In Marietta, GA, Teachers Might Be Scammed by the Use of VAM

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In 2010, Georgia was one of the winners of the Race to the Top competition.  The prize was half a billion dollars from the Federal government to among other things, adopt the common core standards and base teacher evaluation on student test scores.

Some more facts:

In 2012 the Georgia Department of Education applied for a NCLB “Waivers,” (full report) and again agreed to the use of student test scores as a significant part of teacher and principal evaluation.

Then,  the esteemed Georgia Legislature passed HB244 (Annual Performance Evaluations) this year.  What does this mean?

To put it nicely, another nail is now placed in the educator’s coffin.  This law, which will apply to all teachers and principals in Georgia, says:

Growth in student achievement/academic achievement shall be the priority measuring stick and shall count for at least 50% of the evaluation.
Basically its is saying that if your students had a bad year, then you or your principal caused this, and you should be punished.

VAM or SCAM

States Using Value-Added Model to Wreck Havoc on Schooling
States Using Value-Added Model to Wreck Havoc on Schooling

This simple view of learning is based on a very old and stale explanation for how our kids learn.   The teacher causes the student to learn.  If the student learns, then the student is rewarded.  If the student does not learn, then the student is punished.  And now the brilliant Georgia legislature, which meets for only 40 days each year, has decided that the teacher is the major determiner of student learning.

But hold on.  According to Georgia HB244, teachers will be punished if their student’s scores are low, or might be rewarded if their student scores increase.  It’s sort of like a mother telling a child who has finished her work, and asks for dessert, “We’ll see.”
Unfortunately for all of us, a lot of policy makers, legislators, school board members, and citizens think that what a child learns is directly caused by the teacher.  We now ask, “how much does a teacher add to the learning of students in a class?”  Probably a lot, but the method used called VAM (Value Added Model), which rhymes with SCAM.
And this is just what it is, a SCAM. If you don’t believe me then read this article on Anthony Cody’s blog, Living in Dialog, written by a Florida teacher who explains why she thinks VAM is a scam.

Why?

So why would a highly rated school system, such as the Marietta City Schools, pay a group (Education Resource Strategies) from Massachusetts to tell them how to spend their money and test their rather successful school faculty and administration?
The superintendent of Marietta City Schools said in an article in the Marietta Daily Journal that “compensation redesign is something that’s long overdue in our profession.”  I would agree with her.  But why would she throw out a system that is based on experience and qualifications and replace it with a system that is untested, unscientific, unethical, and some would say immoral.
If you look at some of America’s most prestigious organizations, experience and education level are key factors used to decide employee salaries.  Yes, performance evaluation is part of their strategy, but evaluation is not used to penalize the employee, but to improve the employee’s ability to be a better professional and contribute to the target goals and aspirations of the organization or company.
Instead, Georgia will instigate a competitive system of rewards and punishments based on how well our students do, and then use these test scores to praise or degrade teachers and principals.  How immoral is that?
Instead of a system which advocates a dog-eat-dog world, why not base it on principles of equity and high performance in which teachers are held accountable for carrying-out the highest quality educational environment in which children thrive, and are not held as pawns in a education marketplace that uses student test scores as the “bottom-line.”
To carry out this kind of teacher performance evaluation is not only shameful, it will result in many unintended consequences.  Here are a few:
Teachers and principals will do an outstanding job with our students without threats, penalties, and the kinds of rigid controls that are described in HB244.  If you are a parent, you know that when your kids come home from school, they have a more ingenious way of evaluating our teachers.  They tell you as they trust you.
Now we need to send the School Board of Marietta a message asking them to vote against the concept of a pay-for-performance plan for teachers and principals.

What would you tell the School Board of Marietta?

From Educators to Racketeers: How Education Reform Led to a National Testing Scandal

Thirty-five Atlanta Public School educators were accused by a grand jury of racketeering, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

How could this happen in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS)?  The district is in a city that is home to The King Center, The Carter Center, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other institutions that embody academic, research and cultural and social change.   Each of these institutions collaborated with the Atlanta Public Schools, some more than others, in research projects, staff development programs, curriculum development, and other educational activities for decades.  Grants were received from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and many other funding agencies. The Georgia Department of Education has contributed to the APS by providing consultants to help teachers who work with struggling students in the lowest performing schools in Atlanta.  Some schools received funding from private foundations and corporations, as well as mentoring and training relationships with local universities, especially in science and technology.  (Disclaimer: I was professor of science education at Georgia State University from 1969 – 2002, and worked with teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools).

