Those Political Tests (The New York State ELA and Math Assessments)

60,000 students who opted out plus a changed cut score (see here) equals one thing—an invalid and unreliable test. As someone who has studied and analyzed different psychometric assessments over these last thirty years, it is obvious what John King has done. He has created a score that has no basis in reality except to attempt to score a political point or two.

First, we have to analyze those students who opted out. The hotbed of the opt out movement did not come from those students who are in failing schools. No, the students that opted out came from the middle and upper middle class. These are mostly suburban students who are in successful public schools who mostly would have passed these assessments. The parents of these students are sophisticated enough to understand the motives and agenda of those who created the common core. If Commissioner King kept the same cut scores as last year, the result would be a much higher percentage of students failing both the ELA and math assessments because now we have a change in the population taking the tests. We now have a population that is poorer, more disabled and lacking in the basic skills to even come close to passing. Obviously, he could not give his political enemies even more ammunition to use against his beloved Pearson family of assessments. Therefore, he lowered the cut scores for these assessments. He made sure that by getting fewer items correct, a student would be able to get a 3 or a 4 on these tests. At the same time, he made sure that the scaled scores of the 2013 and 2014 tests “looked” the same. He made sure the same scaled number cut from a 2 to a 3 for each grade. He did this obviously counting on the ignorance of most school parents to believe his lies. What he did was curb the test to compensate for too many students getting low scores and again made his predictions come true. A few months before the 2013 assessments, he knew 2/3s would fail. Even more unbelievable was that a year before the 2014 tests, he knew there would be “incremental” growth. With this type of skill, he is in the wrong field. He needs to relocate to Atlantic City or Las Vegas and become a professional gambler. No, better yet, he should enter the financial world of all his friends in the 1% and become a professional stock broker. If you take his advice, you will never lose money.

I still do not know what kind of test these common core assessments are supposed to be. Are they norm reference tests or criterion referenced tests measuring skill attainment? If they purport to be a norm referenced test, these assessments are violating every rule in the book. When one norms a test, such as the WISC IV measuring IQ or a standardized achievement test, such as the WIAT III, the scaled scores or the number of items needed to achieve a certain level do not change from year to year or test to test. Basals and ceilings that are used to derive the scores for these tests remain the same until a test is completely revised and rewritten. In addition, all such tests have technical manuals that describe the standardization process. It describes the samples used, the populations used and the statistical procedures used to derive such scores. This is done so that other psychometricians can review, analyze and critique the assessment in a public way so that when the test is revised, rewritten and restandardized, the new assessment will have better validity and reliability in its use. Does Pearson not understand this process? They sure do. How do I know? They also publish such tests as the WISC IV and WIAT III.

If these common core assessments are supposed to be criterion referenced tests, another set of rules are being violated. If one gives a student a criterion-referenced test, it is supposed to measure skills that are supposed to have been taught and learned at a certain developmental level. Yet the common core tests are assessing skills that are developmentally inappropriate or have not been taught. It would be equivalent to taking a final examination at the beginning of a high school or college course. Then when you fail, the professor or teacher will then say to you that you are just not ready to do the work in course. Yes, the scenario I just described is insane. But that is the scenario that those who have developed the common core believe in.

The agenda as to the use of criterion referenced as well as standardized achievement or cognitive assessments is quite different than the agenda as to the purpose of the common core. Criterion-referenced and cognitive assessments administered individually under optimum conditions are used to make important life decisions about a child. The above tests are often used to determine whether or not a child has a disability. If clinicians or the public or private agencies they work for use such tests incorrectly or flippantly, they can be sued and often are because we have federal and state statutes governing the use of such instruments. On the other hand, the agenda of the common core is quite different. These tests have a political purpose. Its main goal is to destroy America’s public educational institutions. Its purpose enshrined in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top with the unrealistic expectation that 100% of school age children pass these assessments or the public school and its teachers are punished. Yet, our same government has laws governing disabled students and how these children should be assessed to determine if a child has a handicapping condition. It really is ironical when you think of it. On the one hand, the government says every child must be college and career ready while at the same time it says that some children should not have college as a realistic life plan.

