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Waiver? We don't need no stinkin' WAIVER!! (oh, wait, yes we do...)
August 10, 2011 11:50 PM   Subscribe

Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education, former "CEO" (Superintendant) of Chicago Public Schools, announced that there will be a waiver from NCLB for schools that apply and can prove that "adopt standards designed to prepare high school graduates for college and careers, use a 'flexible and targeted' accountability system for educators based on student growth and make 'robust use of data,' among other things." Many school officials are wary of the strings that will inevitably accompany the waiver. This is after Duncan predicted that by the end of this year, 82 percent of schools would not be making AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress - a measure of standardised test scores in American schools.

The law has been criticised for years, but reform efforts have stalled in the last few years. Details of the waiver will be released in September, but Duncan says that in the last few days, "he’s heard from around 35 to 40 of the nation’s governors, none of whom are happy with the current law."

The plan to offer states a waiver seems, in part, to be due to education officials in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota approaching Duncan to discuss their states' inability to meet the targets set by NCLB. Frustrated with the slowness of progress on reform, Obama set a summer deadline for NCLB reform. The waiver appears to be Duncan's "Plan B". Prior to this announcement, Idaho and Montana asked for a deal. Idaho won "flexibility" (but not the "waiver") in maintaining current proficiency standards for the next three years. Montana requested the same deal, only they wanted four years at current targets, but was turned down.

Tennessee, a state that Duncan acknowledges for their excellent reform efforts, plans to apply for a formal waiver while continuing their current reform. Several sources list them as one of three states that have already applied. However, details from the DOE are scarce. Michigan has also applied. Minnesota and several other states have plans to apply.

New York plans to "wait and see.", and sources speculate that Texas is very unlikely to pursue a waiver this year.
posted by guster4lovers (49 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is where I write "something something The Wire something something", right?

---

Maybe I've lucked out, but in talking to a great deal of Americans, including some high school teachers, I don't think I've found anyone in favour of NCLB. Are there any Americans out there who can provide some outcome-focused arguments in favour of the policy? The wiki-link arguments in favour of NCLB all seem fairly sloganistic, resorting to correlation, or talking about the possible or intended effects of the policy rather than the actual outcomes of the policy. Are there any powerful dedicated interest groups committed to ensuring NCLB stays as it is?
posted by kithrater at 1:10 AM on August 11, 2011


What a half-assed way to solve a problem.
posted by kinetic at 2:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd say something more grar and clever and pithy except I've spent the last 5 weeks creating "alternative assessments" of the Massachusetts state test for eight special ed students who don't have a chance in hell of passing the standard one.

I could have been making up cool lessons or teaching, but I'm under orders to make AYP, so that's where my time goes.

(unintelligible grar and mumbling)
posted by kinetic at 2:40 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a half-assed way to solve a problem.
Seriously this, "nobody likes it and it doesn't fucking work therefore we're considering our options." Oh I'm sorry, I mean "we don't have the votes".
posted by fullerine at 3:33 AM on August 11, 2011


I don't think you'll find anyone really willing to defend NCLB as is. On the other hand, you will find folks (like me) who think that standardized testing, common curriculum and educational systems based on outcome data are appropriate. Right now it seems to be a sort of inertia keeping it in place. Compounded by (politically predictable) disagreements on what is the right solution.
posted by meinvt at 4:53 AM on August 11, 2011


Is there a single person in the universe who still thinks NCLB was a good idea? Was there a single educator in the universe who thought it was a good idea to begin with when the Bush admin. foisted it on them? How is such a universally reviled program still in place? Why is the current DOE not working towards having it completely rescinded?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:04 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a single person in the universe who still thinks NCLB was a good idea? Was there a single educator in the universe who thought it was a good idea to begin with when the Bush admin. foisted it on them? How is such a universally reviled program still in place? Why is the current DOE not working towards having it completely rescinded?

No, not genuinely, politics, and politics.

This is one of those cases where Karl Rove was absolutely right, with respect to his remark that "We make reality, and while the rest of you are standing around trying to figure out what the hell we just did, we make the next reality" (I'm paraphrasing) "and then you'll be left to clean up that mess with an ossified political system that makes such clean-up basically impossible, heh heh heh."
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


The goal of NCLB was never to fix the schools. It was to eliminate them. The idea the Bush administration had was that when no school could meet the standards it would pave the way for privatization of the public school system.
posted by COD at 5:11 AM on August 11, 2011 [19 favorites]


... when the Bush admin. foisted it on them?

To be fair, I believe Saint Theodore, Kennedy was a sponsor of the bill. In fact, NCLB was one of those post-partisan (and compassionate conservative) projects that everyone was supposed to get behind.

