An Average of 60-80 Days of 180 School Days (≈ 40%) on State Testing in Florida

“In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing.” So it is written in an article recently released in the New York Times titled “States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing an F.”

Of issue, as per a serious set of parents, include the following:

  • The aforementioned focus on state standardized testing, as highlighted above, is being defined as a serious educational issue/concern. In the words of the article’s author, “Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal.”
  • Related, parents took issue with the new Common Core tests and a ” state mandate that students use computers for [these, and other] standardized tests” which has “made the situation worse because computers are scarce and easily crash” and because “the state did not give districts extra money for computers or technology help.”
  • Related, “Because schools do not have computers for every student, tests are staggered throughout the day, which translates to more hours spent administering tests and less time teaching. Students who are not taking tests often occupy their time watching movies. The staggered test times also mean computer labs are not available for other students.”
  • In addition, parents “wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.” One father cried confessing that he planned to pull his second grader from school because, in his words, “Teaching to a test is destroying our society,” as a side effect of also destroying the public education system.

Regardless, former Governor Jeb Bush — a possible presidential contender and one of the first governors to introduce high-stakes testing into “his” state of Florida — “continues to advocate test-based accountability through his education foundation. Former President George W. Bush, his brother, introduced similar measures as [former] governor of Texas and, as [former] president, embraced No Child Left Behind, the law that required states to develop tests to measure progress.”

While the testing craze existed in many ways and places prior to NCLB, NCLB and the Bush brothers’ insistent reliance on high-stakes tests to reform America’s public education system have really brought the U.S. to where it is today; that is, relying even more on more and more tests and the use of VAMs to better measure growth in between the tests administered.

Likewise, and as per the director of FairTest, “The numbers and consequences of these tests have driven public opinion over the edge, and politicians are scrambling to figure out how to deal with that.” In the state of Florida in particular, “[d]espite continued support in the Republican-dominated State Legislature for high-stakes testing,” these are just some of the signs that “Florida is headed for a showdown with opponents of an education system that many say is undermining its original mission: to improve student learning, help teachers and inform parents.”

Texas Hangin’ its Hat on its New VAM System

A fellow blogger, James Hamric and author of Hammy’s Education Reform Blog, emailed a few weeks ago connecting me with a recent post he wrote about teacher evaluations in Texas, titling them and his blog post “The good, the bad and the ridiculous.”

It seems that the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which serves a similar role in Texas as a state department of education elsewhere, recently posted details about the state’s new Teacher Evaluation and Support System (TESS) that the state submitted to the U.S. Department of Education to satisfy the condition’s of its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, excusing Texas from not meeting NCLB’s prior goal that all students in the state (and all other states) would be 100% proficient in mathematics and reading/language arts by 2014.

While “80% of TESS will be rubric based evaluations consisting of formal observations, self assessment and professional development across six domains…The remaining 20% of TESS ‘will be reflected in a student growth measure at the individual teacher level that will include a value-add score based on student growth as measured by state assessments.’ These value added measures (VAMs) will only apply to approximately one quarter of the teachers [however, and as is the case more or less throughout the country] – those [who] teach testable subjects/grades. For all the other teachers, local districts will have flexibility for the remaining 20% of the evaluation score.” This “flexibility” will include options that include student learning objectives (SLOs), portfolios or district-level pre- and post-tests.

Hamric then goes onto review his concerns about the VAM-based component. While we have highlighted these issues and concerns many times prior on this blog, I do recommend reading these as summarized by others other than us who write here in this blog. This may just help to saturate our minds, and also prepare them to defend ourselves against the “good, bad, and the ridiculous” and perhaps work towards better systems of teacher evaluation, as is really the goal. Click here, again, to read this post in full.

Related, Hamric concludes with the following, “the vast majority of educators want constructive feedback, almost to a fault. As long as the administrator is well trained and qualified, a rubric based evaluation should be sufficient to assess the effectiveness of a teacher. While the mathematical validity of value added models are accepted in more economic and concrete realms, they should not be even a small part of educator evaluations and certainly not any part of high-stakes decisions as to continuing employment. It is my hope that, as Texas rolls out TESS in pilot districts in the 2014-2015 school year, serious consideration will be given to removing the VAM component completely.”

Arne Duncan’s Reaction to Recent VAM Research

Valerie Strauss wrote a recent piece for the Washington Post about an email she recently sent to Arne Duncan — the current U.S. Secretary of Education who is (still) advancing VAMs for the nation. She wrote him directly to get his take on the “growing mountain of evidence [that] has shown that the method now used in most states, known as “value-added measures,” is not reliable. With [specific attention paid to the] two [most] recent reports released” on VAMs, one being the position statement released by the American Statistical Association and the other being a peer-reviewed article recently published in which researchers also found “surprisingly weak” correlations among VAMs and other teacher quality indicators including teacher observations.