How could these educators end up being accused of racketeering?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Or does it?

The Parks Middle School Case

It might surprise you, but the Atlanta Public Schools did more than simply change answer sheets to improve student learning.  Did the students learn, in spite of some teachers’ and administrators’ behavior. They did because the teaching practices that were initiated, especially in reading and English/language arts, seem to hold as shown in CRCT test results the year AFTER the scandal.  I want to give some information that should be considered when we explore the nature of the charges brought against the APS.

In the Atlanta bubble test erasure investigation, Parks Middle School was center-stage in the investigation. According to the report, “cheating” occurred from 2005 – 2009. According to the report, the principal conspired with other administrators and some teachers to systematically changed answers on student bubble tests during these, and made an effort to keep this from the test coördinator.

But, during this period Parks was held up as a model of how to turn around an urban school. In fact a lengthy report in the form of a published paper (here) of Parks’ efforts and successes was included in the Governor’s Investigative report. Parks was involved in many creative curriculum efforts designed to help students make success.

I examined the data at CRCT website (Georgia Department of Education) for a three-year period, 2008 -2010. I wanted to find out how the scores changed (if at all) in 2010 in each subject area. As you can see in the areas of Reading and English/Language Arts Parks more than 90% of Park’s 8th graders met or exceeded the state target, even after the year when “cheating” was discovered. In the areas of math, science and social studies, we do see an appreciable decline in CRCT results in 2010.

At Parks Middle School, the increase in reading scores rose dramatically from 2004 from 35% to 74%, and then to 98.5 in 2009. According to the Governor’s investigative team, the scores in 2010 (the year in which we can be certain there was no cheating), students in the 8th grade at Parks still scored above 90%. The same is true for English/Language Arts.

Why Parks’ Students Scores Increased Dramatically. In a paper describing the Parks’ story of success, the dramatic gains in student test scores was attributed to effective leadership, data-driven planning and instruction, high expectations, strategic partners (corporate sponsors including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation), increased student discipline, and more professional development. The Annie Casey Foundation, which invests in charter schools, vouchers and organizations such as Teach for America, was a major contributor to Parks Middle.  The Foundation produced a video podcast of Parks success in turning around the chronic failure for many years. There is evidence that these did indeed occur, although some might argue with the “effective leadership” attribute.  But this is just the surface of the partnerships that Parks’ principal, Christopher Waller spearheaded since his appointment as head of the school.  The efforts that were made from 2005 on at Parks Middle School were impressive, and no doubt contributed to the success that was revealed in the years ahead.  Yet, with this success the school suffered financially by losing significant funding totaling more than $800,000 per year.

These dramatic increases in student performance were lauded, locally and nationally, and Parks received many awards, and enormous financial support during this period. Superintendent Hall praised the work of the principal, Christopher Waller, and both were recognized for creating conditions that made learning successful for poor children. Specialists in reading, special education and other areas were hired to give staff development and instruction for students. Waller launched Project GRAD at Parks Middle School, a reform model that included professional development for teachers, on going support, coaching and re-training. Twenty-five Atlanta elementary, middle and high schools now take part in Project GRAD. Project GRAD is a national program, and is in place in more than ten cities around the country.

Georgia State Department InvolvementThe Georgia Department of Education was involved with Parks Middle through the NCLB “Needs Improvement” schools support. The state assigned Dr. Cheryl Hunley to serve with Parks and six other area schools. Working closely with the principal, she provided professional development, and worked very closely with the entire staff at Parks.

In addition to these two major sources of professional development, Parks was also part of the SRT 2 (School Reform Team 2), an initiative begun by Dr. Hall which was led by an executive director who oversaw several schools. Training, support, and help was localized with in the district through four SRTeams.  In 2012, the new superintendent initiated a cluster model organizing the schools in Atlanta into 10 clusters composed of dedicated elementary schools feeding into dedicated middle and ultimately dedicated high schools.

There is no doubt Parks was involved in innovative school improvement. And given, the data that is shown in the Figure 1, we can conclude that these efforts must have contributed to some of the gains shown in student CRCT test results, especially in Reading and English/Language Arts.

Test Results. The results in Math, which did decrease in 2010, are disappointing. The scores in science and social studies show the greatest losses. But I remember several years ago that Dr. Hall was quoted as saying that there is no way that students will do well on the NAEP Science Test with out Reading and Math. She indirectly was saying that schools should emphasize reading and math to the exclusion of science, and perhaps social studies.

