Local Districts, Standardized Testing

Last evening, the White House released a statement from President Obama on efforts from CCSSO and CGCS to cut back on unnecessary testing and the dreaded test-prep focus so many fear is taking over our classrooms.

Where I’m scratching my head is trying to see what the “news” is. The full statement is below. The so-called directive to EdSec Arne Duncan seems to be an effort that the EdSec has focused on for years now. That parents have more info on student learning. That classroom time is used well. That assessments play a part, but not the whole part, of teacher eval.

Perhaps Eduflack is missing something. Maybe this action is worthy of presidential proclamation. But from the cheap seats, this reads far more like “stay the course” than “let’s break new ground.”

Here’s the full statement. You tell me ….

Over the past five years, my Administration has worked with states to remove obstacles created by unworkable requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. While the goals behind No Child Left Behind – promoting school accountability and closing the achievement gap – were admirable, in too many cases the law created conditions that failed to give our young people the fair shot at success they deserve. Too many states felt they had no choice but to lower their standards and emphasize punishing failure more than rewarding success. Too many teachers felt they had no choice but to teach to the test.

That’s why my Administration has given states that have set higher, more honest standards the flexibility to meet them. In that spirit of flexibility, I welcome today’s announcement from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools that state education chiefs and district superintendents will work together to cut back on unnecessary testing and test preparation, while promoting the smarter use of tests that measure real student learning. I have directed Secretary Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools.

In the 21st century economy, a world-class education is more important than ever. We should be preparing every child for success, because the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Our nation’s schools are on the right track: Our high school graduation rate is at its highest in our history, the dropout rate is the lowest on record, and more of our young people are earning college degrees than ever before. I’m determined to support our nation’s educators and families as they work to set high expectations for our students and for the schools in which they learn.

The EdSec, The Educators, and The Testing Conundrum

It’s no secret that the education community is in the throws of a major debate on testing and its proper use (or its improper misuse). Whether it be a lack of assessment literacy on the part of most involved, a distrust of the providers of said tests, or the fear that tests are the first step down a slippery slope of moral and educational decay, testing seems to be the issue that is holding up many a school improvement, educational reform, and standards implementation effort.

It’s also no secret that much misinformation and misattribution regarding testing has been directed at EdSec Arne Duncan. Listen to some, and it seems he is traveling city to city, selling the latest and greatest tests, and checking off more educational souls that have been captured in the name of accountability.

So Eduflack was glad to see that the EdSec offered up a blog post earlier today to try and set the record straight. Posted on SmartBlog on Education, Arne writes:

As teachers gear up for a new school year, I want to offer two thoughts. One is a message of celebration and thanks. The other is a response to a concern that has come up often in many conversations with teachers and families, and which deserves an answer.
 
First, the thanks. America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements in the last year – the highest high school graduation rate in the nation’s history, and sharp cuts in dropout rates and increases in college enrollment, especially for groups that in the past have lagged significantly. For these achievements, we should celebrate America’s teachers, principals, and students and their families. These achievements are also indications of deeper, more successful relationships with our students. All of us who’ve worked with young people know how much they yearn for adults to care about them and know them as individuals.
 
These achievements come at a time of nearly unprecedented change in American education – which entails enormously hard work by educators. Nearly every state has adopted new standards, new assessments, new approaches to incorporating data on student learning, and new efforts to support teachers.
 
This transition represents the biggest, fastest change in schools nationwide in our lifetime. And these efforts are essential to prepare kids to succeed in an age when the ability to think critically and creatively, communicate skillfully, and manipulate ideas fluently is vital. I have heard from many teachers that they have not received all the support they’d want during this transition. Yet America’s teachers are making this change work – and I want to recognize and thank them for that and encourage their leadership in this time of change.
 
That’s the easy part of this message. The harder part has to do with concerns that many teachers have brought to my door.
 
My team and I hold regular conversations with teachers, principals and other educators, often led by Teacher and Principal Ambassador Fellows, who take a year away from their schools to advise my agency. Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing.
 
