Opting out.
April 19, 2015 12:36 PM   Subscribe

 
A few days ago Atrios posted this USA Today article about the boycott, specifically to call out this quote:
Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats for Education Reform.

"Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs," she said. "How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn't clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data.
Rarely is the question asked: is our children propping up real estate values?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:45 PM on April 19, 2015 [221 favorites]


"Oh we need a national standard test! We NEED PARCC".

We've have the NAEP since 1969.
posted by The Giant Squid at 12:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jesus christ, these blogs are atrocious. Complaining about the audacity of expecting students to have vocabularies.

The genius at Pearson who put that article on the sixth-grade test should take his nimbi and his plinth and go contemplate his belly button in whatever corner of that Belgian castle he chooses. The members of the State Education Department who approved the article’s inclusion should go with him.

Disgusting.
posted by kafziel at 12:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Funding of schools based on the local property tax base is the greatest trick the devil ever pulled.
posted by murphy slaw at 1:00 PM on April 19, 2015 [118 favorites]


Jesus christ, these blogs are atrocious. Complaining about the audacity of expecting students to have vocabularies.

Some of the vocabulary words, sure. But paroxysm? For an 11 year old?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


I always wondered what went wrong in my life to get me where I am now, and now I know. I didn't know what the plural of nimbus was until I just went and looked it up. Things should start improving now, but I want to defenestrate the teachers who never gave me a proper vocabulary.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think this is great. I was happy to see my hometown on that list. These corporations really are out of control and it's nice that someone is standing up to them.
posted by bleep at 1:05 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


paroxysm? For an 11 year old?

You say this in the manner of a rhetorical question, as though the answer is obvious. It is not. Paroxysm does not seem like an especially difficult word to me, nor beyond the powers of an 11-year old to learn or spell.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:05 PM on April 19, 2015 [36 favorites]


Some of the vocabulary words, sure. But paroxysm? For an 11 year old?
I would assume that you would want to put test questions on there that, realistically, no child taking the test would know. Otherwise, you don't really know how high the highest scores are. If they get every questions right, you have no idea where their knowledge ends.

Don't get me wrong, I think that testing our kids to death has very little to do with learning and a whole lot to do with breaking public schools and teachers' unions.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2015 [53 favorites]


I tested my third-graders last week, and part of the ELA test is called a performance task and it takes place over the course of three days. The first day is a classroom/small group discussion about a topic, and my kids were great at it because that's kind of how we learn about stuff anyway, and they enjoy discussing things and generating ideas and solutions.

BUT...

The next day was the actual TEST part of the test and they were required to:

- read a couple of articles about the topic
- answer a couple of multiple choice questions
- plan, write, edit, and revise a multiple paragraph essay about the topic

Now, the third grade writing standards don't mention multiple-paragraph essays at all, and this is the first year we've given the test, so we had no idea it was going to be required.

Also, asking 8-year-olds to plan, write, edit, and revise on a chromebook with an 11-inch screen and a text box that works just about like this comment box does is just mean.

My kids gave it their best, and they wrote some damn good 5-sentence paragraphs, but I just wonder what whomever or whatever is scoring these tests is looking for.

I have a motivated, advanced group of kids, but the test was pretty frustrating for them... it was worse in the other classes, where lots of kids just guessed their way through. I teach in one of the most affluent schools in California, so our test scores are always going to be near the top; I can't even imagine what this test must have been like for the more disadvantaged kids.

Here's the practice test site if you want to check out what the test is like.
posted by Huck500 at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2015 [37 favorites]


There are a lot of words to learn. I'm surprised that people think it's outrageous that a 10 year old should be expected to know any given word. It's not a difficult word for someone who's spent more than 10 years reading and talking and thinking about stuff but jeez. Cut a kid a break.
posted by bleep at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Paroxysm is an SAT word. I have no issue with someone who is 11 knowing the meaning of that word, but it's a college-bound level word.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Some of the vocabulary words, sure. But paroxysm? For an 11 year old?

Absolutely! Look, a test doesn't measure something if a significant percentage of folks get everything right. When you want to do is find the edge of people's knowledge, you want to see how far it goes.

When I was in 5th grade my vocabulary was tested at a 14th grade level. If the test had only included vocabulary words up to say, 11th grade, they would have never been able to determine how good my vocabulary actually was.

Yes, tests that teachers give to determine if you successfully learned the lessons they were teaching should only include information that the teacher already imparted on you. But if you want to test how much math, vocabulary, etc, that a student actually knows, the test should extend beyond their knowledge.
posted by el io at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2015 [29 favorites]


nor beyond the powers of an 11-year old to learn or spell.

The question is whether all 11- year-olds should be expected to be able to spell it, not whether it would be surprising if many 11-year-olds could do so.
posted by bardophile at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


bardophile, yeah, that, and also, it seems obvious that most of the teachers who have spent the past two months teaching for this test had no idea the level of vocabulary that would be on it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


How can we get game designers at Nintendo and Microsoft to start using words like ephemeral and plinth in dialogue between Mario and his pals? Seriously, that would make me very happy.
posted by TreeRooster at 1:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, asking 8-year-olds to plan, write, edit, and revise on a chromebook with an 11-inch screen and a text box that works just about like this comment box does is just mean.

Sounds much more pleasant than to expect 8 year olds to have cursive writing that is legible, and then grade them on their penmanship instead of the content of the words they wrote.

My handwriting has always been atrocious, and I was always graded on my handwriting for english class, regardless of the quality of my writing. That was frustrating. Sorry if my sympathy level isn't great because the comment box wasn't wide enough.

(/get off my lawn already).
posted by el io at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


tests that teachers give to determine if you successfully learned the lessons they were teaching should only include information that the teacher already imparted on you.

The problem is that these test results are taken to indicate what the teachers have imparted to the students. They are not diagnostic, and their primary purpose is to determine whether teachers should retain their jobs and schools should retain their funding.
posted by bardophile at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [35 favorites]


As in "Look out, Luigi, that plinth appears to be solid but is actually ephemeral!"
posted by TreeRooster at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [41 favorites]


Here are the changes to ELA and math testing from 2013: "Changes to New York State Standards, Curricula, and Assessments: ELA and Mathematics"

I don't recall these tests as being terribly difficult, but perhaps they have gotten harder (though it seems that the trend for AP exams is to make them generally easier).

It seems there's a lot of outcry about how discouraging the tests are to the kids (they had tears in their eyes, the teachers couldn't bear to see the kids struggling so hard, etc.) but I feel like that is far more reflective of the American "everybody's a winner!" culture than of a truly inappropriately difficult test. There are a lot of words to know. Shrug. Other countries have far harsher grading systems in which earning a 60% or 70% is already quite impressive, and nobody's complaining.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 1:15 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


If they get every questions right, you have no idea where their knowledge ends.

This isn't, like, an IQ test or something where we're trying to rank every living human being from the smartest to the least smart. The point isn't to be able to accurately tell which 11-year-olds are geniuses who've been reading at an adult level since they were 6. The point is to establish competency at grade level. That means that the questions should all be aimed at competency for grade level. That doesn't mean everybody should get 100%. Because even if you're reasonably smart, at grade level, there may sometimes be one or two words that you're totally literate enough to know, but that you don't remember or you make a mistake or you just somehow missed it. But the test should not be checking to see if you're ready to skip the next five grades. A test for 11-year-olds should be asking questions about knowledge that an average well-educated-but-not-gifted 11-year-old can be expected to have.

If you have to be gifted or have outside-the-school involvement in order to score well, then it's not testing whether the schools are working, it's testing whether the students are smart and/or have involved parents and/or have money, and we don't need tests for that to be required and state-administered.
posted by Sequence at 1:15 PM on April 19, 2015 [95 favorites]


Other countries have far harsher grading systems in which earning a 60% or 70% is already quite impressive, and nobody's complaining.

Again, those systems don't pull funding for schools that don't meet a certain pass rate. They don't fire teachers whose students don't meet percentage improvement targets.
posted by bardophile at 1:18 PM on April 19, 2015 [41 favorites]


Other countries have far harsher grading systems in which earning a 60% or 70% is already quite impressive, and nobody's complaining.

Well, in those countries, I wonder if those tests determine school funding levels and whether teachers get to keep their jobs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


Sequence: " The point isn't to be able to accurately tell which 11-year-olds are geniuses who've been reading at an adult level since they were 6. The point is to establish competency at grade level."

As I understand it, the point of these tests is to also establish how well your teachers are teaching. If ten percent of the class is advanced enough to ace their test and the next grade's, then teachers should be fighting to admit such children to their classrooms to boost their own ratings. Allowing a test to show some level of above grade readiness reduces their incentives to cherry-pick, and reduces the need to manage classroom assignments by scoring.

If you have to be gifted or have outside-the-school involvement in order to score well, then it's not testing whether the schools are working

First off, the definition of 'score well' can be benchmarked. Score 'good enough' as well. But if you have to have outside-the-school help to just make 'good enough', that does not seem like evidence in the 'my school system is working' column.

And it seems possible to design a test that meets diagnostic criteria for both student and teacher. Of course, whether a particular vendor meets that hurdle is another story entirely.
posted by pwnguin at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2015


Stuff tickles down. Bad stuff.

If the funding of the schools is dependent on the results of the test, the officials are going to be held accountable. They in turn will hold the teachers accountable. This means that all these adults are fearing for their jobs.

This in turn means the children will be told overt and over again in no uncertain terms that the tests are extremely important and if they don't do well on them they are letting everybody down. A bad test grade means Mr. Applegate and Principal Angela get fired and is little Chris' fault.

Yeah, I'd cry too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2015 [22 favorites]


So low performing schools are cut, while high performing schools are given more resources?

This is like cutting heathcare to the sick, while giving more generous coverage to the healthy.

Wouldn't it make more sense to just bus the kids from the low-end school to the upper-end one?
posted by bonehead at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2015 [28 favorites]



Some of the vocabulary words, sure. But paroxysm? For an 11 year old?


You'd rather them learn their SAT words from a dodgy, Latin-loving word pusher? Some scruffy Mean Streets sequipedalian? Everyone knows that sort of sick language is a gateway drug to literature! Unless the schools keep this sort of rampant vocabulary in check, we're going to end up with a a bunch of deadbeat liberal arts majors. Or worse . . . poets!
posted by thivaia at 1:32 PM on April 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


If the funding of the schools is dependent on the results of the test, the officials are going to be held accountable. They in turn will hold the teachers accountable. This means that all these adults are fearing for their jobs.

Yeah, if. Not seeing a source for that claim. I'm seeing cites for a requirement of taking the test, but nothing in any of these about pass rates.
posted by kafziel at 1:32 PM on April 19, 2015


As I understand it, the point of these tests is to also establish how well your teachers are teaching.

It is not the primary goal.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is this a failing of NYS's application of Common Core, or a failing of Common Core more generally? That is, how much of the test content is defined by NYS, and to what extent is NYS obligated to use this testing to judge teachers and school systems?
posted by Room 101 at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2015


You'd rather them learn their SAT words from dodgy, Latin-loving word pusher? Some scruffy Mean Streets sequipedalian? Everyone knows that sort of sick language is a gateway drug to literature! Unless the schools keep this sort of rampant vocabulary in check, we're going to end up with a a bunch of deadbeat liberal arts majors. Or worse . . . poets!

Or, you know, we could end up with kids who learn their SAT words at age 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 or 16, and not necessarily at age 11.
posted by Sequence at 1:36 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


They do SO MANY tests now that my kindergartener has already figured out it's over faster if he just answers at random. He's also figured out on the "adaptive" ones that give you harder questions whenever you get one right, that the correct way to end the test is to answer two questions in a row wrong.

