Another way the school testing regime is rigged against the impoverished
July 15, 2014 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Meredith Broussard at The Atlantic discusses another way the system of standardized testing is rigged against the underclass - thanks to the incestuous relationship between testmakers and textbook manufacturers, the tests are easy to pass - if the students are taught from the right textbooks, which many poorer districts simply cannot afford.

The piece does go beyond the initial thesis, though - Broussard also discusses how the issue is also one of an intersection of poverty and data - because these school districts have neither the resources nor the knowledge to properly manage information on curricula and related materials, it becomes near impossible for them to determine what is being taught - and whether it synchronizes with the standardized tests.
posted by NoxAeternum (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is really, really time for education funding to be delocalized.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


One problem is that no one is keeping track of what these students need and what they actually have. Another problem is that there’s simply too little money in the education budget. The Elements of Literature textbook costs $114.75. However, in 2012–2013, Tilden (like every other middle school in Philadelphia) was only allocated $30.30 per student to buy books—and that amount, which was barely a quarter the price of one textbook, was supposed to cover every subject, not just one.

And this is the truth of power - the whole point of the system (other than funneling money into the pockets of the book/testing companies) is to create this impossible task and to create despair. Fundamentally, we do not in this country want educated working class citizens, especially citizens of color. We do not want our schools to succeed. What we want to do is to punish, and to moralize and to make money, and to throw people in jail.
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2014 [25 favorites]


After six months of [designing AI software, speaking to teachers and students, sitting in on classrooms, etc], I discovered that the test can be gamed. Not by using a beat-the-test strategy, but by a shockingly low-tech strategy: reading the textbook that contains the answers.
It floors me that "reading the textbook" was the last thing considered
posted by jeather at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Considered by Broussard, that is.
posted by jeather at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2014


Why would it be surprising? Buying textbooks seems to be the last thing considered.
posted by Metafilter Username at 9:01 AM on July 15, 2014


The thing, though, is that these tests are supposed to be evaluating common skills. Not testing on a specific company's prepackaged curriculum.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


Well, the schools I am sure have considered buying textbooks, but cannot afford them. This seems different than a researcher trying to figure out if the tests can be gamed and not considering textbooks as part of the solution (to answering the test questions).

The article is interesting and moves on in much better ways, but this came early and shocked me.
posted by jeather at 9:07 AM on July 15, 2014


The thing is that these tests should be text-agnostic. The whole "read the textbook" point is about the fact that these tests are keyed to a specific product, and as such become easy if the student is taught with that product. Not only does this defeat the purpose of the exam, it funnels money to the textbook makers and puts impoverished districts at a disadvantage.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:13 AM on July 15, 2014 [17 favorites]


This article really buries the lead under a whole lot of 'data is cool! Wheeeeeee!!!! Look at me with the data! Just look at it!'
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:14 AM on July 15, 2014


It is really, really time for education funding to be delocalized.

That'll help to a certain extent, like maybe everyone will get the same textbooks, but there are so many other ways that schools in affluent areas get so much more money than those in poor areas. My school has an annual fundraising goal of $250,000 or so, and that mostly comes from the parents just giving the school money. That pays for extra teachers, aides, computers, art supplies, all kinds of stuff.

Affluent kids also have huge advantages at home, like proper nutrition, computers, parents who don't work three jobs so have the time to help with homework, read to them, etc., all problems that are addressed by government programs to varying degrees in all those countries that are held up in order to point out our (schools in the US) failures.

And I'm pretty sure that the solution to this problem is not to make sure that we give all the students the textbook that matches the test that they'll be taking so that these companies can continue to receive billions of education dollars... calling the relationship incestuous is maybe understating the matter.
posted by Huck500 at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


So glad someone posted this, because it's great, and Meredith is an old friend of mine, so I couldn't do it myself.

Part of the force of this piece, for me, is the way it pushes back on the easy answer "If only there weren't so many administrators everything would be fine!" They got rid of the administrators and the result was that there was nobody in the building to keep track of which books were in which boxes and needed to go to which classroom.

