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More tests on the way for D.C. students

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is seeking an outside contractor to help dramatically expand DCPS' use of standardized tests, so that every grade from K through 12 will have some form of assessment to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness.

The plan would add to an already busy testing calendar. No Child Left Behind requires that all public school students in grades three through eight be tested annually in reading and math proficiency. The District does that with the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS, administered every April in those grades as well as to high school sophomores. The CAS also tests science in grades 5 and 8, biology in high school, and composition in grades 4, 7, and 10. Many students also take quarterly DC Benchmark Assessment System (DC BAS) tests so that teachers can flag learning issues. Every two weeks, children in grades K through three receive DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy). Every two years, fourth- and eighth-graders receive the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in math and reading.

But DCPS is expected to release a request for proposals this week to push what many teachers and parents already regard as a test-happy culture to a new level. An e-mail to principals last week from the office of interim chief academic officer Michael Moody said the expanded testing coverage would include English language arts and math in kindergarten through second grade, math "pretesting" in third grade, social studies and science in grades 6 through 8, and core subjects in high school.

"The selected contractor(s) would develop tests based on DCPS learning standards, administer them in selected grades beginning in spring 2011, score the tests and report results so that teachers, students and parents have an accurate assessment of students' academic knowledge at the beginning of each school year," the e-mail said.

Rhee has often said that test data is not the only measure of teacher effectiveness. But she wants the additional data to expand the reach of its new IMPACT teacher evaluation system. This year only reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 -- fewer than 20 percent of the District's 3,800 classroom instructors -- will be evaluated on the basis of growth on the DC CAS. Student value-added will account for half of their evaluation.

"Data driven" is a mantra among Rhee and her top staff--data to drive decisions. In a brief interview Friday, she said: "It's been a priority for a long time. We want to have a much more robust set of assessments not just in math and reading but different subjects. As a parent I want to know on a regular basis how my kids are progressing or not and have my teachers take a pulse not once a year or four times a year."

As to charges that relentless testing--and test preparation--are sucking the oxygen from other forms of classroom instruction, Rhee said: "I think testing gets a bad rap sometimes. Consistently assessing our kids is going to lead to more information about what they're learning and mastering and mastering and what they are not."

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By Bill Turque  |  June 28, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
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As a high school teacher who has administered CAS, this means more time out of academics, more disruptions to my students (who are emotionally disturbed and have a hard time coping with change), and more time I am proctoring a test instead of teaching. Yes, data is good. But how does more testing help when we are already taking 2 weeks in April out of learning? Just asking.

Posted by: jennthehen | June 28, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

How many days/hours does this end up being? Our school had a good evening program that explained what DIBELs is and that seemed to make some sense (it *sounded* like a relatively quick assessment tool), though every two weeks? Then all these other tests? When is there time to teach?

When will we start seeing IMPACT-like assessments for Principals and Instructional Superintendents? If it's good for the students and teachers, it must be good all the way up the chain!

Not anti-testing and assessment. Anti-"formal testing and assessment practically every day"

Posted by: KH20003 | June 28, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

More money for consultants!

Posted by: efavorite | June 28, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Wow, congrats Michelle! You've now found a way to grind the joy out of early childhood education too! It wasn't as if the non stop DIBELS wasn't wrecking the early grades already.

Pssst, Michelle and Michael Moody. Here's a hot tip. You would know this had you every spent any significant time IN a school, but I'm going to let you in on this one gratis. If the teacher is in the hallway, administering DIBELS tests, they aren't teaching. Yes, that right, if they aren't in the classroom, the rest of the students are stuck with work to keep them occupied while the teacher performs the evaluation. Seriously, do you guys every think about the implications of your poorly thought decision-making?

How about this? How about parents revolt? I plan on teaching my children to throw the test.

Efavorite, you're clearly one of the more clever people on the WaPo website. Is there something clever I can teach them to color in the bubble dots? A cool design? What should it be?

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | June 28, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

More tests during the school year is just what we need (hint the sarcasm). The students I work with are tested to death already. When exactly are teachers supposed to teach? When are students supposed to learn something more than test-taking strategies?

Let me make this correction though. Only certain students in grades K-3 are assessed on DIBELS measures every two weeks, not all. Every K-3rd grader is assessed three times per year; fall, winter and spring; and those result dictate which students are assessed once/twice a month.

Posted by: instructionalspecialist | June 28, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

soccermom - I like your idea of turning the testing into something educationally worthwhile, but I think the most clever thing to do would be for parents to keep their kids out of school on the testing days and arrange some real educational exercise instead.

