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PLEASE : NO FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS It is now after 2PM. This has had its run in the recommended box. Leave room for other diaries.
One unavoidable issue when discussing education is that of Assessment, which unfortunately is usually listed to testing, although it could include portfolios, performance exercises, and other measures.  The new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) requires as a condition of the receipt of Federal aid testing of all children in grades 3-8 in math and reading, with all kinds of additional requirements in testing.  While some testing as a measure of school performance has been required in 10th grade (largely because that is what Texas had done), we now see moves to further expand high school testing.

Today's diary will offer a quite negative evaluation on how we are doing our assessments, written by one of America's great experts on the subject.

The article from which the material in blockquote is selected, entitled "F for Assessment" was written by W. James Popham, who started his career as a high school teacher in Oregon, and is professor  emeritus at the University of California- Los Angeles School of Education and Information Studies. Author of 25 books, he is a former president of the American Educational Research Association, which with tens of thousands of members is the preeminent professional association for those who do research on educational issues.  The article appears in the current issue of Edutopia, a magazine produced by The George Lucas Educational Foundation, and is available for free both in print and on-line.  The Foundation makes available a variety of resources for free at its website, and I urge anyone interested in education to take the time to explore.

What follows are selected passages from the Popham article.  I also urge those reading this to go and read the entire article, which can be found here in html, and which will also provide a link to download it as a PDF.

The article begins with a very blunt statement:


by W. James  Popham

For the last four decades, students' scores on standardized tests have increasingly been regarded as the most meaningful evidence for evaluating U.S. schools. Most Americans, indeed, believe students' standardized test performances are the only legitimate indicator of a school's instructional effectiveness. Yet, although test-based evaluations of schools seem to occur almost as often as fire drills, in most instances these evaluations are inaccurate. That's because the standardized tests employed are flat-out wrong.  

Popham notes the prevalence of the current style of tests goes back to the first major Federal expenditures of funds on education in 1965, which required some form of assessment to prove the moneys provided were being "well-spent".  He then offers the following:

But how, you might ask, could a practice that's been so prevalent for so long be mistaken? Just think back to the many years we forced airline attendants and nonsmokers to suck in secondhand toxins because smoking on airliners was prohibited only during takeoff and landing. Some screwups can linger for a long time. But mistakes, even ones we've lived with for decades, can often be corrected once they've been identified, and that's what we must do to halt today's wrongheaded school evaluations. If enough educators -- and noneducators -- realize that there are serious flaws in the way we evaluate our schools, and that those flaws erode educational quality, there's a chance we can stop this absurdity  

Popham then proceeds to offer definitions of key terms.  He begins by defining a "standardized test"

any test that's administered, scored, and interpreted in a standard, predetermined manner. Standardized aptitude tests are designed to make predictions about how a test taker will perform in a subsequent setting  
and notes how SAT and ACT exams are the primary example of this.  He immediately warns that
Although students' scores on standardized aptitude tests are sometimes unwisely stirred into the school-evaluation stew, scores on standardized achievement tests are typically the ones used to judge a school's success.  

Popham gives two examples the kinds of test "ill-suited" for such purposes.  The first is standardized achievement tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills which use a comparative measurement strategy, comparing the score of the individual test taker against those of some predetermined norm group.  Popham gives a clear explanation of what this means,  Note especially what I have placed in bold in the second paragraph of what immediately follows:

Because of the need for nationally standardized achievement tests to provide fine-grained, percentile-by-percentile comparisons, it is imperative that these tests produce a considerable degree of score-spread -- in other words, plenty of differences among test takers' scores. So producing score-spread often preoccupies those who construct standardized achievement tests.

Statistically, a question that creates the most score-spread on standardized achievement tests is one that only about half the students answer correctly. Over the years, developers of standardized achievement tests have learned that if they can link students' success on a question to students' socioeconomic status (SES), then that item is usually answered correctly by about half of the test takers. If an item is answered correctly more often by students at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale than by lower-SES kids, that question will provide plenty of score-spread. After all, SES is a delightfully spread-out variable and one that isn't quickly altered. As a result, in today's nationally standardized achievement tests, there are many SES-linked items.  

We have now been confronted with an important reality:  that much of what the most commonly used tests are really measuring is neither innate ability nor what has been learned, but rather the socio-economic status, SES, of the students sitting for the exam.   As Popham bluntly notes (and the emphasis in the final sentence is mine):

Unfortunately, this kind of test tends to measure not what students have been taught in school but what they bring to school. That's the reason there's such a strong relationship between a school's standardized-test scores and the economic and social makeup of that school's student body. As a consequence, most nationally standardized achievement tests end up being instructionally insensitive. That is, they're unable to detect improved instruction in a school even when it has definitely taken place. Because of this insensitivity, when students' scores on such tests are used to evaluate a school's instructional performance, that evaluation usually misses the mark.  

The second category of tests is those developed to measure mastery of officially approved lists of skill and contents, also referred to as goals or content aims, and commonly called content standards.  Many statewide tests such as those in Florida fall into this category.  This category is generally described as "standards based."  

Let me simply offer without content Popham's next two paragraphs:

Because these customized standards-based tests were designed (almost always with the assistance of an external test-development contractor) to be aligned with a state's curricular aspirations, it would seem that they would be ideal for appraising a school's quality. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works out. When a state's education officials decide to identify the skills and knowledge that students should master, the typical procedure for doing so hinges on the recommendations of  subject-matter specialists from that state. For example, if authorities in Ohio or New Mexico want to identify their state's official content standards for mathematics, then a group of, say, 30 math teachers, mathcurriculum consultants, and university math professors are invited to form a statewide content-standards committee. Typically, when these committees attempt to identify the skills and knowledge the students should master, their recommendation -- not surprisingly -- is that students should master everything. These committees seem bent on identifying skills that they fervently wish students would possess. Regrettably, the resultant litanies of committee-chosen content standards tend to resemble curricular wish lists rather than realistic targets.

Whether or not the targets make sense, there tend to be a lot of them, and the effect is counterproductive. A state's standardsbased tests are intended to evaluate schools based on students' test performances, but teachers soon become overwhelmed by too many targets. Educators must guess about which of this multitude of content standards will actually be assessed on a given year's test. Moreover, because there are so many content standards to be assessed and only limited testing time, it is impossible to report any meaningful results about which content standards have and haven't been mastered.  

Popham then notes that since it becomes impossible to properly cover all of the standards in the class time available that teachers begin to increasingly pay less attention both to the standards and to the test, with result being

students' performances on this type of instructionally insensitive test often become dependent upon the very same SES factors that compromise the utility of nationally standardized achievement tests when used for school evaluation.  

Now that he has provided the background, Popham goes on to examine what appears under the subtitled of "Wrong Tests, Wrong Consequences:

Bad things happen when schools are evaluated using either of these two types of instructionally insensitive tests. This is particularly true when the importance of a school evaluation is substantial, as it is now. All of the nation's public schools are evaluated annually under the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Not only are the results of the NCLB school-by-school evaluations widely disseminated, there are also penalties for schools that receive NCLB funds yet fail to make sufficient test-based progress. These schools are placed on an improvement track that can soon "improve" them into nonexistence. Educators in America's public schools obviously are under tremendous pressure to improve their students' scores on whatever NCLB tests their state has chosen.  

