Friday, April 20, 2012

Hi Stakes Testing Madness: Racist, Anti-Intellectual and a $32,000,000 Public Trough for Privateer Testmaker Pearson

Thank you Pearson for Some of the Worst Tests in History!


Some of the Worst Tests in History Being Administered in NY State Public Schools!

Too bad the content of recent NY State 3rd to 8th Grade tests is being withheld from the public because from what I hear they would make great material for Saturday Night Live, if not Saturday Night Fever. The idea that that teachers will be evaluated, and students promoted or held back on the basis of these ill designed tests strains credulity. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pearson for designing tests that are so ambiguous , illogical and culturally biased that they discredit the entire New York State Department of Education, which paid 32 million dollars for these tests, and the US Department of Education, which required they use them to evaluate teachers in order to receive Race to the Top funding.

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Principal Investigator
Bronx African American History Project
640 Dealy Hall
Fordham University
Bronx, NY 10458
Phone (718) 817-3748 Fax (718) 817-3385



P.S. 321                                                                   
180 Seventh Avenue • Brooklyn, New York 11215                     • 718-499-2412 • FAX: 718-965-9605 
• Elizabeth Phillips, Principal                                               • Beth Handman, Assistant Principal
• Elizabeth Garraway, Assistant Principal                                   • Ryan Bourke, Assistant Principal
April 19, 2012
Dr. John B. King Jr.
New York State Education Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
Dear Commissioner King:
I urge you to carefully review this year’s state ELA exams.  I have been principal for 13 years and have read the tests each year.  Although there are always issues with selected questions, generally it is only one or two per test that the assistant principals and I can’t quite agree on.  I am genuinely shocked that with the increased importance of state testing,  there are so many more flawed questions than ever before.  I wish I could go into detail here, but it violates test security for me to discuss the content of the tests or the questions, which is why I feel so strongly that it is important that you see these tests for yourselves. 
In particular, I would recommend that you carefully read through day one of the fifth grade ELA.   The reading passages themselves are not too challenging—surprising since the passages in the 4th grade test were not particularly easy and the Common Core Standards call for more rigor.  However, the questions were nothing short of ridiculous.  Several of them were ambiguous and seemed designed only to trick children (and adults….the answers were not clear to many of us).  Overall, the questions did not serve to determine whether or not children had good reading comprehension skills.   You could have excellent comprehension skills and miss many questions.  Although to me the fifth grade was the most outrageous of the elementary school exams, there were problems with the other exams too.  It is puzzling to me that in 2012 in New York State, a testing company that won the lucrative contract to develop these exams did not think it was important, on day one (the most heavily weighted day) of the 4th grade exam, to include any selections that were in urban settings.  Children who spend a lot of time outdoors and in rural or suburban settings definitely will find “friendlier” texts, both fiction and nonfiction.   Take a look so you can see what I mean.  Fortunately, day two is better in this regard.
I would also urge you to actually do the listening section of grade 3 (first part of day 2).  Have someone read aloud this incredibly thin, brief passage two times as required and then see if you can answer the questions, including the short and extended responses, without looking at the text (since kids are not permitted to look at this text).  The questions are not really ones that you can answer well from the text, even if it is sitting in front of you and you can refer back. 
Because I am an elementary school principal, I do not see the middle school exams.  However, a middle school principal from outside of New York City wrote this to me after day one:  “As I reviewed the exams for the sixth through eighth grade yesterday, I was appalled. I felt that sixth grade was the most difficult of the three exams, followed by eighth, with the most fair exam being the seventh grade. There were so many questions that contained answer choices where the ELA teachers could not decide which answer would be 'best'. I felt terrible for my children, especially for my English Language Learners and my special education students.”  And 8th graders, who really can’t be controlled in terms of not talking about the test, are having a field day on the internet mocking what appears to be one of the most ridiculous selections ever included on a test! 
These exams are so deeply flawed, and now so incredibly high stakes.  The idea that teachers may lose their jobs and schools (at least in New York City) may be closed based on how children do on these problematic exams is incredibly upsetting and demoralizing to educators.  The fact that the state has decided that these exams can never be made public just exacerbates the problem, as the general public will never know how silly the exams are.   And, to use an “added value” measure on tests that are not consistently more difficult from year to year is another serious problem. 
I understand that you are very busy, but given the importance of the state tests at this time, it is absolutely critical that you analyze them carefully.  If you agree with my assessment, I hope that you will consider recommending to the State Legislature that given the flaws in the tests, we are not yet ready to use them for high stakes decision making.  I also hope you will consider making these exams public after the test scoring is completed.  It is ironic that teachers’ individual ratings are made public while the actual test that determines those ratings is not.  I know that the state already has a long-term contract with Pearson, but there is something seriously wrong with a testing company that has such inappropriate questions and passages on such a high stakes test. 
Thank you for considering all this.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Elizabeth Phillips

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Open Letter to the New York State Regents from
New York State Professors Against High Stakes Testing

March 30, 2012

As lifelong educators and researchers, from across the State of New York, we strongly oppose New York State's continued reliance on high stakes standardized testing in public schools as the primary criterion for assessing student achievement, evaluating teacher effectiveness, and determining school quality. We write to express our professional consensus and concern, and to offer our assistance to the Regents in generating educationally sound alternatives to high-stakes testing as the primary strategy for assessment in New York State.