In New York, when a disabled student reaches 21 years old the Committee on Special Education must do an exit interview with a caregiver to make sure that students who have significant multiple disabilities have a realistic post-secondary plan. In most cases, there has to be a plan to make sure such young adults are placed in center-based, prevocational or vocational programs to make the student as independent as humanly possible. For some of these former students, the most that is hoped for is a total care setting; for others it may mean a group home with some type of supervised/unsupervised employment. On Friday, while I was reading the results of these invalid and unreliable tests, I was doing an exit interview for a student who reached 21 years old that was blind, autistic and developmentally disabled born with a myriad of medical problems. He is wheelchair bound and needs to be fed with a tube. I would love to ask Mr. King whether we teachers failed to get this young person “in small increments” college or career ready. Guess what, it is Mr. King’s state education department who is presently failing such a student because the parent has yet to find a post-secondary program that will meet the needs of such an individual. I was the first professional to give this parent the phone number of the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, which is supposed to be a state run program to help such individuals.  The fact that no transitional plan was made by one of Mr. King’s state approved nonpublic schools for such an individual and his family is a way bigger problem than make believe scores on an invalid and unreliable test.  If anything, Mr. King is the one who has failed.  He has failed the wrong political test.

Pretty Campbell Brown and Her Ugly, Misguided Anti-Due-Process Crusade

liberalteacher:

“Pretty” Campbell Brown has embarked upon a crusade to rid New York’s teachers of their due process rights. Emboldened by the Vergara Case in California, which is being appealed, she is attempting destroy “tenure” in our state–believing that tenure insures a New York public school teacher a job for life and thus will prevent such teachers from ever being fired. As a result, the supposed educational incompetence of these instructors will destroy the lives (no Civil Rights) of the high need students whom they teach. When I read Mercedes Schneider’s blog, I knew I had to share it. It describes two important things one must know. First, Eva Moskowitz’s touted Success Academy Middle School had not one student accepted in any of New York City’s specialized high schools. (I will talk more about this at a later date) Second, it gives us a nice biography of this failed news person– showing her to probably be one of America’s leading hypocrites. I give her a better name “The Queen of Chutzpah.”

Originally posted on @ THE CHALK FACE:

Over the past several weeks, I have read only a little on the situation of former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown’s sudden interest in forming a nonprofit in order to advance a lawsuit in New York purportedly to “save” public school students of the (surely) inept teachers currently protected behind “tenure” (i.e., due process rights).

I’ll admit, I have only been on the fringes of the affair that is New York’s “Brown vs. Board of Education” (I had to go there, what with hedge-funded nonprofits advancing their takeover of public education as a “civil rights” issue). However, with my second book written and off to the publisher, I am now ready to turn my research and writing attention to this Campbell Brown and her crusade to demolish teacher due process.

Brown has not bothered to demonstrate how, exactly, removal of the due process that promotes job security for good teachers…

View original 2,126 more words

Linda Taylor, Charter Schools, Private Agencies and Race

When I retired several weeks ago, I said to myself that now I would have a lot of time to devote to my blog. I would now become a prolific writer. I would churn out one article after another. My pen would lambaste the reformers, privatization, VAM, charters, etc. However, instead of having the free time I dreamt, it turned out that I am just as busy as I was prior to retirement. I retired only to continue working in a summer job that I have had for the last eight years. I trek to Manhattan five days a week working for one of New York’s Committees on Special Education. My job is to hold IEP meetings and write over 100 individual educational programs for students who attend private or parochial schools. These students receive either Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) or related special educational services that are paid for by the New York City Department of Education. In years past, the DOE had lists of independent providers that provided such services. Many of the SETSS (resource room) providers were either retired school teachers or teachers that wanted a flexible work schedule for various personal reasons. The same held true providers of OT, PT, Counseling and Speech. However, in recent years, these services are now mostly provided by teachers and providers hired through large private contract agencies that offer the DOE the best price for their services, i.e., lowest price—supposedly.