 But, as Popham notes. with few exceptions all of the testing regimes currently being used by the states fall into one of the two categories above.  He then describes the 3 "adverse classroom consequences" which he considers an inevitable outcome of such an approach.   Let's go through these one at a time.:


* Curricular reductionism.
In an effort to boost their students' NCLB test scores, many teachers jettison curricular content that -- albeit important -- is not apt to be covered on an upcoming test. As a result, students end up educationally shortchanged.  

For this we can note that in some cases people have tried to force precisely this outcome.  Thus we saw the state school board in Kansas remove evolution from the testable content, thereby hoping to pressure teachers not to cover it in their instruction, since to do so might adversely effect test scores that would not include such material.   Fortunately this created such a backlash that the newly elected replacement members were able to reverse this decision.


* Excessive drilling.
Because it is essentially impossible to raise students' scores on instructionally insensitive tests, many teachers -- in desperation -- require seemingly endless practice with items similar to those on an approaching accountability test. This dreary drilling often stamps out any genuine joy students might (and should) experience while they learn.  
 When people refer to "drill and kill" this is what they mean.  If your child seems to spend an excessive amount of time on worksheets, on practice items for such a test, this is what you are seeing.

The third consequence:

* Modeled dishonesty.
Some teachers, frustrated by being asked to raise scores on tests deliberately designed to preclude such score raising, may be tempted to adopt unethical practices during the administration or scoring of accountability tests. Students learn that whenever the stakes are high enough, the teacher thinks it's OK to cheat. This is a lesson that should never be taught.  
 Please note, these remarks do not mean that either Popham nor any other opponent of such tests believes that this consequence is justifiable behavior.  We are pointing out that when the stakes become high enough, including things like job security and bonuses, we are likely to see this behavior with greater frequency.  Those who pay attention have in fact seen an icnrease of stories about precisely this kind of behavior, and not just in failling inner city schools.  Because the requirements under NCLB to show Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) in all disaggregated subgroups, we have seen examples in high performing schools in places like Montgomery County Maryland.

Popham believes that things do not have to be this way.  He offers three attributes offered in 2001 by an important national group, before the adoption of NCLB, that should be part of an "instructionally supportive" test:

* A modest number of supersignificant curricular aims.
To avoid overwhelming teachers and students with daunting lists of curricular targets, an instructionally supportive accountability test should measure students' mastery of only an intellectually manageable number of curricular aims, more like a half-dozen than the 50 or so that a teacher may encounter today. However, because fewer curricular benchmarks are to be measured, they must be truly significant.

* Lucid descriptions of aims.
An instructionally helpful test must be accompanied by clear, concise, and teacherpalatable descriptions of each curricular aim to be assessed. With clear descriptions, teachers can direct their instruction toward promoting students' mastery of skills and knowledge rather than toward getting students to come up with correct answers to particular test items.

* Instructionally useful reports.
Because an accountability test that supports teaching is focused on only a very limited number of challenging curricular aims, a student's mastery of each subject can be meaningfully measured, letting teachers determine how effective their instruction has been. Students and their parents can also benefit from such informative reports.  

Popham states that a test based on such principles will accurately evaluate schools and (what I consider of AT LEAST equal importance) improve instruction.  He notes that Wyoming already has such a testing scheme (congratulation btw to any "cowboys" reading this), and urges other states to follow their example.

One question I have often been asked as a result of the various education diaries I have posted is "what can I do?"  Popham offers an answer that I hope readers will find useful.   It is with this that I will conclude:

If you want to be part of the solution to this situation, it's imperative to learn all you can about educational testing. Then learn some more. For all its importance, educational testing really isn't particularly complicated, because its fundamentals consist of commonsense ideas, not numerical obscurities. You'll not only understand better what's going on in the current mismeasurement of school quality, you'll also be able to explain it to others. And those "others," ideally, will be school board members, legislators, and concerned citizens who might, in turn, make a difference. Simply hop on the Internet or head to your local library and hunt down an introductory book or two about educational assessment. (I've written several such books that, though not as engaging as a crackling good spy thriller, really aren't intimidating.)

With a better understanding of why it is so inane -- and destructive -- to evaluate schools using students' scores on the wrong species of standardized tests, you can persuade anyone who'll listen that policy makers need to make better choices. Our 40-year saga of unsound school evaluation needs to end. Now.  

Originally posted to teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 05:24 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  PLEASE recommend and keep visible (4.00)
    This is the last in this weekend's series of diaries on education.

    If you missed the others, they were
    1) Saving Public Education - Saving Democracy posted on Friday,


    2)  Education and "The Mighty Wurlitzer"

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 05:24:47 AM PDT

    •  well, I think I see a pattern here (none)
      this diary is really hitting some buttons, so that we ae seeing some pointed comments.

      But although inspired enough to compose effective comments, the same people are not taking the time to recommend.  That of course it thier prerogative.  What it does mean is that others become less likely to see this diary, and it will scroll to oblivion.  That also means the very good comments will also not be seen.

      Oh well.  I never know what diaries will make it upt to the list, and which won't.  I am grateful for whatever purpose this may serve.

      Have a nice day, all.  And if you have not done so already, be sure to move your clocks ahead.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 05:56:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  As I posted in response to an earlier diary (none)
        I am very involved in the schools here in Florida.  One of the most disturbing lessons I have learned during this involvement is that MOST teachers have trouble writing simple sentences.

        I get correspondence from administrators and others here in Tampa, and they are always strewn with typos. At bottom this is a sign that serious teaching of the basics (how to write English) simply isn't happening.

        I am skeptical that testing is the right way to fix this.  But you know what - I haven't heard a decent alternative.  Frankly what I hear are excuses and lowered expectations.

        And at the end of the day I cringe at the amount of teaching I have to do with my child.  

        •  I can be prone to typos (none)
          because I am dyslexic   I try to use tools such as spell checkers where possible, but they are not infallible.  I had one reader on this thread criticize me for typos  -- I went back and think in my words, reading very slowly, I had 5, which I have now fixed.

          I recognize that anything I send whom to paretns needs careful checking, which is why my professional editor wife checks those for me.

          I will note that I have seen published screed about typos and grammar which themselves have exemplars of that which they contain.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:44:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Know that problem well! (none)
            My daughter is dyslexic too and editing is very painful and slow for her. She will always need a third-party editor to be productive. But no matter, her thinking, like yours is most often more incisive than that of the pedant.  

            Keep writing and copiously! I can edit in my mind more quickly and easily than you can. But it would take me weeks to assemble the analysis that you have in any one of your diaries.

            "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case." - Ken Kesey

            by Glinda on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 01:44:52 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  For the record (none)
            I don't care about typos in diaries.  I make them all the time.  The typos in your diary had nothing to do with my response (I made a similar observation in a previous comment to another of your diaries).

            If it came across as personal - then I was wrong.  I like reading your stuff.

            My point is I see them made in FORMAL communications with parents.  And I see more than typos - I see basic errors in grammar.

        •  oops your eyes are better than mine (none)
          I've gone through it several more times, and found a few more than I had before.  These too are now fixed.

          Perhaps I will have to reread more times than I have, and/or do my composing in a program that allows spellchecking.  Of course, that is difficult when it attempts to flag all the html code, but the end result would probably be easier on the reader, and not provoke comments such as yours.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:37:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  And now to suggest (none)
        that some people have the temerity to comment but not recommend?  How dare they?  


