Testimony to the Senate Education Committee 4-25-14

April 26th, 2014

Presented at the Illinois Senate Education Committee Subject Matter Hearing on Student Testing April 25, 2014

SB 2156 and SB 3460 (Cunningham)

 

Good afternoon. My name is Julie Woestehoff and I am the Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education, or PURE, a 26 year old parent-based public school advocacy organization. For more than 15 years, since the beginning of the high-stakes testing era, I have been working with parents to challenge the misuse and overuse of standardized testing in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and across the country.

There is nothing inherently wrong with standardized tests that are used properly, as designed and in a limited way, as just one of a set of true multiple measures taken over time with a variety of tools.

What is wrong – very wrong – is the misuse and overuse of standardized testing that has been growing at an alarming rate in recent years. It is critical that legislators, other public officials, and the general public understand that this is NOT the kind of testing that we – or even my grown children — experienced. When you hear what the parents and teachers who are here today tell you about what testing is like in our schools today, you will understand that the current misuse and overuse of testing is seriously harming our children and drastically interfering with their opportunity to receive a meaningful education.

I want to thank Senator Cunningham for introducing SB 2156 and SB 3460, which address some of the major problems created by today’s inappropriate use of standardized tests. My purpose in testifying here today is to share some facts in support of these bills and to offer some further recommendations to address the crisis of test misuse and overuse in our schools.

 

Too many tests – PURE supports SB 2156, NAEP model

PURE supports the annual limitation on the number of standardized academic achievement tests given to students as proposed in SB 2156. As illustrated in the attached chart created by the coalition More Than a Score, which PURE helps convene, the total number of standardized test “events” in CPS this year may run close to 300 for all students and all administrations (see Attachment 1 – More Than a Score chart, “The Reality Behind the ‘New, Reduced’ CPS Assessment Policy”).

This does not include the enormous amount of time given over to test preparation and review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or the “Nation’s Report Card,” tests students only in the “critical juncture” years of 4th, 8th and 11th grades, and tests only a sampling of students in those grades, with no stakes attached for students. Using NAEP’s highly-respected testing schedule would help put the brakes on the massive expansion of testing that has hijacked our children’s education.

Recommendation: Any large-scale statewide standardized testing system should be limited to sample testing in three benchmark years only.

 

Testing misuse violates professional and ethical standards

Using any standardized achievement test for a purpose for which it was not designed violates nationally-accepted standards of the testing profession, of the state of Illinois and the U. S. Department of Education, and the guidelines of the test makers themselves (see Attachment 2 – PURE Fact Sheet: “Testing professionals oppose use of standardized test scores as sole or primary measures in high-stakes decisions”).

For example, according to the makers of the SAT-10, which CPS has been using to retain students:

Achievement test scores may certainly enter into a promotion or retention decision. However, they should be just one of the many factors considered and probably should receive less weight than factors such as teacher observation, day-to-day classroom performance, maturity level, and attitude.

But this has not stopped CPS from their inappropriate use of the Iowa test in the 1990′s, then the ISAT/SAT 10 in recent years and, this year, the NWEA MAP. CPS also uses these tests in other ways for which they were not designed including school closing and turnaround decisions as well as teacher and principal evaluation.

CPS will say that it does use multiple measures to make promotion and other high-stakes decisions, but that is simply not true. In fact, the CPS promotion policy sets up multiple barriers, not multiple measures. That is, any one measure by itself will trigger the decision to send a student to summer school, and any one measure by itself can cause a student to flunk summer school and be retained. Test scores also vastly outweigh any other measure in the CPS school accountability system.

Recommendation: State law should prohibit the use of state tests in making high-stakes decisions about students.

 

Standardized tests inappropriate for young children: PURE supports SB 3460

We support the ban on standardized testing for children in grades 2 and younger. Early childhood professionals urge “great caution” in the use of and interpretation of standardized tests of young children’s learning (see Attachment 3 – National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Assessment of Young Children” p. 10 and “Program Evaluation and Accountability” p. 14).

