Posts Tagged ‘high-stakes testing’

Testimony to the Senate Education Committee 4-25-14

Saturday, 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

Friday, 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.

 

 

Please share this testing survey with 5th-6th grade parents/students

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

High-Stakes Testing; The Student Voice Flyer

PLEASE SHARE THIS IMPORTANT SURVEY WITH CPS 5th and 6th grade PARENTS AND STUDENTS!

Deadline April 23.

Dear Parent or Guardian,

I am conducting a research study entitled “High-Stakes Testing: The Student Voice” with 5th and 6th grade student in the Chicago Area. We are interested in examining the student perspective of high-stakes standardized tests. Ultimately, my hope is to learn if students feel that high-stakes testing affects them emotionally or academically. We are requesting that you allow your child to participate.

Participants in the study will be asked to complete an online survey which consists of 45 questions. Afterwards, 10-25% of the students will be selected to participate in a one-on-one interview. The total time to participate in the study will be approximately two hours. Students who participate will complete the survey online.

There are no foreseeable risks to participating in the study.

Names will be used in filling out the study’s forms, but all responses will be anonymous. No one at the school will have access to any of the information collected. Surveys will be kept on Loyola University server and will be accessible only to the researchers.

Participation in the study is entirely voluntary and there will be no penalty for not participating. All students for whom we have parent consent will be asked if they wish to participate and only those who agree will complete the forms. Moreover, participants will be free to stop taking part in the study at any time.

Loyola University Chicago’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) has approved this study. Should you have any questions about the study please contact Dr. Noah Sobe at (312) 915-6954 or, if you have questions about your rights as a research participant, you can contact the Loyola University Office of Research Services at (773) 508-2689.

Confidentiality will be maintained to the degree permitted by the technology used. Your participation in this online survey involves risks similar to a person’s everyday use of the Internet.

Please print this letter for your records.

Sincerely,
Julianna Cechowski
Culture of Education and Policy Studies
Loyola University Chicago

PSAT for 1-28-14: Time to ICE the ISAT?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

ICEtheISAT

Please plan to attend this important forum next week, and share the Facebook event and flyer with your networks!

 More Than a Score presents a free public forum

What's Up with Testing in CPS?

Is NWEA the new ISAT?

More testing, less testing?

What does it all mean for opting out?

When: Thursday, February 6, 2014 6:30 to 8 pm

Where: Haas Park (2402 N. Washtenaw at Fullerton – ample free street parking)

We'll talk about:

  • the many testing changes in CPS this year,

  • how these changes may affect opting out and other testing resistance activities, and

  • better ways to assess student progress.

For more information please go to www.morethanascorechicago.org

or e-mail us at info@morethanascorechicago.org

Thanks!

NYC Council passes anti-testing resolution

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

pizzaNot convinced about the pizza, but check this out:

Press Contact: Jane Hirschmann, 917 679 8343

HISTORIC VOTE BY CITY COUNCIL ON HIGH-STAKES TESTING

The New York City Council passed today Resolution 1394.  This is historic because it is the first time that a legislative body has sent a clear directive to the DOE, NYSED and Governor that high stakes standardized tests must be replaced by multiple measures.  As heard in testimony endorsing the Resolution, “Learning is complex, assessment should be too. A one-size fits all approach to learning and testing fails children, teachers and families.  And, as we have seen, the so-called testing reform approach used by Bloomberg/Klein for the last 12 years resulted in many negative unintended consequences and failed to deliver quality education.

Resolution 1394 was modeled on a national piece of legislation that has been endorsed by many Boards of Education across the country, and more than 500 organizations. In Texas alone more than 80% of the school boards endorsed a similar position. “The New York City resolution is an important step in the growing, grassroots-powered national movement seeking to replace testing overkill with better, educationally sound forms of assessment. Across the U.S. parents, students, teachers, community leaders and, increasingly, local elected officials, are saying ‘Enough is enough!’ to politically mandated standardized exam misuse and overuse, said Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest)

“Our New York City electeds have taken the lead by passing Resolution 1394, ” said Evelyn Cruz of Time Out >From Testing. “The City Council is sending a loud and clear message that we have had enough of this testing mania which drives curriculum. When these tests have such high stakes attached to them —graduation, promotion, school grade, teacher evaluations, school closings and even principal bonuses—there is no question that teachers will teach to the test. This is not a 21st Century education. We want more for our children.”

“All of us think our children should be challenged by difficult tasks in school and that the performance of teachers in the classroom should be judged by the highest standards, but there is no scientific validity whatsoever to the use of high stakes tests as the primary instrument for evaluating children and teachers. We cannot kid ourselves that just because high-stakes testing has become predominant in our schools, it is moral or even rational,” said Jeff Nichols of Change the Stakes.

” This action by the City Council is of central importance to all those who care about public education. Since NYC has been seen as the leader of the so called “reform” movement, the fact that our City Council took action will be regarded nationally as a critical moment—turning around a 12 year failed experiment, said Dani Gonzalez, Co-chair of Time Out From Testing.

