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If more D.C. testing is bad, why are Va., Md. schools so popular?

My colleague Bill Turque has a provocative report on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee planning more standardized tests for city schools. Turque says Rhee plans to add, among other things, tests in core subjects such as science and social science, particularly in middle and high school.

The comments from readers on this so far are mostly negative. I understand the impatience that many people have with testing in schools. In some places, there is too much. But testing has been a part of the learning process since schools began. It helps students review and helps teachers see where the learning gaps are.

I have only one question for those who think Rhee is heading down the wrong path: Newcomers to the Washington area, if they have school-age children, generally look to Fairfax and Montgomery counties for public schools, not D.C. Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, as well as Virginia and Maryland schools in general, have many more required tests in core subjects for high schoolers than D.C. schools do. They focus closely on the results, and try to make sure every child reaches the state standard in several subjects, because high school graduation depends on it.

That is precisely what Rhee wants to do. If this works in the burbs, why shouldn't she?

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page.

By Jay Mathews  | June 29, 2010; 1:48 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Rhee plans more tests, Va. and Md. schools are very popular. what gives?, readers criticize her plans, she is adding more high school core subject tests like Va. and Md. have  
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Comments

Jay,

I have no problem with the need for the DC CAS, but 4 DC BAS, including one right after the DC CAS is administered is ridiculous. And, with regard to the DC CAS, the fact that schools take two weeks out of classroom time so that they can administer the test one hour at a time is beyond ridiculous. In the end you have:

8 days for DC BAS
10 days for DC CAS
4 Days (at least) at the end of the year when teachers pack up their classrooms

So, there's over 4 weeks of non-learning time. How many more days will the new tests take?

Posted by: horacemann | June 29, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

What about elementary schools?

I think the County tests at the High School and Middle School levels are great tests.

I disagree with with too much testing in the elementary schools.

I think that is when kids should be learning to read, write, etc., not be doing multiple choice.

We moved to MoCo for the Elementary schools.


Posted by: celestun100 | June 29, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I don't really have a problem with subject area tests at all. I feel those are important.

Are new DC tests subject area tests? I thought they were standardized tests similiar to the MSA in Maryland.

I think there is a place for final exams at the middle school and high school levels.

I think too many standardized tests are a waste of time and money. I know other people see them as an important measure of learning. I can tell how a student is doing by reading an essay or paragraph (BCR) that they write. I'm astonished at how much time educators spend on "data" from standardized test.

I guess a test at the end of each grade level that was closely aligned to the curriculum standards might be ok for Rhee's purposes, which I suppose are being able to use the scores for her IMPACT teacher evaluations and to "prove" that test scores are going up, therefore kids are learning.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 29, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

In school systems with large low-income populations, parents are less likely to bird-dog the services their children receive in school. They may be less confident of their ability to interact effectively with schools, or may think they are unqualified to do so--or they simply don't know how much they should be expecting of their children academically. Regardless of why, this makes regular testing to make sure ALL children are learning even more important. Urban school systems bear an even greater responsibility to be checking on every child and making sure that each one is achieving at the level they should be achieving at. The testing needn't be overwhelming, but it needs to be done.


Posted by: 4kids | June 29, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

P.S. Jay,

I don't think anyone moves here (MOCO) for the testing.
Most parents I talk to are sick of the testing. They want to know how their kids are doing, not how well they did on the MSA.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 29, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

56 percent of DC students failed the National tests for 2009 in 4th grade reading and there is this pretense that more standardized testing will improve education in DC.

It is hard to understand how more standardized tests in other areas are going to help. Is there any purpose in creating more tests requiring reading when the current tests indicate that so many students can not read?

Perhaps this idea will help the 8 or 9 percent of white students in DC that at this point have the highest scores in the nation on National tests, but Ms. Rhee was not brought in to deal with students who have no problem in education.

Where are the new ideas and programs of Ms. Rhee to deal with 56 percent failure rates in reading in the 4th grade?

Time for Ms. Rhee and Mr. Mathews to recognize that the methods of Ms. Rhee have not worked and Ms. Rhee should either come up with ideas geared to the problem or leave.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 29, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Not everyone is thrilled with MoCo schools. Many parents are concerned with the amount of testing that goes on in Montgomery County schools, as well as the highly scripted elementary school curriculum.

Virginia has a completely different approach with the SOLs and corresponding tests. And not everyone loves Northern VIrginia schools.

Posted by: Nemessis | June 29, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

for Nemessis and celestun100 (who should be assured that what Rhee is talking about, in part, is subject tests.)---What you say is true. No school district is without problems. But the house I must sell in Bethesda next year in order to be able to afford a place in California, where I plan to slowly wither and die, has held its value pretty well. Everyone tells me that is because it is in Montgomery County, and even better in the Whitman High enrollment area. Those kids take a LOT more tests than kids in DC.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 29, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Please share the tests those in MOCO take that you claim are a LOT more than DC. NCLB requires all states, and DC to have certain standardized tests from 3rd grade up.

