Monday, February 22, 2021

Biden Administration Won't Waive Big Standardized Test. Dammit.

 The Biden administration has offered its first flat-out wrong decision in the education sphere. 

Today Acting Ed Secretary Ian Rosenblum sent a letter out to state education chiefs. The news was not good, outlining the bad reasons for its bad decision.

To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need. We must also specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs. In addition, parents need information on how their children are doing

Who is this "we"? That's not entirely clear. But, as I've said before, the "we need information so we can address needs" argument is baloney for at least two reasons.

First, if you need information, ask the teachers. Ask the teachers. Ask the teachers. Ask. The. Teachers. They have been doing steady, daily assessment, both formal and informal, every day since this mess started. They know far more than the Big Standardized Test will ever tell anyone, and they know it today, not months from now when BS Test results come back. Parents can certainly learn far more about their student's progress by asking the teacher than by looking at vague, non-specific test scores from months ago. 

Second, since we entered this Golden Age of BS Testing, test results have virtually never been used to actually direct resources and assistance to schools that needed it. I would also wager that no BS Test results have ever identified an actual educational inequity problem that was not already well known, though by focusing on a single mediocre measure of math and reading they may have labeled schools that didn't deserve it. Because--

State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity

There's little evidence that this is true.

To further muddy the water, the department is offering some "flexibility."

States can ask for a waiver from reporting and identifying schools with low results, as well as getting a bye on ESEA's 95% participation rule. So schools will not face evaluation based on the test scores this year (if the state asks for the waiver).

However, says the department, "It remains vitally important that parents, educators, and the public have access to data on student learning and success." This is just bullpucky, not because those folks don't deserve or need to know what's going on, but because using BS Test results, particularly from this year under the stresses and circumstances that we've been experiencing, will be about as useful as reading the warts on a horny toad under a full moon. 

If local authorities have determined that it's not safe to go to school, students should not go to school just to take the test. This is clearly aimed at Florida, which will certainly ignore it. 

But the department also suggests that states might want to use a shortened version, give the test remotely, or give a wider testing window. Maybe leave it till next fall, which sort of negates the whole No Waiver argument. And maybe there is other flexibility your state will need. In other words, it's really vital that you give this super-important test, but it's okay if you just half-ass it.

It's a bad decision, the wrong decision, a decision that will yield zero useful results, but waste a bunch of time and money that states and teachers and students don't have to waste. It also, unfortunately, gets us right back to the same old notion that teachers and schools are untrustworthy and only by giving these God-forsaken tests can anyone in the halls of power possible hope to know what's Really Going On. 

Do we need to know how the pandemic affected learning? Sure. Teachers, mostly, already know. The amount of information to be gleaned from the BS Tests this spring will be somewhere between tiny and non-existent and certainly not worth the time that will be wasted. Nor does history suggest that it will key in unlocking actual assistance from the feds. 

It's a lousy move from the Biden administration, a bad start for the new ed department. I don't know that a non-teacher can really grasp how disappointing and discouraging this is, like having someone pop in and, on top of everything else that has come in the last twelve months, announce blithely that the school year will be shortened and they'll have less time that they thought to try to help their kids get on top of the year's material. This just sucks.


24 comments:

  1. It means, too, that kids - many of whom are already having the most crap year of their lives - will find in their Zoom classes not a respite, or a place to talk with friends, or a source of interesting stories and social/emotional support to distract them from the lockdown drear, but more test-prep-hassle. Great. That will make them feel so much better.

    The pandemic has made absolutely clear what kids already know: schooling is not about their development, happiness, or indeed, their education. It's about ensuring that they don't slip off the treadmill. Ugh.

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    1. "The pandemic has made absolutely clear what kids already know: schooling is not about their development, happiness, or indeed, their education. It's about ensuring that they don't slip off the treadmill." schooling is not for learning, it is for test-taking.

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  2. Do you have any idea who is behind this? The acting secretary isn't standing alone. Who is supporting this? Find out who is pushing this and what they stand to gain. This decision can't be more counterintuitive. Is Dr. Jill Biden, teacher, supporting this? Or is she outraged?

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    1. She couldn’t care less. Call it a hunch. She was out of the K-12 classroom before the all-consuming age of accountability came upon us.

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    2. So was I. That does not make a difference if you are a thinking person who cares about children. I am hoping that she will say to them, "What were you thinking???" I cannot believe that Biden would go back to the bad old days where everything in education was a competition and states had to spend tons of money on all this testing, and children were left doing test-prep for at least a month prior to the tests because there teachers were afraid how the kids did on the test could result in them losing their jobs.

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  3. Look up the Tennesee Star.. December 17, 2019. He was asked point blank if he would end standardized testing, and he answers, Yes and proceeded to tell the lady who asked that she was, "Preaching to the choir, kid."

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  4. Not surprising, considering Rosenblum's CV. In fact, when you look at all the not-needing-confirmation folks on the ED roster, most of them are Obama leftovers (with Duncanesque policy beliefs), heavy-duty Dems, or folks like Rosenblum who worked for nonprofits like EdTrust or Center for American Progress.