        On the road to broken promised land. ~M. Sexton

        by GOTV on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:41:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't object to it in principle (none)
          but sometimes when I see comments that basically are commend the article highly, I wonder if they realize that to keep the diary visible, and to keep their often worthwhile comments also visible, it may be necessary to recommend the diary.  Even if it does not make it to the box of 8 (and I certainly don't think all of mine should), it will tehn be more likely to appear on the list in the posting about the recommended diaries for that day, which gives readers another chance to check it out.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:46:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, come on now (3.00)
            Why not let people react as they see fit, without prompting them to do so?  Let's not be so condescending as to believe that you must instruct others on how to use this site.  As I said, let your work rise or fall on its own merit.  


            On the road to broken promised land. ~M. Sexton

            by GOTV on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:52:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you, teacherken! (none)
        I really enjoy your diaries, and I know you have the heart and mind of a true teacher.  I appreciate the efforts you continually make to address issues that affect our nation's school children.  The typos don't bother me, when I understand that time is of the essence.  If only there were a teacherken in every classroom.  Keep it up!

        I *gladly* donated to ePluribus Media. Support citizen journalism!

        by nancelot on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:41:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would NOT want my clones in all classrooms (none)
          because I am NOT the right teacher for every student.  Nor do I believe that the way I approach instruction or manage a class is the right way for everyone.

          At least at the 14-18 year old level I usually teach, the most improtant single thing  - beside knowing your material and having some idea of how to communicate in terms that the age group before you can understand -- is to be genuine.  Adolescents seemingly have an unerring ability to detect when someone is NOT being real with them, and woe be unto the teacher who comes with an artificial teacher mode of relating.  They aer struggling to dtermine who they are, and it does not help them to be confront with adults unwilling to be who THEY are.

          Nor do I think that every teacher needs to wrestle with these policy issues the way I do.  

          I would grant that you need to care not only about your subject, but also about your students.   You have to listen to what they are telling you, not only with their words, but with their eyes, their faces, their bodies.  You have to be willing to let go of authority and power in order to help them to develop the self-discipline they need to be successful.  I am demanding, but I explain my demands.   They may not understand the explanation, but that I take the time and offer the trust to make the effort perhaps makes them a bit more willing to trust me.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:53:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Call me out of line, (none)
      But I'm really getting to resent that every one of your diaries carries the immediate plea to recommend it, lest it wither away.  What about letting the thing rise (or fall) on its own merit?  Frankly, I would think that to be more satisfying.  

      On the road to broken promised land. ~M. Sexton

      by GOTV on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:39:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  every one of mine does not (none)
        sometimes I put out no comment at all.  For others I put out a normal mojo mug, letting readers react any way they want.

        And when a diary has been up for a while, I am also known to repost with a comment in bold not to recommend further, that it has had enough play.

        I have put the request in on several diaries on education because they containt content that is NOT BY ME, but I think is important for people to see.

        I hope that explains my practice.

        For what it is worth, I have had somewhat more time to seek out and then turn into diaries in the past 10 days because I have not been teaching.

        Today's was the last of a recent series, and I don't expect to be posting as frequently.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:50:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Keep up the GREAT work Teacherken (none)
          You're damned right about pushing your diaries
          to recommended.

          There are some real snipers here of late.

          I've seen them go in and carp and snipe people
          away from this blog.

          Real brutal shit.
          I'm convinced there's a large troll embed.

          No, I'm not accusing anyone here of being a
          Troll, but the incessant scoldings going on
          are getting out of hand.

      •  This has crossed my mind, also. (none)
        I haven't said anything because I feel the issue warrants pleas for attention.  

        However, I do think your diaries, TeacherKen,   stand on thier own merits.   No need for the nudges, really.  

        You have a following here at Kos.  Those of us who look for your posts are most likely to see the pattern and get turned off by it.

        here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

        by tepster on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:51:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yup (none)
          You have a following here at Kos.  Those of us who look for your posts are most likely to see the pattern and get turned off by it.

          I look forward to teacherken's diaries, but I am getting tired of it- to the point where I don't want to participate.  

      •  GOTV. It's a non issue (none)
        If you don't like reading tk's diaries on education, go somewhere else.

        Infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the advocates of truth and justice... Robert Ingersol

        by BMarshall on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 12:45:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  something that may be of interest (none)
      but not worthy of its own diary is a new piece of research.  I am pasting below the entire email which notified me about it.


      The Education Policy Analysis Archives is an
      open access peer-reviewed scholarly journal
      published on the internet at .

      EPAA has just published Volume 13 Number 24.

      The article can be accessed directly from the
      Recent Articles listing at the journal homepage: An abstract follows:

                The No Child Left Behind Act and the
                 Legacy of Federal Aid to Education

                         Lee W. Anderson

      The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) builds on a tradition of gradually increasing federal involvement in the nation's public school systems. NCLB both resembles and differs from earlier federal education laws. Over the past five decades, conservatives in Congress softened their objections to the principle of federal aid to schools and liberals downplayed fears about the unintended consequences of increased federal involvement. The belief in limited federal involvement in education has been replaced by the presumption by many legislators that past federal investments justify imposing high stakes accountability requirements on schools.

      Citation: Anderson, L. W. (2005, April 4). The No Child Left Behind Act and the legacy of federal aid to education.  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(24). Retrieved [date] from .

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 03:07:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a tremendous wedge issue (4.00)
    which has not been exploited adequately.

    I have a Ph.D. in psychometrics, and am running for school board in my local area (BTHS 201, in Belleville, IL).  We need democrats everywhere to run for school board and get on these boards.  Once on, we need to start a revolution in the boards, demanding that the feds fulfill their promises about NCLB, and fully funding it.

    This cannot wait.  If you are not on a school board, and you can run, do so right away.   It will cost you some small amount of money, which is tax deductible.  

    We cannot allow the nuts in Washington to destroy our public school system, which is the policy of the Republican Party.

    Run for school board, and do it today.

    •  I agree it is an important issue (none)
      which is why I posted the diary.   It would help were you to recommend the diary to keep it visible.

      My onw teaching does not allow me the time to run for school barod in the community in which I live  Fortunately we have board members who understand these issues, and do all they can within the strictures of state regulations, so it is less of a problem here.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 05:44:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I might be more inclined to recommend your diary (none)
        if you paid more attention to spelling, or at least had the courtesy to go back and edit afterward.

        Seriously, "teacherken," foisting such a parade of errors on people when you have the ability to correct them indicates to me a sort of contempt for the reader. Alongside the nagging to recommend, it gives a bad impression.

        I agree wholeheartedly that this is an important issue; that progressive folks need to start packing those boards; and that the rhetoric of standardized assessment appears to be a thin veneer over an expensive and unhelpful act of cultural self-congratulation. I can't say any more at the moment, for reasons having to do with my livelihood, but I wish you the best in getting these ideas out there.

        "One should always have one's boots on and be ready to leave." - Michel de Montaigne

        by adamgreenfield on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 07:42:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I had but as a dyslexic had missed some errors (none)
          I did, as soon as I read your comment, went back again and found I believe it was five I had missed, at lest two of which would have made it through a spelling checker.