He was scoring above the 98th %ile at the beginning of the year; now he's scoring around the 60th and refuses to comply with any directives to take the test seriously. We are urging him to take them seriously, but he's already decided not to. He's also figured out that if they won't let him refuse, and keep trying to MAKE him do it, if he acts up enough, they will send him to the principal's office for the duration of the test.

They do three rounds of three-day diagnostics every year (beginning, middle, and end) and then there's an end-of-year "official" test that counts for teacher retention (by law). This is kindergarteners losing 12 days of an 180-day school year to sitting in a room, squirming, taking test after test after test. (Plus other subject and grade-level specific diagnostics that are generally quicker and more individualized.) Lots of them CANNOT ACTUALLY READ YET and the questions are, obviously, written. And then their teacher keeps or loses her job based on how well she makes 5-year-olds comply with standardized tests and how many of those questions they get right ... and the tests do not care about fine or gross motor skills, history or social studies, comprehension of the rules of 600 forms of tag, ability to eat lunch like a human being among other human beings in the cafeteria, or any of the things kindergarteners really ought to be learning ... it's reading and math, reading and math, reading and math. It's no wonder, if your job depends on it, that the impetus is not to develop your kindergarteners into well-rounded little people who are excited about school and learning, but to make sure that as many of them as possible can pass an end-of-year standardized exam focused on a very small slice of what's necessary to educate children.

I am torn because I know the local district has basically zero control over this and the people who will be punished are his teachers (and his classmates from lower-income homes who are hit hard by funding cuts), so I don't want to encourage him in refusing to cooperate; OTOH, I'm aware that the testing system in place is an absolute farce that does very little to identify effective and ineffective teachers and that takes an ABSURD amount of time away from good pedagogy and I'm not going to force him to participate.

I have no beef with Common Core, or with occasional standardized testing -- though not every year in the elementary grades, certainly -- just with the VOLUME of standardized testing and its insistence that both teachers and students are widgets who can be easily measured by these tests for funding and job retention purposes. It is also literally insane that the method of punishing low scores is reductions in funding or introducing chaos into the school system via "regime change" which we know further reduces scores just from the very act of the change. In my state, some reforms have been necessary -- it was far too difficult to fire clearly bad teachers (it took us two years to fire a guy who never came to work on Mondays or Fridays), let alone the underperformers -- and sometimes you do need to sweep the house clean and totally reorganize a school. But that is a traumatic event for the children and the local community and should be a last resort after several years of increased funding, training, and support.

My district's been using a program that dramatically decreases disciplinary issues in high-poverty elementary schools and increases student achievement, and it increases both student and teacher satisfaction. It costs $1.5 million per year for a school of about 500 students -- about $3,000/student/year. (Which, PROBABLY NOT COINCIDENTALLY, is the amount of difference between our per-pupil spending, about $9500/student/year, and the per-pupil spending of high-performing rich suburban districts in the state, around $13,000/student/year.) We are cutting it this year because we don't HAVE $1.5 million/school. The state won't fund it, the feds won't fund it, and we can't get any local corporate charities to fund it -- although the are willing to pony up that kind of money for a corporate-run charter school (whose parent company is being investigated by the FBI!). We know what to do and we know it works ... it's just not what anybody wants to pay for.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2015 [166 favorites]


Those opting out are wealthy districts where students have never been confronted with tests in which they did not already know all the answers. Being held to account for standards that school systems aren't willing to prepare their students for is what life is like for students in poor school districts every single day.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


something something illegibility.
posted by wuwei at 1:39 PM on April 19, 2015


Re: Common Core, testing and every other "reform" in public education:

FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Look into how much these "reforms" cost. How much does it cost to run the test? How much time does it take out of the school calendar? How much was paid so that teachers could be "trained" on how to implement the Common Core? How much money was made on books about how to implement it, and seminars and lobbying and everything else? (And how many days was I called in to substitute for a teacher going to a seminar or a training day or a district meeting for implementing this stuff?)

Remember that whole "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower warned about? Public education suffers from exactly the same sort of opportunism.

Standardized testing is not about the kids. It's fucking never about the kids.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:42 PM on April 19, 2015 [53 favorites]


I see plenty of non-wealthy districts on there.
posted by bleep at 1:42 PM on April 19, 2015


Prior generations didn't have all these standardized tests did they? I remember taking them maybe once every few years at most. And our parents and grandparents managed to put people on the moon, invent nuclear weapons, build the LHC, and do other cool stuff like that. Just get rid of all the damn testing.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 1:45 PM on April 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


In his remarks, Cuomo dismissed the methods of evaluation currently in place as “baloney,” and stated his intention to institute a new set of measures. If his proposals are approved along with the rest of the state budget ahead of the annual April 1st deadline, *fifty per cent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on his or her students’ scores on the annual state tests* (emphasis added) , with the remaining fifty per cent heavily weighted to include the assessment of an outside observer after a one-time visit. The judgment of the school principal will count for just fifteen per cent of a teacher’s effectiveness rating. Any teacher deemed ineffective for two consecutive years may be fired.


Cuomo's budget passed.
posted by bardophile at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah actually I was surprised which districts are actually refusing the tests. It's not the wealthy districts generally.
posted by JPD at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


gemutlichkeit: "I feel like that is far more reflective of the American "everybody's a winner!" culture than of a truly inappropriately difficult test. "

It's really not. It's that they literally close your school if it fails three years in a row. It can be re-opened with entirely new staff, re-opened with 90% of the same teachers but an entirely new administration, re-opened as a charter school under entirely new management, or re-opened under one of several "improvement plans" where you pay around $6 million to an outside company (for a high school of 800) to implement a "21st century school" which is basically "do the same fucking thing but pay consultants."

It's a reflection of completely broken American funding for schools that rely on local property taxes and already penalize poor schools, and of a completely broken American Congress that does not understand education, or statistics, or poverty, or children, and has no interest in doing so, and of a completely broken American corporate culture that is convinced if we just "benchmark" every fucking thing, people will somehow magically meet the benchmarks because expectations are now clear.

The year the school I mentioned above got sent into reorganization, for example, SIX STUDENTS in that school were killed in neighborhood gun violence. The poverty rate at it was 77%. Food stamps were cut that year, as was unemployment insurance, as was special education funding. The joblessness rate among parents was above 50%. 5% of students were homeless at any given point during the year. The mobility rate was above 60% (this counts how many students enter and leave the school each year; a high mobility rate almost always correlates with a low academic achievement rate because it's a pretty good proxy for how chaotic students' lives are). Frankly it's a FUCKING MIRACLE that 30% of students are reading at grade level.

It has nothing to do with "Everyone's a winner!" and everything to do with "Geez, these kids who live in a violent, impoverished environment with hardly any social supports can't read at grade level? LET'S CLOSE THEIR SCHOOL" as a policy choice. The point isn't to make everyone a winner. The point is to make poor students, students of color, students in special ed, and the teachers who choose to serve those populations, into losers, and punish them for failing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:48 PM on April 19, 2015 [219 favorites]


How can we get game designers at Nintendo and Microsoft to start using words like ephemeral and plinth in dialogue between Mario and his pals

If I ever have a kid, I'm going to make them play 'Typing of the Dead.'
posted by box at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm glad things weren't this wuzzled up when I was a yonker.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


Every parent in every district should opt their child out of every standardized test that is being forced on them. We've spent the last fifteen years with people who want to destroy public education using these tests as their weapon to do so.

The people who say 6th grade kids should know the word paroxysm are missing the fucking point. This is an assault on unions and on the very concept of an educated populace. The tests are policy instruments, and have nothing to do with measuring how well a student is doing.
posted by graymouser at 1:52 PM on April 19, 2015 [63 favorites]


I'm all for kids (and people, in general) having better vocabularies. But, plinth is an esoteric architectural term that I'd bet my last dollar most adults don't know. I only know it because I used to sell architectural millwork.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:52 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


So many "experts" seem to "know" what is wrong with our education system and want to "fix" it, but it's really just a bunch of political ax-grinding. If you want to fix public education, start by funding it adequately and making sure the textbooks aren't written by anti-science luddites in Texas.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:53 PM on April 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


Here's my stance, as someone in the education field. All states and school districts having common standards is a good thing. Look at any other modern nation and you'll see common standards as a given; only the U.S. has such a patchwork system. With common standards, kids should--in theory--get exposed to the same curriculum. Of course, there's the standards and then there's the actual lessons, which can differ wildly, but having a master list of standards is a worthy goal.

New curriculum, like new math and the like? Also a good thing, maybe. New curricula need time to be evaluated, though, and no one ever seems to be happy to let the sauce simmer for as long as it needs. It's always thrown out, started again, repeat.

What's not good about Common Core? Mainly that it was authored not by teachers and educators but by education corporations and moneyed interests. Which dovetails into the main problem of CC, but a problem that most certainly predates CC: testing and assessment. Tests that are just simply bad, bad tests, and teachers' own livelihoods are dependent on students doing well on these bad, bad tests. CC has taken that ball and run with it, but the standardized testing problem dates from far earlier--starting back in the 90s.

tl;dr common standards--good. Common Core--not so good. Testing--pretty much completely terrible.
posted by zardoz at 1:53 PM on April 19, 2015 [31 favorites]


It's really not. It's that they literally close your school if it fails three years in a row

Yes, but there's no obvious reason why "failing" needs to be an 70% score on an "easy" test vs. 50% on a "hard" test (I'm making these numbers up as an illustration). Whether a test has some questions that "go beyond" a grade level has no bearing whatsoever on how many districts fail.
posted by dsfan at 1:55 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whether a test has some questions that "go beyond" a grade level has no bearing whatsoever on how many districts fail.

The first teacher quoted in the WSJ article said that he/she could not answer 25% of the questions on the elementary school test. I'm pretty sure there's a correlation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


Things aren't well and truly fucked up until you hire an outside for-profit company to come in and fuck things up. That's the modern, corporate way.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yes, but there's no obvious reason why "failing" needs to be an 70% score on an "easy" test vs. 50% on a "hard" test (I'm making these numbers up as an illustration). Whether a test has some questions that "go beyond" a grade level has no bearing whatsoever on how many districts fail

If you filled a test with questions I couldn't answer when I was that age I would likely get discouraged and do poorly even on the questions I was prepared for. Testing like that just sounds like a nightmare to me, and I was a pretty damn good standardized test taker in my day.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:05 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Paroxysm is an SAT word. I have no issue with someone who is 11 knowing the meaning of that word, but it's a college-bound level word.

It's also useful for children to know so that they can properly describe their parent's internet behavior.
posted by srboisvert at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: "The first teacher quoted in the WSJ article said that he/she could not answer 25% of the questions on the elementary school test."

The questions are of the "When did you stop hitting your wife?" variety. It's like you're in a police interrogation and you may answer A) Six Months Ago; B) A Year Ago; C) Yesterday; or D) Never

There is no appeal and you may not ask questions to discover whether "never" means "I'm still hitting her" or it means "I never hit her to start with." You are also forbidden from discussing the questions asked during the interrogation with anyone, or you will be sued by a multi-billion dollar corporation and lose your job. You sign a statement to that effect when you distribute the test to your students. The content is secret.

There's a reason the corporations don't want the test questions released and it's not "because it invalidates the test if people know the questions." It's that "THESE TESTS ARE BADLY-WRITTEN BULLSHIT THAT NOBODY WHO LIKES THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WOULD TOLERATE" and the fact that many of the questions are simply unanswerable, or sometimes total nonsense, is something they don't want known.