What some are finally realizing (Ravitch, and I am reading her new book now; you should too) is that standardized testing is being used to unfairly grade schools and teachers. When tests are standardized there are certain elements that make judging a school or teacher unfair (i.e. throwing out questions that a majority of students do well on, using a bell curve, norming when sub-groups are really represented within the norm and more).

Subject tests are fine; all teachers want to ensure that students are learning what they are teaching.

Stating that the reason people move to MOCO for Whitman HS and Fairfax for what Langley? and then claiming they are moving because the number of tests are a LOT, is really rather silly or disingenuous.

All need to remember that Kaplan and other test prep/testing companies have benefitted greatly from NCLB. They (Kaplan et al), not schools, teachers or most importantly students, are the only group benefitting. So, you as an employee of a Kaplan company can easily see the need for DC to create more standardized testing, but all others who value tests that assess actual learning and don't assign other values (whether the school or teacher is meeting ayp) will be dismayed by Rhee and her testing plans.

Posted by: researcher2 | June 29, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

oops, typo..should read when sub groups AREN'T really represented within the norm...

Posted by: researcher2 | June 29, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

from Turque's column: "the expanded testing coverage would include English language arts and math in kindergarten through second grade, math "pretesting" in third grade"

Let me break that down for you Jay.

English language arts and math in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade

Do you have any idea what it's like to give a kindergartner a standardized test?

Even third graders cry, crawl under their desk, and throw up.

I don't care where they do this, or what your house is worth. This is close to child abuse.

Posted by: Nemessis | June 29, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I think it's laughable to say that people choose to live in MoCo or Fairfax because of testing. If people are choosing to live their because of the schools, it is because the schools have good teachers, reasonable amounts of resources, and bluntly, fewer poor people. You yourself showed a study yesterday that students do better when surrounded by more affluent students.

I would be absolutely fine with DCPS having end of the year tests for 7-12 core subject classes (Alg I, Geo, Alg II for Math etc...). These would not really be standardized tests (since there isn't really anything to norm them to), but they would measure whether or not students are learning what the standards say they should.

However, DCCAS (and the FOUR practice tests) don't measure what a student is doing this year, at least at the high school level. Many high schools have students in 10th grade taking Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

If you want to test, give exit exams for the courses that the students are actually taking. However, you then have to do something with that information. Students who do not pass that test cannot be allowed to get credit in that class, and teachers where no or few students pass have to face consequences. This isn't going to happen, since the end result would be to lower graduation rates, and no one is willing to do that.

More standardized testing that is not tightly correlated to the actual curriculum (such as DCCAS) is a waste of time that could be used for actual learning.

Also, let's remember that students suffer no adverse consequences for failing DCCAS, so at least at the high school level, you have major issues with motivation for 4 to 5 tests that have NO impact on their academic career.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | June 29, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Jay - any idea how much teacher collaboration was involved in Rhee's decision to do more standardized testing?

Posted by: efavorite | June 29, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Like you, I'm a Rhee supporter, and I assume she's adding more interim assessments in other subject areas to bolster academic achievement, build a richer curriculum, and take the emphasis, fairly, off of reading and mathematics testing only.

As for your comparisons to the District and suburban counties such as Montgomery, that's just plain unfair (qualitatively), considering the economic advantages (and yes, that's still a research-based factor).

I know for a fact that Montgomery County teachers, principals and superintendents aren't trying to test their children into getting smarter...

Posted by: rasheeedj | June 30, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

Jay,

It sounds like you are whistling past the graveyard. Sounds like you know that Rhee is on her way out.

Hopefully the execessive testing in affluent schools are on their way out too, but that will take longer. They are the destructive legacy of NCLB, and now the RttT. But kids, parents, and teachers are fed up.

There are two issues here, and both damage poor schools more, and both do so for the same reason.

First there are the opportunity costs of testing, You could get the same benefits with less time, less unintended damage, and much less cost with batteries of diagnostic tests. But these accountability tests are just CYA. From my experience, effective schools can just breeze through these tests. They are just wasting some time and money, they are mostly just a distraction.

The problem is the educational malpractice causesd by so much testing. When low tests lead to excessive test prep kids become better decoders but they don't get help reading for comprehension. Kids in Fairfax and Montggomerey Counties who know how to read for comprehension and have all of the other supports are going to blossom whether the adults do a great job or not. Its called the Matthew Effect. They learn to read and read to learn.

Poor kids who didn't get enough early help can't avoid the excessive drill and preping. They need rich and engaging curriculum, but Rhee is giving them the stone of test prep. Cognitive science says it can't work. The accountability-driven strategy is failing all over for those reasons. We're losing with all of the billions we flush down the testing drain, but Rhee et al want to make it up on volume. Someday, we'll wish we had those resources back for investing in kids.

But go ahead and argue that if you like standardizing testing you'll love Rhee. That's a clear choice. Sounds like a great slogan for Fenty's race.