Maybe I've lucked out, but in talking to a great deal of Americans, including some high school teachers, I don't think I've found anyone in favour of NCLB. Are there any Americans out there who can provide some outcome-focused arguments in favour of the policy?

I think many Americans are stuck at the "What? I have to pay tax money to send people I don't like to school? Fuck that noise!" But seriously, the basic problem with public ed. in the US, is that we are far too diverse: culturally, politically, religiously to have a federally managed school system, but if the system is decentralized you'll have black kids learning "janitorial science" in shacks or children's crusade for christ homerooms.

The Wire does a nice job of showing how you can't treat education as a single issue: it's tied up in larger problems the US faces.

(But of course we can argue pointlessly and forever about education as if it were an isolated issue.)
posted by ennui.bz at 5:30 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think most Americans understand how bad a typical inner-city public school is. Learning janitorial science in shacks is only a slight exaggeration -- if you didn't take honors classes at my high school, you might not be asked to read a book or write an essay in four years of high school. And spots in the honors classes were very limited.

I don't support NCLB as is, but I strongly support standardized programs such as IB and AP that allow some reasonable assurance that students at a school are actually getting some kind of an education. Of course, blindly throwing tests at students that may have little relationship with what they're supposed to learn doesn't really help either.
posted by miyabo at 6:10 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing they did get right; the schoolhouse facade tacked in front of the featureless government building perfectly captures the spirit of the program.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:55 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why are the standards so hard to meet? What's in the tests?
posted by gjc at 7:14 AM on August 11, 2011


gjc: "Why are the standards so hard to meet? What's in the tests?"

It depends on the state (and obviously the grade level).

A reallyreally short explanation: on the 7th grade MA state test for ELA, every kid will be expected to read and respond to multiple stories and essays with an open response question, and write multi-paragraph essay...something along the lines of "Define a Hero." They will read poetry, science fiction, stories written in dialect, how-to manuals and respond to multiple choice questions.

Without exception, almost all of the reading material is way too hard for them and the questions are incredibly misleading. There will be several similarly-worded responses using qualifiers like most and many, which thoroughly confuses them.

Let's now throw in the mix kids who can't respond to the writing prompt because they don't have heroes. So they're screwed.

And if a kid has any type of learning or developmental or cognitive or behavioral disability (which by some estimates is over 30% of all students), it's game over.

Lastly, the math and science tests (especially at the middle school level) are brutal. They ask questions about things that are not part of the standard curriculum like trigonometry and geometry.

It's a much more complex situation than I've outlined, but I hope you get the basic idea.

As my students say, "Those tests are wicked hahd..."
posted by kinetic at 7:26 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan of Standardized Testing. My kids spend more than a month preparing for it. They don't come home excited about learning after testing and preparing for it. They come home excited about learning when their science teacher blows things up.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


How about we skip all this nonsense and send everyone to community college at age twelve?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:29 AM on August 11, 2011


Also, saying 'why are the tests so hard to pass' is also like saying 'why is it so hard to make sure you arrive at school everyday with school supplies, some prior knowledge and a willingness to learn?'. Seriously, it seems simple but ...after working in public schools for 9 years you realize people's lives are insanely complicated (especially kids who obviously don't have too much say in the matter) and many many other societal problems need to be fixed first. (It's hard to study when your drunk mother's boyfriend is waking you up at 1am to do dishes or you were out until 3am at a family gathering or there's just no money until the end of the month to buy anything, nevermind school supplies..and recreational reading- what?? Etc etc).
posted by bquarters at 7:52 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


kinetic: do you have any sample papers or the likes you could show us? Being unfamiliar with the subject matter, my google-fu is weak.

But from your description, that does sound pretty over-the-top: here's an example the equivalent standard tests in Australia, the NAPLAN (.pdf link) english test for Year 7 students. Much, much simpler.

What sensible bureaucrat would design standardised tests that are too hard?
posted by kithrater at 7:58 AM on August 11, 2011


My grade-school-age kids are at the high end of the testing range, and I think NCLB is a waste for them because they could spend the weeks of prep actually learning something. Not to mention test anxiety. Not to mention how lame some of the questions are: on the practice tests I did with my 4th grader last night I could have filled a page justifying at least two different interpretations of the question "Which part of the chicken is most similar to the human arm? leg, wing, something else, some other thing." (Structural? Viual similarity? Proportionality? ...) Gaah.

At the same time I also support some kind of standard curriculum and consistent testing: how else do you measure progress? I don't begrudge them the days spent taking the test because they'll be taking some test or other: at their age I took the SRA tests or the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, both days or a full week.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2011


Are there any powerful dedicated interest groups committed to ensuring NCLB stays as it is?