I was on my local school board when the new testing regime (tied to teacher retention) came in, and we did everything we could to mitigate its effects. But we'd look at questions for, say, a fourth grader, and it would be terrifically unclear, and I'd be able to answer it because a) I knew the mechanics of the fourth-grade curriculum; and b) I knew the standards they were supposed to be testing for; so c) I could work out what standard they were trying to hit with that question and thereby guess the correct answer was that some random passage shows "theme"; because d) I am in my late 30s with two graduate degrees and several years' experience in public education. I can't imagine how a fourth grader was going to read these totally idiotic, badly-constructed passages with incredibly tortured grammar and randomly-inserted vocabulary words that are sometimes incorrect synonyms for the words they replace, and guess the correct answer was "theme."

Every now and then we'd run across a question so grammatically incoherent that I literally could not tell what it was trying to ask, even with all the background knowledge I have.

At least half the language arts questions offered what were arguably multiple correct answers or no correct answers, because they were ambiguously worded, or students who read the passage more closely than test writers correctly figure out there are TWO places you can infer some fact from the other information given, or whatever.

Daniel Pinkwater had one of his short stories bought for these tests, then completely re-written to be total nonsense with bizarre questions attached. And not deliberate Pinkwater-esque nonsense, but something you can make no sense of.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:09 PM on April 19, 2015 [98 favorites]


"Geez, these kids who live in a violent, impoverished environment with hardly any social supports can't read at grade level? LET'S CLOSE THEIR SCHOOL" as a policy choice. The point isn't to make everyone a winner. The point is to make poor students, students of color, students in special ed, and the teachers who choose to serve those populations, into losers, and punish them for failing.

I always conduct the following thought experiment: imagine that those kids all succeeded 100% at grade level, and graduate from high school literate, aware of history, self-disciplined and able to work together. Imagine that they then took a look around at the society they live in, their lives, the lives of their parents, and their opportunities for the future...

How would you feel if your society considered you utterly worthless because of who your parents are?
What would you do about it if you were confident of yourself and your friends?

It makes a lot of the policy choices make more sense.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:18 PM on April 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


It seems there's a lot of outcry about how discouraging the tests are to the kids (they had tears in their eyes, the teachers couldn't bear to see the kids struggling so hard, etc.) but I feel like that is far more reflective of the American "everybody's a winner!" culture than of a truly inappropriately difficult test. There are a lot of words to know. Shrug. Other countries have far harsher grading systems in which earning a 60% or 70% is already quite impressive, and nobody's complaining.

I am not in New York, but my state is currently undergoing the end-of-year round of PARCC testing. After the last round several of my high school students personally apologized to me after the tests because they knew didn't do well and they don't want me to get fired. That's a hard burden to place on kids that has nothing to do with the "everyone's a winner" mentality. (I try to explain to them that my evals are only partially based on their scores, and it's important but not end-of-the-world important, but that makes little impact when they've been ruminating on the thought for hours.)
posted by lilac girl at 2:35 PM on April 19, 2015 [31 favorites]


let's face it - if teachers' jobs are going to be based upon flawed, dubious tests that kids are going to have trouble passing, then the end result is going to be teachers looking for another profession and people who could be teachers deciding there's better career options

result - a totally gutted education system - and perhaps that's what they want
posted by pyramid termite at 2:42 PM on April 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't it make more sense to just bus the kids from the low-end school to the upper-end one?

Well, no. If you did that the upper-end school would then become the low-end school. Or you would have two equally mediocre schools. Or parents with children on the high-end school(s) would move or put their children in private schools. They would then press for a lower school tax levy because why should they be paying so much for something they can't even use? Or better yet they would try to get some sort of voucher program going so taxpayers can help cover the cost of private school tuition.
posted by MikeMc at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Frankly this whole ordeal has me plinthing ephemeral paroxysms.
posted by bracems at 2:54 PM on April 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


The hilariously depressing thing about these exams is the decision to have them in April. For years, people have been complaining that the school year is too short, that students need more time in the classroom to meet standards, that the traditional agrarian calendar is a poor model for defining the academic year etc... And as a result, districts have extended their school years. The last day of school in NYC is now June 26 (more standardized tests take up a good chunk of the end of June). School started September 4th. So why the heck are we testing students on a year's worth of knowledge when there are two entire months worth of school left to go?

If we assume at least a couple of weeks before the tests are spent explicitly on exam review, NYC is only spending about 2/3rds of the school year to actually teach the material that will be tested. How does that possibly give students and teachers the best chance to succeed?
posted by zachlipton at 2:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the problem is that as far as I can tell, 100% of all students are required to pass the tests in order for a school to be considered to be making Adequate Yearly Progress. If a school doesn't make AYP two years in a row, then that school is labeled as "failing." That's every single student in the school who needs to pass, including the kid whose mother went to jail two weeks before the testing period, the kid who has to supervise his four younger siblings until 8 PM because that's when his dad gets home from work, the kid who was out for six weeks because she had pertussis, the kid struggling to manage serious mental health issues. . . every single student in the school.


If a teacher's class test scores don't improve every year, then that teacher is listed as "ineffective" and faces serious career consequences. That means that if your 2015 class performs 40 points above average on the test but your 2016 class performs 38 points above average on the test, you could face pay cuts or firing. That's madness; why punish teachers for maintaining consistent if slightly variable excellence? That's one of the reasons why Washington State has refused to adopt these evaluation standards, which has resulted in us losing our NCLB waiver. Now every single school in Washington State is technically "failing," because achieving a 100% pass rate is impossible.
posted by KathrynT at 2:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [27 favorites]


Here's the practice test site if you want to check out what the test is like.
posted by Huck500 at 1:08 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]


How did other Mefites do on this test? I have a reasonably good command of U.S. English and U.K English plus an unhealthy amount of higher education. However I found several of the questions to be very difficult and a couple of them to be quite incomprehensible.
posted by speug at 2:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


The purpose of these exams is to provide a rationale for dismantling the American public educational system. The tests are designed in such a way as to make them essentially impossible to pass, thus ensuring that all public educational institutions will forever be "failing".

That's really the only thing that's going on here.
posted by Avenger at 3:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [46 favorites]


That's really the only thing that's going on here.

That's not true! There's also the manufacture of the "STEM crisis", with in turn justifies expanding the number of temporary tech workers brought in from overseas as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:06 PM on April 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


New Yorker here - every single one of my friends with kids in those grades has opted out. I raise my plinth to them in a paroxysm of ephemerality.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:09 PM on April 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


If the practice test linked above is representative of what they look like in general, it doesn't seem too far removed from what we did in my own elementary school. I think it's hard for me to approach that with any sense of perspective, as I've always been a strong tester, and comfortable around a keyboard. I believe that the test we did with scantron sheets, complete with spots for essays, really weren't that different, and given the equipment involved, I suspect that they were at least state-wide tests.

Now, it may look like I'm OK with this -- what I'm saying so far is that it's similar to what happened in my state. Kentucky. We were quite bad compared to the rest of the nation. And what I remember being similar to this started in 1990 - I was in 4th grade. The Kentucky Education Reform Act had just been passed. This was a state-wide system that added essays for all subjects and all grade levels, and many multiple choice tests. Of course, it wasn't adaptive - but that may be where the fundamental differences ended.

I know little about how things are today, I do not have a horse in this race. It may be worth reading this write-up of KERA to look for insight as to how much of a difference this really made: http://cber.uky.edu/Downloads/kentucky_education_reform_act.htm
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:19 PM on April 19, 2015


The benchmarking bullshit is creeping into higher ed now, too. Now it's "assessment." Tomorrow it will be "student success." And if you have the temerity to point out that this is all bullshit, you're accused of not caring about the students. "No, look, I really do care about student success. That's why I think this is bullshit."
posted by persona au gratin at 3:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows: I'm a product of IL suburban schools. I didn't know until college how great the disparity was between the rich suburban schools and us, and us and the city schools. It's sinful.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:24 PM on April 19, 2015


well.... at least the tests got harder not easier?
posted by Bwithh at 3:28 PM on April 19, 2015


Wow I just took that practice test and I'm not sure anyone could provide a good interpretation of the short story I had to read about the kid painting with his older brother based on the text using only the options presented.
posted by winna at 3:29 PM on April 19, 2015


More to my point - It's slightly terrifying to me that this doesn't seem any different to me that what I did as a student, because it means that I've never known any other way, and I think if I was a parent, I wouldn't know to challenge it.

It was not a system that worked well for me in terms of education - I learned how to pass standardized tests well, which is probably why I've been able to breeze through career certification tests without ever actually studying. I also learned the art of bullshitting because of the absurd essay questions, which probably came in most useful for interviews and job applications. In other words, it was directly beneficial to me getting a job. I suspect that's probably how many view the schools - to produce workers.

What it was not beneficial for was an actual education. In particular, I'm going back and re-reading world and US history as an adult, as that was such a poor part of my education. I was already an avid reader, and I was technically inclined, so math and english weren't a problem. I suspect that's truly due to being just enough within the socioeconomic thresholds to where books and basic computing were within reach. But I've had to go back and re-learn so many fundamentals.

I can't imagine working through this system if life had dealt me a different hand - I barely graduated as it was, and only because I tested well.

I've never known there to be another way through public education, though. In my limited world there, this is how it has always been.

*Edited for typo - Public schools fail AGAIN.
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:33 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


So, I really wish some folks more knowledgable about Common Core and ed policy nationally could comment here, because there's a bunch of confusion and (I think) wrong information being thrown around.

One major factor here is that while the Common Core standards are now somewhat national, the testing regimes that various states have rolled out are not. So you have a bunch of states using the PARCC test and a different bunch of states using the SBAC tests and then a bunch of states doing their own thing. So (for instance) if the stories out of New York sound horrifying, and you're in CA, your kids won't be seeing the same test. (Or vice versa).

Then of course the implementation of the curriculum and the various testing regimes varies widely. In the CA public schools, thanks to Governor Brown making a stand, last year's testing was considered a test of the test and allowed the state to flush out a bunch of the practical issues around computer-based testing in a huge state. At least at my daughter's school, while this year's testing isn't problem free (from a purely practical getting it done perspective), it's WAY smoother than the practice round last year. States which rushed into the new testing regime

Then of course there's the mix of approaches around testing -- do you just add the new tests on top of whatever you had before, or do you swap out with the new? Some of the stories I'm hearing about REALLY long cycles of testing seem to be in states which couldn't choose and just threw everything at their kids, which seems needlessly punitive.

On the curriculum itself, I have to say it's been really impressive so far. My 3rd grader is loving math in particular, and the different approaches to math pedagogy totally rock in our household. Her teacher is great, but also seems to be digging the new curricula.

I have not yet detected any lurking capitalist/corporatist agenda in the curriculum. You can look for yourself. It's pretty benign.

It does seem like some of the test-makers and publishing companies are making a hash of the changes. This is crappy but hardly new.

I'm definitely weird, though. I think national standards are a good thing. I think testing is (within limits, and when done effectively, and in ways that aren't too burdensome to the students or teachers) a good thing. Apparently these days that makes me an Eeeevil School Reformer?
posted by feckless at 3:42 PM on April 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Funding of schools based on the local property tax base is the greatest trick the devil ever pulled.
posted by murphy slaw at 1:00 PM on April 19 [33 favorites +] [!]


