States disagree on whether to release glitchy Common Core test results

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

As goes PARCC for Massachusetts, so goes the nation?.

Massachusetts, long a leader in the push to set and create national standardized testing, recently switched back toward relying on a state-based test. The first results of new Common Core-aligned standardized tests are in, but widespread computer glitches in a system that facilitated the exams have left some states wondering if scores are valid.The Massachusetts State Board of Education has voted to forego Common Core testing in favor of redesigning its own state exam, an influential move from a national education leader that may hasten the end of a national high-stakes testing era, while challenging education experts to come up with a better alternative.

BOSTON — It has been one of the most stubborn problems in education: With 50 states, 50 standards and 50 tests, how could anyone really know what American students were learning, or how well?Massachusetts’ rejection of the Common Core-aligned PARCC exam is symbolic, since the state “is widely seen as kind of the gold standard in successful education reform,” according to Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California. During testing, many students in Nevada, Montana, and North Dakota, among other states, were forced to end the tests early when the computer system adapting questions for difficulty based on student answers became overloaded. Under intense pressure from both the right and left of the political spectrum, states have been practically tripping over each other to drop the controversial tests: Parents complained they were too hard, conservatives alleged they represented a federal takeover, and teachers’ unions decried test score-based teacher evaluations.

At a dinner with colleagues in 2009, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’s commissioner of education, hatched what seemed like an obvious answer — a national test based on the Common Core standards that almost every state had recently adopted. Polikoff told the New York Times that the move might help other states repeal Common Core, as two decades before Common Core, Massachusetts had already adopted uniform testing and subsequently went on to lead the nation and many countries in student scores and performance. The purpose of this project had been to heighten accountability, by establishing exactly what academic knowledge K-12 students should possess, after completing each grade.

The initiative focused on assessing mathematical skills, as well overall literacy (skills related to language, reading, writing, speaking and listening, media and technology). I’ve yet to grasp how nine weeks of meaningless data could three weeks later suddenly become meaningful, or why you’d adopt a grading system that can’t tell parents anything useful two months into school, or how an excessively complicated, indecipherable compilation of education jargon is really the report card parents wanted, or how three report cards a year instead of four better promotes communication between parents and their child’s school.

In the last two years, spurred by a push from Massachusetts educators, some districts began using the PARCC, a test used by several states that is aligned with national Common Core requirements. But Massachusetts, the education “miracle state” – whose students have for a decade topped the National Assessment for Educational Progress (audit tests often called “the nation’s report card”) – was considered a crucial supporter for Common Core tests and now, a crucial breakaway. The standards had been established in June 2010, and had been adopted by a vast majority of the U.S. states as a means of determining student progress.

Speaking of data, results from last spring’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card,” were released before Halloween. However, recently some states such as Oklahoma, Arizona, South Carolina and Indiana have ceased to back this initiative, switching to other means of evaluation, and it appears that Massachusetts will also join their ranks. Authorities say they want to wait until the scores are made completely valid. “It’s really important for us to be careful and thoughtful and making sure what we release has context and makes sense for parents and teachers,” Emilie Ritter Saunders, spokeswoman for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, told The Associated Press. “We invested a lot of time and a lot of energy. The Times noted that the state’s participation in itself was a validation of Common Core, and the fact that Mitchell Chester, education commissioner for Massachusetts, also sits on the PARCC board. ALISON STEWART: What was the catalyst in Massachusetts that made the board say, hey, we want to create our own test, which is kind of a hybrid thing as opposed to sticking with the multi-state test?

The results honor the hard work of students and teachers, he added, and that districts could make use of the data even if parents don’t appreciate it. Common Core defenders counter that other states also recorded declines, but the Common Core’s repercussions extend beyond states belonging to its two prime testing consortia.

As more states leave the consortium and the number of students taking the test drops from 10 million a year ago to less than 5.5 million, the testing cost per student to PARCC is likely to go up. This may please numerous parents, who have claimed that the PARCC assessments are excessively difficult and frequent, causing their children unprecedented levels of stress. A score that counted as “approaching expectations” in one part of the country might be labeled “proficient” somewhere else – the same state-to-state differences Common Core creators had hoped to fix. “It may be a little too premature to declare it a failure,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education James A. In fact, in New York, around 200,000 K-12 schoolkids have opted out of these tests, and such actions supported by parents have also become increasingly common in California, New Jersey and Colorado.