The data reported by the Investigative Team of the Governor’s Office, and the CRCT data for these three years does not answer all the questions. Teachers may have cheated in changing student scores, but students did learn and improve, and they need to be informed that all of their gain was not due to teacher’s changing their papers.

Parks Middle School Reading English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
2008 93.5 94.4 81.5 49.2 79
2009 98.5 96.9 85.4 58.5 66.9
2010 94 89.4 70.2 35 28
Average 95.3 93.5 79.0 47.5 57.9
Figure 1. Percent of Students Who Met or Exceeded the CRCT State Mandated Standard by Subject, 2008 – 2010 at Parks Middle School. Note: 2009 was the year the Governor’s Office investigated excessive erasures in the APS. In 2010, there were few, if any, erasures on bubble tests.
 

How could these organizations be involved with Parks Middle School and not question or wonder about the success that their efforts were having at the school?  Did they believe that their efforts did make the difference?  Did they ever consider that other factors such as cheating?  Yet, as I’ve shown, there was more going on at Parks Middle School than cheating on student achievement tests.  If you read the article on Parks Middle School written by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that is included in the Governor’s Investigative Report on the Atlanta Public Schools, you will find details of the educational innovations that were put into place including after school programs for students, staff development for teachers, and partnerships with tens of organizations.  These probably played as much a part in increasing student’s ability to offer correct answers on the state achievement tests as did the erasures of student test sheets.

Preserving the Status Quo

I am going to argue that the cheating scandal, and the charges against 35 educators is because the country is mired in educational reform that has turned schools into testing factories. We can explain this mire if we look at two different political and social world-views, the conservative world-view (preserving things as they are), and the progressive world-view (forward-looking). Each world-view has played significant roles in American history, including public education.  Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century. The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has affected American education in powerful ways at different times during this period.

In this post I will try to show how the conservative world-view has negatively affected the way public schools determine curriculum, hold schools accountable for student learning, and the effectiveness of schools and teachers.  The theoretical basis for the conservative agenda for education will come to light here, and we will see that the authoritarian nature of the conservative view effectively perceives teachers as workers who prepare students to take achievement tests.  Because of the top-down nature of an authoritarian system, teachers have little opportunity to influence educational policy, and have not been instrumental in determining the goals and standards which they are responsible for carrying out in public schools.

We would agree that the teachers and administrators who were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury are not only innocent until they are found guilty in an American courtroom, but we will see that they were an unfortunate part of an authoritarian regime that has claimed schooling in America.

The erasure and cheating debacle that happened in Atlanta was not directly caused by high-stakes testing.  And, it was not limited to the Atlanta Public Schools.  Other school districts in Georgia, and in school districts around the country including Washington, D.C., and New York City have shown very high erasure rates on student achievement tests.    In the Atlanta case, the Atlanta Journal Constitution launched an investigation into testing irregularities that they “uncovered” in some Georgia schools.  These irregularities lead to a full-scale analysis of millions of pieces of data that was available because of the open records law.  The AJC reports lead Sonny Perdue, then Governor of Georgia to appoint a special investigative team to probe the allegations of test tampering in the APS.  The report of this investigation was hand delivered to Governor Nathan Deal by the three investigators, Michael J. Bowers, former Attorney General of Georgia, Robert E. Wilson (Attorney and former District Attorney, & Chief Public Defender), and Richard L. Hyde (Former Atlanta Police Officer, and Lead Investigator for the Attorney General’s Office).

The cheating scandal in Atlanta and other school districts around the country is a symptom related to something bigger than achievement tests.  The cheating calls into question the nature of contemporary schooling.  We have a systemic problem that relates to why we have put so much emphasis on achievement test results, when we know that in the larger scheme of things, test scores do not tell us very much about student learning and the effectiveness of schools.  The end-of-the-year achievement tests are summative (a point in time assessment of what students know), and do not necessarily relate to the student’s curriculum.  A better way to assess student learning is to rely on the evaluation tools that local schools and teachers use to help students learn.  Numerous research studies have shown that formative tests (tests that a part of instruction), student journals, portfolios, student work, student conferences, teacher questioning and probing give a clearer picture of student learning.  Teachers across the nation have put into practice this form of evaluation and assessment.  Unfortunately none of this data is used to “measure” student learning in public schools in America.  It is reduced to a single end-of-the-year test.  We are on the wrong path.

