Friday, May 12, 2017

High-Stakes Testing Is Coming:


By John C. Fager 

         This is the elder President Bush (George H. W.) in 1991 who had gathered together 49 governors and some of the most powerful corporate CEOs to try to use fear as a way of motivating students and teachers to work harder and achieve more.  They believed that students were lazy and unchallenged by the existing standards and teachers weren’t working hard enough.
          They raised standards but it didn’t have much impact until the second President Bush (George W.) got elected in 2000 and convinced the Democratic Congress to pass the No Child Left Behind law.
          This empowered the federal government to be in charge of education and it mandated that the states administer annual tests in math and reading.  The tests are high-stakes (you flunked, you’re fired, close the school) that meant the higher standards now came with sticks to flog students, teachers, and schools.
And how are we doing with higher standards, now called Common Core State national Standards (CCSS)?  They are not state standards because Bill Gates spent over $300 million to develop them and promote their acceptance.  
President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, helped by shoving the CCSS down the throats of 44 states.  Duncan also used over $300 million of taxpayers’ money to have two consortia develop two national tests.
These policies are part of what is called the corporate education reform agenda, the most radical and large scale experiment ever perpetrated on 50 million American children.  And how have we been doing with Bush’s No Child Left Behind, Gates’ Common Core standards, and Obama’s and Duncan’s Race to the Top, and the PARCC and SB tests?
 There has been no significant improvement in 12th grade student math achievement as measured by standardized tests, and there had been a serious decline in reading. 
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card,” revealed that the 2015 12th grade math scores were not significantly different from the 2005 scores.  That’s a decade of corporate education reform with hardly any improvement in student achievement.  And even the 152 was lower than the 153 score in 2013.  An Oct. 28, 2015 New York Times headline added injury to injury: “For the First Time in 25 Years, Students’ Math Skills Decline, Nationwide Test Shows.”

2015 Mathematics Scores Grade 12

But the really bad news comes from the reading scores.  The Nation’s Report Card found that 12th graders scores in 2015 were lower than scores in 1992.  And if you go back to the NAEP reading scores for 12th graders in the early 1970s you will find that test scores have not improved in 45 years.

 2015 Reading Scores Grade 12
So the corporate education reforms haven’t improved student achievement, in fact, they have caused a decline.  And how serious is the negative impact that this so-called reform agenda has had on students?  It can only have diminished their once in a lifetime opportunity to become educated and participate in the American Dream
And on an emotional level how has all of this testing, stress, and failure affected students, teachers, parents and schools?
We are currently in the midst of the 2017 high-stakes (you flunked, you’re fired, close the school) testing.  The annual state tests, mandated by the federal government, are being administered to 15 to 20 million students in grades 3 through 8 and one year of high school. 
What a way to ruin spring for something that not only isn’t valid and reliable but also does a lot of damage. April into mid-May is the height of the national testing season.  Whenever they are administered in most of the 98,817 public schools stress and more dire emotions are felt by millions of students, parents, and teachers.
Last year, after the tests were administered, stories about the testing slowly started making the rounds.  New York State has a gag order that prevents teachers from talking about the tests and, I guess you might call it a blindfold order, teachers aren’t suppose to read the tests that they teach to and administer.
2016 was the fourth time that New York students had descended into the school testing trenches to take the Common Core-aligned tests. One New York City teacher/blogger described the experience of a student:

