Obama’s testing plan: A real change or more of the same?

On October 24, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released their Testing Action Plan as a response to the increasing concern of parents, teachers, and students that standardized testing is, in their words, “unnecessary,” consumes “too much instructional time” and creates “undue stress for educators and students.” On first reading, Obama and Duncan seem to be saying that they want to decrease both the amount to time spent on testing and the high-stakes nature of tests in evaluating students, teachers, and schools. However, a closer reading suggests that they are only calling for the federal government to provide “clear assistance…for how to thoughtfully approach testing and assessment,” that is, more federal control. So, the actual goal is more of the same, implemented more carefully so as to blunt resistance.

The rest of the action plan’s goals are worded to suggest more than they deliver. For example, they assert that “no standardized test should be given solely for educator evaluation,” which makes it acceptable, as in New York, to use the Common Core exam to count as 50% of teachers’ evaluations and to determine whether a school is failing and should be placed in receivership.

It seems that the federal Testing Action Plan, like Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, is not meant to respond to the concerns of parents that led to 220,000 students opting out of the Common Core exams in April 2015 but, rather, to convince the media that they are going to fine tune it to make it more palatable to the public. However, what is needed is not fine-tuning but a decrease in standardized testing. The Council of the Great City Schools reported earlier this month that students in their 66 membership districts take, from pre-K to grade 12, an average of 112 standardized tests, most of which are required under NCLB and Race to the Top.

In sum, the Obama administration, outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and incoming secretary John King — who single-handedly made high-stakes testing the single most important educational issue in New York — want to do more of the same, only sell it better.

 

The Department of Education press release:

http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-testing-action-plan

 

Response by the NYS Allies for Public Education

http://www.nysape.org/nysape-pr-response-to-obama.html

 

A smart and snarky response from Peter Green, a teacher

curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/10/obamas-testing-action-plan-sucks-and.html?m=1

 

Anthony Cody (co-founder of the Network for Public Education): Obama (Again) blasts all the tests his administration has sponsored

http://www.livingindialogue.com/president-obama-again-blasts-all-the-tests-his-administration-has-sponsored/

 

Council of the Great City Schools

http://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/87/Testing%20Report.pdf

 

Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy

This is my speech given at Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy, an event organized by teachers from several area school districts. Approximately 650 people were in attendance.
Spencerport, New York
March 19, 2015

We face a crisis in public education. But, not because the schools are failing. In fact, given the high childhood poverty rate in our cities and the extreme segregation in our schools, one might conclude that the schools are doing well. Rather, we face a crisis because education policy in New York is increasingly made not by school boards or educators but by the rich and powerful, most of whom are unelected and unaccountable.hursh1

We face a crisis because our education system is being taken over by wealthy philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, who uses his foundation to fund organizations to develop and implement the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core would not exist if Gates did not provide the initial $200 million to create it. Or the $2.3 billion he gave to 1,800 organizations to support the Common Core. Or the $3 million he secretly gave to help fund the Regents Fellows to work with former Commissioner King on implementing the Common Core. Or the profits Microsoft will earn as their tablets are used to deliver the Common Core curriculum and assessments.

We face a crisis because Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has received $32.1 million to create, administer, and grade the Common Core Exams in English Language Arts and Math. Pearson seems to create most of the world’s exams, including, in the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Miller Analogy Test, and the Graduate Equivalency Test (GED). Pearson received $63 million to develop the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC exam. Pearson designs, administers, and grades the state’s teacher certification exams including the video and portfolio assessment of student teachers, for which students pay $300 per test. Pearson has the contract to design the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA exams. Pearson publishes most of the K-12 textbooks used in the United States under different imprints, including: Scott Foresman, Penguin, Longman, Wharton, Harcourt, Puffin, Prentice Hall, Allyn & Bacon, and Random House.

