Category Archives: Article Medleys

2019 Medley #23

Let the Children Play,
Reading: Too much too soon,
The Common Good,
Is the Teacher Pay-gap Gender-related?
Vouchers hurt students in Ohio

HEALTHIER KIDS NEED PLAY, PLAY, AND MORE PLAY

FreshEd with Will Brehm: Let the Children Play (Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle)

Earlier this year I reviewed a book by Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle titled Let the Children Play. On December 2, the authors were interviewed by Will Brehm on his excellent podcast, FreshEd.

The authors’ emphasis during their interview, and the emphasis in their book, is that play is much more important than most Americans realize, and most American children, especially children who live in poverty, don’t have enough time in their day to play. Some excerpts from the podcast…

DOYLE: Play is a fundamental engine of learning for children and if you don’t believe us, think of what the American Academy of Pediatrics said recently, “The lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

SAHLBERG: Things have gotten worse in the lives of children in terms of their access and opportunities to play, and certainly in school.

DOYLE: In the case of New York City, the poorer the school, which means, you know, the more African American and largely Latinx the school is, the more the children are subject to a hideous practice called recess punishment, or recess detention, where recess is literally used as a carrot or an incentive, or behavior modification tool…kids being punished for late homework or…goofing around, and then they have their recess taken away…[but] the research says, the more you let children play, the better they do on standardized tests, and the better they behave in class.

A three-point plan for healthier kids: play, play and more play

On his blog, Salberg reiterated the importance of play.

Quite simply, smartphones and digital media have taken over the time that children used to have for reading and playing outdoors. And all of the benefits of that play time gained cumulatively over the years in a child’s life have been lost as a result.

Research has shown that these benefits include social, interpersonal and resilience skills, as well as creativity and problem-solving that are often mentioned by employers as the most wanted outcomes of school education…

…I suggest a three-point plan.

One, every school must have a minimum of one hour for free play time each day – separate from time to eat.

Two, at home, every child should have outdoor play time of at least one hour every day.

And three, at a policy level, government and education leaders need to ensure the curriculum is structured so there is enough time for free play during school days.

DEVELOPMENTALLY INAPPROPRIATE EDUCATION

It’s Wrong to Force Four and Five Year Olds to Read! Focus on Speaking and Listening Instead!

Play is important, so what do we do here in the US? We’re so test-obsessed that we continue to teach in developmentally inappropriate ways. Nancy Bailey on reading too soon…

With No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards, some adults have been led to believe that four- and five-year-old children should read by the end of kindergarten. Preschoolers are pushed to be ready for formal reading instruction by the time they enter kindergarten.

This is a dangerous idea rooted in corporate school reform. Children who struggle to read might inaccurately believe they have a problem, or reading could become a chore they hate.

Pushing children to focus on reading means they miss listening and speaking skills, precursors to reading. These skills are developed through play, which leads to interest in words and a reason to want to read.

Some children might learn to read in kindergarten, and others might show up to kindergarten already reading, but many children are not ready to read when they are four or five years old. And just because a child knows how to read in kindergarten, doesn’t mean they won’t have other difficulties with speech and listening.

THE COMMON GOOD

Normally all the items I post on my blog Medleys are articles you can access on the internet. I have one, however, that I want to review and, unless you’re a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an International Honor Society in Education, you won’t be able to read it. Still, it’s worth discussing.

[For those with access, the article below appeared in two consecutive issues of the Kappa Delta Pi Record…Vol 55, no. 3, and no. 4.]

We will never have the kind of schools we would like to have, nor the test scores we want, unless we do something about —

by David C Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University.

In 2009, David C. Berliner reported on out of school factors and achievement in K-12 education. The report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, discussed seven out-of-school factors related to childhood poverty, which have an impact on student achievement. I refer to that report often in these pages…mostly because it’s generally ignored by policymakers.

Berliner’s report and other research have indicated that out of school factors have a stronger impact on student achievement than either curriculum or school personnel. In the current article, Berliner maintains that out-of-school factors are six times more powerful in determining school achievement than is the strongest in-school factor, personnel.

Essentially, Berliner is saying that we, as a society, need to accept the responsibility for all our children, not just the ones who are related to us. Time to lose the selfish “I, me, mine,” attitude and recognize that fully funded education and reduction of child poverty is necessary for the common good. Our nation benefits when everyone has what they need.

…Our nation has an almost mindless commitment to high-stakes testing, even when everyone in research knows that outside-of-school factors play six times more of a role in determining classroom and school test scores than do the personnel in our public schools. Nevertheless, if we want our public schools to be the best they can be and their test scores to be higher than they are, then we need to do something about making our states better places to live in, to work in, and in which to raise children. Each school district needs to look beyond its own district and worry about opportunities for all our children. The extra taxes needed to improve the education of youth, as I proposed here, are trivial against the benefits of a higher quality of life for us all.

…We will never have the kind of schools we would like to have, nor the test scores we want, unless we do something about housing patterns in America’s communities.

…about access to high-quality early childhood education.

…about our students’ summer school experiences.

…about absenteeism in our schools.

…about pay for qualified educational staff – teachers, bus drivers, counselors, librarians, nurses, social workers, and so forth.

TEACHERS’ PAY GAP — GENDER PAY GAP

What if More Teachers were Male? The Misogynistic Roots of the War on Public Education.

I have long maintained that public school teachers, and by extension, public schools, are disrespected by state legislatures and the general public because teaching is still seen as “women’s work.” That’s why there’s a salary gap of nearly 20% for professionals who teach…similar to the pay gap for women who, in the US earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. Those same policymakers would never use the phrase “women’s work” nor would they admit that gender has anything to do with the lack of respect given to teachers and schools. There is, however, a suspiciously consistent relationship between the gender makeup of the profession, and the way the male-dominated society treats public schools.

Would teachers make more…would schools be better funded, if the profession was dominated by men?

If men made up the majority of the profession, would legislators still go out of their way to push teachers around? Of course, I have no way to prove this, but I’m guessing no. We love to think that America has come a long way towards living up to our creed of equality for all. We have mostly gotten it right on paper. But in reality, any minority group, including women (though they are a minority in status only), will tell you that we still fall woefully short in practice.

