Monday, March 2, 2015

Problem Solved?

So, the state standardized testing issue is solved, and the solution to shorten ISTEP+ will preserve the integrity of the test. Unfortunately the real problem is not the length of the test or the content standards. Rather it’s the use of a standardized test to make decisions for which it was never intended and has never been validated. Such misuse is touted as being in the interest of “accountability.” Who do we hold accountable for proper test development and use?

The new ISTEP+ test was put together in a rush to judgment. It was not field-tested; no trials were conducted to see whether the test met rigorous standards for test development. Now, the new recommendation is that testing time be reduced to about nine hours. This time reduction is to be achieved by eliminating items being field-tested for future use. So the test in the future will be as untried as this one.

Whatever its length, ISTEP+ has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation. To impose this untried test on students, parents, and teachers is nothing less than gross incompetence on the part of the state leadership. It serves no purpose to shorten the test when the test itself has never been properly validated.

The state assessment program is only one part of a larger set of problems that lawmakers have created in the push to privatize public education. The idea that competition can be used to fulfill a major responsibility of the state’s leadership fails to meet the constitutional standard of providing for the “common good.” Competition is an ineffective way of improving public services for the common good. The data that exist suggests exactly the opposite, that competition will destroy the interests of the common good.

We cannot give the students who have been misjudged back their lives. We cannot simply rehire teachers who have been driven out of the profession.  We cannot restore those communities that have been damaged morally and economically by misjudgments that labeled their schools as failing. The citizens of Indiana are being forced to participate in our lawmakers’ social engineering experiment.  In the end, our current leadership will walk away from any responsibility for the damage they do, because there is no mechanism to hold them accountable.

Indiana voters need to decide just what kind of education system they want: one that privileges the few and is driven by profit or one designed for the common good that will serve all children. How does the privatization of our public education system align with our democratic principles?

A bias has been created, portraying the public schools as failing. The facts tell a different story. Privatizing the public education system is the last gasp of those wanting to continue to make sure we have a class of working poor and disenfranchised citizens available to do minimum-wage jobs.

It’s time to take public education out of the political circus and have serious conversations about how public education should be reimagined to serve the common good.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ending Public Education in Indiana

The state of Indiana has released information for the 2015 ISTEP testing program as reported in the Herald Times on January 31, 2015. The testing time will be 3 hours and 27 minutes longer, assess new content and new formats plus technology enhanced questions. This new testing process was apparently completed in the past year after Indiana decided not to be a part of the CCSS and the accompanying assessment pilot.  

There are several things the public needs to understand.  First and foremost the changes preclude any comparison to previous years. The increased time, the different format and the new content make it an entirely new test. Given that this is a new test it is important to wonder when the state validated the new test items and conducted the validity and reliability studies that demonstrates the test does what it is intended to do.  

The State of Indiana is subjecting the students in our schools to a test that fails to meet any of the standards of test development and interpretation of the data. This failure to meet generally accepted standards should be considered gross misconduct on the part of our state legislators.  Teachers and administrators should refuse to participate in this testing program, because it fails to meet testing standards as recommended by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education.  Secondly, parents have a right to withhold their children from being subjected to unproven and inferior educational experiences. Students have the right not to have judgments made about their learning abilities at young ages with instruments that meet no standards.

Subjecting the citizens of the state to such ill-conceived and poorly planned experiences should be considered gross negligence and incompetence   Additionally, since this test is to be used to assess teacher quality the state leadership is obligated to show the data that proves test scores are a result of high quality effective teaching.

We are at a point where expressing our objection is insufficient. We need to take steps that send a message to our federal and state leadership that we have had enough of the mismanagement and abuse of our children's educational future.

This testing initiative is clearly not intended to improve the quality of the public education experience. The purpose of this new testing plan is designed to demonstrate how poorly our public schools are doing and promote the solution to move more of our children to private schools.  The legislators are failing to uphold their pledge to support the constitution of the State of Indiana.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why do parents believe standardized tests tell them anything about their children?

