Posted in A-F Grading, Evaluations, IREAD-3, ISTEP, retention, Testing, vouchers

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Test – 2017

ISTEP is still doing damage to Indiana students, teachers, and schools. The promise to end the mess that is the State of Indiana’s testing program was just political deception in order to assuage voters during the last election cycle. The election is over and we have elected the same folks who have been dumping education “reform” policies on the children of Indiana for the last dozen years. They have grown the importance of ISTEP into a bludgeon to punish low income children, their teachers, and their schools. The pretense of the test being a tool to analyze children’s progress has all but disappeared.

Public outcry against the test inspired former Governor Pence to form a team to find an alternative, but it was led by political appointees and some educators on the panel had their voices overruled by the sound of cash clinking into test-makers’ (aka political donors) wallets. Others gave up, apparently thinking, “This is the best we’ll get.”

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the panel were for a shorter test with quicker turnaround. The recommendations also called for a two year window to plan for the changes…in the meantime, the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad test continues.

ISTEP will involve too many hours of student instructional time – twice during the school year (thrice for third graders who are also subject to being punished by IREAD-3 for not learning quickly enough). ISTEP will still be responsible for teacher evaluations and A-F school grades even though it was designed only to evaluate student knowledge. So much for any rules of testing which say that tests should only be used to evaluate what they were designed to evaluate – in this case student achievement.

Maybe we ought to try education policies which have actually been shown to be effective. Let’s do this instead…

  • End the A-F Grading system for schools. A letter grade does not reflect the climate or quality of a school.
  • Stop using tests to evaluate teachers. There are other, better professional evaluation tools out there (see this report, by Linda Darling-Hammond, et al.)
  • End IREAD-3 and any student evaluation process by which students are retained in grade. Retention doesn’t work. Intensive early intervention does. See here, here, and here.
  • If standardized tests must be used, use those tests which can return student achievement information in a timely manner so teachers can use the information in their instruction.
  • Better yet, don’t use standardized tests at all. With the millions of dollars saved by not purchasing standardized tests, provide early intervention funds to schools with significant numbers of at-risk students.
  • Your suggestion here: __________
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Posted in David Berliner, Evaluations, ISTEP, Lead, poverty, reform, Testing, Uncategorized

Where Toxins Meet Testing

ISTEP

Indiana’s state test, the ISTEP, is misused in the same way many states misuse standardized tests. It’s used to grade schools on an A to F scale and it’s used to determine which teachers get bonuses, which are deemed unsatisfactory, and which are to be fired. (I suppose that it’s also possible that in some places it’s used to see how well students have learned the state standards, but I doubt the state really cares about that.) In addition, another test, the IREAD-3, is misused to retain third grade students who are struggling with reading.

Currently the state is struggling over the ISTEP. A committee looked into problems with the test and made recommendations. Last year’s tests were so screwed up that the legislature agreed to not hold schools and teachers accountable for the results. For the results to be so bad that even Indiana’s “reformist” legislature “pauses accountability,” you know it must be bad.

The committee was charged with coming up with something that didn’t have as many problems as the ISTEP. That task was not accomplished.

‘ISTEP’ Name May Change, But Test Itself May Not For 2 More Years

“We need about two-and-a-half to three years to get a new test that is sound, based on our standards, thought out and vetted clearly through the education system,” says Sen. Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate committee on education. “That’ll [be] a better test at the end of that time.”

…Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House committee on education, wants the board to extend that contract. If extended, it would leave ISTEP+ in place through the 2018-19 school year.

The test is a failure, yet it has high stakes consequences for schools, teachers, and students. So, according to the chairs of both the Senate (Kruse) and House (Behning) education committees, we should keep using it.

TEACHER BONUS PAY BASED ON SCHOOL’S FAMILY INCOME

In the area of teacher bonus pay, the results of the state testing shows exactly what one would expect. Those teachers who work in wealthy districts have students who score higher on the ISTEP, and therefore get larger bonuses. In an earlier post, I wrote that

…standardized test scores measure family income. So when you base a teacher “bonus” plan on student standardized test scores you get a plan that favors teachers of the wealthy over teachers of the poor.

And that’s just what happened here.