Researchers and educational organizations have consistently documented, and a nine-year study by the National Research Council has recently confirmed, that the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress. In New York State and New York City, the consequences of testing policies have been most disappointing.

Disparate impact on students. Numerous studies document that the over-reliance on high-stakes testing bears adverse impact on student achievement and has been accompanied by widening racial/ethnic gaps. Using New York City as an example, we see that large numbers of students are performing below proficiency. High numbers of the city’s public school graduates fail the CUNY entry tests and are required to take remedial courses. Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest a failure to achieve significant reduction in the achievement gap separating New York City’s white students from African American and Latino students since 2003. 

The negative effects of our high-stakes testing environment are perhaps most pronounced for English Language Learners for whom the tests were not designed, who cumulatively and consistently fail to achieve proficiency within the limited school time (a year and a day) before they are required to take the exam in English. In 2010, 24% of 4th graders labeled as ELLs were deemed proficient in English Language Arts compared to 58% of non-ELLs.  By 8th grade only 4% of ELLs were classified as proficient compared to 54% of non-ELLs.  It is therefore little surprise that of the 2006 cohort, only 40% of ELLs graduated after four years compared to 75% for non-ELLs.
Negative impact on educators. High-stakes testing creates adverse consequences not only for students but also for educators. Statisticians and educational researchers have challenged the validity, effectiveness, and ethics of using high stakes test scores to evaluate educators. As argued in an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel by CReATE (Chicago Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education),  “There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement… [and] Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues.  Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.”  

Given various value added measures, it is not possible to actually identify with accuracy the teachers who are most effective or least effective. This is already causing some highly effective teachers to leave the profession and may very well serve as a significant disincentive for aspiring new teachers to enter the field. The recent release of New York City Teachers Data Reports unleashed a hugely demoralizing media attack on the professional dignity of teachers.
Disparate impact on children who are disrupted by school closings. Finally, we are extremely concerned about the misuse of test scores as the primary criterion for the closing of schools. The 117 schools closings authorized by the New York City Department of Education since 2003 disproportionately affect children receiving special education services, those who receive free and reduced lunch, and those who are English Language Learners.
In conclusion, we stand with the 1400 principals who signed a petition against teacher evaluations based on high-stakes testing. We offer our intellectual support to the State to help generate public policies that bolster schools to be intellectually vibrant environments where inquiry-based pedagogy is encouraged, class sizes are reduced, educators are respected, parents are welcomed, and students are granted dignity while learning.
We make ourselves available to the Regents to create just policies to transform the public schools in New York.
Bernadette Anand, Instructor and Advisor, Educational Leadership, Bank Street College 
Gary Anderson, Professor of Education Leadership, NYU 
Jean Anyon, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY 
Lee Anne Bell, Professor, Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education, Barnard College 
Douglas Biklen, Dean, School of Education, Syracuse University 
Sari Knopp Biklen, Laura and Douglas Meredith Professor, School of Education, Syracuse University 
Robert Cohen, Professor of Teaching and Learning, NYU 
Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology and Helen F. & Fred H. Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Rochester 
Greg Dimitriadis, Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY  
Arnold Dodge, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, Long Island University -Post 
Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Ofelia Garcia, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Beverly Greene, Professor of Psychology, St. John’s University
Suzanne Kessler, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Purchase College, SUNY
Wendy Luttrell, Professor of Urban Education and Social-Personality Psychology, The Graduate

Center, CUNY
Ernest Morrell, Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Director: Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME); Vice President: National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
Leith Mullings, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Mark D. Naison, Professor of African American Studies, Fordham University
Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, Executive Director,  Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, New York University
Celia Oyler, Associate Professor and director of Inclusive Education Programs, Teachers College,

Columbia University
Pedro Pedraza, Researcher at El Centro, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY
Diane Ravitch,
Research Professor of Education, New York University and Former Assistant Secretary of Education
Michael Rebell, Professor of Law
and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University
Richard M. Ryan, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Education and Director of Clinical Training, Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester

Ira Shor, Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center

Louise Silverstein, Professor of School-Child Clinical Psychology, Ferkauf Graduate School, Yeshiva University

Carola Suarez-Orozco, Professor of Applied Psychology and Co-Director, Immigration Studies at NYU

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. Professor of Urban History and Director of Center for Urban Studies, University of Buffalo, SUNY

Ethel Tobach, Curator Emerita, American Museum of Natural History

Sofia Villenas, Director, Latino Studies Program and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Education, Cornell University

Lois Weis, State University of New York Distinguished Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY