April 7, 2011

"Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing."

The NYT reports:
Mr. Obama criticized “high-stakes” tests last week at a town-hall-style meeting, contrasting them with less-pressured tests his daughters took in their Washington private school....
Anthony Cody, a teacher in Oakland, Calif., who writes a blog for Education Week, suggested that the president was disavowing the policies of his education secretary, Arne Duncan, which include expanding student testing to evaluate teachers and developing new tests to be given several times a year to measure student progress.

“All these changes RAISE the stakes on the tests, for teachers and for schools,” Mr. Cody wrote in a blog post, following an earlier post titled “If only the Department of Education could hear this guy Obama, boy, they would have to rethink their approach!”

... [A]nother blogger, Deborah Meier, a senior scholar at New York University’s education school, [wrote] “In reality the government is paying people to invent more bubble tests”...
The NYT makes an article about bloggers making an issue out of something the mainstream press had ignored, and the article only contains one link to one of the blogs it has mined for material.

Meanwhile, the article is festooned with links — on words like "Malia" and "Sasha" — that go to a NYT page full of links to other NYT articles about on that topic. It looks like they don't understand how people read on the web, or more likely, that they are trying to manipulate us into random poking around inside the NYT, upping their page-view count for their own purposes. To be fair, the one blog post they link to collects the links to the various blogs they've talked about in the article. Oddly, that blog post links back to the NYT article that linked to it.

Ah, no. I see! They just link to Anthony Cody's blog, and not the 2 posts that their hyperlinked text refers to. The top post is a new post about the NYT article, and it provides all the links that were missing in the NYT article. Ugh! NYT, get your linking right! If you're talking about blog posts, link to each specific blog post. And get rid of those idiot links on words that go to your own search pages!

I know, I linked to the NYT. I did that because I'm honest about showing my own entry point. I wouldn't have read Cody's blog otherwise. From his top post:
The Obama campaign relied on the energy of millions of us, activated by a call to our hopes and dreams. We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind, and Obama promised a fresh start. We have not seen that fresh start in education. Instead we are seeing a deep entrenchment on the part of the Department of Education, finding ever more creative ways to pretend that making the tests more frequent will somehow make them benign. Those of us who are experiencing the effects of these policies are not deceived. We see how they are destroying schools, and stealing opportunities from children....
Last week, President Obama reminded us all why his election gave many of us so much hope. In 338 words he spoke of how he wanted his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to have their learning tested. He described a low-stakes, low pressure environment, with the results used not to punish them, their teachers or their school, but simply to find out what their strengths are, and where they might need extra support. He spoke of the need to avoid teaching to the test, and the value of engaging projects that would make students excited about learning. President Obama has made sure his daughters can learn this way. If only Department of Education policies would allow students in our public schools this same privilege!

42 comments:

themightypuck said...

In other news Obama buys Unicorn for Malia and Sasha.

Sixty Grit said...

They pass the only test they need to pass - they are part of the favored minority.

WV: ficto - like Obama's records.

Mark O said...

Obama: the handicapper general.

Carol said...

God how I hate those newspaper auto-links. Even NRO does it!

Quayle said...

"contrasting them with less-pressured tests his daughters took in their Washington private school"

I agree with Obama completely here.

I was contrasting the crappy VW Passat I am relegated to drive with my wife's Audi A6.

I believe all VW mid-sized cars should be just a nice as the Audis.

And Obama believes the same.

traditionalguy said...

The NEA wants to end testing as we know it. That crazy test stuff makes teaching school into a real job. They much prefer careers that have no possibility of failure...like a Federal Judge.

galdosiana said...

Standardized testing is, in many ways, a poor measure of actual knowledge. I've done quite a bit of reading and research on this in the past, and two really interesting books are "The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy" by Nicholas Lemann and "Standardized Minds: The High Price Of America's Testing Culture And What We Can Do To Change It" by Peter Sacks.

What strikes me as ironic in Obama's latest stance on this is that he is the one who initiated the "Race to the top" funding for schools, which requires them to use merit-based pay for their teachers. Merit-based pay is based primarily on standardized test scores--meaning that teacher effectiveness is measured by the level their students test at. Low-testing students, in Obama's system, equal bad teachers.

There are many problems with this system, not the least of which is the use of standardized testing in general as a way of measuring knowledge. But, Obama suddenly saying we need to ease up on the tests seems to me like yet another waffling move on his part.

Pastafarian said...

"...with the results used not to punish them, their teachers or their school..."

Because we mustn't punish teachers or schools for doing their jobs poorly. It's the parents' fault.

Is there another occupation out there that pretends to be a profession, and yet is so bereft of accountability?

I actually think that teachers honestly believe that measuring students' performance harms it. I've seen this same effect in manufacturing: A machinist will often favor micrometers without a ratchet, using "feel" to adjust gauging pressure, because with that feel, he can subconsciously apply just a little more pressure when needed and get that reading in the region of acceptability, because he's so sure that the part is good.

And so the teachers are convinced that before testing showed them that their charges couldn't read, they could read just fine.

galdosiana said...

Standardized testing is, in many ways, a poor measure of actual knowledge. I've done quite a bit of reading and research on this in the past, and two really interesting books are "The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy" by Nicholas Lemann and "Standardized Minds: The High Price Of America's Testing Culture And What We Can Do To Change It" by Peter Sacks.

What strikes me as ironic in Obama's latest stance on this is that he is the one who initiated the "Race to the top" funding for schools, which requires them to use merit-based pay for their teachers. Merit-based pay is based primarily on standardized test scores--meaning that teacher effectiveness is measured by the level their students test at. Low-testing students, in Obama's system, equal bad teachers.

There are many problems with this system, not the least of which is the use of standardized testing in general as a way of measuring knowledge. But, Obama suddenly saying we need to ease up on the tests seems to me like yet another waffling move on his part.

stlgretchen said...

I've been writing an education blog for almost a year now. I search every day for other bloggers who are raising the warning flags about standardized testing, common core standards and the invasive longitudinal data sets ready for students. The purpose of the data sets? It isn't to improve the education for students, it's to "supply the workforce"...and this data will be shared with the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. I would wager you never read any of that on the Whitehouse.gov site or in the MSM.
Standardized tests identify subsets of students. It's not about improving education; it's to bring the bottom up and the top down. The higher subset scores are declining in my district and the lower subsets are improving. All glory is given to the rising scores but not one word is mentioned or resource is given to the declining groups.

PatCA said...

"If only Department of Education policies would allow students in our public schools this same privilege!"

Well, the Obamas are rich, silly, and Ivy Leage grads!

Testing is for the little people.

edutcher said...

God forbid, we don't want to show the little darlings are incapable of anything but put a rubber on a zucchini (or similarly-shaped object).

Or find another way to show union teachers are falling down on the job.

"We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind, and Obama promised a fresh start."

I think we need the Obama is like Bush tag.

John said...

I did a Masters in education in a respected ed school graduating in 2004.

In the entire program, I took not a single exam, quiz, test or anything resembling it. When I asked the dean about this, I was told that the current view of education professionals was that testing was "counterproductive" The more she explained why, the less I understood.

I poked around and found that this seems to be the perceived wisdom these days.

I taught in the business school of the same university and was required to give at least 1 exam per class and they liked to see 2.

I find it hard to believe that education can take place without testing yet most educationists seem to want to do away with it. Now we get the prez talking about "Its hard" and he doesn't want his daughters to have to do anything hard.

The main, really the only thing, I learned getting an ed degree was that, as screwed as our system of training teachers is, our public schools are not that bad.

By any rational measure they are terrible. Just that they should be worse given the way we train teachers.

Yes, testing has to be valid etc. no disagreement there. I also agree that it is not always valid. That is not a reason to do away with it.

John Henry

MayBee said...

Obama is forever comparing our education system/results to various foreign countries. Yet the countries he uses as positive examples use standardized tests as the basis for everything a student does - and every opportunity that student has- from that point forward.

As for Sidwell Friends, of course they don't need to use the tests to "punish" the teachers or the school. The parents will do that themselves, by refusing to spend the enormous tuition to send their children to a substandard school.

Now, I would like to see tests used more as they are at Obama's daughter's private school. However, my sense is that many teachers (and their unions) want to make it seem as if it is impossible to come up with some metric to measure their performance.

MayBee said...

Why would we think Obama would know anything about making education better?

Why do we think any of our presidents know anything about making education better?

shoutingthomas said...

Unfortunately, the EEOC and the President don't believe that standardized testing has anything to do with qualifying applicants for firefighting positions.

So, in our major cities, tests for firefighters are being dumbed down so that they are almost impossible to fail... so that more blacks can be hired.