Earlier in the month, a colleague of mine who is doing the same job in another CSE began holding IEP Conferences for a parochial school in one of the five boroughs of New York City. She began to notice the progress reports of a particular SETSS teacher sent by an agency to the school. The school was composed of grades K to 8. Here was this one SETSS teacher servicing every disabled child in this school. And no matter what the grade, no matter what the problem, every progress report was exactly the same. Every child had major decoding problems, comprehension problems, as well as computational problems. In her progress report, each child was at least two to three years below level—even those in Kindergarten! Needless to say, all her draft IEP goals were exactly the same. For every disabled child in the school, her goals used the same strategies. When my colleague counted the number of students on the master list, it totaled over forty. Interestingly, many students had 10 periods of SETSS services a week. It was amazing how this particular provider was able to serve this many students in a 7 period day. I guess she took no lunch and worked every period. Yes, she must have done all her preparation at home in order to have created such fine differentiated lessons for such a diverse population. Interestingly, many of the parents of these disabled kids remarked to my colleague how their children made very little progress, that the teacher was harsh to them, and that each child was rarely picked up for services during the course of the year. I think we all might agree that we have some circumstantial evidence for possible fraud—especially when one realizes how little these contracted out providers are paid by many of these agencies. In the past, retired teachers who provided such services would complain that they were only paid DOE per session rate, which was about $40.00 an hour. I gather these contract-out providers get less than half that amount because the rest of the fee logically goes to the agency. Therefore, although wrong, it is understandable why some providers would pad their numbers. Where is the outcry for such embezzlement? This is our tax money?

Now let’s talk about a woman named Linda Taylor. A few months ago, I read an interesting article in Slate.com about this woman. Linda Taylor was Ronald Reagan’s infamous Welfare Queen. Yes, I hate to disappoint some of my liberal friends who believed all these years that the she was one of the Great Communicator’s made up stories. Unfortunately, this woman was real although the Great Communicator did embellish many facts of the case. However, this woman was not so much a Welfare Queen as possibly one of the greatest criminal minds of the 20th century. This woman not only embezzled money from just about every government program, but was possibly also a kidnapper and murderer. The amount she took from Aid for Families with Dependent Children was small change compared to the amount embezzled from social security disability, the Veterans Administration as well as a host of other government programs. At the time, obviously, the outcry was against those minorities on welfare who were living high on the hog while the rest of us had to work like dogs to scrap together a meager existence. Therefore, the Federal Government only prosecuted her for welfare fraud in which the sum total of her embezzlement was $8000. She was not prosecuted for the theft of over $100,000 from other Federal programs, possible kidnapping or possible murder.

I remember at the time many conservatives saying that this woman proved that we must get rid of welfare and food stamps. Even though she possibly stole more money from the VA for fraudulent disability payments, I never heard any of my conservative friends talk about doing away with that program. Even though she embezzled tens of thousands from social security, few demanded that we do away with social security disability insurance. To working class whites, she was the embodiment of the black woman who had multiple children from different men who dared to own three Cadillacs, three homes, beautiful clothes and fine jewelry at taxpayer expense. Interestingly, the article said that she possibly was not even black, but of mixed race and was really considered white for most of her life. It also did not matter to a big part of our working class population that census figures showed that most women who received AFDC in the 1970s had only between two and three children and were also white. Race trumped everything and this audacious black woman represented every black woman who was on welfare at the time. As a result, when Reagan was elected in 1980, he had willing supporters who applauded his draconian cuts in social programs because now these minorities had to be put in their place.

What has this got to do with charters? Here we have these schools who are embezzling government money as recently reported in Diane Ravitch’s blog . In addition, we have reports of charters involved in criminal activities in Texas, Connecticut, California and Ohio. Here again is tax money being embezzled. Money that is supposed to serve children are lining the pockets of wealthy investors or those who administer these charters. But how come we do not hear, “Let’s get rid of those charters. These people are taking our money to live high on the hog.” The difference, I sadly have to say, is that these charter administrators and hedge fund investors are mostly wealth and white. These people live high on the hog anyway. Imagine, if you total the amount stolen by these charters, the amount is in the millions and not thousands. The American people should be rising up and screaming that we must account for every cent these charters get from localities, states and the Federal government. On the other hand, if tomorrow, some black woman parked her BMW in Wegman’s lot and proceeded to buy groceries with food stamps, it would be front page headlines in the New York Post.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that race is the key factor. Both Linda Taylor and the many charters are exactly the same. Both used the lack of government oversight, as was the case in the 1970s for Linda Taylor and today for the charters. Linda embezzled because we did not have yet the type of computer technology that allowed the sharing of information among different government agencies that we have today. On the other hand, there is a lack of oversight because the large pockets of those who invest in charters have bought lock, stock and barrow legislatures and governors who would pass and carry out such laws. Linda was a lone wolf who worked the system while those who do it today are being supported with a wink from many levels of government.