hursh2We face a crisis because politicians like Governor Cuomo has taken almost $5 million from hedge fund managers to push through legislation increasing the number of and funding for charter schools. Just last week in New York City, hedge fund managers held a private all day meeting called “Bonds and Blackboards” sponsored by the Walton and Gates Foundations to promote investing in charter schools, where, indeed, if you are wealthy, there is money to be made. Cuomo has proposed giving more money per student to charter schools plus additional funds for space. Further, the Governor wants to give a 75% tax credit for donations of up to $100,000 to charter, private, and parochial schools.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. In response, we need to demand transparency in how education policy is made. We need to spend money not on standardized tests but on developing assessments that provide meaningful information to the students, parents, teachers, and community. We need to demand that public funds go to public schools and not to line the pockets of charter school investors. We need to demand that educators are supported and not undermined in their professional responsibilities. We need to demand excellent schools for our children.

 

 

New York’s Working Families Party endorses Governor Cuomo for Re-election

On May 31st, the Working Families Party, after much debate, endorsed Governor Cuomo for re-election. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/nyregion/cuomo-secures-support-of-working-families-party.html?_r=0. However, Cuomo was severely criticized for favoring charter schools over public schools and taking campaign contributions from charter school CEOs and hedge fund managers. For a short analysis of Cuomo’s politics see my  article “A cautionary tale: Governor Cuomo and the effort to destroy public education in New York” to be published in The Australian Educators Union journal the Professional Voice later his month.

For more information on educational developments in Australia and their excellent professional journal, please visit their website for the current and past issues: http://www.aeuvic.asn.au/publications_index_13_53773280.html.

Meuwissen Testifies on edTPA: Research and Implementation

Testimony by Kevin W. Meuwissen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Curriculum, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester

Rochester, New York

New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Higher Education and Education; Joint Hearing on New Statewide Teacher and School Building Leader Certification Requirements

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hamilton Hearing Room, Legislative Office Building

Albany, New York

We at the Warner School of Education acknowledge the importance of teacher education and certification to high-quality K-12 teaching. And we agree with Darling-Hammond’s claim in her 2010 Center for American Progress report that performance assessments like edTPA surpass paper-pencil certification exams as measures of contextualized, enacted teaching practice, and as tools for delineating the complexities of teaching. However, we also find that New York’s implementation of edTPA, up to the present, does not realize the potential benefits of a movement toward more authentic assessment and evaluation. While we support the Regents’ decision to provide teaching candidates who fail edTPA this year with an alternative pathway to certification until 2015, more extensive piloting and support is necessary to reduce problems with edTPA implementation and provide schools of education and their teaching candidates with valuable benchmarks to better prepare for the assessment. Even under this proposed timeframe, New York’s edTPA implementation schedule remains uniquely short in comparison to schedules in some other states.

Four questions frame this testimony. First, what does scholarship tell us about the use of performance assessments for teacher certification? Second, how does New York State’s implementation of edTPA align with what we know from that scholarship? Third, what are the consequences of New York’s edTPA implementation for candidates and teacher educators? And fourth, what policy recommendations are warranted in light of the responses to these questions? 

What does scholarship tell us about the use of performance assessments of teaching for certification?

On the first question, evidence pertaining to outcomes of performance-based certification assessments is scant because such assessments are relatively new. Much of that evidence comes from research on a program that served as a model for
: the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). Darling-Hammond, Newton, and Wei explain that performance assessments like the PACT hold promise as predictors of teaching effectiveness and opportunities for candidates to develop their planning, instruction, assessment, and reflective practices. For example, Bunch and colleagues studied eight elementary teaching candidates’ experiences with the PACT and found that completing the assessment helped cultivate a focus on the challenges of teaching linguistically diverse learners in multicultural contexts. Yet research bears out dilemmas of PACT implementation as well. Okhremtchouk and others determined that most teachers and administrators in their candidates’ internship schools were unfamiliar with the PACT, its aims, and its requirements; and further, constraints in some schools significantly impeded candidates’ capacities and efforts to complete the assessment.

