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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rotten to the core

The public school system in Atlanta has been exposed as being fundamentally corrupt:

[T]he investigation shows that cheating on the state-mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Test began as early as 2001, and that "clear and significant" warnings were raised as early as December 2005. Dr. Hall’s administration punished whistle-blowers, hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents related to the tests, the investigation found. The superintendent and her administration "emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics," the investigators wrote.

What a terrible lesson for that city's children. Heads should roll, including involvement of the prosecutor types.

Comments (20)

I'm waiting for the same thing in Texas. For nearly 15 years, our schools have been emphasizing "teaching for the test", to the exclusion of everything else, and Houston's already been shown to be corrupt as hell in its sudden increase in test scores. (I have several friends who teach in the state, and two high school teachers very dear to me just retired. All of them point out that the No Child Left Behind Act does nothing but produce worthless metrics that do no good other than to justify the innumerable administrators at every piecemeal Independent School District in the state. Every time anybody tries to cut costs by streamlining the number of school districts, the administrators scream "How will this affect high school football?", and the mouthbreathers in the Legislature end up scuttling reform again and again.)

This is simply the human version of "resource guarding".

Tip of the iceberg compared to how much time and money is wasted teaching to the test. Public education should help kids learn how to be strong and independent citizens on the road to self-sufficiency. But instead of helping kids grow into adults who understand how to be responsible and think for themselves, the public education system has become a massive Kaplan prep course.

Regurgitation of formulaic responses and marginally useful information are at best a means to an end. I think we were better off in the day when you needed an Act of Congress or a Writ from God to find out what you scored on a standardized test. Tests were used by educators to learn about the student in those days. The tests were about the kids -- not administrators and bureaucrats attempting to gild their lily.

"how much time and money is wasted teaching to the test."

Pray tell, what would you use as an objective measure of student performance or how well they can be self-sufficient? Participation awards?

I mean in most cases, you go to college, law school or apply for licensure you are taking tests.

In addition, when they say "hid or manipulated information and illegally altered documents related to the tests" we don't even know if the test results didn't accurately reflect how lousy a job Atlanta teachers were doing.

The main issue seems to be the same as in Portland, instead of stating what is actually going on let's keep pumping sunshine and the PR presses.

Didn't one of our PPS incompetent superintendents come from Atlanta, and then leave with a golden severence package?

I've taught math in middle/junior & high schools in Portland, Lake Oswego, and Riverdale (Dunthorpe) in the past few years and have been a PPS parent to elementary schoolers during the same period. My thinking on this, originally pretty much like Newleaf's above, has changed some from those experiences.

Somewhat to my surprise, in none of those schools -- where my students ranged from very poor to very rich -- did I teach to the math tests, nor was I under any pressure from anyone to do so... with the partial exception of AP Calculus, where I think some emphasis on the AP test style is reasonable. There is much more pressure to meet district and state standards, which I think is entirely appropriate (can add details later if anyone cares).

(My elementary school children did have at least one teacher who seemed to teach to the following year's test, but that may have been an excuse to do things the way she wanted to do them anyway.)

The state standards and the test, of course, reflected each other, and times I taught topics I originally wasn't that excited about, but you can always find a good way to relate this stuff to interesting problems. For instance, box-and-whisker plots and histograms (Google them if you want), dull as ditchwater and about as useful in many contexts, were great for comparing the weights of the Blazers and the Timbers.

Also, the OAKS test scores were more useful than I might have expected at pointing out some issues with some kids. Some boys, especially, are good at hiding their confusion, and a marginal OAKS score might get teachers to take a closer look. A student who gets consistent B's and C's but blows away the OAKS test might need more challenging problems (or a different teacher) to get interested.

But overall, the main problems are they take SO much time to administer (about 4-5% of the math instructional time for the year); they cost a lot of money (I'd love to see more on just how much); and, Heisenberg-like, they have a pronounced effect on what they are measuring... student achievement. Imagine how demoralizing it is to a student to take this two- or three-period test three times in a year and fail it every time, and to have no idea how to do better (because we are NOT, in fact, teaching to the test). And imagine yourself to be a student more into your love life, or your car, or your job than math, and who hates taking math tests, and has failed some in the past... why exactly should you pour your heart into this weird computer test for hours, just so it can judge you?

I suspect this last problem -- student motivation and effort -- is significant... lots of them think the OAKS tests are BS, so they don't really try. The state is changing it so high school students (generally) have to pass OAKS tests now, and guess what, the reading score rose significantly when they did that (can't find the Oregonian article now, sorry). But that emphasis just compounds the other problems.

in most cases, you go to college, law school or apply for licensure you are taking tests

Best tests I ever took Steve were exams that on first glance it wasn't obvious exactly what the questions had to do with the subject matter of the course. But on a bit of reflection the test wasn't so opaque; it provided an opportunity to apply whatever skills, knowledge, background or insight I may have been fortunate to acquire. Those are tests that you can't teach to and better reflect what happens in life when one escapes from the four walls of a classroom. My fourth grader took a test like that late this school year (after a month had been wasted preparing for and then taking the standards tests) and she loved it.

Jack is an example of someone who spent a good chunk of his education in classroom settings (Jesuit undergrad then law school) where more questions were asked than answers provided. I'll bet (with the probable exception of a several week Bar Review course) he spent little if any of his time in classrooms or seminars where teachers had in mind teaching him how to pass an exam. Yet most all of us can envy his academic achievements and professional performance.

Standards and testing are too often becoming a race to the bottom -- regressing to the mean. Teaching and learning are exploration processes that lose their impact when the focus becomes getting this right answer to that expected question.

