Friday, January 15, 2016

Pearson's New CBE Product

Performance Based Education (or Competency Based Education or Outcome Based Education or personalized learning-- I do hope the industry comes up with standardized jargon for this soon) is coming. It has been given an extra boost by leveraging the anti-test movement in a clever ju-jitsu manuever. "Yes, we should get everyone out of that testing frying pan," declare policy makers and thought leaders and test manufacturers, as they usher the fleeing mob straight toward the CBE fire.  Instead of one Big Standardized Test, why many standardized tests and quizzes and worksheets, all hooked into a giant data-hoovering monstrosity.

If you want to watch the onslaught arrive in agonizing detail, I recommend Emily Talmadge's Saving Maine Schools blog; Maine has been on the forefront of this, and Talmadge is on the forefront of catching it all.

But for the moment, let's just look at one particular example, courtesy of the folks at Pearson (because you know they are not going to be left out of the Next Big Goldmine).

Meet aimswebplus. It's "an efficient and effective formative assessment, data management, and reporting system." It uses "brief, valid and reliable measures of foundational skills in reading and math" and it "allows you to capture, manage and repor your assessment data in one seamless, web-based system." And you can use all that sweet, sweet data to "identify at-risk students early, to monitor progress, and to differentiate and track targeted instruction."

It's a multi-tier tool from Pearson, and while there's a whole "solution guide" you can download here, I think the short promo will give you the idea. Here's Pearson's quick, clear graphic explanation:

Tier I is the universal benchmark screening.

The student benchmark scores are "established" three times per year "using unique standardized assessment forms" and I think "unique standardized" might be my favorite new oxymoron, replacing the tired old jumbo shrimp. "Reports help educators identify students at risk, personalize instruction, evaluate student progress, demonstrate expected annual growth, and serve as a communication tool for system improvement."

So it's like a magical BS Test, only times three. 

Tier 2 combines strategic and progress monitoring stuff.

"Educators" (because teachers aren't technically necessary here) can monitor the tri-annual benchmark tests, supplementing them with monthly monitoring tests-- it'll help the educators check the "effectiveness of instructional changes and short-term interventions." Because otherwise the teacher might not have any idea of how well the student is doing.

Tier 3 is  progress monitory stuff. 
"Those who are most at risk, including Title 1 and special education students, benefit from the design of aimswebPlus for effective, frequent (e.g., weekly) assessment and monitoring." Weekly. The IEP will include an "optimal rate of progress" so that we can check in at regular intervals to see if Pat is on track. I am totes curious about the intervals and how short they can be. "Pat, you haven't made your numbers for this week!" 

As always with these sorts of programs, teachers get their information second-hand, carefully collected and analyzed by the software. "Reports help educators evaluate student performance, make good decisions about what program revisions or individual interventions are needed, and monitor the success of these changes over time."

Final pitch? 

The task management and reporting component in aimswebPlus provides comprehensive documentation of both instructional activities and assessment results, organizing in a single, convenient system all the information educators need to effectively implement the RTI process.

Whoopee! Computerized standardized assessing all the time! Data collection all the time! Actual human teacher needed in the classroom hardly any of the time! Pearson building a giant data file about your child all the time! 

Pearson has been expecting this and planning for this and setting itself up for the "assessment renaissance" for quite some time (read all about it starting here). It isn't any less creepy up close than it was when it was far off down the road. Sit the child in front of a computer to consume standardized instruction and assessment, all linked to the most ginormous data collection system ever devised. 

Just remember-- the next time you hear someone unexpected agreeing that we need to shut down the Big Standardized Test-- this is what they have in mind to replace it.


  1. I really like the extra testing and monitoring for kids with IEPs. Obviously the social interaction with teachers and peers in current classrooms is vastly inferior to the kids spending all day every day on computers. Children with IEPs obviously need more standardization.

    1. Yeah, that's why they have IEPs, because those kids are not "standard." My son had as young, immature SLP who was frustrated he wasn't making progress according to her textbook expectations. Hopefully with experience she'll learn better.

  2. My school uses AIMSweb (and, even worse, Galileo)- our school is OBSESSED with collecting data, DATA DATA!

    It also somehow measures things that are less connected with learning than the BS Test- our school does the "fluency screen," which just measures how fast a kid can read a really stupid, boring passage. No comprehension questions are involved, AND an adult still needs to administer it one-on-one.

