Posts Tagged ‘HIgh-stakes testing’

Behind the test cheating scandal in Atlanta

April 2, 2015

MISC_high-stakes-testingEleven teachers in Atlanta face prison sentences after being convicted of cheating to improve students’ test scores.

I don’t justify cheating.  But they were not alone.  If your future depends on reaching an impossible or near-impossible numerical target, then the pressure to cheat is very great.  That’s not a justification for cheating, but it is an explanation of why cheating was a predictable result of high-stakes testing.

The ninth of the 10 truths of management applies here.

If you are attempting the impossible, you will fail.

As does Goodhart’s law.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Once more, I am not making an excuse for cheating.  It is wrong, no matter who does it.

But my friend and fellow retiree Bill Elwell passed along an excellent question from his friend, Karen Leshin.

Anyone who knows me, knows that in my professional career as an instructional leader and school administrator, I have been very involved with learning, testing and evaluation. I abhor cheating.  However, when I see school teachers and administrators in Georgia convicted of cheating leaving the  courtroom in handcuffs and facing jail time….I wonder why the bankers on Wall Street involved with crashing our economy and costing our government enormous amounts of money, walked free!  Quite the double standard!


The passing scene: November 15, 2014

November 15, 2014

The Myth of Chinese Super-Schools by Diane Ravich for the New York Review of Books.

Diane Ravich, a foremost defender and analyst of the U.S. public school system, reviewed Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao.

Zhao, who was educated in China and now teaches at the University of Oregon, said the Chinese educational system is the best in the world for promoting rote learning, high test scores and hard-working, obedient employees.  It is the worst in the world for encouraging creativity, enterprise and self-reliance.

The United States is making a big mistake by moving to a high stakes testing system that measures rote learning.

Who won the Civil War?  These students at Texas Tech have no idea, a video from the History News Network (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

 A video interview of Texas Tech students revealed that hardly any of them knew that the North won the Civil War or that the United States won its independence from Great Britain.

After watching this video, I thought that maybe a certain amount of rote learning might not be amiss.  But my question is: Were these students never taught basic facts about the War of Independence and the Civil War?  Or were they taught them, but never made to understand why these facts were worth remembering?

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism? by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New York Review of Books.

Elizabeth Kolbert, a foremost writer on climate change, reviewed This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.  She wrote that Klein makes the issue too simple by blaming climate change on fossil fuel companies, and ignoring the drastic changes in everyday life that will be needed to keep the planet from overheating.

Is the U.S. China Climate Pact as Big a Deal as It Seems? by James Fallows for The Atlantic.

Without the USA and China, the world’s two biggest economic powers and two biggest polluters, nothing can be done to stop catastrophic climate change.  The current pledge by Presidents Obama and Xi may not come to anything, but it is a necessary first step.

Sunken Soviet Submarines Threaten Nuclear Catastrophe in Russia’s Arctic by Matthew Bodner for The Moscow Times (hat tip to Naked Capitalism)

The problems with the Common Core

February 4, 2014

waynehighstakesI never thought President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program was a good-faith effort to improve the public schools.  It seemed to me that its real purpose was to brand public schools as failures, in order to privatize public education in this country.  This in turn seemed to me to be part of a broader movement to transform all public U.S. institutions into for-profit businesses.

It seems to me that the Common Core State Standards movement is an updated version of the same thing.   The core of the Common Core is the use of high-stakes testing to brand students and school systems as failures.   I am not one of those who opposes Common Core out of generalized hostility toward public education or the Obama administration.  The truth, as I see it, is that the Common Core undermines public education.

Stan Karp, of Rethinking Schools magazine, pointed out that the Common Core standards were drafted behind closed doors by academics and assessment “experts” without input from classroom teachers.   Among the 25 people in the work groups that drafted the standards, 15 were associated with for-profit testing companies, and none – zero – were public school teachers.  So it is not surprising that the Common Core is based on testing.

Common Core sets higher standards without providing resources to meet these higher standards.  Instead, public education is being de-funded, teachers are being laid off, schools are being closed and teachers’ unions are under attack.  The number of children in poverty is increasing.  “College-ready” high school graduates find higher education out of reach without taking on debt that leaves them in jeopardy of indentured servitude for the rest of their lives.

Common Core does not cause these larger problems, but neither does it address them.  Instead Common Core provides an excuse to scapegoat students and teachers for the failures of the larger society.

If I wanted to improve the public school system, I would convene a commission consisting mainly of experienced public school teachers who had won state “teacher of the year” awards, and limited to those who attended American public schools themselves and whose children are in public schools.  They would, of course, be free to draw on the expertise of anyone they chose, including employers, testing services, college professors or anyone else.

I would recommend they look at high-performing school systems such as the Massachusetts public schools, and judge whether their best practices could be adopted nationwide.  I would test any educational “reforms” in pilot studies.  The last thing I would do is commit the nation’s schools to a radical transformation based on untested theories.


Click on The Problems with the Common Core for the full text of an excellent presentation by Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools magazine.  He speaks from 30 years experience teaching English and journalism in the New Jersey public school system.  Hat tip for this link to Steve Badrich and his friend Bill.