“If the principal doesn’t meet with every parent, deal with every crisis, they get criticized. If they don’t do the invisible stuff, like the paperwork, they’re not going to read about it in the newspaper. So they triage.”
posted by escabeche at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


When I taught I worked on the textbook selection committee. We evaluated texts from the major textbook publishers. Weirdly enough nearly all the readings were identical. This was probably to mirror the Florida State Sunshine Standards.

One thing I was explicity told was, "don't worry about the consumables, we won't have budget for that." The 'consumables' were the workbooks assigned to each student, meant to be consumed by that student with his or her work in them. One workbook came with each textbood, but after that, the school would have to order a new workbook for each student, and that wasn't going to happen.

Standardized testing is rigged, it tests nothing in particular. Does it predict the ability of each student? Does it reflect what students are learning in classrooms? Can standardized testing take into consideration food instability, inadequate housing, abuse or other unwholesome childhood situations? Is there a version for speakers of English as a second language? Resoundingly, NO!

I damn near lost my mind over the FCAT, a miserable shitty test that we taught from January through test date in late April. Four months teaching something that had NO application in real life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing is that these tests should be text-agnostic.

I agree with that -- my point is simply that if you are writing an AI program to game the tests, the idea that the texts are an important input is a huge blind spot. Then you will almost certainly see immediately that the choice of text matters, it shouldn't be 6 months to figure this out.

Not only does this defeat the purpose of the exam, it funnels money to the textbook makers and puts impoverished districts at a disadvantage.

Again, I agree. My comment was not meant to suggest that of course a state-wide test should require a textbook made by the same company (it should not) but that a researcher should have considered textbooks as an input to right answers on an exam.
posted by jeather at 9:21 AM on July 15, 2014


Oh man. So much to say, as a teacher (sub, so I get around various levels and various schools in Seattle) AND as someone who has done test grading for Pearson.

Test grading works like this: Pearson (I don't know if the other two work the same way) puts out ads for the temporary job of grading tests, requiring a college degree and hoping for teachers, but in both of my cohorts of 40-60 people, there were maybe a handful of us with teaching certification & experience. You spend a work shift (4 hours, maybe a second shift if things are complicated) going over the rubric and grading a few practice tests, and you have a little bit of open Q & A about sample answers. The grading coordinator (your supervisor) does his/her best to "calibrate" the team so everyone is grading consistently.

In both jobs I worked, I saw a strong, good-faith effort to grade consistently and fairly. I saw people much more likely to give a kid the benefit of a doubt rather than try to weed out weak answers or grade with a "gotcha" ethic. I also saw the rubrics break down almost every time. And yes, I saw plenty of evidence to support the stuff in this article. The graders get tests in batches that are sorted by individual schools (naturally), but one can see dramatic shifts in performance occur when grading moves from one school to another.

One also gets the occasional test booklet that not only answers the test prompt, but then goes on to explain why the whole question is stupid and makes no sense as written. From a 7th grader.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:21 AM on July 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


There are other issues. My cousin, very successful, trying to bring back his high school to life. It taught students that generated at least 3billionairs, and 23 Nobel prize winners...Now the school going down the tubes. School gets money relative to number of students but the numbers sinking rapidly and the school close to being shut down. Why? To get away from local schooling for students from local areas, the change allowed bussing to schools much further away and so over time, students fleeing to what they assume as better schools, and as a result, those schools getting more and more money and schools "left behind" get less and less...This a real problem Why happening? Because it is easier to accept bussing and keep minorities in same geographical place and thus feel that all is now fair.
posted by Postroad at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


> This article really buries the lead under a whole lot of 'data is cool! Wheeeeeee!!!! Look at me with the data! Just look at it!'

No, it goes straight to the conclusion. This is the lede: "The companies that create the most important state and national exams also publish textbooks that contain many of the answers. Unfortunately, low-income school districts can’t afford to buy them."