Assessment of student progress has a fundamental place in teaching and learning – few question that teachers, schools and parents need to know what progress students are making. And few question the particular importance of knowing how our most vulnerable students are progressing. Indeed, there’s wide recognition that annual assessments – those required by federal law – have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus.
 
There are three main issues I’ve heard about repeatedly from educators:
  1. It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments – a test many of them have not seen before – and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.
  2. The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.
  3. Testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time.
I share these concerns. And I want our department to be part of the solution.
 
To those who are reading the last sentence with surprise, let me be clear: assessment is a vital part of teaching and learning, but it should be one part (and only one part) of how adults hold themselves responsible for students’ progress. Schools, teachers and families need and deserve clear, useful information about how their students are progressing. As a parent of two children in public school, I know I want that. And in fact, most teachers and principals I talk with want to be held responsible for students’ progress – through a sensible, smart combination of factors that reflect their work with students – not the level students came in at, or factors outside of their control.
 
But assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone – always on a mix of measures – which could range from classroom observations to family engagement indicators. In Nevada, educators include a teacher’s contribution to the school community in their measures; in Hawaii, schools consider student feedback surveys and professional growth, such as leading workshops or taking university coursework). Educators in Delaware look at measures of planning and preparation such as lesson plans and descriptions of instructional strategies to be used for students with diverse needs. Federal policy rightly stays out of picking those individual measures, but ensures that in evaluating teachers, states and districts include student growth, and consider multiple measures.
 
But the larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. Educators work all day to inspire, to intrigue, to know their students – not just in a few subjects, and not just in “academic” areas. There’s a whole world of skills that tests can never touch that are vital to students’ success. No test will ever measure what a student is, or can be. It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress. Yet in too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support.
 
I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more. This is one of the biggest changes education in this country has ever seen, and teachers who’ve worked through it have told me it’s allowed them to become the best teachers they’ve ever been. That change needs educators’ full attention.
 
That’s why we will be taking action in the coming weeks that give states more flexibility in key areas that teachers have said are causing worry.
 
States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition. As we always have, we’ll work with them in a spirit of flexibility to develop a plan that works, but typically I’d expect this to mean that states that request this delay will push back by one year (to 2015-16) the time when student growth measures based on new state assessments become part of their evaluation systems – and we will work with states seeking other areas of flexibility as well. We want to make sure that they are still sharing growth data with their teachers, and still moving forward on the other critical pieces of evaluation systems that provide useful feedback to educators. We will be working in concert with other educators and leaders to get this right. These changes are incredibly important, and educators should not have to make them in an atmosphere of worry. Some states will choose to take advantage of that flexibility; others, especially those that are well along in this transition, will not need a delay. The bottom line is that educators deserve strong support as our schools make vital, and urgently needed, changes. As many educators have pointed out, getting this right rests also on high-quality assessments. Many educators, and parents, have made clear that they’re supportive of assessment that measures what matters – but that a lot of tests today don’t do that – they focus too much on basic skills rather than problem solving and critical thinking. That’s why we’ve committed a third of a billion dollars to two consortia of states working to create new assessments that get beyond the bubble test, and do a better job of measuring critical thinking and writing.
 
I’m concerned, too, when I see places where adults are gaming tests, rather than using them to help students.
And we also need to recognize that in many places, the sheer quantity of testing – and test prep – has become an issue. In some schools and districts, over time tests have simply been layered on top of one another, without a clear sense of strategy or direction. Where tests are redundant, or not sufficiently helpful for instruction, they cost precious time that teachers and kids can’t afford. Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.
 
There’s plenty of responsibility to share on these challenges, and a fair chunk of that sits with me and my department. We encouraged states to move a whole lot of changes simultaneously, because of the enormous urgency to raise standards and improve systems of teacher support – not for another generation of students, but for today’s students.
 
But in how this change happens, we need to listen carefully to the teachers, principals and other educators who are living it on a daily basis – and we need to be true to our promise to be tight on outcomes, but loose on how we get there.
 
From my first day on this job, the objective has been to work in a spirit of flexibility to help states and communities improve outcomes for kids. We need to make changes, but we are also making progress. I’m determined that, working in partnership, we’ll continue to do both – be flexible and make progress for our kids.
 
Change is hard, and changes of significance rarely work exactly as planned. But in partnership, making course alterations as necessary, we will get there.
 
Well said, Mr. Secretary!
 

Seeking Assessments That Matter

To paraphrase from the classic movie Major League, “in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the chatter and recent urban legends you haven’t, student assessments have managed to have positive impact here and there, and are threatening to be seen as a positive part of the teaching and learning process.”
Sure, student tests aren’t the Cleveland Indians finally making it to the playoffs, but we have long seen the same negative feelings and concerns attached to testing as we did for the Indians before “Wild Thing” Vaughn pitched them out of the cellar.
The improving public perceptions of testing is best seen in a new research survey conducted by Grunwald Associates on behalf of the Northwest Evaluation Association. In Make Assessment Matter: Students and Educators Want Tests That Support Learning, NWEA surveyed more than 2,000 students and educators on their perceptions of assessment. Interestingly, this seems to be the first significant study that actually asked students what they think about the tests they are taking.
There are some great write-ups of the full survey, including this piece at Education Week by Catherine Gewertz and this article at Huffington Post by Rebecca Klein.
Some of the results may surprise you. Among the highlights:
  • 81 percent of students think student test scores reflect how well teachers teach
  • 95 percent of students agree that tests are “very” or “somewhat” important for helping them and their teachers know if they are making progress in their learning during the year
  • 80 percent of students say they have not heard of new state accountability tests, despite all of the CCSS hype we hear about
  • 81 percent of students think student test scores reflect how well teachers teach
  • 64 percent of African-American students, 65 percent of Asian-American students, and 61 percent of Hispanic students believe state accountability tests are very important to their futures, compared to just 47 percent of white students
  • 78 percent of students think taking tests on computers has a positive impact on their engagement during tests, with 95 percent of district administrators and 76 percent of teachers agreeing that adaptive technology-based tests are “extremely” or “very” valuable for engaging students in learning
  • 55 percent of teachers report they never took a course in assessment literacy in their teacher prep programs
  • 96 percent of teachers who say they use assessment results do so to improve teaching and learning in the classroom
So what does it all mean? We see that students and teachers both value testing, as long as it is the right type of test. We see that, while they might not be able to define it, educators find real value in interim assessments and see them very differently than the “high-stakes” summative tests that seem to dominate the headlines. And we clearly see that much work needs to be done to build better understanding of the types of tests, why they are used, and how the data is applied. Or more simply put, we like tests if they are relevant and student learning focused.
Based on its research, NWEA offered up five recommendations for policymakers, administrators, educators, and all those involved in the learning process to consider, including:
  1. Engage with students in policy development process, especially when making testing mandates at the state, district, and classroom levels
  2. Realign assessment priorities in support of teaching and learning
  3. Establish formal learning opportunities on assessment for every teacher, principal, and building administrator
  4. Improve student learning by making educator collaboration a priority in every school district
  5. Prioritize technology readiness in every district, focusing on infrastructure and addressing glitches
It is important to note that most of these reccs do not cost us big bucks, unlike the typical policy reccs we see in education. All are focused on ensuring we spend our resources wisely and are focusing our assessment efforts on student learning, not solely on accountability.
Specifically, we should all be doing the stadium wave for number four. As testing isn’t going anywhere, it is of value to all those in the teaching and learning process to be more assessment literate, to better understand the portfolio of tests available to them, to distinguish the good from the mediocre from the useless, and to ensure that results are put to use and put to use quickly.
As we know in today’s education space, perception is the new truth. Whether we agree or not with these findings, these are the perceptions of students, teachers, and district administrators from across the nation. The scientifically valid sample gives us a clear understanding of how folks are thinking about testing. And it provides us an important building block as we shift to ensure tests have meaning and utility.
Sure, testing is not going to win the triple crown every school year. But this data makes clear that good tests are positioned to have real impact come the end of the school season. 
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has worked with the folks at both Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates.)

Is the Bell Tolling for CCSS?

“Is this the beginning of the end for our caped crusader?”

