Posted in Darling-Hammond, IREAD-3, ISTEP, Testing

Time for The Test! What Can One Teacher Do?

It’s (almost) Spring. Time for baseball, longer days, and, of course…

Right now most grade 3 through grade 8 students here in Indiana are taking ISTEP+…or more correctly, ISTEP+ Part 1. ISTEP+ Part 2 is given in April, less than a month after Part 1. At least, that’s how it is for most students. Third graders aren’t quite as lucky.

Indiana is a member of the “Learn or be Punished” club, so third graders also get to take the high-stakes IREAD-3. IREAD-3 is an additional reading test (yes, reading is also tested on the ISTEP+ Part 1 and Part 2). IREAD-3 immediately follows ISTEP+ Part 1 and their scores on IREAD-3 determine if they get promoted to fourth grade for the next school year. [See Research on Retention in Grade for why this is a terrible idea.]

Tenth graders take ISTEP+, too. Secondary students also take ECAs (End of Course Assessments).

There are other tests from the state as well…the alternate assessment, ISTAR…the Kindergarten readiness test, ISTAR-KR…the English proficiency, WIDA….ACCUPLACER. Next year ISTEP+ will be replaced with ILEARN, which promises to be somewhat different, but also somewhat the same.


…on tests in Indiana? We’ve spent $300 million since 2002 and $38 million for the last two years of ISTEP+ alone. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes to spend $26.3 million for the next two years. Such a bargain!

But the cost of testing is much greater than just the cost of the test booklets. Personnel costs…the loss of instructional time…the cost of paying teachers, administrators and others to fiddle around with testing chores instead of actually working with students…and the cost in emotional and physical stress related to the tests.

The money (and time) we have wasted could surely have been put to better use in classrooms…lowering class sizes perhaps with an additional 200 teachers statewide…updated technology…textbooks…classroom sets of books…building repairs…science equipment. Perhaps that money could have helped the people of Muncie and Gary retain their democratic right to elected school boards.

If you include the millions of dollars dumped into private pockets through charters and vouchers we would have enough to build a pretty solid system of common schools in Indiana.


What are we doing with all those different test scores? Test scores are used to (among other things)…

  • evaluate teachers
  • determine grade placement for children (IREAD-3)
  • rank and grade schools
  • rank school systems

In Rise Above the Mark, Linda Darling Hammond said,

The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.

Standardized tests are developed to determine how much students know about the tested material. They are not made to evaluate teachers, schools, and school systems. Using them inappropriately is invalid and a misuse of the test.

The entire country misuses and overuses tests…and we do it with the blessing of the U.S. Education Department and all 50 state Departments of Education at a cost of nearly $2 billion (The last study I could find was done in 2012, and the cost, at that time, was $1.7 billion. I think I’m safe in assuming that it’s more than that now).

[UPDATE: As I was getting ready to post this, I saw this video from NPE. It’s worth your time. Watch it…


Don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test…You didn’t devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do.Candidate Barack Obama, 2007

Testing is not teaching and a child (or a school/state/nation) is more than a test score.

So what can one teacher do?

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re administering tests this month — or at any time during the school year.

1. You have already prepared them as much as you can. No matter what you do you can’t (legally) add more to their knowledge once a testing session begins.

2. Standardized tests measure knowledge, but you have provided your students with growth opportunities, experiences and skills which aren’t (and can’t be) tested such as (but not limited to):

creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, a sense of beauty, a sense of wonder, honesty, integrity

3. Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests — the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation — is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that were important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn’t be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that’s not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.

4. People who make rules and laws about teaching, from legislators to billionaires to presidents, don’t understand the teaching and learning process. For most of them, their understanding of teaching comes from the point of view of a learner.

They don’t understand what it means to be a teacher in a classroom.

They don’t know the planning that takes place before the first day of school. They don’t understand the thought behind creating an entire year’s worth of lesson plans. They don’t know the emotional responses a teacher feels when a class leaves her care at the end of a school year. They don’t know all the time and effort spent preparing at night, on weekends, and during “vacations.”

They have never helped a child decide to remain in school only to lose him to a drive-by shooting. They have never gotten a letter from a former student thanking them for supporting her during a family crisis. They have never tried to explain to a class of Kindergartners why their classmate who had cancer is not coming back. They have never felt the joy of watching a student who they helped all year long walk across the stage to accept a diploma.

State legislators who come from jobs as attorneys, florists, or auctioneers don’t know what preparing for a class — or half a dozen classes — of students, day after day, for 180 days, is like. They have an image of what a classroom teacher does based on their childhood and youthful memories, but they don’t know how it really works.

Understand that. Remember that you are much more valuable to your students than what is reflected on “the test.”