Hope this isn't a problem if your house catches on fire.

And, Althouse, your friend Bazelton is a player in this scam.

John said...

An objection I see all the time to standardized testing in particular and occasionally to testing in general is about "Teaching to the test"

Me, I've never understood that argument. Seems to me like it would be a good thing. (Assuming of course that the test is valid)

If the test tests a students ability to perform algebra (in a math class) it demonstrates that they have learned and/or the teacher has taught algebra.

I've always thought of it not so much as teaching to the test as testing to the teaching.

I think it is the latter that scares teachers and other deep thinking educationalists.

John Henry

STL Gretchen:

How about a link to your blog?

Calypso Facto said...

edutcher said:"We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind, and Obama promised a fresh start."

I think we need the Obama is like Bush tag.


My thoughts, exactly. Another Obama double-down on a topic previously ridiculed as a Bush failure. Add it to the list.

PaulV said...

Ritzy private schools are tested by the market place. Fail that test and they go under. Public schools are not so a substitute is required. Bush was wrong in the compromise with the hero of Chappaquiddick, but his power was limited, just as Obama's power is now. I tested well. I admire those who have to work hard to master the subject. Public schools do not do a good job for those students.

PaulV said...

Ritzy private schools are tested by the market place. Fail that test and they go under. Public schools are not so a substitute is required. Bush was wrong in the compromise with the hero of Chappaquiddick, but his power was limited, just as Obama's power is now. I tested well. I admire those who have to work hard to master the subject. Public schools do not do a good job for those students.

ricpic said...

All students must be tested on their vibrancy!

PaulV said...

blogger did not eat my words, but made me post duplicate

Michael said...

Tests are terrible for several reasons.
1.) They have to be graded and this is a pain in the ass for teachers.
2.) Many of the wrong kinds of students repeatedly do poorly no matter how easy the test is crafted.
3.) Students have to "study" for tests and they do not want to "study" for tests.

Our President gets this.

Roger Sweeny said...

It's a good thing teachers don't teach to their own tests--because teaching to a test is bad.

Oh, wait. They do. And they're proud if their tests are aligned with their teaching.

This is not about tests. It's about tests someone else makes up.

Smilin' Jack said...

Yawn.

The smart kids are going to learn what they need to know anyway, and all the dumb ones need to learn is to do as they're told. So it has always been, so it will always be.

Pastafarian said...

stlgretchen said: "It's not about improving education; it's to bring the bottom up and the top down."

Now why would anyone want to bring the top down? Is this a zero-sum game, where imparting measurable skills and knowledge to some leaves less for others?

Maybe that top wasn't as high as you thought it was, before you started testing.

Maguro said...

The problem with tests is that they mostly measure the quality of the student rather than the quality of the teachers or the school.

If you took all the students from "high performing" High School A exchanged them en masse with the student body of "low performing" High School B, you'd have an instant reversal of fortune with High School B now being the "good" school and High School A the "bad" school.

The testing results mostly tell us that not all groups of students are equally smart, but that not a message anyone ants to hear.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind...

Correction: we were exhaused by eight years of MSM's deliberate negative campaign against the Bush administration. One reason we read this site is for the antidote to the wholesale corruption of the national 'news' media.

Pastafarian said...

stlgretchen: "The purpose of the data sets? It isn't to improve the education for students, it's to "supply the workforce"..."

God forbid we produce employable graduates with our $15,000 per year per pupil investment.

Better we should impart to them unmeasurable, unquantifiable skills and knowledge, to be determined by the individual teacher. Yeah, teach them whatever you want; here's $15,000.

Wasn't there some movement in the 70s to teach math without actually involving yucky arithmetic, replacing it with absurdly inappropriate (for elementary school) concepts from set theory? Yes, let's give the hippy educational establishment carte blanche in deciding what to teach students, and whether they've learned anything of value.

Pastafarian said...

Maguro, I would think that, given the data from testing the same students year after year, it would be possible to crunch the numbers in such a way that this variation would be taken into account.

You wouldn't judge math teacher A versus math teacher B based simply upon the average score for their class on the test; but upon the average improvement for each student, allowing for how much or little improvement that student has been capable of in past years.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Pastafarian said...

Now why would anyone want to bring the top down? Is this a zero-sum game, where imparting measurable skills and knowledge to some leaves less for others?