There is a good old boys network in the halls of our state legislature. I believe they feel empowered by their machismo to push more and more ridiculous hurdles in front of teachers because they view the teaching profession as soft and feminine–one might even use the word submissive (quite biblical of them, no?).

VOUCHERS HURT OHIO KIDS…SO THEY EXPANDED THE PROGRAM

Ohio Expands Its Failed Voucher Program, and Most School Districts Will Lose Funding

What do you do when the research shows that a privatization program hurts children? If you’re an Ohio legislator, you expand the program.

…the students eligible to leave with a voucher do better if they stay in public school; the students who use the voucher, who come from more advantaged backgrounds, do worse in school.

This is the only statewide evaluation of the Ohio EdChoice Program, and not what one would call a ringing endorsement since those who use the voucher do worse in school than those who stay in public school and don’t use the voucher.

Such research did not impress the Ohio legislature. Under the prodding of State Senator Matt Huffman (R.-Lima), the state has expanded the voucher program, so that students in two-thirds of the districts across the state are now eligible to get state funding to attend a religious school.

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2019 Medley #22

Respecting teachers, Vouchers,
Shaming children, Stuttering,
An ADHD prosthetic, Looking back

RESPECT FOR TEACHERS

Are Teachers Allowed to Think for Themselves?

Teaching isn’t, as some legislators apparently think, professional babysitting. Teachers don’t just “tell” students what they need to know, and students don’t just “remember” everything.

Teaching a class of children — whether they are 6 years old, or 16 — is not easy. To do it well takes training, experience, support, resources, and a fair amount of luck.

Most licensed teachers in Indiana have four-year degrees from accredited university teacher training programs; many have master’s degrees. Yet almost half of all new teachers leave the field within the first five years. Perhaps they didn’t realize that teaching is hard work. Perhaps the hours are too long and they thought they were just getting a 7 – 3:30 job with lots of vacation time. Perhaps the pay isn’t good enough. Perhaps they find out that they’re not cut out for teaching.

The teachers who stay, then, are those who are committed to education. One would think that, with years of training, teachers would be considered experts in their field. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Panels of “education experts” regularly have no teachers on them. The National Reading Panel had only one middle school teacher. The Panel, which explored the way young children learned to read “included no teacher of early reading instruction.”

The National Commission on Education, authors of A Nation at Risk, consisted of twelve administrators, one businessperson, a chemist, a physicist, a politician, a conservative activist, and only one practicing teacher.

This lack of respect for the teaching profession seeps in from the various state legislatures. Teachers in Indiana, for example, are told what to teach, how to teach, and how to assess what they have taught. Then they are blamed for failure when the scores on the assessment (currently ILEARN) are lower than the arbitrary cut scores.

Teaching may be the only profession where you are required to get an advanced degree including a rigorous internship only to be treated like you have no idea what you’re doing.

DIVERTING PUBLIC MONEY TO RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

The Supreme Court Is Considering Forcing You To Fund Religious Education

Since 2011 more than half a billion Indiana taxpayer dollars have gone to fund private and parochial schools despite the fact that vouchers don’t go to “better performing” schools…and despite the fact that the First Amendment (as seen in Madison’s support of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) establishes a wall between Church and State.

Indiana’s voucher program, like others around the country, is free from any conflict between Church and State because the money is laundered through a parent “voucher” in which the parent “chooses” the school their child will go to. In truth, however, it is the school that does the choosing.

…many religious schools engage in blatant forms of discrimination. They may refuse to admit students who are LGBTQ, nontheists or religious minorities. Many apply similar religious litmus tests to faculty and staff. Unlike public schools, which are open to all, religious schools serve a private interest.

Finally, any diversion of taxpayer money to religious schools threatens the public education system. Public schools serve 90 percent of America’s children. They ought to be our priority when it comes to allocating taxpayer funding.

All of these reasons are important, but at the end of the day, this is an issue of freedom of conscience. Our founders understood that no one should be forced to support religion against his or her will. It’s one of the primary reasons why they built church-state separation into the First Amendment. The Supreme Court must not abandon this vital principle.

STOP BLAMING KIDS FOR THE IMPACT OF POVERTY

Penalizing kids for school lunch debt can harm their mental health

Nearly half of Indiana’s children are low income; more than one in five live in poverty. With this many children coming from homes without a lot of money, it’s even more important for schools to remember that it is not the student’s fault if their lunch bill isn’t paid. We have to stop blaming children for the impact of poverty on their lives.

Even when parents have enough money it’s not the child’s fault when parents are late with their payment.

Facing stigma around school lunches can negatively impact kids’ mental health, stress levels, and overall cafeteria experience, Cohen says. That’s seen with kids who feel labeled by receiving school lunch, for example. “When we remove that stigma, it makes a big difference in kids’ lives.” Some schools do so by giving all students cafeteria swipe cards so that it’s not apparent who is or is not paying for the meal. On the whole, Cohen says schools are getting better at free meals, but not lunch debt. “When you give a kid a cheese sandwich, you’re bringing that stigma back.”

ARE SOME OF JOE’S GAFFES SIMPLY COVERING UP HIS STUTTERING?

What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say

I’m not going to comment on Vice President Biden’s education plans, but this article about his history of stuttering might explain some of his hesitations, and misstatements. “He lifts his hands up to his face like he did on the debate stage in July, to guide the v sound out of his mouth…”

“The paragraph I had to read was: ‘Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentleman. He laid his cloak upon the muddy road suh-suh-so the lady wouldn’t soil her shoes when she entered the carriage,’” Biden tells me, slightly and unintentionally tripping up on the word so. “And I said, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentle man who—’ and then the nun said, ‘Mr. Biden, what is that word?’ And it was gentleman that she wanted me to say, not gentle man. And she said, ‘Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?’ ”

Biden says he rose from his desk and left the classroom in protest, then walked home. The family story is that his mother, Jean, drove him back to school and confronted the nun with the made-for-TV phrase “You do that again, I’ll knock your bonnet off your head!” I ask Biden what went through his mind as the nun mocked him.

“Anger, rage, humiliation,” he says. His speech becomes staccato. “A feeling of, uh—like I’m sure you’ve experienced—it just drops out of your chest, just, like, you feel … a void.” He lifts his hands up to his face like he did on the debate stage in July, to guide the v sound out of his mouth: void.