As COD accurately points out above, NCLB was specifically designed to "proove" that American public schools are shit, and should therefore be shut down and replaced with (profit-driven) private schools. Private for-profit educational corporations (Yes, we have Big Education Corproations in this country) are enormous contributors to political canidates. See here for a wider industry-wide breakdown. The funny thing is, this corruption is wholly bi-partisan.

Private EduCorps are literally paying Dems and Repubs to dismantle our public educational system.
posted by Avenger at 8:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


kithrater: "kinetic: do you have any sample papers or the likes you could show us?"

Sure! If you go to the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, you can look up some of the questions. Here's a recent essay that most of my students bombed on: "Heroes have special qualities that people admire. Heroes give us examples of the courage and strength it takes to face difficult situations and challenges in life.

Think of someone who is your personal hero. In a well-developed composition, describe this person and explain two qualities you most admire about him or her."

Here's a reading example and a question that followed:

“And your hands, m’hija! How they look like your grandmother’s!” I couldn’t see anything our hands had in common.

What is the most likely reason Abuelo describes the similarity between Clara’s and Abuelita’s hands?
A. Abuelo is trying to bond with Clara.
B. Abuelo thinks Clara is growing up too soon.
C. Abuelo is hoping that Clara will be a good cook.
D. Abuelo wishes that Clara had come to see them earlier.

Look at all the assumptions this ONE question makes of kids: that they know what Abuelo, Abuelita and bond mean, that they understand that in this story italics are used to represent Spanish, that they can even understand what the story is about, etc.

And look at the several probable answers...3 answers are likely. (A is correct)

Why confound the kids?
posted by kinetic at 8:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


BTW, for those looking at the "big picture", there is a similar push to privatize our nation's prison system, for similar purposes. We shouldn't be surprised by this, as these companies (a collection of rather shady security/prison/defense firms) love both parties equally.
posted by Avenger at 8:43 AM on August 11, 2011


This article shows that it will take 166 years to implement NCLB. The author used the word "delusional" to explain his opinions regarding successful implementation of NCLB, under which 98% of US schools would close by 2014, failing to make AYP.

The teachings of this guy E.D. Hirsch figure in, for those that want readin', writin', and 'rithmatic, for the merely literate 98%, that work for the educated 2%.

The problem with this is a lot of educational intellectual infrastructure has gone into implementation of NCLB, which was antiquated to begin with, when facing a US culture of many cultures that is not obligated to worship the "job creators."

There there is this which discusses what the top corporations want, as we enter the age of creativity, and NCLB, is definitely not the answer.
posted by Oyéah at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2011


The only people I can think of who would be against states getting out of NCLB is the testing industry itself.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The standardized test that WA used previous to NCLB cost about $9 per student. (I believe it was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or something...I just moved here from CA when the changeover happened.) After NCLB, it switched to a test called the WASL (who cares what it stands for), which cost $19 per student.

That right there tells you all you need to know about standardized testing.

Much of the problems with standardized testing has been said by other teachers on this thread already, but I'll chime in with two other bits:

1) I frequently work as a test scorer (in the evenings, after I'm done teaching) for a vendor for many of these tests. The tests themselves are written by education committees in the individual states; companies like my sometime employer it handle the logistics of printing, distribution, scoring, etc. I don't believe the vendors make money when test scores are high or low, and by and large every other scorer I've ever worked with really does try hard to do an honest, thoughtful job. It's short-term employment and there aren't bonuses for finishing early or anything like that, so there really aren't any encouragements to go in any particular direction with your scoring. So, FWIW, while I think the whole apparatus is a giant scam, the actual eyes-on-the-test are generally people trying to do an honest job.

2) The troubles of running these tests go far beyond simply putting the book & pencils in front of the students. You wind up with a MASSIVE disruption of the ENTIRE SCHOOL at the secondary (middle/junior and high school) level. Only one given grade takes the test, but that means you have to figure out what to do with all the OTHER students. Mixed classes are completely disrupted. Attendance becomes a huge problem. Engagement and buy-in for class activities becomes even harder to achieve. Classes that are normally 55 minutes long are suddenly 125 minutes or longer, or only 35 minutes long, all to accommodate the schedule...

...and if you have a class that is mostly of the testing grade, the tests frequently aren't timed. You get kids who hang onto the test all day long (which, statistically, is in their best interests). You have a constant trickle of students returning to class, and sooner or later you get the logistical challenge of trying to put all the students who need extra time in a single classroom, only you have no realistic idea of how many that will be from one day to the next.

Oh. Yeah. And all those kids need a lunch break.

I am not saying we should do away with standardized testing entirely, but if you aren't in education and/or you don't have a teen of your own, it's worth noting that the whole deal is MUCH more of a burden on schools than the simple taking of the test itself.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


How about we skip all this nonsense and send everyone to community college at age twelve?