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered the State of Florida to withdraw from Common Core State Standards assessments and its financial relationship with PARCC.  For those who have been watching Florida, this should be no surprise.  Scott is concerned with his upcoming re-election.  He is reading the tea leaves, particularly with Republicans, that CCSS are unpopular (just look at the growing number of anti-CCSS state groups on Facebook).  So for a governor with poor poll numbers, it seems natural that he would take a move that would shore up anti-federal intrusion Republicans who comforting anti-high-stakes teaching Democrats and independents.
So no, we shouldn’t be shocked that Florida’s governor wants out of CCSS testing.  But in the online tsunami following his decree, one important piece was overlooked.  He didn’t call for Florida to pull out of CCSS itself (yet).  Scott has just folded the state’s cards in the assessment game.
The more troubling development seems to be happening west of the Sunshine State in Louisiana.  In the Pelican State, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is starting to raise concerns with the CCSS themselves.  Using phrases like “federalized curriculum,” Jindal is taking issue with the very standards he helped champion in the early days.  Now we have Jindal talking about the need for “Louisiana, not Washington, DC, standards.”
While it makes for some nice red-meat rhetoric, Jindal knows better.  These aren’t DC standards.  These are national standards, developed in large part by the states themselves, to raise the bar for all kids and help make them all college and career ready, at least in English and math.  And if Jindal really wants Louisiana standards, he better look back to the downright pathetic standards the state had just a decade ago, where the goal seemed to be providing all Louisiana students access to a mediocre public education, if they were lucky.
We’ve now reached the point where we are playing some dangerous political games with classroom learning.  Scott and Jindal may be scoring points on the campaign trail (or on Jindal’s hopeful road to the White House), but they are both being disingenuous about the issues.  Higher standards are important for our more transient student population, and are necessary if we expect all students to graduate from high school college and career ready.  And like it or not, we do need assessments that actually measure student progress against those higher standards.
Both of these politicians have their own reasons for doing what they are doing and saying what they are saying. But let’s not read too much into these announcements.  No states are required to sign onto CCSS, and Louisiana wouldn’t be the only state not to participate (just ask friends in Texas, Minnesota, or Virginia.)  And of the 40-some states that are part of CCSS, they aren’t required to be part of the CCSS assessments.  The two consortia are there to help reduce costs on testing by creating a common test that states could then enhance to meet their own needs.  If a state like Florida wants to spend significantly more to keep its own test, that is its right.
No, this isn’t the beginning of the end of CCSS.  While many “sky is falling” folks will see this as such (particularly those who have distain for CCSS in the first place), this is just the latest bump in the road.  Let’s actually get the aligned curriculum in the classroom, let’s give teachers content-based PD, and let’s get the tests up and running before we condemn CCSS to its untimely demise.

Parent Survey (or Statistics are Dangerous)

We began the week reflecting on an AP poll on parent sentiments about public education.  As we roll into hump day, we now have the 2013 edition of the Gallup/PDK poll of “what Americans said about the public schools.

This year’s Gallup/PDK highlights:
* As we’ve heard for decades, most Americans give the public schools a “C” grade, but give their own schools an “A” or “B”
* 62 percent of parents have never heard of Common Core State Standards
* 36 percent believe increased testing has hurt school performance, 22 percent say it has helped, and 41 percent said it makes no diff at all
* 58 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evals, up from 47 percent in last year’s survey
* 52 percent said teachers have a right to strike (yes, that really is a question PDK asked)
* 88 percent say their child is safe when they are in school
* 66 percent favor educating children whose parents are in the United States illegally
* Only 29 percent favor sending kids to private schools at public school expense
Overall, the survey results aren’t that big a surprise.  They seem to jive with what PDK reports annually in this survey, and they aren’t too big a deviation from what AP released earlier in the week.
What’s disappointing is how PDK decided to present this year.  One would think that a semi-intelligent human being could take a look at polling toplines and understand that when only 22 percent say high stakes testing helps school performance, the majority doesn’t believe it to be so.  Unfortunately, PDK dumbed it down a step further, putting out a “highlights” document that makes sweeping statements without providing any statistical backup,  While one can track down the supports, it is definitely a dangerous document in the hands of the wrong folks.
Some of these self-proclaimed “highlights include:
  • Common Core – “Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.”
  • Standardized Tests – “The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.”
  • Charter Schools – “Charter schools probably offer a better education than traditional schools.”
  • Online Learning – “High school students should be able to earn college credits via the Internet while attending high school.”
  • Biggest Problem – “Lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.”
Let’s just take the last item.  Per-pupil public school funding is at its highest rates ever in the history of United States public education.  Do we honestly believe that is the biggest problem facing the schools?  More so than the obscene achievement gap?  More so than a third of all fourth graders unable to read on grade level?  More so than our inability to address the needs of a growing ELL population in our classrooms?  More so than ensuring that good teachers remain in the classroom and get the support and respect they need?
They again, sometimes poll results are just poll results.  But looking at the latest PDK release, Eduflack is left with two thoughts.
“A little information is a dangerous thing.” Albert Einstein
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain

High Stakes? We Laugh at High Stakes

Despite the tall tales told by some about parents opting their children out of standardized tests en masse and folks marching by the millions against “high-stakes tests,” it appears that the average American parent is just fine with the amount of summative tests given to their sons and daughters.

According to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, we all seem to be OK with those high-stakes tests and the frequency with which they are offered.  According to the survey:
  • 61% of parents think their children “take an appropriate number of tests,” compared to 26% who think there are too many
  • 72% want to make it easier to fire teachers who aren’t performing (with 56% saying classroom observation should be part of teacher evals)
  • 75% believe standardized tests are a solid measure of student abilities, with 69% saying it is a good measure of schools’ quality
  • 93% say standardized tests should be used to identify where students need extra help
And interestingly, for all of our hand-wringing over Common Core State Standards, more than half of parents say they have heard little or nothing about CCSS.  When told about what CCSS was, half said it would improve things, 27% said it would have no effect, and only 11% said it would make things worse.
Such findings definitely don’t align with the tales being spun about the state of public education and our growing resistance to testing and CCSS, for instance.  But then feeling fine about the current state of assessment just doesn’t make for a good story line or dozens of angry posters to a blog.
On Wednesday, PDK and Gallup will release their annual survey on public attitudes toward public education.  Let’s see if they match up, or if we are telling AP one thing and PDK another.
UPDATE: This poll was actually sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, which now has the whole survey available up on its website.  

Everything is “High Stakes”

Student assessment has been under assault for years now.  And that assault usually begins with the attack on “high-stakes” tests.

We hated No Child Left Behind because of its high-stakes tests, with student assessments determining whether schools were making adequate yearly progress and ultimately if the school doors would stay open or not.
We hated the current batch of end-of-year “high-stakes” tests offered by the states, particularly now that the student performance numbers are being used by some states (and encouraged by others through NCLB waivers) in their teacher and principal evaluation process.
And we hate the “high-stakes” Common Core Assessments, whenever they come on line, as they blend our fears from both NCLB and state tests and wrap them up into one easy package.
Today, The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss has applied the “high-stakes” label to another target — the SAT and the ACT.  In writing about how Common Core State Standards could <SHUDDER> actually have an impact in all states, even in those that haven’t adopted CCSS, she notes that “Students in every state take the high-stakes college admissions exams, the SAT and the ACT.”
Eduflack understands “high stakes” is a powerful term and it can raise the hackles of everyone from the left who oppose stricter accountability measures to the right which recoils from a greater federal footprint on the local classroom.  And he gets that Strauss is using the phrase as fighting words, hoping to generate continued negative feelings toward CCSS.  But sometimes, can’t a test just be a test?
Aren’t there some assessments that should have some stakes attached?  Shouldn’t high school exit exams be “high stakes” as they determine whether a student has earned a high school diploma or not?  And shouldn’t we want the SAT and ACT to have stakes, as they determine who gains entrance to a four-year college, particularly when the costs of college are about as high stakes as they come?
Tests have consequences.  And all tests should have stakes attached.  Driver’s exams are “high stakes” as they determine if you get a license and have access to the freedom that comes with it.  Eye exams are “high stakes,” particularly when anything less than 20/20 will keep you from becoming a pilot in the Armed Forces.  DNA tests are “high stakes” as they determine one’s family lineage, an essential to knowing your history and your health future. The new Google/Bing taste tests are “high stakes,” as they could determine marketing campaigns and huge swings in search usership. 
So if there are no stakes attached, and some seem to advocate, is it even a test?  