Now let’s put this all together. Here we have private contract agencies with what appears to be little oversight engaged in theft of services (from those disabled children who need such services desperately), charters stealing millions also because of lack of government oversight and depriving our public schools of the necessary funds and resources to succeed, and finally Linda Taylor who was convicted for stealing only $8000 in AFDC because race stereotypes blinded those in power to the true nature of her many criminal acts. To me, all three acts are heinous crimes against our civil society and each should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, about 40 years ago, a real criminal got a slap on the wrist while millions of impoverished Americans were severely punished for the crime of being poor while today millions of public school kids are being punished while the real perpetrators appear again to be having their wrists slapped.

What Common Core Looks Like In Desperation

liberalteacher:

This is an excellent article by Mercedes Schneider showing the totalitarian nature of those who support the common core and the corporate takeover of public education. One conclusion that can be drawn is that teachers must regain control of their unions if we have any chance in this fight for the heart and soul of public education.

Originally posted on deutsch29:

It seems that the protests of the American citizen against the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become proverbial grains of sand in the works of the mammoth corporate reform machine.

Die-hard supporters of CCSS are becoming desperate, and such is showing in their words and actions.

Consider Jeb Bush’s declaration, “In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self esteem….”

This hard-nosed attitude is supposed to appeal to the American public and advance CCSS?

Jeb is definitely pushing CCSS whether America likes it or not– but he is becoming sloppy in his rhetoric.

He is not alone in his desperate, Save CCSS efforts.

Founder and director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Caroline Roemer-Shirley (sister to our state board of education president) wrote this op/ed for the Baton Rouge Advocate on March 24, 2014.

Not surprisingly, she is pro-CCSS.

Notice the authoritarian desperation in her…

View original 798 more words

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire or (The Pathological Lies of the Charter Movement)

On Friday, I took a personal day from school to deal with some long standing doctors’ appointments. Between appointments, I went home for lunch when the phone rang. The person on the other started the conversation by saying. “Hello, may I speak to . . .”

I answered, “Yes, that’s me.”

Next came this: “My daughter was going to one of New York’s best charter schools and I am so upset that Mayor DiBlasio has closed my child’s school and she has nowhere to go. We need your help in this fight so my beautiful child, Bianca, can continue to have a good education. We would love for you to help us by making a small contribution to continue this fight.”

Then I blew my stack and asked who is really paying you to say this. How can your daughter’s charter school be closed when it never opened in the first place? Mayor DiBlasio did not close any schools. How can one close a school that was never even opened? By the way, with all the money being paid for your fake grass roots campaign, jingoistic ads and commercials, your pal Eva could build ten more charters. Of course, she hung up in the middle of my rant.

I was still angry and wanted to say more. So I looked on the call waiting and, to my surprise, it was a 518 number which is the area code for the Northeastern part of New York State. I called back the number and the mailbox was full. Therefore, I decided to wait until Saturday night and got through. The voice mailbox said, “This is campaign headquarters, please leave a message.”

Now my investigation began in earnest. I did a reverse phone lookup. What did I find? The phone number was a landline located in Averill Park, New York, which is suburb outside of Albany. I guess that Bianca must have had a long commute to her Success Academy Charter every morning to Manhattan.

Next, I put in the Google search engine the name of the town, charters, and campaign. What came up was a list of jobs on Monster for the Northeast Charter School Network. Listed was a bunch of positions for a state-wide campaign in support of charters. Then I went to their beautiful website to see who runs the joint. The Board Chairperson was a man named Chris Jacobs who is a wealthy Buffalo Republican who held several political positions. He was an undersecretary with HUD under Jack Kemp and was Secretary of State in the Pataki administration during his last year. Presently, he runs a network of charters in Buffalo. Next, was Treasurer William Morris who was a retired executive for J.D. Morgan/Chase. Then we have trustee Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Educational Reform. There were several more, but you got the gist. Their Board of Trustees is a who’s who representing the one percent.

Here we have an AstroTurf non-profit asking for contributions from ill informed, but sympathetic citizens. I know some people may fall for this sob story of how these poor children are being deprived of an education by our evil Mayor. One wonders who is paying this organization to run such a campaign of lies and misinformation. If you look at the Trustees of this organization alone, one knows that their pockets are deep. In addition, they are playing dirty by making believe they are a grassroots organization of parents whose children are being deprived of an education. Last I heard, public education is still compulsory and there is always a place (unlike our charter friends). Well, I think we should play dirty too. Folks, in case you are interested, the number that called me from the Northeast Charter School Network is 518 712-4492. We should all call that number and leave them a nice message in order to call out their lies. You might even get Bianca’s mom and ask her about her daughter’s school commute from Albany to New York City.