The passing scene: Links & comment 8/9/13

August 9, 2013

Here are some links to articles I think are worth noting, but not worth a separate post in themselves.  For now I will put more links in roundup posts and fewer in my Recommended reading links menu, and see how that works.

A warning to profs from a high school teacher by Kenneth Bernstein in the Washington Post.  Hat tip to Unqualified Offerings.

My friends in academia complain of students who lack the ability to express themselves in a rational and coherent manner.  Retired teacher Kenneth Bernstein said that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top programs have produced a generation of students who are good at passing multiple choice tests, and little else.

Vlad the Hammer vs. Obama the Wimp by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar wrote that Vladimir Putin has a realistic strategy for advancing Russia’s economic interests and geo-political power and the will to carry it out, while Barack Obama simply reacts to events.  Obama’s idle threats in the Snowden affair illustrate his lack of realism and self-control, Escobar said.

New Bank Investigations: Real Action or More of the Same? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Matt Taibbi wrote that he will be convinced that the Obama administration’s investigations of Chase and the Bank of America are for real when some high-placed Wall Street lawbreaker actually goes to prison, or some Wall Street financial institution is broken up so that it is no longer too big to fail.

Why Spitzer’s Return Terrifies Big Finance by Thomas Ferguson on naked capitalism.

I’d guess that Eliot Spitzer, now running for New York City Comptroller after having resigned a few years ago as Governor,  is not the only New York politician who has spent money on prostitutes.  I’d also guess that he is one of the few who is willing to prosecute wealthy Wall Street financiers for fraud.

‘Eminent Domain for the People’ Leaves Wall Street Furious by Sarah Larare for Common Dreams.  Hat tip to Mike Connelly.

The city of Richmond, California, wants to buy mortgages of underwater homeowners at a discount (with the owners’ permission), and has threatened to seize properties by eminent domain if mortgage-holders refuse.  The city then would let homeowners refinance at their homes’ current values.  I think it is a good plan.  I thinks there needs to be debt relief.

Osama bin Laden’s insights and the Egyptian coup by Ian Welsh.

Osama bin Laden believed that corrupt Middle East governments could not be overthrown so long as the United States propped them up, and the only way Middle Eastern peoples could become truly independent is to get the U.S. bogged down in stalemate wars, like Russia in Afghanistan.  Bin Laden was a criminal terrorist, but his analysis makes sense to many people in the region.

‘Urgent’ Fukushima Crisis Demands More Public Money, says Japan by Jon Queally for Common Dreams.  Hat tip to Mike Connelly.

Japanese officials said that up to 300 tons of highly radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean each day.

DEA and NSA Team Up to Share Intelligence, Leading to Secret Use of Surveillance in Ordinary Investigations by Hanni Fakhouri of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Hat tip to Dennis Darland.

President Obama said on the Jay Leno show that the NSA was used only for national security.  Evidently he was misinformed.

Massachusetts schools: Why not be like the best?

July 9, 2013

If a factory manager was trying to improve performance, he might try to adopt the best practices of successful manufacturers.   He certainly would not adopt the practices of failing manufacturers.

But this is not what school reformers in the United States do.  They advocate unproven policies (teacher-bashing, union-busting, charter schools) that are typical of the worst systems rather than the best.

A blogger who uses the handle Mike the Mad Biologist pointed out that the Massachusetts school system is by far a leading system not just by United States standards, but by world standards.  So why not, he reasonably asked, simply copy the Massachusetts system.

Here is one of the charts he published on his web log.


Click on Instead of Racing to the Tops or No Children Left Behind, Why Not Just Clone What Massachusetts Has Done? for more of Mad Mike’s data and his full comment.

Click on TIMMS, Alabama and Massachusetts: States Matter for Mad Mike’s detailed report on the educational gap between Massachusetts and Alabama.

The Massachusetts-Alabama gap is not explained by differences in race or economic class.   The average test scores of white students in Alabama are roughly equal to scores of black students in Massachusetts.  No matter how you break things down, Massachusetts is ahead.

So if you really want to improve American schools, the first step would be to look at what Massachusetts, Minnesota and other high-performing states are doing and see if there is a lesson to be learned for states such as Alabama.

But just what is it that Massachusetts is doing right?  It isn’t what Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee recommend, but what is it?  Is it financial support?  Curriculum?  Let me know what you think.


The problem with value-added testing

September 21, 2012

President Barack Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and billionaire Bill Gates are think teachers should be judged on the basis of how much their students’ test scores improve year by year.

This sounds good.  But there are problems.  One is that when you have students from poor neighborhoods, with high crime and lots of broken homes, you can’t know how much of an individual student’s performance is due to the teacher, and how much due to family, peers, circumstances and the student’s individual ability and motivation.  I know teachers who’ll tell me that this year, they have a really good class, or a not-so-good class.

The other is that neither Obama, Duncan, Emanuel or Gates has ever taught in public schools.  None of them knows what it is that good teachers do that sets them apart from bad teachers.  What they advocate is what the late W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management, called “tampering”—altering a process without knowing how it works.