This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 pm. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.
This is a student who is far above grade level in reading, writing and every measurable area imaginable. She definitely got a 3 or 4 on this test. She is a hard worker and powers through challenges with quiet strength and determination. She is not “coddled.” She is sweet, brilliant and creative and as far as I know she has always loved school. She is also shy and a perfectionist.
After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, she emerged from the classroom in a daze. I asked her if she was ok, and offered her a hug. She actually fell into my arms and burst into tears.  I tried to cheer her up but my heart was breaking.”
She asked if she could draw for a while in my room to calm down and then cried over her drawing for the next 20 minutes.
Make no mistake. These tests hurt children. And removing the time limits has done nothing to change that.
“Untimed Testing is Not a Solution;” April 4, 2016 Teacher blog: msrumphiusinbrooklyn.
Untimed testing is one of the gestures that New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia made to parents to try to make the tests more acceptable.  You see Elia has a parent problem that she had to respond to; 220,000 students were opted out of the testing by their parents in 2015.
  But, instead of three hours per day of testing for three days in reading and then the same routine five weeks later in math, students can now choose to be untimed and stay for six hours each day.  That’s a maximum of 36 hours of testing.  If ACT or the College Board (SATs) tried to compel high school students to suffer through this there would be a boycott or an Opt Out.
This girl’s former teacher named her blog post, “Untimed Testing is Not a Solution.”  It seems abundantly clear that the untimed tests increased the anxiety, stress, and pain for some students. It’s another unintended consequence.  Isn’t it the job of Commission Elia to try out such a change on a small scale before offering it statewide to nine year olds and the older children?
It seems that the commissioner didn’t review this 2016 change. According to Jeanette Deutermann, the head of the 20,000-member LI (Long Island) OPT OUT, hundreds of children in her part of Long Island were staying for extended hours of testing.
Before the introduction of untimed testing the New York State School Boards Association and the Association of School Psychologists surveyed school psychologists in 2015. The report found:

“…About 60% of the psychologists surveyed believed anxiety has increased since the state tests were aligned with the Common Core learning standards.”

Sadly a whole generation has gone from kindergarten to graduation or dropping out under the corporate education reform system.
But Congress and Obama believed so strongly in the testing that when public pressure built up from the right, left, and center to get rid of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), they retained the test-based accountability in the replacement law Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) of 2015.
To do this Obama and the Republican Congress had to be like climate change-deniers.  They had to ignore the science, the studies, and the proof that test-based accountability doesn’t work.  They had to ignore a nine-year study of NCLB and similar tests that was published in 2011 by the most prestigious research organization in the country, the National Academies of Sciences’ National Research Council.
The study, “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education,” found few or no gains in student achievement and gaming of the test scores by the states.  Gaming includes cheating. (Page 62-3)
The study made a series of recommendations:
“Recommendation 1: Despite using them for several decades, policymakers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education.” (Page 92)
          Congress and Obama (whose children attended a private, progressive school while he was president) seemed to be saying that it’s just other people’s children and besides we truly believe it works.  So the high-stakes testing goes on poisoning the environment in many schools.  Test prep, as even Obama admitted, is boring yet the new law ESSA mandates testing which ensures that test prep will be a major part of the curriculum.
          I have written above how a teacher described the New York State testing that devastated one high achieving student.  But how do the standardized tests, one-size-fits-all, impact students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and Black, Hispanic, Asian and White low-income students?  Here is an anonymous 2016 post from a teacher that Jeanette Deutermann posted on the LI OPT OUT Facebook page:

          “For the last two days, I’ve proctored the 3rd grade ELA Assessment with a young Autistic girl.  She has moderate speech/language delays and moderate to severe behavior issues.  She is a perfectionist who fears failure.
          Her testing environment (a speech teacher was present as well) and for the testing instructions to be read to her.  On the first day of testing, she read stories out loud and had difficulty combining words into meaningful sentences.  Her self-stimulating behaviors (rocking/hand gestures) increased and it was clear that her frustration level was escalating.  As always, strategies were implemented to help prevent disruptive behavior.
When faced with answering the multiple-choice questions, she repeatedly said, ‘I don’t know.’  She had an all-out meltdown.  It lasted approximately 15 minutes with her kicking, screaming and hitting the desk.
Once she de-escalated, she had a water break and resumed testing…for the next 2½ hours!  There were minor tantrums in between with many requests for water/bathroom breaks. 
On the second day of testing, she sat for 1 hour and 45 minutes.  She read the stories out loud (again combining words into meaningless sentences).  Her written response answers were, ‘IDK’ (I Don’t Know), …literally!! 
My stomach and heart ached for her.  My answer of, ‘you’re doing a great job, just do your best’ was not the best I could do!  That is why I will continue to fight alongside all of the courageous parents for our children…ALL of our children!  Thank you Jeanette for leading the way!”

          Only 7.9 percent of New York State students with disabilities achieved proficiency.  That means that 92.1 percent failed.

About John Fager:  John is a  former education columnist for the NY Daily News. He was also an Emmy-winning investigative producer/reporter at 20/20 ABC News. He was a parent leader and a retired teacher in NYC. His articles and opeds have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, The New York Post, and Huffington Post, and  Newsday. 

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