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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chris Vance on the WASL (Part Two)

There was a Part Two to the article by Chris Vance that appeared in Crosscuts. This one is how to fix the graduation standards. He first charts what was meant to happen and then, what did happen. One paragraph caught my eye:

"This is the real crisis of accountability. Education reform was not intended to help the high achievers achieve more, it was designed to prevent at-risk kids from falling through the cracks. By setting minimum mandatory standards, we intended to prevent schools from passing on from one grade to the next kids who weren’t learning the basics and weren’t ready for post-secondary education or the workforce. Without the accountability measures called for in H.B. 1209, especially the mandatory graduation requirement, common sense and all available data indicate that practice continues today. Without clear standards and real accountability, we are failing the kids who need help the most."

I had to shake my head over the phrase "not intended to help the high achievers achieve more". No, of course, not because "those" kids will always do well. Their academic needs? Well, they're smart, they'll be okay.

I mean, he's right. Education reform was about reaching and helping at-risk students. But education itself is supposed to be for all.

Here's what he says primarily went wrong:

"Our great mistake in 1993 was allowing the Commission on Student Learning to set the bar and define the minimum graduation requirement. We felt that this task was best left to “experts” rather than 147 politicians sitting on the floor of the House and Senate. We were wrong. Reform this fundamental needs to be compelled from without, rather than evolve from within."

He also says what needs to be done:

"At the same time, the Legislature and governor need to resurrect the issue of educational deregulation and local control. If we are truly going to make the system accountable to results, rather than process, we don’t need the bureaucratic time measurements of the Basic Education Act of 1977, and we certainly don’t need to force school districts to all teach the same way."

You should read the Comments below the article. One struck me:

"I found the Vance items very interesting and well written, and the comments are as well, but I don't see any focus on the two big subjects around the water cooler of schools when WASL comes up. One is the simple fact that schools have turned largely into classes wherein the only goal is to teach to the upcoming WASL tests. There is no flex, no response to issues or needs as they arise, just a deadening emphasis on the test. Nothing else is of importance.

The other is the utter destruction of any capacity in classrooms for the inspiring teacher. SPS and Bellevue Schools are now taking total and intrusive control of the curriculum. Teachers are expected to be on the same page in all classes at all times. Teachers as professionals are not able to speed up or slow down or change direction as student needs arise. In Seattle elementary schools all math teachers are being forced to teach the same (deficient) curriculum, even when they know and can teach other approaches more effectively. Rumor has it that Bellevue teachers are running away from the district as fast as possible, the intrusion into the classroom is so offensive and depressing."

Interesting. Teachers, what do you think? I get that teachers need (and should be able) to make adjustments but I also want to know that my school is teaching in a unified manner and that the principal is able to make assessment school-wide and not just classroom by classroom.

13 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Chris Vance and his colleagues in the legislature thought the problem of poor academic achievement by at-risk students could be solved in the classroom under the current funding scheme. It can't.

The problem wasn't created at the school and it can't be fixed there without an extraordinary effort. I don't see anyone funding extraordinary effort, least of all Mr. Vance and his Republican colleagues.

The problem is in the students' homes and that's the place to fix it.

The real problem here is that a bunch of high status, affluent legislators have no idea why low-income and minority students don't achieve in school. They have no idea what these students' home lives are like. They have no idea what sort of cultural influences these students are getting.

I don't know what they thought was at the source of the problem, and I don't see them showing any effort or interest in finding out. They seemed to think that they could just set the goal and threaten the heck out of people to get them to reach it. But there is no path to the goal, the goal is unfair and unattainable, the threats are empty and they fail to motivate. Consequently the whole misguided effort is failing.

Nowhere does Mr. Vance offer any explanation for why some students fail to achieve the academic goals set by the legislature. Does he really believe that teachers or administrators are failing to do something that they should be doing? What? Does he really believe that some accountability imposed from Olympia is going to get them to do it?