Backing that conclusion with numbers is killer. Nothing is as effective as being able to afford one particular publisher's textbook for each exam. It's as if cheating had been formalized by federal mandate. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. So proof is offered.
posted by ardgedee at 9:27 AM on July 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Also, I used to think it was a sin to burn books until I tried working with the "Everyday Math" curriculum. Each time I've tried to help a kid using those books, I've had to put the textbook aside. Those books do crazy things. They introduce a concept that can be difficult for a kid -- say, negative numbers -- and then the first couple of example problems they offer will include other complicated shit like fractions (requiring you to find a common denominator), because clearly the first time a kid tackles a new concept it should be done in as difficult a manner as possible, right?

At one point, sitting in a teacher break room (which are often toxic environments--I rarely go there), I expressed my disgust with those books and said that the salespeople for that company must have done a spectacular song and dance to get anyone to buy their crap. A math teacher in the room gave me a patronizing chuckle and said that the teachers and the students would learn to adjust to the books. I had to wonder about the damage that would be done to those particular students. And then I realized that the patronizing math teacher was part of the group that OK'd the books for his district.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:29 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


argedee: I agree, that's the key point in this article, and she does goes into the incestuous relationships that make that happen. But I don't agree that the way the article is written really highlights that as the core issue. There's too much spotlight on the methodology, even the avenues of research that proved fruitless.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:41 AM on July 15, 2014


I've often thought that if I somehow ended up with major philanthropist type money (yeah, right) I'd use a big chunk of it to buy up the rights to a widely-used, well approved curriculum/textbook/workbook collection (maybe you'd have to LBO the publisher), and put them under some kind of cc share-alike license so that they could be customized to a state or school's needs and updated as standards change.

If I had even more, I'd endow a foundation to update the best versions yearly, create test materials, grading rubrics, and encourage printers to compete in offering low-cost hardcopy to low-income schools.

It's a fantasy, but even in my dream-world I never thought of what the impact of creating standardized tests to match the curriculum could be. I have little to do with education, and that level of corporate incest just nauseates me.

It's probably a daydream even for those few who do have that kind of money: the political pushback from the well-connected corps who rely on regular textbook sales for their revenue would be staggering. But if executed well it really could be a done-once, done-forever kind of fix. And it's certainly nicer to daydream about than "what would I do with a sailboat" or "wouldn't it be nicer to fly first"
posted by CHoldredge at 9:44 AM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


And how much are we American taxpayers enriching the textbook/testing industry even as we fail to find the money to provide every child with adequate resources- decent school buildings, highly-competent teachers, textbooks, supplies, etc.-?

Greed rules our educational system at all levels. I work/teach at the college level where students often spend more than $2,000. a year on books, and the greedy publishers keep coming out with new versions every year or two, making it difficult for students to find cheap used books. In my experience teaching at various levels- from Head Start to college- I have observed that the less-prestigious the institution is the more likely its administrators insist on a packaged curriculum. At elite institutions of all levels teachers have more freedom and more time to create their own curriculum, one that is both more thorough and less costly.
posted by mareli at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Cohen and I arrived at the math department “book closet,” which was actually just a corner inside the locked and empty office of the math department chairperson. “Here’s where we keep the extra books,” he said, gesturing to two short wooden bookshelves. A medium-sized box with open flaps sat on the floor. Cohen looked inside. “Well, we found the AP Calculus books,” he said. The box was filled with brand-new copies of Fast Track to 5.


This is literally a scene from "The Wire" (Season 4 spoilers), and that's disturbing.


Also, I used to think it was a sin to burn books until I tried working with the "Everyday Math" curriculum. Each time I've tried to help a kid using those books, I've had to put the textbook aside.


I had "Everyday Math" in Middle School, and I remember being vaguely frustrated- the problems at the ends of the lessons would often include a final problem that included some concept we hadn't learned yet and were supposed to just figure out on our own. This included, if I remember correctly, algebra. Seriously- we had to "balance the equation" on a scale, and we just had to sort of...figure out how algebra worked.

