Testing News

Update: some common sense from one of my favorite education writers, Jersey Jazzman, and his "The PARCC Silly Season.

end of update

It's just hard to know where to start.

First, the new thought from ed reformers is that parents just don't understand what they are doing when they opt their children out.  Thanks for patronizing them as if they are not thinking adults.  There are also new pro-testing groups springing up and many of them are funded by the Gates Foundation.  It's the same thing, over and over, with the Foundation. Create faux parent groups, data use groups and even media groups. 

- You'll hurt your school/district if you don't test.  Your child isn't in school for anyone's data point.  Also, despite the 95% performance rate for federal funds, there has not been a district or state punished for falling below this rate.  It would appear to be a lot of saber-rattling because the feds know who they would hurt - at-risk, minority children.

- It's just "white suburban parents" who are just doing this on a whim and hurting minority students.  Or, it may be that questioning these tests may have just started in one area and is spreading.  From Carol Burris writing in the Washington Post:
There is also evidence that the Opt Out movement is gaining ground with parents of color, with many no longer willing to buy the spin that taking Common Core tests will improve their children’s life chances.
Ninety-seven percent of the more than 1,000 students who attend Westbury Middle School in Nassau County are black or Latino, and  81 percent are economically disadvantaged.  On Tuesday, 50 percent of those students were opted out of the tests by their parents. Last year, the number was 2 percent.
- As a parent, you won't know how your child is doing.  Again, if you believe in your child's teacher, you will know how your child is doing, sooner and in more detail.

- "We won't know who to help or pinpoint what they need."  This is probably the most specious argument out there.  Ask any principal or teacher in a school and they will tell you who needs what kind of help or support.
From Diane Ravitch:
The Maryland State Board of Education voted to make PARCC the state’s high school graduation test. The passing score now will be a 3 on a scale of 1-5, but it will rise to a 4 in four years.
Meanwhile the State Commissioner of Education on Rhode Island, Ken Wagner, decided to drop PARCC as a graduation requirement because he knew the failure rate would be staggering. He said he didn’t want to penalize students for the system’s “failure to get them to high standards.
Nobody mentioned that PARCC’s passing score is absurdly high and will never be reached by about half of all students.
You do realize that as more and more students don't pass these tests that ed reformers will cry out how terrible traditional schools are and we need more charter schools or vouchers, right?  Make traditional schools look as bad as you can (see Mayor Emanuel in Chicago) and you can even close them.

From the Washington Post on the latest NAEP scores (not good):
The nation’s high school seniors have shown no improvement in reading achievement and their math performance has slipped since 2013, according to the results of a test administered by the federal government last year.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also show a longer-term stagnation in 12th-grade performance in U.S. public and private schools: Scores on the 2015 reading test have dropped five points since 1992, the earliest year with comparable scores, and are unchanged in math during the past decade.
Eighty-two percent of high school seniors graduated on time in 2014, but the 2015 test results suggest that just 37 percent of seniors are academically prepared for college course­work in math and reading — meaning many seniors would have to take remedial classes if going on to college.
Results for fourth- and eighth-graders on the 2015 tests were announced in October. Like high school seniors, the younger students demonstrated lower performance in math compared with 2013. Reading performance dropped for eighth-graders and was flat for fourth-graders.
From Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, some pretty disturbing news from members around the country.

In California, a parent reports that the principal wants to meet one-on-one with every student who is not taking the SBAC.  The parent asks if she should allow it or if it is even legal?  Most of us say it is legal to talk to the child without the parent.  However, why didn't the principal tell parents; it seems like an intimidation measure.
The admin told the child, when turning in the form, that a meeting with the principal was REQUIRED to opt out.
This parent goes on to report:
Last time I heard of this, the Principal pulled the student out of a class the next day and had the child sent to a data room where the child was directed to take the "www.PearsonClinical.com" evaluation to provide a personality profile.   
Why?  Because said they were unchallenged in a 15 hour coloring assignment in 9th grade English and sought a more challenging curriculum. 
Again, I wouldn't allow my child to take any "clinical" survey that I had not viewed.  And coloring for days on end? Well, it's not the worst thing you could do to a high school student but it is baffling why administrators wouldn't want those kids working on assignments or reading.

