Monday, August 2, 2010

High Stakes Tests: Die by the Sword

Last Update: Monday, Aug. 2, 2010, 8:30am

Results not good for UFT middle school charter. But so what?
I wish we'd take these new scores with the same skepticism we should have had toward the old ones.  They do not tell us what and if our children are learning.  We need to teach parents how to assess their own children in more common sense ways that doesn't leave them at the mercy of mercenaries!  Otherwise we are all subject to the latest political norming of tests. 

For low stakes or no stakes purposes they can give us a rough sense of how things stand--but as soon as we attach importance to them--above all for individual children!!!! we're  back into the same cesspool.   Let's use this occasion to undermine our reliance on such instruments for judging children or teachers or schools.   Let's also use them in ways that can prevent such abuse: like using sampling that allows us to have better and more in-depth understanding as well as making it much harder to misuse.   The tests are built on sampling, but used beyond their capacity for a very different purpose.  But that means we need parents and teachers to be more expert at judging the "real" thing.
Deb Meier on the NYC Education News listserve

When BloomKlein bragged about high test scores, guess who was standing there right next to them? Good ole' RW.

When they won the bogus Broad award guess who was there again?

We had a number of disagreements with Randi Weingarten through the years over the UFT's slavish adherence to the use of test scores for all sorts of nefarious reasons. I know, I know. Every so often we would hear her blab away about the negativity of tests while at the same time agreeing to merit pay schemes based on the very same tests or claiming teachers deserve raises when test scores go up. I repeatedly warned our union leaders that what goes up must go down and if you try to tie money to test scores this will backfire one day.

When the UFT decided to start a charter, I and others in ICE were opposed. Hoping against hope that the UFT charters would be run on progressive school principals instead of test prep - we asked if the school would be run differently from the other schools that run on the basis of the tests? They responded that the use of tests were the rules. How has that turned out?

The NY Times reported as part of the state test fiasco over the past few days:
"The charter school run by the local teachers' union, the UFT Charter School, showed one of the most severe declines, to 13 percent of eighth graders proficient in math, from 79 percent."

Now since I often discount tests as the sole basis for judging schools, who can tell if the UFT charter really has declined? But since the UFT decides to play by these rules we have to ask: Could UFT nepotism have played a role in the results? Long-time District 22 rep UFT mouthpiece Peter Goodman's (Ed in the Apple) son Drew was made principal of the UFT middle school charter after a supposed nationwide "search" that cost more than a few bucks. (Drew Goodman's mom Joan was also a UFT district rep for many years)

Javier Hernandez wrote the story about Goodman's situation in the Times, Dec. 2008: “At School Union Runs, Principal Steps Down
Drew D. Goodman stepped down last week as principal of the union-run school, the United Federation of Teachers Secondary Charter School in East New York, Brooklyn, after union leaders grew dissatisfied with his handling of brewing teacher dissatisfaction.
How did Randi defend the school at the time?
She pointed to high test scores among students at the union’s elementary school — this year, 81 percent of third-graders passed state English tests and 98 percent met math standards — as evidence that the schools were succeeding.
Nothing else to say, Randi? Only those darn tests?

Hernandez delved into the UFT elementary school too:

Mr. Goodman’s resignation mirrored a shake-up last spring at the union’s elementary charter school, also in East New York, when the principal resigned amid complaints by teachers and parents of heavy-handed governance.

The UFT solved more than one problem in this case by appointing UFT elementary school VP Michelle Bodden as the principal of the elementary school. Bodden for years had been the assumed successor to Weingarten as UFT President until she was moved out to make way for Mulgrew, thus allowing the killing of 2 birds with one stone. Bodden had become very popular not only with teachers but had lots of fans within 52 Broadway. But she no longer had the big enchilada in her corner.

Some commentators had a bit of fun with the Goodman story at the time:

Weingarten defends the school by pointing to its high standardized test scores, even though, as we all know, using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers and students “distorts and constricts our understanding of quality teaching and learning.”

Gee, Randi talking out of 2 sides of her mouth on testing? Shocking.

We agree with Deb Meier's quote with which we began this post and do not think schools should be judged solely as successes and failures based on one test given a year - I don't even like to use these words because things are so much more complex. This concept is being discussed within groups like GEM and on Leonie's NYC Ed News listserve, where heavyweights like Diane Ravitch and her blogging counterpart Deb weigh in regularly.

For those who don't know about Deh, I first heard of the work she was doing as far back as the early 70's when I wanted to try an open classroom and Deb was considered the master. I had read Herbert Kohl's "36 Children" and was trying out open classroom ideas in my class in 1971 - with somewhat disastrous results.  I should have tracked Deb down for advice but I never got to meet her until I went to a panel at NYU about 3 years ago where Deb appeared as one of the few people allowed to challenge the Kahlenberg Shanker book (Tough Liberal). Boy did she take a poke.

One of the original key backdrops to the Bridging Differences blog where Diane and Deb have their dialogue is Deb as a defender of progressive education and Diane as a critic (favoring a traditional approach, which by the way is where Shanker was coming from. Since they started there has been a whole lot of bridges breached when it comes to the ed deformers. And who knows? One day we might even see some more agreement on fundamental ways of reaching kids. But of course, Diane is a researcher and Deb comes from the classroom so there is a lot of room to roam.

How the hell did I get from there to here in this post? Can it be the heat?

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