Do We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests?

Is the 95 percent participation in yearly testing, of all students, in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) justified? We need to know.

Currently a conference committee is putting together a replacement for NCLB ( ESEA reauthorization) but, as it stands, it will continue to mandate yearly standardized testing of all students with the 95 percent participation rate unmistakably emphasized.

trtesting1002aClearly, I have an opinion about standardized testing but I have been willing to explore other points of view while considering that I could be wrong. So in looking to find official information on the topic, I ran across an article titled “Why We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests.”

As I read it, I became confused.

Were parents ever…

“begging for their kids to be tested”

…as Stephenie Johnson wrote?

After 13 years of data collection under NCLB, does the public know how the data was used and what value it had in school improvement? Maybe the public no longer realizes that the original ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) intended to help provide a level playing field for children from low-income families.

My schools are schools with a high concentration of such children. I know what I saw in my own district.

Have I…

“forgotten what happened before participation was required”?

I have not. Before participation in yearly externally developed standardized testing was required by federal law for all children, we were making progress in my schools by focusing on correcting the mistakes that were made with reading and math instruction…for the students, based on those students, and based on individual school differences.

We already knew we had problems and which schools were having the most problems. We didn’t need new standards or new tests to tell us what we already knew.

And we knew we were always going to have a certain number of children with special needs. We always had special testing for that.

Ms. Johnson wrote,

“Ensuring that students with disabilities were participating in assessments not only gave parents important data about how their kids were doing compared to their peers, it also guaranteed that school districts were held accountable for their entire student populations, not just the portion that consistently fared well on the tests.”

Ms. Johnson seems to think that the participation of children with disabilities in assessments designed for children without “disabilities” or “special needs” is an overall good thing.

I’m not a specialist on “special needs” and I have a different perspective because of my many years assisting in classrooms. I came to believe that every child has a special need of some kind and learning differences (disabilities) are plentiful in the non-labeled children as well as those with a diagnosis of a more serious nature. So because I recognize how opinionated I am on this topic, I posted Ms. Johnson’s article in hopes of getting some views from educators. Here’s the two that responded:

Larry Lawrence My experience as a district administrator with the California Master Plan for Special Education in the late 70’s and early 80’s was that we had considerably more information about students with special needs than the rest of our students – without subjecting them to inappropriately leveled standardized tests. You only had to sit in on a few IPI (Individualized Prescribed Instruction) conferences to realize the sophistication with which the special education teachers dealt with individual student needs. Of course, we had more adequate funding in those days.

The central claim of “Why We Need 95% of Students to Take Tests” is that unless we administer these national high stakes standardized tests to students with special needs we will not know enough to meet their needs is so off base.

Sheila Resseger I am a retired teacher from the RI School for the Deaf. Ideally students with special learning needs have the full panoply of resources available in their school to diagnose, assess, and monitor their progress. This is what they need and what the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] requires. To force them to be subjected to grade level assessments when their reading level is far below grade level, due to the impact of their disability, is abusive. There is no way to get meaningful “data” from this cruel enterprise. … This makes me crazy.

What I can tell you is that the mandated participation in yearly high-stakes standardized tests never “ensured” that districts were accountable to all students. In districts with limited resources (a real problem), the test results are used to prioritize the students who would be helped…leaving behind those in the non-prioritized categories… or who just didn’t make the cut. A test and sort system?

Ms. Johnson’s commentary is one of a recent barrage of articles (many paid for by astroturf groups) that are obviously aimed at parents in the Opt Out Movement or those considering test refusal. As a supporter of the use of test refusal as a means to a better end for education reform, I am personally offended by this comment,…

“…some are itching to rewind the clock, taking our education system back to a time when some kids—particularly students with disabilities—could easily be shunted to the sidelines.”

My truth, my perception, is based on my experiences. Ms. Johnson’s?…

“The truth is that we can’t protect these kids if the 95% participation threshold is rendered meaningless.”

Hogwash.

The truth is, participation in the standards-based testing reform concept has been a meaningless endeavor for my district since our state lawmakers put it into action in 1999 —before the concepts’ federalization in the 2001 NCLB. The same school in my district that had a notoriously poor reputation when I arrived here in 1990 was labeled “In Need of Improvement” under NCLB and now is a “Priority” school under NCLB waivers….Do the math!…. 25 years later, with higher standards and better tests, we have the same results but with an ever-changing label to tell a new generation of parents what earlier generations already knew.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 8.25.36 PM

This is how you sell a nation a product NOT how you reform schools.

Participation in yearly standardized testing didn’t change the status of the school because high stakes testing doesn’t help individual children. Standards and testing should not be the first step in a school improvement process.

 

 

But “higher” standards and “better” tests have been made priority #1 for school improvement. And the Powers-that-Be have put our dollars on that horse —repeatedly — for the last 25 years.

