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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 08/ 7/2010

Why you should be skeptical about standardized test scores

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Justin Snider, who teaches undergraduate writing at Columbia University and writes for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

By Justin Snider
Tough talk on teacher accountability is all the rage this summer. Trouble is, we don’t know how to handle the perverse incentives that arise the moment we place undue weight on easily manipulated exams. But that hasn’t stopped a slew of education leaders from weighing in on the need to hold teachers’ feet to the fire.

In the past few weeks, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee made headlines for firing 241 teachers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a major speech on education reform and Race to the Top finalists were announced for Round Two, many of which agreed to overhaul their state’s teacher evaluation and tenure system.

Even President Barack Obama took up the theme of education, weighing in on his administration’s reform agenda for three-quarters of an hour at the National Urban League Centennial Conference – although the president who relied on teacher-union support in his election treaded carefully.

“I am 110 percent behind our teachers,” Obama said. “But all I’m asking in return – as a president, as a parent, and as a citizen – is some measure of accountability. So even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom.”

The president dismissed educators’ fears that their evaluations would be based on standardized test scores alone.

“Everybody thinks that’s unfair. It is unfair,” Obama said. “But that’s not what Race to the Top is about. What Race to the Top says is, there’s nothing wrong with testing – we just need better tests....”

His remarks reflect a newfound perception that recent progress in New York schools has been mostly a mirage, and that the public trusted in tests that were flawed.

The president is right. Yes, we “just” need better tests. But creating better tests is very hard and very expensive. And in a system as vast and complex as ours, it’ll be tempting to continue using tests that can be graded quickly and that don’t look very different from the ones we now use.

But without a radically different approach to standardized testing in this country, we are unlikely to get different results.

Some people seem to believe, however, that we’ve got everything figured out already – that we can precisely measure each teacher’s performance, and that our standardized tests are not just good but infallible.

In this brave new age of accountability, student scores on standardized tests are being used by some districts to decide, in whole or in part, the following: which teachers are first laid off; which teachers are fired; which teachers are rated effective or ineffective; which teachers receive bonuses, and how big those bonuses are; which principals receive bonuses, and how big those bonuses are; which students are required to repeat a year; and which students graduate from high school.

These scores also have been at the center of debates on mayoral control of schools, especially in New York City and Washington, D.C. These cities’ mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Adrian Fenty, respectively, have asked voters to elect and reelect them based on how they run the schools in their cities and how their students perform.

The educational decisions now made in part on standardized test scores are neither few nor inconsequential. This is hardly about who gets a sticker for a job well done, or who gets a slap on the wrist for a student’s substandard performance.

It is worth remembering, then, Campbell’s Law: “the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

In other words, when important decisions are based on a handful of numbers – like standardized test scores – the numbers soon become unreliable. The incentives to distort the numbers prove irresistible to just about everyone, from mayors seeking reelection and principals hoping for bonuses to teachers wanting to keep their jobs and students longing to graduate.

New York City provides a case in point. The public has heard for years from Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that the city’s schools are improving.

Bloomberg and Klein have regularly cited better student test scores as evidence of improvement – that is, higher percentages of students demonstrating “proficiency” on state exams.

But it was recently revealed that these test scores actually show something quite different: not better performances by students, but lower standards and easier-to-pass tests. The same press that dutifully reported student improvement changed its tune.

The New York Daily News titled its piece, “Big, Fat F in Schools,” while The Wall Street Journal’s headline read “ ‘Hard Truth’ on Education.”

But what was most surprising about the coverage was that the news surprised anyone.

“You mean students haven’t really gotten a lot smarter in the last two years?” some wondered.

No, they haven’t. But they haven’t gotten a lot dumber either. Their performance is, in fact, largely unchanged.

What changed is simply the state’s definition of “proficient.” The gains were merely an illusion, sleight of hand on the part of policymakers and politicians.

Mayor Bloomberg said his interpretation was that “the test is harder and more comprehensive,” but, in fact, the test isn’t harder or more comprehensive; it’s just that the minimum passing score was increased.

The real story isn’t that years of gains were erased, as The Wall Street Journal said. It’s that that there was no academic progress in the first place – just a lower bar for determining who was declared proficient.

The skeptics among us – those who have questioned such results for months, if not years – felt vindicated at last. But it’s a shame that vindication was so long in coming.

What can we learn from the New York City example? I can think of at least four lessons.

We shouldn’t get excited or depressed about short-term changes in test scores. Often they don’t mean much. Long-term trends are more reliable – and therefore more meaningful. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) going back one, two and three decades are trustworthy. An individual state’s scores from last year probably aren’t.

Politicians are prone to slicing and dicing scores to their advantage. This shouldn’t surprise us, but neither should it silence us.

Year-to-year changes in scores are unimpressive? Look at the decade-long trend. Long-term trends show no growth? Look at the change over the past two years.

This is the game in which Michelle Rhee engaged last month when the percentage of elementary students in Washington, D.C. deemed proficient in reading and math unexpectedly dropped this year. Rhee touted instead the gains since 2007-08.

When numbers look too good to be true, they’re too good to be true. This is no less true of schooling than baseball and cycling. Seventy-three home runs in a single season? Hmm. An epic comeback in Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France? Hmm. Those results strained credulity because they weren’t clean – and people suspected so from the start but had to wait years for confirmation.