Research by Lit and Lotan, Peck and McDonald, and Peck, Gallucci, and Sloan explores the effects of PACT implementation on teacher education programs. Their studies suggest that performance assessment of candidates can encourage collaborative, longitudinal program review via analyses of benchmark evidence – specifically, complete candidate work samples, not just summative scores – but that such review also requires the negotiation of many complex factors. That negotiation includes: (1) discussing divergent perspectives on the assessment, its purposes, and its consequences; (2) maintaining important local values and priorities, like teacher research and community involvement, while meeting external certification demands; (3) interpreting the assessment’s language; (4) deciding how, if at all, to integrate the assessment across the program or into coursework; (5) developing tools and strategies for focusing candidates on continuous professional growth despite the summative nature and technological complexity of the assessment; and (6) including numerous faculty members and other institutional stakeholders in those activities. 

How does New York State’s implementation of edTPA align with what we know from that scholarship? 

There are clear implications of these studies for enacting edTPA. A performance assessment for certification can benefit teaching candidates and teacher educators under two conditions: (1) there must be time for teacher education programs, internship schools, and candidates to work systematically and collaboratively to plan for implementation and address procedural and technical challenges thereof; and (2) comprehensive benchmarks and transparent evaluation criteria must be available to teacher educators as tools for analysis and decision making within their programs. Unfortunately, New York’s implementation of edTPA has met neither condition. As Cochran-Smith, Piazza, and Power indicate, New York’s teacher educators have sparse access to stratified edTPA benchmarks for their own research and development, even currently. And the subcontracting of evaluation to a corporate entity likely will limit teacher educators’ access to edTPA portfolio materials moving forward.

Also questionable is the State Education Department’s decision to set the edTPA’s cut score at 41 for secondary certification candidates after two years of piloting and field testing. By contrast, the State of Washington set its passing standard at 35 after five years of piloting and field testing. Commissioner King has not explained how New York’s cut score was determined, though he has indicated that he expects a higher rate of failure on certification exams than in the past because of it. This fusion of opaqueness and rapid implementation leaves many teacher educators deeply skeptical that the State Education Department and Board of Regents have an interest in providing opportunities and resources to strengthen their programs via the assessment. That alternative credentialing programs like Teach For America are held to looser standards corroborates this skepticism. It is worth noting that 15 states are in some degree of edTPA development and implementation. Of those states, New York is the only one with a timeline of fewer than five years from introduction to consequential use.

What are the consequences of New York’s edTPA implementation for teaching candidates and teacher educators?

The following examples demonstrate how edTPA’s hasty implementation negatively impacted candidates and teacher educators at the Warner School of Education this year. Before April 2014, edTPA guidelines prohibited teacher educators and candidates’ peers from “suggesting changes to be made in an edTPA draft” and “offering formal feedback” on video clips that might be selected for submission. In our program, candidates generally complete edTPA via innovative instructional units they design for and enact within their clinical field experiences. This places teacher educators and candidates in the tenuous position of formatively analyzing and discussing instructional artifacts, including video, as part of their course experiences, yet also trying to adhere to the edTPA’s support restrictions. Earlier this month, the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) released substantially revised guidelines that better enable authentic feedback on teaching products that candidates also might select for edTPA. While this is a commendable modification, it is one that should happen during piloting and benchmarking, not in the first year of consequential use.

Another dilemma stems from some K-12 schools’ requirement that candidates use EngageNY modules, which are intended to align with state Common Core tests but are still in development, during their student teaching placements. One elementary candidate remarked:

These modules are very teacher-centered, with a lot of whole-class instruction. And to think that the political details of the War of 1812 are meaningful and developmentally appropriate to second graders is ridiculous. So edTPA is mandated by the state. But if I want to do well on it, and teach in ways that I know are beneficial for my kids, I have to find ways to teach outside of the EngageNY modules, which also come from the state.

In a similar vein, a secondary English language arts candidate indicated:

I’m teaching a creative writing unit, which limits what I can submit for edTPA. The rubrics prioritize Common Core standards, like comprehending and constructing meaning from complex text features, which means that if I try to submit lessons and video about teaching kids to peer edit, for example, they’re not going to fit the rubric criteria very well.

