Sunday, September 20, 2015

Duncan Cheers Failing Scores

Arne Duncan's Big Bus Tour was practically in my neighborhood as the Duncanator stopped at Carnegie Mellon to make some general mouth noises and to continue what is apparently a theme of the trip, which is, "Hooray for failing test scores on the Common Core Big Standardized Tests!"

Pennsylvania is a good place to make that pitch, because our test scores just drove off a cliff. If the results are to be believed, 70% of Pennsylvania's eighth graders are mathematical boneheads!

Speaking of boneheads, here are some of the things that Duncan doesn't understand.

“Obviously, students aren’t going to be less smart than they were six months ago or a year ago,” Mr. Duncan said. “In far too many states, including Pennsylvania, politicians dummied down standards to make themselves look good.”

Well, first of all, nobody dummied down standards. They messed with the cut scores for the BS Tests, but damn, Arne-- if you can't keep straight the difference between the standards and the tests, you can't get upset when other people don't pretend they're different, either.

But sure. The fiddling with test scores under No Child Left Behind wasn't about states trying desperately to avoid punitive measures made inevitable by a politically set stupid goal. "Get 100% of your students above average by 2014, or we will cut your federal financial support off at the knees," said the feds. This guaranteed that by 2014 there would be only two types of school districts in the country-- districts that were failing, and districts that were lying.

There are so many lessons to learn from this, and Duncan didn't learn any of them. Setting cut scores by political rather than educational means is a fool's game-- but under Duncan, that's still how the game is played. Holding schools to stupid goals set by clueless politicians is a bad idea-- but we keep doing that, too.

Duncan's unwillingness to address just WHY states messed with test cut scores and HOW the federal test-and-punish regime twists the whole system into a educational malpractice pretzel-- well, you can't fix what you don't acknowledge.

The secretary said children and parents “were lied to and told they were on the track to be successful” when they weren’t. He called that “one of the most insidious things that happened in education.”

This repeated pile of bovine fecal matter is insulting on several levels. First, using the word "lie" alleges motives and ill will on the part of teachers everywhere. Yessirree, Arne-- we all went into education because our fondest dream was to lie to students, to trick the little sonsabitches. We sit in teacher lounges cackling, "Hee hee hee-- today I convinced little Arvell McGoober that he's ready for college and he's really not. When I think of him failing at Wassamatta U I just about pee myself with chortles of glee." Yes, Arne, that's just what we're up to in our happy career as lying liars who lie.

Second, Arne, you have no idea who is on track or not. You have some figures about college remedial courses which may prove any number of things:

* colleges are so desperate to get enrollment up that they take students they know should be at different colleges, or none
* the college placement tests are crap
* colleges like the extra income from remedial courses

And all of that wild ass guessing rests on the term "college ready," a term that nobody knows the meaning of.

Of course, in Pittsburgh Arne weaseled through with the phrase "be successful." Which is spectacular, because apparently Arne knows exactly what success would be for all students, and how we can predict whether a student is on that track or not. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if the feds declared that we must know that each student is on track to be happy. How is "be successful" any better?

Duncan also discussed the "press pause" notion now out there, the idea that maybe we should take a year to get adjusted to the new tests. Because once we get used to the tests, we can better prepare for them. So the secret of the new tests is new test prep. Steven Singer has a great piece about that-- read it.

Except that test prep shouldn't matter! In fact, we were promised unpreppable tests. And we were promised that if we aligned to the standards then great test scores would naturally follow. And of course once the test scores naturally followed, that will signal that college freshmen would be super-successful because they were all so college ready. So why hasn't any of that happened? At all.

Could it be that the BS Tests do a lousy job of measuring a narrow slice of actual student achievement, and that the cut scores aren't set in any way that would reflect meaningful educational information, and that none of this has anything to do with being ready for college or success, and that the whole process is so infected with politics (which is in turn infected with the moneyed interests of book publishers, test manufacturers, privatizers, and profiteers) that it has nothing to do with education at all.

Duncan thinks failing scores mean something because they support a conclusion he has already reached-- that education is being ruined by terrible lying teachers, and that only his friends (who stand to make a mint from all this upheaval) can save the day. And Duncan isn't smart enough to know the difference between a mountain of education excellence and a giant pile of bullshit.

1 comment:

  1. This just made my Monday! Thanks! Though it's not joyful laughter, because the situation is bad and getting worse for all of us in public education, students and teachers alike. Our bad working conditions are miserable, but we can leave. The children, alas, have only one childhood, when they lay down the tracks that their lives will travel on. We are derailing them by forcing developmentally inappropriate learning down their throats, and by narrowing their curriculum to tested subjects like reading and math. We will all pay a heavy price for this in about 20 years, I fear.