standardized tests – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 Alternatives to standardized tests http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/alternatives-to-standardized-tests/ Thu, 24 Jan 2013 02:42:43 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6948 As opposition to overuse of standardized tests grows here and across the county, a public forum Thursday on Alternatives to Standardized Tests is being sponsored by a new local coalition.

It takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, at Hartzell Methodist Church, 3330 S. King Drive.

The forum features Dr. Monty Neil of FairTest, who advocates for dramatically reducing the use of standardized tests and incorporating a wider range of assessments reflecting classroom evidence of learning.

“Those of us who are concerned about too much standardized testing are often accused of wanting no accountability at all, and that’s just not the case,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education, which is co-sponsoring the event.

The new coalition, More Than A Score, includes parents and teachers and a number of local organizations.  They’re calling for eliminating standardized testing for pre-school through second grade and greatly reducing it for older children, Woestehoff said.

An initial focus will be on tests designated as optional by the CPS central office but required by network officers, she said.

The group wants an end to evaluating student and teachers and closing schools based on test scores, and will push for “full disclosure of the cost, schedule, and nature of all standardized tests” used by CPS.

A whole lot of tests

The use of “bubble tests” is not like you might remember from your childhood, writes CPS high school teacher Adam Heenan at ClasssroomSooth.  His students start the year with a week of standardized testing, which is repeated midyear and again at the end of the year.  And that’s just one of several tests.

By 8th grade the average CPS students has taken over 100 standardized tests, according to Sharon Schmidt in Substance.

In her son’s elementary school last year, Schmidt writes, fifth graders had three CPS reading and math benchmark assessments, three Scantron Performance Series tests in reading and math, and quarterly pilot Common Core assessments in reading and math – all in addition to ISATs, which include three reading and three math tests.

According to Ben Joravsky, kindergartners are now taking four standardized tests, administered two or three times a year – consuming as much as 60 school days.  That’s so their teachers can be evaluated.

Because the Measurement of Academic Progress test is web-based, it ties up his school’s computer lab for the three-and-a-half weeks it takes to administer it to all students – and it’s given three times a year, writes Greg Ritchie, and education professor who has returned to a CPS classroom.  That’s ten weeks without a computer lab, a major loss for students who don’t have computers at home.

Ritchie points out that MAP has a margin of error that in some cases is larger than average student gains, which means the test is essentially meaningless.

It’s one of six standardized tests given to his eighth graders.

Scandals and resistance

The use of standardized tests for high-stakes decisions has led to test-grading scandals in several major cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and most notoriously, Washington D.C. under Michelle Rhee.

In Chicago, the CPS inspector general found ethical violations when powerhouse test publisher Houghton Miflin used an impressive range of inappropriate inducements to an administrator as part of a sales push.  (Since Houghton Miflin is so large, it was deemed impossible to bar the company from future contracts.)

Recently teachers at two Seattle high schools voted to refuse to administer mandated standardized tests, attracting widespread attention; 130 scholars and advocates (including Karen Lewis, Diance Ravitch, and Jonathan Kozol) have signed a letter supporting them.

In a statement from FairTest, Neil applauded the Seattle teachers and called the exams “useless.” “Children across the U.S. suffer from too much standardized testing that is misused to judge students, teachers, and schools,” he said

“Seattle requires administration of the MAP tests three times per year. This eliminates days of valuable teaching time and ties up the school’s computer labs for weeks.

“The tests are used to judge teachers even though they are not aligned with the state’s standards and not instructionally helpful. The Northwest Evaluation Association, which makes the test, says the MAPs are not accurate enough to evaluate individual teachers.

“No wonder some Seattle parents began opting their children out of these pointless tests even before the teachers’ boycott.”

According to FairTest, “the high stakes attached to tests have led to narrowing curriculum, teaching to the test, score inflation and cheating scandals.”

Meanwhile score gains on the independent National Assessment of Educational Progress are well below increases in the years before the No Child Left Behind Act began the test craze, and score gaps between whites and children of color have stopped narrowing.

FairTest and a national coalition of education and civil rights groups are circulating a resolution calling on school districts to implement meaningful assessment systems – and on Congress to overhaul NCLB and reduce testing mandates.

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Perspectives on the teachers contract talks http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/#comments Wed, 22 Aug 2012 21:20:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6571 As everyone gears up for a new school year (or maybe not), here are a few extra-credit readings that illuminate issues in Chicago’s drive for school reform – and in contract talks under way with Chicago’s teachers.

In the Sun-Times, Lauren Fitzpatrick looks in depth at the success of Spencer Elementary Technology Academy, a high-poverty, neighborhood school in Austin, a community beset by unemployment and violence.