So you had the right saying this is federal overreach, you had teachers unions saying this is – you’re trying to be punitive, you are trying to tie this to teachers’ evaluations. As in other states, conservatives complained of federal overreach into local schooling, while the union objected to tying the tests to teacher evaluations.

In response, the Obama administration has declared measures would be taken to reduce the frequency of examinations, so that they represent just 2% of the time spent in class. ALISON STEWART: What’s interesting about this also is there’s a money component, as with most things, that the money that schools get is tied to test scores, correct? Another problem that teachers reported is that the same year when Common Core was launched, teachers’ annual evaluations began taking into account their students’ test scores. Based on how many schoolchildren from that class have passed the PARCC exams, the tutor is granted a rating, being labelled as “highly effective”, “effective”, “developing” or “ineffective”. The board cited the “real limitations of what can be concluded about learning based on test scores.” Until and “unless empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC” and “college and career-ready,” “valued life outcomes,” the “results will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance and should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose” or “to make consequential judgments about schools and students.” In a memo accompanying the release of students’ scores, the board described SBAC’s score levels and “definition of college and career-ready” as “too simplistic” and “narrow.” The memo particularly cautioned parents against “plac[ing] a great deal of emphasis” on “sub-scores” in specific skill areas as “there are just not enough test items to give you reliable information.” These concerns were echoed by our state’s education secretary.

What the federal government did – and the standards weren’t created by the federal government, they were created by the National Governor’s Association and other groups. But some educators have urged patience, reminding testing skeptics that even in Massachusetts, educational turnaround has been nearly 20 years in the making. “If we revert back to the old standards, all this work will have been for naught,” Revere. So while parents and students here did not opt out of testing in the waves they did in places like New York and New Jersey, they also did not express much support. “It’s much more about politics than it is about education,” said Tom Scott, the executive director of the state superintendents’ association, which had encouraged the state to keep the multistate test. People on either side of the debate here still celebrate the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 as “the grand bargain.” Democratic legislators and the Republican governor at the time, William F.

The probability of receiving such evaluations is greater than ever, now that pupils’ grades have been nose-diving due to their inability to meet impossibly high learning benchmarks. Weld, agreed to give schools more money in exchange for ambitious standards defining what students were expected to learn and new tests tied to those standards, including one that, by 2003, students had to pass to graduate from high school. Maybe a different set of tests should be designed, which could allow assessing the pupils’ real level of knowledge with greater accuracy and objectivity. The President himself described Race to the Top as “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” Now he proposes to fix things by limiting standardized testing to “two percent of classroom time,” which would place it somewhere between 20 and 25 hours annually.

Sandra Stotsky, senior associate commissioner in Massachusetts from 1999-2003, has emphasized that the state’s improvements stemmed not just from test-based standards and accountability, but an improved teacher licensure system, something the White House has also explored as a path to improving US schools. The state board and education agency that issued the cautionary press releases about faulty SBAC data are the same state board and education agency requiring that schools use the very data state officials condemned for evidence of compliance with state-mandated “improvement plans.” These improvement plans, incidentally, were required because according to the last array of meaningless No Child Left Behind era tests, eighty-five percent of Vermont’s schools were failing.

Chester and his counterparts in Louisiana and Florida proposed that states also combine resources on a test, not only to compare results but to afford a better test design. I work in a world, though, where officials can with a straight face release assessment scores they acknowledge are “unreliable” on the grounds that inaccurate, unreliable data can somehow “provide useful information.” But at hearings here this fall, many superintendents and teachers testified that the new test, known as Parcc, for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had improved what was happening in classrooms. The opposition came from what might have once seemed an unlikely place, the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank that had been a driver behind the higher standards in the 1993 legislation.

It will – excuse me — be tied more to Massachusetts’ standards and it will be called MCAS, which is the name of the test that Massachusetts – the state-specific test that Massachusetts has used for years. But in 2014, the membership elected a new president, Barbara Madeloni, who had campaigned against high-stakes tests, period. “It is destructive to our students and our teachers and the very possibility of joyful and meaningful public education,” Dr. Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s executive director, said, “David Koch never talked to me about Common Core.” Supporters of Parcc also accused its opponents of distorting facts. In fact, Common Core requires students to read more nonfiction, but only because it requires them to do expository reading in all subjects, including science and math. “The opposition was making some wild claims that the proponents answered with factual information, assuming that everyone would take a very rational approach to the facts and reach a valid conclusion,” said Linda M.

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