Tag Archives: assessment

“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  • Arizona repealed graduation requirements tied to testing in spring 2015 prior to administering the new AzMERIT tests.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.

Innovation, Technology, and Rural Schools

According to Washington elites, rural schools’ greatest challenge is finding and keeping teachers. Ask the inside-the-beltway crowd for a solution, and, considering all the buzz over blended learning and innovation, they’ll probably shout, “technology!”

One small problem: Rural superintendent don’t consider teacher recruitment and retention among their biggest challenges…and mixing rural schooling and technology is more complicated than you might think.

Hmmm.

Thank goodness for “Technology and Rural Education,” by Bryan C. Hassel and Stephanie Dean of Public Impact, the latest paper from Bellwether’s rural-education project, ROCI.

school_tech_tools

Image from Northfield Community Primary and Elementary School

The report begins as you might expect, arguing that technology holds great promise for rural schooling. “It can give students access to great teachers…enable them to tap into resources they would never find in a school’s media center…help them personalize their learning…open doors to forge networks with other students across the world.”

But unlike many tech-focused reports, it also recognizes the special characteristics of rural schools, especially as they relate to educators.
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What’s Behind Door #3? The Giant Local Testing Loophole in Alexander’s ESEA Proposal

There’s been no shortage of column inches devoted to testing and the “choose your own adventure” approach in Sen. Lamar Alexander’s draft to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And annual testing will likely dominate the discussion at the first Senate hearing on reauthorization today, even though many (including key witnesses, like Brookings’ Marty West) have already shown why backing away from annual testing is a horrible plan.

But annual testing is only half the story. That’s because Alexander’s bill doesn’t just offer two statewide testing options for policymakers to fight about. It also offers a separate testing option for districts on top of the state choices. And although education wonks are up-in-arms over the merits of door #1 vs. door #2 for states, most have, unfortunately, ignored the giant local testing loophole that is behind door #3.

Through it, districts could opt-out of statewide testing and use their own tests instead, regardless of whether Congress chooses door #1 or door #2. But the real kicker is that this loophole isn’t actually new at all. Alexander’s draft bill just makes it far easier for districts to take advantage of–and abuse–existing flexibility. 

Districts would only need state approval that their local assessments meet the same federal requirements with which state tests comply. And given the increasing number of districts pushing back on state testing, door #3 would be an irresistible option for many, even as it undermines the comparability of data between schools for evaluation and accountability; states’ abilities to provide technical assistance, support, and professional development to districts; and state investments in new assessment systems aligned to college- and career-ready standards.

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