Indiana’s wealthiest districts get most teacher bonus pay

Data released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Education shows Carmel Clay Schools leading the state in the most performance money per teacher at more than $2,400. Zionsville Community Schools came in second at more than $2,200, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Comparatively, Indianapolis Public Schools will receive nearly $130 per teacher. Wayne Township Schools will see among the lowest payments, at just more than $40 per teacher.

The amount of the “bonus” doesn’t prove that teachers in high-poverty schools aren’t as good as teachers in low-poverty schools. It is just more proof that family income determines school success.*

TOXIC ENVIRONMENTS

One (of many) out-of-school factors which contributes to lowered academic achievement of children in poverty is an environment filled with toxins. Pollutants such as mercury, PCBs, toxic pesticides, and air pollution are all factors contributing to the health and brain function of children living in high-poverty areas. The most prevalent problem is, of course, lead.

In 2009, David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, wrote in Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

It is now understood that there is no safe level of lead in the human body, and that lead at any level has an impact on IQ.

The Centers for Disease Control sets the “safe lead exposure” levels and recently has suggested that the “safe” level should be lowered.

CDC considers lowering threshold level for lead exposure

The CDC adjusts its threshold periodically as nationwide average levels drop. The threshold value is meant to identify children whose blood lead levels put them among the 2.5 percent of those with the heaviest exposure.

“Lead has no biological function in the body, and so the less there is of it in the body the better,” Bernard M Y Cheung, a University of Hong Kong professor who studies lead data, told Reuters. “The revision in the blood lead reference level is to push local governments to tighten the regulations on lead in the environment.”

The federal agency is talking with state health officials, laboratory operators, medical device makers and public housing authorities about how and when to implement a new threshold.

…Any change in the threshold level carries financial implications. The CDC budget for assisting states with lead safety programs this year was just $17 million, and many state or local health departments are understaffed to treat children who test high.

In other words, according to the CDC, the “safe” level is whatever level the bottom 2.5% of American children exhibit. The actual “safe” level is much lower (in fact, the only “safe” level of lead in a child’s system is 0.00), but the cost of reducing lead levels in every child in America is too high.

Children attending schools in high poverty areas are exposed to lead at a much higher rate than in low poverty areas.

Children suffer from lead poisoning in 3,000 U.S. neighborhoods

A new study of public health records has discovered 3,000 neighborhoods in America where children suffer from lead poisoning. The study, by the Reuters news agency, found lead poisoning twice and even four times higher than what was seen in the recent contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

That exposure has an impact on school success. Again, Berliner…

The neurological damage caused by lead pollution has been common knowledge for about a century, but even over recent decades, tragic effects such as this have been documented in families and communities around the world. Even after some obvious sources of lead in the environment were finally banned, reducing the numbers of children showing effects, too many children in the United States are still affected.

MAKING A CONNECTION

Our overuse and misuse of testing during the last few decades has led to over identifying schools in high poverty areas as “failing” without any regard for environmental toxins. Take the case of East Chicago schools…

Turnaround Meetings for Gary and East Chicago Schools

“If the school does receive a sixth F, and we expect those grades to come out this winter, then the board can begin looking at what options it wants to if any, take,” said [State Board of Education chief of staff, Brian] Murphy.

At the same time, the schools being labeled as “failing” exist in an area where lead poisoning is ubiquitous.

East Chicago Lead Contamination Forces Nearly 1,200 from Homes

Both the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are trying to deal with the contamination and moving residents, but the two agencies aren’t exactly working together well. The mayor of East Chicago and the residents are also concerned about how the EPA handled the situation and worried about the long-term ramifications of lead exposure as well as the costs of moving.

Do legislators read newspapers? Are they aware that 1) lead poisoning causes learning problems and 2) the so called “failing” schools are in areas with a high lead exposure? Why hasn’t there been an outcry blaming the low test scores on the lead poisoning of East Chicago children? Can you guess how big a “bonus” teachers in East Chicago schools got this year?*

A Strange Ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in failing schools

“The education community has not really understood the dimensions of this because we don’t see kids falling over and dying of lead poisoning in the classroom. But there’s a very large number of kids who find it difficult to do analytical work or [even] line up in the cafeteria because their brains are laden with lead.”

As a consequence, teachers and school systems get blamed for what is beyond their control. The legislature can’t (or won’t) see the connection between the two situations, and children’s futures, and their future contributions to the state, are damaged by their environment.