Which was great for all of the math-minded kids in the class. Not so great for everyone else.
posted by damayanti at 9:54 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


...these tests are supposed to be evaluating common skills. Not testing on a specific company's prepackaged curriculum.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *sob*
posted by wenestvedt at 10:02 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]





This is literally a scene from "The Wire" (Season 4 spoilers), and that's disturbing.

Dude, The Wire that featured teaching in an inner-city school...that shit was a documentary.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:18 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


CHoldredge : ...I'd use a big chunk of it to buy up the rights to a widely-used, well approved curriculum/textbook/workbook collection...and put them under some kind of cc share-alike license so that they could be customized to a state or school's needs and updated as standards change.

That is a wonderful, amazing dream. I think I may have my first argument in favor of $100-million lottery jackpots!

If I had even more, I'd endow a foundation to update the best versions yearly, create test materials, grading rubrics, and encourage printers to compete in offering low-cost hardcopy to low-income schools.

Yeah, definitely save up until you can move on to the second part of your dream!

My town rolled out a lot of the "EgageNY" curriculum last year. (N.b.: we're not in NY, we're in RI.) Most of the handouts were kind of homemade-looking, and they still said "EngageNY" all over. They retained all their original, volunteer-made typographical errors and *cough* rustic first-generation charm.

Oh, maybe I ought to have rolled up my sleeves and submitted some improved versions, but the town had paid six figures for the damn incomplete, shoddy things, and so I felt that maybe I shouldn't have to fix them for free. But now it's a year later and we're out a bunch of dough, the kids lost a year to crummy materials, and everyone's spirit is just a little more broken. (Well, maybe just the teachers, parents, and kids: the administrators are still 100% on-board!)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:27 AM on July 15, 2014


Greed rules our educational system society at all levels.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


“Wall Street and the Schoolhouse: An Interview with David Kaib,” Alexis Goldstein, Because Finance is BORING, 30 June 2014
I wanted to have David on the show because he had a very cool series of articles about the overlap between Wall Street and the ideologies of Wall Street and the ideologies of Teach for America, and the corporate educational reform movement.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:09 AM on July 15, 2014


The poorer schools just need to sacrifice teachers' jobs to the God of Privatization and he will make it rain test scores.
posted by univac at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Discussions about education are ultimately ones about the adults making policy decisions, and the ones whose children are participating in it.

In the UK, it's pretty simple: if you're wealthy, you're either sending your kids to private schools or moving to the nice catchment areas or getting religion to get them into the nice (grant-assisted) parochial schools. And if you have the power to change broad-based public education, you're still part of a social milieu that has opted out of broad-based public education, because one of the key Middle Class Adult Skills is ensuring that your kids (if you have them) don't go to Bogstandard Comp.

In the US, it's a bit more complicated, but it makes more sense if you see all of this as a test of Middle Class Adult Skills -- wealth and willingness to move into a good school district, pay for additional tuition, do all the extracurricular activities, buy the textbooks.

Standardised testing is such a weird class-based racket. It turns poor kids into unpaid school inspectors, while serving to perpetuate the privileges of the affluent middle class. I'd cynically argue that the kind of parents who benefit the most are the ones whose own work most resembles the middleman / skimmer role of testing companies.
posted by holgate at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: I work in the standardized testing industry, helping develop next-generation tests for Common Core math, amongst other things.

While I do have considerable insider knowledge compared to this author, there is no excuse for his bending the facts to fit his perceptions. This article contains so many factual errors and misstatements I hardly know where to begin.

But I do know where I would begin. The problem with standardized testing in the Philadelphia school system is the teachers and administrators.

Charges in 'culture of cheating' at Philadelphia school

State presses criminal charges against 5 Philadelphia educators in cheating scandal

This is not just a problem at one school. This problem is so widespread in Philadelphia, to the point that the Pennsylvania Board of Education and the Attorney General's office implemented a strict new test protocol throughout the city, which prohibits administrators and teachers from any involvement in the test, and brings in proctors from outside the school to handle everything. Result: most schools's test scores plummeted, some as much as 30%. This is proof of widespread cheating on standardized tests.