I think I have to stick up for the Devil here: only an American would think up a stinker like that.
posted by klanawa at 3:45 PM on April 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


The purpose of these exams is to provide a rationale for dismantling the American public educational system.

Why not? In the future, if we need someone who can read or write English, we can always farm that task out to someone in India or China.
posted by happyroach at 4:06 PM on April 19, 2015


Let me be clear: I LOVE the idea of national standards. I am cautiously optimistic about the way my district has implemented the curriculum, even. But I can't get behind testing this draconian when the stakes are this high and the consequences for failure are so great.
posted by KathrynT at 4:10 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


My kids go to school in a very high-achieving New York suburban district. We're not opting of the state assessment for our kids simply because the SAT-seasoning benefit of some low-stakes test-room time beats 90 minutes of quiet reading at their desks. I'd still much prefer the time be spent on real instruction, but Albany's one-size-fits-all bias is, in at least this respect, hard to fight.

People who complain about local property taxes supplementing state funding (as they do in the New York suburbs) should recognize that those are the dollars which actually enable high-achieving schools to be independent of, or at least blase about, such silly mandates.

(The USA Today couldn't be more wrong about the reputational impact of state assessments for high-achieving schools. Real estate agents don't mention them and homebuyers don't care about them ... because the top colleges don't care about them, and college admission is the only reputational metric that matters. The only standardized tests which colleges use to benchmark school districts, and norm GPAs, are the SATs and ACTs, and believe me nobody in my town is opting out of those.)
posted by MattD at 4:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's Pearson: "Always Earning!"
posted by Gotanda at 4:13 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


How did other Mefites do on this test?

I wrote an absolutely KILLER essay on why we should get rid of the penny. However, the first portion of the test was very difficult for me to figure out -- it was asking which of four sources were most relevant to various topics, and asked me to justify my answer with two facts from the article. But for at least one of the questions, two of the sources covered the topic in equal depth, but each of them only mentioned one specific fact I could cite. what the hell?
posted by KathrynT at 4:15 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's why I'm hoping for someone to swoop in and drop some knowledge -- what I know about the whole Adequate Yearly Progress thing is that it comes from No Child Left Behind and predates the current Common Core / new testing regime cycle. I also know that the Obama administration has proposed changes to how NCLB is used due to issues with the whole Failing Schools thing.

What I don't know is what any of that really means -- most sources out there are so firmly tied to either the Obama administration ed reform folks, or the "Arne Duncan is trying to destroy public schools" anti-reform folks. And of course everything in education policy land is full of awful terminology and weird acronyms, so navigating it is hard for anyone.
posted by feckless at 4:16 PM on April 19, 2015


Just as an example from the practice test I linked above, the third-grade test has a question that reads:

Maya says that a rectangle cannot also be a rhombus. Show Maya that her statement is not true. Use the connect line tool to draw a rhombus that is also a rectangle.

Ok, so first up your students need to know that a square is a rectangle and also a rhombus. If you teach them the correct definition of these shapes, they should know this, but how many of them can leverage that knowledge to answer this question? The fact is, they spend most of their time thinking about the differences between a square and other kinds of rectangles and rhombuses. I bet quite a few adults would have trouble with it.

But that's not actually the hardest part of answering this question, because now they have to use some pretty non-standard (terrible, really) drawing tools to draw a square on a pretty dense grid. I had kids take 20 minutes on this one question trying to draw it out and still failing because their square was 9x10 instead of 10x10.

I also had kids drawing multiple shapes, testing out different ideas... which is a great idea, but if they settle on one, the method for deletion is also terrible, and it's going to take them another 10 minutes.

I don't know if there's any leeway built into the scoring system, but I know that I actually had trouble eyeballing the dimensions when I tried it. 8 year olds just aren't going to think of making the square like 2x2 to make it easier to draw.

I know this is a practice test, but the questions on the ELA practice test were very similar to those on the actual test. I give the math this week, so we'll see...
posted by Huck500 at 4:16 PM on April 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


feckless: I have not yet detected any lurking capitalist/corporatist agenda in the curriculum.

My small Rhode Island town paid some serious money for a Common Core-based curriculum out of New York, since they signed onto Common Core before we did. All we got were some handouts and quizzes full of typos, obvious copy-and-pasting, and little to distinguish one level of the rubric from another. Not only was the money wasted, but the whole year was a crater. Teachers were trying to spin this straw into gold, and also prepare the kids for the state's first year of PARCC, and it was just a goat rodeo.

The new-ish superintendent says "There's never a good time for change," but I would argue that it's not time for change until you know what you are changing to, and have of way of evaluating the journey. Gaaaaah.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


How did other Mefites do on this test? I have a reasonably good command of U.S. English and U.K English plus an unhealthy amount of higher education. However I found several of the questions to be very difficult and a couple of them to be quite incomprehensible.

Let's just say, I'm sorry Eyebrows McGee, but I think I just got you fired from being a Metafilter Commentator.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:23 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


If a teacher's class test scores don't improve every year, then that teacher is listed as "ineffective" and faces serious career consequences. That means that if your 2015 class performs 40 points above average on the test but your 2016 class performs 38 points above average on the test, you could face pay cuts or firing.

"Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's why I'm hoping for someone to swoop in and drop some knowledge

Did you miss Eyebrows McGee's incredibly informative comments here and here? That seems like a lot of knowledge dropped to me.
posted by KathrynT at 4:29 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


The purpose of these exams is to provide a rationale for dismantling the American public educational system. The tests are designed in such a way as to make them essentially impossible to pass, thus ensuring that all public educational institutions will forever be "failing."

I think we had a post about something similar previously.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:34 PM on April 19, 2015


I didn't! They were great. But also very tied to one state/district. And I know some about what's going on in my state/district. I guess what I'm looking for is more of a national view -- what almost all states have in common right now is that they're rolling out Common Core, and some kind of new testing to go with. But the tests are different (though there are two big groupings), the approaches to rollouts are very different, what materials states and districts are buying is different, and all of the above is related to the No Child Left Behind and subsequent Federal education policy moves in ways that are tangled, complex, and totally under dispute.

And a lot of the discussions around these things seem to glide right over those differences. My hunch is that they really matter.
posted by feckless at 4:36 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


In a couple of the schools I work in parcc has dragged on for over a month because there aren't sufficient functioning computers for the kids to test on. Talk about adding insult to injury in the most underserved of schools.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:38 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


feckless >

On the curriculum itself, I have to say it's been really impressive so far. My 3rd grader is loving math in particular, and the different approaches to math pedagogy totally rock in our household. Her teacher is great, but also seems to be digging the new curricula.

I'm definitely weird, though. I think national standards are a good thing. I think testing is (within limits, and when done effectively, and in ways that aren't too burdensome to the students or teachers) a good thing. Apparently these days that makes me an Eeeevil School Reformer?


Here's a quote from the ninth and final report in a series which interpreted longitudinal data from two reports on NCLB implementation:

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is designed to achieve an ambitious goal: All children will be proficient in reading and mathematics by the 2013–14 school year. A key strategy for achieving this goal is accountability. NCLB holds schools and districts accountable for their students’ mastery of state academic content standards, as measured by state tests, including students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and students receiving special education services.

Emphasis mine. The preoccupation with what's called "accountability," which is baked into policy at the national level, is a huge part of the problem, not necessarily curricula themselves.

Having national standards is fine, and probably a good thing. Testing is not only fine, but very necessary to evaluate learning. New curricula that apply knowledge we have about pedagogy are wonderful, as long as they're implemented in a sensible and not excessively heavy-handed way. The big problems under discussion here are not about curricula, national standards, or testing, per se.

The biggest problem is this crushingly arbitrary, profoundly undemocratic, and morally questionable official policy of making teachers, schools, and districts "accountable" (rather than, say, mainly but not entirely responsible) for student learning, which in at least some states effectively means that teachers and schools themselves are the ones being tested, not students.

In New York at least, they're not testing children to see how well they're learning, they're testing schools and districts to see how much funding they will get. We know that parental income status and other related characteristics (e.g., being ensnared in the depredations of the criminal justice system, especially if you're Black and/or Latino) are strongly correlated with a reduced overall capacity to learn, because of excessive stress in the home, a lack of adequate nutrition, schools supplies, and even an adult at home who can maybe help the child and communicate with the teacher.

So because poor and mostly-minority districts will tend to "underperform," these are being declared failures, at which point they frequently get privatized, and then big business often moves in, taking the public's money but owing them no accounting whatsoever, in stark contrast to the accountability that's mandated from public schools. This process just perpetuates existing systemic inequalities while doing absolutely nothing to improve education, since we know that (for example) charter schools don't educate children any better than public schools, and may even be categorically worse.

Basically, NCLB is not about curricula or about learning. It's about radically reconfiguring autonomy and power in education, and doing so in a way that's antithetical to good education policy, to strong teacher's unions, to democracy itself frankly, and to the best interests of everyone except private education companies and the politicians who ratify the former's business plans as laws of the land.
posted by clockzero at 4:41 PM on April 19, 2015 [34 favorites]


clockzero, do you have a sense of how the NCLB reforms currently moving through the Senate will have on the accountability issue? They seem pretty related to your concerns ...
posted by feckless at 4:48 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


A great article is "Mr Gallup Goes to School." It clearly demonstrated under No Child Left Behind, 98% of schools in the US would be closed down at the end of 2014, under those standards. They had to do something, but not make Pearson a butt load of money. In grad school, I saw them as a threat to all families and children because of their data mining. They started business as a data mining firm, that they got into education, well, those foxes have now eaten all the chickens, what's next on their nightmare farm?

The author of the article closed by stating NCLB was delusional, and was in failure. It was my task to go up and diagram the article. I started with delusional in the middle and went outward, in the spiral of ongoing failure. The professor asked me why start there? I said that was the conclusion the author drew. He stood there blinking, a couple of classmates agreed, I think the professor missed that part of the article, hidden on the back page.

Something real and measurable had to happen for American school children across the board. Being subjectively mined by Pearson isn't it, and a common core is definitely something that has to be in place for the most disadvantaged 30% of American students, whose poor, nomadic parents must live a fluid existence following jobs, or working three jobs. These American students often have no context but uncertainty. They need to learn the same core lessons regardless of where they land. Not only that, the school should have the same extras and enhancements, and the food should be reliably good and nourishing.
posted by Oyéah at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Okay, after my previous jokey post I decided to tackle one real question at least. Question #1 for me signing in for 9th grade English. There may be typos, copy and paste was disabled so I typed it all out.
Energy Digest, June 1980

The Homeowner's Salvation: Solar Power
by Daniella Rayez

In the wake of rising energy costs and depleted resources, President Carter initiated an aggressive program to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal. Congress passed Carter's Public Utility Policies Act in 1978, giving tax credits to homeowners who install solar energy cells in their home. The Energy Tax Act encouraged homeowners to invest in energy conservation by giving them a tax credit of up to $2,000 for home solar devices installed after April 20, 1977.

Today, these solar cells are primarily used to heat water in the home. When sensors attached to the water tank detect that water temperatures are too low, the water is circulated in pipes where heat absorbed by solar energy is transferred to the water. This requires an array of solar panels attached to the home's roof. Initial costs of these panels is quite high, but the money saved through tax credits and monthly energy bills make it a plausible option.

Affordable hot water is a herald of progress; it is hoped that solar energy will soon provide all power a homeowner needs. Dennis Hayes, executive director of the Solar Energy Resource Institute, recently said, "Solar power will offer the United States a clean energy future, decrease our dependence on petroleum, and offer a decentralized approach to solving our energy problems." With added advantages, the cost of a residential-use solar system will certainly go down, giving the people of the United States a cost-effective way to power their homes.