The school is trending up under the inspiring leadership of a home-grown principal, Shawn Jackson, who’s focused on involving parents with his own version of a community school: “parent scholars” who volunteer in classes along with a parent center featuring GED and computer classes and job search help for parents.  There’s a strong sense of teamwork here, and “teachers are trusted” and given autonomy to find the best ways to get material across.

While it has a ways to go, the school fits the profile of 33 high-poverty elementary schools performing above the citywide average identified in a report by Designs for Change earlier this year (more here).

High-poverty, high-achieving

These schools have school-based democracy – local school councils selecting principals and approving school plans and budgets – and supportive teamwork involving parents, teachers, and the community.  They out-perform all of the city’s “turnaround” schools, even those in place now for four and five years – and they do so without the millions of extra dollars each turnaround gets.  (Spencer, which lacks an art program and a decent gym, does better than all but three turnarounds.)

While turnarounds have gotten extensive media coverage,  high-poverty, high-achieving schools have been largely ignored, according to Designs; thus the Sun-Times is due special commendation for this report.

Designs proposes the extra money now going to turnarounds be shifted to allow these high-performing neighborhood schools become resources for other schools.

There’s the hypocrisy of the claim by Mayor Emanuel and his CPS minions that they have to close neighborhood schools and open charters because “we can’t wait” to offer a high-quality education to every child in the district.

It’s a non sequitur: they’re opening twenty charters and ten turnarounds a year, and diverting resources from the neighborhood schools that the vast majority of students actually attend in order to do so.   These students’ education is being sacrificed to fund experiments which increasingly appear to be unsuccessful.

According to the New York Times Magazine‘s look at extreme poverty this weekend, Austin is the kind of neighborhood where repeated school reform initiatives have utterly failed.  (The article looks at the work in Roseland of Youth Advocate Programs, which CPS is now defunding, another turn in the administration’s revolving door of new strategies.)

A kindergarten teacher knows

The number of children living in extreme poverty has grown dramatically in recent decades, and children in areas where it’s concentrated face major challenges, often including community and family dysfunction.  Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists study the way early stress and trauma and family difficulties inhibit brain development and cognitive skills.

But “you don’t need a neuroscientist to explain the effects of a childhood spent in deep poverty,” writes Paul Tough. “Your average kindergarten teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood can tell you: children who grow up in especially difficult circumstances are much more likely to have trouble controlling their impulses in school, getting along with classmates and following instructions.

“Intensive early interventions can make a big difference, but without that extra help, students from the poorest homes usually fall behind in school early on, and they rarely catch up. When you cluster lots of children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, it becomes harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

“And when these same children reach adolescence — unless someone like [YAP’s] Steve Gates has managed to intervene — they are more likely to become a danger to themselves, to each other and to their community.”

Here’s where the CTU’s contract demands for expanded social services and smaller classes  – detailed in a report issued as negotiations were getting under way (more here) – come into play.

CTU proposed bringing the woefully inadequate number of social workers, counselors, and psychologists up to national standards, starting with schools on probation.  Noting research showing that smaller classes are particularly important for low-income children in the earliest grades, the union proposed reducing K-3 class size from 28 to 20.

That would cost a lot – about equal to what CPS spends on developing new charters and turnarounds.  But it would be a real step to helping every student succeed.

We may know more soon, but we can infer from the lack of progress in contract talks – including the large gap in salary proposals, where compromise might be possible if other issues were negotiated — that CPS isn’t moving much in these areas.

We do know that in his previous position heading Rochester’s schools, CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard increased class sizes; fired hundreds of art, music, gym and language teachers; eliminated art, music, or library programs in many schools; and heavily cut counselors and special ed teachers.  Rochester’s new superintendent has begun restoring the positions, so more students can have access to electives.

Brizard and Broad

Of course, Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy, which promotes larger class sizes along with school closings, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and charter schools.

In Detroit, a Broad academy alumnus successfully proposed raising class sizes to 61 in high schools.  (It turned out that the Broadie, Robert Bobb, the city’s emergency manager for the past two years, received a $145,000 bonus from the Broad Foundation on top of his $280,000 salary.)

But as PURE and Parents Across America note, in his latest weekly address President Obama decried the loss of 300,000 education jobs in the U.S. since 2009, cuts which “force our kids into crowded classrooms.”

“While average class size has decreased statewide over the last ten years, it has increased in [Chicago’s] public schools,” commented Becky Malone of the 19th Ward parents. “This is simply unacceptable if we are going to provide equitable learning conditions to all children, but especially our most at-risk students who need small classes the most.”