I realize you were being funny, but I actually believe this is pretty close to the answer. The only subjects that absolutely everybody needs to master are reading, writing, and math up through about Algebra I. Everything else beyond that should be an elective. Structure high school to look a lot more like community colleges, with the kids having the opportunity to study what they want to study. If you have the 3Rs down, you can learn chemistry, or history, or higher level math, or whatever, whether it's in a school or on your own.
posted by COD at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


@kithrater - that Year 7 writing prompt (2009) is outstanding! I want to write about what's in the box!!! At what age do kids take that?

For comparison's sake, here are some of my favourite essay topics from past California HS curriculum/practice exams:

You're the school bell. What do you see in your day?

How does Saki use irony to amplify the theme in The Interlopers?

Your town wants to ban energy drinks because they are so harmful to people and have many, many dangers. Write an essay where you agree, using facts from the article as support.

Design an ad campaign for California. Convince people to visit the state by extolling its unique virtues. (note: this was before Mad Men made advertising cool)

Standardised testing, for many of the reasons scaryblackdeath outlined, sucks. It sounded good at the time, I'm sure - kids being held to high standards, making sure all kids got a similar education, teachers beiing accountable for teaching what's important, parents and the community being allowed to know how their school is doing compared to others, etc. - and now, most of the educators I know, myself included, are just waiting for the cyclical wheel of education policy to turn. It always does - it may take 10 years, or 20, but it does.

However, it's starting to hurt. We used to have a staff of 85 teachers at my school. Now, there's 50, and next year, at least 5 more teachers will be cut when one of our grants disappears. Class size has gone from about 30 (20 in Algebra I and English 9) to 40 (or over). Our Gifted and Talented program was cut entirely a few years ago. Our special ed and ESL programs are at capacity with fewer resources. Four years ago, we were on a block schedule and I taught three classes a day and had 75 students. Now, I teach 5 classes and have 150 students. Some of this can be blamed on the state budget crisis, sure. But what didn't get cut was the month of state testing.

If NCLB was designed to kill schools, it certainly has done its job.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:13 PM on August 11, 2011


Another reason that the push towards more standardized tests are bad is that it affects the future of the arts in education. There is no good way to have a standardized test for playing the clarinet, or creating a piece of visual art (as a music teacher, I can say that that's sort of the point). I've seen many principals cut arts programs partly because you can't test it, and you can use that time and money to better pump into more test-prep stuff.

Just like when Mr. Prezbo has to spend his math class teaching kids about writing for the test.
posted by rossination at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The focus on standardized testing has had horrific effects on the Atlanta Public Schools. APS may have to pay back nearly a million dollars received from the federal government as rewards for reaching AYP (via falsified test scores). Atlanta's schools are now on accreditation probation; the Atlanta economy's already in the tank, and losing accreditation will make it even harder for kids whose families can't afford private schools and whose only options are underfunded public schools.

It breaks my heart to think about the effect on the kids, who had been thinking they were pretty smart because their test scores were good, and then learning that their teachers or principals were changing answers because the kids just weren't smart enough. We know that the Atlanta high school graduation rate is suspect - it starts a lot earlier than that, and young Atlantans are paying the price of a misguided policy that assumes everyone has middle-class access to facilities, teachers, and a culture of learning.
posted by catlet at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2011


I really feel for the kids, parents, community and (innocent) teachers and administrators in Atlanta. The teachers/admin who weren't cheating probably had their faces rubbed in their own "failure" for years. And for the kids, whose take home message, as catlet said, is that their own ability isn't good enough. And what an embarrassment that the Atlanta Superintendant was voted Superintendant of the Year for being a liar and a cheat.

Where is the nation-wide outrage at what NCLB has wrought?
posted by guster4lovers at 2:01 PM on August 11, 2011


NCLB required the states to come up with standardized tests. It didn't require them to come up with horrible tests that take months of out-of-curriculum instruction to prep for, nor did it let thousands of teachers cheat on those tests and bring ruin to their districts. The states -- and their private contractor testing companies -- did that all on their own.
posted by miyabo at 2:12 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was a youngin' in the Chicago Public Schools, we had the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to deal with as the Big Important Tests we were required to take. There were others, such that we probably took one or two every year.

My memory of them was that they weren't that hard. Multiple choice questions in the various topics, and each topic was taken for half a day. So it was maybe two days worth? Our scores were generally good.

I don't remember a whole lot of "teaching to the test" time. There was some time spent dealing with the structure of the test, and a practice test or two, but that was about it.