It's not that anyone wants to bring the top down. ( I'm sure some do, but that's not the point. ) Nor is it a zero-sum game due to a limit on the total skills and knowledge.

However, allocation of school and teacher resources is largely a zero-sum game: the more time they spend with one set of students, the less time they spend with another. NCLB provides schools strong incentives to focus on the students at the bottom, as such they spend less time doing activities that would help those at the top reach their potential.

traditionalguy said...

Testing is the only way to stop automatic advancement of all warm bodies that bother to attend. Without testing, there is no reason to have schools.

AJ Lynch said...

The teachers unions lament that the tests pinpoint schools with a lot of below average students and then the teachers at those schools get the blame. Which may or may not be appropriate.

In any event, I think we will always have standardized tests of some type because humans are competitive by nature.

virgil xenophon said...

In case no one noticed, we "teach to the test" EACH AND EVERY TIME when it's REALLY IMPORTANT and someone's LIFE IS ON THE LINE, and the basics ABSOLUTELY have to be mastered, e.g., basic UPT pilot training in the armed services..

traditionalguy said...

Another method would be to let Survivor Island skills of the crafty ones vote the other ones out of the school. It could be called School of the Flies. Something in me has always liked that tribal chant, "Kill the pig".

virgil xenophon said...

Expanding on my above post I should say that I attended a Univ. Lab School K-8 as the son of faculty members whose curriculum was "enriched" to say the least. As such, and considering the make-up of the student body, we were taught the whole kitchen-sink, not the be bear minimum "teaching to the test" implies. In fact we weren't even given grades 1-6, but only a written report of strengths & weaknesses. But we were tested aplenty, taking both the California and Iowa tests every year at a minimum besides locally-derived testing, just so our progress could be measured. In short, THERE ARE WAYS to "test" in an otherwise "un-pressured" atmosphere..

TMink said...

Mediocre and worse teachers fear tests for good reason: Good testing exposes them!

Trey

Methadras said...

The Dept. of Education does what again?

Methadras said...

John said...The main, really the only thing, I learned getting an ed degree was that, as screwed as our system of training teachers is, our public schools are not that bad.

By any rational measure they are terrible. Just that they should be worse given the way we train teachers.

Yes, testing has to be valid etc. no disagreement there. I also agree that it is not always valid. That is not a reason to do away with it.

John Henry


Public schools in this country have degenerated so badly over the decades that no one is asking the singular question as to why. WHERE DID THE TRILLIONS OF EDUCATION DOLLARS GO!!! Where are they that we've spent that much money in a system that has failed so miserably.

wdnelson93 said...

Homeschooling Mom of two 15 y.o.'s and a 16 y.o. here. Kids are in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. We are part of a homeschool charter school and this week was testing week. My kids always loved going to testing because it was an opportunity to visit with all their homeschooling friends. In the earlier grades (3rd, 4th) I didn't even show them their scores. As someone mentioned, we saw their results as guidelines re: what needed more work - though as a homeschooling mom, I didn't need a test to tell me my son needs to work harder in math.

We start taking results seriously in about Jr. Hi. Our local university gives scholarships to the kids who are in the top 10% of their class. Since homeschooler's curricula run the gamut (and so do parents giving their own kids their grades), the ONLY measure for this that our charter school uses is the 10th grade standardized test. So that is the one test that matters. That and the SAT. As long as there is an SAT there should be standardized testing.

I'm also with virgil x. Every test given after H.S. is a "teach to the test" test. CPR, ACLS, anything that requires any skill set or specified knowledge. Kids might as well get used to it from a young age.

Duncan said...

I agree that standardized multiple guess tests are a bad idea necessitated by the fact that neither the students nor the teachers are genuinely literate.

Essay tests are a much better way of determining a student's level of intellectual development. Unfortunately, they require students able to (genuinely) write and teachers able to (genuinely) read.

stlgretchen said...

John Henry:

I didn't know if i was allowed to post a link. Here you go:

http://www.missourieducationwatchdog.com/2011/03/map-testing-its-most-terrible-time-of.html

As an aside to some of the remarks about "bottom up, top down", I do stand by my remarks about the testing bringing the bottom subgroups up. This is important because if just one subgroup fails the test, the entire school is declared a "failing school". The teachers I talk to tell me resources are spent to bring those bottom groups up and if a student is struggling but is not in a poor performing subgroup, that student is pretty much on his own.