It could by a trip to a smithsonian exhibit, or a special art or music lesson - something enriching that they aren't getting in school because of all the testing.

This idea is not completely original - I read on another blog somewhere that parents were considering boycotting the tests by purposely keeping their kids home on test days.

Posted by: efavorite | June 28, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite, you are right.

One of my children is headed to a testing grade. That's what, 5 DC-BAS tests, a DC-CAS, and three DIBELs?

There will be many field trips at my house this year.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | June 28, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I strongly agree with many of the above writers on the disadvantages of a "test happy" schooling for our children. The many tests are data; often false data at that and they tend to determine the fate of schools, principals and teachers. Very good point above about DIBELS. This measure if used should also give the teacher a relief that will teach in the classroom. The other children are doing "busy work". As a former Principal I saw many disadvantages to this testing environment and found that less and less teaching was taking place while more and more test taking skills development was pushed. When will people realize that one assessment at the culmination can tell you exactly what all of these will tell.As for early childhood; this is why our children are robbed of childhood learning experiences. No time to socialize, play or engage in hands on learning because all they know is how to "bubble in" and "throw out false answers". Is this what we want from our children? Is this how we will be in the top schooling systems? Think hard!

Posted by: Kaladem | June 28, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

We need to start a facebook and email campaign to keep kids home on testing days. As a teacher, this is outrageous. These people in the central office only know how to work with numbers and data. They have no clue how to work with people. If you want to know how your child is doing in school then sit with them and work on homework with them, go to parent/teacher conferences and volunteer your time at your child's school and in his/her classroom.

I'm so glad I'm not in public school and I'm glad I don't have any children in public school--especially DC. We are graduating kids who know nothing except how to pass a standardized test. Where will that get them in life?

Posted by: UrbanDweller | June 28, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

not just your kids, soccermom - get the whole school involved - maybe the whole school system!

Posted by: efavorite | June 28, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

You've got the right idea, folks. A really effective boycott would be more viable coming from parents and students. If teachers lead it, then there's possibility of a (mistaken) appearance of self-interest being put ahead of education.

Posted by: DavidBCohen | June 28, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

You do understand that if a school does not test 95% of their students, they automatically fail to make AYP? So Title1SoccerMom, who is always talking about how great her school is, will help to make sure the school fails. Gee, thanks.

Testing doesn't take all day. Even the DC-CAS, which is the most cumbersome test, takes less than 2 hours a day. Good teachers can still hold learning experiences in the late mornings and afternoons.

All testing takes time away from teaching. That includes the weekly spelling test, multiplication facts tests, etc. All of these tests are controversial, all of them take time away from learning, and all are regularly given in DC and across the country.

Posted by: alertcitizen1 | June 28, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"Data driven" is a mantra among Rhee and her top staff--

Except when it comes to what works in education. Of course, none of them has ever READ any real education research, never mind conducted any. If they had, they would know that their entire "reform" program has been refuted by the research, from "merit pay," to "Small Schools," to inflicting TFA interns on poor children, to the high-stakes testing discussed here. In addition during Rhee's entire tenure, there has been no discussion whatsoever of evidence-based curriculum changes for reading and math. Apparently, Rhee and her cronies have little understanding of, or use for, research, evidence and data when it comes to education. To them "data driven" is just a marketing phrase to them, like "reform." Both are meaningless in this context.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 28, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Children absolutely hate going through the type of testing Rhee is proposing. By the way, which 3rd party education business is Rhee paying to do this? And how much is she paying them. She may be doing this simply to give more education dollars to businesses which supply schools with standardized tests.

I hope they fire her.

Posted by: aby1 | June 28, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"All testing takes time away from teaching. That includes the weekly spelling test, multiplication facts tests, etc. All of these tests are controversial, all of them take time away from learning, and all are regularly given in DC and across the country."

The difference between the standardized tests and the tests given in the classroom is that the ones in the classroom are curriculum based tests. In other words, they are based directly on classroom. The standardized tests Rheee wants are not directly based on what is being taught in the classroom.

Posted by: aby1 | June 28, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Here's are more difference between classroom and standardized testing:

Classroom tests test what is fresh in the student's mind. Standardized tests often measure material the student hasn't covered for months.

Classroom tests are given in small amounts, standardized tests are given in larger amounts and drive kids crazy. Sometimes they get so sick of them they just fill in the bubbles quickly to get it over with. As I have given many standardized tests in the past, I can attest to this with my own experience.

Posted by: aby1 | June 28, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Dear alertcitizen - if a bunch of schools failed to make AYP because kids didn't show up, because parents kept them out of school because they think the tests are interfering with education, maybe something would finally change.