These candidates’ comments succinctly and effectively illustrate edTPA’s entanglement with other state policy levers that also have been rushed to implementation. We must take into consideration that edTPA was executed concurrently with two other new certification exams, alongside K-12 curriculum mandates and high-stakes tests that have altered the landscapes of placement schools dramatically. Keeping in mind that a stated goal of edTPA is to strengthen teaching across the state, it also is important to imagine the unintended consequences of its implementation on young people considering a teaching career. Their numbers have declined in recent years, and we can only expect that situation to worsen if edTPA is perceived to be an unfair assessment for which it is difficult to prepare.

What policy recommendations are warranted in light of the responses to these questions? 

Donald Campbell coined an aphorism that the more far-reaching an evaluation tool is for decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort the processes it is intended to monitor. New York State’s enactment of edTPA thus far has corrupted the purposes and conceivable benefits of performance assessment for state certification. The Regents’ safety net policy, adopted on April 29, is a positive step, but likely will not eliminate the challenges identified in this testimony. It may provide teacher education institutions, candidates, and K-12 schools with an opportunity to allay them, but only if those institutions have access to comprehensive, high-quality benchmarking data. We recommend that the New York State Department of Education provide those data, including completed portfolios and scoring rubrics from the current year, to institutions with certification programs and grant those institutions time to learn from them and productively manage the practical dilemmas of edTPA in their candidates’ interests.

We also recommend that the Department be held accountable for increasing the effectiveness and transparency of its policy rationales and decisions. Again, California’s PACT offers a lesson for consideration. Wei and Pecheone describe in great depth a scoring protocol that involves extensive training and calibration, double-score verification by local and external raters, and a complex auditing system, with interventions for institutions that produce unreliable results. In New York, not only is edTPA scoring conducted by the Pearson Corporation and removed from the local context completely, it is described vaguely with language like “evaluators are monitored throughout the scoring process.” Given edTPA’s implementation challenges thus far, including a frantic search for proficient raters in the midst of consequential use, skepticism among candidates and teacher educators about the integrity of the evaluation process seems justifiable. More transparent and accountable policymaking by the State Education Department could alleviate some of that skepticism. Research by Cohen and Hill suggests that when policy reforms are not accompanied by intellectual, political, and fiscal collaboration among state agencies and the professional stakeholders implementing them, those reforms tend to fail. The State Education Department and Board of Regents should take that research into consideration.

Finally, we suggest that policymakers consider a more permanent solution for candidates who have successfully completed their teacher education programs and other state certification exams, but not edTPA. A transitional certification option already exists for those who enter the field through alternative credentialing programs like Teach For America. It seems fair and reasonable that candidates prepared via accredited programs have the same opportunity to demonstrate successful practice and maintain their certification as those who are not. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Dr. Kevin W. Meuwissen

Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Curriculum

Warner School of Education, University of Rochester

 

Link to written testimony with complete references and list of other signatories

 

No Trophies in the Knowledge Economy

For far too long education reform has been tinkering in the margins and offering band-aid solutions that keep the patient alive, but little else.  Lawmakers have chased fads and bad policies that haven’t helped children thrive.  One can only do so much to keep the patient comfortable before calling the Priest. Our education system is on life support and it’s time for the last rites.

Educators, school leaders and most parents already know that schools are outdated, though few think of a system that is fundamentally flawed and irreparable.  But it is.  The current education system isn’t just and equitable.  Our pedagogical approaches – placing knowledge into empty heads and assuming learning has occurred – isn’t working.  Furthermore, what children are being taught isn’t helping them to lead a successful life.

Schools do not approach education from an equitable and just position.  Instead we approach education like a little league baseball team whose coach is hell-bent on winning.  We should not exclude students with disabilities from general education settings, but we do.  We should not be quick to banish minorities to special education classes, but we do.  Approaching school with the mindset that everyone can learn and deserves the opportunity to learn is fundamentally different than our system now – a high-risk system that favors fielding the best team.  The very foundation of our education system should not be chasing test scores and “winning.”  That’s a dangerous lesson for students and a disastrous byproduct for our country. 

