Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 1, 2015

Let’s Demand a Sane Approach to Testing in Wisconsin

Filed under: Legislation,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Wisconsin is engaging in “education chaos” with the legislative proposals on K-12 education presently being debated in Madison.

Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addressed the US Senate in February on reauthorization of ESEA. Their criticisms and proposals should be a roadmap for ending the testing insanity we now face in Wisconsin and across the nation.

Key criticisms from Fairtest on proposed testing policy:
• Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating.
• Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.
• Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test.
• It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting.
• The new “college and career ready” (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

FairTest Testimony on ESEA Reauthorization to Senate HELP Committee.
Submitted by fairtest on February 3, 2015
http://www.fairtest.org/

Less Testing, More Learning
Testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Monty Neill, Ed.D., Executive Director, FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Committee:
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that states test every student in every grade 3-8 and attach punitive sanctions to results. The result has been damage to educational quality and equity. The harm has been most severe for the students in low-income communities the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is intended to help.

NCLB was intended to accelerate school improvement. But, despite enormous pressure to raise reading and math test scores, the rate of progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at grades 4 and 8 was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than under this law. (See http://www.fairtest.org/independent-test-results-show-nclb-fails). That is also a consistent trend for most demographic groups, including Blacks, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities. Score gaps between whites and other groups in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990.

Nor did NLCB lead to gains on NAEP for high school students. Scores were highest for blacks and gaps the narrowest in 1988. Hispanic scores and gaps have also stagnated under NCLB. Further, SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians, while ACT scores have been flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.

These results alone would be reason to acknowledge that NLCB has failed and that both sanctions and testing need to be overhauled. But the consequences of NCLB are even worse.

Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating. (See http://fairtest.org/NCLB-lost-decade-report-home). States and especially districts greatly expanded their own mandated testing in an effort to stave off sanctions. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently reported students are subject to an average of 113 tests between kindergarten and high school graduation. (See http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/11/17/362339421/testing-how-much-is-too-much). In many large cities, students take 10, 20 and more tests in each grade. NCLB also marginalized promising alternative assessments whose expanded use was beginning to improve teaching, schools and learning.

The evidence shows that NCLB has left many children behind, especially those whom ESEA was designed to help. Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.

Unfortunately, the situation is growing worse. The U.S. Department of Education’s NCLB “waivers” require “value-added” and “growth” measures for judging every single teacher. Research shows this test misuse can be as inaccurate as a coin toss. (See http://fairtest.org/teacher-evaluation-fact-sheet-2014). This requirement is further intensifying teaching to the test and causing a massive expansion of standardized exams as states force districts to carry out the policy. Miami-Dade, Florida, reports it must write 1600 new tests to meet this unfunded mandate, a requirement the Superintended called “insanity.” (See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/us/states-listen-as-parents-give-rampant-testing-an-f.html.) Fortunately, neither the proposed House bill nor Sen. Alexander’s draft bill requires states to continue this program. This renders unnecessary a requirement to test in every grade to obtain scores with which to evaluate educators.

Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test. Inertia, the weight of experience under NCLB, will perpetuate the problem. Research prior to NCLB, such as that conducted by Boston College researchers, found that even public reporting induced increased teaching to the test. At a minimum, states should be free to take stronger steps to reduce pressure to teach to the test by ending the every-grade requirement.

The new “college and career ready” tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

For these very good reasons, other economically advanced nations do not require testing in more than three grades. They also do not use student scores to judge teachers and schools. Clearly, requiring every-grade tests is not necessary to ensure high-quality schools.

Test proponents seem to believe that parents cannot know how their children are doing without yearly standardized exams. But teachers evaluate and grade students regularly. Research clearly demonstrates that student grades are better predictors of college success than are test scores. Parents do not need annual scores for every grade. Their children need good teachers and schools, ones that do not reduce learning to what is most easily measured. If they do not have them, improvement requires vastly more than focusing on test results.

The federal government has a legitimate role in helping ensure all children receive a strong education. It should neither leave all decisions up to the state nor act as the nation’s school board. What, then, is the proper balance? What should Congress support and require?