So the problem is that teachers had no reason to bother teaching their kids a damn thing, if they could just fake the test results by themselves. This is one of the things standardized testing is supposed to catch, and is one of the reasons why these tests are so vehemently opposed by teachers.

The author does note that he attended a School Reform Commission meeting, and mentioned several schools were closed, but he does not give any reasons why the commission even exists. It exists to correct the systemic corruption within the school system.

But none of that is in the article.

The central thesis of this article is wrong. He claims that the textbook publishers are also writing the standardized tests, so the only way to pass the test is to use their textbooks. This is completely wrong. The PSSA is written by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The handwritten essay answers are scored according to standards set by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education.

As proof of his concept, he quotes from the 3rd grade math scoring rubric, a question about even numbers. He says that the specific type of answer is only contained within a textbook published by McGraw-Hill. That is incorrect. The basic concept being tested is that an even number is divisible by 2, an acceptable answer is that it can be divided equally. But this specific type of question does not come from McGraw-Hill, it comes from the Common Core Math standards, which were written primarily by state Departments of Education. Let's go read the standard:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.OA.C.3
Determine whether a group of objects (up to 20) has an odd or even number of members, e.g., by pairing objects or counting them by 2s; write an equation to express an even number as a sum of two equal addends.


That is from the second grade standard. The basic concept behind this question should be within the grasp of a second grader. It is further developed in the third grade CC standard:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.OA.D.9
Identify arithmetic patterns (including patterns in the addition table or multiplication table), and explain them using properties of operations. For example, observe that 4 times a number is always even, and explain why 4 times a number can be decomposed into two equal addends.


There are only so many ways you can teach the concept of even numbers. But the author claims that only the McGraw-Hill textbook contains the concept of even numbers being divisible into two equal groups. This concept comes from Common Core, not the textbook company. McGraw Hill is doing their job properly, they are writing textbooks that teach the concepts that Common Core requires.

These standards are openly published and the states usually provide more detailed information about how the schools should teach the concepts. We call these materials "professional development" and they are intended to help the teachers become better at their job, and better at helping kids develop critical thinking skills rather than rote memorization. These professional development materials are not just intended to make teachers better at delivering the content so they can "teach to the test."

Now for some strange reason, the author links to a sketchy article from the NY Post (always a hotbed of intellectual theory ROFL) that claims Pearson used a passage from a text in both their textbook and the NY Regent's new Common Core test. Well the last time I checked, Philadelphia was not in the state of New York. Nor did Pearson have any involvement in the Pennsylvania test system.

As the final damning evidence of conspiracy, the author claims that a nebulous company Data Recognition Corporation is merely a front for McGraw-Hill's textbook publishing and test development. But the are not so nebulous, they published specific details about what they do for the Penn Dept. of Ed. There is almost no controversy over multiple-choice testing, that is all done by computer from optical scan forms where the kids fill in the little ovals with a #2 pencil. The controversy is about hand written tests that can only be evaluated by human beings, this is called Handscoring. Their web page is mostly educational jargon so I'll explain it a little.

The process starts with "rangefinding." School boards and teachers go through thousands of test responses, looking for a range of papers that represent the type of answers students will write. DRC will do the data processing, scanning the handwritten papers, delivering them to the rangefinders, and then collating the standard scores assigned by the school boards and teachers. The rangefinders' job is to locate a few sample papers that exemplify each score point. These will be used to write a rubric, a set of annotated papers and guidelines to teach scorers how to recognize each score point, so they can score real papers correctly.

The next step is described as Rubric Validation. These rangefinder test papers are described in detail about how they conform to the rubric as interpreted by the Penn Dept of Ed. These are then subjected to further testing, under Rubric Development and Editing. Typically the rubric is given to a new group of teachers who weren't involved with test development, then they score a very large number of student papers according to that rubric. This helps see if the rubric realistically represents the type of responses.

The rest of what they described is basically data processing. It is all delivered according to standards set by the Penn Dept. of Ed, not McGraw Hill.