          It is a valid point, which I acknowledge.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:51:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  It is the thinking not the spelling.... (none)
          .....that draws me to these discussions. But then I work with children who struggle with writing and spelling due to learning disabilities. Spell check programs are a great adaptation tool for my students. I read through these diaries with ease. The typing and spelling errors are a minor flaw, not worth mentioning as far as I'm concerned.

          Infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the advocates of truth and justice... Robert Ingersol

          by BMarshall on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 01:01:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Think Twice (none)
      I would love to see more Kossacks on school boards, but people (not necessarily you) should think twice before doing so. It is a committment of many hours to do the job well, and many of the decisions have little to do with ideology. My experience is that single issue members annoy a lot of good people and don't last.

      It is an important position, and anybody prepared to do it well should do it. All I'm saying is think twice.

  •  sample test items (none)
    Blacksmith, blacksmith
    What do I do?
    my pony has tripped
    and lost his ___

    Urban kids ask: "What's a blacksmith?"

    or how about:
    Everywhere, forests are being endangered by excessive deforestation and cutting of the natural undergrowth. This logging of _
    has caused much environmental problems.

    Urban kids ask: "What's logging?"

    •  this is true on international tests (4.00)
      and in some nations they have been allowed to alter questions to reflect the what would be local conditions, atlhouth the US has not done so and encounters things ushc as you describe

      btw  on TIMMS there was one question on wich American hs students did far better than students in the higher scoring European and Asain countries   --  it had to do with the stopping distance of a car.   Anyone want to hazard a guess why American did better???

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 05:46:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Cultural Bias (none)
      When I sought to enroll my first son in Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) after he spent preschool and kindergarten in Japanese schools, my first problem was the difference in the school calendar.  He graduated from Japanese kindergaten in March.  

      The school did an evaluation which I observed and recognized as covering second grade material.  They told me that they assessed him as "low first grade," but would allow him to enroll in the first grade with the understanding that he would probably have to repeat first grade come September.  According to the assessor (a first grade teacher), his problem was he didn't know things like Rumplestilskin.  I told her to ask him about Momotaro instead.  She gave me a blank look.

      Later we found out it was all moot anyway since DODDS doesn't let the children of their civilian teachers attend DODDS anyway.

      Later, back in the US, my son took the SAT (at the age of 13) and scored 1300.  My FAFSA indicates that the family contribution to his education is expected to be $0.00.  So the social component of socio-economic status (SES) is in place without the economic.  

      We have learned that maximum opportunity accrues to students who have both components.  My second son scored similarly.  He just received his financial aid offer.  It is 15% less than last year even as expenses have increased for a net 20% loss.  He cannot get a scholarship of any description and other ideas (such as corporate sponsorships have also failed).  He just doesn't fit into the preconceived boxes of any scholarship program, so he is disqualified.  

    •  urban kids (none)
      That is patronizing.  Urban kids see trees.  They should know what a log is.  Getting to an understanding of the word "logging" should not be a stretch.
      Blacksmith is an almost lost art.  Virtually no child, urban or suburban, will have come in contact with them.  That is no reason for an urban kid not to have read the poem "The Village Blacksmith".
    •  sounds like urban kid's parents (none)
      ought to be buying them a book or two.

      You don't have to live in a forest to know what
      logging is.

  •  Macho Politicians (4.00)
    I remember listening to a speech by Clinton where he said that he and his advisors were discussing educational goals one day, and one of them pointed out that they would look stupid if they said their goal was to have the third best educational system in the world. The goal had to be first because Americans believe in being first in everything. What Clinton didn't say was what a stupid policy had passed as a result.

    We now can listen to all 50 governors claiming that they have tough world-class standards. Unfortunately, that's not what we need. I have taught at a small poor inner city school and a large rich suburban school.

    The poor inner city school would benefit from reachable standards. We typically had kids enter high school at the fifth grade level, and their scores would go up about two years for every year with us. The ones tested just after entry would fail just about any test, and high mobility rates meant that many of our students were recent entrants.

    The rich suburban school would benefit from being left alone. Our students enter high school at the 12th grade level, and the tests, which eat up two days a year, are a complete waste of time. Many of the students and teachers here, who are not familiar with poorer schools, wonder how anybody other than Special Ed students could fail the test.

    I wish the tests were more focused. I wish the tests were designed to identify the two to five worst schools in Illinois so that those could be worked on instead of one-fourth of the schools. I guess that's why they call it Edutopia. This state is run by Democrats but not good Democrats.

  •  stopping distance (none)
    because foreign students don't have cars?
    •  in general, you got it (none)
      manyh foreign students are far less likely to have driven, or even to have been in the front seat of a car to experience the sense of wondering if the car will stop in time.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:53:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've Been a High School Teacher for 31 Years (4.00)
    and I've administered countless standardized tests. I've also sat on a committee trying to formulate history standards for the state of Illinois. My observations:

    1.  The proposition that standardized tests measure genuine knowledge and achievement is increasingly dubious. Schools are now engaged in an educational "arms race" (to which Popham alludes) in regard to tests. In my school, a massive effort is underway to prepare students for the Prairie State Achievement Test that our school must administer later this month. This includes disseminating study materials and practice tests, offering rewards and incentives of various kinds for good test grades, pervasive propaganda to "psych up" our students for the PSAE, and a variety of other efforts. Why do we do this? Because every other high school in northern Illinois does exactly the same kind of thing. We cannot "unilaterally" disarm, i.e., leave our students "unprepared", so we subordinate our schedule, our curriculum, our time, and administrative energy to the almighty, all-powerful PSAE.

    2. Test scores are used by local newspapers to evaluate schools. As anyone who has taught knows, a school's reality is breathtakingly complex. No single test score reflects that reality. And yet, many in the public see ONLY a test score and are asked to assess a school's "success" on that severely limited basis.

    3. When the Standards Committee I was on submitted history education guidelines, anything the State Board didn't like was simply ignored, and the wording of our reports was changed to suit Board politics. I resigned in disgust. I should also point out that the State's science guidelines at the time (late 90s) did NOT include the word evolution (at least in the draft stage), the State Board bowing to pressure exerted by Gary Bauer and others on the religious right. Evolution education was mandated--you just couldn't officially call it that. Whether this absurdity has been addressed, I don't know.

    4. I have seen countless "educational reform" movements and countless "accountability" schemes come and go since 1974. I have seen our school evaluated in every possible way. Let me tell you, the process borders on farce. Teachers and administrators expend huge amounts of time and energy preparing reports and assessing school programs. I personally helped prepare enormous reports for Springfield. On more than one occasion, SUCH REPORTS WERE NEVER EVEN READ--THEY WERE SIMPLY DISCARDED. The current test mania is simply the most recent manifestation of "educational reform", albeit a particulary pernicious and damaging one.

    5. Finally, most of the teachers and administrators in my school are wonderful people who genuinely love and care about our students. These teachers and administrators work their hearts out for these kids. The subordination of our efforts to the Almighty God of Testing is hampering our efforts to educate the young people we love, and I find that to be an outrage.

    Well, I've vented enough. I retire in two years. I feel sorry for my younger colleagues. They're going to have to deal with this nonsense for decades to come. Thank God I won't.