Tom Friedman—Policy by Anecdote

These days, I carry a handy little application on my Iphone and Ipad. It lists each Common Core Learning Standard by grade and its correspondence to college and career readiness. I carry it because we are mandated to put these little CCLS numbers on our lessons plans, rubrics, and even bulletin boards in an attempt to placate the DOE’s Common Core police. However, I also have an ulterior motive for carrying this application. I like to use it against those who are now wedded to the CCLS as a new type of educational religion. Now, we have several new gospels. They are the gospels according to Saints Coleman and Saint Duncan.

I have just written to the New York Times and to Mr. Tom Friedman in particular because he has violated CCLS RI.9-10.8. This standard states that ninth and tenth grade students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient. Students must “identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.” Oh, Mr. Friedman, how can you engage in such shoddy reasoning in your op ed piece. One must follow the Common Core. Evidence must not be based upon anecdote but on expert opinion. In addition, one must evaluate the expert opinion to make sure that the evidence is “valid.” A common core student review book I recently perused stated that valid evidence is evidence provided by “expert scientific opinion.” Only research that uses scientific methodology as taught by the hard as well as social sciences could validate a general hypothesis.

Based upon a little anecdote about a high school student who feels it is more important to answer his Facebook messages than do homework, we now paint every single American student with the same brush stroke. In addition, this little tidbit proves that the basketball player in charge of the DOE is correct in his opinion about the laziness of American students—especially middle class suburban kids. Mr. Friedman, for this one anecdote, I can offer another one in contradiction. I know this kid, who despite having ADHD and other medical issues, studied five hours a night all through high school and graduated with a 4.0 GPA as well as got an ACT score in the 99 percentile. This resulted in a complete scholarship to a top state university campus where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. By the way, he also has about 800 Facebook friends. I can vouch for the veracity of this story because I am talking about my own son. I know of another young man that was diagnosed with a significant learning disability as a boy, who also worked hard despite having parents that had to work two to three jobs to make ends meet here in New York City. He studied hours a day on his own and made it into a four year college. And this student is a friend of my son.

Do my stories prove me right and Mr. Friedman wrong? No, these stories prove nothing. They are nothing but anecdotes that are nothing more than firsthand accounts that have no scientific or research validity. They are no better than those TFA stories about the superman teacher who worked day and night to get their kids from a quartile ranking one to four in a single year. Instead, one must look at valid and reliable data. Not the fake biased data of those fly-by-night nonprofits financed by our billionaire friends, but real research that can stand up to peer review at the university level. One can only accept research that is critiqued, analyzed as well as ripped apart at the seams to make sure that it measures what it is supposed to measure.

What the mainstream media is now giving us is propaganda and not journalism. Journalism is hard because one must look and analyze different points of view. One must determine if a particular point of view use either facts or research as its evidence. For example, Ravitch and others cite valid and reliable research that drill down into PISA scores to show there is no significant achievement gap between American and foreign students when you compare apples with apples. Suburban-middle class American students perform as well as or better than many foreign students on these challenging international assessments. The media does not report the fact that in America we do something that many foreign countries do not do. We include everyone in our score obviously depressing the total aggregate. Often, other countries exclude certain populations in order to skew their scores. Furthermore, many countries in this world still do not even attempt to educate certain students. There are nations in this world that exclude those who are disabled or those who cannot pass certain tests to acquire a secondary or post-secondary education. There are countries that divide students along academic and vocation tracks based upon a single assessment. I for one do not wish to emulate such countries. I have no interest in emulating a country in which one assessment determines the course of the rest of your life, such as Korea and some European countries. I also do not wish to emulate the educational system of a Communist totalitarian state (China) that rigidly teaches students to obey and not think.