Yet another parent chimed in with a story (also in California):
On a brighter note, I was called into a top administrator's office at the district yesterday after he read my interview with the students at one high school who started an opt out campaign there. 
 He told me that he contacted the legal department and is working with the principal's boss (we have lots of layers in our huge district) to make sure she knows what she can and cannot do. He said she will certainly be instructed to stop denying students letters of recommendation because they opt out. He also said "we're helping her engage those students. They're learning about democracy, after all". Of course, this does not address the tests, but I was pleased with his approach.
 Suggestions from a New York parent:
But here in NYS, we rely on U.S. Supreme Court cases that discuss the parent's right to rear and raise and educate a child. I also quote a case from the NY Court of Appeals that pretty much says it's a parent's natural and legal right -- and legal obligation -- to protect the child from governmental harm.

And, when all else fails, I tell parents to force the school/administrator to come up with the law that allows them to do what they are purporting they are allowed to do. To an administrator they fail at this task and then back down.


Anonymous said…
"Ask any principal or teacher in a school and they will tell you who needs what kind of help or support. "

Is this your comment Westbrook? If so, then it just magnifies your lack of personal experience with SPS classrooms.

There are few newly trained teachers with the skills to sort out when students are struggling. Standardize assessments when properly designed will allow institutions to see which teachers, schools or districts need supports.

The which hunt against testing is not helping solve the problems.

Mad House
Mad House, since when are standardized assessments ever actually used to help instruction? That's the claim defenders make, but in reality, teachers don't see those scores until after the school year is over. And because the tests aren't made by the teachers themselves - and often test on topics the teacher never taught - it's not clear how exactly the teachers can use them to help a student anyway.

As far as anyone can tell, the purpose of these tests is the following:

• Make money for private companies like Pearson
• Create justifications to fire teachers and privatize schools
• Create reasons to eliminate specialized instruction, arts and music programs, recess, and so on
• Teach kids that their value is determined by their test score, not by any other part of their humanity

It's possible that there is a standardized test that can help teachers address student needs. But to get there, test promoters would have to first acknowledge there are problems with the tests, that parents have legitimate concerns, and that threats and coercion are the wrong response to the opt-out movement.
WS Mom said…
"- As a parent, you won't know how your child is doing. Again, if you believe in your child's teacher, you will know how your child is doing, sooner and in more detail."

I find this one funny because last year I ended up letting my K child take the MAP. Funny thing is I never got anything about the scores or how to access them.

I do know now that the scores are located in The Source but as a K parent last year I never bothered getting myself an account as everyone said it's pretty much just for grades and assignments in upper grades. And two most of the younger parents don't even know it exists let alone what it's for.

Anonymous said…
"when properly designed" is the key.

The system needs to be properly designed not just the assessment test. I should have make that clear. I'm not condoning the current system at all. We found various testing results information useful and important, you might not.

Mad House
Po3 said…
"Standardize assessments when properly designed will allow institutions to see which teachers, schools or districts need supports."

Nail on head Mad dog!

And that is something lacking in SPS and parents know it and are opting out of these poorly designed tests that offer no information to help effectively help their students because...

We do not send our children to school to be used as data points.
Po3 said…
Sorry, meant to say Mad House, not Mad Dog..

working while commenting, never a good combo!
Chris S. said…

from soup for teachers FB:
OMG this person is almost as awesome as Charlie!
Anonymous said…
Melissa wrote "Again, if you believe in your child's teacher, you will know how your child is doing, sooner and in more detail."

About 25% of college freshman need to take remedial coursework. Is that because their parents didn't believe in their child's teacher?

It's not hard to find people who graduated high school with As, and discovered in college that they really didn't learn what they needed to.

Outsider said…
If your student is smart and capable of working above grade level, an SPS teacher usually will not tell you that. We put our son through AL testing this year, but certainly not because any teacher said it was a good idea. They said nothing. We did it because his MAP scores in kindergarten seemed to qualify for Spectrum.

Ironically, standardized testing might be most useful for parents of the brighter students, not the struggling students they are alleged to help.

I would agree that: tests can be good or bad; bad tests are bad; the recent smelly history of standardized testing in US schools would give parents no confidence that tests currently used are good; using corporate tests to grant high school diplomas is ridiculous; the corporate profiteering in American education is shameful; and that test results are not the business of any corporation. But for all that, I suspect that MAP tests are more informative than the teacher regarding my son's progress. I wish the process was more transparent, but when is anything transparent at SPS.
Mad House, naturally, there will be a small number of new teachers that may not be seasoned. (And did you mean "witch hunt? For a witch hunt you actually need someone who is wronged and if you mean Pearson,hand me a torch.)

I've met Jersey Jazzman and yes, wonderful writing.