The way to improve public education is the same as the way the Obama administration is trying to improve medical care—determining the best practices, what works and doesn’t work, and disseminating that knowledge.   It is easier to scapegoat teachers of high-risk students.

The President’s Race to the Top education program and the recent Chicago teachers’ strike shows that Obama and Emanuel are willing to fight for their ideas.  I wish the two of them had been half so willing, when Emanuel was the President’s chief of staff, to take on the Wall Street bankers.  If I had the power, I’d set performance standards for the too-big-to-fail banks and bail out the public schools.

Click on Why Rahm Emanuel and the New York Times are wrong about teacher evaluation for a great article with links on educational research on value-added teacher evaluation.  Hat tip for the link to Diane Ravich’s Blog.


Testing vs. teaching in a Texas school

May 10, 2011

Barbara Renaud Gonzales reported in the current Texas Observer how high-stakes testing works at one Texas middle school.

The school is testing for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) benchmarks before the real TAKS test, which determines which students progress to the next grade.  The tests, administered by the Texas Education Agency, also determine how the school is rated academically. Benchmark testing is supposed to help schools project how students will perform on the actual TAKS.  If too many students fail in the spring, the principal’s job, along with everyone else’s in the administration, is at stake. The school I’m visiting is considered at-risk for being labeled “low performing.”

The school district, out of desperation, has contracted with a prestigious university, my employer, to help the teachers in math, reading and science.  I’m here to gather data about attendance, behavior and grades—key to researching how to reduce dropouts.

At my university, researchers have spent almost 15 years examining the complexities of student success in at-risk schools.  We have found that standardized tests like the TAKS are not predictors for high school graduation.  Students flunk the TAKS for reasons other than academic skills.  Some have oh-my-God! panic attacks.  Some, like the dyslexic Albert Einstein, can’t perform well on tests.  Many progressive educators believe that standardized tests should enhance the curriculum, not punish students by failing them. … …

Because of my job, I get to observe the different seventh-grade classes.  There are more than 30 students in most of the math and science classes, and the teachers try hard to ignore whispering, jostling and paper-shuffling.  One-third of the class seems to be at risk of  failing because of emotional and academic problems.  Some are special education students who have been mainstreamed.  Some are wannabe gang members.  Some are just bored.  The teachers must get through their lessons in 45 minutes and don’t seem to breathe the whole time.   They are absorbed in their LCD boards, their colorful markers, swooping through the fractions and formulas once and again.  They give tips and shortcuts for solving the math problems likely to come up on the TAKS.  Pay attention!  The front of the class is quiet, but the back third is buzzing at the end of the day.  My university’s master teachers are helping teachers keep students engaged with the coursework.  Play games, they tell the teachers.  Give real-life problems.  But the TAKS seems to be the dark cloud in their classroom.

The math teachers call the last period of the day “the class from hell.”

At the end of the third six-week period, in early January, I tell my university that it doesn’t seem right to me that the grade reports show only six seventh-graders out of 350—the target group we’re following—are failing math.  I’ve been in those classrooms, observed how one-third aren’t paying attention.  How can this be?  I’m a product of working-class public schools and know how easy it is to fall behind in math. … …

At the end of the school year, seven of 357 seventh-graders have failed math, according to the official roster.  Six have failed English and reading.  The school meets the TAKS standards and receives a “recognized” rating.  With the help of master teachers, after-school and Saturday morning tutorials, 70 percent of the students have met the standard in math.  But do they know how to solve a problem that’s not on the TAKS?


Teachers, school systems cheat on tests

April 7, 2011

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program created financial penalties for public schools with inferior test scores.  President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program creates financial rewards for public schools that achieve superior test scores.

The predictable result:  Widespread cheating on tests by teachers and school administrators.  In Washington, D.C., the system winked at teachers who erased wrong answers and substituted correct answers.  In New York City, the tests themselves were dumbed down so as to make it easier to generate higher scores.

I don’t believe in high-stakes testing, but if you’re going to have it, there have to be safeguards against cheating.  At the very least, the tests should be drafted and administered by someone who is not accountable to the administrators of the system being tested.

Click on When test scores seem too good to believe for the opening report in a series in USA Today on schools that cheat on tests.

Click on When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real? for the USA Today series report on faked test scores in Washington, D.C., under ballyhooed chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Click on USA Today series forces look at cheating for Jay Matthews’ summary of the USA Today series in the Washington Post.

Click on New York’s school testing con for a New York Post report on how New York City tests were dumbed down in order to improve test results.

Click on Whistle-blowing teachers targeted for a report on how the Atlanta school system retaliated against teachers who reported systematic cheating.

Click on Ga. gives D.C. pointers in probe of school cheating for a USA Today followup on what to do about the Washington, D.C., cheating scandal.

Click on L.A. school board to close six charter schools caught cheating for a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Click on Cheat Sheet – Under Pressure, Educators Tamper With Test Scores for a roundup in the New York Times about school system cheating nationwide.

Click on How Schools Cheat for a comprehensive report by Reason magazine dating from 2005.

I found most of these links on Bob Somerby’s The Daily Howler web log, an excellent daily commentary on the press with frequent reports on misreporting of education issues.