I read some of the sample tests in the MA link, for 8th grade. Doesn't seem that unreasonable. The story about the kid visiting her grandparents seemed like something an 8th grader ought to be able to comprehend. I mean, doesn't the directions say to pick the *best* answer? The best answer is obviously A. It wouldn't be much of a test if the other three answers were clearly wrong.

NCLB required the states to come up with standardized tests. It didn't require them to come up with horrible tests that take months of out-of-curriculum instruction to prep for, nor did it let thousands of teachers cheat on those tests and bring ruin to their districts. The states -- and their private contractor testing companies -- did that all on their own.
posted by miyabo at 2:12 PM on August 11 [+] [!]


That is interesting. Why would the states make tests on purpose that aren't good? Even if the goal at the federal level was to show how bad the public schools are, the local states would appear to have the ability to confound that goal by creating tests that should be easy for students to pass.

What is most horrifying, though, is the inclusion of the essay question. What is the point of a standardized test when the scoring is subjective?
posted by gjc at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2011


Oh, I don't think anyone intended to make horrible tests. It's just that making a good standardized test is really hard -- the College Board (SAT people) spends hundreds of millions on hiring subject matter experts, writers, statisticians, psychologists, editors, etc., and writes far more test questions than are needed so that the questions that actually count meet everyone's most rigorous requirements. And it still makes the occasional mistake.

A local for-profit test company that gets ten million bucks to run an entire testing program for a state simply can't do it without doing a shoddy job.
posted by miyabo at 3:23 PM on August 11, 2011


The story about the kid visiting her grandparents seemed like something an 8th grader ought to be able to comprehend. I mean, doesn't the directions say to pick the *best* answer? The best answer is obviously A. It wouldn't be much of a test if the other three answers were clearly wrong.

It probably doesn't seem that difficult to an on-level learner who comes from a background where reading outside of school is a given (and let's be honest, the average Mefi user probably reads more and better than average). Imagine if you were an English-language learner or if you came from an environment where you didn't read and weren't read to. A kid raised by Nickelodeon wouldn't see that as an easy question to answer. Also, if seems like you're more of a concrete thinker than I am (MBTI language, you're a sensor, I'm an intuitive), because when I read that questions, there are more shades of grey in the answer choices.

Part of testing theory is that you need a "distractor" answer for multiple choice questions - an answer that seems likely and could draw the test-taker away from the real answer. Good in theory, but it causes people like me, who could justify nearly every answer on a multiple choice test if I work hard enough, to get migranes and over-think it.

NCLB required the states to come up with standardized tests. It didn't require them to come up with horrible tests that take months of out-of-curriculum instruction to prep for, nor did it let thousands of teachers cheat on those tests and bring ruin to their districts. The states -- and their private contractor testing companies -- did that all on their own.

Okay. The reason schools/teachers cheat on those tests and spend months prepping is that THEIR SCHOOL'S FINANCING DEPENDS ON IT. I'm not justifying it or excusing it - cheating is wrong. Period. But what you're not seeing is that MOST schools are trying to do the right thing. No one feels good about teaching "to the test" - but when your school has been in "program improvement" or has been restructured or most of the staff has been fired or any of the other punishments legislated by NCLB, the options are limited. Teachers who want to reach the most needy kids are often forced by a district, administrator, consulting firm, etc. into a curriculum that is little more than test prep. I worked at a school where every student was tested in English and Math biweekly and all the results were posted in the school lobby. Teachers who failed to meet the target with their students were reprimanded, and eventually let go. That is the logical outcome of NCLB.

In terms of how the standards came about, I don't know the entire history of the standards movement; however, I do know that it started, at least in California, from the desire to have an extremely high benchmark for each grade/subject. Lots of time was spent on some areas (math), but many subjects (social science for example) were cobbled together at the last minute. Then, schools were asked to use those standards to make 50-100 item multiple choice exams. Some of the standards lend themselves well to the multiple choice format. But when you look at ELA especially, and any subject that moves from concrete knowledge (what is 2+2?) to abstract (which is the most effective word to convey x?) it starts to fall apart. One of the 9th/10th grade ELA standards in CA is that students will evaluate the author's use of irony, ambiguity, contradiction, and subtlety and the impact it has on a text. Try writing a multiple choice question that REALLY tests that.

Some states did make their standards easier (I want to say that Tennessee was one of them, until they decided to go for the Race to the Top funds and started over) so that they looked better in comparison. Now, there is a Common Core Standards movement gathering steam, in part to correct that disparity between states. I actually like the CCS, but the same problem remains - multiple choice testing is not the best way to assess a lot of these standards. Period.