Posted by: johnt4853 | June 30, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Maybe testing the kids more often will make them learn more.

Maybe weighing myself every day will make me loose weight.

Maybe checking Joe's blood pressure more often it will make it go down.

Maybe monitoring water quality in the Gulf of Mexico will make the oil go away faster.

Maybe watching the pot more often will make it boil faster.

Posted by: aed3 | June 30, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

for johnt4853, that IS a great slogan for Rhee, and fair one. I am willing to wave that banner.
But Nemessis has come up with something other than the popular suburban legend that third graders routinely cry, throw up and crawl under their seats when given standardized tests. I have seen kids that age receiving such tests, and nothing remotely like that was happening. I have asked educators about it, and they say it is nonsense. I have seen no research backing up the myth. Third graders do weep, throw up and crawl under their seats for all kinds of reasons. They do the same at home. But blaming such on tests requires some proof.
And for all the other good comments suggesting it is unfair to say that people move to the burbs because they like tests, if you will reread what I said, you will notice that wasn't quite it. I was saying that there is at least as much (check out what Moco schools do to assess the reading progress of every child in k-3) and in some cases more (four required subject tests for high schoolers in Md, and six in Va., which is more than DC high schoolers get at the moment) testing in the burbs as in the city, and yet people are much happier with the suburban schools, even the people who think schools test too much. Why is that? Because they realize that testing is an integral part of the best teaching in America, and if the teaching is good they can swallow their doubts about the testing. Maybe we will move from testing to some English-type inspectorate someday, but for now testing is the way Americans do things, and there is more of it (count up how many SAT and AP tests are given to suburban kids, compared to urban kids) in Moco and Fx than in DC. That suggests, at least to me, that having more of it in DC is not a bad thing.
And in defense of my dear friends at Kaplan, who are keeping the company financially afloat, they are a test-prep company, not a testing company. As far as I know they are not competing for any of the contracts to create state tests for NCLB, so they don't get any money out of that. Their big bucks come from the SAT and the ACT, which I don't see any complaints about in any of the comments above, even though those two tests are, without any doubt, THE most stress-producing exams in American. If you want to see kids throwing up, check out the halls before the SAT is given, and stop blaming the poor DCCAS, which as Wyrm1 points out, has few personal consequences for DC kids (but I think Wyrm1 is wrong to say it is not tied to the curriculum, or at least is not moving in that direction.)

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 30, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

So you think that the students in the burbs do better because their schools focus closely on the tests? Maybe testing doesn't "work in the burbs." Maybe those students score higher because of other factors like socioeconomic status, parent's education level, etc. Most students in the burbs will do well no matter what. Don't infer causation where there may be none. Parents want their kids to attend these schools in the burbs so that they are surrounded by other kids who act and look like their kids. Can you say segregation? It's disingenuous to say that "testing has been a part of the learning process since schools began." This is not true of standardized, norm-referenced tests.

Posted by: stevendphoto | June 30, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

"And in defense of my dear friends at Kaplan, who are keeping the company financially afloat, they are a test-prep company, not a testing company."

As someone who had the misfortune to work for Kaplan, they are also a diplopma mill that survives by stipping poor students of their education benefits while providing lousy, scipted training by marginally qualified instructors who are underpaid, overworked and evaluated not on their ability to teach, but on their ability to toe the company line. In other words, the very model for DCPS under Rhee. I can't wait for the GAO Investigation into for-profit "colleges" to be comnpleted.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 30, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Most people I know, teachers and parents alike would say they like MoCo schools in spite of the standardized testing.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Jay -- Wow, what a completely facile analysis. Seriously. As I get your logic, it is:

(1) People prefer to send their kids to school in MoCo and NoVa

(2) MoCo and NoVa schools have lots of testing

therefore

(3) People like testing! or maybe testing makes good schools!

Do I have that about right? And if so, I say again: seriously?

That's like saying (1) heart attacks spike during hot, bad air quality days; (2) popsicle consumption spikes on hot, bad air quality days; therefore (3) popsicles kill people.

I'm one of those folks who chose to relo to the burbs (Balt., not DC), in large part because of the better schools (not to mention lower taxes). But why are the schools better? Because they test? Right. Just try to avoid that in any public school system, bad OR good. That's a constant, not a distinguishing factor.

No: every single study I've ever seen says that school quality correlates more directly with socioeconomic status than with just about anything else. Wealthy neighborhoods support their schools, get involved in the schools, offer safer campuses, attract the better teachers, can afford to support bond issues, have political clout to get what they need, have kids who are better prepared/have safe places to sleep/enough food to eat, etc. etc. etc. etc. In short, wealthier schools do better because people like me relocate there.