His response? As sent via email from Duncan’s Press Secretary:

“Including measures of how well students are learning as part of multiple indicators of educator effectiveness is part of a set of long-needed changes that will improve classroom learning for kids. Growth measures are a significant improvement over the system that existed before, which failed to produce useful distinctions in teacher performance. Growth measures — including value-added measures — focus attention on student learning and show progress. While these measures are better than what existed before, educators will continue to improve them, and sharp, critical attention from the research community can help.”

As to whether Duncan is aware of the latest research, Duncan’s press secretary wrote:

“We keep track of all major research on this topic.”

Whether Duncan is integrating the research into his thinking about his policy approach in this area is another question, or rather a question implicitly answered by these responses.

See the full piece here.

Consequences of Non-Compliance in the State of Washington

In case you missed it, from a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan withdrawing the state of Washington’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver for noncompliance re: VAMs:

The Education Department is pulling Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver because the state has not met the department’s timeline for tying teacher evaluations to student performance metrics.

Washington is the first state to lose its waiver. The loss will give local districts less flexibility in using federal funds. For instance, they may now be required to spend millions on private tutoring services for at-risk students. The waiver revocation could also result in nearly every school across the state being labeled as failing under NCLB.

Washington had pledged in its waiver application to make student growth a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluations by the 2014-15 school year. But the state Legislature refused to pass a bill mandating that student performance on statewide assessments be included in teacher evaluations. The department placed the state on “high-risk” status in August. Arizona, Kansas and Oregon are also at risk of losing their waivers.

Forcing the Fit Using Alternative “Student Growth” Measures

As discussed on this blog prior, when we are talking about teacher effectiveness as defined by the output derived via VAMs, we are talking about the VAMs that still, to date, only impact 30%-40% of all America’s public school teachers. These are the teachers who typically teach mathematics and/or reading/language arts in grades 3-8.

The teachers who are not VAM-eligible are those who typically teach in the primary grades (i.e., grades K-2), teachers in high-schools who teach more specialized subject areas that are often not tested using large-scale tests (e.g., geometry, calculus), and the teachers who teach out of the subject areas typically tested (e.g., social studies, science [although there is a current push to increase testing in science], physical education, art, music, special education, etc.). Sometimes entire campuses of teachers are not VAM-eligible.

So, what are districts to do when they are to follow the letter of the law, and the accountability policies being financially incentivized by the feds, and then the states (e.g., via Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers)? A new report released by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the US Department of Education, and produced by Mathematica Inc. (via a contract with the IES) explains what states are up to in order to comply. You can find the summary and full report titled “Alternative student growth measures for teacher evaluation: Profiles of early-adopting districtshere.

What investigators found is that these “early adopters” are using end-of course exams, commercially available tests (e.g., the Galileo assessment system), and Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), which are teacher-developed and administrator-approved to hold teachers accountable for their students’ growth. Although an SLO is about as subjective as it gets in the company of the seemingly objective, more rigorous, and vastly superior VAMs. In addition, the districts sampled are also adopting the same VAM methodologies to keep all analytical approaches (except for the SLOs) the same, almost regardless of the measures used. If the measures exist, or are to be adopted, might as well “take advantage of them” to evaluate value-added because the assessments can be used (and exploited) to measure the value-added of more and more teachers. What?

This is the classic case of what we call “junk science.” We cannot just take whatever tests, regardless of to what standards they are aligned, or not, and run the data through the same value-added calculator in the name of accountability consistency.

Research already tells us that when using different tests, even on the same students of the same teachers at the same time, but using the same VAMs, gives us very, very different results (see, for example, the Papay article here).

Do the feds not see that forcing states to force the fit is completely wrong-headed and simply wrong? They are the ones who funded this study, but apparently see nothing wrong with the absurdity of the study’s results. Rather, they suggest, results should be used to “provide key pieces of information about the [sampled] districts’ experiences” so that results “can be used by other states and districts to decide whether and how to implement alternative assessment-based value-added models or SLOs.”

Force the fit, they say, regardless of the research or really any inkling of commonsense. Perhaps this will help to further line the pockets of more corporate reformers eager to offer, now, not only their VAM services but also even more tests, end-of-course, and SLO systems.

Way to lead the nation!

On a More Positive Note…

Contrary to what is going on in South Carolina and its House Bill 4419 (thanks in large part to Rhee and her “supportive” efforts, as posted also today here), in the state of Washington its State Senate just voted “No” against evaluating teachers in the state using student test scores.

Interesting that this happened in Bill Gates’s homestead state, given his current and widespread educational “reform” initiatives in support of the opposite, but I digress.

As per at least one of the articles capturing this story, Washington State Senate Bill 5246 failed by a 28-19 vote, even though Washington (like many other states) has a federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requiring the state to mandate the use of such tests for such evaluation systems. The state could now lose an undisclosed (and likely unknown) amount of federal funding, by not complying with the aforementioned condition of the NCLB waiver.

One of the State Senators said that she voted the bill down because “using state tests to measure student growth has not been proven to be an effective way to judge teachers.”

It’s about time!!! Silver linings, perhaps, but something certainly to celebrate!

But not for another State Senator who voted for it, particularly noting that “Losing the waiver would mean nearly every school in the state would have to send a letter home to parents saying they are failing to meet the requirements of the federal education law.”