It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting. Sen. Alexander’s ‘Option 1” accomplishes this. Congress should not functionally block states, districts and schools from making changes that support rather than undermine enhanced outcomes.

One highly relevant example is the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has a waiver from all state-mandated exams except English Language Arts for its dozens of public high schools. Instead, students graduate by completing individuated performance tasks in language arts, math, science and history. These tasks require the extended work, research, critical thinking and problem solving students need for success in the real world. While Consortium schools mirror New York City’s diversity, every demographic group graduates at higher rates. Higher percentages of graduates also enroll in college. More than the national average of their enrollees remains in college for third semester and beyond.

These and other high-quality assessments could flourish if allowed by federal law. NCLB killed many similar forms of assessment and marginalized others. It is time for Congress to help repair this damage.

FairTest chairs the national Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which has shared language on accountability and school improvement with the HELP committee (see http://www.fairtest.org/fea-recommendations-improving-federal-law-january). The FEA proposals would redefine accountability and lead to a focus on improvement, not punishment.

For accountability, states and districts would be required to assess the adequacy of resources available to schools, the nature and scope of improvement efforts, and the results of those efforts. States would report on key indicators in these areas and how the state itself is using this evidence to improve schools, particularly those that are in need of assistance. This is an expansion of accountability from Sen. Alexander’s draft, but one that does not put states or districts in a straight-jacket.

To promote improvement, FEA has identified “common elements” found in high-quality schools and successful turnarounds. FEA’s proposals would require states to assist the lowest-performing five percent of schools in implementing, as needed, these common elements. They include leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional learning, school climate, disciplinary practices, parent and community engagement, and wrap-around services. While this, too, would expand federal requirements beyond Sen. Alexander’s bill, the FEA proposal does not specify the actions localities and states must take, but rather the important areas they must address.

In conclusion, FairTest calls on the Senate HELP Committee to:
• Allow states to use grade-span testing and the other means for assessment flexibility and improvement described in Sen. Alexander’s “Option 1.”
• Overhaul accountability and improvement in line with the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

Our children, our communities and our nation deserve a strong, effective ESEA. FairTest believes these recommendations are the basis for revising the current federal education law, and they provide a basis for bridging divisions within and between our political parties.

FairTest will be pleased to answer questions and discuss the ideas presented in this brief. You may reach me at monty@fairtest.org, 617-477-9792.

Fairtest at: http://www.fairtest.org/

January 14, 2015

MPS School Board President Michael Bonds Op-Ed on Wisconsin Assembly “Accountability” Bill

Filed under: Legislation — millerlf @ 5:07 pm

Wisconsin Assembly changes to accountability law are a step backward

I don’t always agree with the Wisconsin Legislature on matters of public education, but Wisconsin got it right when it adopted the current state law promoting school accountability for all publically-funded students. The current law is thoughtful, fair and it lets parents and taxpayers make an apples-to-apples comparison of performance for publically-funded students, whether the students are in public, voucher or private schools. We’ve waited for this legislation for more than 20 years, since the first voucher schools were created in Milwaukee.

That’s why an accountability proposal just introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly, Assembly Bill 1, while well intended, is just plain wrong. Less than a year after a comprehensive school accountability law was enacted – and before it has even been put fully into practice – the Assembly wants to change it. This proposed change by the Wisconsin Assembly is a step backward. It provides less transparency, creates confusion, punishes public schools and their students and takes control away from locally elected school boards.

• Under the current accountability law, all publically-funded students take the same tests so taxpayers and parents can make a true comparison of results. It’s good common sense. Assembly Bill 1 would create a hodge-podge of tests schools could take, making it impossible for anyone to see if schools were truly effective and impracticable for parents to determine which schools are performing best.

• Schools working hard to improve wouldn’t receive assistance under Assembly Bill 1, they’d be punished, closed and taken over by privately run charter schools. MPS’ experience has been that structured intervention and additional supports help low-performing schools improve and we’re seeing that transformation in several of our schools including Franklin, Grant, Curtin, Carver and Gwen T. Jackson. There are also cross sector efforts underway now to improve outcomes for all students.
• Locally-elected and locally-accountable school boards know their schools and communities best. Assembly Bill 1 would remove local control by appointing a non-elected, statewide accountability board that would determine which schools stay open and which are closed and turned over to private companies to run.