Testing was far from an attraction for me -- more like a necessity that I suck up because it's an unavoidable part of the package. It's a huge time suck with really negative effects on the kids. You can mock the "3rd graders throwing up" anecdotes all you want. But you weren't in my house this winter/spring when DD's school devoted 6 FREAKING WEEKS to test prep instead of actual learning -- when she got insomnia and burst into tears at home because she knew how much the tests mattered to her school. And for what? So the school could brag, that's all. It had nothing to do with her education; her teachers already knew her strengths and weaknesses better than any multiple-guess test could tell them. Honestly, the enshrinement of high-stakes testing as the be-all and end-all is the one thing that makes me reconsider private school more than anything else.

If you want to defend the merits of the testing, fine. But do it based on the facts, not logical fallacies that don't bear any relation to the world as those of us who still have kids in school know it and live it.

Posted by: laura33 | June 30, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Here is a thought for education.

NYC is revamping their prekindergarten tests for their gifted program.

The city is using the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which judges early childhood knowledge like shapes and colors. It is not a gifted measure, but rather a measure of school readiness, as its name indicates.

The city uses the equivalent of 120 I.Q., or the 90th national percentile as the cut-off scores for gifted programs.

Apparently in our democratic society everyone will agree it is fair and best for education of gifted children to separate children before they enter public school based upon scoring the equivalent of 120 I.Q. on a test.

Why would it be so wrong to use a test on all children entering public schools and separating them into classes based on this test? Is it really fair or best for education in NYC to haphazardly place children into classrooms when tests are available for children? Is it not obvious that it is not helpful to education to place children that score the equivalent of 119 I.Q. in classes with children that score the equivalent of 75 I.Q.?

Like most large cities that are plagued with the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools, NYC has enough resources to separate children based upon test results in class rooms where children will have the best chance of obtaining the most from education.

Is it not time for this country in urban areas to stops looking for quick fixes and simply start placing children in class rooms based upon their capabilities and not haphazard chance.

New York Times
New Gifted Testing in New York May Begin at Age 3

Posted by: bsallamack | June 30, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

@laura33

I am glad you posted. That is exactly how I feel.

At our middle school students do test prep questions during home room and they have pep rallies. They are supposed to wear green (advanced), blue (proficient), but not red (basic) to school on the day of the pep rally.

Then the kids listen to speeches about test scores and cheer to music.

This is a total waste of time and to me is peculiar. Then the school will act as if the students scored well because of these events.

The students score well because the parents make sure the kids do their homework before they go out to play. Lots of my kids' friends have to do one or 2 pages of homework packets before going outside or coming over.

I see these same families in the library and they would have joined the summer reading program if Montgomery County hadn't cut that.

At a back to school night a parent asked the third grade teacher about "testing". He said, "Can we get a schedule so we will know when our kids will be in a bad mood?"
The teacher said, "We are basically testing all the time." Everyone groaned and rolled their eyes.

I am even starting to wonder if these "high-performing" schools are the real thing. How do we know if the kids are really learning or just being taught to pass tests?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

@bsallamack

How do these tests work for kids who are bilingual or non-English speaking?

I ask because I have read that some children who are learning 2 languages or more from birth take longer to talk. It is as if they are using more time to process the languages.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

You should really check out this map of Montgomery County, MD movement. It shows where people are moving - in and out of the county.

http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/04/migration-moving-wealthy-interactive-counties-map.html?preload=24031

Do you have a source for your premise that people are moving IN to Montgomery County now?

Posted by: jzsartucci | June 30, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

RE: High performing schools-

Here's another way to look at ranking high schools in Montgomery County.

http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/2010/06/high-school-ranking-by-national-merit.html

This was suggested by an Opinion piece in the Post. So I ran the numbers for Montgomery County Public Schools. It creates a list of high schools by where the high performing students go to school, based on the National Merit Semifinalists list.

This ranking isn't forced by the "number" of test takers, but shows where the high performers went to school.

Posted by: jzsartucci | June 30, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

For Laura33 and stevendphoto---Think for a moment exactly why high test scores correlate with high incomes (and high education levels) of parents. It is probably not because the school staffs have a magical ability to communicate with their students, and get them to a level of knowledge that makes tests a breeze. If you moved those staffs to a D.C. public school, they are unlikely to produce the same impressive results. What happens is that the high income, high education parents know from their own experience that tests are important parts of the education system, both standardized and otherwise (and if you compare the two in most high schools, you won't find much difference in the kinds of questions asked.) So they create a culture in their families that puts great priority on doing your homework and preparing strenuously for all important tests. They know that works, because it worked for them. Thus such parents raised no objections to Va. and Md. increasing the number of standardized subject tests in high school, as the SOLs and the HSAs came in. Some parents DON'T like those exams, but you may notice that no politician in either state has run against that new testing policy and won.
And you can't get around the fact that test prep is part of learning. In an earlier age we called it review. All good teachers encourage it. Preparing for a test forces the student to review the most important elements of what has been learned and make sure they have mastered the facts and concepts well enough to pass the test. Whether it is a junior at Whitman High spending three days going over his history notes before a final, with the help of practice test questions in the textbook, or an 8th grader at Shaw Middle school taking the DC BAS (a review test given in school, because you can't count on enough DC parents creating the same pro-testing culture that Whitman parents do), it is a legitimate part of the learning process. You and I can point out all sorts of ways to improve the way both the Whitman and the Shaw kids review. But you cannot honestly dismiss test prep, as you call it, as a waste of time, unless you have some magic formula that would allow students to master the material in some other way. And if you do, Kaplan would love to invest in your idea.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 30, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Kaplan makes a huge amount of money on test prep. Test prep profits have gone up astronomically since NCLB came on board. It is interesting how you summamarily dismiss criticism of their profits by saying they aren't involved in the actual testing.

