Tag Archives: assessment

States Need to Get Real on Testing Tradeoffs Before Making Another Big Switch

risksignJust a few years ago, it seemed like most of the country was heading towards common state assessments in math and reading. Two groups of states won federal grant funds to create higher-quality tests; these became the PARCC and Smarter Balanced test consortia. Now, despite the demonstrated rigor and academic quality of those tests, the testing landscape is almost as fractured as it was before, with states pursuing a variety of assessment strategies. Some states in the consortia are still waffling. Others that have left are already scrapping the tests they made on their own with no idea of what they’ll do next.

States should think carefully before going it alone or introducing a new testing overhaul without strong justification. There are some big tradeoffs at play in the testing world, and a state might spend millions on an “innovative” new test from an eager-to-please vendor only to find that it has the same, or worse, issues as the “next generation” tests they tossed aside.

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Candidates Think We Can’t Handle the Complex Truth About Education

The Learning Landscape

We need a nuanced education conversation based on data, not polarizing rhetoric. That’s why we built this new resource: www.thelearninglandscape.org/

Depending on whom you ask, charter schools represent either the best of things or the worst of things in the modern education system. This binary hero-villain dialogue plays out time and again among education advocates. It’s so pervasive that it even managed to infiltrate a presidential election that has otherwise been light on K-12 education talk.

Bernie Sanders declared his support for public charter schools, but not private ones in a CNN town hall event last March — belying a fundamental confusion about what charter schools actually are. Last year Hillary Clinton disparaged charter schools with a blanket statement suggesting that they reject serving students who are the “hardest to teach.” And while decrying the federal footprint in education, Donald Trump said he wants more charter schools because “they work, and they work very well.”

The primary flaw with all of these statements is that each one lacks nuance and ignores what is true, what we know, and what we don’t know about charter schools. After all, one of the hallmarks of political campaigns is the reduction of complex issues to simple binaries. Candidates harp on divisive issues and ask voters to pick a side — for or against, good or bad. While this strategy makes for rousing stump, it misleads and under-informs voters about critical policy issues.

Sanders’ confusion about whether charter schools are public or private schools is not uncommon, but it’s easy to clear up. Charter schools are public schools. They are publicly-funded, and they provide education free of charge. The confusion arises because they are often operated by private organizations (a mix of non-profit and for-profit). Some of these private organizations are very good at running schools that achieve amazing outcomes with kids. Some of them are not as good.

Similarly, by painting all charter schools with the same brush, either negatively or positively, both Clinton and Trump ignore the complex reality of what we know about charter schools. (Clinton, I should note, told the NEA convention earlier this month that we should seek to learn from the many good charter schools – that common sense statement drew boos from the crowd).

In practice, who is served best and most often by charter schools varies significantly from state to state and city to city. And the overall quality of charter schools varies, too. In some cities, like Washington DC, charter schools produce an average of 101 days of additional learning in math compared to the surrounding district schools. That’s a tremendous difference. But in Fort Worth, Texas, charter schools underperform district schools on average.

Attempting to define the whole notion of charter schools as either good or bad encourages us to continue to focus on the existential question of whether we should have charter schools at all. And that is simply the wrong question. Continue reading

“High-Stakes” Tests are Hard to Find

young students working at computersThis spring, in schools across the country, standardized testing season is in full swing, and opponents are once again crying out against “high-stakes testing.” But that phrase can be misleading. In many states the stakes are much lower than you might think for students, teachers, and schools, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while.

Student consequences tied to tests are fairly low or nonexistent in most states. Graduation requirements and grade promotion policies tied to tests vary greatly between states and most have more holes than Swiss cheese. As of 2012, half of states had some sort of exit exam as a graduation requirement, but almost all these states had exceptions and alternate routes to a diploma if students didn’t pass the exam on the first try. Tying grade promotion to tests is less common, though some states have emulated Florida’s 3rd grade reading retention policy.  Now, just as tests become more rigorous, states are rolling back their graduation and promotion requirements tied to those tests, or offering even more flexibility if requirements are technically still in effect:

  • California eliminated graduation requirements tied to their exit exam in fall 2015.
  • Arizona repealed graduation requirements tied to testing in spring 2015 prior to administering the new AzMERIT tests.
  • Georgia waived their grade promotion requirement tied to new tests in grades three, five, and eight for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Ohio created new safe harbor policies this school year, which, among other things, prevents schools from using test results in grade promotion or retention until 2017-18 (except in the case of third grade reading tests).
  • New Jersey has had exit exams since 1982, but students can now fulfill the requirement using multiple exams, including the SAT, ACT and PARCC, and a proposed bill would pause the requirement altogether until 2021.

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The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

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Is Pearson’s Scanning of Students’ Social Media Spying or Smart Security?

This month the Washington Post reported that testing giant Pearson has been monitoring students’ social media accounts, looking for evidence of test security violations on the PARCC assessment. The story broke in New Jersey; but given Pearson’s “yep, we did it” response, it’s probably reasonable to expect that it’s happening elsewhere. Cue outrage from parents, politicians, and the AFT.

Frankly, the only thing about this that is surprising is that it’s surprising to anyone.

If you have a presence on the Internet, you are being monitored. This is not black helicopter stuff. It’s just reality. The fact of the matter is that social media is, well, social. Is a person or an employer or a testing company who looks at something you actively put in public space spying on you?

Sure, it seems kind of creepy that old man Pearson is lurking on kids’ Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. But I didn’t read any evidence that they did anything other than monitor information that’s already public. The company has a responsibility to maintain the integrity of its product. Lots of districts are using it. It’s an important and consequential test for kids and schools. And they aren’t all administering it simultaneously, creating an opportunity for malfeasance. States invested a lot of resources in these assessments, and that investment must be protected. It’s part of what they paid for.

This story strikes me as a red herring on two fronts. First, the anti-testing crowd is using inflammatory words like “spying” to gin up support for their side. Second, it’s getting conflated with real concerns about the security of student data. With multi-million dollar companies like Target settling class action law suits for giant data breaches, the ability of government entities collecting massive amounts of data to protect it  is a serious issue that warrants serious debate.

Instead of demonizing Pearson or testing in general, it strikes me that there are two legitimate takeaways here. For one, students who were posting about testing items shouldn’t have been. So someone should talk to them about that. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to talk to students about the complete and utter lack of privacy the Internet affords. There is evidence that kids are dangerously naive on this front.

Are Pearson’s actions here wrong? I don’t think so. Are they discomforting? Yes. The fact that it involves kids makes it seem worse; and the fact that Pearson’s practices got singled out makes it seem egregious. But they aren’t substantively different from the practices of countless other companies (and schools, colleges, etc.) that scan all of our Internet activities every day, regardless of how old we are.