I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More Thoughts On "Ed Reform 101 - Testing"

This is the first post of some extra thoughts on the Ed Reform 101 series I'm doing over at Blue Jersey.

First of all, let me reiterate that fairtest.org is a great resource. Monty Neill is leading a staff that's doing excellent work that we all need to be familiar with as this debate goes forward.

I started the series with "Testing" because it really is the center of the entire corporate "reform" movement. Everything they are proposing - eliminating tenure, merit pay, charter schools, teacher evaluation with VAM - it all starts with testing.

I'll admit, it had been a while since I'd thought deeply about some of these issues. That's part of the problem: too many of us teachers have just passively accepted the current testing regime without thinking carefully about what it's doing to our students. That must end now. We all see what this ridiculously heavy emphasis on standardized testing is doing to kids, and we have to speak up and say "enough."

As I was doing the research, one thing that surprised me was how little reporting I could find about the testing industry itself. Frontline did a special nearly a decade ago; since then, there have been some books, but not very much else really getting into the weeds about the corporations and economics behind the testing movement. We need this reporting, and we need it badly.

The bias of tests is a very hot topic. One of the regular trolls over at Blue Jersey really got fixated with the idea that math can't be racially biased. Well...
If Jaun has 6 plantains, and Maria takes four of them, and it takes two plantains to make one serving of aranitas, how many servings can Juan ask his abuela to make?
Those of you who teach young kids know where this is going: children are concrete thinkers; they just don't make the transition to abstract thinking very well. Change "plantains" to "ground beef," and aranitas to "hamburgers," and you'll undoubtedly raise the scores of kids in my district (although a lot of my kids probably think hamburgers come from a frozen patty tree).

The point is that there can be racial (or other types of) bias in just about any test. We could check for that in state tests, except they are so secret that we can't even look them over after their administration. That, at the very, very least, has to end; how can anyone expect a teacher to passively accept evaluations based on a test that the same teacher can't even see?

But I suspect these tests are so secretive because of the fear the contractors have of being found out as hacks. Todd Farley has really blown the lid off of this industry (still need to make time to read the book). Again - there are a lot of people looking at a $650 billion "sector" (Chris Cerf's words) and licking their chops. They are going to provide the cheapest product possible to maximize their profit; it's naive to think otherwise.

One final thought: I am also amazed at how little reporting there seems to be about the total costs of this testing obsession. Even the contracts themselves are underreported, and they're only part of the total cost. Don't all these self-proclaimed fiscal hawks care about this issue? Where are the calls in the legislatures to find out what all this stuff is doing to the wallets of the taxpayer?

OK, tomorrow's a big day: Teacher Quality. Which means "Value Added Modeling." Hey, I'll make a deal right now with Derrell Bradford: if he can convince me he knows what this is...

I'll stop picking on him. Think he'll take me up on that?

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