5. Do what you have to do to survive in today’s classroom. Make sure your students are, to the extent that you are able, ready to take “the test.” Then, let it go and return to being the best teacher you can be. Keep in mind that the most important thing you will do for your students is to be a person they can respect, learn from, look up to, emulate, and care about.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. — Carl Jung

Posted in Anti-Intellectualism, Competition, Darling-Hammond, DeVos, library, NancyBailey, Quotes, Ravitch, Segregation, Stephen Krashen, TeacherShortage

Listen to This #12


Please. Education is not a horserace.

We Americans are selfish and self-centered. Peter Greene’s tweet about DACA elsewhere in this post expresses it well…as does this quote from Jim Wright in his Stonekettle Station post, Ship of Fools, where he says,

“F*** you, I got mine” is a lousy ideology to build civilization on.

PZ Myers, a curmudgeonly biology professor/blogger from Minnesota, discusses education…and how it should NOT divide winners and losers. Education he says, is a process by which everyone should gain knowledge.

When we make education a competition, we resign some students to the “loser” category. What would be better for the long-term health of our society…to have a large group of “losers” trying to survive under the heel of the winners? or a society where everyone is educated with greater knowledge, where everyone grows up a winner?

From PZ Myers

The mistake is to think of education as a game where there are winners and losers rather than an experience in which we try to make sure every single student comes out at the end with more knowledge. It’s not a competition.


Where have all the teachers gone?

The so-called “education reform” movement has been successful at making the teaching profession unattractive. We are losing teachers at an alarming rate, and some schools are forced to fill classrooms with unqualified adults. Schools with more resources can afford to hire actual teachers, and schools with fewer resources – commonly those schools which serve low-income, high-minority populations – end up staffing classrooms with untrained teachers.

In order to overcome the shortage (as well as strike a blow against teachers unions) states, like Indiana, are adding pathways to teaching so unqualified adults can get into the classroom quicker.

What kind of future are we building for ourselves?

From Linda Darling-Hammond in The Answer Sheet

…even with intensive recruiting both in and outside of the country, more than 100,000 classrooms are being staffed this year by instructors who are unqualified for their jobs. These classrooms are disproportionately in low-income, high-minority schools, although in some key subjects, every kind of district has been hit. This is a serious problem for the children they serve and for the country as a whole.


8 Powerful Voices in Defense of Public Education – Diane Ravitch

The Network for Public Education (NPE) is producing a series of videos in support of public education and against the movement to privatize our schools. NPE President, Diane Ravitch, is one of the strongest voices in support of public education today.

From Diane Ravitch

[Betsy DeVos] is the first Secretary of Education in our history, who is actively hostile to public education. We’ve never had this before.


School Segregation, An Ever-Present Problem Across America

Humanity’s past is littered with wars, murders, assassinations, conquests, and other horrible events caused by our narrow, selfish, racist, and tribal, impulses. If we want to survive into the next century, we’ll need to overcome those baser characteristics of our species…and learn to accept that we are one, diverse, human race.

From Jan Resseger

Hannah-Jones concludes: “What the Gardendale case demonstrates with unusual clarity is that changes in the law have not changed the hearts of many white Americans.” These articles—Felton’s and Hannah-Jones’—are worth reading together. They are a sobering update on America’s long struggle with racism and the unresolved and very current issue of school segregation which is always accompanied by educational inequity. Quality education is supposed to be a right for all of our children, but we are a long way from having achieved justice.

Integrating Little Rock Central High School, September 25, 1957


Teacher Appreciation As School Starts

A personal relationship with another human being is an important part of “personalized” learning.

From Nancy Bailey

While the focus appears to be on transforming teaching into digital competency-based instruction, or personalized learning, real human teachers are what make learning for every child personalized. That title was stolen from them.


Credentialed school librarians: What the research says

From Stephen Krashen

We cheerfully spend billions on unvalidated tests and untested technology, yet we ignore the impressive research on libraries and librarians, and are unwilling to make the modest investments that will ensure that school libraries are well supplied with books and are staffed with credentialed librarians.


A Confederacy of Dunces

The Roman philosopher, Epictetus, wrote,

We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.

That is a concept which Americans would do well to learn. We are living at a time where people are proud of their ignorance.

From Shiela Kennedy

There’s a saying to the effect that the only foes that truly threaten America are the enemies at home: ignorance, superstition and incompetence. Trump is the trifecta.

Posted in Darling-Hammond, Evaluations, poverty, Public Ed, Teaching Career, Testing, Valerie Strauss

The Intention of Unintended Consequences


Are the unintended consequences of the overuse and misuse of standardized tests really unintended? The misuse of standardized tests seems designed specifically to “prove” that public schools are “failing” so that “reformers,” both corporate and religious, can continue with the business of privatization.

