Thursday, December 8, 2016

New Test Rules: Old Baloney

Yesterday, John King unveiled the Department of Education's final rules for testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act, aimed at spinning the continued emphasis on the Big Standardized Tests. Jennifer C. Kerr of the Associated Press signals that she bought the PR and fumbled the story with her very first sentence:

Aiming to reduce test-taking in America's classrooms, the Obama administration released final rules Wednesday to help states and school districts take a new approach to the standardized tests students must take each year.

If the Obama administration has ever done anything that was truly aimed at reducing test-taking, I have apparently forgotten all about it. The Obama administration increased the weight of standardized testing by using Race to the Top and RttT-lite waivers to double down on high stakes for testing. After a few years of realizing that the public was pushing back hard, they tried in both 2014 and 2015 to pretend that they had an "action plan" for cutting back on testing. This included some meaningless suggestions for how much time should be spent on testing, and a recommendation that schools cut back on all the other tests that weren't the Big Standardized Test.

This administration has stayed resolutely in the Cult of Testing, and they have not backed away a single inch in eight years. These new rules are no different.

King gives the AP a big fat slice of baloney right off the bat:

Our final regulations strike a balance by offering states flexibility to eliminate redundant testing and promote innovative assessments, while ensuring assessments continue to contribute to a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

"Continue" is a great word, since it assumes a fact not in evidence-- that BS Tests have been contributing to a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing. They haven't. They don't. And there's no actual evidence that they measure anything useful (though plenty of evidence that they don't). Then King gives us this gem:

Smarter assessments can make us all smarter.

Yes. And weighing the pig makes it heavier. And measuring your children makes them taller. And staring at a picture brings it into focus.

The softball reporting continues as Kerr writes

The idea is to focus more time on classroom learning and less on teaching-to-the test — something critics complained the administration had encouraged with grants and waivers that placed too much of an emphasis on standardized testing.

Whose idea is that, exactly, and how is it part of the rules? The suggestion in the USED PR is that an $8 million grant to Maryland and Nebraska is kicking off a new trial run for assessment innovation (Fun fact: Chester Finn, former head of the Fordham Institute and longtime conservative reformster, was just elected vice president of the Maryland Board of Education). This is part of the grant program that will allow up to seven states to try new and improved testing over five years. It looks kind of like chump change, but if corporations interested in piloting competency-based learning style assessment systems decide to get involved-- well, this is an open door that already has companies salivating.

Also, as expected, the states may replace one of the BS Tests with some other already-on-the-market test like the SAT or ACT. Sure, those tests were designed for completely different purposes and there's no reason to think they'll be an accurate measure of all student or school achievement, but hey-- neither is the PARCC, so why the hell not? If it's a standardized test, and you've heard of it, then it probably is a perfect assessment tool. Weighing the pig makes it heavier, and it's okay if you weigh it with a yardstick.

Oh, and the rules include no cap on time spent on testing because A) the cap idea was ridiculous, mostly because bureaucratic eduwonks pretend not to understand what test prep really is, B) it would interfere with competency-based personalized learning, which will feature standardized assessment every single day and C) nobody has paid caps the slightest attention, since they are the easiest rule to cheat on when you want to avoid the "punish" part of "test-and-punish." Kerr helpfully throws in the Council of Great City Schools' bogus figures on how much time is spent, failing to note that CGSC is a long-time member of the Cult of Testing.

So in short, here are your bullet points:

* The new rules on testing are just like the old rules, except for the parts that are worse.

* USED has once again successfully convinced major news outlets like the Associate Press to just run USED PR without questioning or challenging anything the department has to say.

 In short, life should not improve for the pigs, whether we're feeding them, weighing them, or putting lipstick on them.



  1. I live in Howard County, MD. Could you please provide me with some link to information about the $8 million grant? I'm pretty sure it will be in Baltimore County since the Superintendent there has implemented a STAT program and all kids have a device at the tune of over $370 million....all while schools in poorer over crowded neighborhoods crumble, have no air conditioning and plumbing issues. Thank you in advance.

  2. The "weighing a pig analogy" infers that at least the measuring instrument is appropriate and accurate. As Trump would say, "WRONG"

    Weighing a pig with a ruler, is more like it.

    Using the PARCC test to measure the quality of a teacher's instructional program is more like trying to measure the quality of your Caribbean vacation using a broken thermometer. Ha!

  3. What I love about your blog, along with the endless research and the great writing, is the way you never miss an opportunity to call out the "mainstream media" for the way they've allowed the education debate to be framed for them.

    That first sentence of the article does indeed represent so much of the reporting on the "reform" movement. The feds helping schools come up with ways to deal with the tests that they "must" take!! FFS.

    At the risk of sounding like one of those people who ends up trying to free Hilary's sex slaves from a DC Pizza parlour, if we relied only on the NYT or other reportage, we'd mostly think that the issue was what kind of vouchers would work best, or how to help schools get more creative in the way they implement the necessary testing.

    Thank you for never missing a chance to remind us that this is NOT the conversation we should be having.