Your title totally suggests that you believe families are moving to the burbs because of the testing, so don't tell those who have posted to re-read because that isn't really what you meant.

Families are staying in public schools in the burbs (and moving to the burbs) despite the testing.

I have known families who could afford it who left FCPS because of the testing, and sent their kids to private; private schools don't have to adhere to NCLB testing regimes. In fact I have known more families that went private to avoid testing than those who moved from DC to MoCo or FCPS.

Posted by: researcher2 | June 30, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

obviously your educator sources have never had to follow the "vomit protocol".

Posted by: Nemessis | June 30, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I encourage my kids to do well on the tests, because I know those scores are given an unusual amount of importance by the school system.

I still think the New York Regent Exams are a better way to go. They have tests in every subject area. ( I am only familiar with the foreign language test there).

I repeat, I have nothing against subject area exams in 7th grade and up. I resent the testing and retesting of math and reading on standardized tests.

If I had the money I would send my kids to a school similiar to where President Obama's kids go to school. They got to go to Imagination Stage for a drama workshop, and the oldest girl was given a journal assignment to do during the Inaguration week. That is the kind of school (on a less expensive level, of course) that I think all kids should get.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Jay, Wow, just read your defense of weeks of test prep! Studying for a history exam is so, so very different from the weeks and weeks of test prep, remediation, pep rallys, and assorted nonsense associated with the SOLs.

Kids do need to be taught how to study for exams, how to take notes, how to listen to understand what might be tested (on a teacher created test tied to their curriculum), what they don't need is weeks and weeks of test prep followed by weeks of testing (the schedules of all schools during SOL tests are affected..so while kids take their Algebra 1 test all the other kids have 3 hours of whatever subject..where again more test prep or at least no true instruction is going on...this lasts for 2-3 weeks depending on how the school handles their SOL testing schedule).

You say you haven't seen kids throw up, fine, I haven't either, but I have seen the weeks of wasted time. Please go to one school, a middle school perhaps in FCPS, and check out how many weeks are devoted to BART (SOL prep), practice tests, and the actual testing. Add up the weeks...and then come back here and report how wonderful this particular kind of testing is.

Please stop equating traditional teacher created tests with the SOLs or other associated standardized testing created to mis-lead the public (and apparently some reporters) that they equate with how effective the teachers are.

You are so right when you say that the effective teachers in the burbs wouldn't be so effective in DC, and that is the crux of the whole problem of these types of tests being used to determine whether or not a school or teacher is "good"

Posted by: researcher2 | June 30, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

researcher2 says,

"You are so right when you say that the effective teachers in the burbs wouldn't be so effective in DC, and that is the crux of the whole problem of these types of tests being used to determine whether or not a school or teacher is "good""

I agree.

I also agree there is a big difference between teaching kids how to study for a subject area exam compared to test prep for these standardized tests.

Another big difference is that the subject area tests count for a student's grade. Thus the importance of the test to the student. A subject area exam shows how much a student has learned about a topic during a semester or whatever. It counts towards the students' grade point, so the student doesn't think, "This is just for the school" which is what middle schoolers often think about MSA's.

SAT's are also important to the student. Sure, nowadays we ranking schools based on SAT scores, but students see those tests as relevant to their future lives. Standardized tests don't really mean much to students. The school oriented kids take the tests and try their best, but they don't really care about something that is perceived as a grade for the school or teacher, not for themselves.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

"What happens is that the high income, high education parents know from their own experience that tests are important parts of the education system, both standardized and otherwise (and if you compare the two in most high schools, you won't find much difference in the kinds of questions asked.) So they create a culture in their families that puts great priority on doing your homework and preparing strenuously for all important tests."

Actually, no, not at all. Yes: we place great importance on doing homework and schoolwork. It matters to us that she learns. And we certainly help DD study for the "real" tests her teachers give her -- you know, the ones they use to assess her learning on a weekly or unit-by-unit basis. THAT is what helps my daughter succeed.

Degree of effort we put into helping her to prepare for standardized tests? 0%. Nada. If anything, our "effort" in preparing for standardized tests is talking her down from the ledge.