“Higher-Quality Assessments”?

Lost in the excitement of this week’s NCLB waiver waivers and NCTQ’s teacher prep scorecards was a new report coming out of Stanford University’s Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, or SCOPE.  The report offers up the thought-provoking title, Criteria for Higher-Quality Assessment.

With a tip of the cap to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Criteria for Higher-Quality Assessment offers up some guidance that “can be used by assessment developers, policymakers, and educators as they work to create and adopt assessments that promote deeper learning of 21st century skills that students need to succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy.”
Obviously not as sexy as the wavier waivers (or the non-waiver of waivers, depending on who you talk to), it is an interesting topic.  And it definitely helps when this guidance is coming from a team of authors who have been or currently are involved in CCSS or the development of Common Core assessments.  The SCOPE report offers a who’s who of authors, including Linda Darling-Hammong, Joan Herman, Eva Baker, P. David Pearson, and Lauren Resnick (all told, the piece boasts 20 “authors”).
And what does the esteemed panel offer up?  Noting that “No single assessment can evaluate all of the kinds of learning we value for students or meet all of the goals held by parents, practitioners, and policymakers,” the authors advocate five criteria that should be applied in the development of assessments moving forward:
  1. New assessments should tap the “higher-level” cognitive skills that allow students to transfer their learning to new situations
  2. Assessments should evaluate the critical abilities articulated in the standards, such as communication (speaking, reading, writing, and listening in multimedia forms), collaboration, modeling, complex problem solving, research, experimentation, and evaluation
  3. Assessments should be as rigorous as those of the leading education countries, in terms of the kinds of tasks they present as well as the level of performance they expect
  4. Assessment tasks should also represent the curriculum content in ways that respond to instruction and have value for guiding and informing teaching
  5. An assessment should represent well the knowledge and skills it intends to measure, be used appropriately for intended purposes, and have positive consequences for instruction and for test-takers, guiding better decisions rather than restricting opportunities
All of these points seem reasonable.  All of these points seem like something the entire education community should strive for.  The big question, then, is whether any of the current testmakers — particularly those who construct and sell the dreaded “high-stakes tests” would say they don’t already adhere to these five criteria and won’t continue to follow as they develop new summative tests aligned to the Common Core.
Anyone, anyone?

“No Criticism is Too Vicious and Too Fact-Free”

Earlier this week, CBS Radio star and White House expert Mark Knoller (@markknoller for you Twitter followers) noted that former President Bill Clinton, while at a political event, said “‘no criticism is too vicious and too fact-free’ for opponents to use against Pres Obama.”

It was one of the few times, particularly lately, when Eduflack really paused to reflect on something I had seen on Twitter.  Regardless of whether it applies to the Obama-Romney showdown this fall, one thing is true.  President Clinton’s statement definitely applies when one looks at education reform.
Yes, there is no criticism too vicious or too fact-free for opponents to use against education reform.  Or perhaps, to be a little more generous and to paraphrase a line from Seinfeld, when it comes to defending the status quo, it isn’t a lie if you believe it to be true.
Don’t believe it?  Take a look at the opinions and vitriol that follow education reform across the nation.  In state after state, those who defend the status quo issue the same lines and look like carbon copies of other status quoers.  
If one is for greater accountability, then one is pro-bubble sheets and only teaching to the test.
If one supports public school choice, then one is stealing dollars from our community schools.
If one demands increased parental involvement and parental rights, then one is anti-teacher.
If one calls for teacher evaluations, then one is anti-collective bargaining.
If one provides philanthropic support to improve public schools, then one must be a profiteer looking to make personal fortunes off public education.
If one highlights the achievement gap and the disparities in both quality and outcome for Black and Latino students, then one must be a race-baiter.
If one asks for public school improvement, then one must be trying to privatize the schools and enact a voucher system.
If one believes we can do better and wears the tag of education reformer proudly, then one must be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Republican looking to take over the system.
Sadly, there are no attacks that are too vicious or too devoid of fact for the defenders of the status quo.  In our modern era of campaign politics, it is all about trying to tear down the opponents.  It isn’t about policies.  It isn’t about facts.  And it certainly isn’t about the students.  It is about protecting what one has, no matter how ineffective the system may be.
And what of the reformers?  They simply have to stand and take the attacks and the vitriol, no matter how ridiculous.  Try to confront it, and you merely encourage those status quo defenders.  Try to set the record straight, and any egregious statement you don’t address is automatically accepted as gospel.  
In politics, we keep talking about the need for an end to negative politics and a new era of debate and collaboration.  The same can be said of education reform.  This should no longer be an argument of who is anti-teacher, who is anti-accountability, and who defines what as a true public school.  Instead, we should be focusing on both identifying the problem and offering real solutions.
Defending the way we have always done things because that is how we have always done things is not a solution.  Now is the time for ideas, for promising practice, and for real solutions.  Now is the time for a debate robust in facts, not a time for fact-free attacks.