Legislators and “reformers” should quit placing the blame on schools, teachers, and children through punitive legislation aimed at “fixing” low achievement. It’s the state’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all citizens…including those who don’t have enough money to buy lobbyists.

When the legislature assumes its share of responsibility for “failing” to provide safe environmental conditions in our communities, and for “failing” to address the state’s child poverty rate, then…maybe…we can start to talk about “failing” schools.

~~~

East Chicago ANOTHER Race-Based Lead Poisoning

…with lead pipes it’s like a recall on a product, but nobody wants to go back to the manufacturer and say, “Hey, you’ve made a mistake. You’re poisoning people.” We’ll recall a vehicle, but we won’t recall a pipe that is lead…a lead pipe that people are consuming water through. It’s part of their daily consumption.

…We’ll also recall leaded paint. But we’re not recalling leaded pipes.

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*Data on the Teacher Performance Grants can be found on the Indiana Department of Education site. Click here to download a spreadsheet for each school district in Indiana. Pay special attention to the number of special education districts at the $0 end of the spreadsheet.

For demographic data on each school district see Indiana School District Demographic Characteristics. Note the family poverty rates for the school districts mentioned above: Carmel Clay=3.5%, Zionsville=3.1%, Indianapolis Public Schools=26.8%, and Wayne Township=14.7%.

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Posted in A-F Grading, ESSA, Indiana, ISTEP, NCLB, Testing

Why We Test

QUEST FOR A TEST

Indiana is currently wasting millions of dollars on bad tests used for the invalid purposes…for ranking students, retaining students in grade (IREAD-3), evaluating teachers, and grading schools.

The general consensus is that the tests are too long, taking too much time from instruction, so more money is being spent on the quest for a new test…one which will likely also be a bad test used for the same invalid purposes, but perhaps a bit shorter.

Today’s Chalkbeat featured an article about the search for a new test and why Indiana would probably not choose a test which teachers actually liked and found helpful…the NWEA MAP test.

[Note: The NWEA MAP test is the same test Seattle Teachers boycotted in 2013 because it was being misused…it wasn’t tied to the curriculum, and it was used to evaluate teachers. The creators of the test said that the test should not be used to judge students and teachers. See Why Garfield teachers boycotted the MAP test]

In Chalkbeat’s article, Here’s why a test loved by teachers isn’t likely to replace Indiana’s ISTEP, Shaina Cavasos wrote,

The test, created by the Northwest Evaluation Association, can be administered two to four times per year in English and Math. It takes far less time than typical state exams — about an hour per subject per session — and teachers can see the results immediately, enabling them to tailor their lessons to areas where kids are showing deficits.

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The test is shorter, taking less time away from instruction. It’s more helpful to teachers so they can actually use it to learn what their students academic needs are and improve instruction.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

What’s the purpose of testing? Is it a tool to identify winners and losers in public education or is it a tool to help teachers improve their instruction and help students learn?

Indiana law also discourages the use of tests like MAP — so-called “formative” or “interim” assessments — as an annual state exam because the state’s A-F grading system is based on the percentage of students who pass or fail the test. MAP isn’t designed to determine which students have passed or failed according to state expectations for what kids should know at each grade level like ISTEP is — students can theoretically score anywhere on the MAP scale in any grade.

The problem is that the MAP test does what a test is supposed to do – it tells teachers where a child is in his or her learning and gives them information they can use to help their students achieve.

Indiana doesn’t want that, however. Indiana wants a test that separates kids into winners and losers. Indiana wants a test that will label schools, and their neighborhoods, on a scale of A to F.

“Measuring student growth independent of grade level … that is a different purpose then measuring student performance against grade level,” Mendenhall said.

Indiana’s test must tell us which students are at “grade level” – an arbitrarily determined number designed to brand as “failing” schools, teachers, and children.

The test is also inadequate for compliance with ESSA the new federal law which replaced NCLB.

“(Federal law) requires we have a grade level test on grade level standards,” Roach said. “While we do generally like (MAP), and it’s very useful to us, I think…that would need to be studied in-depth.”

The law still requires that we test kids every year…though one nice change is that punishment for failure is left up to the state.

But it’s hard to ignore that teachers say they appreciate the more specific feedback from MAP over any kind of results they get from ISTEP or A-F grades.

It’s hard to ignore a test that teachers actually think might be helpful…unless you’re an Indiana policy maker, or Governor, who needs a way to label teachers and schools as failures in order to bust the teachers unions and divert public funds to privately run and private schoools.