We’ve seen similar things in schools. In New York City, 97 percent of elementary and middle schools earned As or Bs on the district report card last year, compared to 79 percent in 2008 and just 61 percent in 2007.

Are most schools getting dramatically better in just one or two years? Probably not. As President Obama said, “Change is hard....We won’t see results overnight.” We should always be wary of overnight results.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in response to President Obama’s speech, "There are no silver-bullet solutions for our schools.”

There’s only hard work, day after day and year after year, with the possibility of gradual – real and substantive – improvement. Instant, immense improvement is as elusive as Halley’s Comet. It is therefore also suspect.

We remain very far from an accountability system impervious to perverse incentives. Therefore, we must be very careful in how we use student test scores in any decisions, especially those about personnel.

A new Mathematica study released by the U.S. Department of Education says that “in a typical performance measurement system, more than 1 in 4 teachers who are truly average in performance will be erroneously identified” as below average, with a similar percentage of below-average teachers not showing up as underperformers.

This should scare not just classroom teachers but anyone who believes our current data systems are infallible. They are not.

Importantly, the study also notes that more than 90 percent of the variation in student learning is due to factors beyond a teacher’s control. We ignore this fact at our own peril. It does not mean that teachers don’t matter, or that teachers cannot or should not be held accountable.

But it does mean that we must proceed cautiously and ask tough questions of those who believe we’ve finally found the holy grail to measure teacher performance.

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By Valerie Strauss  | August 7, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  in, obama and education, obama's education policies, rhe, rhee fires teachers, standardized test scores, using standardized tests for high stakes decisions  
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Comments

Excellent post! And another big Thank You to Valerie Strauss for digging out the truth in education.

If we are going to use standardized tests to measure the progress of our students, we MUST make these tests as valid as possible. Here are my ideas for doing so without spending too much money:

Have a new form of a well-constructed test each year;

Deliver the tests to the schools on the day of administration and assign a teacher to administer the test to someone else's class. For example, Miss Jones, Grade 4, would be asked to administer the test to Miss Smith's sixth grade students. These same teachers would collect the tests and place them in a sealed envelope. Teachers would be given time to review the directions before administration. Ideally each class should have a proctor.

If we are going to use the tests to evaluate teachers, that would be much more complex and expensive. Basically you'd have to have a test that can measure the progress of a child's SCHOOL learning (as opposed to home and school) while he is in a teacher's class. Of course, there is no such group test at the present time. The school progress of a child CAN be determined by a test, but it has to be administered on an individual basis, in the fall and again in the spring, by a qualified psychologist or trained teacher. Important details, such as the fact that a child missed 80 days of class, would need to be factored in. That would be extremely expensive.

There is actually a fairly "simple" and very inexpensive way of evaluating teachers. It's called "peer review." If you asked all the teachers and the principal of a school who the really good teachers are, you would get a good consensus. Likewise, if you asked who the really bad teachers are, other teachers could tell you. This is the way it is done at the college level, and for all other professions, why not for K-12 teachers?

Here's something else that would help a lot. University researchers should insist on proof of test validity before using such scores for their research. If a school is not open to allowing an independent administration of a test, the researchers should refuse to use the scores. Frankly I'm amazed that even our most esteemed universities have accepted the words of administrators regarding test scores: "Our scores have gone from the 13th percentile to the 90th in only one year!" Yeah, right. This type of information has probably negated the value of many otherwise sound research projects.

For many years, standardized tests gave parents and teachers important information about the progress of children. When properly administered they told the concerned adult how the child's level of achievement compared to those of other children his own age. However, now these tests are being terribly misused and abused. Hopefully, this misuse will stop soon.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 7, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Justin Snider is typical of educators in this nation.

The results of test can not be used to evaluate teachers, since the results of the tests are totally dependent upon the composition of the students in a class, and there are no mathematical formulas or mathematical methods to account for the large differences in students.

If there were such mathematical formulas or mathematical methods, at the start of a school year it would be possible to accurately predict the test scores based upon an average teacher of a class, and this can not be done.

Imagine a hospital that simply evaluated doctors on the test results of whether their patients lived or died without any consideration of the composition of the patients that a doctor treats, with a complete detailed review of each individual patient.

Instead of Justin Snider proclaiming the impossibility of using test scores to evaluate teachers, he remains silent and accepts that test scores will be used to evaluate teachers, no matter how illogical or flawed this idea is.

Justin Snider is simply like the educators that accepted the flawed No Child Left Behind where political leaders simply removed all consideration of the problems of the differences of children by pretending that the schools and teachers were being negligent in not educating children.

Justin Snider should return to his writing classes. The problem is not standardized tests. The problem is that teachers in colleges and universities have remained silent, and with their silence, have accepted inferior and false ideas in regard to public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 7, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Ok, so....we test food before we sell it to the public; we test electronics before they reach the shelves of the stores; inevitably, we test kids before they leave the grade level(s). It is normal to benchmark and test. It is not normal to over-test kids. DC tests every 90 days(DCBAS), four times a year, plus end of the year testing (DCCAS). So does VA. In just 1/4th of the school year we have at least 6 subjects students learn and not less weekly tests to make sure they are learning things. It is not hard to determine how much testing we then do to determine student's knowledge. To what end? You tell me. Sad part is that a student can pass a grade on the gradebook, but fail the state issued test. VA, MD. and DC have countless cases where students passed every single subject yet failed the VA-SOL, MSPP, and DCCAS by more than reasonable margins.

All this testing is doing is fueling more data for DOE to play with and politicians to brag or fuss about. Johnny who passed all subjects in 6th grade yet failed VA-SOL is still going to 7th grade. Ask me how many of Johnnies made it through college in the past 20 years. Plenty!!!! Standardized testing is worthless. It is not what you know; how much you retained in the school year; or if you belong to the unfavorable demographic. It is WHAT YOU DO with WHAT YOU KNOW. I have plenty of students who have passed both the local school system assessments and state issued assessments who are doing NOTHING with their life. Meanwhile, those of the opposite profile are doing markedly better even in today's turbulent economy.

You will not find the assessments to be the main-stay variable of the European and Australia schools. PORTFOLIOS and project based learning are in focus. Strike down these nonsense assessments that boost political elites; narcissism and focus on creating portfolio templates that can actually show what students know.

Not everything in life is, not should be, quantified.

Posted by: inickdc | August 7, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

What is needed is validation testing. That is a group in each scoring group ( percentile section ) needs to be more carefully evaluated in depth. This evaluation should include essays, essay questions on tested subject matter, and complex multi-step arithmetic calculations. The evaluators should not have any affiliation with the school district. It should include teachers, college professors and members of the professions such as lawyers, accountants, journalists, etc. Then, maybe a more valid form of testing can emerge.

Posted by: peterroach | August 7, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

All children entering public schools are the same. There are no significant differences in children of poverty and children of affluence.

Children entering public schools are the same in the same sense that standard pipe of a certain size is the same.

It well known and irrefutable that manufacturers can devise standardized methods to process standard pipe to produce a standard product.

Standardized tests are available to measure the effectiveness of the various stages of processing. These tests allow the discovery of workers that have been ineffective in their assigned processing and the replacement of these workers with effective workers.

Public education can be viewed as simply the standardized processing of children that are the same when they enter public school, to a standard level of education.

Teachers, or the workers, responsible for the various stages of standardized processing can be evaluated by standardized tests in order to replace ineffective teachers with effective teachers.

In this way over time every American child entering public schools can be guaranteed to be at a proficient level of education when leaving public school.

Elementary classes in logic were at one time taught in American schools where the first rule was that any following set of statements can be claimed to be correct if one allows a starting premise that is obviously false.

Fortunately for the political leaders of this nation, elementary classes in logic are no longer taught in American schools.

The ___________ race is the superior race of all races. The leaders of the nation of this race are therefore the most superior leaders and any policies or actions of these leaders are justifiable and correct.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 7, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I have never seen a standardized test that is not biased in some ways - kids with limited experience outside of television and video games have a very difficult time making the links between the concepts they've learned and the "real world" examples being used to test those concepts. (One example that I still remember - in kindergarten, I took a reading readiness test; one question was "Jane can not read her book because she broke her. . . .arm, glasses, pulltoy or window." Since no one in my family used glasses to read, I picked arm as the most logical choice. Good thing my teacher wasn't being evaluated on that answer.)

I know plenty of students who learn the concepts and retain them, but fail multiple-choice tests. I know plenty of others who can pass any multiple-choice test thrown at them, with little knowledge of the subject.

We've had decades to come up with "better tests" - I don't see it happening without a huge shift in the approach to testing.

Posted by: drmary | August 7, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

What is needed is validation testing. That is a group in each scoring group ( percentile section ) needs to be more carefully evaluated in depth. This evaluation should include essays, essay questions on tested subject matter, and complex multi-step arithmetic calculations. The evaluators should not have any affiliation with the school district. It should include teachers, college professors and members of the professions such as lawyers, accountants, journalists, etc. Then, maybe a more valid form of testing can emerge.

Posted by: peterroach
...............................
All children entering public schools are different. In poverty public schools the differences are pronounced and these pronounced differences continue since these children continue to live in poverty.

A child that lives in poverty may be capable of learning in the 1st grade and suddenly incapable of learning in the 2nd grade because of poverty.

Image a factory that has no standard on the materials that are needed for producing a product. No amount of quality testing would be effective to evaluate the effectiveness of workers using standardized proven methods of processing for the various stages of production.

The differences of children entering poverty public schools are infinite. This is the nature of human beings in reacting to their environment and the uniqueness of human beings. The fact that two students score 50 on a test only indicates that the two students have scored 50. It does not indicate that they are the same and will perform the same on a test given next year.

What is needed in the poverty public schools is not expensive and time consuming attempts to evaluate teachers.

National tests already indicate that the "average" teachers are not able to offset the learning problem in poverty public schools. If they were one would see differences in poverty school systems. One can not claim that all of the tens of thousands of teachers of the 5000 problems schools are all defective. The only thing that can be said is that the teachers are average.

Instead of a witch hunt of teachers the problems of these poverty public schools should be addressed to improve education. Safety in these schools would improve education, and also classrooms where the disruptive are removed would also improve education in these schools. Safety and the removal of the disruptive are the characteristics of the public charter schools. Make the public schools safe and provide an environment where teachers can teach and children can learn.

This will do more to improve education in these schools instead of a costly witch hunt of supposedly ineffective teachers.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 7, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Scandal Haunts Atlanta’s School Chief
New York Times

Story about the only poverty public school system in an urban areas that had made a difference based on national tests and not rigged local standardized tests.

"When she came to Atlanta in 1999, she wrestled with a dysfunctional board, closed more than 20 schools and replaced 90 percent of the principals — proof, she said, that she is not afraid to clean house."

Totally unlike Ms. Rhee who from day one had claimed that the problem was the teachers.

Imagine a head of the public school system that imagines leadership plays a part in public education.

Also unlike Ms. Rhee all teachers in Atlanta have to be qualified based upon state standards. No possibility of hiring teachers that have no qualification from a teaching college.

But then the superintendent of the school system has has a long career in public education.

Hopefully when Valerie Strauss comes back from vacation she will look at the Atlanta school system as an alternative of expensive data driven system that can not improve education.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 7, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

There needs to be accountability. We need to start making school system superintendents and state education department officials pay for it when the promote fraudulent test scores or misuse tests for purposes other than what they were designed for. Parents should be able to hold school officials personally liable for providing false information. This will be the only way to force them to start listening to scientists and testing professionals instead of spinning things for political purposes.

Posted by: dz159 | August 7, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

A colleague of my mother was once told that her daughter needed a better understanding of collective nouns; asked on a standardized test to circle the family out walking, she had circled a mother and children instead of the mother, father, and children. Her mother, a teacher herself who know something about standardized tests, pointed out that her husband had died before the girl was born, and her family indeed consisted of a mother and children.

(Also, working in a coloring book my sister-in-law had bought her, my niece circled the picture of the doctor instead of the clown when asked who made her laugh. My mother asked her how the doctor made her laugh. "When I'm sick he makes me feel better so I feel like laughing and playing.")

Posted by: sideswiththekids | August 7, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

There needs to be accountability. We need to start making school system superintendents and state education department officials pay for it when the promote fraudulent test scores or misuse tests for purposes other than what they were designed for. Parents should be able to hold school officials personally liable for providing false information. This will be the only way to force them to start listening to scientists and testing professionals instead of spinning things for political purposes.

Posted by: dz159
................................
Fine, fire Ms. Rhee and also the head of schools in Maryland.

The test results of both of these school systems are fraudulent when compared to the national tests of 2009. Ms. Rhee is claiming over 30 percent proficient while the national tests are showing proficient and above at 11 percent.

At least in New York State the state officials saw the problem and corrected it.

This might be interesting where responsibility actually is at the top instead of blaming the bottom.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 7, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Consider my student. He will be 21 in October. He's a native of Ghana. His native language is Twi. He passed the VA Writing SOL exam. He has passed all of his courses necessary for HS graduation. His only hurdle is the End of Course Reading. He has failed it 7 times since June. (took it 3 or 4 times last year). I volunteered to tutor his this summer. He brought his score up from 360 to 398; the passing score is 400. His heart is broken; mine is too. Is this "standardized" test fair? What are we doing to these young people? Should either he or I be judged by this exam? He has already proven himself academically, but the judgement of his teachers does not count...only the SOL exams will get him a diploma. This is one case...there are many more!

Posted by: jflh14 | August 7, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

So Justin,

And just what has Teachers College, Harvard, Stanford, etc., offered in the way of solutions? Not much. Not much at all.

Like it or not Justin, state tests are necessary because classroom teachers proved over time their "grades" were unreliable, often unbelievable. How could we continue to tolerate ubiquitous social promotions, the same for high school "graduates," kids reading at a second or third grade level?

The problem is not necessarily the state tests (although if every state adopted Massachusetts standards and were required to take their MCAS tests much of this nonsense would disappear) it's the freakin educational establishment, with schools of education leading the charge, followed closely by the NEA, duplicitous state BOEs, the anemic quality of teacher candidates, the progressive movement to make public education into a T-Ball team where no one keeps score, everyone is a winner, and in the end everyone gets a trophy, etc.

The disappointment from the purported elite schools of education is really the straw that has broken this camel's back. From John Dewey to Howard Gardner, to Linda Darling Hammond, etc. What has this collection of best and brightest contributed to the improvement in our public schools? Not much. Not much at all.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 8, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

And, once again, phoss1 rises from the muck to spew conservative, anti-public education hatred. Mr. Snider presents a thoughtful, well-argued thesis regarding the problems with standardized testing as a panacea for educational reform and phoss1 does not engage in any of the actual arguments. Instead phoss1, as per usual, attacks all teachers, teacher colleges and universities, all public schools, progressives, teachers’ unions, and anyone associated with educating America’s school children.

Amazing that, despite phoss1’s claim of abysmal public schools in America, we still corner the market in patents, inventions, technology, medical research, Nobel prizes, literature, finance, and the list goes on and on. We have an historic number of ordinary people who hold college degrees. We offer free public education to every single child in our country, excluding none, unlike most countries in the world.

Is phoss1 claiming that the people who make all of these great achievements graduated from private or parochial schools? Let me throw your question back at you: What has phoss1 and this collection of nabobs of conservative negativity contributed to the improvement of our public schools? Not much. Not much at all. Just a continuous rant about how awful teachers, schools, colleges, and progressives in general are.

Posted by: GooberP | August 8, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

@GooberP -- and what are the signs and American public education is a great success? Virtually all of the indicators are down.

Remember that when Michelle Rhee arrived, 95 percent of DC teachers were excellent or good, while their students were years behind in key subjects. A little disconnect here? Much bigger than parenting and poverty can account for.

You are a rare one for declaring how great our public schools are. Even the unions and NEA don't make that claim.

It is as if you do not notice the trend. This has nothing to do with being progresive or conservative, just observant and throughtful.

BTW -- check out the number of US patent applications from China compared with those from Americans.

Posted by: axolotl | August 8, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

And, once again, phoss1 rises from the muck to spew conservative, anti-public education hatred. Mr. Snider presents a thoughtful, well-argued thesis regarding the problems with standardized testing as a panacea for educational reform and phoss1 does not engage in any of the actual arguments.
Posted by: GooberP
...................................
GooberP maybe correct but it is time for GooberP to recognize that the advocates of standardized testings are not only the one that "rises from the muck to spew conservative, anti-public education hatred" but also the President and his Race To The Top.

Standardized testing is the linchpin of Race To The Top.

States with superior high standards were forced to accept the inferior Common Core State Standards to allow the illusion that all state standardized tests would be equal.

The inclusion of public charter schools in Race To The Top simply allows for the real problems of the inferior poverty public schools to be ignored while creating in a democracy the idea that a lottery should be used to decide whether a child goes to an inferior school or does not go to an inferior school.

phoss1 may be incorrect, but phoss1 in actuality simply expressing the ideas of the President and his policies of Race To The Top.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 8, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Is this "standardized" test fair? What are we doing to these young people? Should either he or I be judged by this exam?
Posted by: jflh14
..........................
You should not be judged by the test results of your students.

When all the students in a class have probes and their brain activities are continuously monitored in response to a teacher, the effectiveness of a teacher will be able to be measured.

It is fair for your student to be judged by the exam if the exam is fair.

These exams take the subjective nature of teachers that are human beings out of evaluating students.

In a class room there are always students that a teacher likes and students that a teacher dislikes. The reasons for these likes and dislikes may have nothing to do with demonstrated abilities to learn.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 8, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

@GooberP -- and what are the signs and American public education is a great success? Virtually all of the indicators are down.

Remember that when Michelle Rhee arrived, 95 percent of DC teachers were excellent or good, while their students were years behind in key subjects.
Posted by: axolotl
.......................................
GooberP remember that axolotl is simply a supporter of Ms. Rhee and wants to pretend that all public schools are having problems when the national tests that only the poverty public school such as the school system of Ms. Rhee are the problem.

axolotl has never called for the removal of Ms. Rhee and is a supporter of the ideas of Ms. Rhee that can not be shown to be effective.

Below is a previous response to axolotl that indicates Ms. Rhee should be removed.
..............................
bsall. Oh, yes, I know, we want to let the inmates run the asylum

Posted by: axolotl | August 6, 2010 7:54 PM
..............................
Imagine a mental hospital where the safety of other patients and the staff are a problem and the head of the hospital ignores this problem.

Imagine in this mental hospital where nothing is done by the head of the hospital in regard to the patients that are prone to violence and/or the disruptive patients who hinder group therapy by doctors.

Anyone would judge that the head of the hospital is allowing "the inmates run the asylum".

Now imagine a head of school system that ignores safety in schools and allows disruptive students to remain in classrooms and prevent teachers from teaching and other students from learning.

Anyone would judge that the head of the school system is allowing the disruptive and the prone to violence to run the schools.

Anyone would also judge that the head of the school system is ineffective and should be replaced.

Time for Ms. Rhee to be removed.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 8, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

GooberP,

I can only tell you I am fiscally conservative but very much a social liberal. I was also a Massachusetts public school teacher for 34 years before I retired.

Been there, done that with much of public education.

Clearly, not all teachers are bad. Many, in fact, are quite good and extremely caring. Teacher unions, especially the NEA are a joke and an embarrassment to public education. And yes, I am also very disappointed in our so-called elite schools of education, including the two I have degrees from (Teachers College and Harvard).

And BTW, you have no idea whether I have or have not made any contributions to the improvement of public education in this country.

And while we're on the subject, would you consider Obama and/or Duncan conservatives? I happen to agree with much of their RttT ideas. Conservative or liberal, I believe the three tenets of the initiative (lifting the cap on charters, linking student test scores to teacher evaluations, and closing or restructuring chronically performing schools) all have merit and stand to improve the life chances of many poor/minority youngsters.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 8, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

And while we're on the subject, would you consider Obama and/or Duncan conservatives? I happen to agree with much of their RttT ideas. Conservative or liberal, I believe the three tenets of the initiative (lifting the cap on charters, linking student test scores to teacher evaluations, and closing or restructuring chronically performing schools) all have merit and stand to improve the life chances of many poor/minority youngsters.

Posted by: phoss1
...............................
Making the poverty public schools safe and with classrooms with an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn will improve education in these schools more than Race To The Top.

If you really have been 34 years in public education then it must be obvious that unsafe schools with classrooms where mayhem is accepted and tolerated are inferior schools and do not even have the basic requirement of a school.

Addressing these problems should be the first priority.

A policy based upon teachers effectiveness makes as much sense with so many substandard poverty public schools as evaluating the effectiveness of a teacher to teach in a crowded subway car.

If you were a real conservative, then you would recognize that 50 years ago the only public schools that were unsafe and that had classrooms where teachers had to be overly concerned with preventing the disruptive and prone to violence from taking over the class, were the reform schools.

The obvious problems of the poverty public schools should be fix first.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 8, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

And while we're on the subject, would you consider Obama and/or Duncan conservatives?
Posted by: phoss1
.........................
Your ideas are strange.

It is evident from the last year and a half that Obama and Duncan are politicians. The only thing that can be said about politicians is that they are good at talking out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.

If politicians believed that repeating the ideas of Bozo the Clown would help for reelection they would repeat the ideas of Bozo the Clown.

Your ideas are strange.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 8, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I believe Obama has nothing but the best of intents for poor/minority students across America. He first had health care passed with these kids and their mothers primarily in mind. RttT is now hopefully headed toward making their educational experience somewhat more meaningful.

Charter schools will finally give poor/minority parents a choice as to where to send their children to school, a choice previously afforded only to families of wealth.

Linking student test scores to teacher evaluations will finally add some objectivity to the process. Subjective administrative evaluations of teachers has been an embarrassment to the teaching profession and had to be significantly amended. This aspect of RttT will promote a greater likelihood of their being a teacher of high quality in every classroom, especially the classrooms of many urban public schools.

Shuttering or restructuring chronically performing schools will also go a long way toward placing a high quality teacher in every classroom. Again, this has to be considered good news for poor/minority students and their parents.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 8, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

The author proves once again that the education schools are occupied by people with absolutely no ideas whatsoever.

In other professions standardized methods of measurement are use to determine the best course of action and not just to judge practitioners. Double blind studies are used in medicine to determine the best treatments/drugs and not to fire doctors. In education, no one seems smart enough to figure this out.

Why not use use standardized testing to determine the usefulness of Everyday Math vs Saxon Math, for example? Or whether all these "child-centered" "strategies" have anything to offer?

By focusing on teaching methods and training methods instead of teachers you'll be able to influence an entire generation of teachers as well as those generations that follow. This is how other PROFESSIONs actually work. And before someone chimes in with "teaching is different", let me just say "how do you know", since most of the people who've said this have done nothing else in their lives.

Posted by: physicsteacher | August 9, 2010 4:37 AM | Report abuse

I agree with physicsteacher. We need to make sure that we are using research-based, valid teaching methods in our classrooms instead of administrators, state and federal governments adopting new initiative every year or so. Why should we change focus each year? We need to focus onresearch-based, scientifically valid teaching methods and strategies!

As a young teacher, I have also seen issues of pressure put on schools in my area. My school has consistently had the highest scores in a subject/grade level in the district for five years, and what do you think they do? They don't reward those teachers, or ask what they're doing to encourage those students. They change the entire set up for the curriculum for that grade level because it was TOO SUCCESSFUL!

Until administrators refuse to give in to pressure from others, and actually celebrate(in some way) those teachers who are working hard and are having some success, more and more teachers will be leaving the profession.

Where will the children be in twenty years when the baby boomers have all retired and the Gen. X and Y-ers have gotten fed up with all of this BS?

Posted by: laurad803 | August 9, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

“I am 110 percent behind our teachers,” Obama said. “But all I’m asking in return – as a president, as a parent, and as a citizen – is some measure of accountability."

I'm asking Obama for some measure of accountability on his part. If his treasured "untested" reforms do not work, is he willing to admit that he failed the country? I don't think so, I think he and Duncan will proclaim they succeeded when in truth they really failed.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 9, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

"95 percent of DC teachers were excellent or good, while their students were years behind in key subjects."

All debate on this subject is ridiculous--educators have never come to an agreement on what students should know at a particular stage, so it is impossible for any student to be above or behind his grade level in any subject. (I know one student who went from being at the top of his kindergarten class to the bottom of his first-grade class--between the two years his parents moved from a school with a traditional, "socializing" kindergarten program getting students ready to learn to read in the first grade to one that assumed all first-graders had learned to read in kindergarten. Technically, he was working below grade level--but there was nothing wrong with his intelligent or ability to learn or even what he had learned. the only difference was the expectations.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | August 9, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Linking student test scores to teacher evaluations will finally add some objectivity to the process.
Posted by: phoss1
................................
Pure nonsense. The local standardized tests of D.C. are already watered down when they are compared to the reality of the national tests for D.C.

The standardized tests will be simply further watered down to where failure is considered to be proficient.

As for your praise for national health insurance it would be nice if you knew that this will not be in effect until 2014 when President Obama will be safe if he is reelected in 2012.

No different from No Child Left Behind where President Bush would be out of office by the time of the 2016 deadline of every child being proficient.

If you care about public education you had better hope that the Democrats select a new candidate for President in 2012. That is change we can believe in.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 9, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The problems in public education are the Title 1 poverty public schools such as the school system of D.C.

Any qualified teacher would hesitate to teach in these public schools.

Firing teachers based upon test results only makes this situation worse for D.C. and the entire country.

No qualified teacher will want to work in a Title 1 poverty public school where they have no control over the composition of their classroom and will be fired based upon test rooms.

The two tier systems of D.C. will simply be the model for all Title 1 poverty public schools in the country where non qualified teachers are hired for poverty public schools that would never be accepted in middle class or affluent public schools.

The teacher witch hunters do no even have the intelligence to recognize that acceptance of their ideas of firing teachers based upon test scores is a solution that will simply guarantee that there will be inferior teachers in the Title 1 poverty public schools.

Ms. Rhee has continuously replaced large numbers of qualified teachers in D.C. with non qualified teachers that only have a college degree and lack any state accreditation in teaching. Even the supporters of Ms. Rhee have to admit that these replacement can not be considered the best teachers of America.

The policies of Ms. Rhee and Race To The Top will only lead to inferior teachers in Title 1 poverty public schools.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 9, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

As a young teacher, I have also seen issues of pressure put on schools in my area. My school has consistently had the highest scores in a subject/grade level in the district for five years, and what do you think they do? They don't reward those teachers, or ask what they're doing to encourage those students.

Posted by: laurad803
..............................
Welcome laurad803 to the new day of public education where the policies of Ms. Rhee who is head of the worst public school system in America based upon national tests are the national policies of public education of the Federal government.

Just remember the new rule of public education in the United States:
Qualified teachers should avoid working for a Title 1 poverty public school like the plague.

Remember working at McDonald's until finding a teaching position looks better on a resume than explaining being fired at a Title 1 poverty public school based upon test results when you have no control over the composition of your class.

Hope that the Democrats select a different candidate for President in 2012 and perhaps there might be a return to sanity in public education. Change we can believe in.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 9, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

"If you care about public education you had better hope that the Democrats select a new candidate for President in 2012. That is change we can believe in.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 9, 2010 4:54 PM.

That's your OPINION. It's not the rule or the final word. Like it or not, others are entitled to their opinions, even if they differ from yours.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 9, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Phoss1 wrote; "Linking student test scores to teacher evaluations will finally add some objectivity to the process. Subjective administrative evaluations of teachers has been an embarrassment to the teaching profession and had to be significantly amended. This aspect of RttT will promote a greater likelihood of their being a teacher of high quality in every classroom, especially the classrooms of many urban public schools."

Phoss1, is this really the purpose of student assessments? I always thought the purpose of assessments was to determine where a child is and to use that to move them to another place.

It seems your understanding of student assessment is quite simplistic. Teaching, just like every other profession, is way too complex to be assessed in such a simplistic way.

http://www.ncte.org/standards/assessmentstandards

Would you be willing to look at this and tell me what you think of it?

Phoss1, you really don't think there are better ways to assess a student and a teacher's performance?

Posted by: tutucker | August 9, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

tutucker,

With the advancement of value-added algorithms under statistic experts such as William Sanders, state assessments have become more than a determiner of student progress. These results can now be linked to a teacher's performance over time. This should not be construed as an questionable by-product of the assessment process but should be viewed as a desirable tangent of how our schools are working.

Additionally, most districts headed in this direction are progressing via their local collective bargaining agreements and are using these test results as part (50% in DC) of the evaluation process, as what's come to be known as "mixed measures." This has added a much needed level of objectivity to the teacher evaluation process. As important as it is to know whether or not students are learning it's at least as important to know which teachers are and which ones are not effective in their instructional practices.

As for the National Council of Teachers of English Standards; the one I view with some skepticism is, "The teacher is the most important agent of assessment." While this is true for classroom grades, it's also what prompted the avalanche of state NCLB tests. Too many kids were seemingly doing too well in their classroom work, only to be discovered they were falling down on impartial third-party (NCLB) tests purportedly covering grade level material. This also resulted in ubiquitous social promotions and graduations, with too many "graduates" found to be reading at an elementary school level.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 10, 2010 6:33 AM | Report abuse

phoss1 wrote:

"With the advancement of value-added algorithms under statistic experts such as William Sanders, state assessments have become more than a determiner of student progress"

Alice-In-Wonderland mathematial calculations have nothing to do with teacher quality, considering the fact that many teachers are leaving the profession because of the emphasis of testing, which is dumbing down instruction

Analysts from across the political spectrum have acknowledged the reality that merit pay has no effect on teacher's classroom work. If you know that both grades and standardized tests don't indicate proficency because of their inherently changing and unpredictive nature, why use either?

Posted by: AlexKB | August 10, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Alex,

Merit pay HAS HAD no effect on a teacher's performance in the past because the statistical procedures employed in previously were not as sophisticated as they are today. Value-added algorithms have been refined to the point where both reformers and teacher unions (Randi Weingarten - AFT) have acknowledged their existence and potential effectiveness when used as part of a mixed measures approach to evaluating teachers.

One has to ask, which teachers are most likely to shy away from the opportunity to make more money based on their instructional performance/practice? Only the ones afraid of what the results will show.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 10, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

"If you care about public education you had better hope that the Democrats select a new candidate for President in 2012. That is change we can believe in.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 9, 2010 4:54 PM.

That's your OPINION. It's not the rule or the final word. Like it or not, others are entitled to their opinions, even if they differ from yours.

Posted by: phoss1
.........................
You can any opinion you like.

At the same if the President believes the efficiency of teachers should be measured by the numbers of test results, then he should accept to be measured by the numbers.

The number of new jobs are low and there is no change in the massive unemployment in this country.

The numbers of dead Americans in Afghanistan are rising.

Based on these numbers the President is not effective and should be fired.

Democrats should select a new candidate for President in 2012. That is change we can believe in.

In fact Democrats running for election on November 2010 should consider a campaign pledge for a different Democratic candidate for President in 2012.

Of course may have their own opinion.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 10, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

phoss1,

You don't give any examples of these so called sophisticated statistical procedures that have actually worked. If merit pay hasn't worked in the past, why expect that it'll work now? I find it interesting that you cite the unions in support of these precedures. For a person who in the past has criticized them for being totally unreliable, it strikes me as odd that you would cite individuals with a vested interest in the status quo.

The ones who are leaving the profession are the ones who realize that the results come from the fact that they've been forced to hurt their kids in the process by subjecting them to stupid assessments like these standardized tests that don't indicate actual proficency at all.

Posted by: AlexKB | August 10, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

With the advancement of value-added algorithms under statistic experts such as William Sanders, state assessments have become more than a determiner of student progress. These results can now be linked to a teacher's performance over time.
Posted by: phoss1
.............................
During the Vietnam war the body count was used as an indicator of how America was winning the war.

There was even a supposedly a scientific method for verifying the accuracy of body counts of the montyard allies. A bounty was paid based on ears that were turned in. Of course this did guarantee that the ears came from the Vietcong.

It is easy to make claims of the existence of value-added algorithms. Such an algorithm can be written in a day.

The hard part is getting recognition from mathematicians that such an algorithm can use past test results to actually predict in advance the test results of every student in a classroom of a future test given an AVERAGE teacher.

Anyone sane mathematician would ask if such a thing as an AVERAGE teacher existed what would be the expected score of a student that received that received a previous score of 50 from an AVERAGE teacher and now has an AVERAGE teacher. The mathematician would also tell you that for the AVERAGE teacher you would require all of the different factors that you would need for all of the possible scores on the previous test. For a test with scores of 0 to 500 you would need 501 different factors. If you used more than one previous test you would need even more factors for previous tests.

And of course this is an AVERAGE teacher existed to obtain all these factors from.

phoss1 has failed to provide any evidence that anyone else or mathematicians believe that this method can predict in advance test results.

With the advancement of value-added algorithms under statistic experts it is now clear that the moon is made up of cheese.

It is also clear by the body count and the severed ears that the history books are wrong and that the United States won the Vietnam war.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 10, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

One has to ask, which teachers are most likely to shy away from the opportunity to make more money based on their instructional performance/practice? Only the ones afraid of what the results will show.

Posted by: phoss1
...........................
The typical nonsense from someone who still can not grasp the fact that teachers do not enter this field to make money.

I love how those like phoss1 pretend to ask reasonable questions that are ludicrous in regard to teachers.

phoss1 needs to understand that teachers are not politicians.

One has to ask, which politicians are most likely to shy away from the opportunity to make more money based upon using their influence? Only the ones afraid of what the results will show.

One has to ask, which Americans are most likely to shy away from the opportunity to make more money by gambling at casinos? Only the ones afraid of what the results will show.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 10, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

What seems reasonable to presume is that Alex sips regularly from the anti-reform kool-aid. On the other hand it appears from the convoluted messages from BS, he has, by five PM, already had a few pops of the alcoholic variety under his belt.

I've cited the unions (AFT, not NEA) in support of linking student tests to teacher evaluations because if the unions have admitted the reasonableness of using the tests to help evaluate teachers then there must be some validity to the process.

A vested interest in the status quo? Value-added assessments are far from the status quo, aren't they?

Posted by: phoss1 | August 10, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

White House in dispute with 'professional left'
By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press

The White House was on the defensive Tuesday after press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at liberals he dubbed the "professional left," saying some of them should be drug-tested.

Among Gibbs' comments: "I hear these people saying (Obama's) like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy."

"Is there ever some frustration from anyone who works in this building about the way it's being covered? Sure," Burton said when asked if Gibbs' comments reflected Obama's views.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 10, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

What seems reasonable to presume is that Alex sips regularly from the anti-reform kool-aid. On the other hand it appears from the convoluted messages from BS, he has, by five PM, already had a few pops of the alcoholic variety under his belt.
Posted by: phoss1
............................
Posted by: AlexKB

Let us see the hero of PHOSS1, President Obama, thinks his critics are on drugs, while PHOOS1 believes his critics are on alcohol or kool-aid.

This is the usual reaction of those when their lies are seen through.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 10, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

phoss1,

You still haven't given any examples like I asked for, so I'll assume you've been drinking beer and don't know your head from a hole in the ground.

You write, "if the unions have admitted the resonableness of using the tests to help evaluate the teachers then there must be some validity to the process."

Yes, we can all trust people who've fought against school choice, homeschooling, ending tenure and a host of other things. May I remind you that Al Shanker,Randi Weingarten,and Bob Chase among others have fought accountability for years. Shanker wrote in 1996 that teaching was a "royal priesthood".

Most of the teachers who are leaving the profession AREN"T a member of either union.

Posted by: AlexKB | August 11, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

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