And I'll defend to the death the place that essay writing has in standardised testing. A student's response to a properly constructed prompt can tell you more than their answers to 300 multiple choice questions. Many countries, like the UK, use essays exclusively. The thing is, let's say you guess your way into proficiency on a MC exam - what do I really know about your ability or about how much I've taught you? You can't guess your way through an essay.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:39 PM on August 11, 2011


It probably doesn't seem that difficult to an on-level learner who comes from a background where reading outside of school is a given (and let's be honest, the average Mefi user probably reads more and better than average). Imagine if you were an English-language learner or if you came from an environment where you didn't read and weren't read to. A kid raised by Nickelodeon wouldn't see that as an easy question to answer. Also, if seems like you're more of a concrete thinker than I am (MBTI language, you're a sensor, I'm an intuitive), because when I read that questions, there are more shades of grey in the answer choices.

I think that's kind of the point. If the student has been competently taught, they will be on-level and the questions will not be that difficult. And it shouldn't matter whether they have read outside the classroom, because these basic skills should be being taught IN the classroom.

If a student can't pass the test, that means their schools have somehow failed. Because the whole point of compulsory education is to make sure kids have basic skills regardless of what happens at home.

(As for the shades of gray, again, that's the point. Choose the *most likely* answer from the information given. Mentioning the similarities between two people is not about cooking or how quickly someone is growing up or why didn't someone take a trip sooner, when we have right there on paper that these people are related to each other but are strangers.

The person who quoted that part of the test asks "Look at all the assumptions this ONE question makes of kids: that they know what Abuelo, Abuelita and bond mean, that they understand that in this story italics are used to represent Spanish, that they can even understand what the story is about, etc. "

That is the point. We are testing to see whether the student can figure these things out. That is the skill. Did the student read the whole story? Then they will know what the words mean, because there are parentheticals and footnotes that define everything that needs to be defined. If an 8th grader doesn't know what bond means, they shouldn't be in 8th grade.)
And I'll defend to the death the place that essay writing has in standardised testing.
Free writing answers are important, but that's not what a standardized test is. It is standardized, and not up to the whim/subjectivity of the person grading the test.
posted by gjc at 5:19 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a yo-yo.
posted by Eideteker at 5:20 PM on August 11, 2011


I don't know that essay scoring is really that subjective. In my experience, the rubric is pretty clear and it goes through two different readers. If they come up with different scores, then it goes to a third reader for a tie breaker. But the tiebreaker isn't needed on 95+% of the essays.
posted by Garm at 5:28 PM on August 11, 2011


Ok, using your logic let me give you an example:

I had a student named Jesus (not his real name). He had been in the country his whole life and had completed K-9 (and repeated K) in my district.

He was recommended for an eye test in 1st grade, and when the school arranged it, he was found to have severe vision issues, requiring glasses. Over the following 8 years, the school got him funding for free pairs of glasses...not once or twice - every year the offer was made. Once, the mother followed through. Jesus refused to wear them and "lost" them. His mother refused to push the issue with Jesus, even when it became clear that he was failing. She also refused to consent to special ed testing.

I got him in 9th grade. He tested below first grade level in reading. He still wouldn't wear glasses and his mother wouldn't allow testing or any modifications. Even sitting in the front and getting to take classwork home to complete it wouldn't help.

He's 18 now and managed to pass only a few HS classes.

I by your logic it's my fault and the school's fault that he couldn't pass the state test. A good teacher can bring a student up 3 grade levels at most per year. But that's just not possible when I have 40+ students in a class, few resources, scrutiny and oversight by people who are incompetent at best, and constant demands of my time on other school business.

Are you aware that the biggest factors that determine a student's academic success are his or her zip code and socio-economic status? Jeez, it would be like me blaming my stock-broker for shares in Apple falling. There's a hell of a lot I can't control.

"Logic" as you present it is precisely why we're in this mess with NCLB. Would I *love* for it to work and for all my students to test at proficiency? YES! Can I achieve it? No. There will always be a Jesus (or several million).
posted by guster4lovers at 7:11 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


*But by your logic...smartphone indeed...
posted by guster4lovers at 7:13 PM on August 11, 2011


How about we skip all this nonsense and send everyone to community college at age twelve?

I had devalued community college until my 19-year old daughter took Chemistry at a local community college this summer. It was incredibly rigorous. As much so as at any college.

Back on topic: today was my first day of five days of workshops before the high school kids arrive and I am, in a word, in a word that I read in today's Harper's magazine describing a teacher's experience, dispirited. Every year they move the goalposts. Every two or three years they (the educrats) make a major move. The new rules always involve a lot more work - despite the fact that I work seven days a week - and they fade away after 2 or three years into the warehouse and then the dumpster. Teaching is an art and a science and a calling and some people find the job to their liking; others don't. But the interference from non-educators is consistently increasing the pressure on administrators to do "something" to change what we teachers do in the classroom.