We know that standardized test scores correlate to the economic level of a school population rather than the quality of their teachers, but “reformers” say that “poverty is just an excuse” (unless of course their favorite charter school discovers that students from high poverty homes score lower on tests. Then it becomes a real factor). “Reformers” demand that education be the driving force behind the fight against poverty. Unfortunately for this approach, we know that the effects of poverty make learning more difficult, and poverty must be eliminated first.

We know that standardized tests, scored by temps with no experience in teaching children, are not a true or complete reflection of a child’s learning.

We know that children learn at different rates and the rigid requirements of “standards” are developmentally inappropriate for many children. The standardized tests based on those standards are misused when they are the basis for teacher evaluations, student promotions, and other high-stakes decisions.

The point of the tests, however, seems to be not the evaluation of student learning, but rather to show that public schools are somehow “failing.” Privatizers seem intent on closing public schools (see here and here), in order to divert public tax dollars to corporate and religious pocketbooks. Apparently “choice” isn’t an option for parents who want to keep their public schools open.

Linda Darling-Hammond said in Rise Above the Mark,

The problem we have with testing in this country today is that…we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and…we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.

The use of the “wrong kinds of tests” in “the wrong kinds of ways” have consequences damaging to public education, the teaching profession, and worst of all, our children.

Valerie Strauss posted an article recently by Susan Moore Johnson, an education professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Johnson listed four unintended consequences of high-stakes testing for teacher evaluations.


Four unintended consequences of using student test scores to evaluate teachers

1. Making It More Difficult to Fill High-Need Teaching Assignments

Teachers’ confidence in VAMS as an evaluation method ultimately depends on whether these measures adequately control for demographic differences among students. Many experts report that VAMS do not yet do so. Although teachers may not have read these scholarly critiques, they generally are not convinced that VAMS are evenhanded. Thus, heavy reliance on VAMS may lead effective teachers in high-need schools and subjects to seek safer assignments, where they won’t risk receiving low, unwarranted VAMS scores.

If teachers are evaluated judged by the high-stakes tests of their students, then it’s reasonable to assume that those teachers who have the choice will choose to work in schools with higher achieving students. This incentivizes teachers to avoid schools with students who need high quality teachers the most…schools with hard to educate students in general, and students who are English language learners or in special education specifically.

I’m reminded of the story of “the worst teacher in New York City” published by the New York Post. The post wrote,

When it comes to teaching math, she’s a zero.

Pascale Mauclair, a tenured, $75,000-a-year sixth-grade teacher in Queens, placed at the bottom of the heap of New York’s schoolteachers, according to rankings released by the Department of Education yesterday.

Mauclair got a cumulative score of zero, with a zero margin of error, for the 2009-10 school year.

The problem with the rating Mauclair received is this

“Mauclair is an ESL teacher, and over the last five years she has had small, self-contained classes of recently arrived immigrants who do not speak English. Her students arrive at different times of the school year, depending upon that date of their family’s migration; consequently, it is not unusual for her students to take the 6th grade exams when they have only been in her class for a matter of a few months.

“The Post gets its share of the blame,” he continued. “It engaged in the calculated effort to destroy the good name of a teacher whose sole crime was her vocation to make a difference in the lives of children. It set out to brutally strip her of her personal dignity, and paraded in public an egregiously false ‘naked’ portrait of her life’s work.”

Why would a teacher who had a choice knowingly set themselves up to be professionally mistreated like this?

2. Discouraging Shared Responsibility for Students

Often teachers within a grade level capitalize on one another’s strengths by regrouping their students for better instruction in each subject. For example, an excellent math teacher will teach math to all students in the grade, while others specialize in their area of expertise. Using VAMS to determine a substantial part of teachers’ evaluations threatens to sidetrack such collaboration by providing a perverse incentive for the most effective teachers to concentrate solely on their assigned roster of students.

I have spent more than 40 years in elementary schools as an intern, student teacher, paraprofessional, classroom teacher, reading specialist, and volunteer…and during all that time I have found that no matter what my position, I could count on my colleagues (and they could count on me) to share their expertise and ideas.

Teaching in a public school must not be a competition. I have shared the responsibility of students’ education by teaching science while another teacher taught social studies, by supplementing classroom reading instruction, by tutoring students, and by diagnosing learning problems. The goal was to give the children the best education we could…as a team, rather than to make sure that my students passed the test with no regard for anyone else.

At the end of every school year we would gather as grade level teams to divide our students up in the most equitable manner possible so that the makeup of the next year’s classrooms was balanced. So-called “teacher accountability based on student test scores” leaves the door open for back room manipulation of class composition. Principals could damage a teacher’s career by packing their classroom with hard to educate students, or provide a favorite teacher with a higher number of high achievers. The possibility for corruption is increased by the importance of the test.