Mr. Friedman should instead realize that this middle class student on Facebook may have been turned off by our educational system because of NCLB and RTTT, which has been national policy for over a decade. Psychological research shows that when students are frustrated, they give up. If one is given tasks that are too hard, one tries to escape. Special education has always taught that you start a child form where they are. Standard reading practice for the last century has always been that you work with a child at their instructional reading level. Students do not learn when you give them material at their frustration level. Most students will not rise to the task when the work is beyond their ability. When I was in high school, I hated Spanish. I avoided studying it like the plague because I had a lot of difficulty memorizing words. Only when a teacher showed me a bunch of mnemonic strategies did I become a more willing student. Imagine what would have happened if instead of giving me strategies, I was given more random words to memorize. If that would have happened, I may not have had a thirty-six year career as a teacher because a foreign language requirement at that time would have barred me from entering college to even become a teacher .

This has always been a nation built upon the ideal of giving people second chances. We gave millions of immigrants the second chance to start a new life during the 19th and 20th centuries. We have always tried to give students who failed second chances. Yes, I did fail one semester of Spanish in high school, but I recouped with some extra help from my teacher, a good friend (who was great with languages) and my parents. Good teachers always allow students to make up missed worked or give students a second chance to pass a test. We have high school equivalency diplomas that enable those who flunked out of high school to benefit from some type of post-secondary education.

However, what is happening now in this country is the attempt to create a privatized educational system that is stratified, segregated and intentionally violate worker rights. Now here I am making a general statement that needs evidence to back it up. By looking at the education budgets of many states and cities, public school funding is being cut in favor of unregulated charter or voucher-based schools that have no oversight and choose their students (Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina). Experienced and tenured teachers are fired or forcefully excessed in favor of TFA five week wonders (Florida, Louisiana, Illinois). Rich curriculums, music, art, and extra-curricular activities are all being cut in favor of charters for the sake of creating VAM testing using the Common Core. And yes, there is a good amount of child development research that shows that the Common Core violates how most children learn.

When only 30% of total students , 7% of disabled and 5% of ELL students in New York State can pass a Common Core assessment, there is no doubt that the vast majority of our students will feel demoralized. Children are not lazy when they are tested on items that have never been taught or are significantly above their ability level. One does not build an educational system upon a curriculum and assessments that only above average students can hope to pass, so that our public school system can be dismantled. Do not kid yourselves in thinking that the corporate reformers who have controlled educational policy this last decade have even an iota of altruism. Their goal is a charter-based, free-market educational system to primarily line their pockets and secondarily educate a few subservient managers and docile, non-thinking workers bullied into submission through schools that offer zero-tolerance. As for me, I want a curriculum that will teach students how to question and challenge those in authority. According to a recent blog by Diane Ravitch, Mr. David Coleman once said that no one really cares about what a student thinks and feels. What is important is writing and reading information text. Thus, the Common Core is an amoral curriculum. There is a Common Core module analyzing the Gettysburg Address. It is supposed to be done without referring to its historical context. It has to be analyzed based on whether Mr. Lincoln used “evidence” to support his points. If our 16th President would have been taught by the Common Core, we would not have one of the greatest pieces of oratory that epitomizes what our nation believes in. Abraham Lincoln had a sense of justice and the belief of what was right and wrong. That little speech has given our nation a moral compass. Those who want to force this nation to adapt a utilitarian curriculum appear to have no ethics or morality. I guess such a utilitarian view of the world makes it easy to fire teachers and remove students who do not fit into their cut throat view of mankind.

I told Mr. Friedman in my letter to him that the problem was not with us coddling parents or with educators who are trying to hold onto a tiny scrap of dignity. The problem is with those who have controlled educational policy since the Bush era. If our public school system is now struggling to survive, it is because those in power have given us body blows and have kicked our groins. If Mr. Friedman likes the reformers so much as well as the Common Core, it is high time he start measuring his skills and his own beliefs by their standards.

Pearson’s Totalitarian Test Security

It has been several months since I have posted to my blog.  It is not because I haven’t wanted to, but because the educational reforms wrought by a binding arbitration between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers have made my job this year one of endless preparation, paperwork, and drudgery.  In my last year of teaching, I have worked harder than those Hebrew slaves that built the cities of ancient Egypt.  To finish my career as an effective teacher, I have to do well on 22 Danielson rubric points, which include 8 artifacts that will justify the generation of enough paper to cause the death of, at least, one hundred trees. 