Kudos to Julie for using tests properly to help her assess students; she hasn't sucumbed to the temptation of cookbook instruction that's becoming increasingly prevalent. Wonderful for her!!! Thank you Julie! And I think Julie nails it in understanding that the most important issue for a lot of kids is motivation and self-confidence; all the testing and re-testing that happens these days in elementary school does an awful lot to destroy the latter, especially for boys who early on generally aren't as quick on the academic uptake as their female peers.

"Best tests I ever took"

Do you think those were the best and most objective measure of your expertise versus others then?

I guess the issue is more how the test is written than taking tests themselves. Design of tests is a different matter.

In Atlanta, it seems that they rigged some of the testing itself.

"student to take this two- or three-period test three times in a year and fail it every time, and to have no idea how to do better"

I'd like to think teachers knew their students better than just passing tests out to them.

The point with tests is the ability to objectively measure performance (unless you have a better way). In order to create progress you need to measure it lest you get into a one-size-fits-all teaching mentality.

Now how you use the results to improve student learning is a teacher thing.

"In Atlanta, it seems that they rigged some of the testing itself."

Of course they did. That stunt is old hat in the public education arena.

Oregon has played that game many times with the CIMCAM benchmark assessments.
Changing scoring guides to lower the bar then claiming progress with the "new" results.

Then there was the concocted "1st in the nation SAT" claims.
What an orchestrated fraud that was.
So much so the press played along.
The Oregon Business Council echoed the bogus claim in their white paper review of CIMCAM.

The unethical era of defending CIMCAM involved a perpetual parade of falsehoods and obstruction to consequences for anyone involved.

To date not a single person has been held accountable for the 20 years of education fraud referred to as "School Reform for the 21st Century".

Much of that outcome based education experiment on out children is in fact still underway without any genuine oversight or accountability at all.
ODE, COSA, OSBA, OEA, OBC and OBA are all responsible yet remain fully insulated from facing any consequences.
Instead they are lauded as champion stakeholders of Oregon Public schools.

Mary Nolan, while on the house education committee, was so impressed with the Oregon Department of Education's pitch about fine results, that she suggested Oregon patent the CIMCAM system and sell it to other states.

My biggest concern with tests dominating education is that they pretty much determine what subjects a student is going to learn.

It takes away from allowing schools to develop their own criteria and puts that power in the hands of the test creators.

This is just another form of consolidation of thought - what you could rightly label as mind control.

That is why the rich are fond of "no child left behind". No child should be able to think independently, logically and dynamically. No they must all be programmed with exactly the same BS placed into their frontal lobes.

"That is why the rich are fond of "no child left behind"

The rich send their children to private school, and the not-rich but connected can manipulate their way into having their kids get into magnet or superior public schools.

NCLB was a flawed but understandable response by parents to force some accountability on public school systems. That's why NCLB, along with charter schools and merit promotion, are loathed by the UFT, e.g.

"My biggest concern with tests dominating education is that they pretty much determine what subjects a student is going to learn."

Who wuld you have to develop a curriculum? Ultimately, you'd need to have someone decide what is important to learn and what is not. Of course, I guess it doesn't hurt to have someone able to explain TS Eliot behind the bar at Starbucks.

Again, you are assuming students learn to a test rather than the test being a measure of what they learn. I'd hope teachers would have enough wisdom to teach a subject well enough that anyone could ask them a question (in the form of a tet) that students could answer.

"Ultimately, you'd need to have someone decide what is important to learn and what is not."

Sorry, I meant by someone, someone who could determine what society thinks is important to learn at school. I think that is a bit bigger than the local school board.

Outside of school, one hopes people would have enough of love of learning ( agreatly under-rated trait) to be auto-didactic and set their own agendas.

Steve, I agree about (some) tests being important, but I don't think most teachers get much useful information on how to alter their instruction based on finding out that Joey Schmoey got a 224 on the OAKS test. It's not like it tells us anything useful like "hey, all your students screwed up the questions on probability; maybe you should revise your lessons on that for next year." It's just a bunch of aggregate numbers.

I used my own tests (and occasionally state work samples) to find out what my students were learning.

I think and hope OAKS tests can be useful for administrators to identify some general patterns which they can then follow up on.

Cheating on standardized test results (an administrator thing, not a teacher thing) is low and sends the worst possible message about what the administrator thinks is important in education (self-promotion coupled with a complete lack of faith in students and teachers).

Testing only allows a person to pick answers. It doesn't allow you to formulate your own answer- and maybe more important, ask your own question.

So the idea that rote testing is the best method to evaluate what a person knows is just dumb.

But that's what's intended...


There is no good reason that the OAKS tests couldn't provide more detailed information on what kinds of questions a classroom of kids had problems with. I know that when I worked for a company that provided testing services we provided that kind of information at the class, teacher, school, and district level. Yes it takes more work and costs more, but it makes the testing time way more valuable.

"It doesn't allow you to formulate your own answer"

cf. Essay questions and math proofs

I have no idea what asking your own questions means, but I don't deny learning something on your own isn't an important value.

Then again look at the public schools we have now - Pretty much the same methods as 50 years ago, but if they only had more money it'd be totally different.

I don't see them as any kind of advance in learning and we are losing ground to countries where a large part of education is by rote and very rigid and test-oriented (most Asian countries and even France.)

Atlanta Public Schools is 79% black. The average SAT score is 847. Why would anyone have believed that the scores claimed by the district were honestly obtained?

Everything that Season 4 of David Simon's The Wire had to say about testing and public schools is so true. If you haven't seen it, watch it.

Just like the police department before them, the Baltimore school district "juked the stats" to stay afloat just a little longer. Haul in kids one day a month, characterize fail scores as "competent", socially promote, and otherwise stave off any trigger to reduce funding.

But God forbid if you "track" even the worst student in the worst school. Recognizing and acting upon their failure would be bad!

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