I stuttered. I stutter.

Blogger Fred Klonsky says he plans to vote against Biden in the primary election, but understands first hand that the story of Biden’s stuttering is a story about how we treat children with differences.

But Atlantic’s senior editor, who has a stutter himself, has written an article that is about way more than Biden.

It is about how we treat differences.

And it is about me, since I had a severe stutter as a child and I still stutter when I am tired or stressed.

TREATMENT AS AN ADHD PROSTHETIC

What Is an ADHD Prosthetic?

Is medication for ADHD a “crutch?”

“My concern,” the parent continued. “Is that if we get him glasses, we are sending him the message that it’s okay not to try to see. It feels like an excuse. Like we’re enabling him. I mean, he has to learn to see someday, right? He can’t go through life using his poor vision as an excuse not to see.”

A LOOK BACK AT CHANGE THAT HASN’T HAPPENED

School Choice Opponents and the Status Quo

This quote from a June 2017 blog post is a good reminder that not much has changed in the field of public education. There are still those of us who “continue to point out that poverty is the real issue in education” and there are still politicians who refuse to take their share of the responsibility for that poverty. Apparently, politicians think that schools are the sole public institution responsible for overcoming the effects of poverty. If they can’t, then they are blamed, castigated, taken over by the state, or privatized…none of which changes a damn thing.

Meanwhile, nearly 20% of America’s children live in poverty. If we include “low income” children the number doubles….for Black, Hispanic and American Indian children, it triples. The relationship between school success to economic status is well known, but they still blame the schools and teachers.

…To point out the obvious, that poverty is the number one cause of educational inequity, does not make me a champion for the status quo. It simply means that I will not fall prey to the false promise of super-teachers, standardized test driven accountability, merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers, all of which are futile efforts to put a thumb in the overflowing dyke that is systematic discrimination, segregation, income inequity, and, yes, poverty.

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

We can’t ignore the impact of poverty on our students’ achievement.

From March 2009

The U.S. has set as a national goal the narrowing of the achievement gap between lower income and middle-class students, and that between racial and ethnic groups. This is a key purpose of the No Child Left Behind act, which relies primarily on assessment to promote changes within schools to accomplish that goal. However, out-of-school factors (OSFs) play a powerful role in generating existing achievement gaps, and if these factors are not attended to with equal vigor, our national aspirations will be thwarted.

This brief details six OSFs common among the poor that significantly affect the health and learning opportunities of children, and accordingly limit what schools can accomplish on their own: (1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; (2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics. These OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

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2019 Medley #21

Retention-in-grade, Low Test Scores,
Reading wars, Charters and Choice,
Mississippi Strategy,
Vouchers and Discrimination, Poisoning Children

RETENTION HURTS CHILDREN

The Haunted Third Grade Classrooms Children Fear: Enter and… Stay Forever!

It’s time again for another article dealing with retention…complete with references.

In-grade retention doesn’t work. More often than not it harms students psychologically and emotionally, increases the chances of students dropping out, and doesn’t improve achievement. Yet we continue to do it in order to appease the gods of “test and punish.”

I’ve also collected dozens of articles, research articles, blog posts, and position papers on retention-in-grade, the vast majority of which document the damage done by this outdated and abusive practice.

Students who have academic struggles, but who move on, do better in the long run. Students who are retained might seem to do better at first, but they drop back to having difficulties later. Many students who are retained go on to drop out of school.

THE MYTH OF AMERICA’S FAILING SCHOOLS – LOW TEST SCORES

While I Wasn’t Paying Attention……

In a long, rambling blog post, John Merrow touches on a variety of topics. I disagree with one area he discussed in which he talks about how American students score poorly on the PISA test. Our students don’t “underperform their peers in most other countries”. We have a higher rate of child poverty, which lowers our average.

As I wrote in March of 2017,

American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested…

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty…

Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

Other topics covered by Merrow are…

  • How do you teach appropriate behaviors when the current President role models bullying and vulgarity?
  • the Secretary of Education’s assault on public education
  • What should we measure in our schools? We approach measurement the wrong way.
  • the value of play in education
  • the cost of testing
  • the poor quality of our standardized tests and our undemanding curriculum

A sampling…

A social studies teacher right now is a modern-day Hamlet. Should he or she embrace the chaos and encourage students to debate the morality of the flood of demonstrable lies coming from the Oval Office on a daily basis, knowing that doing so is guaranteed to incur the wrath of some parents, and perhaps some administrators as well? Or should the teacher studiously avoid controversy, knowing full well that doing that sends a powerful value-laden message? To teach, or not to teach, that is the question…..

Or suppose you were an elementary school teacher trying to model appropriate behavior for your impressionable students. How do you respond when one of your kids asks you why the President said Joe Biden was kissing Barack Obama’s ass? Or why Trump can say ‘bullshit’ but kids get punished for swearing?

…We have to learn to Measure What We Value, instead of simply Valuing What We Measure.

…Ironically, the PISA results revealed that American kids score high in ‘confidence in mathematical ability,’ despite underperforming their peers in most other countries…

NRP AND THE READING WARS

Problematic “Scientific Based” Phonics: The Flawed National Reading Panel

The “reading wars” have heated up again and the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) is being hauled out as proof that we need to dump current methods of teaching reading (balanced literacy) and teach “systematic phonics.” However, the NRP didn’t actually find that “systematic phonics” worked better than other methods of teaching reading.

Metcalf mentions educational researchers who raised questions concerning the National Reading Panel.

Elaine Garan an education professor and author was one.

She believes there are wide discrepancies between what was reported to the public and what the panel actually found. Most blatantly, the summary proclaimed that “systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through sixth grade,” while the report itself said, “There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above first grade.” [emphasis added]

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND CHOICE

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 1: The “I Didn’t Do It!” Excuse

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 2: The “EVERYONE’S DOING IT!” Excuse

An excellent summary of the problem with charter schools in two blog posts by Steven Singer.

It takes a certain kind of hypocrite to be a charter school champion.

You have to deny any wrongdoing one minute. And then admit you’re guilty but explain it away with the excuse “Everyone’s doing it!” the next.

Take cherry picking – one of the most common admonishments leveled against the school privatization industry.

Detractors claim that charter schools keep enrollment low and then out of those who apply, they pick and choose which students to accept.

Charters are run by private enterprise but funded with public tax dollars. So they are supposed to accept all comers just like the authentic public schools in the same neighborhoods.

But charter schools don’t have to follow the same rules as authentic public schools. They pretty much just have to abide by whatever was agreed upon in their charter contracts. Even then states rarely check up on them to make sure they’re in compliance.

So critics say many of these institutions are circumventing enrollment procedures. They’re welcoming the easiest kids to teach and dissuading others from enrolling – even to the extent of kicking out hard to teach children or pretending that an “unbiased” selection process just so happened to pick only the most motivated students.

WORKERS OR EDUCATED CITIZENS?

Indiana’s “Mississippi Strategy” for Education Will Bear Bitter Fruit

Should we raise and educate our children to supply the economy with workers (the Mississippi strategy) or should we teach our children to be educated citizens? Our goal should be towards citizens who think, rather than workers for a corporate state. In The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark, Carl Sagan wrote,

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

In this post, Doug Masson agrees…

I think there is a fundamental difference between policymakers with respect to whether they see people as liabilities or assets. When we see people as liabilities, then the goal of government is to spend as few resources on them as possible, getting them from cradle to grave with as little fuss as possible. When we see people as assets, then the goal of government is to maximize their potential as efficiently as possible, knowing that the return on that investment will exceed the expenditure as the children become productive, well-rounded citizens contributing to the community. The Mississippi Strategy takes the former approach.

FREE EXERCISE VS. ESTABLISHMENT

Vouchers And Federally-Supported Discrimination

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to hire and fire at will even if they choose to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. However, when the religious group takes government money, then they ought to follow the secular laws of the nation as required by the establishment clause.

…in Indianapolis, as in many areas around the country, the Catholic school system is now funded in part by school vouchers, a system of using public tax dollars for tuition to private schools. Indiana has been aggressive in pursuing school choice policies, particularly under then-Governor Mike Pence, who in his 2013 inaugural address said, “There’s nothing that ails our schools that can’t be fixed by giving parents more choices.” Indiana’s voucher program directs taxpayer dollars primarily to religious schools, and the majority of those are Catholic schools. Cathedral High School participates in both Indiana’s voucher and tax credit scholarship programs.

There was a time when private religious schools might have resisted taking government dollars, even indirectly, for fear of having the government push its rules on the institutions. But now we are seeing that the lever can be pushed in the other direction, and it’s the government that may have to bend to the will of private religious institutions.

POISONING OUR CHILDREN

NC got an ‘F’ for unsafe school drinking water. Activists want the lead out of schools.

North Carolina got an “F” when it comes to protecting its children against lead poisoning.

Environmental activists have launched a new campaign to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water in schools following a national report that gave North Carolina a failing grade for safe school drinking water.

North Carolina was among 22 states that got an “F” grade for not getting rid of lead from school drinking water, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This week, Environment North Carolina released a back-to-school toolkit that gives the public information on how to get the lead out of schools.

“There is no safe level of lead for our citizens but especially for our children,” Krista Early, clean water advocate for Environment NC, said at a news conference at Moore Square. “North Carolina does not currently require testing of drinking water in our children’s schools.

Indiana also got an “F”.

There is no safe level of lead for children. Lead in the environment damages children…permanently. It lowers their school achievement, causes behavior and growth problems, and can increase criminal behavior.

We’re still discussing the damage that lead poisoning does to our children…and we’re still blaming the low achievement of lead-damaged children on schools, teachers, and parents through our reliance on test scores and our underfunding of those schools serving children who need the most help.

Are we doing enough to eliminate lead from the environment? Not according to this article. We spend billions on testing, but apparently can’t afford to keep our children safe from poisoning. The problem is that most of those who are affected by environmental toxins like lead are poor children of color. Chances are if we had lead poisoning in areas where wealthy white people lived, it would be taken care of immediately.

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Filed under Article Medleys, Charters, Choice, Lead, reading, retention, Testing, vouchers

2019 Medley #20: Poverty and Testing

Poverty and Testing

IT’S POVERTY, STUPID

The connection between family income and school achievement has been well documented (see the links at the end of this post ) yet policymakers and the media continue to blame schools, teachers, and the students themselves for low achievement.

David Berliner notes that there are out-of-school factors to student achievement including medical care, food insecurity, family and community characteristics, and environmental pollutants. Included among the latter is lead poisoning, which contributes to low achievement levels and is more damaging to children of poverty.

Policymakers, however, have a vested interest in deflecting the blame for low achievement onto schools, teachers, and students. If poverty and its side effects are ignored, then those who are tasked with helping reduce poverty and, by extension, its side effects, are not to blame.

The articles in this post discuss the effects of poverty on student achievement. Achievement, in nearly all the articles, is measured solely by standardized test scores. Standardized test scores, aside from keeping testing companies in business, “measure what matters least.” Alfie Kohn wrote,

What generally passes for a test of reading comprehension is a series of separate questions about short passages on random topics. These questions “rarely examine how students interrelate parts of the text and do not require justifications that support the interpretations”; indeed, the whole point is the “quick finding of answers rather than reflective interpretation.”

In mathematics, the story is much the same. An analysis of the most widely used standardized math rests found that only 3 percent of the questions required “high level conceptual knowledge” and only 5 percent tested “high level thinking skills such as problem solving and reasoning.” Typically the rests aim to make sure that students have memorized a series of procedures, not that they understand what they are doing.

It’s been nearly two decades since the US Congress passed No Child Left Behind, yet we’re still overusing and misusing standardized tests.

New Reports Confirm Persistent Child Poverty While Policymakers Blame Educators and Fail to Address Core Problem

Core problems of poverty and underemployment are also discussed in this post…as well as how the federal share of funding for education has declined.

The correlation of academic achievement with family income has been demonstrated now for half a century, but policymakers, like those in the Ohio legislature who are debating punitive school district takeovers, prefer to blame public school teachers and administrators instead of using the resources of government to assist struggling families who need better access to healthcare, quality childcare, better jobs, and food assistance.

…child poverty affects academic achievement. Policy makers, however, in the spirit of test-based, sanctions-based school accountability, are instead determined to impose punishments on the school districts serving poor children. They imagine that if they shift the blame onto teachers, nobody will notice that they are themselves failing to invest the resources and power of government in programs to support the needs of America’s poorest children.

