.” To really judge our U.S. students based on these tests, we would need to take into account many more factors than the average Jane or Joe “education think tanker” is going to do… So we shouldn’t be basing our decisions on these tests unless we are going to delve into differences in student tracking, curriculum timing, cultural differences, etc. The Sandia brain trust concluded, “…the utility of these assessments to educational improvement in the United States is negligible.” Ms. Rhee, read their work – these were some damned smart people!

So, in general, to continue on the path of test-based reform is barking up the wrong tree. Standardized tests are a monitoring device that we should use sparingly and with cautious interpretation; they should not be the foundation for education reform that they have become.

If the argument I present here gets a hearing, it is only because of the Opt-Out Movement ——- Move on! Let’s hear more!

 Slaves to the test?

Slaves to the test?

And halt the confusion. Ask for clarification from the bully pulpit. Sign the Ohanian White House petition.

(Update 10/8/14 —- The petition failed to get enough signatures. So, sadly, the need to end the federal role in yearly mandated high-stakes testing lives on through No Child Left Behind.)

(UPDATE AGAIN – As of 12/4/15, the yearly mandated high-stakes testing lives on through the Every Student Succeeds Act – NCLB 2.0. THIS MEANS that everything written about NCLB still applies.)

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5 thoughts on “Rebutting Rhee

  1. Thanks Victoria. Your clarification (rarely seen in education) is helpful. But I do have a couple of questions:

    1. M. Rhee (and I am not a big fan) says these mandated “externally developed” tests are “critical to improving public schools.” You disagree, but only to say they worked (pre-mandate), but only “when the original ‘effective schools research’ was done. External tests were not correlates of those schools. External tests did not improve those schools.” You almost have me, but I do think we have effective school research being done today (the kids are just not making the grade – standardized tests or not. And how do external tests not correlate to internal tests. Is biology not biology? Is chemistry not chemistry? Is English not English? And lastly, you are correct, the tests do not improve schools. Actually the process of having students take the tests is not intended to improve schools. I do not think anyone thinks that having a student sit and take a Chemistry Regents exam is going to improve the school. I do think people mean that by taking an “outside and more objective” test on the same material (and it is the same stuff we are teaching) we can better gauge how students are performing along side their peers and can then better see what kind of a job the TEACHER is doing. Because right now the kids are sucking wind big time on the tests – both internally AND externally developed. If the teacher end of it can be improved, then the student end of it will be improved. OR, the topic that appears to be so often taboo, maybe we can light a fire under our little ones behinds to actually read the book, until waiting for us to make the tests so idiot-simple that they can just come to class, not study and then pass a state test. Because THAT is not, should not, and never will be happening in the near future.

    2. You are also right in saying, “These tests cannot distinguish between a test prep curriculum and the one that is best for the individual student.” But the purpose of the test is evaluative. If the teacher is teaching a competent and comprehensive chemistry curriculum (I am using chemistry as it doesn’t really change appreciably from year to year and I am very familiar with both internally and externally developed tests in this content), then their students should be able to balance an equation ace a test on balancing equations of converting moles to grams whether it was teacher-developed or Martian-developed. The fact is, the kids are often passing teacher tests and failing externally developed tests, because the teachers are spoon-feeding questions to keep up appearances. There, I said it.

    3. You are right again in saying, “…international standardized tests don’t tell the whole story of the American education system.” Each test given is not intended to tell the history of how we are in free-fall. They are designed to find out why. But they are telling the story of the “decline of student work ethic and what premium they hold education up to. Take away these tests and you will be providing them with one more parachute to give them a soft landing. What our kids need are a few “epic fails” and to hit bottom once or twice to experience what failure and the associated pain feels like so they can learn to prevent it in the future. I can tell you having spent the last 14 years teaching science that kids are not studying nearly hard or long enough. They are – in most cases – being given the tools necessary to pass these tests. Yes, there are some teachers who should be bounced – yesterday – but that is not the norm.

