New York's standardized testing has been a statewide debacle for some time. The Fairtest and the Opt-Out Movement have been covered extensively over the past several years here at TWA. I am relieved to write this blog and share how finally it was realized that Pearson Fails the TEST, not the students.
The state of New York State announced last Thursday that it was dropping Pearson as its testing vendor and instead was giving a $44 million, five-year contract to a smaller Minneapolis-based company called Questar Assessment Inc. I just read the bio's of their three leaders and it was all business and finance, with some psychometric studies and professional sales expertise. I had to look up the definition for psychometrics to learn that it was basically the science of assessment and data collection. In that same Wikipedia article, it stated: Measurement of these unobservable phenomena is difficult, and much of the research and accumulated science in this discipline has been developed in an attempt to properly define and quantify such phenomena. Critics, including practitioners in the physical sciences and social activists, have argued that such definition and quantification is impossibly difficult and that such measurements are often misused.
Was anyone here at Questar ever a teacher in the trenches? What could NYS do with $44 million dollars that might be more productive than administering standardized tests? Maybe start by revamping the training of new teachers making that program more rigorous and the concept of on-going mentorship once a new teacher begins their career. We should probably listen to Arthur Levine the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, and now instrumental in getting the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning in conjunction with MIT off the ground. "Instead of focusing on courses and credits students need to take," says Levine, who's now president of the foundation, "we're going to focus on the skills and knowledge they need to have to enter the classroom." Unfortunately, this foundation is not slated to open its doors as a graduate school of education in June 2017. And as Levine noted schools of education need to modernize, as they are outdated, products of a national, industrial economy and were not built to meet the requirements of a global, digital, information environment.
We could certainly hire plenty more qualified teachers and reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. That has been proven one very effective way to improve academic achievement, especially in the early years. The positive effects of reduced student-to-teacher ratio are the most apparent in early education, specifically in kindergarten through third grade. The Center for Public Education takes the position that classes of no more than 15 to18 students seem to provide students with the best benefits in terms of achievement in reading and math as well as provide positive and lasting academic consequences. There is a growing consensus that the balance between assessment for improvement and assessment for accountability has become misaligned toward high stakes – something many believe has an adverse effect on classroom practices.
Did you know that Pearson is also the contractor for the PARCC assessment, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which supposedly used $360 million in federal funds to align the assessment with the common core? I read on their website some candid student comments about taking the PARCC after several teachers asked for them to reflect upon the content, structure, and offer any suggestions for improving the PARCC testing experience for students. This is what they said verbatim:
- I don’t like the test because I didn’t like the format because it was confusing.
- I personally hated the test. Some things were just too complex.
- I think that some of the questions were a little difficult to be on one test with the time allowed, especially for math.
- The test content was old and sometimes unrelated/taught.
- I hated the test. I thought the questions were terrible. I really thought that it was stressing.
- The test was hard and it didn’t show all our skills.
- The computer screen gave me an excruciating headache that deterred from my focus.
- The test questions were worded very oddly. Also, they didn’t explain well if they wanted to show your work OR explain in words.
- I didn’t like how in the literacy test, they didn’t put all of the questions for one story on one page.
Back in 2010, 26 states were aligned with PARCC, but now there only a dozen states are involved and that number is predicted to continue to fall.
Watch Fox News anchor Chris Wallace discuss with Laura Slover, Parcc Inc. CEO the PARCC assessments and the Common Core State Standards.