Sunday, January 11, 2015

Parents Demanding Testing

Given the rhetoric in the world of education, there are some things that I would expect to see, and yet don't. For example:

The Chetty Follow-up

Chetty et al are the source of the infamous research asserting that a good elementary teacher will results in an extra coupe of hundred thousand lifetime dollars for the students in their classroom.

Where are the follow-up and confirming studies on this? After all-- all we need are a pair of identical classrooms with non-identical teachers teaching from the same population. Heck, in any given year my own department has two or three of us are teaching randomly distributed students on the same track. All you'd have to do is follow them on through life.

In fact, I would bet that where the Chetty effect is in play, it's the stuff of local legend. For years people have been buzzing about how Mr. McStinkface and Ms. O'Awesomesauce teach the same classes with the same basic sets of kids, but her students all grow up to be successful, comfortably wealthy middle class folks and his students all grow up to a life of minimum wage jobs and food stamps.

I can't think of anything that would more clearly confirm the conclusions and implications of Chetty's research. So where is that report?

Parents Demanding Testing

To listen to testing advocates speak, one would think that our nation is filled with parents desperate for some clue about how their children and their schools are doing.

So surely, somewhere, there is a Parents Demand Tests group. Somewhere there must be a group of parents who have banded together to demand that schools give standardized tests and release the results, so that at last they know the truth.

"I just don't know," says some unhappy Mom somewhere in America. "I have no idea if Chris is learning to read or not. If only I had some standardized test results to look at."

"Dammit," growls some angry Dad somewhere in America. "I've had it with that school. Tomorrow I'm going down there to the principal's office to demand that Pat get a standardized test so we know if the kid can add and subtract or not."

But I can't find any such group on Facebook. Googling "Parents demanding testing" just gets me a bunch of articles about parents who are demanding tests of asbestos, air quality, other safety issues.

This is a striking gap. After all, we have plenty of robust-ish astro-turf groups to convince us that parents are, for example, deeply incensed over tenure-related policy. We are shown that parents really, really want tests to be steeped in VAM sauce and lit afire, so that terrible teachers can be roasted atop them.

And yet, as the crowds increasingly call for the standardized tests to be tossed out with last week's newspapers, it's chirping crickets from parent-land. Not CCSSO, not Arne Duncan, not any of the test-loving advocates has punctuated their pro-test protestations with a moment of, "And I'd like you to meet Mrs. Agnes McAveragehuman who will now tell you in her own words why she thinks lots of standardized testing is just totes swell."

But the reformsters must know plenty of people like Agnes. After all, they keep insisting that we need the tests or else people will not know how well students are learning, what schools are teaching, what progress is being made. Why, just Friday, there was Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform (which I am going to call DERP because somebody ought to) in the Washington Post opining, "I don’t know how else you gauge how students are progressing in reading and in math without some sort of test." Now maybe he imagines that there's a danger of schools in which no tests are being given whatsoever, but my own use of context clues leads me to believe that he is speaking of standardized testing.

When Arne Duncan spoke up to pretend to join the CCSSO initiative to pretend to roll back testing, he made his case for standardized testing by saying, "Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning," implying that only a standardized test could provide that answer.

It is possible that Arne's theory is that parents think they know what's going on with their school and their own children, but are actually deluded and misled (as witnessed in his classic genius quote from late 2013). But by now, over a year later, don't you think we'd have some converts, some parents saying, "Thank you, Mr. Duncan. Now that I have seen some test results, the scales have fallen from my eyes and I realize that merely living with and raising this tiny human has blinded me to a truth that only a standardized test could reveal. Don't let them take those tests away, sir!! I need them to tell me who my child is!" And yet, they don't seem to have appeared.

Maybe these parents are simply disorganized. Maybe they're uniformly shy. Maybe they use some of those underground web thingies so they can operate with cyberninja-like stealth. Or maybe they are raising snipes on a special farm where the ranch-hands ride unicorns and the pumps run on cold fusion. Maybe this world where parents are clamoring for standardized tests to reveal the truth about their children is a world that doesn't actually exist.


  1. There are only so many disguises Michael Petrilli can fit into to pose as "those parents".

  2. Ever heard of Worth a visit.

  3. This is the single greatest post in the history of the internet. Thank you!

    The Cold-Fusion Unicorns

  4. The Iowa state assessment task force just recommended adopting the (very expensive) Smarter Balanced Assessments. The only dissenting vote was the task force's only parent representative. You can read her dissent here. Comments from another parent (i.e., me) here.

    1. I'm curious as to who the "educators" were who participated in the task force. Did actual classroom teachers vote for the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

    2. Of the twenty-one members of the task force, two are currently classroom teachers and one is the president of the Iowa State Education Association. The complete task force membership list is available at:

    3. Thanks for the list, Karen. Just as I figured, lots of directors and administrators and consultants. It seems to me these kinds of committees ought to be made up of a majority of actual classroom teachers and parents.

  5. What did you drink on New Year's Eve, Peter? Your posts are bringing a lot of us to even higher levels of gut-busting-laughter! Keep us rolling in the aisles, even if we're shedding a few tears over what's happening in our schools.

  6. Those Parents get their missives posted all the time on Education Post, Peter; it's not just their friends, their friends, Those Teachers. I'm surprised you haven't noticed. /deadpan