STANDARDIZED TESTING 101

New Test, Same Results: ILEARN Reflects Family Income

Indiana’s new ILEARN test yields results similar to the old tests — poor students score lower than more affluent students. The scatter-plot graph included shows the tendency towards high achievement and higher socioeconomic status.

The big news about ILEARN has been that local schools and teachers should not be held accountable for the low test scores. Implied by this is the assumption that schools and teachers, under different circumstances, should be held accountable for ILEARN test scores.

Student test scores should be used diagnostically — to drive instruction. But because out-of-school factors have an impact on test scores, teachers should not be held solely accountable for student test scores. Because of those same out-of-school factors, schools should not be held solely accountable either. There are just too many outside variables that impact student test scores. Some of those variables, by the way, are the responsibility of policymakers. For example, are teachers responsible for the effect of lead on their students’ learning because then-governor Mike Pence ignored lead contamination affecting East Chicago’s children?

Additionally, student achievement tests have not been developed to evaluate schools and teachers. Doing so is an invalid use of the tests. The assumption that student test scores are the sole result of teacher or school quality is simply mistaken.

Among the [many] things that Indiana policymakers need to fix when it comes to our schools are 1), they need to assume their own share of responsibility for out-of-school factors affecting Indiana students’ school achievement, and 2), they need to end the misuse and overuse of standardized tests.

Indiana’s new standardized test, ILEARN, may be new and even “computer adaptive,” but it has at least one thing in common with its predecessor ISTEP+. Scores on ILEARN correspond to socioeconomic status. Put simply: The poorer the families served by your school, the poorer your school will perform on the test. Shocking, we know.

Some news reports about the test talk just about the overall low scores. Others go skin deep by comparing the average scores of schools and districts  But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that this test—despite its price tag of $45 million—delivers more of the same. 

GAPS

Proficiency gaps deserve a look

How much money do we spend on our schools? Is there a difference between how much is spent on schools filled with black, Asian, multiracial, or Hispanic students? How much segregation is there in Indiana schools?

The disparities are stark. Statewide, 43.3% of white students were proficient on both the ILEARN math and English/language arts assessments compared to 14.8% of black students. Proficiency rates were 56.7% for Asian students, 31.8% for multiracial students and 24.2% for Hispanic students.

And yes, poverty matters. Just 22.9% of students who qualified by family income for free or reduced-price meals scored proficient, compared to 50.9% of students who didn’t qualify. (Gaps are similar, overall, for public, private and charter schools, according to my calculations).

Achievement gaps in schools driven by poverty, study finds

“If you want to be serious about decreasing achievement gaps, you have to take on segregation.” — Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

They found that the gaps were “completely accounted for” by poverty, with students in high-poverty schools performing worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families.

“Racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower-poverty schools,” concluded the paper by academics, led by Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

…because race and poverty are so closely related, the only way to close the gap is to racially integrate schools. He pointed to those who advocate that schools think less about integration and instead try to improve all schools. That hasn’t worked, he said.

“If you want to be serious about decreasing achievement gaps,” he said, “you have to take on segregation.”

MIT STUDY

Study links brain anatomy, academic achievement, and family income

I’ve included this 2015 report on an MIT study showing that poverty has an impact on children’s brain development…which might account for a portion of the economic test score gap.

A new study led by researchers at MIT and Harvard University offers another dimension to this so-called “achievement gap”: After imaging the brains of high- and low-income students, they found that the higher-income students had thicker brain cortex in areas associated with visual perception and knowledge accumulation. Furthermore, these differences also correlated with one measure of academic achievement — performance on standardized tests.

“Just as you would expect, there’s a real cost to not living in a supportive environment. We can see it not only in test scores, in educational attainment, but within the brains of these children,” says MIT’s John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and one of the study’s authors. “To me, it’s a call to action. You want to boost the opportunities for those for whom it doesn’t come easily in their environment.”

Relationship between SES and Academic Achievement

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2019 Medley #19

GERM in Canada, Third Grade Retention,
the Common Good, ILEARN, Vouchers,
the Teacher Exodus

ET TU CANADA?

Schools aren’t failing our kids, our government is.

Since 2012 Grant Frost has been writing about the GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement) infection of Canada. Sadly, the story is similar to what’s been happening here in the US. Outside factors affect school achievement, yet solutions to societal problems seem to fall to the schools.

In 2011, Texas Superintendent John Kuhn asked,

Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet?

Schools can’t do it alone…and schools can’t solve the problems caused by, in the case of the US, decades of neglect, racism, and economic inequity. State (and Provincial) governments must accept their share of responsibility…not by punishing high need schools with school takeovers and inadequate funding, but with real programs aimed at healing the problems of poverty and systemic racism.

To paraphrase Frost, “The reality of our situation in Indiana is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is.”

What struck me so soundly as I read through the report, beyond my obvious alarm, was the way in which so many of these issues, or more particularly, the finding of solutions for them, has so often been downloaded by governments onto the public school system. In an attempt to lower obesity rates, schools are encouraged to provide more activity time. In an attempt to lower suicide rates, students get lessons on warning signs and prevention measures. Discrimination (risk nine) is countered with “respect for all” campaigns. Bullying (risk ten) is tackled head on in classroom. Food insecurity (breakfast programs). Infant mortality (Parenting courses). Lack of immunization (Immunization programs.) For almost every indicator of risk to our children that was on the list, governments have turned to public schools and the people who staff them to provide solutions.

…Child poverty can not be addressed in our classrooms. That particular risk factor can only be addressed in Province House. The reality of our situation in Nova Scotia is not that our schools are failing our kids; our government is.

RETENTION

Third Grade Reading Retention Does Not Work (Example #6,288,347)

Retention in grade continues to damage thousands of Indiana children. The latest statistics I was able to find were those for the 2016-2017 school year. At that time about 7% (nearly 76,000) of Indiana’s 1.14 million students between the ages of 6 and 17 had been retained at least once since they entered kindergarten.

Indiana is one of the states with third-grade retention laws so many of those students are retained in third grade. Our students are required to pass a standardized reading test in third grade or repeat the grade.