I will agree with you that the things we teach her for school also help her succeed on the standardized tests. But not because of standardized testing; we would do exactly the same without them. So, again, the tests are not CAUSING good school performance; rather, they are the fortunate unintended beneficiaries of all of our other efforts. Implying that these testing regimes somehow cause good school performance and attract the "right" kind of parents is, again, putting the cart before the horse.

And: of course "test prep is a part of learning." Again: duh. But there is an order of magnitude between a high school kid studying 3 days for a final, and what they do for the high-stakes tests. Real-life, non-exaggerated example: the day my kid returned from winter break, they went into test prep mode. From then until the MSAs (March?), half the day, every day, was taken up with review; almost all homework was limited to test prep. That is where my 6-week estimate came from.

Irony: this is the same year they expected DD to learn both a 3rd and 4th grade curriculum. And the end result of losing all that time? The last 2 months of math were condensed into one week per unit -- we're talking fractions, decimals, adding/subtracting/comparing fractions, etc., all big, major concepts -- one week for each. My kid's head was spinning by the end of the year.

So, again: are the big tests a draw for me? Hah! The only impact I saw was (a) major stress in my kid, and (b) a severe reduction in time that she really needed to actually learn the "real" stuff she needs to know for next year. If I could avoid the testing regimes without spending $20K+ for private school, I would in a heartbeat.

Posted by: laura33 | June 30, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
You said, "And you can't get around the fact that test prep is part of learning. In an earlier age we called it review."

You are really out of touch with what is going on in classrooms.

Week 1 of a high school AP class in Montgomery County and an AP Practice Exam is administered.

Jay, that's prepping for the test. That isn't review. The students just arrived in the class.

What was the subject? AP Spanish. They spent the whole year taking AP Practice Exams. Advancement in language proficiency? Zip.

Posted by: jzsartucci | June 30, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Here is a thought for your column.

NYC is revamping their prekindergarten tests for their gifted program.

The city is using the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which judges early childhood knowledge like shapes and colors. It is not a gifted measure, but rather a measure of school readiness, as its name indicates.

The city uses the equivalent of 120 I.Q., or the 90th national percentile as the cut-off scores for gifted programs.

Apparently in our democratic society everyone will agree it is fair and best for education of gifted children to separate children before they enter public school based upon scoring the equivalent of 120 I.Q. on a test.

Why would it be so wrong to use a test on all children entering public schools and separating them into classes based on this test? Is it really fair or best for education in NYC to haphazardly place children into classrooms when tests are available for children? Is it not obvious that it is not helpful to education to place children that score the equivalent of 119 I.Q. in classes with children that score the equivalent of 75 I.Q.?

Like most large cities that are plagued with the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools, NYC has enough resources to separate children based upon test results in class rooms where children will have the best chance of obtaining the most from education.

Is it not time for this country in urban areas to stops looking for quick fixes and simply start placing children in class rooms based upon their capabilities and not haphazard chance.

New York Times
New Gifted Testing in New York May Begin at Age 3

Posted by: bsallamack | June 30, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Jay, sometimes I just don't get you...you and I have both spent time in Rafe Esquith's class in LA. You think he's one of the best teachers in America, as do I. He is adamant that the testing culture is out of control. I'm OK with it if I'm left free to get results without interference from middle-management, but testing K-2 is a bad idea.
But you seem so onboard with the top-down, data-driven mantra (enabled by excessive testing) that grates Rafe. I'm not one for Manichean thinking, but you seem a bit contradictory.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | June 30, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Standardized tests and the practice tests are disruptive to elementary schools with at risk populations. We typically have a large number of students who need accommodations so all professional staff that are not regular classroom teachers are pulled from their regular duties to provide those accommodations. That means ESOL, Speech, Math support, Reading support, Media, etc. teachers are not meeting with their regular students or groups. Sometimes even art, music and p.e. teachers have to be pulled to provide accommodations. Basically the regular academic program comes to a grinding halt. Because all of these special teachers are involved, their inability to meet with their regular groups affects grade levels who are not testing. The entire school is affected. Also--music, art, p.e. and lunch schedules are changed which is also disruptive. So figure 2 weeks of actual testing and up to a month of practice tests. That amounts to a lot of lost instruction. This is for the MSA's. The other tests that MCPS uses are not nearly as bad. Many of them are done on the computer and they are scheduled to occur during classes' regular time in the computer lab so nothing has to be changed around.