The way I usually describe it, is there are three tests that must be performed before any test is used in actual standardized test results. You must test the questions, the scorers, and then the students.

First, the questions are tested. The questions are given to real students, although they are sample tests and no scores are returned. This is just to see if the kids understand the question as it is written and can answer it clearly. Also it is intended to tell if the questions are too difficult or too easy. Second, the scorers are tested. It has to be determined if professional scorers and educators can reliably give a proper score to the real-world answers given by students. Sometimes this is impossible, the rubric is too subtle to tell two score points apart, so the rubric is adjusted to make it clearer what each score point requires. Only after these two developmental stages, are the students tested. But before the test goes out to all students and "high stakes" scores are delivered, the test is usually given to a sample population of students, to do a wider statistical analysis of responses. This helps "normalize" the score range, to help fine-tune the score points in the rubric, and to determine how much weight to give each question on the test (amongst many other boring technical details). Only after all these three stages are the tests ready for use by the schools.

And even after the test goes live and results given to the schools, the final scores are analyzed to help develop future tests, and help determine how to improve the tests next year. Each year's test requires an entirely new set of questions, since you can't re-use the same questions.

But none of this is relevant to the author. He wants to see a conspiracy, and lashes out at the duplicity of the textbook publishers and testing companies. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand how standardized testing works. McGraw Hill is not the only source of Common Core textbooks. You don't even have to buy them from a big publisher. If the Common Core textbooks are not widely distributed within the system, that is probably because they were only published in 2012, and Pennsylvania is only committed to using Common Core by 2015. The Everyday Math book is an early Common Core text, and schools using it today are committed to improving the education of their students.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:38 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's written by Meredith Broussard, a woman. So "he" doesn't want anything.

But yes, we know that you can reliably be counted upon to defend your employer and standardized testing against any criticism. It would have been nice if you had actually engaged further with the article and not just spun out in a sputtering apoplexy.

"The central thesis of this article is wrong. He claims that the textbook publishers are also writing the standardized tests, so the only way to pass the test is to use their textbooks. This is completely wrong. The PSSA is written by the Penn. Dept. of Education. The handwritten essay answers are scored according to standards set by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education."

A link to a survey did not actually back up your contention, and the PSSA was written by outside vendors before.

Basically, I don't have time to go through and fisk your comment, but it engaged with very little of the actual text, relied on ad hominem attacks (e.g. on the NY Post without regard to content), and made wild cheating allegations the main explanation, something that seems pretty damn dubious as an explanation of poor achievement levels — if they're cheating, they should be cheating to pass, not to fail, but they're failing.
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Oh, hey, turned it up for you directly: The Data Recognition Corporation writes the tests, exactly like the article lays out. If you disagree, you should take it up with DRC, who publish an annual technical report (PDF) describing their development process. (alternate PDF link)

So, your criticism is invalid. For the rest of this conversation, assume that the Atlantic has fact checkers and that the author isn't in a conspiracy against you.
posted by klangklangston at 7:18 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh, hey, turned it up for you directly: The Data Recognition Corporation writes the tests, exactly like the article lays out.

That PDF specifically points to the Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors and Eligible Content, where the "item content" (test questions) originate.

Buried in Appendix D, page 1, Item and Test Development Process:

Item and test development specialists identify the writers who will write the test items (test development specialists or other professional item writers, subcontractors, etc.), the estimated number of writers needed, the qualifications of writers, and the approximate number of test items to be submitted by each source.

On page 284:

DRC and WestEd selected qualified item writers and provided training to help ensure they wrote high-quality items. Each newly-developed item was first reviewed by content specialists and editors at DRC and/or WestEd to make sure that all items measured the intended Assessment Anchors..

WestEd is a nonprofit educational research institution, and they do not publish textbooks. DRC is a data processing company. They don't write the items, they select item writers and make sure they work in accordance with the Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors. Their job is administrative.