A part of the ‘winning’ attitude comes with reliance on test scores.  If a teacher is measured based on the success or failure of test scores, teachers are going to ensure that students pass tests.  The problem is that those high-stakes tests don’t help students wrestle with tomorrow’s big questions.  Instead, we should replace these tests with ongoing authentic assessments that measure learning and development.

Education’s mission of yesterday was to teach people the skills required to fill a workforce.  In short, we were training widget makers for our consumer economy.  But an education that trains students to consume a product doesn’t meet the challenges required in contemporary society.  We need to engage a dynamic generation of sophisticated children in knowledge production.  New technologies and their resultant new practices have radically changed the way humans learn, interact and produce knowledge in contemporary times.  We need an education system and workforce that understands how schools can better harness those tools to encourage creative solutions. 

How do we do that?  First and foremost education policy needs to stop chasing trophies and test scores and instead go in a more holistic direction.  Some of the most successful countries in the world – with the test scores to prove it – shy away from what Pasi Sahlberg calls the “GERM” Global Educational Reform Movement.  High-stakes testing kills creativity in the classroom and shifts priorities away from learning how to solve real-world problems.  The curriculum should offer opportunities to build new ways of seeing the world rather than a simple transmission of predefined content and skills that are still rooted in assembly line curriculum ideology. 

A school’s curriculum should not be prescribed.  It must be arrived at collaboratively through curriculum instruction teams that include teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members.  Having a more equitable and just process for curriculum development means more individuals can help shape schools with projects that are relevant and meaningful to their communities. 

Much of this is to push teachers and students to become ‘produsers’ of knowledge, meaning that students and teachers care less about the consumption of knowledge and more about the creation of knowledge.  Doing this not only transforms communities, but it gets young minds focusing on problem solving and problem posing – not regurgitation of facts.  It’s the shift from children and youth as consumers to children and youth, teachers, administrators, parents and community leaders as ‘produsers’ of knowledge.  Learners would ‘produse’ knowledge from an early age and apply that knowledge in new ways to everyday tasks with real-world audiences. For example, one urban element

In the knowledge economy, information is free and moving rapidly.  The analytical is becoming antiquated – because Google had the answer 10 seconds ago.  What computers cannot do well is ask the questions.  And to get any conversation started requires a question.  We have sat on the sidelines for far too long and now we have to ask ourselves this question: will we work with or against the knowledge economy?  Batter up.  ary classroom in Rochester, N.Y. advocated for healthier food options at their school through a student-produced documentary film, called “Lunch is Gross,” for district administrators. The student-teacher collaborative project, which integrated math, science, social studies, and literacy learning into all aspects of the project, resulted in a change in the district’s food vendor.

Will the Lone Ranger (NY Senate) Save School Funding?

I keep waiting for the Lone Ranger to ride in and save the day for local schools. I am not sure he is coming this year. Over the years we have had many gubernatorial agendas that seemed to make sense for a governor’s political future, but little sense for New Yorkers.

This year it is a promise to keep taxes flat, institute statewide pre-kindergarten and fill schools with an abundance of new technology. What’s not to like? The problem is the governor makes almost no progress in restoring the billions of dollars taken away from schools in what is called Gap Elimination Adjustment. The result is once again some local school districts will be forced to raise property taxes while they cut teachers, increase class size and reduce programs. Gap Elimination Adjustment is the withholding of formula based state funding of local schools in order to close the budget gaps caused by the crippling recession of 2008. It is much harder on low-wealth school districts that are more dependent on state aid.

Guess what? There is no budget gap. The recession is technically over, except perhaps for low-wealth school districts and the taxpayers who support them. The governor’s budget will force cash-strapped school districts to further reduce a local program that barely provides a sound basic education to its students. In some cases, districts are on the verge of going out of business, at the same time they are asked to add pre-K and more technology, both of which will create their own legacy costs.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for pre-K and more technology, but only after the basic education requirements are met. This idea of overlaying these programs on districts that are barely above water is akin to dressing a starving child in a bright new outfit. The child might look better, but is still starving. In the end, the so-called tax freeze from the governor will inevitably lead to increased local property taxes as we try to keep schools afloat.