3. Undermining the Promise of Standards-Based Evaluation

Those who recommend using VAMS for personnel decisions often contend that this approach is superior to the “counterfactual”— evaluations conducted by administrators. Admittedly, those evaluations had a poor track record in the past. Recently, however, many districts have adopted sophisticated and informative standards-based assessments. Recent research demonstrates that teachers’ instruction improves in response to standards-based observations and high-quality feedback (e.g., Taylor and Tyler 2012). But how will administrators respond when discrepancies between VAMS and observations arise? If they are uncertain about judging instruction or think that VAMS are more precise than their own professional judgment, value-added scores may unduly influence how principals rate teachers’ instruction.

Education is not an exact science. Teaching is more than standards and test scores. In a recent article for the Houston Chronicle, John Kuhn, wrote,

[Relationships are more important than pedagogy.] If you deliver flawless instruction but haven’t nurtured relationships with your students — even the challenging ones — then you might as well teach to an empty room.

…or let the students sit in front of programmed learning on a computer all day long.

Evaluations must reflect the ability of the teacher to develop relationships with students as well as their ability to teach standards. The interaction between adult and child is an important aspect of education which cannot be reproduced on a computer.

4. Generating Dissatisfaction and Turnover Among Teachers

Those who promote the use of VAMS to make decisions about rehiring, firing, or awarding tenure often suggest that the best teachers will be more satisfied and decide to remain in their school once ineffective teachers have been dismissed. However, if the dismissal process requires more testing or diverts teachers from collaborating, skilled teachers—who arguably have the most to offer the school—may lose confidence in administrators’ priorities and decide to go elsewhere, even if that takes them out of education.

If teachers in a school see their colleagues mislabeled as failures then morale will (continue to) plummet. They will leave the school…and maybe even the profession. Perhaps “reformers” find this to be a plus…out with the old, expensive teachers…in with the new, cheaper teachers.

I would add a fifth unintended consequence.

5. Making it more difficult to place a student teacher

If a teacher’s value is determined by the test scores of her students, what teacher is going to want to trust “test prep” to a student teacher? Mentoring and student teaching are important. If master teachers avoid taking on student teachers because it might have an impact on their students’ test scores, then those student teachers will lose out on the opportunity to learn from the best.


Are the unintended consequences of “reform” really unintended or are “reformers” just not interested in anything other than profit? Are students and teachers simply innocent casualties in the war for privatization of public schools, or are they targets?

The movement to privatize public schools is multi-pronged…it’s coming from rich hedge fund edupreneurs bent on profit, Milton Friedman free market true believers who want to privatize every government service, and the religious right who see public education as a secular evil. For many in those groups, the consequences of public school privatization are not only intended, but celebrated.



The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!

Posted in Curmudgucation, Darling-Hammond, NancyBailey, retention, Testing

Punishing Third Graders


The end of another school year…and it’s time to worry about all the third graders, 8 and 9 year olds, across the nation who are going to be punished because they can’t read “at grade level” as determined by a state test.

Retention in grade has been a common form of “remediation” for decades. It’s not academically or socially effective. It’s not cost effective. It often causes more damage than good. It increases the drop-out rate. But we still use it.

There are alternatives that work, but we don’t use what works because that would take a commitment of time and money…and we aren’t smart enough to plan for our nation’s future by investing now in education. Who is it that’s failing?

Given that there are students who don’t (or can’t) learn a year’s prescribed curriculum…and given that there is rarely extra money for effective remediation, teachers and administrators fall back on the arbitrary and false dichotomy of either retention or “social promotion.”


Here are some real things we can do from three teachers…actual teachers…with actual classroom experience…as opposed to most of the legislators who wrote the “third grade failure” laws of the various states.

Nancy Bailey writes at Nancy Bailey’s Education Website. She suggests…

13 Reasons Why Grade Retention is Terrible, and 12 Better Solutions

  1. Lowering class size. If teachers have fewer students, especially early on, they will be better able to address individual learning needs.
  2. Providing age-appropriate preschools. Children who start out with rich early learning experiences, with exposure to play, good picture books and literary experiences, will likely have better learning results when they start school.
  3. Give teachers time to work with students. Teachers need to be freed from the shackles of high-stakes standardized testing so they can better understand reading disabilities.
  4. Kindergarten redshirting. If a child is younger than their classmates at the start of kindergarten they might be redshirted. Redshirting is having a child start kindergarten a year later. This isn’t always an easy decision.
  5. Evaluate the child for learning disabilities. A school psychologist should do a battery of tests to determine why a student isn’t progressing. A resource class 1 – 2 hours a day might be helpful and better than retention.
  6. Check on the child’s life situation. Children with personal problems can’t focus on school. There might be an illness or divorce in the family. Maybe a parent lost a job. When such problems are resolved the child could get back on their feet.
  7. It might be developmental. Some students just learn a little slower. A growth spurt might be just around the corner!
  8. Loop classes. Schools combine classes like first and second grade, and students have the same teacher, allowing the teacher more time to understand the student. It may give students time to catch up.
  9. Multi-level or multi-age classes. Several grades in a small setting with students working together—the one room schoolhouse idea—might assist a child.
  10. Tutoring. Enlist the assistance of high school students looking for service activities. And/or bring in volunteers from local businesses so they can learn about the difficulties facing students.
  11. Summer school. This might give the child more attention and a smaller more relaxed class setting, but they should get some vacation too!
  12. Absences might mean retention. Some children are immature and miss a lot of school. If they are small and have not bonded with classmates, retention might be a valid consideration—especially in kindergarten. This is not based on one test score but serious consideration of much information.