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Posted in A-F Grading, Evaluations, ISTEP, Pence, Testing

Indiana’s Quest for the Test: An Invalid Effort

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, along with other state officials, have rounded up a collection of twenty-three educators and political appointees in a panel to choose a new student achievement test to replace the ISTEP. Unfortunately, the panel is faced with an impossible task. The law requires the test to measure student achievement, school quality, and teacher quality. There is no such test which can validly and reliably do all three tasks at once.

REPLACE ISTEP

According to a May 10 article in the Indianapolis Star, the chair of the panel, Nicole Fama, principal of School 93 in Indianapolis, said that ISTEP was too long.

Head of ISTEP review panel says test is ‘just too long’

“The test is just too long,” said Nicole Fama, principal of a charterlike Indianapolis school. “So we want to look for a better option — collectively. I think we want to do right by kids…”

Another member of the panel, Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools, said, “I want to make sure we get it done right.”

Ken Folks, superintendent of East Allen County Schools, said, “I want it to be accurate. I want it to be what’s best for the children…”

The way to “do right by kids” – the way to “make sure we get it…right” – the way to make it “best for our children” is to make sure that no high stakes decisions are based on any standardized test.

APPROPRIATE TESTING

The American Psychological Association has information about the appropriate use of testing and emphasizes that high stakes decisions about student placement and achievement not be based on the results of a single test.

…high-stakes decisions should not be made on the basis of a single test score, because a single test can only provide a “snapshot” of student achievement and may not accurately reflect an entire year’s worth of student progress and achievement.

The replacement test for the ISTEP shouldn’t do that. The sole educational purpose of the test should be to ascertain what the students know relative to what they were taught.

Finding a test which can do that is not impossible. Whether the state will use the test in an appropriate and valid way is another story.

[IREAD-3, for example, is an additional achievement test given to third graders. It is a high stakes test and is used to punish third graders for not learning to read.]

But there are two serious problems associated with testing in Indiana which the panel cannot solve simply by choosing another assessment. Both of those problems are based on the political purposes behind testing and both of those purposes do use the tests for making high stakes decisions.

INVALID USE OF TESTS

1. The test is used to evaluate and grade schools. It is used to label some schools as “failing” in order to allow the state to take over so-called “failing” schools and transfer control and fiscal responsibility (aka “profit”) to charter operators. It is also used as a reason to divert public tax funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers.

Unless a test has been developed to evaluate and grade schools it should not be used for that purpose.

The evaluation of a school program is much more complicated than how well its students score on a single standardized test. Such an evaluation ought to also include

  • how does the school work to involve the community in its program?
  • is the school’s curriculum developmentally appropriate for its students?
  • is the school climate conducive to learning?
  • how is the school attempting to meet the needs of all its students?
  • what wraparound services are available for students who need them, such as social workers, guidance counselors, and school nurses?
  • does the school have a library? is  it staffed by a trained librarian?
  • what is the physical condition of the school?
  • are students provided a complete and varied curriculum including physical education and the arts?

Those questions, of course, are not answered by looking at student test scores. Furthermore, if a school has unsatisfactory answers to any of those questions then the state and local school board ought to work together to improve the conditions. The school and its staff are not to blame for inadequately funded, resourced, or maintained schools. The state’s policy makers should take responsibility for their inability (or refusal) to support public education instead of blaming the school by labeling it a “failure.” Fix it. Don’t throw it away.

2. The test is used to evaluate teachers. It is used to support a state-mandated merit pay plan which denies the value of a teacher’s experience and denies the influence of external variables on student achievement. It makes a career in teaching less attractive, and opens the door for lowering the standards required for teachers to enter the classroom.

Unless a test has been developed to evaluate teachers it should not be used for that purpose.

Nicole Fama said, “…and we want to do right by teachers.”

Doing “right by teachers” means not using student test scores for their evaluations. Like school programs, the evaluation of teachers is much more complicated than tallying students’ scores on a single test. Instead, teachers ought to be evaluated on things like…

  • does the teacher have a sufficient knowledge of their subject matter and child development?