Posted by: efavorite | June 28, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

As a father of three school aged kids, every time I read about another "change for the better" by DCPS, I get the terrible feeling that my children are being treated like lab rats in some educational experiment. I have come to strongly oppose many of the Chancellor's proposals because they seem to keep the schools in constant flux. While change is sometimes necessary, there is something to be said about stability.

Posted by: Darrellfb | June 28, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse


Things are not going to get better until we get a pro-education president. This president is "pro-education" in name only.

Posted by: aby1 | June 28, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

The kids are going to be "learning and mastering" test taking. And the consultants, are going to be mastering the RFP bid process.

Posted by: emrj | June 28, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad I do not work for DC public schools. It's a shame Michelle A. Rhee allowed all those teachers to lose their jobs... not to mention excess funds left over in the budget.
As a high school teacher, I often hear from students that they purposely fail standardized test (why, I don't know), yet Rhee plans to use the results of these tests to determine teacher quality and whether or not to continue to employ a teacher. (this disgust me)
I love the comment about IMPACT-like assessments for Principals and Instructional Superintendents... we should make an assessment for Fenty and Rhee... the test will be given 4 times a quarter, their pay will be based on their results, and there will be no contracts for them guaranteeing their employment.

Posted by: factor1 | June 28, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Test, test test: Hire, Fire, Hire: Test test test: Impact Impact Impact: Fire , Hire, Fire: What a cycle! More learning time is lost, no stability when teachers are constantly replaced, the test is not tied to grades making it meaningless to children and they become bored, The teachers are intimidated and don't quite enjoy their jobs because creativity in teaching is mutiny.

So who gets the glory and the perks? Rhee is on TV, making a movie, she's hardly at work and the consultants just keep making money regardless if their work produces positive results or not!

Where there is no brilliance, dazzle them with BS.

The biggest dazzle has been on her boss. He is clueless to anything she does. That's why he backed out of an education debate. He doesn't know anything!

If she gets a new boss and she stays in DC, she better leave that BS on the west coast and get ready to work, actually "go" to work, learn accountability, professionalism and responsiveness. For Rhee that will be a real challenge, which is basic for anyone else.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 28, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

It does sound like these outside people would be the ones administering and scoring the tests. That is good.

But, why is she suggesting that parents want to know 4 times a year how their kids do on standardized tests? I want to know how my kids do on teacher made tests and on report cards.

As a parent, I resent the time spent on the standardized testing in the elementary school, except maybe for the MAP-R, a reading test that the kids take on a computer and get a score from right away.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 28, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

celestun100 wrote: As a parent, I resent the time spent on the standardized testing in the elementary school, except maybe for the MAP-R, a reading test that the kids take on a computer and get a score from right away.
Teachers resent the time spent on standardized testing as well. The MAP-R isn't disruptive. At my school they kids take that test during their technology class in the computer lab. The MSA's are another story. We lose a month of school in that we have practice tests so that the kids can get used to the personnel who will be testing them. All non classroom teachers are needed for accommodations--reading and math specialists, media specialist, counselor, speech, resource, ESOL etc. etc.--so those services are not offered to the rest of the students during the practice testing and the real testing. Music, art and p.e. classes may also be affected. Some schools have pep rallies for the tests to try to get the kids into it--but they hate it. It's just ridiculous.

Posted by: musiclady | June 28, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

"As a parent I want to know on a regular basis how my kids are progressing or not and have my teachers take a pulse not once a year or four times a year."
Did she really say this? She only knows if her kids are progressing based on their machine-scored standardized test results? And what on earth does she mean by wanting to have "my teachers take a pulse not once a year or four times a year"? I think most teachers already use classroom assessments far more than that, and many assign nightly homework. Those don't count?

Posted by: dz159 | June 28, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Will the assessments for social studies and science, which are, in most cases, just one-semester courses at the middle school level, reflect standards met over a 4-month period instead of 8 months? How will students do on such a test if they take the class first semester but are tested towards the end of the next semester? It seems grossly unfair to the teachers and students. Are parents aware that their children so not take such courses all year long? Do residents in DC know this? No. Many science & soc studies teachers were terminated in Oct 2009, not b/c they were ineffective but b/c middle school principals & their Instructional Superintendent believed they could be sacrificed.

Posted by: wordwise1 | June 28, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

How much are you willing to bet that Kaplan testing services is one of the companies in the running to design these very tests?

Posted by: adcteacher1 | June 28, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

How much are you willing to bet that Kaplan testing services is one of the companies in the running to design these very tests?