Standardized Achievement Tests are inappropriate measures to use for making judgments about students, teachers, and schools because:

Children are being punished for a reward.  See "Punished By Rewards", by Alfie Kohn.

A small sample of the curriculum is used to make a judgment about a child's progress.

Inadequate sample of the content is being tested.

The test is an inadequate time of observing a student's learning. 

It is an indirect observation as opposed to a direct observation of a student's learning.

Test scores require inferences that lead to questionable conclusions about children and have a lasting impact.

Comparing children with each other produces competitiveness and winners and losers.

Tests are normed with a population no one knows anything about. 

The standardized achievement tests cannot be used as diagnostic tools.

The test is designed so that 50% of students fall below the mean.

Standardized tests serve only to sort and select our children.
August 15th,2011
How Does Our Garden Grow?

By Bruce Smith and Phillip Harris

Metaphors are inherently visionary. That is, they create mental images. They don’t replace strategic plans, and they don’t expand budgetary authority. They don’t provide textbooks or other classroom-based or community resources. But make no mistake: metaphors matter. By highlighting similarities between two apparently unrelated endeavors, metaphors help us see in new ways, and so well-chosen metaphors sharpen our perceptions of complex activities. The metaphors we employ to describe our schools and what goes on within them are no exceptions.

For more than a century, we have seen our schools reflected in the funhouse mirror of an industrial metaphor. Beginning in the late 19th century, we applied to our schools ideas about “productivity” that derived from and more appropriately fit the manufacturing sector of our economy. In industry we saw raw materials, production workers, managers, outputs, and quantifiable results. So in education we could simply replace each of those terms to yield, in order, students, teachers, principals, graduates, and test scores. So where’s the harm? After all, what’s in a name? Perhaps not much if we’re talking just about nomenclature, but when what’s at stake is a guiding metaphor? The short answer is plenty.

When we accept an industrial metaphor for schools and adopt the language of industrial production to describe what goes on in them, we soon find ourselves seeking a uniformity of process that easily leads to the pursuit of a uniformity of outcomes. If taking algebra in eighth grade was good for the small percentage of kids who did so in the mid-1990s and predicted their college attendance better than other indicators, then it must be good for all kids to study algebra in eighth grade. A U.S. Department of Education staffer, who shall remain nameless, made just this argument to one of us during the Clinton Administration. (The inherent fallacies in such thinking should be obvious, and we won’t pursue them here.)

But all the evidence and our experience shows that pursuing such uniformity will always turn out to be a fool’s errand. Try as we might to interest him, Johnny just isn’t all that taken with American literature and does only the minimum required to get by. But living things and their interactions carry him away. He is a diligent and motivated observer of living systems and an avid reader when they are the subject, from the fruit flies in the bio lab, to bee colonies behind his uncle’s barn, to coral reefs and rain forest communities he’s only read about. Janie doesn’t really see the point of writing scripts for her desktop computer to execute; she’s happy to let someone else do that part and simply make use of the ones she needs. But can we please crack open the cover and “look under the hood” to see what makes it tick? How do we make such differently shaped pegs fit into our uniformly round holes? And should we even try?

We propose a new metaphor and with it a new way of thinking about our schools. Where the industrial metaphor (manufacturing products) has led us to pursue the false goal of uniformity of output, we would substitute an agricultural metaphor (growing children) that sees the development of human beings -- intellectually, socially, and emotionally -- as the primary activity for educators, parents, and, indeed, for all adults. In many ways our public schools are like community gardens. And our primary role in them is to cultivate a new crop of citizens to join us -- and, ultimately, to replace us.

Adopting this point of view does not mean that a bunch of “back to the land hippies” have taken over and that there will be no standards, however that word is construed. Reading, writing, speaking, and working with numbers in a variety of ways will always be fundamental elements of a good and well-rounded education. All children need to develop their capabilities in these and other areas if they are to grow. If you’ll forgive our giving in to the temptation of extending our new metaphor, these subjects and the skills they require are the soil, sun, and water that build the fibers of our different crops. Nor need we expect -- or accept -- poor performance in any of these areas. We simply need to expect -- and accept -- that differences in interest will to lead to differing levels of involvement with subjects. As children grow and their interests evolve, the palette of subjects they pursue and the depth at which they engage them will vary. And that, we submit, is a good thing. Some years ago, Elliot Eisner said it this way:

The kind of schools we need would not hold as an ideal that all students get to the same destinations at the same time. They would embrace the idea that good schools increase the variance in student performance and at the same time escalate the mean.