In Mother Jones this month, Krintina Rizga “embeds” in a “failing school” in San Francisco and offers a fascinating account of the growth of standardized testing and its impact on struggling students.

Maria is a Salvadoran immigrant who’s escaped the violence she grew up with, and at Mission High School, finds dedicated and creative teachers under whom she blossoms.  She’s done research papers ranging from the popularity of Latin dance in the U.S. in the 1920s to the defeat of Reconstruction to equal access to education (she discovers a 1946 case brought by Latino parents that laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education); she talks with her favorite teacher every day about her work.

And we sit with her as she struggles through a practice state exam – the test that will help decide whether her school is sanctioned as “failing” – and see how she gets nearly every answer wrong.  I don’t know the right answer to the question she ponders in the article.  Do you?

Here we come to another big issue in the contract talks: CPS’s plan to base teacher pay on student performance on standardized tests.  CTU is strenuously opposed to this idea; this could be one of the big issues.  (Under a new law, CPS can unilaterally implement its plan, but if the administration wants a contract, it will negotiate on this issue.)

As the Tribune reported in March, 88 education professors at 15 local universities associated with CReATE wrote Brizard warning him that methods of measuring teacher performance based on standardized tests are statistically unreliable and will have a detrimental impact on classroom instruction.

Schools Matter has pointed out that, since standardized tests now measure only reading and math, the new evaluation system will require a whole series of new tests – as many as eight more a year, probably costing tens of millions of dollars, not to mention class time and an increased focus on test preparation.

Punishing success

Last year Colorlines looked at standardized testing, telling the story of a high school student in East LA whose grades dropped when he went into depression amid a family crisis.  Teachers rallied to support him and got him through the year; he didn’t drop out, he passed his tests, barely.

But his scores went down – and under the proposed system, they would be penalized for all that work, for that heroic success of saving a student from the streets.  Indeed, they would be incentivized to let him go.

Fordham professor Mark Naison explained the thinking of the business leaders –like his tennis partners — who are pushing school reform in an opinion piece in the Sun Times last month (it’s available here).  “The only things they take seriously as motivation are material rewards and fear of losing one’s job or business.

“They are convinced that schools in the U.S. can be improved only if a business-style reward-and-punishment system is given primacy.  They love the idea of performance evaluation based on hard data (with student test scores being the equivalent of sales figures and/or profits), of merit increments for those who succeed and the removal of those who fail.”

They don’t understand teaching or learning, he explains.  And their approach is demoralizing teachers and driving the better ones out of high-poverty schools, where scores are lower.

“The Great Recession should have shattered once and for all the idea that the measurement and motivation systems of American business are superior to those in the public sector,” he argues.

“Do we really want the same quality of teacher ratings as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s applied to mortgage-based derivatives?”

“I have seen about twenty rounds of classroom reform in my teaching career,” Maria’s history teacher, Robert Roth, tells Mother Jones.  “You know what I haven’t seen?  Serious dialogue with teachers, students, and parents.  They can identify successful teaching, but they are rarely a part of the discussion.”

Let’s hope there’s some serious discussion about these issues in Chicago this week.

 

An earlier version had an incorrect identification of Mark Naison.

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Curie Teachers to Boycott CPS Exam http://www.newstips.org/2002/10/curie-teachers-to-boycott-cps-exam/ Thu, 17 Oct 2002 06:00:00 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2532 As CPS administrators move closer to dropping the Chicago Academic Standards Exam, a group of teachers at Curie Metro High has announced they will boycott the test.

Last month twelve Curie teachers signed a letter to CPS chief Arne Duncan saying they “will not be administering the CASE this year,” and other teachers at Curie and elsewhere have indicated they will follow suit, said Martin McGreal, an English teacher at Curie and spokesperson for Curie Teachers for Authentic Assessment.

The teachers support teacher accountability and state-city standards, McGreal said. But the CASE provides no detailed feedback, only raw score totals, and thus can’t be used to assess instructional practices, he said. And the test doesn’t reflect CPS standards, focusing on memorization and short-shrifting higher level skills.

The test wastes instructional time, McGreal adds, taking four days each semester with one or two weeks of preparation — and serving as a final exam but, to accommodate downtown test scorers, coming two weeks before the semester’s end. And it includes “poorly constructed and often inaccurate questions and answer choices.”

The teachers met recently with CPS officials.

“Essentially the CASE isn’t a very good test,” commented Tim Shanahan of the Center for Literacy at UIC. “I do think it disrupts instruction, and it leads teachers to focus on unimportant things.”

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