Energy Digest, November 2003.

"Based on the sentences, what can a reader conclude about the author's predictions in 'The Homeowners's Salvation: Solar Energy'? Support your answer with evidence from that text."
The author offers a prediction predicated on the movements of worldwide energy markets and technological developments in the energy industry when she asserts that savings on monthly energy bills will over time make the initial costs of solar panels a worthwhile investment for the average home owner.

She further predicts that ongoing technological development will allow solar power to move beyond providing hot water and enable a home to be totally reliant on solar power for all energy needs. She cites the statement of Dennis Hayes, executive director of the Solar Energy Resource Institute who predicts that, "Solar power will offer the United States a clean energy future, decrease our dependence on petroleum, and offer a decentralized approach to solving our energy problems." She concludes with a prediction that the costs of residential-use solar systems will certainly go down and provide Americans with a cost effective way to power their homes.
The following question has two parts. First, answer part A. Then, answer part B,
Which statement best summarizes the author's central idea in, "The Homeowner's Salvation: Solar Power"?

A: Solar energy is an expensive alternative to fossil fuels.
B: The government is attempting to support the use of solar energy.
C: Solar energy will be a financially sound alternative for many homes in the future.
D: Lawmakers understand that incentives are a wise method for steering the economy.
I don't know the answer. I could say A, it must be expensive because the government has to offer an aggressive program of tax credits to motivate people to buy into it. But maybe it's no longer considered expensive since the tax credits exist. Are we talking in terms of true overall cost or cost to the consumer? Either way, cost is highlighted in the opening paragraph. Should I look for the central idea there? If the version of five paragraph essay I had drilled into my head in school was my starting point, I would look there.

But wait, am I even answering as a contemporary to the Carter Presidency or as a 9th grader in 2015? I know the Obama administration is currently supporting the use of solar energy, but the author is only discussing the policies of Jimmy Carter. The question is about what the author is asserting in their essay, but the question is in the present tense. Is the author arguing that in 2015 the government is supporting solar power? No, they are not. They are arguing that in 1980 at the time the piece was written the government was supporting it. So, I would say that B is wrong based on how the answer is written but could very well be the answer the test taker is looking for based on my experience with this sort of testing.

C is certainly a central argument of the essay too. D is as well. If I eliminated B I would just have to guess between C and D. I honestly don't know the answer. Gun to my head, C, homeowners are in the title though the arguments in the text fall well short of "salvation". But whatever, I've thought way more on this than I could afford to with a bunch of other questions to contemplate.
Which detail from the text best supports your answer in Part A?

A:"In the wake of rising energy costs and depleted resources, President Carter initiated an aggressive program to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal."

B: "Congress passed Carter's Public Utility Policies Act in 1978, giving tax credits to homehowners who install solar energy cells in their home. The Energy Tax Act encouraged homeowners to invest in energy conservation by giving them a tax credit of up to $2,000 for home solar devices installed after April 20, 1977."

C: "Dennis Hayes, executive director of the Solar Energy Resource Institute, recently said, 'Solar power will offer the United States a clean energy future, decrease our depenence on pretoleum, and offer a deceentralized approach to solving our energy problems.'"

D: "With added advantages, the cost of a resential-use solar system will certainly go down, giving the people of the United States a cost-effective way to power their homes."
I can safely answer D, the concluding paragraph, which as far as I can tell is total speculation, but the main point. It's an awful essay that is confusingly out of time and place and context. It's also politically charged considering how environmental issues are handled in America. Don't get me wrong, I love solar power, but I bet if I was raised in West Virginia coal country and was still the smartass that I am I would love to try and argue for "Solar energy is an expensive alternative to fossil fuels," and I think 9th grade West Virginia me would have offered a very intelligent but wrong answer. Solar Cells are no salvation, it's Jimmy Carter's tax credits that are saving you.

The only way I could view this question as something that could tell me about a ninth grader is based on how well they were able to rationalize and present their answers. I don't think you can possibly say there is a true right or wrong on the multiple choice. The only question is if a well reasoned argument can be presented to justify that choice, but the essay comes first! It's all backwards to me.

The website kicked me out before I finished typing all this out, but I'm pretty sure it's C and D.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:41 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Damn, didn't get all the editing done in time. Enjoy the typos. They weren't there the two times I looked before I posted, I swear. :P
posted by Drinky Die at 5:47 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the basis of the title, I think C and D are the correct answers. Clearly, they're all points raised, but the article is called "The Homeowner's Salvation: Solar Power". I think the one answer that refers to homes is probably what they're after. It also really shouldn't take long to get there.
posted by kafziel at 5:51 PM on April 19, 2015


So, is the essential federal policy in USA is to just decrease funding to the schools that need more help to improve? That doesn't make sense. Someone should tell the President to do something about it.
posted by ovvl at 5:56 PM on April 19, 2015


On the basis of the title, I think C and D are the correct answers.

But get this. The third question specifically instructs the student to base their answer on the text. The first on the "sentences." The second doesn't tell you to evaluate the title. But you're right, the title is the best clue, but it's the most simplistic, lazy approach as well.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


If the funding of the schools is dependent on the results of the test, the officials are going to be held accountable. They in turn will hold the teachers accountable. This means that all these adults are fearing for their jobs.

Yeah, if. Not seeing a source for that claim. I'm seeing cites for a requirement of taking the test, but nothing in any of these about pass rates


I think someone referred to it above but see "Cuomo's new state teacher evaluation model' that just got voted in....not high enough test scores=ineffective teacher (x2 years in a row)= possible job loss.

Now...wait to see "high demand for teachers during national shortage especially in low income areas and special needs classes".
posted by bquarters at 6:05 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


And the "if" in the quote above refers to the notion that federal funding is dependent on 95% of all students in the state having taken the test...and the fact that these funding "threats" are being used against staff members and parents in reponse to their dissenting opinions re what's best for students and/or their OWN children.
posted by bquarters at 6:11 PM on April 19, 2015


clockzero, do you have a sense of how the NCLB reforms currently moving through the Senate will have on the accountability issue? They seem pretty related to your concerns ...

That's a good question. Let's see what the reportage on the issue suggests, drawing on the article you linked, and another which was linked to in yours. Quoting first from the latter:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and ranking Democrat Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) want to shift decisions about academic standards, whether and how to evaluate teachers, what to do about low-performing schools and other matters to states and local school districts.

So far, I don't see that this would necessarily be a huge improvement. Devolving policy decisions to the state and local level, historically in America, has been a good way to perpetuate parochial regimes of racial and economic inequality without federal interference (not always, not exclusively, but very often). I don't see why bought-and-paid-for Republican governors wouldn't just continue the bad trends already underway, and considering that Obama is decidedly neoliberal (that is, against robust public goods, supports letting business take as much public money as it can grab) and that he's not on the "right wing" of his party, I imagine many Democratic states might continue the cash grab as well, unfortunately.

“Basically, our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement,” Alexander said in a statement...States would still have to test every student annually in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and report scores by race, income, disabilities and English learners. States would still be required to act to improve the worst-performing schools. But they would decide how to do it — a departure from No Child Left Behind, in which the federal government laid out penalties for failure — and from the policies of the Obama administration, which required states to follow one of four models of school reform.

I don't know. It seems like they're planning to sharply curtail federal autonomy in education while greatly increasing state/local autonomy, but the problem was never really in which level of government had the final say, but rather the policies themselves. If this bill passes, there will be nothing to stop states and localities from permitting poor communities to have advantage taken of them by charter schools and their big business ilk, nor will anyone have any obligation to address the real problems that are largely responsible for a lack of learning -- poverty, both of people and of schools/districts. There's nothing more directly relevant to the variation in student learning than the fundamentally-broken system of school funding. As I think was mentioned upthread, the problem in American K-12 education (at least) is that the structural problems that cause these immense disparities in student outcomes are several steps in the causal chain behind the first moment a kid walks into kindergarten or first grade.

An easy way out is wanted: to dramatically improve student learning and achievement without addressing persistent, systemic injustices (which I'd say are primarily economic, but importantly involved the criminal justice system and some serious gaps in financial consumer protection for the poorest citizens, as well) which make that high level of learning and achievement utterly, unreasonably difficult for kids to reach, even when they badly want to. Since we probably can't solve the problem of poverty very easily, however, there are things that could be done to improve the education system anyway, like having all school funding be disbursed federally on a strictly need-based system. This new bill moves in the opposite direction, letting states have more control.

So this new bill, if it passes, may ameliorate some bad aspects of the current educational regime, but seeing as how its policy changes are orthogonal to the real problems and seem to contain little consideration for promoting equality of access to resources for all students, no matter where they live, I'm not optimistic that it will actually improve education in a meaningful way. There's an important difference between modifying control over bad practices and enacting good ones in good faith.
posted by clockzero at 6:17 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Which statement best summarizes the author's central idea in, "The Homeowner's Salvation: Solar Power"?

This type of question is increasingly common on the released questions I've seen, presumably because the standards make a big deal out of identifying the theme of texts. The problem is that "best" inherently implies that all of the answers are correct, but students are supposed to understand the minds of the test developers well enough to pick the best answer. The item does far more to measure students ability to take the test rather than their understanding of the material.
posted by zachlipton at 6:27 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


feckless: "At least at my daughter's school, while this year's testing isn't problem free (from a purely practical getting it done perspective), it's WAY smoother than the practice round last year. States which rushed into the new testing regime

The problem isn't how SMOOTH the testing is; the problem is that the tests are badly-written tests, that they assess the wrong things, and that they create incredibly perverse incentives where the sole goal of education becomes gaming the tests.

The secondary problem is that these tests are already being used to penalize failing schools, not to provide them with increased assistance.

I have not yet detected any lurking capitalist/corporatist agenda in the curriculum. You can look for yourself. It's pretty benign."

I don't really have a problem with Common Core per se; I think it could be better, but I think they're pretty good standards for a first try at national standards. However, there's clearly a capitalist/corporatist agenda -- it was backed by the US Chamber of Commerce in order to create "workforce-ready" college graduates. This is not exactly wrong, but the purpose of free, universal public education in the United States has always been to create informed citizens able to take on the responsibility of self-government. (Honored more in the breach, I know, but still.) The purpose of Common Core is "to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs. The Common Core focuses on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful." and "These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers." "Citizenship" is only mentioned as an afterthought in the ELA standards, as the very last justification for literacy, and as a weakly-supporting reason for why students should still read literature. And, in fact, it's in the ELA (English Language Arts) standards where I actually DO have a problem with the "corporatist" model of the Common Core, where students must eventually be reading 50% of their material from NON-fiction, which is pushing out great classics of literature for not-so-good informational texts. Now, the "examples" from the Common Core are good and list things like the Gettysburg Address as examples of informational text, but typically only 5 or so per grade level are listed, and it's supposed to make up half of the curriculum, and there is a heavy push from many of the companies providing Common Core materials to have high school students reading and writing business memos as part of their informational text. Again, not exactly a bad thing, but I would rather have high school students reading Huckleberry Finn than learning how to write a memo. I feel the former is more important to the Republic.

Also, the "informational text" situation at the elementary level is, IMHO, a complete clusterfuck. There is an incredibly rich world of fiction and poetry available in K-5; as you may remember from your own elementary school years, the "non-fiction" available at that reading level is all kinda dull, routine, and written for school libraries -- "All about Bugs!" "Let's Learn: Missouri." The massive vacuum created now that 50% of reading has to be "informational texts" had led to a tsunami of militantly mediocre books like "Tsunamis: Nature's Biggest Waves" that your child is now reading instead of "Charlotte's Web" or "Frog and Toad Together" or "Where the Wild Things Are" or even "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," because some of the fiction has to be pushed out to make room for the informational texts.