That’s a professorial way of saying that a successful school will help children become more different, rather than more alike, as they grow to physical and intellectual maturity. More different, yet everyone grows.

This individualized view of children and their growth and learning is not new. Friedrich Froebel certainly got there first with kindergartens. And other educators, from Deborah Meier to James Comer to Eric Schaps, have continued to pursue it even after decades of working in a field dominated by industrially designed structures and processes. But if such “organic” views are ever to be seen as achievable and accepted widely as ends worth pursuing, we need to stop allowing the language of industrial production and balance sheets to limit our vision of what’s possible and desirable for each child.

When the seed packets arrive in the mail each spring, without looking at the pictures on the envelopes, it’s not easy to tell a pumpkin from a zucchini. But no matter what regimen of watering and fertilizing you follow, you’ll never turn one into the other.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Joan, Katy Abbott and I had a very stimulating interview with Daniel Hornberger who is doing a documentary film tentatively titled STANDARDIZED.  He is planning to tell the story of how the standardized testing movement is destroying public education.  He has a number of very significant individuals who have been taking part in this project.  Be looking for more information toward the end of July about when this very important documentary will be released.

While we were in the Philadelphia area Joan and I did a workshop at the Abington Public Library which was attended by 20 individuals.  We tried something very different at the workshop and it was a success.  We did a National Cookie Tasters Testing and compared the results of the cookie tasting with the national norms we had gathered.  It gave us an opportunity to really talk about the Myths of Standardized Tests, with some first hand experience.  It made it much easier to talk about sampling issues and the other myths we discuss in our book.  The audience was really engaged and the questions were really pointed and direct.  We expect to continue to tweak the activity to make sure we get the focus were it needs to be which is on the harm the current testing practice is having on our nations educational system.  I found the group very responsive to the idea that the current testing going on is the civil rights issue of this century.  We also discussed what can be done at the local level to get the conversation underway to put a stop to this comparison to nowhere!

We thank the librarian Mimi Satterthwaite for making the presentation possible.

Phillip and Joan Harris

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Indiana Coalition for Public Education had a public meeting last night to discuss the state assessment that begins this week.  The title was "ISTEP What Does It Tell Us".  We had an Assistant Superintendent, Teacher, Parent, Educator, Faculty member from I.U.

Essentially, the standardized test didn't really seem to tell them much of anything that they didn't already know.  We were given a history of the standards movement which has vacillated between being progressive, student-centered to more rigid and content driven over the last one hundred years.  The difference now is the addition of the high stakes testing and the multiple uses for which the test results are being used.  One of the panel members characterized the test as being the most magical test in the world as it can be used to evaluate, diagnose, place students, judge teacher effectiveness, and school quality-all with the same number.

The Assistant Superintendent was asked how she felt about parents opting their children out of the state assessment program, and she couldn't understand why anybody would do that.  Since testing has become such a major part of the curriculum parents should have the same option of requesting their child be exempted as they do for other curriculum areas.  Another panelist commented that the lack of an opt-out for parents is the "ugliest" part of the state assessment program.  Conversations like this need to be taking place in every community.  We need to have an informed public.

The Community Conversation can be seen on the local CATS network.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Joan and I did a workshop for the local League of Women Voters Wednesday January 16th and it was a great success. We had a group of really interested individuals in the testing subject and they had some really good questions. We are building a knowledge base with a core group of individuals who are beginning to understand the real truth about the standardized testing program in the State of Indiana. We have a new power point presentation that if anyone is interested just let us know. We are looking forward to continuing our work in educating the general public about the problems, flaws and misuses of the standardized tests scores.