Well, Lisa, high school is a different thing. I note that the testing is grades 3-8 and one grade in high school. You certainly know your child's teacher better in the lower grades. It's tougher in high school. But if the test is so helpful, how come all those kids pass high school?

Something's wrong with test if that's happening (it's not the whole reason but part of it.)
Po3 said…
If nearly 85% of 10th graders can pass a Math EOC, then why are 25% not ready to take on college math?
If 80% can pass the 10th-grade state reading test, then why are 25% not ready to take on college English?

Where does this disconnect occur?
Anonymous said…
Po3, thanks for clarifying that the topic had switched from SBAC/PARCC tests to WA end of course tests.

The answer for math could be that a lot of colleges expect more than algebra I and geometry. Or it could be that the WA test has a low criteria for passing. Only about 40% of WA 8th graders have a passing NAEP score. About 25% are below basic which is likely to be students who do not go to college, which leaves 35% at basic which is probably supplying the 25% of college freshmen who need remedial courses.

I would guess the "disconnect" is mostly school districts and state boards of education having expectations for classes that are a little bit lower than they need to be to prepare students for college. Dan Dempsey, who comments on this blog, likes to point out how H.S. graduation rates are going up, but other indicators of math learning are unchanged.

Patrick said…
Or the students just barely pass their math EOC and state reading tests in 10th grade, and then don't use their skills for the next three years and forget what they learned.

Po3 said…
Lisa G. EOC and HSPE tests are the last data point for HS. Which leads me to another problem: the tests are changed so often that we end up with apples to oranges and never know what is working for (or against our children) when looking at standardized tests.

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mad House, you are welcome to reprint what you have written but we don't call names here.

I may not out of touch with day to day but I do know that most of SPS administrations do NOT acquiesce to new curriculum. Testing is another thing and certainly the issue of who makes money off of what is always valid.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Readers, our comment policy is fairly simple and I am not sure why this is difficult. But we have one just as much for moderators as for readers. It has very little to do with what you write except for the understanding that we don't attack kids, we don't name-call, defame, swear - things that make for civil discourse.
Anonymous said…
The Jersey Jazzman post is ridiculously funny. He clearly has no idea that there is a difference between norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. Not all standardized tests are "normed" and not all scores are distributed along a "normal" bell curve. PARCC and SBAC tests are criterion-referenced tests.

It's always amazing to me that people will so boldly put their ignorance on display.

--- aka
Duke said…
Dear Anonymous:

JJ, aka Mark Weber here. Melissa alerted me to your comment, and I thought I'd come over and respond.

I remember taking assessment and testing back in when I got my second masters. And we learned exactly what you say here: there are "criterion" and "norm" based assessments.

I've since come to see that while there is some utility in this view, it's actually quite unsophisticated. I suggest Daniel Koretz for some reading on the topic:


"Standards-based assessments are now in vogue, and disparagement of norm-referenced tests is commonplace. Much of the debate about these terms, however, is misleading. The differences between standards-based and other assessments are often greatly overstated."


"Indeed, it makes sense to use these forms of reporting together. For example, while it may be useful to set performance standards, it is not helpful to set them in a vacuum. It helps no one, for example, to tell a group of eighth-grade track team members that this year’s standard is a three-minute mile, and an end-of-year test that showed that all students failed to reach this standard would be foolish and uninformative. Any sensible coach would take norm-referenced information—information about the distribution of performance among eighth-grade athletes—into account when setting performance goals. Educational testing is no different. If we set performance standards so high, for example, that few students in even the highest-performing countries can meet them, we are probably accomplishing nothing."

Check out Koretz's book for more -- it's really good.

You'll also notice I never said the PARCC was norm-referenced, largely because I think the term doesn't help illuminate the issue much. I said it yields a normal distribution of scores. Do you deny this? Are my graphs wrong?

Here's a graph straight from the NjDOE:


Are they "boldly putting their ignorance on display"?

If raw scores are sufficiently varied, you can distribute scale scores pretty much however you want. The scale scores on the PARCC are more or less normal. Are you denying this?
Anonymous said…
Po3 said: If nearly 85% of 10th graders can pass a Math EOC, then why are 25% not ready to take on college math?
If 80% can pass the 10th-grade state reading test, then why are 25% not ready to take on college English? Where does this disconnect occur?

Part of the disconnect is that our state is happy to graduate students that aren't college ready.

For example, a level 3 score on the SBAC is supposed to represent career and college readiness, but if the State Board of Ed had required level 3 scores or higher for graduation, we'd have too many kids not graduating. So, they decided that a mid-level 2 score is

Good Enough

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