Peter Greene writes the blog Curmudgucation.

Punching the Eight Year Olds

…there is no evidence that retention helps. There is a mountain of evidence that it hurts.

So if we actually wanted to solve the problem of third grade reading proficiency (and not, say, create yet open more crisis with which to force more evidence of public education failure), there are so many things we could do.

We could add additional teachers at the K-3 level so that each student could get more focused personal instruction.’

We could add more intervention programs and personnel so that the moment a student faltered, that child would get all the help she needed.

We could pursue aggressive programs to put books into children’s homes. Hell, we could pursue aggressive programs to write and publish materials that wide varieties of children (and their parents) would find appealing and attractive.

We could use methods of assessment that would more reliably tell us about student reading skills, and not more ridiculously inauthentic BS Testing.

We could listen to actual experts. There are plenty talking about this.

Last but not least, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University:

As Mississippi delivers bad news to 5,600 third graders, stressed-out parents say there must be a better way

If districts really want to meet the needs of third graders, Darling-Hammond said, they would pass struggling readers along to fourth grade and connect them with a teacher trained in a program like Reading Recovery, which has been reliably shown to improve the skills of youngsters who find reading difficult.

Critics might describe Darling-Hammond’s suggestions as “social promotion” —protecting student self-esteem by moving them along to the next grade, even if they aren’t academically ready. But Darling-Hammond says the dichotomy is a false one.

“People often present this as if there are only two choices — choice one is hold the kids back and the other is socially promote them without any additional resources or strategies,” Darling-Hammond said. “But the third way, the right response, is one in which you identify the resources they must have and ensure they are getting them immediately. They also should look at whether if you sit them down with a book, can they read? Because a lot of kids perform poorly on multiple-choice standardized tests who actually know the material if you present it in a more authentic way.”

In a nutshell, then, these three teachers have identified the problem. To quote Darling-Hammond, “…you identify the resources they must have and ensure they are getting them immediately…”

…and that takes a commitment to America’s future that we’re apparently not willing to make. Instead we punish children.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!

Posted in Darling-Hammond, RiseAbovetheMark, Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond: On Testing

I was thinking about the recent upheaval with PARCC testing, Pearson spying on students and reporting it to school districts, and the general misplaced confidence (or is it just economic investment) that American policy makers have with testing in this country. The renewed focus on testing reminded me of Linda Darling-Hammond’s words during an interview in the film, Rise Above the Mark.

Darling-Hammond is an educator and researcher. She’s not a politician like Andrew Cuomo who must to satisfy donors by throwing public money their way. She’s not a pundit like Michael Petrilli who is ideologically focused on privatization. She’s not an untrained mouthpiece like Arne Duncan who shills for testing companies and privatizers. She’s an academic who has spent her career learning and teaching about students, schools,  teachers, and learning.


What does this education professional say about what we are doing compared to countries in the world whose students are high achieving?

Compare that [what high achieving countries are doing for education] to reforms that are going on in the United States which largely are reinforcing inequality, deepening poverty, homelessness…and pretending to fix that with more standardized tests.

We have been testing without investing.

We have been testing way too much and with low quality multiple choice instruments that drive the curriculum in very narrow directions.

We’ve been deprofessionalizing teaching…allowing people to come in without adequate preparation, not supporting them in their learning and then trying to manage that with both systems of high stakes accountability and privatization, trying to put more and more funds into sectors that essentially increasingly are reducing the support for public education.

We cannot become internationally competitive from here, doing what we’re currently doing…

We’re making things worse by ignoring the effects of poverty, denying that it has an impact on education so that policy makers are relieved of their responsibility in the education of our children. Instead we blame children and teachers. Then, after making those mistakes, we are trying to fix the problem by calling for more testing under the mistaken belief that if only teachers and students would try harder, things will get better.


And what about that testing? Has the test and punish plan worked? Are the tests even valid? Has the amount that we have invested in testing been helpful?

The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways. We are the only country that tests every child, every year with these kinds of measures and then attaches all of these stakes to them — whether a kid gets promoted to the next grade, whether they graduate, whether a teacher gets a merit pay bonus, whether they even keep their job, whether schools get rewarded or sanctioned or even closed down. The tests were never designed to support these kinds of decisions. They don’t even measure the things you would need to measure to be valid for those purposes, in ways that would inform you.