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the government (which public schools are) can't fix the problems at home. Does stating that the problem needs to be fixed at home mean that you're advocating giving up?

I think educational standardization means that no intelligent professional person will want to teach. It's conceivable that we'll get better outcomes, on average, or at the bottom, if we turn teaching into an educational version of McDonald's, with procedures in place so that anyone, practically, can do the job. But, if we do, we won't attract anyone who wants to use their intelligence and creativity into the profession.

Anonymous said...

It seems to have become taboo in many circles to question what teachers do in the classroom (and how well they do it) - or to talk about "accountability" for them.

I get almost no information from my childrens (elementary school) classrooms that tells me how they're doing - no tests coming home, no quizzes, no papers, no science notebooks...

The report card (not sure what it's actually called) is virtually useless to me, especially after I found out that the principal directed all teachers to record a a measured and consistent pace toward "meets standard" across all classrooms.

Homework is assigned, but does not seem to be checked - or at least there don't seem to be consequences if it isn't done, is done incompletely or incorrectly - all onus seems to be on the parent to monitor.

And my kids are in a sought-after school.

I go on faith much of the time - and my own vague sense of what they know and where they are vis a vis both "standards" and peers. I.e., they can read, know math facts, seem to enjoy school, seem to be able to reason, and are generally empathic and socially capable - but that's about all I know.

So, if you ask me about the WASL, it may have flaws in the way it's put together (not that I would know), but it has become the only quantitative measure of how my children are doing against standards and vis a vis their grade cohort in school, district, and state - and I'm thankful for it.

I'd love to hear more teachers talk about accountability, about meaningful involvement of parents (are we really just a burden to be endured unless we're writing a check for supplies or support?), and providing quantitative information to us, each other, principals, and other public education stakeholders.

It's sad and frustrating to me that a lot of of what I see and hear from teachers is chafing at the constraints of the WASL, threatening to leave, striking, shining you on with smiles, and protests about any time requested that "exceeds the contract".

I'm sure that some of this is about pay - but I don't know, I've known a ton of people who didn't get paid what they were worth and there wasn't the timeclock orientation I see in a lot of teachers. It seems like a culture that has little threshold for accommodating or adjusting to the world outside it.

I'm sure I'll unleash the furies with this...but it's something that's on my mind a lot and these two Chris Vance articles brought it out - though I thought his perspective was much more useful for the history it provided than any analysis of the problem or potential solutions.

Charlie's response to part II was dead on and was a perspective that would have made me think more of Chris Vance's opinion if he'd said it.

Anonymous said...

PS - I do think it's crazy that if a student doesn't meet standard on the WASL in a particular subject, say, Math, (or heck, even if he DOES meet standard) his teacher can't see his test and answers - is that really true?

My understanding is that only the parent or guardian can review the test (and that's after going through a multi-step process to request the results and make an appt with the district for a supervised one-hour no-notes-or-cell-phones-allowed appt to review the test.)

Do teachers get anything that gives them more to work with (i.e., to help the student GET to standard) than "X had difficulty with parts of the test that asked him to use knowledge and skills in number sense appropriately"? Surely they must?

If not, teachers have a legitimate beef with the WASL at least in that respect. Seems pretty unfair to demand accountability for results on something they didn't design AND aren't allowed to see the detail results of.

Roy Smith said...

here goes nothing said . . . I get almost no information from my childrens (elementary school) classrooms that tells me how they're doing - no tests coming home, no quizzes, no papers, no science notebooks...

I hope this is not a typical experience. Do other parents have this sort of problem with their children's schools/teachers?

My wife and I get a lot of specific and detailed feedback from our child's teacher with regards to all aspects of her school performance, and I am quite confident that if we have further questions, they will be answered.

If you don't get good feedback regarding your child's academic performance from a school, then why is it sought after? Are the other schools even worse?

Anonymous said...