Is this not something else to celebrate? Depends on your stance as a leader, I guess.

Stanford Professor Darling-Hammond on America’s Testing Fixation and Frenzy

Just recently on National Public Radio (NPR), current Stanford Professor and former runner-up to being appointed by President Obama as the US Secretary of Education (Obama appointed current secretary Arne Duncan instead) Linda Darling-Hammond was interviewed about why she thought “School Testing Systems Should Be Examined In 2014.”

Her reasons?

  • Post No Child Left Behind (that positioned states as the steroids of educational reform) America’s public schools have seen no substantive changes, or more specifically gains for the better, as intended. According to Darling-Hammond, “We’re actually not doing any better than we were doing a decade ago” when NCLB was first passed into legislation (2002).
  • “When No Child Left Behind was passed back in 2002, there was a target set for each year for each school [in each state] that [students in each state] would get to a place where 100 percent of students would be, quote/unquote ‘proficient’ on the state tests. Researchers knew even then that would be impossible.” Accordingly, and in many ways unfortunately, all states have since failed to meet this target (i.e., 100% proficiency), as falsely assumed, and predicted, and used as political rhetoric to endorse and pass NCLB by both republicans and democrats, making for one of the first bipartisan educational policies of its time.
  • “Testing has some utility, if you use it in thoughtful ways” but in our country we are lacking serious thought and consideration about that which tests can and should do versus that which they cannot and should not do.

Moving forward we MUST “change our policies around the nature of testing, the amount of testing, and the uses of testing…and move [forward] from a test-and-punish philosophy – which was the framework for No Child Left Behind…to an assess-and-improve philosophy.” More importantly, we MUST “address childhood poverty” as this, not testing and holding teachers accountable for their students’ test scores, is where true reform should be positioned

While “certainly [a] good education is a [good] way out of poverty…we [still must] address some of these issues that adhere to poverty itself” and perpetually cause (and are significantly and substantially related to) low levels of student learning and low levels of achievement. “The two are completely intertwined, and we have to work on both at the same time.”

Arizona’s Teacher Evaluation System, Not Strict Enough?

Last week, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, received the news that Arizona’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver extension request had been provisionally granted with a “high-risk” label (i.e., in danger of being revoked). Superintendent Huppenthal was given 60 days to make two revisions: (1) adjust the graduation rate to account for 20% of a school’s A-F letter grade instead of the proposed 15% and, as most pertinent here, (2) finalize the guidelines for the teacher and principal evaluations to comply with Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility (i.e., the NCLB waiver guidelines).

Within 60 days, Superintendent Huppenthal and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) must: (1) finalize its teacher and principal evaluation guidelines; (2) give sufficient weighting to student growth so as to differentiate between teachers/principals who have contributed to more/less growth in student learning and achievement; (3) ensure that shared attribution of growth does not mask high or low performing teachers as measured by growth; and (4) guarantee that all of this is done in time for schools to be prepared to implement for the 2014-2015 school year.

These demands, particularly #2 and #3 above, reflect some of the serious and unavoidable flaws with the new teacher evaluations that are based on student growth (e.g., and all other VAMs).

As per #2, the most blatant problem is with the limited number of teachers (typically around 30%, although reported as only 17% in the recent post about DC’s teacher evaluation system) who are eligible for classroom-level student growth data (i.e., value-added). Thus, one of the key expectations—to ensure sufficient weight to student growth scores so as to differentiate between teachers’/principals’ impact on student learning and achievement—is impossible for probably around seven out of every ten of Arizona’s and other states’ teachers. While most states, including Arizona, have chosen to remedy this problem by attributing a school-level (or grade-level) value-added score to classroom-level ineligible teachers (sometimes counting as much as 50% of the teacher’s overall evaluation), this solution does not (and likely never will) suffice as per #2 written above. It seems the feds do not quite understand that what they are mandating in practice leaves well over half of teachers’ evaluations based on both students and/or content that these teachers didn’t teach.

As per #3, Arizona (and all waiver-earning states) is also to demonstrate how the state will ensure that shared attribution of growth does not mask high or low performing teachers as measured by growth. Yet, again, when these systems are implemented in practice, 70+% of teachers are assigned a school-level student growth score, meaning that all teachers in any given school who fall into this group will all receive the same score. In what way is it feasible to “ensure” that no high or low performing teacher is “masked” by such a method of attributing student growth to teachers in this way? Yet this is another example of the type of illogical circumstances by which schools must abide in order to meet the arbitrary (and often impossible) demands of ESEA Flexibility (and Race to the Top).

If Arizona fails to comply with the USDOE requests within 60 days, they will lose their ESEA waiver and face the consequences of NCLB. In a statement to Education Week, however, AZ Superintendent Huppenthal stood by his position on providing school districts with as much flexibility as possible within the constraints of the waiver stipulations. He said he will not protest the “high risk” label and will instead attempt to “get around this and still keep local control for those school districts.” The revised application is due at the end of January.

Post contributed by Jessica Holloway-Libell