Now, to be fair, publishers are now racing into the market with higher-quality juvenile non-fiction as well, including juvenile editions of adult non-fiction blockbusters (I think I read that a couple of Michael Pollan's books are being adapted for grade schoolers, for example), but, well, if 90% of everything is crap ...

klanawa: "I think I have to stick up for the Devil here: only an American would think up a stinker like that."

Dude, he immigrated.

feckless: "That's why I'm hoping for someone to swoop in and drop some knowledge -- what I know about the whole Adequate Yearly Progress thing is that it comes from No Child Left Behind and predates the current Common Core / new testing regime cycle. I also know that the Obama administration has proposed changes to how NCLB is used due to issues with the whole Failing Schools thing."

NCLB is still the law. States that agree to Obama's Race To The Top (RT3 or RTTT, even though it ought to be Race to the Top (RttT) as anyone familiar with the rules of English capitalization at a high school level could tell you but WHATEVER) have waivers from NCLB but most of the most-problematic provisions still apply. To qualify for RTTT, states were REQUIRED to pass a law tying teacher retention to student test scores on standardized tests. If you qualified for RTTT, you got the NCLB waiver (just before standards rose to 100% of students meeting standards EVEN THE KIDS IN SPECIAL ED*) so that you wouldn't lose NCLB funding when you got penalized for failing to raise scores, AND you got RTTT money to do RTTT reforms, but you had to comply with the RTTT framework, which included 1) making it easier to create charter schools (which functions as a giveaway of public taxpayer money to private, for-profit corporations); 2) tying teacher retention to student test scores which is stupid for many reasons listed above and also, do you really think that a teacher with 25 students each year has, over three years, provided you with a statistically meaningful sample on which to base their teaching effectiveness? No? You'd fail the 9th-grade math standardized test if you tried to claim that was statistically valid? WELL SUCKS TO BE YOU BECAUSE WE'RE TAKING AWAY PEOPLE'S JOBS BASED ON OUR STATISTICALLY NONSENSICAL RULES; 3) Reorganization frameworks for failing schools that I talked about above, all of which are problematic and two of which involve giving taxpayer money to private, for-profit corporations, and all of which LOWER test scores; 4) adopting common standards, which didn't have to be Common Core but in practice were (and again I have no beef with CC); and 5) building and using data systems, which is also fine but very expensive, and also red meat to the "STOP SPENDING MONEY ON ADMINISTRATORS! SPEND MORE ON TEACHERS! YOU'RE WASTING TAX DOLLARS!" people. So you end up cutting the curriculum department or the assistant principals or the school social workers, who AREN'T required by the law, so you can have fewer administrators, because you have to keep your new data department or lose federal funding.

In Illinois, which has among the worst funding disparities in the nation so it towards the extreme end, in wealthy suburbs approximately 95% of their funding comes from the local property tax base and they don't really have to worry about that small federal funding piece, and can afford an entire data department anyway. In impoverished districts like mine, 1/3 of funding is local, 1/3 is the state "top up," and 1/3 is federal poverty funding. Whenever the state cuts spending -- like this year -- our kids lose teachers and classes. And when the feds say "create a data department or lose 1/3 of your funding" we say "how big a data department, sir, and how many teaching positions should we cut for that?" (PS, I think our data department manager is a rock star, and I like everyone who works in the department, they are great at their jobs. But that is money we shifted away from student contact and student-support positions.)

All this curriculum has to come from somewhere, and for the most part that place is bought, by the MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AT A TIME, from the handful of big textbook publishers, who sell you the books, the practice tests, the worksheets, the workbooks, the teacher guides ... and oh, by the way, we have some software to bundle with it, and we can do your teacher trainings, and I know that you're using science books from 1982 that still list Pluto as a planet, and if you could afford textbooks you would have bought new ones ten years ago, but now you cannot AVOID buying the new ones or your school will lose all its funding when your curriculum doesn't align with Common Core! (And this is absolutely on purpose -- textbook companies lobby BIG for changes to the law at federal and state levels that spur textbook purchasing ... state Boards of Education switching between "whole language" and "phonics" and back again are almost always doing so at the behest of textbook lobbyists who need to sell a whole new set of textbooks. They lobby local school boards too, if your district is big enough (ours was). They spend a LOT OF MONEY ensuring there are changes to the law that ensure that public schools will spend taxpayer money on proprietary, copyrighted textbooks and materials, and they vastly prefer to lock you in to an entire curriculum than sell you books piecemeal. They literally sell you the "extended reading" or "free reading" single-copy fiction books in packages for a whole grade or school a time, so you're locked into their curriculum even for the kids' "free reading." Then in five years a lot of those books will suddenly disappear from supported material and, hm, wouldn't it just be easier to buy a new school library package? Those books are getting pretty worn anyway ...)

*So my son goes to a school that hosts a "severe and profound" program where students with multiple serious mental and physical disabilities go to "school." These are students who are mostly below a mental age of two years, who are unable to feed themselves, who are diapered, who have no mobility; most of them cannot speak and can only understand a limited set of language; many of them also have vision and hearing deficits. Every. Single. One. of those students must be standardized-tested, and Every. Single. One. is expected to be reading and doing math at "grade level." Now, you are allowed to waive a certain number of special ed students, but it isn't nearly enough to account for the actual special ed population of an "average" school (let alone an impoverished school, where special ed rates are often a bit higher, or a school with a specialized unit like this), and even when you "waive" the students out of the standard testing, you have to provide a test to show the students' academic progress, and Every. Single. Student. must be tested. So every year these teachers and support staff now have to go through this farcical charade of administering a test to students who need physical therapy and mental stimulation and frankly fucking medical support services but those are generally only available through schools where parents can receive them free as part of their IEP and their free, appropriate public education; if parents don't send their severely disabled children to school, they receive hardly any services. My son's school will literally never, ever meet the federal standards because they have too many "severe and profound" students and can't "waiver" them all. No matter what they do, they will be labeled a "failing" school, as a penalty for serving that student population. THESE. LAWS. MAKE. NO. SENSE.

Drinky Die: "Let's just say, I'm sorry Eyebrows McGee, but I think I just got you fired from being a Metafilter Commentator."

I don't get it. That wasn't my comment? Maybe I have a reading comprehension problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 PM on April 19, 2015 [57 favorites]


It has nothing to do with "Everyone's a winner!" and everything to do with "Geez, these kids who live in a violent, impoverished environment with hardly any social supports can't read at grade level? LET'S CLOSE THEIR SCHOOL" as a policy choice. The point isn't to make everyone a winner. The point is to make poor students, students of color, students in special ed, and the teachers who choose to serve those populations, into losers, and punish them for failing.

I just want to reiterate what Eyebrows McGee said above and also add "AND PROFIT IN THE PROCESS". Because that is no small part of what is occurring.
posted by bquarters at 7:16 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


oh, I'm late, too long previewing, and Eyebrows McGee totally has this.
posted by bquarters at 7:19 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


bonehead: "Wouldn't it make more sense to just bus the kids from the low-end school to the upper-end one?"

So this was actually part of the precursor to "the worst year of my life" when I was serving as an elected school board member ... NCLB actually DOES require you to give parents the option to let their children go to any school in the district (that isn't selective-entry) if their home school is failing, and you have to pay their transit (which is spendy ... and kinda pollutiony, for that matter). Now, again, it's farcical because it's only within the district and wealthy suburban schools are already their own districts specifically so poor city kids can't go there, so it's pretty meaningless. But, like many urban districts, we have a handful of schools that have a low poverty rate and a highly-educated parent base. So when our worst, highest-poverty schools on the south side failed enough years in a row, those kids whose parents requested it were allowed to transfer their children into the better, wealthier schools on the north side. (I am going to call them south side and north side for clarity.) It will probably not surprise you to know that the highest-poverty schools in my northern, post-industrial urban area are majority-minority and in historically-black neighborhoods (on the south side) and that the highest-wealth schools are majority-white and in newer subdivisions on the north side.

It will probably also not surprise you to know that the north side parents were deeply fucking determined to keep it that way.

So, I got to field a year's worth of calls about "those kids" from "other neighborhoods" who "really should have a right to go to a neighborhood school, you know?" rather than "sitting all day on a bus, it's so exhausting, we know it's bad for their academics" and how kids who are bused "can't really form relationships in the neighborhood so they lose out on that." This is all code for TOO BLACK TOO BLACK TOO BLACK and also POORS POORS POORS. It was also a year's worth of calls where people simply outright said to me that they didn't move to the north end of town so their kids could go to school with black kids (to which I responded, "Unfortunately, Brown v. Board has been the law for 50 years and separate but equal is neither acceptable nor appropriate. I cannot help you but I will certainly pass on your complaint." With names attached, obviously. I somewhat regret saying "unfortunately" because they may have thought I actually thought it was unfortunate instead of meaning "UNFORTUNATELY FOR YOU YOU BIGOT.") I also had a depressing number of calls from people who used the actual N-word. ("That's extremely offensive. Please call me back when you can use appropriate language." *click*) My other favorite tactic was to say, "I hear your concerns about neighborhoods; you know what, you should call $OTHER BOARD MEMBER who's been a major advocate of neighborhood schools for years, she really gets heard on this issue because she's been talking about it for so long," and they would rapidly backpedal and be like, "Well, I just feel more comfortable talking to you because we have more in common." "Like what?" "Our ... kids are close to the same age?" "Oh, don't worry, $OTHER BOARD MEMBER has kids that age too! She's great!" (As you may have guessed, I am white, and $OBM is black. As you also may have guessed, not one single "neighborhood concerns" person was willing to follow up with $OBM.)

ANNNNNNYWAY the very popular principal of this school did NOT want to take the South Side kids, not necessarily because he was racist (although I have some reason to think he was but, whatever, I can't read his heart) but because he knew it would hurt his scores. So (after a variety of drama), he started tacitly encouraging his teachers to cheat to make AYP and overlooking it when they did. So, eventually those kids went to junior high and got tested without cheating and bombed miserably, and prior scores were investigated, and the cheating was uncovered. So, he got fired. So, people were pissed at the school board because we MADE him take THOSE KIDS and that was the reason he had to cheat and got fired! So, OBVIOUSLY, people spent 18 months calling my home with rape threats for firing a popular principal because that is how full-grown adults deal with things. So, I lost my re-election campaign and I was a very sad and traumatized piece of facial hair. I look forward to being amused when their hand-picked replacement ALSO votes to bus kids to their fair school because, hey, it's still federal law!

Anyway, the moral of my story is, parents hate busing.

And the knock-on effect is, resources for the original South Side schools were cut further as students left it, the students whose parents cared about education left the school for the North Side school, and it basically functioned to push South Side schools towards closure for declining enrollment and those that were left had "worse" student populations. We know that peer effects in education are important (in some ways), and that it's better to "disperse" your poor students among middle-class students (where they will achieve at high rates) and your kids who don't care about school among kids with families who do. When you peel off the best-performing students and the students with engaged parents and leave behind a core of kids who don't give a shit AND reduce their funding, you now have a nightmare, and the longer that goes on, the harder it is going to be to turn around and create a culture of academic achievement in that "left behind" school.