  • does the teacher have a firm grasp of the curriculum?
  • can the teacher communicate well to her students?
  • how well does the teacher motivate his students?
  • are the teachers lesson plans complete, well-developed, and organized?
  • how does the teacher support their own professional growth?
  • is the teacher’s classroom organized?
  • does the teacher have good classroom management skills?
  • does the teacher demonstrate professionalism in her relationships with students, parents, and colleagues?

The answers to those questions cannot be measured by student achievement test scores.

MISUSE IS LAW

The panel-to-choose-another-test can likely find a test which will evaluate a child’s achievement (though how well standardized tests actually do that is another discussion altogether). But the current state legislature, the Pence administration, and its predecessor, have built the misuse of tests into state law.

No test exists which can validly and reliably fill the three disparate goals of tracking student achievement, grading schools, and evaluating teachers.

The overuse and misuse of testing needs to end.

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Posted in Alfie Kohn, Evaluations, ISTEP, Privatization, Quotes, reform, TeacherShortage, Testing

Random Quotes – May 2016

TESTING

The Scores Are In: School Reformers Earn F’s

An excellent young teacher I know spent a few years teaching in the urban district of a large midwestern city. After several consecutive years of prepping for the test, practicing the test, administering the test to get ready for the test, and watching his students fail the test, he left teaching and became a children’s librarian. Now he can actually do something to help children.

…students at the bottom, clustered in low-income schools, the kind of young people that reformers swore they knew how to save, suffered most from being force fed years of test preparation…

…tens of billions of dollars had been devoted to massive school reform. Most of that money went to testing companies, company executives, or passed through lobbyist’s hands to self-serving politicians, or to school reform experts who gave high-priced speeches, and to pay bureaucrats to gather, tally and study all the data.

Here’s Who’s Creating Indiana’s New School Tests

A new test won’t change a thing. The idea that “experts from the field of education” (aka actual educators) ought to be the ones to choose the test is admirable. However, the uneducated legislators and policy makers have obligated those experts to choose a test which will be misused. It doesn’t matter what test they choose. It’s invalid to use a student achievement test to grade schools, evaluate teachers, and rank students.

If the committee chooses an “off the shelf” test it still won’t matter. Achievement tests don’t claim to be valid for evaluating teachers and schools. Here are some examples of test descriptions…

  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills – “offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas.”
  • Stanford Achievement Test (Pearson) – “reliable data to help measure student progress toward content standards and high expectations. This multiple-choice assessment helps to identify student strengths and needs, leading to effective placement and instructional planning.”
  • Terra Nova – “educators can review student results in the context of common school and district criteria, plus key enhancements that help your educators improve achievement and learning.”
  • NWEA MAP Test – “…Inform instruction using valid, reliable, and real-time data…Measure the growth of every student over time regardless of on, above, or below grade level performance—and even if standards change”

Test developers understand that tests are only valid when used to measure what the test was developed to measure. We don’t use blood tests to check for broken bones. We don’t use teaspoons to measure temperature. We shouldn’t use student achievement tests to evaluate teachers and schools.

The ISTEP+ Review Panel will hammer out details of the replacement — what a new test will look like, its length and how state officials can use it to rate schools and teachers.

“Rather than trying to pick a rabbit out of a hat during the legislative session with policymakers, who generally are not testing experts, we thought best to assemble a panel of experts from the education field,” said Bosma.

There has to be a better way…

The fact that students did better when the test was on paper rather than on computers only shows that the test has weak validity. What are we really measuring – student achievement or test-taking/computer skills?

…student performance across the state demonstrated that students did better when taking the exam on paper as opposed to computer. Given the high stakes nature of the results of these exams for districts one can’t fault systems for trying to give themselves a competitive advantage by gaming the system. However, what do such strategies have to do with an accurate measurement of student achievement?

“REFORM”

“Tests Great”–“Less Knowing”

The quest for a piece of the public education fund pie has distorted the teaching/learning process.

…perhaps it’s time someone pointed out that test-based accountability, which has meant more drill and test prep and cuts in art, music, drama and all sorts of other courses that aren’t deemed ‘basic,’ has failed miserably–and there are victims.