But this is not the purpose of my little article.  Its purpose is to describe a demeaning test security system wrought by Pearson to safeguard and protect their profits.  Last week, I started testing children for New York City’s gifted and talented program.  I have been doing this activity for many years.  Originally individual districts tested students for their local gifted programs, but eventually the testing became a citywide endeavor.   Originally, children four to seven were tested using the OLSAT along with another test that measured academic readiness.  However, due to criticism that very few minority and ELL students got into the program, last year, the test was changed to just using components of the original OLSAT along with a nonverbal section.  This year, the test was changed once again—in my view—to make it even easier. 

However, our friends, or should I say enemies at Pearson, do not like adverse publicity and embarrassment whenever test flaws are revealed.  Pearson just hated when newspapers revealed that common core test questions had to be thrown out, a passage about a talking pineapple was incomprehensible, that a fourth grade passage was also used on a third grade assesment, and that the illustrations for many passages contained marketing logos that were paid for by the highest corporate bidder.  Therefore, they decided on a solution to solve these problems.  Instead of creating a valid and reliable assessment that would be subject to reviews and study by psychometricians at the university level, they would increase test security. 

Originally, in the good old days, test security was in place to prevent students from getting a hold of a test in order to cheat.  It is for this reason that tests were shrink-wrapped and placed in the Principal’s safe until the day of the test.  However, today, when a Pearson test, such as the Common Core ELA and Math assessments come in at least 75 boxes, that safe at the bottom of the Principal’s small storage closet does not work too well any longer.  Now we had the problem of having many, many tests in several supposedly secure rooms, but once the assessment started, copies ended up all over a building.  Anything could happen.  A page could be scanned into a readability program causing the discovery that a third grade passage was on an eighth grade Lexile reading level or that a passage described the nutritional benefits of a Whopper.

Therefore, Pearson concluded that the only way to prevent such errant discoveries was to collect any electronic device that could copy the test and prevent anyone from even talking about the assessment.  As a result, when I was trained at my testing site this year, I was told that if I was alone with the assessment or even the assessment’s directions for administration booklet within a classroom and had an electronic device capable of reproducing the assessment, the supervisor had the right to immediately fire me.  See, I planned to bring my Ipad to do some lesson planning and a little wifi reading between students, so I now thought all was lost.  However, there was a solution at hand.  All proctors would sit in the hall, on small classroom desks, with their electronic device. while the classroom door was locked with the tests inside.  There would be a school aid sitting on a chair at the top of the hall, watching that we would not enter the classroom to perform any misdeed with our electronic toys.  Another school aid would come with kids, unlock our door, and we would proceed to assess the student with our smart phones, Kindles and Ipads sitting quietly in the hall. 

What I described is nothing compared to the DOE’s Assessment Manual for 2013-2014.  The DOE mandated that every teacher be trained in this manual before December 20, 2013.  Not only would teachers be forbidden to even talk to each other about the tests, but also the name of every proctor would have to be sent to Pearson.  The manual lists at least 50 forbidden actions that a teacher cannot do when testing, and if discovered, the teacher would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  I guess even the slightest malfeasance would mean death by hanging, not just for the possible culprit, but for every teacher within earshot. 

And to do away with any other controversy, Pearson says on the state’s website that whatever you thought was controversial in the past is no longer controversial.  They are now doing everything on purpose.  Pearson has stated that they will use the same passage on tests at different grade levels (but with different questions).  In addition, they will use passages found within their textbooks, but again with different questions. And finally, they will use controversial pieces of text that will make certain students upset and agitated. But, according to them, students have to develop a stiff upper lip and take it like a man (or woman).

All this, of course, is for the sake of profit.  Let us prosecute and even jail any teacher who dares to analyze a test using psychometric research techniques.  What are a few careers, when billions of dollars in the hands of a few is at stake? At least J.D. Rockefeller used to give children dimes.  Pearson, on the other hand, gives our precious youth, anxiety disorder—and is definitely proud doing so. 

Interesting, during another time, the old New York City Board of Education had an office that used to review and critique different assessments from different publishers.  I know this for a fact because I used to be one of the reviewers.  We used to research tests using Buros’ Mental Measurements Handbook and the ERIC database to tell prospective buyers an assessment’s strengths, weaknesses, reliability and validity.  In this way, we helped schools and clinicians make wise and informed decisions about different diagnostic instruments.  All wiped away by the likes of Bloomberg and Klein so that their friends in the testing business could get sweetheart contracts and monopoly control.  The result is now the creation of a looking glass world in which the perpetrators make billions while those who question anything run the risk of criminal prosecution.  Let us hope for better days ahead.