Having been in 4 Seattle public schools have found the level of feedback to vary from school to school. At AEII we received a tremendous amount of feedback, art work, class work, and a portfolio! We also received a report card with a hand written evaluation of our child. It was very human, and showed that the teacher knew our student well. At Bryant we also receive a lot of feedback, see homework regularly, and get a weekly newsletter from the teacher. This is in addition to the weekly newsletter that the school sends home connecting all of the grades and parents together as a school.
At Salmon Bay communication was awkward and unreliable (at the middle school level). However at the MS and HS level at least you have the Source (which is only as good as the teacher that updates it). But at least it gives you some way to monitor your childs assignments and grades. We now have one child at Kellogg MS in Shoreline. Communication has been excellent, and we see very challenging homework coming home every day. I have been on the whole very satisfied with communication at all schools except Salmon Bay (Middle School).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, it is true that teachers cannot see the WASL tests after the fact. What they see is probably what parents see; your child did not meet standard in section X of the math WASL. The teacher, who probably knows every student in their class and the academic abilities of those students, could probably look at a test and say, "Oh, she didn't read the question." or "Oh, that area is a problem for this student."

Teachers need this help so that they can help students. I don't know if it is a privacy issue but teachers need all the information they can get.

Charlie Mas said...

Part of the law that created the WASL - the law written by Mr. Vance and his colleagues - specifically stated that the assessment had to help teachers adjust their curriculum to address deficiencies.

From RCW 28A.655.070:

"(5)(a) The assessment system shall be designed so that the results under the assessment system are used by educators as tools to evaluate instructional practices, and to initiate appropriate educational support for students who have not mastered the essential academic learning requirements at the appropriate periods in the student's educational development."

Also from the same law:
"(7) To assist parents and teachers in their efforts to provide educational support to individual students, the superintendent of public instruction shall provide as much individual student performance information as possible within the constraints of the assessment system's item bank. The superintendent shall also provide to school districts:

(a) Information on classroom-based and other assessments that may provide additional achievement information for individual students; and

(b) A collection of diagnostic tools that educators may use to evaluate the academic status of individual students. The tools shall be designed to be inexpensive, easily administered, and quickly and easily scored, with results provided in a format that may be easily shared with parents and students.
"

Anonymous said...

"In 1998, the first year of the 10th grade test, only 51 percent passed the reading portion, 41 percent passed the writing portion, and only 33 percent passed the math test. Scores like these continued for several years."

Were half to two-thirds of the students in Seattle in 1998-early 2000s considered at-risk, with horrible home lives and no parental support? I somehow doubt it. Yeah, of course we had students in those categories, but we also had a lot more kids who had no home circumstances contributing to their failure, but who were either undereducated, or falling foul of a poorly written test, or both.

Helen Schinske

Dan Dempsey said...

Charlie Mas posted:

From RCW 28A.655.070:

"(5)(a) The assessment system shall be designed so that the results under the assessment system are used by educators as tools to evaluate instructional practices, and to initiate appropriate educational support for students who have not mastered the essential academic learning requirements at the appropriate periods in the student's educational development."

Also from the same law:
"(7) To assist parents and teachers in their efforts to provide educational support to individual students, the superintendent of public instruction shall provide as much individual student performance information as possible within the constraints of the assessment system's item bank. The superintendent shall also provide to school districts:

(a) Information on classroom-based and other assessments that may provide additional achievement information for individual students; and

(b) A collection of diagnostic tools that educators may use to evaluate the academic status of individual students. The tools shall be designed to be inexpensive, easily administered, and quickly and easily scored, with results provided in a format that may be easily shared with parents and students."

----------------------------
Dan says:

If you read the Washington State Institute for Public Policy's WASL 2006 Interim Report by Wade Cole and Robert Barnofski, you will come to the conclusion that this is definitely a shut out and close to a no-hitter.

Expensive, unrelable strand data in Reading and math unsuitable for diagnostic purposes. Results come back so long after testing, its lunacy.

Look at the MAP test which was piloted in Richland and 6 other districts and has been used for several years in Highline SD. Now there is a test that does what the legislature says is needed.