I believe strongly in holding schools accountable when they fall short. Since the 2011-12 school year, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors has voted to close or terminate the contracts of 31 MPS schools. While never easy, each of these decisions was made in the best interest of students using comparable data to make decisions.

Just as importantly, MPS has also developed a plan to help those schools that struggle the most. MPS has identified 14 Commitment Schools. These are some of our lowest performing schools and they receive additional help and support to improve student achievement. In addition, all of our schools with the lowest ranking on the most recent state report card are receiving additional assistance.

Taxpayers and parents have the right to know how well publically-funded schools are performing. Assembly Bill 1 is a step backward and takes the wrong steps to improve student achievement.

Michael Bonds, Ph.D.
President, Milwaukee Board of School Directors

January 13, 2015

Senate Republicans introduce school accountability bill (SB 1)

Filed under: Legislation — millerlf @ 4:18 pm

By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Jan. 13, 2015

Senate Republicans introduced a school accountability bill Tuesday that would put a new state panel in charge of working with school boards on improvement plans for chronically underperforming public schools.

The new bill outlines what appear to be more collaborative steps to improve chronically low-performing schools compared to a pending bill backed by Assembly Republicans that offers more prescriptive sanctions, such as converting failing public schools to charter schools after a period of years.

Both bills aim to make sure Wisconsin’s publicly funded K-12 schools are high quality and producing good outcomes for students. But the details of how to do that have become mired in politics — even within the Republican Party — as well as competing ideas about how to define and improve a “failing” institution.

Senate GOP leaders Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) jointly released their version of the accountability bill Tuesday afternoon after meeting in caucus with party members.

The bill, SB1, would create a state board to oversee improvement plans for traditional public and public charter schools that earn the lowest-rating on school report cards for three consecutive years. It would allow that board, with approval of the state superintendent, to direct the school board to implement other interventions, such as a new instructional design, personnel changes or professional development programs for staff.

Voucher school oversight
A second new state board — housed at the Department of Administration but headed by the state superintendent — would review annual accountability reports for private voucher schools.

Voucher schools that earn the lowest rating on school report cards for three years in a row would be cut off from state funding for new students for three years.

Public schools and private schools that believe they are unjustly targeted as “failing” could appeal the designation to their respective state oversight boards.

The Senate bill would continue having all publicly funded schools take the same state standardized achievement test. Those results heavily influence the school report-card ratings used now for public schools.

Last session, lawmakers agreed to start including voucher schools in that report card system as well. That was a compromise move because lawmakers couldn’t agree on what the sanctions should be for schools that consistently rank low in the report cards.

Assembly bill
Those same hang-ups exist at the start of the 2015 session.

Assembly Republicans released their version of the bill last week, which is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday.

The Assembly’s bill would convert all failing public schools to independent charter schools after a set number of years, and would also offer private voucher schools to take a different state test for accountability purposes than public schools.

The Assembly bill also called for having a new state board headed by the state superintendent redesign the state report cards to use A-F rankings, instead of the five-tiered ranking system used now.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Tuesday it was possible that differences between the GOP school bills in his house and the Senate would need to be worked out through the rarely used tool of a conference committee.

Vos said that he expected Gov. Scott Walker to stick to basic principles when discussing the competing proposals in his state of the state speech tonight and not endorse one or the other.”I don’t think he’s going to come out in favor of our plan or the Senate’s plan,” he said.
Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein contributed to this report from Madison.

January 11, 2015

Wisconsin AB 1, “Accountability Bill”: Statement from the Wisconsin Public Education Network

Filed under: Legislation — millerlf @ 8:45 am

High-water mark for school accountability is right now

The high water mark for school accountability is to have all publicly funded students—no matter what type of school they are in—taking the same test, under the same conditions, at roughly the same time. That is actually the current standard in Wisconsin. It was passed by the Legislature and signed into law just in early April last year. Despite reality, legislators in some corners of The Capitol are trying to muddy the waters by limiting transparency and comparability around what is being done with taxpayer dollars. They want to allow schools that receive publicly funded vouchers to take any number of different tests. It’s one thing to reinvent the wheel, but it’s a bit silly to reinvent it after only eight months. Many would even call it downright crazy if that new wheel would move you backward instead of forward.

