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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 06/16/2010

Ravitch: 'Are we in an era of National Stupidity?'

By Valerie Strauss

This is another post written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog that she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. This piece speaks directly to the previous post on this blog.

On the blog, Ravitch and Meier write letters to each other about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” in which she talks about how evidence compelled her to drop her support of No Child Left Behind.

Here's her latest letter to Meier:
Dear Deborah,
The evidence continues to accumulate that our "accountability" policies are a great fraud and hoax, but our elected officials and policymakers remain completely oblivious to the harm caused by the policies they mandate.

Over the past several years, efforts to "hold teachers accountable" and "hold schools accountable" have produced perverse consequences. Instead of better education, we are getting cheating scandals, teaching to bad tests, a narrowed curriculum, lowered standards, and gaming of the system. Even if it produces higher test scores (of dubious validity), high-stakes accountability does not produce better education.

In their eagerness to show "results," states are dumbing down their standards.

The New York state education department dropped cut scores on the state tests from 2006 (the year that annual testing in grades 3-8 was introduced) to 2009. In 2006, a student in 7th grade could achieve "proficiency" by getting 59.6 percent of the points correct on the state math test; by 2009, a student in the same grade needed only 44 percent of the available points.

Back in the pre-accountability days, a score of 60 percent would have been a D, not a mark of proficiency, and a score of 44 percent would have been a failing grade.

According to a report by The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the gains registered in the elementary schools of Chicago during Arne Duncan’s tenure [as superintendent, before he became President Obama's education secretary] were almost entirely the result of changes to the scoring of the tests, rather than evidence of any genuine improvement in student learning.

When gains are manufactured in these ways, children are cheated. Children who need extra help don’t get it, but adults trade high-fives for their "success" in raising scores and enjoy the adulation of the media.

When New York state’s education department was criticized for dropping the cut scores on its tests, officials responded by insisting that the department dropped the cut scores because the tests were actually harder than in previous years.

This was utter nonsense because the passing rates soared as the cut scores fell, which would not have been the case if the tests were "harder." So, although it never acknowledged its past chicanery, the state education department claimed that the tests would really, really, truly be hard this year and that standards would once again be high.

However, some whistle-blowing teachers tipped off the New York Post that the scoring rubrics for this year’s test recommended giving half-credit for wrong answers and even for no answer at all. Here are examples from the 4th-grade scoring guide, as reported in the Post:

"A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12."

"A miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is "partially correct" if the student uses the right method to verify the wrong answer."

"Setting up a division problem to find one-fifth of $400, but not solving the problem—and leaving the answer blank—gets half-credit."

"A kid who subtracts 57 cents from three quarters for the right change and comes up with 15 cents instead of 18 cents still gets half-credit."

A student who figures the numbers of books in 35 boxes of 10 gets half-credit despite messed-up multiplication that yields the wrong answer, 150 instead of 350."

One hopes that these students never become pharmacists or engineers or enter any other line of work where accuracy matters.

The scandal of high-stakes testing is not limited to New York and Illinois.

Last week, Trip Gabriel of The New York Times reported in a Page One story about the ubiquity of cheating scandals across the nation. My guess is that he revealed only the tip of the iceberg.

I was in Baltimore on May 27, when The Baltimore Sun wrote about a major cheating scandal at an elementary school that had been widely recognized for its excellent test scores. In 2003, only one-third of the students in the school passed the state reading test, but within four years, almost all did. This was a "miracle" school; it won a federal Blue Ribbon for its remarkable gains. But it turned out that the school’s success was phony: Someone had erased and corrected many student answers.

The more that test scores are used to measure teacher effectiveness and to determine the fate of schools, the more we will see such desperate efforts by teachers and principals to save their jobs and their schools.

Yet even as more cheating scandals are documented, even as the perfidy of state testing agencies is documented, our federal policymakers plunge forward, blithely imposing unproven policies as well as "remedies" that have been tested and found wanting.

Latest example: The June 9 issue of Education Week has a front-page story with this headline: "Merit-Pay Model Pushed by Duncan Shows No Achievement Edge." The inside jump headline reads "Student Progress No Better in Chicago Schools Using TAP." (TAP is the Teacher Advancement Program, which gives extra compensation to teachers for higher "performance.")

