Saturday, October 24, 2015

USED: Recycled Empty Course Change on Testing

Remember that theoretical problem where someone keeps moving half the distance to a point, and how that means they'll never actually get there? Well, today Arne Duncan once again moved half the distance to the point at which he will someday theoretically accept responsibility for the administrations failed education policies and then actually do something about them.

Duncan issued a statement about testing, and I'd like to be excited that he almost admitted culpability in the Great Testing Circus while stating some actual policy changes to address the problem. But he didn't get there, and I've seen the Duncan "I'll Kind of Say the Right Thing Almost and Then Go On Acting As If I Haven't Said Anything At All" show far too many times.

So what did Duncan actually say, according to the New York Times?

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Get that? It's a "problem in implementation." It's not a policy that's Just Plain Wrong. It's not a flat out mistake to demand that all states make Big Standardized Test results part of teacher evaluation or of rating and ranking schools. It's not educational malpractice to use the force of law-ish regulations to force states to use these unproven BS Tests.

No, it's just a "problem in implementation." The policy of using tests to measure, evaluate and rank everything in education-- that's still great policy, apparently.

In fact, if this all seems vague4ly familiar, it's because we did this at almost exactly the same time last year. CCSSO and the CGCS announced that it was time to rein in the testing juggernaut. They even had John King up there helping to announce how golly bob howdy it was time to stop wasting so much time on inessential testing. And the Duncan chimed in to say, "Yessirree, we've gots to roll back the testing." In fact, here's what Arne said a year ago:

Policymakers at every level bear responsibility here — and that includes me and my department. We will support state and district leaders in taking on this issue and provide technical assistance to those who seek it.

Wow. We've come so-- oh, no, wait. We're exactly in the same place. And it was Downtown Baloneyville then, and the bus is stopping on the same corner today.

The new USED "cap" on testing is a suggestion for just 2% of the year to be wasted on actual testing. Big deal. That's peanuts compared to the vast time wastage of getting ready for the BS Testing. Mike Petrilli chimes in to say, "Let's be careful not to cut really useful and important tests," as if any tests are actually going to be scaled back.

And buried deep in the story is some actual useful information from the Council on Great City Schools report:

There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a longstanding test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card.

So, although reformsters repeatedly insist that the ultimate measure of any education policy choice is whether or not it raises tests scores, we will not be applying that metric to the BS Tests. Because reasons.

The administration said it would issue “clear guidance” on testing by January. Some of the language of the announcement Saturday was general; it said, for example, that tests should be “worth taking” and “fair.” Like new guidance from many states, it stressed that academic standards and curriculum are to be fleshed out locally.

Yes, one year later we are still offering pointless PR nuggets and avoiding the real discussion, which is why, exactly, we need the BS Tests at all, and what possible justification there is for using the BS Tests to measure, rank and rate students, teachers or schools. The USED will still punch us all in the nose and take our lunch money, but they promise to try really hard not to take up too much of our time doing it. And the media, with its goldfish-sized memory, reports this as if it's a great step forward and not a recycling of last year's account of this incremental journey to nowhere. Gah. 

(And Obama's testing action plan? That's a crock, too.)


  1. I applaud the reference to one of Zeno's paradoxes about motion.

  2. The profiteers have known for a while that the market for testing is saturated....

  3. Yes, that line about "implementation" jumped out to me too. That's just a distractor: It's not the tests; it's the implementation. Gradually, people are beginning to see through this ruse. I have students ask why they have to take these tests. My high school students say that they are boring, stupid, pointless, etc. Then they ask if they get a grade on them. Usually they don't, so students rightly ask what's the point of taking them. I tell them that if they think the tests are this worthless to tell their parents and have their parents complain. We teachers don't like these tests either. I teach English and these tests kill a love of reading.

  4. If all parents mutually keep their kids home on tests dates. The profiteers and proponents and state leaders will get the point. This is the message that should be sent out!!!!

  5. The action plan is a marvelous piece of writing. (Wish I could write so well!) It doubles down on VAM, SGOs, the 95% rule and testing special kids at age level ( not academic level)
    It talks about grants so states and schools can evaluate (and thus eliminate) standardized tests currently in use.
    Do you think they will actually evaluate PARCC and Smarter Balance and deem them not worthy?
    I think this action plan is intended to get rid of all other tests so that their (unvalidated and unreliable) tests remain the only tests schools can use.
    By far the most troubling part is people seem to believe that this announcement means the feds will stop requiring PARCC and Smarter Balance.

  6. Thanks for your brilliant piece, as usual. I'm so glad you referred to the US Dept. of Ed as USED, because that's what the people of the US have been by this administration---USED!