World-Views

In order to understand how world-views can be used to look at education and the scandal that happened in Atlanta, and that is occurring in other school districts, I am going to reference the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff. Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent. The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

World view refers to the culturally dependent, generally subconscious, fundamental organization of the mind,” according to William W. Cobern, who has done extensive research on world-view and how it impinges teaching. One’s world view predisposes one to feel, think and act in predictable way, according to Cobern. World-view inclines one to a particular way of thinking.

Conceptual Metaphor of Nation as Family

According to research by George Lakoff and the Rockbridge Institute, the moral world-view of either conservatives or progressives can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family. Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here).

In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.  In the illustration that I have created, the authority or head of the family resides with the State Department of Education.  From the DOE, each school district is headed by a superintendent and team of school principles.  The teachers in each school serve the principal, who serves at the will of the superintendent.  It’s a top down organization, and that is a problem.

Conservative World-View

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we look at schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.  The top-down conceptualization of schooling means that teachers are at the bottom of the organizational flow chart, and have little power in shaping policy, standards, and assessments.  Yet, they are ones whose jobs are dependent on policies that are not democratic.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control ( it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The public schools in the U.S. reflect the core values of authority and discipline, and many of the laws and acts (especially the NCLB Act of 2001) was written by the authority of the government, and set in motion an image that suggests that students, teachers and administrators are siblings in the Family of Education, and are beholden to the Authority of Federal and State departments of education. It’s a top-down system, and conceptual metaphor of the “Strict Father Family” mirrors the way public schools are conceptualized.

At the top of the organizational chart for the Atlanta Public Schools was Dr. Beverly Hall, who retired in 2009, and was replaced by Dr. Erroll Davis, former chancellor of the University System of Georgia.  But the system of education in Atlanta is linked to and includes the Georgia Department of Education, which has the legal authority to decide the teaching and learning standards for all Georgia schools, and is responsible for measuring the year-to-year achievement of students on statewide assessments.  These assessments are used to decide the AYP or Adequate Yearly Progress of schools in the state.

Education through Conservative Lenses

Atlanta Test Erasure Scandal.  In the Atlanta test erasure scandal, nearly 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools were investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and many of these teachers lost their jobs, were fired, or forced to resign.  Thirty-five, including the former superintendent were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury.  They face racketeering charges, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

What happened in Atlanta? Why did so many teachers and administrators cheat when they knew that they were being monitored by the Georgia Department of Education? Does the conservative world-view shed light on the cheating scandal?

According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.”  That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.

In the years leading up to the time that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution crack investigative team released its report on the suspicious test erasures, the Georgia Department of Education assigned specialists to work closely with Atlanta administrators and teachers by providing staff development training, especially in schools that were identified by testing as “Needs Improvement.” Many of these schools saw their student’s test scores go up over several years. Did these scores go up because of cheating, or because of the professional support the schools received from the Georgia Department of Education?

According to the investigative report of the Governor of Georgia, bubble sheets were changed, perhaps as the Governor suggested, the culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation led to this scandal.

If we could find out who or what perpetuated the culture of fear, it might help us understand why wide-spread cheating took place. (Note: I do not use this case to single out the Atlanta School System; the evidence from various reports is that cheating has taken place in many other cities around the country; nor do I condone the cheating).

Accountability  In the conservative approach to teaching and learning, hierarchical rules were established to make the nation’s schools and districts conform to an imposed set of standards and authoritarian assessments. In the first installment of the NCLB Act of 2001, terms such as accountability for schools, adequate yearly progress and getting results were used to discuss the way schools would be evaluated.

Teachers would agree that they should be accountable for their work by creating learning environments where students are successful. However, accountability in its present form means that student test scores will be used as the measure of accountability. Using an arbitrary level of performance, yearly progress will be based on student scores, and these in turn will be used to reward or punish schools, as well as teachers and administrators. The “strict father family” model shines a light how standards and assessments are used to judge student learning, and teacher performance. Learning and performance will be adequate (good) or inadequate (bad or see as failure), and students, if they are inadequate, will be retained, or forced to take summer classes, and then tested again, and teachers will be evaluated using their student’s scores, and then appropriate rewards and punishments handed out.

Accountability in the conservative world-view derives from an authority, and what the authority determines is success. In general the authority of the state is able to “raise the bar” on students over time. It’s as if the authority is mad at students (because of scores on international tests?), and punishes them by making it more difficult to pass the tests. Is this the kind of accountability that professional educators would choose?

Culture of Fear?