…having those kinds of stakes attached to the wrong kinds of tests produces three very unfortunate outcomes.

The first of them is that we are narrowing the curriculum and dumbing down the curriculum to the subjects that are tested. We’re narrowing and reducing the capacity of our teachers to teach what’s important and our kids to learn what’s important.

The second problem with high stakes testing is that it creates incentives to prevent high need students who struggle in school from coming into your school district or your school. And in a marketplace of schools, those who have the ability to fend those students off keep them out and it creates incentives to push them out…we’ve created a situation in which it doesn’t benefit any school to keep the kids who struggle to learn because it will negatively impact their test scores…that doesn’t serve the society well.

The third thing that happens with high stakes accountability is that all of the blame is now being put on individual teachers and educators particularly in high need schools where kids are coming from more poverty, homelessness, dysfunctional community settings, getting less resources in school. If the scores don’t go up we blame the teachers or the principals and say, well, let’s fire them, and it is deflecting attention from solving those other problems which are becoming more and more acute in American Society.

We’re making things worse by 1) narrowing our curriculum, ignoring things like social studies, science, physical education and the arts, by 2) pushing out the very students who need the most help staying in school and are thereby taking away the opportunity to benefit from their contributions to our society and by 3) punishing poverty and the schools which deal with poverty.

Darling-Hammond understands the damage that our education policy is doing to our future. Policy makers, politicians, and pundits would do well to listen to her.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!

Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Darling-Hammond, Early Childhood, GradingSchools, Pensions, poverty, Recess, Teaching Career

2014 Medley #23

Charters, High Achieving Nations,
Early Childhood Education, A-F Grading, Pensions, Poverty, Recess, Teaching


Steep Drops Seen in Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers

I’ve written about why teachers quit, and about the looming teacher shortage — how schools in Indianapolis and elsewhere in Indiana started school this year without enough teachers.

The teacher shortage is a nationwide problem, and it’s only going to get worse. Colleges and universities have seen a serious drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Hardest hit are the nation’s largest states — California, Texas and New York.

Is this what the “reformers” want? Fewer professionals in the classroom…more room for “education temps” like TFA…fewer career teachers? It’s hard not to feel paranoid when more and more state legislatures and governors’ offices are doing whatever they can to make teaching less and less attractive. Will your children and grandchildren be taught by professional educators, or by young, inexperienced, poorly trained college grads who use public classrooms as a stepping stone to a different, “real” career?

Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data collection.

Some large states, like heavyweight California, appear to have been particularly hard hit. The Golden State lost some 22,000 teacher-prep enrollments, or 53 percent, between 2008-09 and 2012-13, according to a report its credentialing body issued earlier this month.

There’s more at these links…

Five Year Trend in Teacher Preparation Programs

Interest in teaching continues to drop in California

Bay Area schools scramble for qualified teachers amid shortage


Editorial: Why A-to-F for schools fails

Imagine this scenario…

You’re a teacher and your favorite student does poorly on an exam and, if you average that grade into his yearly total he would only get a C or a D. Do you revise your “curve” to raise his grade? Do you change the grading scale so that he’ll get an A? What would your supervisor do? How would the parents of other students in your class react?

A majority of members of the Indiana State Board of Education apparently think that changing grades like that is fine as they follow in the footsteps of scandalized former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and manipulate the state’s A-F grading system so that their “favorite” charter school gets a higher grade. Heaven forbid that voucher and charter schools, including the Republican favorite Christel House, get low grades.

In 2012 and 2014, the A-F supporters were wringing their hands over the low grades calculated for Christel House and similar schools they champion. Why? They are unequivocally convinced that the academy is exemplary, a model. Obviously, they reached that conclusion for reasons other than a state-issued letter grade. In their minds, it is an A school, regardless, and when too low a grade is assessed, they cite the ways it is “different” and round up valid reasons to dispute the C, D or F.

The 2,100 other Indiana schools could do the same thing. Year after year. Each is “different.” Parents who pick schools based on the Indiana A-to-F system are fooling themselves; those folks are better off talking with families in the district. Despite strident efforts by “The Board” to make it somehow work, its A-to-F program needs to be canceled.


Mark Russell: The Indiana Way hurts the poor

The Indiana Way, according to Mark Russell, is to cut more and more money from public schools — especially those with high numbers of students living in poverty. You get what you pay for in Indiana, and those who can’t pay get less…

The Indiana Way is to suggest that a major focus of the budget-writing 2015 General Assembly will be to “fix” the state school-funding formula so that suburban and rural districts receive more funding. This “fix” comes even while school districts, particularly urban districts, and local governments reel under constitutionally imposed property tax caps that have contributed to millions of dollars in revenue loss.