    "George W. Bush is not only the worst president in American history, he is the worst man who has been President."--J. Miller

    by Yosef 52 on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 06:20:41 AM PDT

    •  Don't Feel Sorry (none)
      If your younger colleagues missed the School Improvement Plans, then they should feel sorry for you.
      •  Ah yes, the annual SIPs (4.00)
        with such drivel as "this year all eighth graders will appropriately punctuate quotations."  How does silly stuff like that get on an SIP?  When the standardized test score reports come back, the teachers sit down and study them.  They pick out the question for each grade the students did the worst  missed most often and figure they should spend more time on that the next year. Never mind if there was only one or two questions on the test related to, say, the punctuation of quotations, and never mind if it was missed only a couple of times more than a question on any other topic.  

        With high achieving schools, the SIPs are a waste of time.  With low-achieving schools, SIPs do not even begin to address the problems.

    •  Ideas without who, when, where, how, what - - (none)
      I am not criticizing you !! I am commenting about the system that allows what you've endured to exist.  

      I student taught in the fall, have been a paid sub teacher since Feb., I am 45, so I am hesitant to say anything other than be supportive of the teachers I have worked with.  What a hard job.

      One constant I have NEVER seen in my 30+ years of watching public debates, and in my 25 years of private sector work in cooking or database support, I have NEVER see anyone have an idea where they break down what is going to get done, who is going to do it, how long is it going to take all those whos to do the whats, when and how often is it all going to be done, at how many wheres will it be done.  

      As a chef, you have to figure out these details, and their costs, if you want to feed the 30 or 300 people veal or meatloaf on time.  How often, as a teacher, do these ideas come with real plans of implementation?  

      It looks to me like everyone in charge in education (and everywhere else ) wants to be a Wolfowitz or a Pope or an FDR - just wave your hands, give the directives, be the stratergerizer, and the minions will throw the flowers at your feet.  You are the boss, you don't worry about details.  

      Is NCLB just more hand waving dumped on education?  As a society, is it beyond our skill, our mental capabilities, to insist that whoever has the grand idea has the details of that idea figured out, and has figured out what the cost of those details are?  

      I know I probably sound sarcastic, but, I am serious.   If your (not you the writer !) ideas don't come with details and costs, maybe YOU should be fired?  


      •  The reason (none)
        there's never any consensus on education reform is because it's tied into so many other reform efforts.  It always has.

        It becomes hotly political (although hardly ever on the surface where parents can see it happening) because the aims of public ed are figured into models/ideologies having to do with the economy, religion, social-structure, class movements (talkin' here about richer folks' "movements"...), etc.  

        There's SOOOOO much at stake when it comes to these agendas and hardly anyone is ever forthcoming about how they stand to benefit, so they hide behind self-funded "research" that supports whatever picture they're putting forth so that the public gets behind it, somehow.

        Ah, such a long long long story behind all of this.  

        But let's just say, for now, that public education (it's effectiveness or lack thereof) is vulnerable to the political ebbs and flows in terms of ideology.  

        There's never a long enough span of time coupled with consistent practice to be able to say, "See?  This is what works."  

        Fact is...we do know what works, but it doesn't exactly work toward the aim of those who have the power.  

        here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

        by tepster on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:13:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Time (none)
          Excellent point about new ideas not being tested for a long enough period of time.  I recently made a comment that I can't wait for eight years from now to see if the changes we're making in our school worked.

          Of course, in eight years, we'll be trying something else instead.

  •  Ironic (4.00)
    TeacherKen that you would take up this subject today.

    Yesterday the Education Secretary had an editorial column, High Schools need Help, in the Washington Post urging Congress to band together to add more assessments for high school.

    And again this general "theory" that promoting testing improves learning was mentioned in glowing terms.

    While I agree that we should have some means to address all groups in our public school system, I don't know that pumping them up with treats and incentives to pass one test a year is the answer to that question.

    Our high schools are in trouble because of lack of money for schools, life in society at large especially in poor urban areas which spills into the classroom, lack of parent involvement in many of those school districts, lack of employment opportunities for the parents in those school districts...and a test will not solve those inequities and issues.

    Improving our social safety net, rethinking how high schools in those areas function, moving to smaller schools, perhaps....working to improve urban blight instead of reducing funds to urban areas...all these things will help to improve the lives of our students.

    This administration has made life for the poor and middle class more difficult not less.  You can't fix one side of the balance sheet without fixing the other side.

    Never underestimate people. They do desire the cut of truth. Natalie Goldberg

    by Carolyn on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 07:10:47 AM PDT

    •  Promoting testing DOES NOT improve learning (none)
      As you point out, improving the lives of students will help.  So would laying solid educational foundations and improving the quality of teachers.

      Instead, policy makers want something easily quantifiable.  Testing is a band-aid solution that addresses none of the symptoms.

      •  It appears to be a band-aid solution (none)
        but it's really a trojan horse being used by those who know the formula being used (to evaluate based on test scores) will continue to undermine the integrity of public ed in the eyes of those it's serving.  

        Those who know this KNOW this is the beginning of the end.

        And why would the end of public ed. be a good thing?  It's an 800-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise that for-profits want their hands in on.  It's really as uncomplicated as that.

        here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

        by tepster on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:17:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  $800 billion dollar a year enterprise (none)
          You bet there are some who would like to get their hands on this, especially since many states are allowing private companies to start charter schools.  It used to be that a charter school had to be sposored by a school district or a county board of education.

          At the same time, there are a number of educators starting charter schools without a profit motive, but for the freedom and flexibility to efficiently innovate, and to provide the opportunity for teachers to exercise professional judgement apart from the politics of superintendents.

      •  Of course.... (none)
        you are right, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Poor tests will not give a perfect idea of the school or the student...... but I have seen many teachers that have had very poor results on standardized tests and blamed the test. Perhaps they don't understand the definition of 'standardized'. The test doesn't suit, it doesn't test the right things, etc.  Some teachers blame the results on the students themselves or the parents.
        Excellent teachers do not teach to tests and their children get good results on standardized tests. Perhaps other teachers should do research into the reasons for this!
  •  I'm a parent of a high school kid. (none)
    Our school district is very large and diverse both in ethnicity and socio-economic status.  I think our community is a true melting pot, and the residents are getting along very well.  They all seem to respect each other.

    Anyway, our school district is handicapped compared with surrounding districts where almost all residents our wealthy.  Our district, although not bad, invariably does worse than the richer surrounding communities.

    Test results seem to be directly tied to socio-economic status.

    Why even bother if you can predict the results, even before the tests are taken?  Take the average price of a home in the district, and you will be able to estimate the test result pretty accurately.

    In my diverse community, generally speaking, the top of the high school class does very well, but the bottom does very badly.  Guess what type of homes these kids come from respectively?

    There are no big secrets here.

    When the fox preaches The Passion, farmer watch your geese.

    by reform dem on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 07:44:43 AM PDT

    •  Yup! (none)

      Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.

      by d52boy on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:53:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  asdf (none)
      This is not necessarily so! In every district you will find schools in low socio-economic areas getting high scores and schools in high areas getting low scores. It is time to find out what the schools getting high marks are doing right and what the lower schools are not doing....
      •  unfortunately, we do know (4.00)
        and in many cases it is by focusing entirely on the test.

        Please note  -- I don't object to extrnal tests in principle.  I do object to the number of them, and how they are used.

        Tests should give back information that help those students tested learn.  An extranl test given at the end of the course givs no feed back that a teacher or school can use.