Was it the former superintendent of Atlanta that created the culture of fear? Or did the culture of fear spread to the Atlanta School System from the Georgia Department of Education? Could the annual testing cycle and the stakes that are placed on student test scores create a culture of fear in a district?  Was the culture of fear created by a system of schooling based on the “Strict Father Family” conceptual metaphor in which a hierarchy exists that is never to be questioned?  Have we created a system of schooling that is so hierarchical that teachers, who work directly with students, are not viewed as decision makers, but simply as workers to carry out the instructions of those above them?  Are students capable of only learning information that they will be asked on multiple choice exams, or can they do problem solving and inquiry?  In the model of schooling that we have today, it is implied that when children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong, they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This is a very controlling and narrow view of students and teachers.

If we assume that the Department of Education is the authority in determining what students should learn in schools across the state, and the authority in determining how the student’s performance will be judged, then one way of looking at education in Georgia is from a conservative lens. In the conservative view, the state, acting as the authority figure, holds school districts, and schools accountable based on high-stakes achievement test scores of its students.

Rewards and punishments are handed out each year. Those schools that meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYI)–using attendance and test scores, are considered successful; those schools that do not meet AYI, are considered unsuccessful. If a school fails AYI for several years in a row they enter “corrective action,” which could lead to the take over of the school, or the firing of all the teachers.

What does this scandal tell us about the conservative world view?  Or what does the conservative world view tell us about what motivates professional educators to put themselves into a place that they have been charged with racketeering?

In the next post, I’ll look at schooling in America from the progressive world-view, and show that American values are progressive, and that education should be based on equality, human rights, social responsibility and inquiry.

What do you think about what happened in Atlanta?  Do you think that our system of schooling could have anything do with the wide-scale cheating that is occurring in American schools today?

Enough is Enough: Abating the Pursuit of Test Score Growth

Why are we so hung up on making sure students’ test scores rise, year after year? Is this a sustainable and humanistic approach to educating children and youth? Is using the metric of competency-based test scores a valid measure of student learning and a convincing appraisal of teaching?

This week Illinois raised the “cut score” on its high stakes standardized tests in math, English language arts, and science making it more difficult for students to “meet competency.”

Ever since the U.S. government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, schools have been bound to a standards-based education reform model in which each outcome on every student is measured using standardized tests, such as performance-based tests, or end-or-the-year tests. As of now, each state sets its own achievement levels. However with most states adopting the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards, we will soon see “national achievement standards.” By next year, schools will use technology-based common assessments in mathematics and English language arts to test American students. Imagine the data that will be produced by this massive digital invasion of U.S. classrooms. We are managing our schools as if they were corporations in the business of training students to take tests. Test scores equal sales, profits, and losses.

Growing Student Test Scores

In education today, the major goal of instruction is to increase student test scores from one year to the next, much like it is the goal of Wall Street to see growth in the markets, or for a business to show increased sales from one year to next. Student growth is a metric determined by counting the number of questions answered correctly on multiple-choice standardized tests. In Georgia, for example, we use the CRCT, or  Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and End of Course Tests (EOCT) to get a score. Students in Georgia can go online to practice taking the tests at the department’s website to use an online bank of test items. Georgia requires all students to take these high-stakes tests. Because Georgia is a Race to the Top winner ($500 million), its expected that academic test scores grow each year.  Like Illinois, the cut scores on the Georgia CRCT will rise each year.  The Department of Education expects students to score higher each year to meet competency.

And one more thing.  Student Growth and Academic Achievement is part of Georgia’s new Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES).  TKES is the system that Georgia uses to evaluate and most probably will use to pay teachers.  Unfortunately, Georgia bureaucrats have designed a system that is based on the flawed assumption that teacher effectiveness can easily measured by using student test scores.

Here is how it works.  If you are a teacher of a tested subject (math, reading/LA, science, social studies) the state will use student growth percentile and value-added measure, and achievement gap reduction.  If you are teachers of a non-tested subject it’s even worse, but your effectiveness will be judged based on some district wide average.  This has not been accomplished.  Georgia will use student achievement test scores (high-stakes, end-of-the-year) to show a percentile/value-added measure (VAM).  On the state website, it says: “The model will be developed soon.”  The problem is the state will never find or develop a model that will produce stable ratings of teachers.  In studies where VAMs have been used, the results were unreliable in establishing how much a teacher contributed to student learning.

But more than that, the entire system is tired and old, and pushes us further backward instead of embracing an entirely different generation of students whose world outside of school is native to them.  When they come to school, they are more like immigrants entering a world foreign to them.