Please make it stop. I just want to teach kids, and although it may take a few years to learn, I've been doing it for decades, know what I am doing, and just want to be left alone. My students' standardized test scores went up this year. They may go down next year. They cannot go up and up forever, as much as the politicians want to make that happen.

And, by the way, how did I magically become a more wonderful teacher when I moved from a ghetto school to an non-ghetto school one year? Well, I sure did, according to my district's evaluation of good teachers and bad teachers. This is bullshit.
posted by kozad at 7:15 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The person who quoted that part of the test asks "Look at all the assumptions this ONE question makes of kids: that they know what Abuelo, Abuelita and bond mean, that they understand that in this story italics are used to represent Spanish, that they can even understand what the story is about, etc. "

That is the point. We are testing to see whether the student can figure these things out. That is the skill. Did the student read the whole story? Then they will know what the words mean, because there are parentheticals and footnotes that define everything that needs to be defined. If an 8th grader doesn't know what bond means, they shouldn't be in 8th grade.)


That was my post. I'm a middle school teacher, and I can tell you that 95% of our 7th grade got this question wrong. These kids are 12-13.

Here are the problems with this one question:

* it relies upon an ability to inference, which is a developmental skill not quite developed at this age;
* it assumes that a student understands what a conveyer belt at an airport is....what a phone card is;
* it assumes that the student has a frame of reference in which they would understand another child going to visit foreign grandparents on an airplane without their parents;
* it assumes that students in 7th grade read footnotes and understand that italics mean Spanish;
* it assumes that 12 year-olds understand the concept of bonding (they don't); and
* it has that hazy language of the "most" correct answer, which just confuses kids, because they think it's a trick question (they really do).

It's a problematic story for most students to comprehend with a tricky question following (there are more questions for the story) that asks them to do something that developmentally they struggle with. The kids don't get the text, they don't understand the question, and 95% of them got it wrong. Imagine their stress level and amount of second-guessing that kicks in at this point.

And that's one of over 50 questions on that exam.

It sets them up to fail.
posted by kinetic at 7:23 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


kinetic: 12-year-olds should indeed know how to do all of those things. Maybe not at an adult level, but that passage isn't written at an adult level. What have they been doing in language arts for the last 7 years if not learning how to do those things? Don't they do things like book reports any more? The test doesn't set them up to fail, a lack of adequate education set them up to fail.

guster4lovers: In the first place, there will always be exceptions. In the second place, yes, he has been done a disservice by all his previous teachers. It's true, there might not be much that can be done for this kid now. That is the tragedy. That case is especially tragic because there is nothing wrong with him that putting on his glasses couldn't fix. You'd think that after 8+ years in school, someone would have told him to wear his glasses in a way that stuck.
posted by gjc at 8:05 PM on August 11, 2011


gjc, I feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall here.

If the schools had strapped those glasses to his head, the parents would have filed assult charges. And short of that, he wasn't going to wear them. How much experience have you had with teenagers? How much experience do you have imposing your will on them? I asked him about them every day. We held FIVE parent meetings, all of which discussed special ed testing (requires parent consent, which was refused) and the glasses (he wouldn't wear them and literally threw them away every time he was given a pair). That is the same thing that had been happening for years. I'm not an expert on learning disabilities, but I'm pretty sure he was dyslexic and had some major visual, oral, and verbal processing disorder.

Every teacher along the way left extensive notes in his cumulative file about their concerns for his ability and the interventions they had tried to get him to learn. Nothing worked. And it's not fair to say that apart from not wearing glasses, there was "nothing wrong with him" - he needed intensive special education services, including an alternate setting or a one-on-one aide. FYI, 30-40% of students have some kind of special need (gifted, behavioural/learning disorder, mental health problem, etc.). In my state, an additional 20-40% are English Language Learners. That means that Jesus isn't an isolated example. He's more typical than you'd like to think. And he hasn't been done a disservice by his teachers - he has been done a disservice by his PARENTS and HIMSELF. They thought they were the experts, and refused to listen to what the actual experts had to say.

PLEASE go spend a few days with a middle school or high school teacher and then come back and tell the MULTIPLE teachers in this thread that their decades of experience is wrong. Tell me, like EVERY OTHER FREAKING PERSON WITH AN OPINION AND NO RELEVANT EXPERIENCE does, that I'm wrong and that I'm not doing a good enough job. People don't walk into a dentist's office and tell them which burr to use on their root canal. People don't tell their accountant how to file tax forms. People don't tell CEO's how to run their business. But since everyone went to school, they think they're qualified to solve all the problems in education.