In the same issue, on Page 24, is a story about the $437 million for the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program, which will dispense dollars to do what failed in Chicago.

Secretary Duncan hopes to expand funding for this program to $900 million next year. Mr. Duncan says of the program, "There’s no secret that historically there’s been some apprehension about doing this kind of stuff. You have to expose yourself a bit and put things on the line, but where folks are willing to do that and do it together, we see the benefits for students. It’s remarkable."

Merit pay has been tried and found ineffective again and again since the 1920s, but repeated failure never discourages its advocates, who are certain that if the incentives were larger, or if some other element was adjusted, it would surely work. We hear that about every failed experiment. If only we had done it differently....

More emphasis on test scores. More money for teachers if the scores go up. More punishment for teachers and schools if the scores don’t go up. More cheating. More gaming the system. More concentration on basic skills (they count) and more indifference to the arts, history, science, foreign languages, etc. (they don’t count).

Are we in an era of National Stupidity or National Insanity? Or is this what happens when educators imagine they are thinking like corporate executives?

If it is the latter, I recommend that they read the writings of W. Edwards Deming, the management guru, who steadfastly opposed merit pay because it destroys collaboration and teamwork, undermines long-range planning, and incentivizes the wrong behavior.

If it is the former, well, we will just have to ride out this terrible era and hope that wiser heads someday prevail.
Diane

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 16, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Diane Ravitch, Education Secretary Duncan, Guest Bloggers, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, accountability and nclb, accountability movement, accountability policies, bridging differences, diane ravitch and deborah meier, holding teachers accountability, how to hold teachers accountable, narrowing the curriculum, president obama and education bluerpint, president obama and school reform, teachers and merit pay  
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Comments

We are in an era in which the illusion of learning is more esteemed than the substance of the matter. Sad indeed. Oh, where is the courage of school superintendents, boards, and principals to "take a hit" on the blasted test results and actually serve students with sound lessons having reliable markers of mastery? So what if a kid can guess and get correct answers to questions on tests if he is truly and utterly ignorant of the concept on that which he is being tested?

Posted by: shadwell1 | June 16, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

We shouldn't have to ride this out. We, the taxpayers are paying for people to erase answers and then to claim their schools are improving? Were those people prosecuted? That is such obvious cheating and is a disgrace considering they are role models. I am surprised this wasn't investigated and I am surprised that they weren't fired.

In fairness to NY. Grading policies have changed in many places from a 0-100 system to a 50-100 system. That is because a 0 throws off the grade 50 points while the other gradations, from 60-70 for example, only have a 10 point difference. In other words, a D counts as 60 points, so and F should count as 50, not 0. Grades are inflated because of this, but you don't as many cases where students cannot dig themselves out of a hole.

Of course, some students are also gaming the system and will give nonsense answers, knowing exactly how much they need to do to "pass with a D" and knowing that anything they write will be scored as 50.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 16, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me that I was in a “merit pay” situation one summer while doing manufacturing piece work. I figured out that if I were stationed closer to the generator, my machine would go faster and I could produce more.

Not my finest hour. It wasn’t exactly cheating, but it wasn’t collaborative either. I never mentioned my discovery to my co-workers and thus reaped the benefits only for myself.

This is what education is becoming - finding ways to manage piece work for the workers’ benefit.

Posted by: efavorite | June 16, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Americans tend to be "crazy like a fox" so I think we can count out "crazy" or "stupid." The people involved in this current misguided reform likely know very well what they are doing: discrediting teachers and public schools for the purpose of privatizing them for personal (financial) gain.

However, until very recently the general public has not been aware of this contemptible effort to wrest control of the public schools (and school tax dollars) from the American people. In my opinion, this sad state of affairs was aided and abetted by the media.