        Can principals and teachers use the test scores to see what is happening?  Of course, and most of us when we have time, are glad to do so.  But while I can, for example, on the Maryland High School Assessments get a raw score for each of my students, I am not given breakouts by domain  -- ow did they do on economics, on geography, on itnerpreting graphs, etc.   That raw score may tell me nothing of value.

        Look, suppose there are 1000 possible questions and we ask 50.  In theory, a student who knew 95% of the material, 950 questions, could score a zero.  Similarly a student whoknew only the 5% represented by the questiona actually given could get a perfect score.  While improbable it is still matehmatically possible, since every tests is a sampling of the domain.  Thus while  broadly viewed the results on such a test MAY 9although often not) represent a GENERAL indication of the performance in that school, it would not in such cas be a valid instrument to determined what the student actually knows.

        Further, the problem of scores representing only a sampling can be compounded by what the teacher is actually able to cover.  Remember that Popham points out that there are so many items on the standards that in many cases teaches know they cannot do justice to all, and make judgments which may not coincide with the distribution of the questions on that particular administration of the test.

        Finally, given all the material that could be covered form how many domains, sometimes you get a form of the test which is unbalanced  --- it may have too many questions on economics and not enough to fairly smaple say individual rights and freedoms, or perhaps political processes.  Thus a student's score could be artificially high or low because ot that particular imbalance.

        I have analyzed the scores from my students from last year.  I compared how they did versus the grades they received from me.  Only one of those in my talented and gifted class failed to make the cut score.  She was improperly placed in that class, was reluctant to do the work, and had only a bare C average in my class, while her classmates in that particularly class had over half of them earning A's and the rest eraning B's of various stripes.  Am I responsible for her not succeeding (and here I might note by only 2 points on a scale that reached to well over 450).

        In my non-gifted two classes, my pass rate was 65%.  No student who earned a B or better failed to achieve the test score.  Only one student who received a D managed to make the cut score, and his low grades were because of failure to do assignments  -  he still usually did quite well on tests and quizzes, and thus knew the material.  The only place where I have any problems are students with C's, who were about 1/2 and 1/2 as to whether they passed.   or some of them I know why they did not  -  they received forms of the tests (not everyone receives the same form) which required them to write so many constructed responses that they were WRITING for almost 2 of the 2.5 hours of actual testing.  Some were crying because their hands were cramping up and they couldn't keep writing.  Most ot these had never had to sit and write that much at one sitting, and simply put they could not do it.   So at what did THEY fail, to demonstrate knowledge or to pass a physical challenge for which none of us  --  students or teachers  -- were prepared (we had never seen so many constructed items on the test in the more than half a decade that it has been administered).  Fortunately there are not yet high stakes on this test -- that will apply to next year's frehsman class, when they take the test as sophomores.

        Does tha mean that I am ignoring or writing off those students who fail?  Of course not, but first they have to show up   -- I had one student who was absent twice as much as he was present  -- there was nothing I could do to help him.  Then they have to be willing to do their work.  I hae students who never hand in assignments -- no matter what grade they receive, no matter how many times I contact their parents or guardians.  They are failing my class, and I have little expectation that they could pass the state test.  For them failure on such an exam is appropriate, but is the fa ct that their parents do not make them do their work something that should be held against either me as the teacher or the school that they attend?  And yet some of these tests are simultaneously being used not only to make determinations about students, but also to evaluate teachers, schools, and school systems  -- for things over which we have little control, I might add.

        Perhaps this comment, which is far too long, may explain why I feel so strongly on this subject.  Popham is an expert on educational assessment.  Professional organizations such as AERA and also NCME (National Council for Measurement in Education??) have consistently sais that an instrument that allows you to draw valid inferences at one level  -- say about the performance of an individual student -- rarely can be used to draw valid inferences at another level  -- sya that of the school.

        I think that's all I ahe to add on this now.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:47:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The description (none)
    of standards-based assessments is dead on.

    The MA curriculum frameworks are good, but as a math geek, I think they are a wish list.  I would much rather see a small set of skills to master.

    We wonder every year which standards will be on the test.  I also stress out every year at this time wondering if I'd covered enough.  I favor investigative and in-depth units.  If I had until June, I could probably cover most of the standards the way I like to.  But the test is in May and I'm torn about how to spend the month leading up to it.

    This year, I'm going to use an MCAS prep book for this last month.  I hate doing it, but we have to make AYP.  

    In MA, they're extending testing.  Right now the major subjects are tested every other year.  In the very near future, every subject will be tested every year and promotion will depend on the tests.  We currently lose about three weeks to MCAS.  With these changes, we will end up losing the entire last trimester.

    As for changing it, I don't know a single administrator or teacher who thinks testing is a good idea.  But we don't make the rules and the current attitude is that educators are trying to scam the public.  You can even see that attitude at DKos with all the complaints about how awful our schools are and how few good and qualified teachers there are.

    I don't know how we'll get away from it.

    •  MA guidelines (none)
      ...are a sad thing compared to the rest of the world.
      I studied them carefully 18 month ago, and they are about a grade level behind the former SU.
      And yet, they are still a pie in the sky, as you point out. And I blame the culture of testing. It promotes rote memorization.
      I think my first diary on Kos will be about how the testing culture corrupts our students, even the "best and brightest." I teach at a prestigious university in Boston, and it is trully scary how many of my students want you to give them the answer. They are upset at us for making them think. They are upset at us for teaching them the process of science, not "just the facts, m'am."
      Of course, I also have students who are eating this stuff up, and they make me happy. But the number of those demanding test preparation instead of whatever else we do in class is frightening. My husband was astonished because he couldn't believe people would have the balls to admit to having such attitudes. And again, I blame MCAS and its ilk.

      My final point is that it is in fact possible to write good, diagnostic multiple choice tests. The ones that test concepts, not memorization. For an example of that, google "force concept inventory." You can also write MC exams that test transfer, and analytical thinking skills. But it's hard. It's very hard to come up with informative wrong answers, the ones that tell you where the student's misconception is. These tests are very valuable. But they are so hard to write that noone bothers.

      Ok, enough venting for a sunday morning. Off to write a (hopefully good) problem set.

      •  It starts young (none)
        I'm trying to change the climate at my own school.  Already, in 7/8 grade, my students hate to think.  They've lost their curiosity.  They see math as spitting out a meaningless, one number, right answer.  They completely resist spending more than 10 seconds figuring out how to solve a problem.  It's very disheartening.

        As for the math MCAS, I think the test is decent and I don't think memorization would help at all.  I think the standards need to be narrowed down some.

        •  Where do you teach? (none)
          I would love to talk more with you about this. Maybe offline?  (matb37 at gmail)
        •  on narrowing of standards (none)
          after the brouhaha on the scores on TIMMS a few years ago, one thing peple who seriously studied the issue noticed was that in Japan the standards were thinner.   Japanese students covered fewer topics in greater depth.

          I have had to confront the issue this year, when in one year I am supposed to cover from 1877-2004 in American history, with 9th graders who may never had had the 1st half of American history.    I have chosen to go through some topics in greater depth, and others we we skim over, and I just hit the highlights  It is impossible to do justice to everything, especially for thsoe ids who lack a sufficient background,   Fortunately there is no outside test for which they ahve to sit, so I don't have to spend time on test prep as I cannot avoid in Government.  