Research spanning more than 100 years has consistently shown that retention in grade is not helpful and is, in many cases, harmful. Often children will improve their academic achievement during their repeated year grade, but after three to four years most gains have disappeared. Grade retention is an intervention teachers and schools will attempt because they don’t know what else to do and believe that “we have to do something.”

With more and more states requiring retention in third grade for students who cannot pass the state-mandated standardized reading test, there will continue to be a large number of students retained in grade.

At the end of this linked piece, Peter Greene wrote,

…third grade reading retention does not work, plus it’s expensive and damaging to students, so maybe we can just knock it off right now.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

What the more reliable research appears to show is that third grade is a good year for taking a student’s reading temperature, and their ability to read at the third grade level seems to be a good predictor of future scholastic success. That seems to be a valid correlation but– say it with me now, nice and loud for the folks in the back– correlation does not equal causation.

Nevertheless, many states have instituted a plan by which students are not allowed to exit third grade until they can show sufficient reading skills (or at least sufficient standardized read test taking skills). This is dumb.

This would be the equivalent of, say, noting that students who are more than four and a half feet tall in third grade are mostly over six feet tall when they graduate from high school. Therefor, in our desire to make graduates taller, we will not let anyone progress beyond third grade until they are at least four and a half feet tall.

The most likely reading of the third grade reading correlation is that some factors are contributing to a poor reading level, and those same factors, exacerbated by reading difficulties, will be obstacles to future success. Third grade reading level is a canary in the coalmine, and you don’t fix things by repeatedly sending canaries down there. But canaries are cheap, and fixing coal mines is hard and expensive. Addressing all the problems that hold a small child back– well, that’s complicated and expensive and difficult and it puts a lot of responsibility on the government. It’s simpler to just threaten the kid and the teacher and make it their problem.

WE SERVE ALL CHILDREN

Embracing Public Schools as the Very Definition of the Common Good

America’s public schools are a “common good.” Jan Resseger eloquently describes how we all benefit from public education. If you need to respond to those who don’t understand how public schools help individuals, communities, and the entire society, here is an excellent source.

…public schools are required by law to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children: “(T)here is one thing that our American public schools do better than any other schools in the country or even in the world: our public schools commit to addressing the needs of every single child. Our public schools are open to ALL children, without prejudice or pause. Our schools attempt to educate EVERYBODY. American students are students who are gifted, students with disabilities, students who need advanced placement, students who have experienced trauma, students who are learning English, students who are hungry, affluent students, students who live in poverty, students who are anxious, and students who are curious.”

TESTING IN INDIANA

ILEARN another blow to state’s education efforts

How much time is spent by adults and children in your local school on our state tests? What might be a better use of that time?

Indiana students, teachers and local communities have endured years of changing school accountability systems, each focused on exhaustive standardized test-taking negatively affecting student well-being, teacher compensation and school letter grades, causing parent confusion and anxiety in the local community.

From ISTEP to ISTEP+ to ILEARN, children in Indiana have suffered years of changing expectations through standardized testing schemes designed to determine the number of students who fail only after the test is given. No good teacher uses assessments in this manner.

Set the standards, work toward learning the standards, assess the standards through multiple means, determine those meeting or not yet meeting the standards, all without crushing teaching and learning through excessive standardized testing.

To the detriment of today’s school culture, students and teachers have been reduced to test takers and test preparers unable to take advantage of the ebb and flow of inquiry learning, creative and independent thinking, or problem-solving through logic.

Instead, too much precious time and money has been spent over the years on accountability systems focused solely on test results directly correlated with student socioeconomic status.

Testing…Testing…

Sheila Kennedy writes about how Indiana’s tests…from ISTEP to ILEARN have been misused as a tool to damage public education.

The widespread misuse of what should be a diagnostic tool is just one more example of our depressing American tendency to apply bumper sticker solutions to complex issues requiring more nuanced approaches.

Are we concerned about the quality of our public schools? Easy. Let’s just give out vouchers allowing parents to send their children to mostly religious schools that may or may not teach science or civics or accurate history, and are turning out graduates with lower test scores in math and English.

For the 90% of children who still attend our public schools, let’s spend lots of tax dollars on standardized tests that we can then use as a blunt weapon to pigeonhole the kids and penalize their teachers.

Those approaches are so much easier than acting on the basis of in-depth analyses of both strengths and shortcomings, giving our public schools and public school teachers the resources–and the respect– they need, and properly evaluating the results.

VOUCHERS

Indiana’s School Voucher Program–The Back Story

A second article by Sheila Kennedy…this one on the history of Indiana’s voucher program.

As governor, Mike Pence did his best to use the voucher program to enrich parochial schools, but it was Mitch Daniels who was the brains behind diverting public funds to religious and private pockets.

Kennedy’s blog post is based on an article in the Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss A telling story of school ‘reform’ in Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana. The Answer Sheet is behind the Washington Posts’ paywall, however, Kennedy includes a link to a pdf file of the article.

…Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)

So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.

Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.

That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.

TEACHER SHORTAGE EXODUS

How to stop the teacher exodus

It’s not a teacher shortage. It’s a teacher exodus from classrooms and from teacher training programs. Fewer young people are going into education…and those teachers who are leaving the field — whether through an early exit or retirement — are not being replaced in sufficient numbers. Who will teach the next generation of American children? Who will prepare tomorrow’s citizens for our nation’s future success?

…test-based accountability has destroyed the profession of teaching and caused a mass demoralization and exodus from public school classrooms. And let’s not forget about the thousands of hours of lost instruction time in the sciences, social studies, arts, music and anything else that doesn’t conform to basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It really is an insanity driven by the hatred of public schools and the greed of powerful individuals to use the false narrative of failing schools and bad teachers to drain schools of public tax dollars. Nothing done over the last 35 years in the name of accountability—Nothing! — has done anything positive for the children stuck at the bottom of the achievement gap. The problem was never failing schools and bad teachers. The problem has always been poverty born out of systemic racism. 