The "school miracles" have been going on now for almost a decade and yet the media, until now, have repeated these stories as though they were facts. Did a "superteacher" announce that her students went from the 13th percentile to the 90th? This was reported as fact without even a cursory attempt at verification. Did a school win some award because its students went from the bottom of the academic pile to the top in only one year? This too was reported as fact. Newspapers shamelessly rewrote one another's stories, thereby encouraging other unscrupulous people to declare their own miracles. Teachers knew what was going on, but for the most part, their complaints were ignored. They were accused of wanting the "status quo."

Until now. Suddenly journalists seem to be acutely aware of what is happening in education. Basically "reformers," backed by Big Money, have been doing a smoke and mirrors show to fool people into thinking that with a few changes here and there (mostly by firing expensive Miss Jones and replacing her with inexpensive Miss Smith) inner-city kids could suddenly compete with their Scarsdale counterparts. Well,common sense alone should have alerted most citizens.

Valerie, you were one of the first to do a little old-fashioned investigating. Respected scholars like Professor Ravitch have done much also. Now others are followin suit. Hopefully with truth in reporting, we'll turn from the deceitful attempts to fool the public regarding school reform to an authentic approach that would provide each child with a well-rounded and high-quality education. I believe that we can do it.

There are no shortcuts to a good education and it isn't cheap.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 16, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

God Bless Diane Ravitch for taking on a battle of conscious. It was in her best interest to quietly walk away from this fight. I am awestruck by her courage and grace. It also does my heart good in these times of Enron, Arthur Andersen, Silicon Valley Bubble Burst, Derivative Trading, Sub-Prime Lending to know that there is still a category of Americans who are willing to put it all on the line to preserve the incredible gift that has been entrusted to use by the blood and sacrifice of those who proceeded us. Please support her and buy her book and tell others to do the same. An informed electorate is our only hope in these sad times.

Posted by: mrpozzi | June 16, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I think it's interesting that when the tests were used to judge students (declaring some of them slow learners, etc.), no one questioned them, but when the same methods are being used to judge teachers and schools, suddenly there are all these scandals and criticisms of standardized tests. They never were a valid measure of anything. (Originally, they were scored by an answer card placed over the sheet and the answer counted as correct if the punched-out hole in the answer card revealed a shaded circle. It didn't take students long to figure out that under this method, merely filling in every circle for every question would produce a perfect score!)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 16, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids,

Standardized test scores are not either a good measure of student achievement or teacher quality.

I know you are not familiar with learning styles of children or good assessment procedures, or studies or how poverty affects children's performance in school. I hope someday you will study these issues because you will why standardized tests don't work.

To learn something about educational issues that shed light on this issue there are two good books:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

By Diane Ravitch

and

The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Multicultural Education)

by Linda Darling-Hammond

Posted by: aby1 | June 16, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids,

Standardized test scores are not either a good measure of student achievement or teacher quality.

I know you are not familiar with learning styles of children or good assessment procedures, or studies or how poverty affects children's performance in school. I hope someday you will study these issues because you will why standardized tests don't work.

To learn something about educational issues that shed light on this issue there are two good books:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

By Diane Ravitch

and

The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Multicultural Education)

by Linda Darling-Hammond

By the way, standardized tests were never used in my area to judge students as slow learners. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were never used anywhere for that purpose. If indeed any type of tests were to ever used to judge a student as a slow learner they were probably tests used by school psychologists. Nowadays however school psychologists would not use the term slow learner, they would use the term "slow processor".

Posted by: aby1 | June 16, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

sideswithkids,

Now I remember correctly:

"I think it's interesting that when the tests were used to judge students (declaring some of them slow learners, etc.), no one questioned them, but when the same methods are being used to judge teachers and schools, suddenly there are all these scandals and criticisms of standardized tests."

Here's the problem with that statement. Any categorization of students is made only by school psychologists. School psychologists NEVER use standardized tests, only norm referenced tests.

Posted by: aby1 | June 16, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Schools have never categorized children as "slow learners." Slow learner is a term general education teachers use to describe kids who don't catch on too quick. But it's not an educational category.