Students have been the losers, sentenced to mind-numbing schooling. Teachers who care about their craft have been the losers. Craven administrators who couldn’t or didn’t stand up for what they know about learning have been the losers. Add to the list of losers the general public, because the drumbeat of bad news has undercut faith in public education.

There are winners: The testing companies (particularly Pearson), the academics who’ve gotten big grants from major foundations, profiteers in the charter school industry, and ideologues and politicians who want to undermine public education.

TEACHER SHORTAGE

Teacher Pay Decay

If things were fair, politicians, pundits, and policy makers salaries would be adjusted by the same percent as teacher salaries…

Teacher pay nationally has, adjusted for inflation, dropped 1.8%

Nine states have seen teacher pay drop from 6.5% to as much as 13.7%.

That “top” 13.7% drop belongs to Indiana. Congratulations, hoosiers.

NPE: Teacher Voices on Teacher Evaluation

Check out the above article, but the quote comes from a commenter.

Comment by NY Teacher – April 20, 2016 at 8:23 PM

One 40 minute observation (out of a 180 day school year) is the equivalent of a movie reviewer watching a random 45 second clip of a two hour movie – and then trying to accurately judge the film.

Imagine judging Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer by watching him run one play.

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Posted in ISTEP, Pence, Testing

The Test is Dead. Long Live The Test

THE TEST IS DEAD

ISTEP+ is officially history, after 2017, that is, which is the last year that the ISTEP will be given to Indiana students.

Gov. Pence signs ISTEP’s death warrant, kicks off two-year rush to replace exam

With the stroke of his pen today, Gov. Mike Pence put an end to the Indiana’s decades-old standardized ISTEP exam and officially started the clock on a plan to replace it.

The ISTEP will be administered just one more time — in 2017 — giving the state a little more than 700 days to figure out something new.

“We’re going to make a new test that works better for our kids, better for our teachers, better for our families,” Pence said. “I think there’s just been a growing sense that we can do better than ISTEP. This is a test that has been around in Indiana for more than a generation.”

Signing the bill at Eagle Elementary School in Zionsville, Pence told the children gathered for the bill ceremony that they shouldn’t get too excited about ISTEP’s departure.

The “good news” was that ISTEP would be no more, he said, but the “bad news,” is that there will still be a test. That comment was met with groans from the kids.

It’s interesting that Indiana’s Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction has been fighting against Republican Governor Pence over ISTEP (and nearly everything else) since she took office. Now that it’s an election year, and the public has turned against ISTEP, Pence is eager to “find something better.”

Indiana governor signs bill eliminating unpopular ISTEP

After years of tinkering with the state’s education policy, including withdrawing from the national Common Core standards, the decisions by the GOP-majority Legislature now pose a political liability, because parents and educators have become increasingly weary of high-stakes testing. And ISTEP scores plummeted about 20 percent in 2015 when compared to the previous year due in part to a hastily rolled out test that was based on Indiana-specific standards for math and science instead of the Common Core.

While Democratic State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has long called for student testing to be rethought, the idea to scrap the ISTEP did not gain currency until recent months with Republicans, who have supported school accountability measures that use student performance on the standardized test to determine school grades and help award teacher merit pay.

LONG LIVE THE TEST

Romeo and Juliet
Act II, Scene II

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Pardon me for not celebrating the demise of ISTEP, but the worst aspects of it will remain. We’re not getting rid of high-stakes testing. We’re not getting rid of the abuse and misuse of a test on students, teachers, and schools. We’re simply going to change from ISTEP to some other standardized test.

The governor said we’re going to “make a new test that works better.”

On what basis should we expect the State of Indiana, which “made” the ISTEP to suddenly be able to “make” something better? Testing is a complicated process and questions have to be carefully chosen to remove biases and errors. Now that ISTEP is gone how is the state suddenly going to provide the expertise to make a “better” test? Hire Pearson? CTB? Are there any “test experts” left who aren’t just trying to increase the company’s bottom line?

Then there’s the possibility of getting an “off the shelf” nationally normed test, but that wouldn’t necessarily be aligned with Indiana’s Holy Standards. Would it be fair to require teachers to teach certain standards and then test students using an instrument that didn’t reflect those standards? Does the legislature care about fair at all when it comes to students, teachers, or schools? And, as long as I’m asking questions, why is it that the legislature is micromanaging Indiana’s testing program to begin with? Isn’t that a job for educators? Of course, when the purpose of testing has change from assessing student progress and helping students learn, to “accountability” in order to bust unions and privatize education, it all makes sense.