A group of low-wealth, mostly rural school districts, has made an offer to the governor. Eliminate the GAP reductions (as there is no gap), provide all the aid required by law and these districts will guarantee a zero school tax increase. Now that’s a win-win, but it might not be seen as such by a governor who seems to struggle to see any solution that varies from his own agenda as acceptable.

Oh, the Lone Ranger: In my experience that has always been the state Senate. Even when there was a Republican governor doing what seemed to be politically expedient, but educationally damaging, we could count on the upstate Senate delegation to insist on common sense. Where is that masked man? We could really use him right about now.

This essay first appeared in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger on March 25, 2014.
http://www.mpnnow.com/article/20140325/Opinion/140329782#ixzz2x6LbT2
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The Attack on Public Education in the US as a Cautionary Tale for New Zealand and Australia

Public education is under attack in the US and other countries around the world. I am just concluding a two-month trip to New Zealand and Australia speaking and meeting with the heads of national teachers’ unions in both countries, and speaking at four universities. This will be the first of several blogs.

The impetus for the trip began simply enough. I was invited to present a keynote speech to the primary school teachers’ and principals’ union (New Zealand Educational Institute- NZEI) conference in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand educators have a long proud tradition of professional independence in which curriculum and assessments are created at the local level. But with the recent election of the neoliberal National party, the government has turned to supporting charter schools, promoting the idea that teachers should be paid based on their students’ achievement, and other top-down reforms.

The union leaders were clear regarding their goals for the conference: to educate themselves about the high-stakes testing and privatization movement in other countries, remind themselves what good teaching encompasses, and organize to defend public schools and teachers. Other keynote speakers included: Martin Thrupp (University of Waikato, NZ) who recently completed a three-year study on the effect of the new standards on schools primary schools in New Zealand; Bob Lingard (University of Queensland, AU) who has studied globalization and education; David Berliner (University of Arizona) who has a new book 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools; Meg Maguire (Institute of Education, London) who has researched and written about urban schools and education policy; Barbara Comer (Queensland University of Technology, AU) who researches and writes about literacy education, social justice, teachers’ work, and practitioner education; and Margie Hohepa (University of Waikato, NZ), expert in Maori medium education.

For this and my subsequent major talks on the trip, I focused on the rise of high-stakes testing, the push to privatize public schooling through charter schools and handing over standards, curriculum development and assessment over to private corporations such as Pearson, and the shift in education decision making at the local level by school boards, administrators and teachers to unelected and unaccountable individuals and organizations at the state, national, and federal levels. I began by warning that we are in danger of losing public schools in many cities in the US noting, however, that schools will still be largely funded out of public taxes but schools and education policy will be privately controlled by individuals such as Bill Gates, corporations such as Pearson, and organizations such as Teach for America. I described the rise and misuse of standardized testing in the New York, as first students needed to pass five Regents exams to graduate from high school, then No Child Left Behind added testing requirements for grades 3-8, and finally Race to the Top added more tests plus requiring that test scores be used to evaluate individual teachers.

I closed my talk by describing the rising resistance in New York, as teachers, parents, administrators, students, and the public push back against the private takeover of the public schools. Commissioner King has met determined criticism during his “listening tour.” Teachers’ and administrators’ unions have called for a two-year moratorium on the Common Core curriculum and assessments. Perhaps thousands of students and families are planning to boycott the next round of tests. My closing comments urged the teachers and administrators to form an alliance with parents, students, and the public to resist the government’s efforts to implement high-stakes standardized testing and open more charter schools.

In my next blog I will describe some of the Ministry of Education plans in New Zealand and Australia (which was my next stop) and rising resistance from unions and universities.

My talk and those of the other NZEI keynoters are on the NZEI website at
http://www.education2014.org.nz/?page_id=719.

Mine is also posted below and on youtube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4vZGsLiL4.