Here are the categories that schools use:

learning disabled
emotionally/behavorially disabled
autistic
mentally challenged

Posted by: jlp19 | June 16, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Diane Ravitch references a preliminary study about Chicago TAP (The System for Teacher and Student Advancement) not producing student achievement growth in the first 18 months. She fails to note that Chicago TAP is an exception to the strong student achievement growth seen in other TAP sites around the country. (See TAP's research summary at www.tapsystem.org.)

Ravitch also characterizes TAP as a pure performance-pay program, which it is not. TAP achieves student achievement growth through a powerful system of professional development and support provided by master and mentor teachers located in that school. These expert teachers identify and field-test instructional strategies with students before training career teachers in their use, and help teachers to analyze student data in planning lessons. Master teachers provide substantial amounts of individual coaching and support to teachers in their own classrooms. Their support also includes rigorous evaluations of teachers' classroom practice multiple times each year, and detailed feedback to help teachers to use this information to improve their instruction. The multiple systems that support professional growth for teachers in a TAP school are what produce student learning gains. Recognizing teacher excellence with additional compensation in the form of bonuses available to all teachers, and stipends for teacher leaders, is just one aspect of TAP's comprehensive approach to teacher effectiveness.

Posted by: JanaRausch | June 16, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

jlp19 must be very young; those terms are all fairly recent. In the '50s, '60s, and '70s, whatever the official record said, kids were divided into "normal" and "slow learners," unless, in pre-mainstreaming days, they had a clearcut physical or mental problem and then they were "special ed" kids and all lumped together. A friend of mine retired partly because, after becoming qualified to teach "special ed," she discovered her class included severely retarded students who were not toilet trained, severely emotional disturbed students, and a literal genius who used a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy. My mother taught the "slow learners" for several years, and when she wondered why one student was in that class, the only evaluation she could find in his records was a note by his kindergarten teacher: "He appears to be retarded." Interetingly, in the second grade he got very thick glasses and his work improved, but by then his class was significantly behind the others.

And if the tests did not classify us, why on earth did we have to take them? And why did my older brother's new school call my mother after a few weeks to tell her he tested at the genius level on the basis of the standardized tests the school had been taking during his first week there? (My mother pointed out that, first, he had complained all during that week that it was boring to to take the same tests he had finished the week before at his old school and, second, this was the kid who, told to wire the garden gate shut because the pig had gotten into it, wired the gate shut with the 200-lb pig INSIDE the garden! There was no further discussion of my brother's "genius.")

I'm not even sure my school district had a psychologist. I know we didn't have a school nurse, and our elementary school didn't even have a library. I think when a student seemed to have a problem that a little discipline couldn't handle the district had to get a psychologist from the county board of education to come out.

Do some of you teachers have any idea what sort of schooling baby boomers received?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 16, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids--Some of us teachers are baby boomers! Yes, things have changed quite a bit since we were in school--in many ways!

Posted by: musiclady | June 16, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Those terms come from the 60's.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 16, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Those terms were created by a professor in special education at UIC in the early 1960's.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 16, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I made a mistake, the professor was at the U of I in Champagne/Urbana, not UIC.

It may be that your school system or your state made that type of categorization, but my state never has.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 16, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Illinois didn't start using standardized tests until about the 1990's. And they never used standardized tests to categorized students.

When students were categorized for the purpose of putting them into specific academic classes, standardized tests were not used. Instead students were put into classes based on their classwork.

Posted by: aby1 | June 16, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

"And why did my older brother's new school call my mother after a few weeks to tell her he tested at the genius level on the basis of the standardized tests the school had been taking during his first week there?"

The caller may have read the test results and made his own judgement that your brother was a genius.

Standardized tests are not set to measure intelligence, but rather acquired knowledge. The reviewer, upon seeing your brother's results must have concluded that he was a genius. But the test itself has no genius, average or below categories. They are not meant to because they are only meant to measure acquired knowledge. A child with low intelligence who goes to a good school with good resources, who studies hard and does all his homework can do quite well on the standardized tests. Standardized were not set up for judging intelligence.

Tests that measure intelligence are actually assessments. You never fill in a bubble or write an essay. They are not made to test acquired knowledge. They are to ascertain what innate abilities a student has. That is why there is no academics on them. These assessments are complex and look nothing like what you would expect them to look like. I have these given these assessments. Really, you have to see to understand how different they truly are.

These intelligence assessments have been done for at least 30 to 40 years now or more.
But a school psychologist will never use the word "genius". They give you the iq (a disputed measurement) and then tell parents the following 1) The amount of short term memory 2)the amount of auditory, visual and kinestic memory, and the processing speed 3) they will show them specific weaknesses in their academic knowledge, behavioral assessments and 5) the results of several other other assessments like block tests to test the student's visual ability to discrimate between objects. At the end the psychologist will explain that certain assessments (not all can be categorized this way) fall into the low average, average, high average. The word "genius" is never used because it is a value judgement and school psychologists do not value judgements.

Sometimes as a result of these assessment the psychologists will classify the student into one of categories that jlp listed. There are actually more categories than that. But there is no category for "slow learner" because that's a value judgement.

Schools stay away from value judgements. They have done that for many many years. At least where I live. I believe the schools here have been using jlp terms since the 60's.

Special Education College teach special education students to advoid terms like "slow learner" and "genius" because they are value judgements.

However, some teachers use those terms anyway. Generally they are administrators or general education teachers.

Posted by: aby1 | June 17, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

sideswithkids,

Are you sure the tests your brother and you took were standardized tests. I have found that sometimes people think they have taken a standardized when it was really a different type of test.

There are so many different tests and assessments out there that people who are familiar with them may mistake them for standardized tests.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 17, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

sideswithkids,

Are you sure the tests your brother and you took were standardized tests. I have found that sometimes people think they have taken a standardized when it was really a different type of test.

There are so many different tests and assessments out there that people who are familiar with them may mistake them for standardized tests.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 17, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

sideswithkids,

Are you certain that the tests you and your brother took were standardized tests? There are many different tests and assessments out there. And people who don't work with them regularly aren't aware of their differences.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 17, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Yes, they were referred to as the California Tests, they were clearly the timed, standardized, fill-in-the-circle tests, in which you entered you name in a grid and then "read the directions silently" while the teacher read them aloud word-for-word. (One teacher apologized for treating us like babies but said the test company insisted on her reading the directions alound to us.) They were given every two years, the grades taking them spent the day taking them and all other work was shoved aside, they had no connection with our classwork, and the students were never told the results. Besides, my mother returned to college to study education a when my older brother (of the pig episode) left for college, so she was familiar with them.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 17, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I also grew up in the 60's and early 70's and what sidewiththekids says is the way things were done back then. We also took a standardized test and were never prepped for the test at all. It was just a test "to compare us to the public school kids, don't worry we always do better" that is what the parochial school teacher told us.

Special education students had their own school bus and went to a separate school and classroom. When we asked our mom what was wrong with the boy who took the bus she said, "he's just slow". I think today he would be mainstreamed and have a learning disabled label. People did use terms like "genius" to describe those with high IQ.

We also never got any test prep for the ACT or the SAT. We took a practice SAT and then took the tests. No practice, no tutoring, no thick testing practice books and nobody taught to the test.

I only disagree with sideswiththekids that the tests were never questioned by anyone.
They were questioned, but later and also the concept of labeling a student "gifted", "learning disabled" was questioned. Laws were passed in congress that schools had to provide the least restrictive learning environment for special education students. A lot has changed because people DID question those tests.

Nowadays people don't use those labels, but they sure did in the 60's.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 17, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Somehow, we've lost sight of my original point: Standardized tests were used at least as far back as the '50s, for whatever purpose. Students complained ly about them. We found it boring to sit all day and make marks on a paper, especially since we never heard any reference to them after that. If 45 mintutes was alloted for the a subject and you finished in 30, you had to sit with your head on your desk for the next 15 minutes, even if everyone in the class was finished. In addition, some of us complained that there were more than one answer to some of the questions, depending you interpreted the question and how much you knew about the topic. (I remember in the second grade wondering if the bird was the animal that didn't fit with the others because it could fly or if the horse was the one I was supposed to pick because the other three animals laid eggs.) Suddenly, in the 1970s or 1980s when teachers were supposed to take a national standardized test, and when NCLB started evaluating schools and teachers on the basis of standardized tests, we began hearing an outcry about how the tests didn't measure anythig.

I never knew exactly what the tests were used for, but I know my parents were given the percentile results for me, and I assume other parents were, too. Mine could never understand my math scores being so low when my grades in class were high. I could never understand why my math percentile was so high. My standard technique on story problems was to try each possible answer and see if I could figure out a way to get that answer!(I hated math questions that included "none of the above.")

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 17, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Somehow, we've lost sight of my original point: Standardized tests were used at least as far back as the '50s, for whatever purpose. Students complained ly about them. We found it boring to sit all day and make marks on a paper, especially since we never heard any reference to them after that. If 45 mintutes was alloted for the a subject and you finished in 30, you had to sit with your head on your desk for the next 15 minutes, even if everyone in the class was finished. In addition, some of us complained that there were more than one answer to some of the questions, depending you interpreted the question and how much you knew about the topic. (I remember in the second grade wondering if the bird was the animal that didn't fit with the others because it could fly or if the horse was the one I was supposed to pick because the other three animals laid eggs.) Suddenly, in the 1970s or 1980s when teachers were supposed to take a national standardized test, and when NCLB started evaluating schools and teachers on the basis of standardized tests, we began hearing an outcry about how the tests didn't measure anythig.

I never knew exactly what the tests were used for, but I know my parents were given the percentile results for me, and I assume other parents were, too. Mine could never understand my math scores being so low when my grades in class were high. I could never understand why my math percentile was so high. My standard technique on story problems was to try each possible answer and see if I could figure out a way to get that answer!(I hated math questions that included "none of the above.") The scores, however, never led anyone to check into my problems with math.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 17, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Somehow, we've lost sight of my original point: Standardized tests were used at least as far back as the '50s, for whatever purpose. Students complained ly about them. We found it boring to sit all day and make marks on a paper, especially since we never heard any reference to them after that. If 45 mintutes was alloted for the a subject and you finished in 30, you had to sit with your head on your desk for the next 15 minutes, even if everyone in the class was finished. In addition, some of us complained that there were more than one answer to some of the questions, depending you interpreted the question and how much you knew about the topic. (I remember in the second grade wondering if the bird was the animal that didn't fit with the others because it could fly or if the horse was the one I was supposed to pick because the other three animals laid eggs.) Suddenly, in the 1970s or 1980s when teachers were supposed to take a national standardized test, and when NCLB started evaluating schools and teachers on the basis of standardized tests, we began hearing an outcry about how the tests didn't measure anythig.

I never knew exactly what the tests were used for, but I know my parents were given the percentile results for me, and I assume other parents were, too. Mine could never understand my math scores being so low when my grades in class were high. I could never understand why my math percentile was so high. My standard technique on story problems was to try each possible answer and see if I could figure out a way to get that answer!(I hated math questions that included "none of the above.") The scores, however, never led anyone to discover that I could multiply and divide the numbers all right but was very foggy on when to do which.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 17, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

As sideswiththekids remembers--MD used the California Achievement tests as their standardized tests for grades 3 and 5 in elementary school for years. When I was a kid in the 60's they used the Iowa tests. The California tests were replaced by MSPAP sometime around 1990 or a little later. Those tests were very different as they had kids actually doing tasks in cooperative groups. The problem was that they did not give individual scores, only schoolwide scores. Another problem was that if a kid was absent during the test, they added a zero to the average score, thus lowering it. I remember my daughter liking those tests but getting really frustrated when a kid in her group didn't do his part correctly. The group didn't finish their task and couldn't write about it. The MSPAP was then replaced by the MSA for grades 3, 4, and 5 as a result of NCLB. I may be off a little on the dates, but I remember all the testing very well as everything in our school basically comes to a grinding halt during testing season.

In the "old days" (the days before MSPAP), the tests were simply taken in stride and school went on as usual. Now everything is totally disrupted. We basically lose a month of instruction.