What Parents Want from Student Assessments

It is quite clear that student assessments are quickly becoming the driving force in public education.  In state after state, we are now using student assessment to drive funding, teacher evaluation, and institutional direction.  While many may squabble on what types of assessments to take and how to apply them, there is no denying that student assessment is now ruling the day.

So what is that parents (and teachers) actually want from the learning assessments administered in our classrooms?  That is the question that the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and Grunwald Associates asked earlier this month, and some of the responses were surprising.  All told, Grunwald Associates surveyed more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, more than 1,000 K-12 parents, and 200 district administrators.  The findings included:
* 90 percent of parents said monitoring their kids’ progress in school, knowing when to be concerned about progress, and determining preparedness for the next stage of learning was “extremely” or “very” important;
* More than eight in 10 parents (84 percent) said formative assessments are useful for instructional purposes, while only 44 percent said summative assessments were; 
* More than six in 10 teachers cited monitoring individual student performance and monitoring growth in learning over time as most important to them;
* With both parents and educators, 90 percent said it is important to measure student performance in math and English/language arts, as well as in other subjects like science, history, government and civics, economics, and technology and media literacy; and
* Only half of parents believe that summative assessment results are delivered in a timely manner.
And the big takeaways?  Teachers value formative and interim assessments far more than they do summative assessments (and that opinion is trickling down to parents).  The vast majority of teachers and parents want more testing (at least in more subjects) and want results delivered in a timely manner.  And an inordinate amount of K-12 parents seem to understand the subtleties among formative, interim, and summative assessments (or at least pretended to in distinguishing between all comers in responding to this survey.
It is valuable to see that we continue to discern value from student assessments, regardless of the form they come in.  But we also have a few key lessons learned from the NWEA/Grunwald data:
* We still aren’t seeing that data is being effectively used in classroom instruction.  Neither parents nor educators seem to believe that current data is being used to tailor and improve instruction in the classroom.  Why not?  With all the data we capture, we should be putting it into practice.  If not, this is all a fool’s errand.
* Testing turnaround time is taking too long.  Teacher and parent alike seem to believe the turnaround time from taking the test to getting the scores is just too lengthy.  Seems like the perfect opportunity to call for online, adaptive testing (whether it be formative or summative) where scores can be turned around and applied in real time.
* Parents follow the lead of their children’s educators.  On the whole, parents’ responses aligned with the teachers leading their kids’ classrooms.  Both the frustrations and benefits of teaching, from the educators’ eyes, is making it back to the parents at home.  This relationship can serve as a valuable tool.
* There seems to be a call for adding testing to the school calendar.  While some bemoaned those “horrible” “high-stakes” summative assessments, there was a strong call for more tests on the front end.  This seems to run contrary to the drumbeat that there is too much testing in the classroom, and, if used properly, can be powerful in further shaping data-driven classrooms.
While such surveys will likely have little impact on the in-developed common core standards assessments or on current state exams, they do provide some interesting context as we look at how to use tests in educator evaluation and other such measures.  Some food for thought.