Soon, because of the common sense bill passed into law last session, all schools that receive publicly funded students will have a common report card. For the first time, parents, taxpayers, and the public will have an apples-to-apples comparison to judge school performance. This was no nonsense, fundamental, good work for which legislators should be applauded.

Why undo it, then?

The sad reality is it took years for this to happen. In Milwaukee it took over two decades before the performance of all publicly funded students could be compared from school to school. Legislators and policy makers were in effect driving blind because they repeatedly failed to put into place a very basic system that would have allowed taxpayers to get a clear view of what was going on in schools.

So, why, after legislators finally got it right, do some want to put the blindfolds back on?

Those who support the expansion of voucher schools used to simply say that voucher schools were better than public schools even though they had no solid evidence to back such claims.

Now that voucher students have to take a common test and performance is less than what was advertised, those same proponents have changed their tune and argue that being better isn’t the issue. It’s good enough to simply be different, they claim with a straight face.

It’s hard to understand why those who support the free market ideology behind voucher schools would want to move backward to an era where it was more difficult to learn about educational performance. School choices should be based upon the best information available. The bottom line is that parents should have access to comparable report cards and test scores so that they can make educated decisions. The state already has an accountability system in place, one where, in essence, all schools have to lay their cards on the table at the same time.

Moving away from that to something that is less transparent, makes you to think that somebody, somewhere wants to stack the deck.

January 9, 2015

Statement by School Administrators Alliance on Assembly Bill 1

Filed under: Legislation — millerlf @ 6:08 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 8, 2015
MADISON — John Forester, Director of Government Relations for the School Administrators Alliance, released the following statement in response to the introduction of Assembly Bill 1 related to school accountability:

“Yesterday, Assembly Bill 1, related to revising our state’s school accountability system, was introduced as the first bill of the Wisconsin Assembly’s 2015 legislative session. Thoughtful educational accountability is important and should be based on sound research. It should emulate the evidence-based policies implemented in the highest-performing states and nations.

However, if our objective is to improve academic achievement for all students and close the large and persistent achievement gaps we have in Wisconsin, AB 1 will not move us in that direction. This is clear for several reasons.

First, the premise of the bill is fundamentally flawed. Although the focus of AB 1 appears to be punishment, sanctions and converting low-performing public schools into privately run charter schools, research suggests that a more effective path of improvement would be focusing on evidence-based interventions and supports that would help low-performing schools raise their achievement levels.

Second, common sense suggests that all schools receiving taxpayer dollars should use the same assessment for accountability purposes. However, AB 1 allows schools to use one of several tests. These multiple tests are certain to reduce validity, transparency and accuracy when comparing the performance of different schools.

Third, the bill creates an Academic Review Board (ARB) and appears to take decision-making authority that has been granted to the statewide elected and independent state superintendent and places it in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable board. This would create what appears to be an unconstitutional exercise of power. The ARB should make recommendations subject to the state superintendent’s final approval.

Fourth, the bill abandons the performance categories established by the state’s Accountability Design Team and replaces them with politically charged A-F letter grades. Over time, evidence has clearly shown that grades are an insufficient way to evaluate the academic performance of children. To that end, if the

objective is to increase the public’s understanding of how schools are performing, grades are an inadequate means of meeting that objective.
Accountability in education matters — but we need to do it right. Whatever school accountability system Wisconsin ends up with must move us toward our objective of raising academic achievement for all students and closing achievement gaps. Assembly Bill 1 won’t get us there.”
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About the School Administrators Alliance: The School Administrators Alliance (SAA) is an organization that represents more than 3,000 members through the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), and the Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrators (WASPA). SAA members represent each of Wisconsin’s 424 public school districts and more than 2,200 Wisconsin public schools.
As the combined government relations arm of these five associations, the SAA represents the interests of Wisconsin school children and public schools before the state legislature, the Office of the Governor, and diverse state agencies. Please direct inquiries to:
John Forester, 608-242-1370

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