  3. I think the real appeal of this crap is that it is packaged crap that matches the packages teachers are asked to fill with "data." Convenience trumps common sense and stewardship of funds. How much money and time we waste on this stuff is just aggravating us quite literally to death.

  4. Now I know I'm older than dirt: I actually remember the olden days, when teachers were able to actually teach the kids, and we used to know them really well. I remember being told to use my "clinical judgment" and "my expertise" to identify kids at risk. And you know what? I was really good at it.......

  5. The only way to improve traditional schools and better personalize learning is to scrap all this market-based, technology-driven, data-gathering crap and make schools Montessori.

    1. Rebecca,

      I think the only way to get to Montessori (and Waldorf) schools is through parental choice. If a school board orders all students in a district to attended Montessori schools, there will be a vocal backlash by parents objecting to sending their children to such a wacky school where they spend nearly a thousand dollars on bells.

      There is also the issue of teacher training. Would all the existing teachers in the district be willing/able to teach using these methods? What should we do with tenured teachers who refuse to make the switch?

      The only path to widespread use of a Montessori education in public schools is by allowing those parents who want that for their children to choose the school their children attend. Gradually the merits of this approach to education will become clear to the opponents, both parents and teachers in the district.

    2. Well, for some reason there are no Montessori charter schools in Ohio. It must be too difficult to make a quick buck with them.

      It could start in a district school where locals decided to support it, or even as a charter under the aegis of a district. Teachers could be trained by Montessori-trained teachers, but it doesn't have to be an exact model. It can't cost more than all the useless technology and data and consultants that don't improve learning.

      I toured a Montessori facility and I didn't see anything that seemed "wacky"; everything made perfect sense. I was there all day and didn't hear any bells at all.

    3. Montessori had a *huge* influence on how early childhood education was set up until very recently- the whole idea of stations and child-sized furniture and playing to learn was started by her, and we HAD that until this data obsession started. It wasn't exactly traditional Montessori, but it took most of her better ideas and made them universal.

  6. Funny you should mention that Rebecca. Here in Nevada one of our state board persons resigned to work with a charter start promotion group. She is a 20 + year old business major and former TFA teacher for two years our governor appointed to the state board. When asked what the greatest challenge to starting charters in Nevada was, her response was that responsible corporations and investors need assurance of a steady and stable income flow, Nevada school funding is still a bit too unstable to bring them in in large numbers (referring to the national chains.).

  7. Old Teacher,

    Most charter schools are stand alone schools. The largest that I know about (KIPP) educates less than 3% of all charter students.

    There are plenty of Montessori charter schools in the country, something that is all too often ignored.

    1. KIPP is one of the bigger chains, though if we count the various Gulen chains as one chain, they are probably the biggest. But the majority of charter schools are not stand-alones, but are under one management umbrella or another.

    2. Maybe in California; not the case in Ohio, no charter Montessori, so not helpful. And in Ohio the charters are almost all chains, and the state guy in charge of them had to resign because he falsified their data.

    3. And the private Montessori I toured built a new building and expanded to twice its size -- it was pretty big to begin with -- just a couple years ago. It costs beaucoup bucks to attend. Evidently the wealthy families of the area think Montessori is a good program and not at all "wacky".

    4. Peter,

      The best information I can find is that about 2/3 of charter schools are stand alone ( ) .

      Do you have any evidence that this is incorrect?

    5. To T.E., the point of my comment is that the charter people are looking at the per student allocation and saying it is far too low. We in the public schools have to manage with it none the less, as I watch my portable classroom fall apart. Nevada wants to privatize education, but the profits aren't there. They continue to starve the public system...We will see what happens.

    6. TE, part of the secret of how you manage to be so consistently wrong about nearly everything is that you insist on treating reformy PR releases and ad copy as reliable sources. I don't generally have time to correct you, but in this case, I can point you to a pretty clear chart at Jersey Jazzman's blog. It's a couple of years old, but captures the general distribution of operators.

  8. I would very much like for someone to explain to me the differences between CBE and gaming? It seems that the goal in both is level up within a controlled, limited set of parameters. There are repeated chances to get through each level, once you clear a level, you start at the next level.

    It is appalling that education will be reduced to the same experience as video gaming.