(I hear you saying, "But why should those smart poor kids whose parents care about their education have to stay in a shitty school?" I agree! There is not really a great solution to this problem that is school-based, because the solutions are to reduce housing segregation, improve jobs, fund schools better, and improve social services across the board. You can't solve poverty with schools.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 PM on April 19, 2015 [74 favorites]


Side note, we did have parents at another North Side school who said, "Hey, we are noticing these problems with having kids bused in," but instead of "How can we get rid of them?" they asked, "How can we ameliorate those problems, for those kids and our kids?" and they came to the administration for help and then busted their butts to get the PTA out providing those extra resources and it's not perfect, but they are having a lot fewer problems than schools who are just like "Go away, outsiders!" They're trying to fully involve the students and their families from other neighborhoods in the school community, provide opportunities for them to be involved in extracurriculars (sometimes just by arranging carpools), make sure PTA meeting times are at times when parents can get there from the other side of town, etc., to try to make sure the "insider/outsider" divide doesn't create disruption and to try to minimize the financial and culture divides that are there, which a lot of parents tell me they think has made for a healthier school atmosphere even just among neighborhood families (already a diverse neighborhood) because now they're attacking class and race issues head-on instead of trying to ignore them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 PM on April 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


Drinky Die: "Let's just say, I'm sorry Eyebrows McGee, but I think I just got you fired from being a Metafilter Commentator."

I don't get it. That wasn't my comment? Maybe I have a reading comprehension problem.


It was meant to be gallows humor based on how much intelligence, thought, care, emotion, and personal investment you displayed with all of your excellent comments mixed with my extreme depression when looking at the sample test stuff. Sorry I didn't make it clear, not a reading comprehension issue I think.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:06 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


The funding inequality of schools is the result of more than just local taxes.

In driving around various neighborhoods in the Bay Area, I was astounded by a fund-raising sign at a public elementary school in a wealthy neighborhood. I've seen signs like this in typical middle-class neighborhoods. It is usually drawn as a thermometer, showing how close the they are to reaching their goal--usually something like $10,000.

This particular school district's goal was $2 million! And they almost reached it. I think the district consisted of maybe 5 or 6 elementary schools.

Eagads, what is this country coming too?
posted by eye of newt at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm all in favor of writing a paragraph over multiple choice question. Life's problems rarely consist of multiple choice questions.

As for Foam Pants's comment:
Some of the vocabulary words, sure. But paroxysm? For an 11 year old?
I would assume that you would want to put test questions on there that, realistically, no child taking the test would know. Otherwise, you don't really know how high the highest scores are. If they get every questions right, you have no idea where their knowledge ends.


This reminds me of a show I saw about the Japanese educational system. They asked this Japanese Physics Nobel prize winner why Japan was not creating as many Nobel prize winners. He said that because kids study so hard for the standardized test, they have to make them harder and harder to get a range of results, or, as Foam Pants says, to find out where their knowledge ends. The result is that the Nobel prize winner said that the questions have become so tricky that even he would probably fail the test. He was not convinced that the ones who did well would go on to become Nobel prize winners. They would definitely be good test takers though!
posted by eye of newt at 8:40 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


So I'm a public school teacher in California, in one of the richest counties in the state, and probably the country: Marin. I'm teaching in the richest part of Marin: Tiburon. We start SBAC testing a week from tomorrow, and my whole department is scared, having seen the practice tests. Our students are awesome, and have full time access to a school-provided MacBook, as well as private tutors, international travel experience, and every possible advantage in life, and yet we believe our students will struggle with the tasks.

For the ELA test, my 6th graders will be asked to read four essays (all of different genres, including narrative texts, persuasive texts, and expository texts), answer a bunch of questions (with many similar ambiguity issues as have been pointed out up-thread), and write several constructed responses. That's only one part of the test.

And it is...well, crazy.

I'm pretty lucky though - this year, these tests don't mean anything for us. And we also know that our kids are going to score in the upper end of the range, so compared to most schools, we'll do fine.

HOWEVER. I am friends with hundreds of teachers around the country, and their situation is not like mine. The worst is my friend in Ithaca, NY. There are links to Cuomo's policies on teacher evaluations in this thread and elsewhere on the blue. But something I didn't know until she and I talked in depth was that if she gets fired for poor student performance, she loses her credential to teach. They also will be required to spend money out of the school's operating budget to pay for the consultants to come in and be the final part of their evaluation process. So the kids she has, 90& free and reduced lunch, 60% immigrants, many within the last few years, with a huge percentage of English Language Learners, will be the ones who determine whether she can keep her credential. All that despite the fact that NY has refused to properly fund their schools for years, and despite the fact that there is NO evidence that linking test scores to teacher evaluations improves educational outcomes, and despite the fact that the schools near her from wealthy suburban communities are EXEMPT from the evaluation requirements....

It's crazy. This is an awful time to be a teacher. I love my job - it's the only thing I want to do with my life. But it's becoming increasingly bleak in the profession.

If you're interested, this is a particularly good blog post outlining the issues with the Common Core. I actually have no problem with the English standards for 6th grade (other than there are too many to cover in a year), but his arguments are persuasive for why this whole CCSS movement has been bad for kids, for teachers, and for education as a whole.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:42 PM on April 19, 2015 [24 favorites]


Give this article a chance despite its off-putting title: The religious reasons my kids won’t be taking Common Core tests

The author has a blog where she describes one teacher's experiences with the GRADE diagnostic test:
Question twelve put me over the top. But I continued my outward calm, even as I watched the kids squirm, and as some began to lose their focus and their positive demeanor. The mumbling had begun. The sentence I read to the class said something like “she realized she could store her belongings in the bureau.” “Bureau.” There were four pictures to choose from. One was a building that looked like a public “bureau” of the government to me, but I doubted my students would think of that. One was of a tractor. Scratch that. But I looked at my students whose families speak Spanish at home. And I looked at the burro in picture “C.”
It's hard to disagree with the teacher's conclusion: "What a set-up."
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:40 PM on April 19, 2015 [27 favorites]


testing our kids to death has very little to do with learning and a whole lot to do with breaking public schools and teachers' unions.

I'm totally behind the idea that these tests are harmful to education, but this is the first time I've heard about the connection to labor relations. How does that work?
posted by fivebells at 9:49 PM on April 19, 2015


I have no beef with competently designed standardized tests. The SAT, GED, AP, ASVAB, etc. tests have their issues, but they are run by seriously competent organizations and basically never have technical flaws.

But it seems the states have decided to contract out their testing programs to low-bid testing companies with no actual experience or ability to design a good test. It seems like every week we're reading about a bizarre question that made no sense, or accusations of cheating, or the test server crashing and causing a whole batch of students to lose an entire day. It seems like there is no incentive for these companies not to screw up, over and over again.

Just give the testing contract to the College Board, or ACT, or some newly-created national nonprofit already! And do it on paper, technology just creates way too much added complexity when many schools have barely-functional computers in the poor neighborhoods.
posted by miyabo at 10:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's the practice test site if you want to check out what the test is like.

I did the 12th grade test questions. They were very easy for 12th grade, except for one which required you to know or calculate the 25th percentile of the standard normal distribution. I have no idea how they wanted a 12-grader to compute that (I couldn't find a button for it on the provided calculator) but maybe that's something you're expected to just know these days...
posted by fivebells at 10:30 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


testing our kids to death has very little to do with learning and a whole lot to do with breaking public schools and teachers' unions.

I'm totally behind the idea that these tests are harmful to education, but this is the first time I've heard about the connection to labor relations. How does that work?


fivebells - it works two ways. First, there's the blanket scapegoating and demonization of teachers as being lazy, unaccountable & overpaid, when in reality they're the overburdened heroes holding public education together. That scapegoating narrative comes in handy whenever there's a campaign to restrict teachers' rights to engage in collective action. Second, the whole notion of questioning a particular public school's right to exist, and then replacing it, opens the door to charter schools, which in nearly all cases begin with non-unionization as the status quo. And the pro-charter movement, largely funded by aggressively anti-union interests like the Walton family, has been increasingly openly hostile to unions lately, despite previous attempts to portray themselves as union-agnostic.
posted by univac at 10:56 PM on April 19, 2015 [22 favorites]


Thanks, univac.
posted by fivebells at 11:30 PM on April 19, 2015


And the pro-charter movement, largely funded by aggressively anti-union interests like the Walton family, has been increasingly openly hostile to unions lately, despite previous attempts to portray themselves as union-agnostic.

It's not just about dismantling unions — though it is certainly about that — but it is also about investors setting up public schools to fail while pushing privatization, then profiting as they fill the vacuum with various revenue-generating schemes. As one recent example, some background is available here on David Welch, a Silicon Valley billionaire behind the pro-privatization "non-profit" Students Matter, which discusses his numerous investments in charter schools, privatized school programs and textbook companies. The pro-privatization movement is absolutely infested with these scammers. It's just business as usual.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:49 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


I was looking at the training test and lol'd at this from the test selections:

"This is opportunity 1 of 99."


What an exhausting sentence. It tells you there are going to be 99 more 'opportunities' just like the magical opportunity you're currently having.

I really don't know enough about Common Core yet to have an informed opinion so I'll hold off on that, but I do have an opinion on that sentence and the five other appearances of it on the initial screen and I'll say if I didn't already have a hangover, that would make me feel hungover.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:40 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm totally behind the idea that these tests are harmful to education, but this is the first time I've heard about the connection to labor relations. How does that work?

The union – in theory, anyway – makes sure public school teachers have a decent wage (although it’s less than in any other field requiring the same level of higher education and licensing) and certain job protections (it’s not as easy to fire a unionized teacher just because you feel like it as it is other workers).

As you can imagine, many fiscal conservatives, legislators, and administrators don’t like that situation. They would love to be able to save money by firing senior teachers who’ve earned pay increases and replacing them with ones who will work for less. They’d also like to have the same level of micromanagement over teachers that comes with the worker knowing and fearing that his next paycheck depends on the goodwill or whim of the manager. Taking it a step further, many would also like to get rid of public schools altogether and replace them with cheaper for-profit charter schools and/or vouchers for cheaper provate schools where the teachers are paid less overall and have less job security.

So, they do what managers in other fields do: set some arbitrary, nigh-impossible to achieve “goal” with the stipulation that if the worker doesn’t achieve it he forfeits his job.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can't solve poverty with schools.

That was really the point of my bussing comment, and it seems to me the fundamental misguided problem at the core of this program.

It's not like other jurisdictions don't use similar test regimes. Knowing how the school system is working and where the weak spots are isn't an insanely terrible idea. But the ideas of punitive reallocation and teacher decertification are just bizarrely non-functional, anti-functional even. Problems in the particular schools are going to be highly reflective of their social context: a school in an immigrant or depressed area is going to struggle a lot more than one in an affluent district.

Not that school performance being linked to economic status been a surprise to anyone for decades. Assuming good faith, it's an astonishing design for an educational system. It's hard not to see this as a tool for institutionalized economic warfare.
posted by bonehead at 7:54 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was in school, we sang, Monday through Thursday. On Friday, we danced.

There is no classroom more pumped than kids singing the Hawaiian War Chant. And dancing, well, the only time I could hold a girl's hand was when we were square dancing. Even girls I didn't like felt... nice, when I held their hands.