AAA & Star Ratings for Schools

And if growing student test scores isn’t enough, the Georgia Senate approved Senate Bill 420 which is an amendment to part of the Official Code Georgia. The bill relates to the accountability assessment for K-12 education. The passage of the bill further degrades education and Georgia, and applies punitive measures to further humiliate and disregard educators in the state. The 5-Star evaluation of each school and district, and a numerical score for each school’s student performance indicators is simple for such a complex system as K-12 education.

The Georgia senate claims that it has established an evaluation report card that will use a 5-Star system. The 5-Star system is vague, and of course, it will worked out later. But the idea is to somehow link together a system that will test how schools use their finances, rate the school climate, and use a simple numerical scale to grade schools in their efforts to improve academic achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress. Keep in mind academic performance, gap closure and progress will be based on the CRCT achievement tests administered once a year.

This probably makes sense if the bottom line is how much profit a company made during the past quarter or year. But we are not talking about a company that is based on market-indices such as profit margins. Instead we are talking about schools, with real students and teachers working together in a learning environment. Yes, schools should be diligent in terms of how they use funds from Federal and state sources, but the notion that the senators want to get blood from a stone is a bit outrageous.

In addition to the “star” rating system, the Georgia Department of Education will annually calculate a score on a scale of 0 – 100 based on quality indicators of learning including student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress. Each schools’ and districts’ report cards will be available to parents, educators, and the press.

The report card shall include performance data on quality of learning, financial efficiency, and school climate as “calculated”  and based on the most current data available disaggregated by student groups. Here is the deal:

Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the office shall assign a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F, including plus or minus delineations, for each school and school system. Such letter grade shall be derived from the numerical rating score calculated with a majority of the grade based upon student achievement.

Isn’t enough enough?

What do you think using the lens of test scores as the principle marker of success in academic learning?  Do you think enough is enough?

Are the Common Standards & Assessments the Antithesis of Progressive Values?

We think that Common Standards and Assessments are the antithesis of the progressive  values upon which this nation was founded. The idea of having a single set of standards and associated assessments appears to remove individuality, creativity and innovation from American classrooms.

Authoritarian & Undemocratic

Common standards and assessments were conceived and developed in an undemocratic and authoritarian manner, and have minimized our freedom to have an education system that empowers its citizens to a life that is rooted in progressive ideals.  Instead we have enabled conservative thinking and conservative think tanks, acting in their own self interests, and those of their corporate partners, especially publishers and testing companies, to take over pubic education and open it to for-profit corporations and privatization.

The danger of  privatization is that the profit motive might replace the moral mission of educating all children.  Schools may not accept students who might affect their bottom line which making sure students achieve high test scores.  Profit is tied directly to test scores.  How can we authentically believe that an education system that uses student test scores is good for its citizens?  Not only are test scores used to assess student performance, they are also being used to evaluate teacher, administrator and school performances.  In some states, teacher’s job performance and pay will be determined using  VAM scores, which have been shown to be unreliable.

Teaching is so much more than teaching to the test in order to amp achievement scores.  It is about establishing ethical and moral relationships with our students; it is about helping student learn how to learn; it is about caring for student’s aspirations and goals, and giving counsel as needed.  Yes, teachers want their students to understand the content of their courses, but not at the expense of life long affects of their courses including attitudes and values.
Continue reading “Are the Common Standards & Assessments the Antithesis of Progressive Values?”

The Power, Privilege, and Injustice of Authoritarian Standards & High-Stakes Testing Sham

Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the consequences of the authoritarian standards & high-stakes testing sham.

The authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing movement conjure up for me the use of power and privilege to create injustices for not only schools and teachers, but for students and their parents.  Using invalid test scores, the government has cast a net around schools that have high poverty rates resulting in many of them being labeled as failures with teachers and administrators fired, and replaced by teachers, many of whom are un-certified, and lack the teaching experience needed for these schools.

Authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing sham

And all of this is done with data that is not only invalid, but is not reliable.  As Dr. Michael Marder says, “the masses of nationwide data do point to the primary cause of school failure, but it is poverty, not teacher quality.”  So what do we do?  We create a system in which life changing decisions are made about teachers and students based on data that is not examined in the context of power, privilege, and income.  This leads to a corrupt system in which we predicate schools’ and teachers’ performance on false data, and use this data to embarrass and destroy careers of highly educated teachers, and bring havoc to families.  Why are we doing this?
Continue reading “The Power, Privilege, and Injustice of Authoritarian Standards & High-Stakes Testing Sham”