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2019 Medley #18: A Blogoversary

Blogoversary, Online Pre-K, The Waltons, Privatization, Teachers work hours,
Teacher morale, Vouchers, Readaloud,
Let Children Play

2019, BLOGOVERSARY #13

Today, the 14th of September marks the thirteenth year that I’ve kept this blog. I’m too stubborn to give it up…and I still feel the need to vent about what’s happening in the realm of public education

…my mission, when I began here, was to have a place to vent. It still works for that despite the depressing political and educational landscape. And who knows, maybe last year’s “Teachers’ Spring” will catch on and the teachers in Indiana will rise up. So I’ll keep going…just in case someone is listening.

Off-Topic

Most of the time I focus on education. Now and then, I’ll venture into national politics, music or baseball.

Yesterday, September 13, for example, was the birthday of Roald Dahl, a horrible man who wrote delightful books which I read to dozens, if not hundreds of second and third graders during my years in the classroom. Check out this thoughtful article about reading Dahl’s work, Problematic Favorites: Re-reading Roald Dahl. Also, see my own discussion about Dahl…in the section titled “Facing Racism” in this post from 2017.

I also regularly blog about the birthdays of famous composers Mozart or Beethoven, as well as baseball heroes like Jackie Robinson.

For the most part, however, I’ve posted about public education in America.

Changes

Much has changed in the state of public education since I began this blog in 2006…not much of it for the better (I haven’t given up hope, however). Some examples…

  • In 2006 Indiana taxpayers supported one publicly funded school system. In 2019 we pay for three — charter schools, the constitutionally mandated public schools, and Indiana’s largest-in-the-nation school voucher program.
  • The voucher program in Indiana began in 2011. Since then the state has spent more than a half-billion dollars on mostly unaccountable voucher schools…around $160 million for the 2018-2019 school year. Vouchers don’t help students improve their learning. The program has never been evaluated. Let’s just call it a failure.

I could go on…and I have, here, and here.

Until things improve for public schools in America, I’ll still need this blog as a place to vent.

THE PLAGUE

Online Pre-K Continues To Spread Like A Big Stupid Plague

Among the most stupid new ideas to come out of the digital revolution is that of online preschool…digital nursery school.

But what about children who have no preschool to go to…kids who live in preschool deserts…kids in rural areas where there are no preschools? Peter Greene answers with this…

Yes, the argument is going to be that this will reach children who don’t have access or finances to go to pre-school, that this can be a resource for isolated families, to which I say this is like saying there are families that don’t have access to enough nutritionally rich food, so let’s mail them all cases of diet soda and arsenic. Yes, this targets families and children who need something– but what they need is not this. Nobody needs this.

SEND MONEY TO WALTONS AND DESTROY PUBLIC EDUCATION

Inside the web of Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire

The Walton Family Foundation and members of the Walton family are at the forefront of the movement to privatize public education. Every time you shop at Walmart (or at these other companies) you’re sending money to folks who use their billions to destroy public education.

A free quality public education for every child is a foundational principle of American society and a right guaranteed by Arkansas’s Constitution. Everyone in this state, regardless of religion, race, income, disability or any other characteristic deserves an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

Unfortunately, a vast network of corporate interests and wealthy individuals are chipping away at this bedrock of our democracy in an effort to turn public education into a marketplace where private interests can profit off of our students.

Across the nation, states have implemented and expanded charter schools that are unaccountable to the public and voucher programs that have siphoned off public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

This powerful and well-funded effort is nationwide, but one of the biggest contributors is based right here in our state, and each year the network of privatizers working in Arkansas is growing.

TEACHERS DONATE THEIR TIME

Teachers Work a Shocking Amount of Overtime Hours and It’s All Unpaid

I’ve been retired since 2010. Most teachers still donate large amounts of their time.

…teachers are putting in close well over 2,000 hours a year, depending on their situation. How does that measure up with other professions? Well, according to the Pew Research Center, the average American only works about 1,811 hours a year. Factor in the thousands of teachers that need to take on a 2nd or 3rd job just to pay the bills and the number of hours teachers work throughout the year is off the charts. It’s a staggering mathematical exercise and one that doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon.

Source: Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

LACK OF RESPECT

“Tired Of Being Treated Like Dirt” Teacher Morale In The 2019 PDK Poll

Teacher are leaving the classroom…and young people aren’t becoming teachers. We have a shortage of teachers in Indiana and the U.S. because teachers are underpaid, overworked, and disrespected. It’s not hard to understand why young people would choose a different profession.

Normally, if there’s an employment shortage in a particular area, management will raise salaries and improve working conditions to incentivize new hires to enter the field. Not so with education. The shortage seems to be preferred by legislators and policymakers. I’ve suggested before that this is likely gender based…that teachers, being mostly female, are disrespected by our paternalistic society.

Add Peter Greene’s Curmudgucation to your daily blog list.

Inadequate pay is the marquee reason, and notably regional. Public school teachers are far less likely to feel fairly paid in the South and Midwest. That reason is followed closely by stress and pressure, which is followed by a lack of respect. Lack of support. Teaching no longer enjoyable. Testing requirements. Workload.

These are tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. This has been evident on the national stage with issues like installing a Secretary of Education who had previously dismissed public education as a “dead end” or a Secretary of Education who asserts that student failure is because of low teacher expectations. Education has also carried the modern burden of the thesis that poor education is the cause of poverty, or even our “greatest national security threat,” and so the entire fate of the nation rests on teachers’ backs. And yet, teachers are not trusted to handle any of this; instead, we’ve had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these “reforms” have sounded like “You can’t do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy.” There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, “You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

The new terrain of the school voucher wars

Vouchers haven’t improved student learning. When vouchers were first introduced in Indiana we heard from their supporters that private schools were better than public schools. We heard that students learned more and that poor students should be given vouchers so they could “escape failing schools.” But, despite protestations from “reformers” that was never really the point.

Now we know voucher schools don’t outperform public schools so the supporters of vouchers have changed their tune. Now it’s all about “choice.” The truth is, it’s always been about the money. Private schools want public money (with as little accountability for it as possible). With vouchers in Indiana, they get it.

Researchers — including several voucher advocates — have conducted nine rigorous, large-scale studies since 2015 on achievement in voucher programs. In no case did these studies find any statistically positive achievement gains for students using vouchers. But seven of the nine studies found that voucher students saw relative learning losses. Too often, these losses were substantial.

THINGS TO DO

Want to Raise Smart, Kind Kids? Science Says Do This Every Day

Parents, read to your children every day, starting from the day they’re born. Even when they have “leaerned how to read” themselves, continue to read to them.