The Indiana Way allows for the potential of Gary Community Schools losing its transportation funding for its overwhelmingly poor students even while under state budget control.

The Indiana Way is being one of two states that charge textbook rental fees, disproportionately impacting poor and low-wage households, many of which are headed by income-limited single parents and custodial grandparents.


Charter School Power Broker Turns Public Education Into Private Profits

Mitchell, 74, appears to be thriving. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

The schools buy or lease nearly everything from companies owned by Mitchell. Their desks. Their computers. The training they provide to teachers. Most of the land and buildings. Unlike with traditional school districts, at Mitchell’s charter schools there’s no competitive bidding. No evidence of haggling over rent or contracts.

The schools have all hired the same for-profit management company to run their day-to-day operations. The company, Roger Bacon Academy, is owned by Mitchell. It functions as the schools’ administrative arm, taking the lead in hiring and firing school staff. It handles most of the bookkeeping. The treasurer of the nonprofit that controls the four schools is also the chief financial officer of Mitchell’s management company. The two organizations even share a bank account.


The Plot Against Pensions

Are public sector pensions the cause of the nation’s economic woes?

Finding: Conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

Finding: The amount states and cities spend on corporate subsidies and so-called tax expenditures is far more than the pension shortfalls they face. Yet, conservative activists and lawmakers are citing the pension shortfalls and not the subsidies as the cause of budget squeezes. They are then claiming that cutting retiree benefits is the solution rather than simply rolling back the more expensive tax breaks and subsidies.

Finding: The pension “reforms” being pushed by conservative activists would slash retirement income for many pensioners who are not part of the Social Security system. Additionally, the specific reforms they are pushing are often more expensive and risky for taxpayers than existing pension plans.

Finding: The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are working together in states across the country to focus the debate over pensions primarily on slashing retiree benefits rather than on raising public revenues.

Finding: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is run by conservative political operatives and funded by an Enron billionaire.

Finding: The techniques used by conservative activists to gain public support to privatize the public pensions that public workers have instead of Social Security are, if successful, likely to be used in efforts to privatize Social Security in the future.


The biggest scam of all time

Stephen Krashen shouts this from every podium he can find. The problem with education in the U.S.A is not poor schools or “bad teachers,” it’s high poverty. Can we improve our schools and work to recruit better teachers? Of course, but we need to do what we can to reduce the impact of poverty at the same time or our efforts will be wasted.

The major problem in American education is not teaching quality, not a lack of standards or tests, but poverty: The US now ranks 34th in the world out of 35 economically developed countries in child poverty: when researchers control for the effect of poverty, US international test scores are at the top of the world, a clear demonstration that there is nothing seriously wrong with our teachers or our standards. Children of poverty do poorly in school because of the impact of poverty: Poor nutrition, poor health care, and lack of access to books, among other things.

The obvious first step is to improve nutrition through school food programs, improve health care through investing more in school nurses, and improving access to books through investing in school libraries.


Linda Darling-Hammond: Time for the U.S. to Learn the Right Lessons from High-Performing Nations

Linda Darling-Hammond knows that Stephen Krashen is correct. She knows that other advanced nations of the world have solved their problems of poverty (while ours is getting worse) and as such, have put themselves on the road to higher achievement.

Take time to listen to her presentation beginning at 59:30 in the video at the above link.

“The theory of reform behind NCLB – to test and apply sanctions to the failure to meet expected targets – has not made a major difference in student achievement in every one of the areas measured by PISA,”‘ she explained.

Darling-Hammond also pointed out that if you factor in only those schools where less than 10 percent of the students live in poverty, the U.S, actually ranks number one in the world on PISA. In schools where 25 percent live in poverty, the U.S ranks third. Even when you raise that number to 50 percent, our students rank way above the international average. The takeaway is clear, Darling-Hammond said.

“Those countries spend their money in highly equitable ways. If you spend more in schools on the education of children who have fewer socioeconomic advantages, you do better as a country. Other countries invested more money and that is what shot them up in the rankings.”


Early intervention could boost education levels

The children of Indiana are worse off since Governor Pence refused to apply for $80 million in federal funds for early childhood education.

Taking steps from an early age to improve childhood education skills could raise overall population levels of academic achievement by as much as 5%, and reduce socioeconomic inequality in education by 15%, according to international research led by the University of Adelaide.

In a study now published in the journal Child Development, researchers from the University of Adelaide’s School of Population Health and colleagues at the University of Bristol in the UK have modelled the likely outcomes of interventions to improve academic skills in children up to school age. They considered what effect these interventions would have on education by age 16.

See also Actually, we do know if high-quality preschool benefits kids. What the research really says.


Mental rest and reflection boost learning, study suggests

The Finns give their children a 15 minute break every hour. We should learn from their example…recess matters.