America's Choice, 1990 http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED323297.pdf

America’s Choice, 1990
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED323297.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

“Encouraging parents to opt out of tests could undermine the rights of others who fought so hard for their children to be included.”

Undermine the rights of others?

That doesn’t make any sense to me. If parents want their children tested because they don’t trust their teachers or school, or just want another verification of progress, so be it. That is their right to request use of the available public testing resources. They have always had the freedom to make that request.

What gives the government the right to infringe on the rights of other parents who do not need, or see the value in, their child’s time being spent testing? But then it isn’t really the government making this request, is it?

Achieve, Inc., the Education Trust, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the National Alliance of Business launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) in 2001

2008 -Achieve, Inc., the Education Trust, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the National Alliance of Business launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) in 2001.                      Public knowledge of the plan?

We need to end the lies and deception. We need to be informed. We need to get back to insisting that our government does it job —for US.

One federal role in education is the monitoring of equal educational opportunity.

Student participation in our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as done using random sampling, has proven itself over time to be a useful tool for monitoring national progress and in monitoring the achievement gap. But even that data is useless if not adequately analyzed and put into a useful format — for use by the public for improvement purposes.

Senator Obama September, 2008

Senator Obama September, 2008

Where is the clear report card from the president, to parents and the nation, to keep us informed – for federal and state accountability purposes?

Now, just so readers don’t think I’m a totally disagreeable person, here’s the point of agreement I found with Ms. Johnson,

“…it would behoove us all to take a quick trip back in the time machine.”

Let’s go back to 1965. Let’s return to the goals of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Let’s rekindle the vision of its creators…..That would be the best first step towards progress in education reform.

"Education is the keystone in the arch of freedom and progress." JFK, 1963

“Education is the keystone in the arch of freedom and progress.” JFK, 1963

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)

At The Core

We ask for common sense to be used. We seek common ground. Most of us have a need to be part of a community; we search for commonality with someone.

The word “common” has a softly seductive appeal that brings to mind a sense of belonging as though we are sharing something of value.

Common Core National Standards?

Some of us can’t help but see patterns common to our still-fresh experience with state standards and No Child Left Behind. As standards were demanded as part of an accountability scheme, children were put in harms way in an unprecedented experiment in education reform.

If the child didn’t fit the standards and how they were being implemented, many parents and grandparents opted to teach the children how they knew better fit their needs. I know I did, as did others I know who hired tutors or entered their kids in “programs” to fill the gaps.

The standardized tests can never ferret out the effects of our actions giving the appearance that the standards “worked.”

There is no doubt that the practice of re-teaching or supplementing was done during the first thrusts of the test-based accountability experiment and it is being done again with The Core. As one anonymous parent put it, ” At times my son was very confused by what was going on – so I taught him myself. While the schools probably assume that his level of mastery is due to the teaching and books, the truth is far different. I am sure I am not the only case where parents supplement their kid’s education.” JRM (Huffington Post article Oct. 11)

How can we possible judge a system, a school, or a teacher based on this?

The sell job of outcome-based accountability was in the wording: want “better student outcomes,” “higher achievement,” to “leave no child behind,” like the idea of “accountability, flexibility, and choice”? …yes, yes, yes, yes.

Now, a return of some of what was taken away by Round One — critical thinking and writing through more project-based activities — is the commonsense carrot enticing us to swallow the whole Core National Curriculum.

Billed as “new” and “unique,” The Core is neither. Promising to bring “success” and make students “college and career ready,” it is more certain to sell new curriculum materials, new tests, and new remedial materials and programs when students “fail” the tests…and the pattern continues.

Parents, if you are “supplementing” your child’s education, your child in particular should be opted out of the testing. If this national experiment is to go forward, it should be based on an honest evaluation.

My own opinion — for what it is worth — at The Core of this issue is not our agreed need for some commonality of knowledge; at The Core is conformity.

Narrowing of the curriculum was no little glitch. Unintended in Round One; no doubt foreseeable in Round Two.

Narrowing of the curriculum was no little glitch. Unintended in Round One; no doubt foreseeable in Round Two.

“…conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” JFK

 

A Call for Leadership on Testing

The Call

The Call

Ever hear a lone coyote howling in the wilderness? If you have, you might also have wondered how long he will go on before another answers his call.

That is how it felt to be “in the know” about standardized tests during the late 90’s when it hit my state and my kid’s classrooms. Where was the information about the ethical use of standardized tests? Where was the information about the strengths and weaknesses of their uses? And today, will this opt-out movement produce any different result? Depends.

I have no reason to believe that our current teaching force or certified leadership is aware of the lessons from the past. In the early 1930’s, the “efficiency movement” proved standardization of teaching was detrimental. In the late 30’s, we proved that standardized tests used as a judgment for school quality narrowed the curriculum and was “deadening to instruction.” And what did we learn from No Child left Behind – the longest, largest experiment in standardization to date?

My hope for the next generation rests on leadership – of all kinds, from all sectors of society. Answer the call.