DR. Bergeson did not submit the MAP for peer-review by the feds so the MAP will not be able to be used for NCLB. It looks like TB is more interested in maintaining control of the empire than satisfying the legislature's requirements.

Where have the Investigative Journalists gone? -- Is Dan Rather correct?

Dan

Dan Dempsey said...

Helen,

The WASL reading scores rose substantially from 1999-2005 while ITBS reading remained constant. I would say that it is very likely the WASL reading test got easier.
-----------
For Math
The achieve document tells us that:

Achieve did a comparison of six state tests and the WASL. The comparison states were Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas. The WASL came out pretty low.

Some of the things they said are listed below……You can find the whole report at:

http://www.k12. wa.us/research/ pubdocs/pdf/ achieve-WA_ final.pdf

The WASL emphasizes pre-algebra over more advanced algebra.

the WASL has a significantly greater proportion (86 percent) of its algebra points attributable to items that assess prealgebra concepts. Only 14 percent of the algebra points on the WASL are attributable to items that assess basic algebra skills,

…..the WASL measures mathematics concepts students in other countries study prior to high school.

The majority of points on the WASL mathematics test are attributable to items that are at the middle to lower end of the cognitive continuum.

------------------
Seattle is very confused in Math because of poorly chosen curriculum and extremely poor leadership under Math Program Manager Rosalind Wise.

At this time even though major changes are needed that appears very unlikely.

Dan

Anonymous said...

the data math teachers get is vague. try mapping the data to the morass of gle's and whatever curriculum your district uses and doing a unique full year lesson plan for 150 kids.

Teaching 150+/- high school and middle school kids is significantly different than only teaching 25 or 35 kids. The system perpetuates some kind of leave it to beaver myth and paradigm so that teachers take the blame for systemic failures that dump social work and pyychological needs on the teacher.
Calls home average 10 mins, if you properly document the call or the inevitable CYA conferences. Teachers have time for 15 to 35 phone calls each day, at appx. 10 mins each, to play social worker / psychologist? What about the 135 to 115 kids who show up everyday and who are trying to learn? Do they deserve anything? I know plenty of teachers who work 50+ or 60+ hours a week, and at some point your productivity declines, just like anyone in any job. Teachers should spend those hours at the margin attempting to fix 15 or 35 'families' because that is what they, supposedly, did on leave it to beaver?

I guess it makes more sense to watch movies about the teacher who, obviously, cares, since all 150 kids have everything they need whenever they need it. Obviously, if all 150 kids of each teacher don't have all that each kid needs when they need it, the teacher doesn't care.

I love ideas where people just wave their hands and don't spend any time figuring out how much time their ideas cost.

finally, about Mr. Vance. As someone who has relied on / used community hand ups to pull myself up at different times in decades since Reagun's robber barons, people forget that many of those who use government don't have the money to do something themselves, or, they would. frequently they don't have the money they might have earned and saved due to crooked rules and crooked laws written for the benefit of Mr. Vance's cronies by Mr. Vance's cronies. As someone who has had the misfortune / good fortune of relying on government (the community) before, I completely distrust anything Mr. Vance says that he and his cronies are supposedly doing for the benefit of those his cronies work tirelessy to cheat.

equinox lover.

Dan Dempsey said...

equinox lover,

You clearly think that the teacher influences what can be learned in the classroom and that the classroom composition is affected by many factors outside the teachers control. I agree.

Given the little time ever devoted at school board meetings focused on supporting teachers in the classroom in ways that teachers deem effective, rather than more nonsense forced on teachers by autocratic administration, little if any improvement happens in many areas.

I forgot (Oh no exception) - administrative salaries have increased.

Is there much hope for positive change on the horizon under Dr. G-J?

Looks like she belives one size fits all given the huge uniformity ideas she pushes, so I would say not much hope.

I do expect the marketing spin about how well things are going to continue.

Dan