Posted by: musiclady | June 17, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

This is the kind of number magic that went on in Houston when NCLB was being developed by Rod Paige. Teachers knew it was a crock, and the schools that were put on display as "miracle" schools all turned out to have funny numbers, including test score numbers and dropout rates. The students at one of the earliest, biggest "success" schools went on to have much higher than average dropout rates because so many of them were unprepared for middle school. They had been trained to do nothing but take tests, and even many of those scores turned out to be fixed. They weren't even good at taking middle school standardized tests. A study intended to follow their successes through secondary school had to be quietly killed.

The information that indicts the whole scheme as a dishonest money grub goes back at least 15 years. The first time I heard about systematic cheating was in the late '90's when the Carl Shaw, then head of HISD testing, visited our campus and talked about the many supposedly high performing schools with tests that showed questionable erasures on many tests. He warned that there would be cheating scandals, and he was right.

(Today, most districts have such tight security that it's virtually impossible for a teacher to be complicit in cheating unless an administator enables it. Some teachers are baffled when their below average students ace a test after struggling with the practice tests. I get really sick of teachers being blamed for cheating.)

The Houston Press had several excellent reporters who diligently investigated issues related to testing, cheating, numbers fraud, etc.over the years. So the information has been out there all along, but most media ignored it and hopped on the teacher-bashing express. For me, it has been a lesson in being skeptical about ANYTHING reported in the paper or on TV. There are too many reporters who go for the easy headline and don't bother with real investigation.

So, NCLB was based on fraudulent information and the flawed educational philosophy of a teacher-hating football coach with no teaching experience from its very inception. How can any thoughtful person defend it?

Posted by: aed3 | June 17, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the administrator is probably complicit if cheating is involved. There was a case in a school I worked at where we had to trade classes to administer the state standardized tests.
A teacher told me she went to another teacher's classroom and at the end of the time period told the students to stop testing. When their teacher came back in she said, "Why didn't you finish bubbling?" to her class. The visiting teacher said, "The testing directions say that they were not to do that." The next day when the teachers again traded classrooms to administer the test the teacher noticed as she passed out the answer sheets that the testing sheets were all filled in completely. This teacher was my good friend and I always wondered had she done that herself or had she told the class to do that?
At that school the teacher had already been caught with words from the test written down on a piece of paper. Nothing was done about it. I knew because she came to me crying when she was caught.
She had the well-behaved students and was always rewarded for her high scores with high scoring kids. Many of her students showed growth of three grade levels on their tests. A high percentage of her students went into the gifted and talented program the next year. The GT teacher would complain loudly in the teacher's lounge that something was up because that teacher's students couldn't do the difficult work in his class.

Nothing happened and she was rewarded for cheating.

That is why I am against pay for performance that is based on the student's performance on standardized tests.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 17, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Early in my teaching career I had the pleasure of teaching for four years at Chicago State University. The years were 1971-72 through 1974-75. Chicago State had recently graduated from its earlier incarnation, Chicago Teachers' College South, but the overwhelming number of students were still taking education. I say "pleasure" because the students were largely serious, indeed idealistic, and intellectually honest at that time.
The goal of the new administration however were frivolous and dishonest. They had settled on one single mission: to get the maximum number of young Chicagoans -- mostly black -- good paying jobs in the Chicago public schools. Regardless. The average student at the university was performing when he or she entered at the 6th grade level in math and reading, although graduated from Chicago public high schools in the upper half of their graduating classes. The math course -- I was teaching math -- that satisfied the math distribution requirement was a course in arithmetic, taught out of a comic book. Successful students would exit this course able, at last, to do long division.
By law, our graduates had absolute preference in hiring in the Chicago schools. The schools were required to hire them first, before they could hire an honors graduate in education from Harvard University.
So this public university, created and funded to serve the people of Chicago had chosen instead to cheat the people and to condemn them to ignorance, futility, and drugs. I decided long ago that I could not be a part of that crime. Many others however could not forego the salary and felt they had to participate. They became not professors, but guards in an American Gulag.
This is surely something that we should ask Bill Ayers about; he has much more current information than I do. Or perhaps his friends in the White House would like to comment.

Posted by: jmcgibbons | June 19, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

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