Scientists have already established that resting the mind, as in daydreaming, helps strengthen memories of events and retention of information. In a new twist, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have shown that the right kind of mental rest, which strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks, helps boost future learning.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Darling-Hammond, retention, RiseAbovetheMark

Retention Wars: Blaming Children


In the recent film, Rise Above the Mark, Linda Darling Hammond said,

The problem we have with testing in this country today is that…we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and…we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.

More than a dozen states, including Indiana punish third grade children — 8 and 9 year olds — for low reading achievement by forcing them to repeat third grade. Retention in grade doesn’t work…and we have known it for decades.

In the past, parents, teachers, and administrators used to make the decision to retain a student in his current grade. Now it’s state legislatures, governors, and departments of education. We have allowed the wrong people — politicians and policy makers — to determine the academic placement of our children using the wrong kinds of tests in the wrong kinds of ways.


Recent research in retention in grade mirrors past research from the last century. We do know that intense intervention helps…but, as a nation, we’re not willing to spend the money to provide it for our children. We know that lowered poverty rates help, but, as a nation, we’re not willing to face the fact that we have failed to reduce poverty in our country, and in fact, it continues to grow.

Yet state after state continues to force school systems to hold children back in third grade causing unnecessary academic and emotional damage by labeling students as failures. This is no more effective in helping children learn than was the 19th century dunce cap.

Oklahoma partially repealed their third grade punishment law last May. They are still doing the wrong thing, requiring children to be punished for low reading achievement, but at least now, they are letting parents and local educators have some input into the decision.

Of course some legislators, who claim to be for “local control” during campaign season, were not happy to yield to actual local control…

Legislature overrides Fallin veto on reading bill; Barresi calls decision a ‘pathetic’ step back

[The] bill shifts promotion-retention decisions about third-graders who score unsatisfactory on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test to teachers and parents.

The existing law required students not covered by certain exemptions to be retained.

…Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa said “…the decision that a child needs to be held back won’t come down to a single high-stakes test. It allows for a series of assessments throughout the school year and gives our local schools, professional educators and parents greater input.”

Notice that in Oklahoma the argument wasn’t against retention, but was for local control. The change to the law requires local folks, parents and teachers, to decide whether or not to retain a child instead of the no-excuses policy of retaining everyone who can’t read by third grade.


One problem with retention in grade is that it is supported by a large number of educators.

Many teachers don’t believe the research and instead rely on “anecdotal evidence.” An elementary teacher in a K-5 school building, for example, might retain a child and assume that all is well because the child does better the second year…and perhaps the following year as well. Unfortunately, the gains are usually short-lived.

Keeping children back a year doesn’t help them read better

(See also Does holding kids back a year help them academically? No. But schools still do it.)

…some studies have found academic improvement in the immediate years after retention, these gains are usually short-lived and tend to fade over time.

By the time the students start to lose the gains they have made — and end up further behind than before — they are often in another school, or too far away from the retaining teacher for her to continue to keep track.

…two problems lie in the popularity of such grade retention policies. First, while the Florida model has significant bi-partisan support among both Democrats and Republicans in the US, reviews of the outcomes of the Florida policy show research on it is misrepresented and inconclusive, at best.

Alongside this, 40 years of research into the policy of holding children back a grade refutes the practice.

In Florida, the gains of students who were retained were held up as an example of the success of retention, however, those gains from retention were supplemented by intensive interventions which could have, and should have been used without retention.


In American public schools, when something goes wrong the tendency is to blame someone else…and retention blames the student.

Despite a well-established research base discrediting the practice, the policy appears to endure for two reasons. A political and public faith in punitive educational accountability sits alongside a straw man argument that advocates keeping children back instead of “social promotion”, where they are automatically passed onto the next grade regardless of student achievement.

Teachers aren’t given the training, support, and additional help they need to help struggling students. When a child fails to learn the response is often based on the false dichotomy of retention versus social promotion. “What else can we do?” What indeed…

The answer is to invest in public education…

Holding Kids Back Doesn’t Help Them

Happily, there are more effective and less expensive alternatives. The cost of having a student repeat 3rd grade is several times greater than alternatives such as tutoring or small-group interventions, summer school, or high-quality pre-K. These approaches don’t have the negative side effects associated with retention.

Instead of giving children the same treatment that failed them the first time, alternative strategies provide different kinds of learning opportunities.

Interventions should also begin long before 3rd grade. Research has provided compelling evidence that investments in preschool can reduce retention and have positive long-term payoff for individuals and society, in contrast to the negative long-term effects of holding a student back later.

Intervention costs money and America is so deeply invested in corporate welfare that public education and our children’s future is being shortchanged. Today’s education “reforms” are proof of the nation’s desire to disinvest in our children.

We are giving the wrong kinds of tests. We’re using them in the wrong kinds of ways. And we’re hurting our children in the process.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!