Test misuse in Indiana isn’t going away with the demise of ISTEP. If we’re still using some standardized achievement test as a high-stakes measure to determine student placement, teacher effectiveness, or a school’s letter grade, then we’re still misusing the test, no matter what that test is.

Standardized achievement tests accurately measure a student’s knowledge of the material covered on the test – and nothing else. But we’re going to take a different achievement test which was developed and field-tested (hopefully) to measure children’s academic achievement in specific areas and we’re going to use it to evaluate teachers and to punish or reward schools. That’s akin to using a blood test to determine if your leg is broken.

In Measuring Student Achievement: A Study of Standardized Testing and its Effect on Student Learning, the authors wrote [emphasis added],

…the weakness is that assessment tests are not able to account for the wide range of variables, besides student knowledge, that could affect test results. In the pursuit of expediency and efficiency, combined with a trust in the objectivity of tests, the data acquired from test results are often inappropriately applied to different education policies and curricular reforms. A significant example was shown in the inability for test results, to accurately determine education quality. Drafters of education policy and developers of school curriculum primarily reference assessment test data to solve problems the data does not relate to.

In other words, to quote Linda Darling-Hammond for the umpteenth time,

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.

Getting rid of ISTEP won’t improve education in Indiana. Getting rid of inappropriate high-stakes testing, and the politicians who continue to support it, will.

See also Say No to Standardized Tests

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Posted in ISTEP, Testing

Tweaking an Invalid System – Still Invalid

INDIANA A-F GRADES FOR SCHOOLS

Steve Hinnefeld’s blog, School Matters: K12 Education in Indiana, is one of my regular reads. His reporting and analysis of the privatization of public education in Indiana is invaluable. He regularly takes the legislature and governor to task for their political- rather than researched-based approach to so-called “education reform” in our state.

I say that because I want to be clear at the beginning of this post that I am a fan of School Matters. I intend this post to be, not a criticism of his post, Good news on school grading, but an extension.

That being said…

Good news on school grading

The state is shifting to a system that’s supposed to count student growth on test scores as much as it counts performance, a fairer approach if you’re going to grade schools — which we are. Indiana is also moving to a new method of measuring growth, relying on where student scores fall on what’s called a Growth to Proficiency Table.

The important words in that paragraph are…

…a fairer approach if you’re going to grade schools — which we are…

TESTING 101

I recently quoted Diane Ravitch,

…a cardinal rule of testing is that tests should be used only for the specific purpose for which they were created.

Student achievement tests are, in Indiana and other states, being used for many purposes besides that for which they were created. We use student test scores to

  • evaluate student learning
  • grade schools
  • promote or retain students
  • provide a ranking for teacher bonuses
  • evaluate, promote, or fire teachers
  • evaluate school corporations

What is the purpose of achievement tests? Here is a simple definition from UCDavis:

Achievement tests measure the extent to which a person has “achieved” something, acquired certain information, or mastered certain skills – usually as a result of planned instruction or training. It is designed to efficiently measure the amount of knowledge and/or skill a person has acquired, usually as a result of classroom instruction.

Student achievement tests are developed for evaluating student achievement, the first bullet, above. The other uses by the state are not included in the development process for the tests…and therefore ought not to be used. To do so is an invalid use of the test.

A FAIRER APPROACH

Focusing on growth equalizes the results of tests somewhat, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that we are using tests in the wrong way – to make high stakes decisions about things for which the test was not created.

…IF YOU’RE GOING TO GRADE SCHOOLS — WHICH WE ARE…

A student teaching supervisor from a state university in Indiana posted this from one of her student teachers. The student teacher wrote…

Overall, I’m observing how many different ways our education system is broken but especially our special education system. Testing is incredibly frustrating to watch in this classroom. I watched a student completely fail all parts of his ISTEP in front of me. It really is discouraging in many ways but is also motivating. I know I’m not a superhero but if there is any time to be in education and try to stop kids from being failed by a broken system-it’s now!

Even a pre-service teacher understands that inappropriate testing must stop. Making tests harder doesn’t help. Changing tests doesn’t help. No matter how you tweak an invalid system it’s still invalid.

Replacing ISTEP+ isn’t enough. We must put an end high stakes testing and put an end developmentally inappropriate testing.

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