Teachers, read to your students every day, starting from the first day of school. This will be the easiest, most enjoyable, and most effective part of your reading program.

The best thing about this particular “keystone habit” for raising smart, kind kids is that it’s completely free, it takes just 10-15 minutes a day, and anyone can do it.

To get smart, kind kids, you don’t have to sign your kid up for expensive tutoring or have twice-daily screenings of the movie Wonder.

All you have to do is this: Read to your child. Even if they already know how to read to themselves.

Because research shows reading aloud is the powerful keystone habit that will raise smart, kind kids. 

PLAY IS CHILDREN’S WORK

Let the Children Play! A Book You Should Read

A new book by Pasi Sahlberg. It’s next on my list to read.

Pasi was flummoxed by the bizarre education concept of “preschool readiness.” Compounding the culture shock was the stunning price tag: $25,000 a year for preschool, compared with the basically free, government-funded daycare-through-university programs that the boy would have enjoyed back in Finland.

Pasi had entered an American school culture that is increasingly rooted in childhood stress and the elimination of the arts, physical activity and play—all to make room for a tidal wave of test prep and standardized testing. This new culture was supposed to reduce achievement gaps, improve learning and raise America’s position in the international education rankings. Nearly two decades and tens of billions of dollars later, it isn’t working. Yet the boondoggle continues, even as the incidence of childhood mental-health disorders such as anxiety and depression is increasing.

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2019 Medley #17: Back to school 2019, Part 2 The Test Fails

Testing and Accountability

THE TEST FAILS

Accountability is the big news in Indiana as school starts this year. It seems that our students didn’t do well on the new iLearn test which replaced ISTEP and was administred last Spring.

Steve Hinnefeld, who blogs at Schools Matter, reported (see The stakes are the problem, below),

Just under half of all students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English/language arts, and just under half were proficient in mathematics, according to the assessment. Some 37% were proficient in both.

Why? Our students did fine on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) often called The Nation’s Report Card. At least three/fourths of our students in grades four and eight were At or above Basic in reading and the same in math (for a discussion of the difference between Basic and Proficient on the NAEP see If NAEP “Proficient” Means “Grade Level Proficiency,” Then America’s Private Schools Are in Trouble by blogger Mercedes Schneider. Also see Scale Scores and Achievement Levels).

The problem is, apparently, the test itself. Superintendents from across the state (including the State Superintendent of Public Instruction) have recognized this and have spoken out to “pause accountability” for students, teachers, and schools. This makes plenty of sense, especially since a student achievement test is not a valid measure of schools and teachers!

Standardized Testing 101

Standardized tests are used to measure the knowledge students have of the content covered by the test. Only the content of the test is measured. In other words, a standardized math test which covers arithmetic and pre-algebra (similar to most standardized math tests used in elementary schools) should not be used to judge students’ knowledge of reading.

Standardized tests are developed with validity and reliability. That means that 1) they measure what they were meant to measure (validity), and 2) they are consistent in their measurement (reliability). A standardized math achievement test is meant to measure a student’s math achievement. It is valid only if it is used to measure their math achievement, and nothing else.

Using standardized tests meant to measure student achievement for any other use than measuring student achievement is invalid.

Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality

Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is.

The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools By Alfie Kohn (2000)

The more a test is made to “count”—in terms of being the basis for promoting or retaining students, for funding or closing down schools—the more that anxiety is likely to rise and the less valid the scores become.

Standardized student achievement tests should not be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools, and school systems. Achievement test results used in such a way are invalid.

Grading schools in Indiana as A to F based on student achievement tests is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.

Using student achievement tests to evaluate individual teachers is an invalid use of the state standardized tests.

The millions of dollars we spend on iLearn is being wasted if we misuse the tests.

Majority fail 1st test of ILEARN

[SACS Superintendent Phil Downs] and leaders of other Allen County districts decried the use of standardizes tests to unfairly measure the effectiveness of teachers, schools and students. And they called for changes to the overall accountability system.

“One of the most depressing days of the school year is when test scores come out,” Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

McCormick acknowledged that implementation dips usually come with a new assessment. Compared to last year, scores dropped 16% in English and 11% in math.

But she defended the students, noting college entrance scores and those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show improvement.

“Their performance is not backsliding,” McCormick said. “There are promising trends of student performance. This assessment and threshold was much more rigorous.”

Superintendents: Make one-year pause on ILEARN scores, school grades permanent

If ILEARN scores are adversely impacting students, teachers and school districts, and if our legislators are recommending a one-year pause preventing these scores from harming students, teachers and school districts, shouldn’t this pause be a permanent one? We are calling upon the governor and legislators to make the right decision and permanently detach test scores from teacher evaluations and grading Indiana public schools.

Standardized test scores should only be used for diagnostic purposes and nothing more. Remember former state Rep. Ray Richardson? Thirty-five years ago he created the legislation that called for a standardized test specifically designed to help teachers figure out which of their students needed help. Thus, ISTEP was born. Now, 35 years later, he regrets getting that legislation passed. As reported by Matthew Tully in the Indianapolis Star on Jan. 28, 2016, Richardson says, “It’s being used exclusively to grade schools and teachers. … That was never the intent.”

The stakes are the problem

Indiana’s ILEARN scores have been made public, and the freakout is underway. I guess we should be grateful. A decade ago, business leaders and newspaper editorial writers might have pointed to the scores as evidence that schools were broken. Now the consensus seems to be that the test is broken.

Here’s another possibility. Maybe the problem isn’t with the test. Maybe the problem is what we do with it. Maybe it’s the high stakes, not the testing, that we should reject.

UPDATE: ONE MORE ARTICLE

The Expensive Lesson of ILEARN

No grift can last forever, and maybe this one is falling apart. Fifteen years ago, Doghouse Riley wrote that ISTEP and similar requirements were “designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.” (The Washington Post history on Indiana school privatization suggests the ball really started rolling back in 1996.) My take has been that the push for vouchers and charters has been designed to subsidize religious education, break the teachers’ unions, and financially reward friends and well-wishers of the privatization advocates.

If Doghouse was right that the tests were intended to prove that the wrong sorts of schools were failures, the ILEARN is even more of a debacle.

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