Posted by: musiclady | June 30, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate these comments about test prep, but they contradict what I have actually seen in classrooms prepping for state tests. I see kids taking practice tests. I see teachers going over the questions and answers and explaining to the students why some of their answers were wrong. I see teachers having a chance to reteach topics that were not taught well enough the first time. This strikes me as a useful way of fill gaps in student understanding. Filling up that time with lots of new material sounds great, but in real classrooms, it means leaving lots of kids not completely understanding the material they have already been taught. That is an important reason why states decided to do this kind of testing, and why many fine and conscientious teachers--people just as caring and sensitive as the teachers who don't like standardized tests-- worked hard to write the tests and the guides to how to prepare for them.
SOOO, if someone has witnessed in the last couple of years a very different kind of test prep with their own eyes, and will write for me a detailed description of what they saw, and are willing to name the school district (I can leave off the name of the school, if that is a problem), I will publish it here.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Forthetensionmakesitwork--Very good question about Rafe. I stand behind every word I have ever written about him, and would love to live in a land where all teachers had his talent and dedication, willing to spend, literally, EVERY DAY in his classroom, 12 hours a day, to bring kids up to a new level. I don't know anyone who works as hard at any job, including the president of the USA, as Rafe does in his. So from his perspective, test prep is definitely unnecessary, and lacks the richness that he can provide his kids. But until he creates his own school staffed by more ordinary human beings (as his proteges Mike and Dave of KIPP have done), I don't think he can be considered an expert on how to create better schools in the real world. Mike and Dave, in part because of what they learned from Rafe, have done a better job on that score than anyone else i know, but in the course of dealing with reality have done things that Rafe does not like. I love Rafe. I want him to live forever. But he and room 56 are in many ways not on this planet.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

for jzsartucci---If you have any proof of an AP Spanish course that was nothing but kids taking practice tests, I would love to get it, or at least the name of the school and the teacher so I could check it out. What you are giving me lacks detail, which makes me think it might be second hand. so here I am at mathewsj@washpost.com. Tell me what else you have on this. Giving an old AP Spanish test to kids on the first day of an AP Spanish course would be, to many of the AP teachers I know, a terrific idea. One of the reasons why AP and IB work so well is that the courses prepare students for a very challenging exam, requiring thought and analysis and other deep skills. Letting them tackle one the first day lets them see that right off the bat, and is likely to make them far more appreciative of the work they are going to have to do to get ready for the real one.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

one more for jzsartucci---I would also love to know how the kids in that AP Spanish did on the real AP exam. Unlike most poorly taught classes, at least with AP you can see the actual effects.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Any MS in FCPS will do for your study...i.e. when you asked for proof of what people see with their own eyes. Weeks of test prep isn't merely "filling in the gaps" re-teaching basic material, does nothing for the students that would get a 400+ on the SOL prior to taking the course being tested.

Check out the actual schedules at the end of the year; check out what is being done in the 3 hour blocks of time when one SOL test is given (and all other students not being tested are stuck in one room for 3 hours).
Check out the number of practice tests given in language arts and math in MS's in FCPS throughout the year (BART, is what I believe these are called)

And Jay, you didn't address the issue of parents leaving public schools in MoCo and FCPS for private due to the testing in public schools.

Teachers oppossed to the innundation of standardized testing aren't simply concientious like those who assisted in creating guides, they also have research to back up their beliefs..test prep..weeks of it..does not improve instruction or learning, and most importantly as you seeming unwittingly acknowledged..those great suburban teachers wouldn't receive the same test results if transplanted into the DC schools; that is what is wrong with the testing...it isn't the testing itself that is wrong, it is using the results to make a judgement about a teacher, a school, a district.

You know this..you, as I said, even acknowledged it in one of your posts above.

Posted by: researcher2 | July 1, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

For researcher2--- We interpret what I said about moving suburban teachers to the inner city differently. I wasn't saying that proved that test prep doesnt work. I was saying that inner city kids on average start at such a lower level, and lack the support at home, so that the suburban teachers could not be as effective.
Looking at printed schedules doesn't do it for me. I described what I have seen happening in actual classrooms when what you call test prep, and I call review, is going on. It looks like good teaching to me. And the teachers who were doing it said that they thought that was what it was too. So I would like to hear from someone who can describe in similar detail what is going on in a classroom (a teacher would be ideal) and tell us how their impression of what is happening is different, or not. There is too much ill-informed interpretation of data, including by me, on this blog, and others, and too few eye witness accounts of what is happening in classrooms.
And I would love to see the data you mention. I have never seen a carefully constructed study of what happens with review, and without it, describing exactly how the review, and non-review, is conducted. I am at mathewsj@washpost.com.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Jay, interpetation is what is key. If as you say,"that inner city kids on average start at such a lower level, and lack the support at home, so that the suburban teachers could not be as effective" then why use those tests as a judgement on the teachers/school/district?

I didn't really say only look at the printed schedule. Go into the MS's..any in FCPS and see what is occuring (without calling ahead) in the classrooms during the SOL testing weeks. Go into the schools at the begining of the year and see how many practice tests are given from the start of the year to the end. Ask all of the teachers in that school what they think of BART, practice tests, and the weeks devoted to the SOLs (i.e. not just the weeks devoted to the actual tests).

And by the way, I can easily get numerous teachers to back me up; my information is from MS teachers. I will email you their names, and if you actually agree to confidentiality as you alluded to above, then they will freely speak. But despite unions and all that people state about them, these people do fear for their livelihoods if they were to speak out about the "wasted time/weeks" with their names attached.

Posted by: researcher2 | July 1, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Some key points:
1) I think pre and post tests are fine..looking at student growth is key to education/instruction/learning
2)practice tests are tests given over and over..the same material over and over until all memorize the information; that to me is very different from reviewing material and teaching students how to study/review to prepare for a test tied to the curriculum.
3)I have seen first hand practice tests given in the manner I have described in both ACPS and FCPS.
4)The Algebra 1 SOL is one that is cited as usually having a very high pass rate; I know a teacher who gave a blank scantron to his math department and they filled in the answers..without a test...just randomly filling in blanks, and he used an Algebra 1 SOL answer guide (from a previously released SOL) and the average score achieved was a 380..passing is 400...if these teachers had 10 or 11 correct answers, and simply guessed the rest, they would all have passed the Algebra 1 SOL. That to me says not all students passing the Algebra 1 SOL truly know Algebra.

And unrelated, but about a half an hour ago I thought I saw a new column by you about AP tests and AP pass rates...was I imagining this? Where did it go? I clicked on these comments and wanted to go that article but now I can't find it...

Posted by: researcher2 | July 1, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

sorry researcher2, my fault. I didnt think that popped up. I was writing the column for tomorrow on that subject, and mistakenly put the wrong pub time on it, and then fixed it to the proper 930 tonight.
As for yr kind offer to tell us what you saw, please do so. Give us enough details in 3000 characters to get some hint of what it was you saw that led you to conclude it was bad practice, use all 3000 characters. I would love for you to encourage the teachers who have seen this to write me in detail, and i would be happy to protect their identity in exchange for very precise descriptions of what happened.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 1, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Read Dan Willingham for the cognitive science explaining why a little test prep is fine, but after that it is a waste of time at best. Perhaps you've seen a relatively little and seen it done well. But do you think that the overwhelming majority of teachers who witness excessive and counter productive test prep every day, and deal with its negative consequences are just making things up? I personally have never met a single educator, to my knowledge, who would agree with your extraordinary statements in this thread. I've been to all sorts of legislatative, community, and school system hearings and meetings and I hear outside the school the same things that we say in schools. We have way too much testing. Way too much. And the idea of doubling the testing load?

Posted by: johnt4853 | July 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

OK Jay, here are some highlights:

Whitman MS FCPS (2008): Beg of year all students took the SRI, a computer based reading test. Right after that they took the BART reading test (also a computer based test, created by the district, that can predict SOL scores)In October all students were given a practice writing test modeled on the 8th grade SOL. In their language arts classes the county gave unit tests on prescribed days every 6 weeks or so. These were also on the computer. Classes that could have moved ahead waited instead so that the unit would be fresh in the kids' heads; classes that were struggling to keep up had to take the unit test prior to the unit being finished (i.e. esol and special ed classes)In March while the 8th graders took their writing test all 7th graders were given fake practice SOLs that had nothing to do with their particular units being studied. By March 36 days had been devoted to testing, that is essentially a quarter devoted to testing not instruction. To gear up for the May tests students were in after school remediation and Sat school remediation where practice tests were given. During the actual school day students also participated in test prep via an every day "class" where students in theory could go to a subject they were struggling with, but in reality if they were assigned test prep they had to do that (versus catching up on homework or assignments missed due to illness).

The majority of MS LA teachers complained about the number of days devoted to testing in the 2008-2009 school year, and for most it added up to a quarter of the school year (I don't have the number of days for 2009-2010..still chatting with friends who are teachers).

At Glasgow MS math teachers were told not to teach the order of operations because they weren't on the SOL tests (despite students needing to know that and it is indeed part of the curriculum).

At all of the MS's SOL pep rally's are held.

I know of a social studies teacher in an ACPS MS who daily gave her kids the same test over and over since April to "prepare" them for their SOLs...they learned nothing new from April on. If all they need to know can be taught (re-taught) from Sept to April, why does school last to the end of June? What are all of those days for? Preparing for the SOLs???

Do you believe that education boils down to passing the SOLs? Do you believe that knowing those social studies facts, by having them repeated daily, means they know their US history (even though they didn't get beyond the Vietnam war and were supposed to cover up to present day..but the SOLs don't ask questions about the more current decades?)

Do you believe a quarter of the school year should be devoted to test days?

Do you think these tests are truly better than teacher created tests based on what they are actually teaching?
Do you believe the results should be used to grade teachers,even though you know the suburban teachers wouldn't be as effective in DC?

Posted by: researcher2 | July 1, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

where I said "most MS LA" teachers I am referring to the FCPS district, not one school.

Posted by: researcher2 | July 1, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

researcher2 says,

"Do you believe the results should be used to grade teachers,even though you know the suburban teachers wouldn't be as effective in DC?"

Posted by: celestun100 | July 2, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

What so you really think about researcher2's question, Jay?

Posted by: celestun100 | July 2, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

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