They raise concerns that standardized tests may not be based on knowledge of child development and are therefore not suited to the developmental abilities of young children. Tests often miss important objectives of early childhood like creativity, problem-solving, and social and emotional development, which can lead to teaching of skills in ways that are not effective or meaningful, to the narrowing of the curriculum, and to less time for play and hands-on learning experiences that are important foundations for later school success. In other words, focusing on testing in the early years may lead to less effective teaching and learning, not the other way around.

Recommendation: We support the language of SB 3460.

Test bias

There are significant racial and cultural biases in standardized tests that must be taken into consideration. I’m not just referring to the obvious bias of questions about yachts and tennis doubles, which “bias review” is supposed to be addressing. Research has shown that test questions that are answered correctly more often by black students than by white students have been rejected by test makers, apparently in an effort to assure that test results showing African-Americans scoring lower than whites are “consistent” from year to year (see Attachment 4 – PURE Fact Sheet, “Racial Bias in Standardized Tests” and Attachment 5 – Fair Test, “Racial Justice and Standardized Educational Testing”).

It is well-known that the best predictor of standardized test scores is economic level. It’s no coincidence that the schools in our poorest communities in Chicago have been labeled as failures based on test scores, and are the main targets for closure and privatization by charters or privately-run turnaround agencies.

Other recommendations

There are far better ways to assess children that support rather than take time and resources away from teaching and learning, and that do not harm children the way test misuse and overuse harms them. Over the years, PURE has proposed balanced assessment legislation to assure that students and schools are assessed using valid, appropriate, multiple measures. I attach a summary of our most recent proposal (see Attachment 6 – “PURE Proposal: Legislative Changes to Implement a Balanced State Assessment System for Illinois”).

Examples of successful use of such assessments include the New York Performance Standards Consortium (see Attachment 7 – Fair Test, “New York Performance Standards Consortium Fact Sheet” and Attachment 8 – FairTest, “A Better System for Evaluating Students and Schools”).

PURE has proposed the common sense notion of going back to using student report cards as the primary evaluation tool for student work. There may have been some validity to concern about grade inflation 15 years ago, but if report cards are still useless, it is the responsibility of the district to provide correctives. Report cards are far more meaningful to parents, who are not allowed to see any part of the tests that currently dictate major life decisions about their children. PURE’s proposal has also been endorsed by More Than a Score (see Attachment 9, PURE, Proposal for a Year-Long Student-Centered Elementary Promotion Policy for CPS”).

Finally, we recommend an explicit opt out right for parents in state law. Because districts have acted irresponsibly by violating standards and ethics of the assessment profession, parents must have the ability to advocate for and protect our children. When CPS parents opted out or tried to opt their children out of a meaningless administration of the ISAT last month, they were harassed, their children experienced retaliation, and investigators used pressure tactics to get students to report on possible teacher involvement. This is unacceptable.

Sample opt out language from California state statutes: “A parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided under (testing statue reference). Notwithstanding any provisions of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted.”

Thoughts on preparing for the testing legislative hearing

April 25th, 2014

testingpencils

 

What’s behind the epidemic of inappropriate testing?

I once shared a very interesting bus ride to the airport with the president of Riverside Publishing, who write the Iowa Tests, back when Paul Vallas was using the test as a grade promotion barrier. Shortly after our visit, Riverside decided to stop providing CPS with grade-equivalent score labels which CPS used to make the political claim that flunked students were simply reading or doing math “below grade level.” Unfortunately, that did not stop CPS from continuing to misuse the test.

Certainly one reason tests are being misused and overused may be that there’s just too much money in testing for test publishers to want to police the use of their own tests. This is about to become an even more lucrative industry with the onset of the Common Core State Standards and CCSS tests.

Another reason may be the political pressure from well-funded groups that are out to privatize public education and undermine the teaching profession. This pressure forces otherwise well-meaning school officials to throw out what they know about teaching and learning and replace it with test prep.