Chicago parents to CPS: use report card grades, not test scores, for promotion

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

gradeDminusPress release **** For immediate release *** November 12, 2013

Parents Give district a “D” for its test-focused policY

Chicago, IL: Today, tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools (CPS)parents will flock to their children’s schools to pick up student report cards and meet with teachers. They look forward to these meetings as an important step in strengthening the home-school connection. Report card pick-up day is the best opportunity most parents have to learn how to help their children succeed in school from the people that know the most about how to do that – their children’s teachers.

Parents take the report cards home and study them. They discuss them with their children – sometimes those are happy discussions, sometimes not so happy! Parents sign the back of the report card and slide the cards into their children’s backpacks, often taking that moment to resolve to do more to help their children learn and improve in the weeks ahead.

This process has been meaningful to parents for decades, but it’s been increasingly pushed aside as school districts like CPS give standardized test scores more and more power over students, teachers and schools.

Parents from the Chicago group More Than a Score disagree with this trend, and have presented CPS with an alternative promotion policy that relies primarily on report card grades and uses standardized test scores in the way they were intended to be used, as diagnostic tools and not high-stakes “gotcha” measures.

More Than a Score parents give CPS a “D” grade for a promotion policy that continues to focus too much on test scores and ignores the value of report cards.

Report cards are the only evaluations that look at the students’ work over time and across all areas of learning. They are the only evaluations done by experienced, qualified adults who personally observe and assess each student’s progress,” said CPS parent Julie Fain.“That’s the kind of information that makes sense to parents and actually helps children. When we get our children’s standardized test scores at the end of the year, we don’t get to see the questions or their answers. We have no idea whether they missed a certain concept or were just distracted for part of the test. In any case, our children are so over-tested that these results have become less and less useful to parents.”

The CPS promotion policy begins and ends with the state test score,” said Julie Woestehoff, head of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). “Most of the information from report cards is ignored by CPS when end-of-the-year promotion decisions are made.”

I believe standardize testing is a harsh way to keep a child from thinking outside the box. All our children have different needs, speeds, and challenges. I have witnessed up close and personal the emotional stress testing causes – creating a lack of self-esteem while labeling my children as dumb only because they did not meet your standardized laws. I support my children by opting them out of testing,” said Rousemary Vega, a CPS parent.

Parents who have opted their children out of standardized tests are also confused and concerned because the new promotion policy just swapped one high-stakes test (the SAT-10), for another (NWEA), making opting out more difficult.

Since the promotion policy was first implemented in 1996 by Paul Vallas, it has focused on test scores on the Iowa test, then the IGAP, ISAT, and SAT 10. The new proposal substitutes the NWEA, which CPS officials say is just temporary until they replace it with the PARCC Common Core tests.

How are we supposed to keep track of this alphabet soup of tests?” asks Linda Schmidt, a CPS parent who notified her child’s school at the beginning of this school year that she does not want her student to take the NWEA. “Will my child be held back next August because I made a decision last September?”

Policymakers often cite the subjective nature of teacher grades as a reason for giving them less weight than standardized tests scores. However, test questions are written by subjective human beings, too, and test makers consistently state that their tests should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about children. The manual for the SAT-10, which CPS used last year to retain students, states that test scores “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” – just the kind of information in report cards.

“What’s wrong with report cards?” asked Wanda Hopkins, the parent of a CPS high school student. “If CPS does not trust teacher grades, they need to explain why and what they are doing to fix it. I trust my child’s teacher more than I trust for-profit test companies.”  

Parents with More Than a Score believe that our proposed promotion policy offers an alternative to the CPS test-based promotion policy that respects input from teachers, avoids the pitfalls of standardized test misuse and retention, makes sense to parents, and – most importantly – provides a higher quality evaluation of each student’s progress and needs.

See more at www.morethanascorechicago.org.

What parents want in a renewed NCLB

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Signing upToday’s Tribune editorial proposed that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program, by which they mean more testing and “accountability.”

I wrote this response (though the Tribune has not printed one of my letters in quite a while…):


The Tribune’s editorial proposal that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program is not supported by research, best practices, or most U.S. parents.

For example, test-score based teacher evaluation is strongly discouraged by experts at the National Academy of Sciences and elsewhere as unreliable and potentially damaging.

The Tribune’s overall idea of “accountability” is rejected by most Americans. For example, 54 percent polled by Gallup in 2010 agreed that the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.

These findings are echoed in a July 2013 poll of public school parents by the American Federation of Teachers, which found that 77 percent support strong public schools over expanded vouchers and charters. 57 percent agreed that there is too much emphasis on testing today.

No one has more at stake in better schools than parents, but parents want improvements to be based on responsible, effective policies, not the misguided and destructive initiatives of Secretary Duncan’s waiver program.

Most parents support fair, adequate school funding, smaller class sizes, and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we refuse to be used as pawns in corporate reformers’ “parental choice” game. Parents across the U.S. want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools, such as the one provided by Chicago’s local school council system.

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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