Do kids do this any more? Have we lost this sense of community?
posted by SPrintF at 7:59 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


We're in a Long Island district. Exactly half my third-grader's class sat the test out. I'd say slightly more than half of the 7th grader's grade, too. But we sat for the test. (Well, except for the days with the kid involving an ER visit instead, and I anticipate we'll be making those up.) I sympathize with the parents' motivations a great deal -- I think the way this is going to be used to measure teachers is practically criminal -- but those standardized scores are going to be used as a part of measuring AP placement and acceptance to gifted programs, too. There's varying information on what percentage and how that's calculated, but it's frankly impossible to know who to believe. And it's scary to contemplate skipping the test and losing my kid's chance of AP and all that means for a high-achieving child in the short term, with more engaging material, and over the long term, with college and job opportunities.

So I'm stuck between jumping through the state-mandated hoops to get my kids the right level of coursework vs. helping to support a system that is egregiously counterproductive to learning and retaining excellent teachers. And there are rumors of funding cuts coming since too many kids missed the test, too. This whole situation is so vile and awful. This is working for exactly nobody on the ground. Augh.
posted by Andrhia at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


My new proposal is that if the kids' scores go down, we fire the state legislature. If they go down 3 years in a row, we fire the governor, too.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:58 AM on April 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think the way this is going to be used to measure teachers is practically criminal -- but those standardized scores are going to be used as a part of measuring AP placement and acceptance to gifted programs, too.

I had no idea about that. Great way to blackmail parents.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:06 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like I said, it institutionalizes class warfare. Bad schools in poor neighbourhoods, suffering high unemployment and social decay, or even just those with high immigrant populations don't get AP programs, so whole generations of kids get to stay under-educated and under-employable as a result.
posted by bonehead at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't even remember taking tests until grade two (this was back in the late '70s). I'd say this shit is madness, but of course it's meticulously planned with a specific outcome in mind.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:14 AM on April 20, 2015


We are in a rural district in Texas. We share the *county* with one of the richest school districts in the state, but our elementary schools have 50 year old science books that talk about how some day we'll go to the moon, because tax dollars are not pooled, and Teahdists hate schools.

My son starts his high stakes do-or-die 6th grade tests this week. If I could opt him out, I would. The amount of pressure put on these kids is insane. The entire academic year has been spent training these kids *how* to take this test. And he's in the gifted and talented program, which already had an accelerated learning track.

Let me tell you my experience, moving to a public school system where testing was the all encompassing goal of the academic system.

When we moved here, my son was a 2nd grader, who had done the Iowa assessment that is normal in k-1st. He scored in the top 0.001 percent of the country. He's kind of spooky smart, had been reading on his own for a while, and was asking theoretical questions about math that exceeded my ability to answer without looking things up.

In third grade, he had an amazing teacher, who realized that he wasn't being challenged by the academics, who gave him algebra to do instead of addition, and who gave him free reign in the school library if he finished assigned tasks. As well, we had external input; museum memberships, science museum memberships, library cards, access to a host of smart folks who do interesting things. Life was good and he loved, loved, loved school.

4th grade, they told him to stop doing algebra, and instead learning this ridiculous math system called the "Magic 7", which, by the way does not work once you use double or triple digit integers, and when he pointed out the flaws in the system, as punishment, they made him *teach* the system to other kids to show how he was "wrong", because that's the system the test required. (Until I found out about it, obviously. And so my reputation as being trouble continues...)

In 5th grade, they admitted the Magic 7 was total bullshit, and tried to teach some other ridiculous non-maths way of doing math. Boy got in trouble for doing math the way the Khan Academy and all other standard maths curriculum do math...because I decided that if he wasn't going to get real math instruction, or social studies, or science, or any other topic not tested by The Test, then we had to create those educational opportunities ourselves.

He's in 6th grade now, and has completely lost all interest in academics of any denomination. He's just lost the will to learn in any formalized setting. There's nothing there for him but his friends. The academics are all geared to the Test, the day is geared towards learning to take The Test, we the parents, have gotten no less than 24 messages, flyers, phone calls about The Test, in just the last 3 weeks.

This kid, who could do algebra 3 years ago, who was reading difficult novels at 10, at 12 has just given up. He's barely holding a C-average in math, and these are all topic areas he knows...he just sees no reason to exert himself when he knows the test modality will change, and how they want him to do it will change, so why bother learning anything but how they want him to do it, then fuck off. (As a parent with a strong anti-authoritarian streak, it's difficult for me to motivate him because, it's not like he's wrong, ya know?)

They've destroyed the concept of "reading for pleasure", because now they have to read and mark, and editorial symbol every single paragraph of every single book. No sentence is read for pleasure, or to enjoy the way the writer has put words together, or to breathe in the majesty of the language used by masters. Nothing should be absorbed that will not be tested, and beauty and interpretation are not on the test.

If there were a private school within 30 minutes of here that was affordable, I would have him in private school. But there's not. Around here we've got private Bible schools that think the Flintstones was a documentary, and we've got "charter schools" that perform worse than public schools, and then over by the rich white folks side of the county, there's private schools that start at $25,000 a year, plus expenses. They're good schools, don't get me wrong...but that's more than I paid for my car. And it would mean 4 hours a day in the car for me to drive him to those schools...which means I couldn't get a job that lets me add a Mazda every year to the budget to pay for those schools.

And even if I could overcome those herculean obstacles, that does nothing for the thousands of kids that are still in the system. Our school district has a lot of economically disadvantaged kids. We have a lot of kids who don't speak English at home. We have a lot of kids who come to school hungry.

Testing does not a damn thing to help our district. Food budgets would go a long way to helping. Education grants for books would help, budgets for after-school tutoring, budgets for public health, salaries that reflect how much work teachers do, funding for facilities and arts and trade school classes; these are all things that would help. But high-stakes testing? That doesn't help us at all.


It should be stated here that I do not object to the concept of assessment tests, I think rational testing is a tool in the box to measure if a student understands the curriculum. What I object to is turning the entire academic experience into a worksheet driven, test worshiping Skinner box that benefits nobody but the investors in the testing company and the lamprey-like companies that spring up around it.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 AM on April 20, 2015 [46 favorites]


My husband (public hs teacher in GA) pointed out on Friday that there was still one month (or maybe 5 weeks?) left in the school year, but effectively Friday was the last day of instruction, because the next 4 weeks are given over completely to different kinds of testing.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


dejah420 - that reminds me so much of Harrison Bergeron.

I really Really REALLY wish that a large sect of our populous would stop using dystopian fiction as a handbook. Sigh.

I just Googled the story and found out they all die at end. Sigh again. My 6th grade memory had only focused on the part where Harrison escapes and has been made strong by his handicaps.
posted by sio42 at 10:34 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I promise you I'm not being flip when I say this: reading this thread is like reading some bleak dystopian horror.

dejah420, the story about your kid broke me. And I don't even live in your country. How... how do people do this? How do people get through this? Do vast, vast swathes of the US population just go "well, ok, I'm totally fucked for my entire life, and my kids' lives, and their kids"?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:05 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Fffm, I think most people are so poorly educated that they don't know, don't understand, and are too busy keeping their heads above water to deal with it, even when they do. I'm not kidding when I say 25% or more of the kids in our district don't eat three meals a day. The one they get at lunch may be the only time they eat.

America the great is a myth whose ghost keeps blowing around our ankles, shackling us to some impossible idea of a bootstrap, but the system is so stacked against everyone but the top 20%, that we are maybe a score of years away from true oligarchy.

Or maybe I'm just heartbroken because raising a child has finally broken through my shell of absurd optimism. I'm terrified of the world he will inherit.
posted by dejah420 at 5:05 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Coloradans To Vote On Schools Initiative Mixing Funding, Reforms (13/11/4)
BRUNDIN: Amendment 66 is predicated on the belief that a child's zip code shouldn't determine the quality of his or her education. It targets money at the kids who need it. Hickenlooper explains that high-poverty districts like Denver would get up to 40 percent more money per at-risk student because they're costlier to educate.

HICKENLOOPER: And that money follows the kid. For the first time in the United States, if a kid drops out, the school stops receiving money from the district at that moment.

BRUNDIN: A big incentive, the governor says, for schools to keep students from dropping out. The driving force behind the measure is a young Democratic senator from Denver, Mike Johnston. He says districts with low property tax bases would get more state funding.
Two out of three voters rejected Amendment 66 - "The promise of higher teacher salaries and full-day kindergarten failed to resonate, even in areas where the money would have had the greatest benefit."
We are likely to see many, many more episodes like this in the months and years to come, though there will be variations on the theme. As statewide teacher-evaluation laws, Common Core implementation, tougher assessments, and other reforms really begin influencing suburbia, the ed-reform debate is going to seriously evolve. New fault lines are likely to appear. I’m not sure what this will look like, but if we thought urban ed reform was contentious, just wait.
An Idea For Decreasing Income Segregation And Increasing Economic Mobility
One of the big and under-appreciated problems in this country is income segregation. One way this happens is that higher income neighborhoods use restrictive zoning to keep low-income housing out of their neighborhoods. This is bad for low-income households because it often means effectively keeping them out of better schools, and even keeps them away from areas with better job market access. In their massive study on economic mobility, Chetty et al (2014) found that income segregation and economic mobility at the commuting zone level were related with a correlation of -0.393. The graph below shows that this relationship is pretty clear in the data.

This suggests that decreasing income segregation is one way to improve economic mobility. Another obvious way to do this is to improve college attendance, and the quality of colleges attended, for low-income people. However, simply pursuing an aggressive income-based affirmative action strategy where colleges directly tie acceptance to household income has the perverse effect of disincentivizing higher earnings. That is, if you reward people for lower incomes, you’re effectively increasing the marginal tax rate.

So this brings to mind a policy mechanism that would attack both of these fronts at the same time: decreasing income segregation, and allow for more income-based affirmative action without disincentivizing higher income. You could award college acceptance points based on the average household income of the zip code where a family lives. This mechanism has a lot of positive aspects.

First, it gives high-income neighborhoods incentives to increase the amount of low-income housing. This pushes against the restrictive zoning that often keeps low-income households out of good schools and neighborhoods.

Second, because zip code income is right now a good proxy for household income, it will help more low-income students attend college by making it easier to get accepted.

Third, it does this without negatively impacting the incentives of individual households to earn more. Households don’t help their college acceptance odds by earning less.

An additional twist to this, proposed by Steve Waldmann on twitter, is to award points based on the average income of the k-12 school attended. Zip code is smaller than school district, which is incentivizes more thorough integration. And I think you want integration both in the schools and in the neighborhoods, so I think perhaps a mix of these two would work best
posted by kliuless at 7:42 PM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: “How... how do people do this? How do people get through this? Do vast, vast swathes of the US population just go "well, ok, I'm totally fucked for my entire life, and my kids' lives, and their kids"??”
Yah, pretty much. There was also the cold war, which played a part in a great many Reconstructionists' despair. Of course, I was careful not to have kids precisely to spare myself the feelings you describe. Selfish, I know, but there we are. As for how, booze helps.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the governor of Georgia just signed a bill that puts a referendum on the ballot in November to ask voters, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?” If passed, it would allow the state to "take over" a school district and then give away the tax money to for-profit outfits close the schools, turn them into charters, and fire administrators. God Bless America.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:46 PM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


re: public school funding in colorado...
Here's How Colorado Wants to Spend $58M in Tax Refunds After Weed Sales - "If voters approve the measure, Colorado would see $40 million in pot profits channeled back into education through its public school capital construction assistance fund. Another $12 million would support things like youth programs, marijuana educations and law enforcement. The remaining $6 million would be given to the state's general fund, according to the draft of House Bill 15-1367."
posted by kliuless at 10:56 AM on April 30, 2015


John Oliver talks about standardized testing on This Week Tonight.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:11 AM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


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