A third reason may be that, as we move into the Common Core testing era, students are taking tests to test test questions for test publishers and to get data about how they might do on future tests. School officials sometimes use this information to identify the students who score closest to the all-important “meets” cut-off point, and focus extra school resources on those “bubble” kids.

It’s important to note that these reasons have everything to do with the best interests of adults, and nothing to do with what’s best for children.

Think of tests as steroids. Properly used in a limited manner by conscientious professionals, steroids can improve health. But when steroids are misused or overused, major health problems can ensue. Unfortunately, many school officials are like bad coaches, pushing steroids on the players because other schools are doing it, in a perverse effort to stay competitive.

 

 

April forums in full bloom

April 22nd, 2014

Tulips 05It’s April. inBloom may be kaput but testing and related education forums are in full bloom! Fortunately they are all indoors so we won’t freeze!

Wednesday, April 23, 7 – 8 pm: Good Morning Mission Hill film screening at Francis Parker School, 330 W Webster, followed by a panel discussion on democratic education.

Thursday April 24, 6 – 9 pm: DePaul School of Education Spring Forum, DePaul Student Center, Room 120, 2250 N Sheffield. Imagine a public school with a portfolio-based constructivist approach to teaching and learn, staff based decision-making and governance, modeled on democratic and progressive education principles, fostering active and engaged learning, with a broad and rich curriculum.

Saturday, April 26, 10 am to noon, Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St.:
A Quality Education for Every Child, a Talk with Pasi Sahlberg
Raise Your Hand is sponsoring a talk by Pasi Sahlberg, the author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland

Tuesday, April 29 at 6 pm at Union Park, 1500 W Randolph. Of course, the More Than a Score testing forum, Changing the Stakes on Testing. More here!

PSAT for 4-22-14: Speak out on testing!

April 22nd, 2014

psat_logoThe date and time have been finalized for the subject matter hearing on testing sponsored by the Illinois Senate Education Committee, and you are invited!

The hearing will take place this Friday, April 25, at 2:30 pm at the Bilandic Building, 160 N LaSalle Street in Chicago, Room 600.

This is our chance to share our concerns about testing with our state legislators. If you want to speak, fill out a witness slip here (be sure to check that you are FOR or a proponent of both bills).

The specific bills under consideration at this hearing are sponsored by Sen. Bill Cunningham, who represents communities in the far southwest side of Chicago and southwest suburbs:

  • SB 2156 (Chicago only) allows no more than four tests per year – two state standardized tests, and two tests to “comply with the Evaluation of Teachers” statute.
  • SB 3460 would prohibit the administration of tests to children enrolled in kindergarten through the second grade “for any reason other than diagnostic purposes.”

Our friend Jim Broadway, of State School News Service, says that these bills “faltered, missed their deadlines and have been sent back to the Committee on Assignments, which is the graveyard for Senate bills that never advance out of the Senate.” However, bills are never really dead in Springfield, and you can bring up any other testing issues as well. Let’s not let this opportunity pass by without a strong showing from Chicago parents!

inBloom closes down

April 21st, 2014

Flower - no PetalsAfter months of parent pushback on the threat to student data privacy, a campaign spearheaded by PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson of NYC’s Class Size Matters, inBloom today announced that they are closing their offices. We congratulate Leonie and all of the parents, teachers, students and others around the country who stood up and spoke out against the potential commercialization of our children’s school information.