Posted by: adcteacher1 | June 28, 2010 11:19 PM

Do you mean the Kaplan Testing Service owned by the Washington Post and MAJOR cheerleader for Chancellor Rhee's testing culture? How cynical ;-).

Posted by: mrpozzi | June 29, 2010 2:48 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: madmom1 | June 29, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I seriously think that if I were a parent in the DC district right now, I would refuse to allow my child to be tested. Children are not lab rats. They are not experiments for the latest and greatest...which will fall out of favor in the next two years. Give on set of tests in the spring; limit it to mornings on 4 or 5 days. Done. Get back to work.

Posted by: snaginc | June 29, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Maybe DCPS parents could devise a form available to all parents, to be turned into the principal and central admin that states that their child will not be present for the test, states their concern that it interferes with learning and states what alternative educational experience their child will be participating in on testing day.

Posted by: efavorite | June 29, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Question for Fenty and Gray:

Is this your vision of a high quality educational program? More testing?

Posted by: Nemessis | June 29, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Let's get down to the ugly truths about the Chancellor's use of testing and where it will lead us.

1. While a ineffective means to evaluate student achievement, it is easily understood by the public who demand results, but do not understand it's limitations.

2. The Chancellor has been able (with help from the Washington Post) to manipulate the meaning of test data which creates the illusion of progress. And each year the DC-CAS has yielded improvements that are not reflected by similar advancement in the NAEP (National) test results. Lies, dammed lies, and statistics!

3. Eliminate the necessity of having experienced master educators to coordinate staff development activities, school wide learning strategies, and staff evaluation focused on improving instruction and cultivating the leadership skills of teachers to help and coach their colleagues. Instead, less experienced administrators can use test scores to compare teacher performance within the school population, pitting teacher's interests against each other and resulting in less collaboration. Lower student scores result in "ineffective" assessments of teachers who are then terminated with cause. Administrators are also subject to similar test score related evaluation and removal.

4. Many experienced and best teachers will seek opportunities outside DCPS rather than compete with others for their jobs, as they are increasingly perceived as interchangeable parts in the business of education. This will result in a younger and less experienced teacher corps, who will be less likely to see teaching as lifelong vocation. And this has the added benefit of significantly weakening the Washington Teacher's Union.

5. The whole system will fail as teacher bonuses are scrapped by budget cuts and studies indicating their ineffectiveness; increases in test results will no longer be within the realm of belief for even the most gullible public, and cheating scandals will bring everyone into disrepute.

6. Yes. It is time to checkout 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'All the President's Men' from your local public library. Because we will certainly need more testing to see what more we can do to save our schools. And as 'Deepthroat' told the young reporter from the Washington Post, "Follow the Money." Isn't this just too perfect?

Posted by: AGAAIA | June 29, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

To AGAAIA--okay, are you the new standard bearer of conspiracy theories and corporate plots to wreck the DCPS? Have you taken over from efavorite as she prepares for the "boycott" and the "march on Washington"?

Posted by: axolotl | June 29, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Great post, AGAAIA!

Too bad we can't audit Arne Duncan's finances.

Posted by: aby1 | June 29, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Gee why would some DCPS types oppose testing? Could it be that testing uncovers incompetence?

Posted by: jy151310 | June 29, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse


People don't oppose testing. They oppose standardized testing because it takes away from classroom learning time and is not productive for grades 1-3.

Teachers and parents don't mind classroom assessments or district wide subject area tests because they are testing what is taught.

Since teachers will held accountable for these testing grades, they will only teach material on the tests.

The DCPS kids will only know how to take tests, not how to think.

I am a parent and a teacher. I care about the kids, that is why I don't feel that standardized testing is a good way to go.

It is not fair to put the students' educations on the back burner to "uncover incompetence" either.

Hire good principals and support them, support your teachers and give them time to space to help the kids.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 29, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad I retired this June, earlier than I had planned to but we are no longer educating children. Testing them to death is NOT educating them!

I have found another job. I will really miss the kids. I loved working with them. I am thinking of volunteering at a local nature center. I will have a chance to work with kids in a setting where they are still educating them!

Posted by: Jutti | June 29, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

One aspect of this initiative that no one has mentioned is that Chancellor Rhee is planning to spend money to develop tests for a curriculum that is just plain mediocre. She apparently has no interest in curriculum. Has she ever addressed the content of our pathetic DC Standards? Why waste money developing tests to assess these standards? Wouldn't it make more sense to actually take a look at the standards to figure out whether these are worth assessing? The social studies and science standards, particularly at the K-8 level are just awful -- repetitive, vague, even laughable.

Posted by: Nemessis | June 30, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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