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 11:02:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I've read about Japan (none)
            and wholeheartedly agree with the math teaching methods there.  There are so many studies showing that depth rather than breadth is much better in mathematics, but it seems the rulemakers never use them.
          •  My kids have been to Japanese schools (none)
            and I am a secondary math teacher.  Every child is required to buy the designated set of manipulatives.  The depth to which a particular concept is explored is amazing, and guarantees that students acquire a strong foundation for the next concept.  Nearly every Japanese student develops a strong sense of number and great math reasoning skills.  They do not have to rely on an answer-finding technique, such as long division.  They see where the numbers are going.

            Meanwhile, I have to remediate nearly every secondary student I teach, even students who made all A's in math before my class.  Usually it turns out they memorized and can apply the answer-finding techniques very well, but have little idea why the numbers work the way they do.

            When I came to Arizona, I discovered the schools have a position called Elementary School Math Specialist.  I wanted that job.  I thought if I could be in a position to incorporate some of the great philosophies and strategies I observed in Japan, the math achievement of children in at least my little circle of influence would soar.  The Arizona Department of Education says that I am unqualified because I my certificate was not elementary.  They also said I would need a second Masters.  My Masters in Curriculum Development is wrong, all wrong.  

            One spokesperson said that things change and I would need another Masters to become current in the field.  Now that's ridiculous.  Professionals keep up.  As long as states are making the kinds of decisions that keep some of the best teachers out of the classroom, there is no hope for education reform.

  •  Sorry I don't have time today (none)
    to read through this diary and the comments it inspires (big grant application due tomorrow), but I've read enough of teacherken's diaries to know by now that I can recommend them sight unseen -- will check back tomorrow or Tuesday.

    Have read the first paragraph, though -- kudos for mentioning the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The ESEA has been around since long before Bush & Co. hijacked it and gave it that cute NCLB handle, which they stole from the Children's Defense Fund.

    For it is your business when the wall next door catches fire. --Horace

    by marylrgn on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 08:09:41 AM PDT

    •  AH, how wonderful (none)
      to see that mentioned here- how the Bushies stole that term from Marian Edelman Wright's efforts to get Texas children adequate healthcare.

      The Children's Defense Fund were thwarted in their efforts to help poor children by this co-opting of the name of the bill they were trying to get passed at the time.  

      For that alone, they are EVIL!!!!!!! I've been trying to get to the bottom of who, exactly, is responsible for the name and all my leads have lead to dead-ends.

      If anyone can offer me help here, I'd much appreciate it, as I'm building a website about NCLB for parents and teachers.

      here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

      by tepster on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:23:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  crazy pills (none)
    Teacherken-- this diary is great, but too long, I think. Because there is one key point that I think most people don't know about standardized tests. When I first learned about the way standardized tests were constructed, I thought I was taking crazy pills. It's insane. This is the key quote, imho:

    "Because of the need for nationally standardized achievement tests to provide fine-grained, percentile-by-percentile comparisons, it is imperative that these tests produce a considerable degree of score-spread -- in other words, plenty of differences among test takers' scores. So producing score-spread often preoccupies those who construct standardized achievement tests."

    (sorry I don't know how to gray box it).

    What this means is that the tests are designed to ensure that a certain percentage of students fail the test (to ensure a good "score-spread"). It's not that we've set the bar at this level and expect everyone to pass. It's quite the opposite-- if everyone passed, they'd re-design the test. The goal of these tests isn't to make sure everyone has a certain set of skills, it's to sort them into "high achievers" and "low achievers" That using questions linked to SES is the most effective way to do this should come as no surprise.

    •  Take this one step further (none)
      This also means that they are not interested in testing concepts. Memorization of facts will get you a much larger spread. So who cares how useful the information being tested will be to the students' lives, as long as there is a nice spread.
    •  Indeed! (none)
      It's true that there are always questions on these standardized tests that may or may not be counted toward the score.  No one knows which ones are the "experimental" questions, of course.

      here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

      by tepster on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:26:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wait One Flipping Second... (4.00)
    if they can link students' success on a question to students' socioeconomic status (SES), then that item is usually answered correctly by about half of the test takers. If an item is answered correctly more often by students at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale than by lower-SES kids, that question will provide plenty of score-spread. After all, SES is a delightfully spread-out variable and one that isn't quickly altered. As a result, in today's nationally standardized achievement tests, there are many SES-linked items.

    Okay... I just want to make sure that I'm reading this right. Unless I'm mistaken, this is saying that one of the 'tests' used to determine a question's suitability is its spread. And the best way that test-makers have found to acquire a proper spread is to empirically link the question's success rate to SES.

    Which means, in plain English, that the tests are designed so that rich kids do well and poor kids do poorly.


    If so, that alone seems to be reason to be up in arms. It's basically one more factor contributing to the creation of a permanent underclass.

    Monsters think it's all right to be a monster, after all. - Hitherby Dragons

    by RHunter on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:21:24 AM PDT

    •  you are essentially correct (none)
      as is the poster directly above you.  It is not that the authors of the items necessarily want to sort by SES, but they do want to sort, and aas it happens those items which tend to sort best (and they might well instead say "differentiate" happen to correlate highly with SES.

      Tow quick notes from the memory wells, and then i need to go back and fix some more typos I just found in the diary.

      One early application of what were effectively standardized tests was to screen immigrants coming into the US in NY City.  The administrators of the test reported that certain groups performed very poorly on these tests, whichw as evidence of why they shouldn't be admitted (this is during the start of the eugenics movement in this nation)  --  of course, given that the tests were in English, often with references to specific American items, the results were more than predictable!!

      The Med School admissions test used to have a general backgroundm and cultural knowledge section, which fortunately was eliminated years ago.  A previous significant other took it back when that section still existed.  We noted in going through the prep material that the composer most frequently reffered to was not, as one might expect, Bach, or Beethoven or Morzart or Brham,s but Ferde Grofe  -- composer of things such as Father of Waters about the Mississippi, and Grand Canyon Suite from which his best known work, On the Trail, was taken.  Unless one had a middle class background one would be highly unlikely to have encountered his work.  

      For what it is worth.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:29:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ferde Grofe (none)
        I am 56 years old.  I have a law degree, as well as a BA.  I attended one of the best public high schools in the Philadelphia area.  (Haddonfield, NJ)  I went to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.  I have six years of piano lessons, five years of organ lessons, and six years of voice.  I played French horn in orchestra.  My mother is a trained classical singer.
        I have never heard of Grofe.  The only Grand Canyon I recall (without looking it up) was something by Dvorak, I think.
        Why would someone this obscure be on a test?
        •  You tell me -- (none)
          and as far as I know Dvorak never wrote anything called "Grand Canyon."  He has the New World Symphony and his American String Quartet, both of which make use of musical materials he esperienced during his sojourn in the US.

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:55:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  "standards" (none)
      I just realized that we should stop calling them "standardized tests", because it lets people believe the tests have something to do with standards. We should call them "sorting tests". or "punish the poor while maintaining a facade of meritocracy tests".
  •  Standardization v. Standards (none)
    Thanks for posting this Ken.   Hopefully more progressives will read about the problems with standardized testing.   This accountability tool is part of the larger problem of the corporatization of education.

    While we need to have standards in schools, they should be not be tied to standardized tests.   Kids are unique and we should be advocating education that emphasizes helping each flower grow in their own way rather than treating them as vessels to be filled with water.