    His rather incoherent answer--half-assing it, as you said--feels like he didn't want to come out and say hey, go ahead and skip the tests so he just mumbled a bunch of stuff about how we have to know about the kids and all the test-makers will be mad at me if I let this go.

    My take on this? Time for Opt-Out to gear up again. Full-bore. Any parent who is asked to bring their kid to school for a one-time test should refuse. Any superintendent, given the option, should cut testing way, way back--or refuse.

    Time to build some anti-testing battlements.

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    1. A shortened version? What most people don't understand is that the current tests take at least 3 weeks away from teaching and learning for regular and spec. ed. So, a shortened version would take, what, 2 weeks to prepare and administer AND take Reading teachers away from teaching to administer tests with accommodations? Speaking of special ed, when is someone going to speak up for the special ed students who are traumatized by having to take a "grade-level" test. They CANNOT do that work; that's why they are special ed! I consider it child abuse. Can they be serious that students can take the test at home with mom and dad looking over their shoulder? AND not report some schools because, well, you know, they are just not any place the real estate agent will suggest you buy.

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    2. I neglected to say that when you double the 2 weeks--since the students are only there two days a week--now the "shortened" tests take up 4 weeks!

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  5. Perhaps the answer is to ensure that a whole lot of kids "fail" the tests and see if they pony up the dough.

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  6. And then when we tell them what we need to be successful(smaller class size, better pay for teachers) they will deny us and replace teachers with educational software.

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  7. I really didn't expect any change.
    The War on Education plows ahead!

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  8. "States can ask for a waiver from reporting and identifying schools with low results, as well as getting a bye on ESEA's 95% participation rule. So schools will not face evaluation based on the test scores this year (if the state asks for the waiver)."

    Can teachers get a similar waiver? Linking test scores to teacher evaluations through RTTT and Duncan's NCLB waiver was the single most harmful aspect of the Common Core reform movement.

    If tests results are not used to threaten and punish schools and teachers our complaints will seem more like whining. test scores might end up revealing things that their cheerleaders may not want to see.

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  9. After feeling like I wanted to cry most of the evening, at the very least this made me laugh..."In other words, it's really vital that you give this super-important test, but it's okay if you just half-ass it." Seriously though, this is all pretty ridiculous. All of our instructional time will be going to this dumb test for no reason, which would be bad enough.... but the tech aspect involved in administering it remotely in CA where I teach was enough to completely befuddle my entire group last week when we were "trained". I don't want to be party to something that makes a 10 year old feel frustrated and feel like they should doubt themselves, when NOTHING WILL BE GAINED.

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  10. Time for a massive test OPT OUT movement -- https://www.fairtest.org/get-involved/opting-out

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  11. Opt out parents and students. Every.Damn.Year. Just don't take another standardized test. Time to go cold turkey.

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  12. This is the article I referenced above, where there are clips of Biden saying he would end standardized testing, among other things.

    https://tennesseestar.com/2019/12/17/joe-biden-says-hell-end-standardized-testing-in-public-schools-after-questioner-calls-them-rooted-in-a-history-of-racism/

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    1. That was actually at a candidate forum in Pittsburgh. I was in the audience. Here's a link to the video (it won't be live, thanks blogger, but anyone who wants to see it can still cut and paste the link into their browser)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haGLsCBPWKA&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR0iqkexS43uavejZtwgf24Uh40KUlv3NJPLqb4sgIt87OkRUca0v60VwBQ

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  13. Bad start for education under the Biden Administration. I am hoping that Jill will have some input here. I would hate to think that they are all complicit with this. More of the same all, same all! I was hoping that we would be entering a time of reimagining education in new ways.

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  14. As a high school teacher and as a parent, I have to disagree.

    Nobody likes standard test, but it is an important tool for parents to know where should I move if I want my child to have a decent education.

    Test score does not tell you everything about a student, but no standard test makes it impossible for colleges to compare objectively applicants from all over the country and all over the world.

    Yes, this year is stressful and difficult, but life is stressful and difficult most of the time. We cannot afford to have our students grow up without the capability to handle stress and difficulties.

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    1. As a retired high school teacher and a parent, I have to disagree with you.

      Standardized tests tell you mostly what the socio-economics of the school are, and you can find that out easily through other means. As for colleges, research tells us that the best predictor of college success is not a standardized test, but the student's high school GPA.

      I don't even know where to start with "Life is hard, so we should make it hard for kids, too."

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    2. As a parent, if my child had you as a teacher, I would request a transfer out of your class. You can believe in the stupid tests and their magical unicorn poop results all you want, but to believe that children should have stress and duress imposed on them (because life is stressful) by the very person (a teacher) who is supposed to care and mentor them is psychological abuse. Life is a journey and should be enjoyed. Education is a journey and should be enjoyed. School should not feel like a prison sentence because adult life can/may be stressful.

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  15. Rebecca Klein's article in HuffPost said "The Biden administration’s move was met with widespread praise from most education stakeholders." What "education stakeholders" are these, as they don't appear to be teachers, parents, or students?

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