I work directly with content produced by Item Writers. The industry standard is that Item Writers are required to have full time teaching experience at the grade level, so they are almost exclusively full-time teachers who do the item writing as a second job. It's only a part time job, usually only once a year.

You are missing the point. The author asserts there is collusion between the textbook authors and the test authors. No. There is collusion between teachers and test authors, because teachers ARE the test authors. That is the way it is supposed to be.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:20 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Having gone through the links, I'm really feeling klang's position here.

Which is weird, because in my experience you two are equally honest commenters.

Need to think.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:43 PM on July 15, 2014


damayanti: "Cohen and I arrived at the math department “book closet,” which was actually just a corner inside the locked and empty office of the math department chairperson. “Here’s where we keep the extra books,” he said, gesturing to two short wooden bookshelves. A medium-sized box with open flaps sat on the floor. Cohen looked inside. “Well, we found the AP Calculus books,” he said. The box was filled with brand-new copies of Fast Track to 5.
This is literally a scene from "The Wire" (Season 4 spoilers), and that's disturbing.
"

We finally, FINALLY put bar codes on our books and put into place an up-to-date inventorying system using scanners and computers (rather than little slips of paper and boxes for sorting them). Two years ago less than 50% of our books got to students within the first month of school; now 90% of the books get to students within the first week. The bar-coding (of texts for 14,000 students), system update, and warehouse overhaul cost around $700,000 (a lot of which was the man-hours for getting it all done in 60 days so the books could taken from students in June and returned in August). We got CRUCIFIED, absolutely crucified, for the one-time cost of bringing the system into the late 20th century. People couldn't BELIEVE how wasteful it was that we were spending $700,000 on something as trivial as BAR CODES and WAREHOUSE ORGANIZATION. (Of course the same people complain bitterly that the students don't have their textbooks a month into school.)

And yep, we had a principal who would take delivery of all the books, put them on the gym balcony, and just ignore them. Some teachers taught without texts for six months. (He's been fired. He's suing.)

We spent several million to update our textbooks last year, an expenditure that involved more than two years of planning, federal grants, deals with textbook publishers, etc. We covered it eight times in budget presentations and it had its own presentation twice, this very large expenditure that would provide the same textbooks across the district and update our science and history texts in particular, some of which were more than 30 years old. We were using tons of "classroom sets" with only 25 books left, and classes would get given a textbook not based on what the teacher wanted or what the curriculum was keyed to, but based on the fact that the teacher had 27 students and we had 28 copies of this 20-year-old book left out of the 500 we started with ... it was insane. The plan was to use some ARRA-related money to bring the textbooks all up to date at once, and then we would have a low text maintenance-and-replacement budget to keep them up-to-date and replace lost books and so on, instead of emergency-spending larger amounts of money each year in a panic. So we spent two years working intensively with the curriculum department, the teachers' union's textbook committee, the instructional leadership teams at each school and grade level, the federal and state governments for grant money, the textbook publishers to get discounts for huge bulk purchases, the technology department, pulling all of this together ... and then when we pull the trigger and buy this massive quantity of textbooks, the community went INSANE because "OUT OF NOWHERE WITH NO PUBLIC DEBATE" we were spending "MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON TEXTBOOKS" and "THESE KIDS DON'T TAKE CARE OF TEXTBOOKS, WHY ARE YOU BUYING THEM NICE BOOKS, THEY WILL JUST RUIN THEM."

As far as I can tell, large numbers of people want children to just sit in beige rooms, in neat rows, in uniforms, speaking to no one and reading nothing, and somehow come out educated 12 years later. Of course children wreck textbooks! THEY ARE CHILDREN. Jesus.

But it really doesn't matter what you spend money on as a school district, you're definitely wrong and definitely stupid and wasting money, and definitely you did it without public debate. It's never that PUBLIC MEETINGS ARE BORING AND NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION to the two-year process of preparing this purchase because civics is hard.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:37 AM on July 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


And yep, we had a principal who would take delivery of all the books, put them on the gym balcony, and just ignore them.

I have heard worse.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:05 AM on July 16, 2014


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