My experience in the profession (classroom teacher for 8 years, plus 4 years of informal educational settings) is that more teachers are like me than are like the retired-without-telling-anyone teachers that you seem to think are in abundance. As kozad and kinetic said - we just want to teach our kids are we are being ACTIVELY prevented from doing so. And laws like NCLB are there because there are people like you, gjc, who believe that ignoring the experience and opinions of hundreds of thousands of teachers and doing something in opposition to nearly all of the research into K-12 education is a good idea. People who believe that punishing schools that are legitimately trying to educate kids is going to make the kids learn better. People who believe that added testing is in the best interest of students. People who look the other way when schools are pressured to adopt drill and kill and months of test prep, and then are *shocked* when some schools cheat in order to maintain their funding. And those same people are the ones pointing fingers at the teachers when the system is falling down in tatters.

Hell, even the woman who was the primary architect of the law now says that it's flawed. We could have told her that years ago.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:24 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


that Year 7 writing prompt (2009) is outstanding! I want to write about what's in the box!!! At what age do kids take that?

Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 all use the same prompt.

I marked something like 870 papers on that prompt, and I can say in all honesty that any curiosity I may have nourished in a far corner of my being on the issue is slaked. Slaked, salted, and beaten to death.

This year I spent 3 weeks reading kids argue whether there is or is not too much money spent on toys and video ganes. It was scintillating.
posted by Wolof at 12:34 AM on August 12, 2011


Oh, the testees are aged 9, 11, 13 and 15.
posted by Wolof at 12:36 AM on August 12, 2011


I'll take the box over the school bell any day. I also like the idea that kids of different age ranges took the same test - that probably gives you WAY more useful data than changing the topic and genre of writing from year to year.

I feel your pain about the non-stop essays though. This year, the amazingly awesome topics I got to read students' "opinions"* about were: Bottled vs. Tap Water, Energy Drinks, Driving Age, National Speed Limit, Irony in The Interlopers, Figurative Language in R&J Balcony Scene....argh. That is about 130 hours of my life I'll never get back.

*By "opinion," I of course mean the only side that the articles/text supported. I've never taught persuasive essays that had only one "correct" answer. Kinda defeats the purpose, actually.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:39 AM on August 12, 2011


gjc: "kinetic: 12-year-olds should indeed know how to do all of those things...The test doesn't set them up to fail, a lack of adequate education set them up to fail."

It all comes down to blaming teachers. Sigh.
posted by kinetic at 2:02 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never taught persuasive essays that had only one "correct" answer. Kinda defeats the purpose, actually.

Yeah, blots out whole other registers. Argument wants to be free, but it is everywhere in chains.*

*especially here
posted by Wolof at 4:22 AM on August 12, 2011


kinetic: It all comes down to blaming teachers.
guster4lovers: But by your logic it's my fault

It's not "blaming the teachers"; that's a view you're unnecessarily reading into it. You seem to be arguing that because some 12-year-olds won't be able to read and understand a story, therefore no 12-year-olds should be expected to. But I don't think you actually believe that. I think you and gjc would agree that it is a problem that Jesus can't read better. It may not be a problem the school can do anything about but it is still a problem. That's what a standard of education means, whether it's a NCLB-style standardized test or not. Either you think it's A-OK that Jesus is nearly illiterate, or you think that his education has failed, because you (perhaps implicitly) subscribe to some standard that he does not meet. And the point of mandatory testing is to keep schools from simply sweeping Jesus under the rug, or (more classically) deciding that blacks/latinos/kids from the poor district just can't learn, so it's not worth trying to teach them.


NCLB was, I think, put together with the traditional economists' view that the way to get more of a desirable outcome is to give it more money, and give the undesirable outcome less money, and let the market respond. Apply that to education: the market is trying to respond by simply not educating a big chunk of the population. Perhaps as COD says this was the secret goal all along, but either way, the problem is not with standardized assessments, the problem is with what you do with the results of those tests.
posted by hattifattener at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2011


You seem to be arguing that because some 12-year-olds won't be able to read and understand a story, therefore no 12-year-olds should be expected to.

No, I'm saying that a full 95% of students could not answer that question.

That question is typical for MCAS.

I'm only a teacher, not an expert in test creation or statistics or whatever, but when I administer this test and see 25 kids all freeze at the same point 4 minutes into the 3+ hour long assessment, then months later get the results that showed 95% of them got this question wrong, I can guarantee you that we didn't fail them.

The test did.

But to the point of Duncan's decision: there's an incredibly dopey educational policy that barely anyone agrees with as a way to improve schools. But instead of scrapping and rethinking the plan he decides to implement a waiver process, which will now bury districts in more paperwork and spend who-knows-what in having to assess waiver applications.

It boggles the mind.
posted by kinetic at 5:29 AM on August 13, 2011


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