    I'm still waiting for the FIRST progressive politician who gets it.   Is there one?  By that I mean one who recognizes the danger in tying accountability to standardization, instead of standards that are oriented around a group of professional educators (rather than test prep technicians) and learners who are unique and best learn by constructing knowledge rather than merely absorbing it (or not).

    There are many models of progressive accountability around the country demonstrated in Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, Deborah Meier's work in public schools, Bob Peterson's efforts in Milwaukee and many other examples cited on www.fairtest.  These ideas go back 100 years to the themes advanced by the great progressive educator John Dewey.  They best support excellent teaching, and deep understanding, active learning and critical thinking among students.   These models, were they promoted, could serve to crowd out fill in the bubble, standardized tests which are destroying the public schools.   WHERE is their political advocate in the media or the legislative arena?

    "In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes." Chomsky

    by formernadervoter on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:41:36 AM PDT

    •  Paul Wellstone "got it" (none)
      read the reamkrs he gave in March 2000 at Teachers College in NYC on High Stakes Testing: A Harsh Agneda for America's Children.  Wellstone had himself suffered from the ill-advised consequences of high stakes testing, which is why he was so firm on this isse.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:51:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, Wellstone did not 'get it' (none)
        I read the article.  I've read other articles by Wellstone.  

        He doesn't propose progressive accountability but rather is a critical of conservative accountability.

        We need a progressive to actually be progressive on accountability and that's advocating publicly in the mainstream media and in legislative proposals for
        to be included as accountability tools.   Their brilliance could crowd out the importance of corporatized standardized testing and drive those off the agenda.  Those tests are wrecking our schools.

        I'm a big fan of Wellstone, but he's in the strict father model frame.  Yes, you need to criticize the tests, though he doesn't go far enough.  But you need to present a nurturant parent model frame (exhibitions, etc.) and he didn't do that.   Neither does Feingold.  Nader did in his two presidential runs, but he's not too popular.

        No, until we get rid of standardized testing as the major model for accountability in public schools we can forget about making major progressive changes in this country.   Dewey was right on that score, in terms of emphasizing the importance of schooling for fundamental social change.  

        "In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes." Chomsky

        by formernadervoter on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 11:30:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Another corollary issue (none)
    is how standardized testing is not brain-friendly--there are many ways in which our current educational system and methods of testing ignore how kids develop and learn neurologically.  Check out, for example, "When High-Powered People Fail: Working Memory and "Choking Under Pressure" in Math" (Beilock & Carr, 2005--in Psychological Science, Vol 16, 2).  A great book about this is "The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, " by James Zull (2002).
       Thanks, teacherken--have recommended.

    ...the White House will be adorned by a downright moron...H.L. Mencken

    by bibble on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:00:39 AM PDT

  •  college kids are barely literate (none)
    in many areas.

    They aren't even CULTURE literate.
    A professor I know can't even discuss
    John Wayne (much less John Ford) to his
    students.  They draw a blank.

    Plagiarism is through the roof.  Just go
    on the web and buy your ass a paper.

    •  College kids are barely literate (none)
      and college kids who want to be teachers even less literate.  Yet the colleges of education persist in moving them down the assembly line and out into our classrooms.  As someone whose most recent teaching assigment as been the preparation of the next generation of teachers, I am continually astonished at the poor academic preparation of the teaching candidates.

      The state colleges of education and the state departments of education (in many states) have this buddy-buddy thing going where all a candidate has to do is graduate from a state college, and the ed dept will automatically issue a teaching certificate.

      To be fair, I estimate that perhaps 50% of teaching candidates have the proper motivation and academic preparation to be teachers.  Like everything the negative gets the most attention.

  •  I have ranted about this for years! (4.00)
    NCLB is a hoax. Many of the tests and programs used to "segregate" the SES of kids are being developed by Bush cronies, such as the McGraw-Hill folks.  They are the Halliburton of education and they are making a financial killing off of this.

    The education research world has known for years that standardized testing is fallible, and is used to inappropriate ends, yet the corporate world uses the "accountability" card to scare parents, teachers, and administrators.  

    You haven't lived until you've seen a kid, who has just arrived in this country, or a kid who has a learning disability, struggle to respond to the questions on these mega-tests.  The fear and humiliation they experience is heartbreaking.

    My own daugher, twenty years ago, in first grade refused to take the ISTEP--our "big test" here in Indiana.  She wasn't defiant, but her anxiety and confusion were overwhelming her, so she just kept saying very sweetly, "No, thank you."  The principal was furious, and the teacher was agitated that I wouldn't "force" her, since I was an educator myself.  (What--beat her? Threaten her? Order her?) I simply pulled her out, said she was not feeling well, and she'd take the makeup with the others who were out sick that day.  They thought I was nuts.  I think the whole thing is nuts.  She's a wonderful young woman today--sort of our Maryscott--bright, fiercely independent and beautiful.

    I shudder to think about the kids who have lost their spirit, love of learning, and sense of esteem, due to our misguided, corporate educational trends.  I consult with schools frequently, and I don't know one teacher who agrees with this process.  There is a rebel inside of me that just wishes every educator in the country would pick a day and demonstrate in the streets against standardized testing.  

    Some of the signs could say, "No Thank You."

    I *gladly* donated to ePluribus Media. Support citizen journalism!

    by nancelot on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:25:03 AM PDT

    •  No, thank you (none)
      Ah, so you are recommending individual attention to the needs of a particular student.  In this day and age, that is truly radical.  It's a shame.
      I remember one of those damned tests when I was in 11th grade.  It was a reading comprehension exam we all took to see if we needed "improvement".  My parents (both teachers) and I were called in to discuss the results.
      The reading co-ordinator (or whatever her title was) said that I did very well on the questions that I answered but that my reading speed was very slow, almost the slowest among the 200 in my 11th grade class.
      "What should we do?" asked my Mother.  Replied the reading co-ordinator, "Absolutely nothing."
      The co-ordinator then turned to me and told me that I read very slowly but that I had a rentention and comprehension score that was virtually off the charts.  
      She said she would not want to screw up a mind that works well with lessons in how to be mediocre.
      She told me always to remember that I read rather slowly and would have to make allowances when reading was timed, such as on tests.  The advantage I would have, though, would be that I would actually remember what I'd read and would not be forced, in most situations, to go back and read it a second time, such as when studying for exams.  She was right.
      Later that school year I got a 629 math and 632 verbal on the SAT, so I guess her advice was sound.
      •  Those people are golden. (none)
        Aren't you glad for that experience?  I often looke at the teachers or specialists that do the "right thing", and find those acts are simple, relatively easy, and always kind.  How hard is that? ;.)

        I *gladly* donated to ePluribus Media. Support citizen journalism!

        by nancelot on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 10:46:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this (none)
    I started posting another comment and when it got to be diary length I decided to hold it for my own diary.

    On thing that I will say here that I will not be covering in my diary is that NCLB has been a boon to the testing, test prep and, educational publishing industries, many of whom are Bush relatives, cronies and financial supporters.

    No surprise there.

    It was really an inspired plan: siphon off funds that would support improvements in classroom instruction to your cronies and backers whose job it will be to "prove" that public education is sorely lacking and therefore should be privatized.

    Truly Machiavellian (Rovean)!

    "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case." - Ken Kesey

    by Glinda on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 01:32:20 PM PDT

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