    4. You quoted, “So we shouldn’t be basing our decisions on these tests unless we are going to delve into differences in student tracking, curriculum timing, cultural differences, etc..” That writer was close. We do need to track. The slower and majorly poor-behavior kids are dragging the accelerated kids to a stand still. That is a fact. Curriculum timing? End of year and every one of my Chemistry and Earth science kids are ready for the tests. How do we change that? And lastly, cultural differences…. How do cultural differences hold a student back from writing an essay on what they did over their summer vacation or how to balance an equation? This is a crutch. The only way to beat this problem is to either segregate again, or to pick one culture over another, and we already have. Our students are studying for all of these tests within the American culture. Like it, love it, hate it, rally against it, it is the culture du jour. When I taught in China, I taught using their procedures and protocols. They wanted me to teach their way. It was simple and i did what they requested. I was there. Our kids are here and unless they want to live with a life of wanting to “be different” from the masses, I think we should stop using the “cultural” issue as a means of improving test scores.

    So I do agree with much of what you say, Vicky, but as in China we all need to come to more of a “wo men” (us) way of thinking, instead of a “wo” (me) mindset. Let’s just “get better” and these test problems will be a thing of the past.

  2. 1) “They” – being externally developed tests – NEVER do the “work” of school improvement — people do. These tests are only a snap shot. It is like taking photos of ones self every day looking for signs of aging versus taking them every few years (although, maybe today that isn’t a good example – I think I age overnight when Rhee gets something in a major paper :).

    “Effective Schools Research” really should be capitalized (I will go back and fix it and link it to more information when I get time).

    Externally developed standardized tests have built in language bias. As a teacher, when you communicate an idea to a student you pick up on “cues” when a student isn’t “getting it” and you re-adjust your explanation…you probably change your choice of words when you do it. And over time, you have adjusted to what your students understand and you write your tests using language you instinctively know they understand. Do we insist on expanding vocab – of course. But you have to meet the student where they are to bring them along – and you do it based on personal interactions.

    The most common barrier to learning is the misunderstood word. Test writers write in a scripted, accepted language common amongst themselves. That is why too many poor children – never saying all – have limited vocabulary, limited life experiences, limited access to books (shouldn’t but do) and those children “score” lower…..To partially quote someone here – these tests better represent a child’s opportunity to learn than their capabilities.

    No disagreement on improving teacher education and training. That has been the most recommended and ignored “reform” ever…..I would recommend you look at the articles page – I’ve written much on this topic….and this is getting long – not even through first question!

    2) The standardized test fight is not to do away with ALL standardized tests – it is about “appropriate” use. That was the term used in the original 1965 ESEA and one common characteristics of the school improvement “programs” that were used in Effective Schools were that,

    ► they all saw the local school as the focus of analysis and intervention.

    The petition – that I should be working on right now – is for US to get back to the proper role of fed, state, and locals in testing – to stop the misuse and abuse. There are ethical uses. (might click on standardized tests in my tag cloud and see what you get, I really don’t know where I have written what).

    3) Love to talk science ed but no time. But on international test, TIMSS is rarely fully discussed. It is not simply A test. Trends in International Math and Science STUDY is a study. The scores get publicity, the “study part” overlooked. It is the only international “study” (not test) that I know of where it could be used to explore “why.” Our problems in the US with science education – especially because of NCLB narrowing of curriculum in high-poverty, under-resourced schools – are numerous but not unsolvable. You must remember, many of your students are coming to middle and high school AFTER having their natural curiosity knocked down! —— ?

    4) Pros and Cons of tracking – can’t get into all that here but for international test score interpretation purposes – IF we set a cut score for those we deem worthy of a higher “track” then we are setting ourselves up to show lower test scores internationally especially if some of these “higher performing counties” are not educating all their students AND having them all take the tests. By “curriculum timing” I thought Sandia researchers just meant for example – have our 8th graders had X topic introduced by 8th grade or do they get that in 9th – after being tested on it internationally? One example of cultural differences the Sandia researchers specifically mentioned (if memory serves) is the emphasis a culture puts on the value of education ——hope you will explore some of what I have written on culture (tag cloud should work or the search at top)…..gotta change culture and climate (another word to explore).

    The get-better-and-better paradigm shift we should all make – in schools won’t happen FROM D.C……thus the petition…..

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