Here’s Leonie’s statement:

Today’s announcement that inBloom is closing its doors  will hopefully make government officials, corporations and foundations more aware that parental concerns cannot be ignored, and that they must stop foisting their “solutions” on our schools and classrooms with no attention given to the legitimate concerns of parents and their right to protect their children from harm.
Yet the statement issued by inBloom’s CEO reeks of arrogance and condescension, and makes it clear that those in charge still have not learned any lessons from this debacle.  The fervent opposition to inBloom among parents throughout the country did not result from “misunderstandings”,  but inBloom‘s utter inability to provide a convincing rationale that would supercede the huge risks to student security and privacy involved.
Contrary to the claims of Iwan Streichenberger and others,  InBloom was  not designed to protect student privacy but the opposite: to facilitate the sharing of children’s personal and very sensitive information with data-mining vendors,  with no attention paid to the need for parental notification or consent, and this is something that parents will not stand for.  In New York, the last state to pull out of inBloom and the only one in which legislation was needed to do so, parents were joined by superintendents and teachers in pointing out that the risks to children’s privacy and safety far outweighed any educational benefits.
At the same time, we realize that the fight for student privacy is just beginning. There are more and more data-mining vendors who, with the help of government officials, foundations, and think-tanks, are eager to make money off of student information in the name of “big data” and “personalized” learning, and in the process see parents, if they recognize our existence at all, as ignorant obstacles to their Orwellian plans.  This is despite the fact that the educational value of putting kids on computers and subjecting them to canned software programs is not supported by evidence, and is yet another way in which children’s education is being mechanized, depersonalized, and outsourced to corporate hands.
As a consequence to inBloom’s overreach, parents throughout the country have also become painfully aware of the way in which the federal government has actively encouraged data-sharing and data-mining of personal student information by eviscerating FERPA.  We will continue to work with parents and advocates to see that the federal government returns to its original role as protecting  student privacy, and recognizing the parental right to notification and consent,  rather than furthering the ability of for-profit vendors and other third parties to commercialize this data without regard to its potential harm.

PSAT for 4-15-14: Mark your calendars – MTAS forum April 29

April 15th, 2014

MTASflyerlogo4-14It’s spring break for many, and I imagine a lot of you are worn out from slogging through the latest round of ice and snow to get to the post office to file your taxes, so I’ll go easy on you today.

Take out your calendars (I still do this with my actual personal hand and an actual pencil), find Tuesday, April 29, and mark in the More Than a Score forum at 6 pm at Union Park in Chicago.

Here’s what we’ll be talking about:

  • Why the NWEA is a bad high-stakes test.
  • How some children can safely opt out of NWEA.
  • Opting out legal issues.
  • What we can do in Springfield and at home to change state testing laws.
  • The connection between tests and school closings/turnarounds.
  • The next wave of tests: Common Core and PARCC.
  • Our alternative – what’s wrong with report cards???

We’ll provide user-friendly information, handouts, flyers, and how-tos.

Child care and translation will be provided.

Questions? Email us at info@morethanascorechicago.org.

No more discipline fees! Why now, Noble? I think I know.

April 14th, 2014

RaunerlogoMore than two years after PURE first challenged the Noble Network of Charter Schools’ discipline fees, the franchise has decided to stop charging students for not buttoning a shirt button, sitting up straight, or tracking the teacher with their eyes.

It would be nice to think that Noble was making this change because they’ve finally realized that the policy was dehumanizing and financially harmful to families, and a big reason why a whole lot of students leave their schools.

But the most likely impetus behind this decision is to protect Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor.

Rauner is already taking some heat over his education policies, which center on privatizing public education; Rauner brags about Noble, which named one of its high schools after him after he provided the school’s start-up funding. The Tribune ran a very unflattering front-page story about Noble’s discipline fees just a week ago. At their first face-to-face meeting three days ago, before the Illinois Education Association, Quinn said he wouldn’t “charterize” public education, a reference to Rauner’s version of school reform.

Of course, the discipline fees are not the only skeletons in Noble’s closet. There’s the equally oppressive staff incentive system, reports of Noble students attempting suicide, and the memo below from the Rauner Charter school itself that essentially bribes a student with his/her own year’s worth of credits to transfer out of Rauner.

People are also not likely to forget charges that Rauner clouted his own child into middle class, progressive Payton College Prep, which is about as far as you can get in CPS from the reform school model he touts for the children of the 99%.

Raunercreditletter

 

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
@pureparents