Parents from PAA-CT testify vs. high-stakes testing

Connecticut is currently in the process of developing a new statewide teacher evaluation system. The proposed system originally called for 22.5% of every teacher’s evaluation to be based on standardized tests, despite the overwhelming evidence that basing teacher evaluations on standardized tests is completely unreliable, and despite the fact that currently in Connecticut, not all subjects or grades have standardized tests. Thus, the proposed system would either result in teachers being evaluated on tests taken in courses and/or grades they do not teach, or the imposition of some form of high stakes standardized tests in every grade and subject.

To make matters worse, the Education Commissioner, the superintendents’ association , the association of school boards and others are attempting to renege on this plan and increase the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that would be based on standardized tests.

On June 6, 2012, three founding members of PAA-CT, Wendy Lecker, Mary Gallucci and Darcy Hicks, testified in front of the State Board of Education in opposition to the use of standardized tests in any part of a teacher’s evaluation. Below is the written testimony of the three PAA-CT Members.

Testimony of Wendy Lecker, Stamford Public School Parent, June 6, 2012

Thank you, State Board Members:

I am the mother of three children in Stamford public schools. Like every parent I want all our children to have good teachers. That is why I strongly oppose using standardized test scores in any part of a teacher’s evaluation.

The research is clear that basing evaluations on test scores results in a 40% -60% misclassification rate. A teacher’s “effectiveness” based on test scores can vary from test to test, class to class, year to year. It even varies if you use 2 statistical models for the same test.

Value added measurements are so wildly unreliable because standardized tests were not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. They cannot distinguish who has been taught well and who has not.
And as scholars have also pointed out, this unreliability is not mitigated by only using test scores for a small percentage of an evaluation. Because these scores vary so much, they will be the tipping point for any evaluation- they are the moving target. And, because they are the so called “hard number,” that is what people will focus on.

VAM has been studied since the 1990’s. There is a wealth of research and every expert and organization, including the American Education Research Association, the National Research Council and the American Academy of Education understand that VAM is inherently flawed and cannot be improved.

James Popham, who wrote just about every textbook on testing, recently wrote that relying on standardized tests “to make decisions about the caliber of a state’s teachers is patently indefensible … When wonderful teachers are mistakenly discharged, while inept teachers are retained, who is it that really loses out? It is, of course, these teachers’ students who, almost certainly, will be less well taught.”

What do the experts recommend? A system that evaluates what a teacher actually does in the classroom- like the Peer Assistance and Review system used in Montgomery County.

Including standardized tests in every teacher evaluation will mean that either kindergarten teachers will be judged on 3rd grade CMTs, or we will have some form of high stakes standardized testing in every grade and subject.

As a parent, I find this so disturbing.

NCLB, with tests in at most three subjects from 3rd-8th grade and 10th grade, has already narrowed not only the subjects taught but the type of teaching and learning occurring Our children should be learning to research, write and explore the world.

Instead they are covering content, regurgitating content, and then forgetting it.

Beyond the robotic learning experience this creates, more testing will only lead to more pressure at school.

Talk to any school nurse or parent and they will tell you the headaches, stomachaches and anxiety- at times to the point of needing medication -that arise at CMT time.

This spike in anxiety is prevalent throughout our schools. I have seen it in my house. It is heartbreaking having a 9 year old tearfully beg that we move to a town that doesn’t test its kids. Is this the kind of environment that fosters a love of learning? Of course not.

And the irony is that these tests do nothing for children’s achievement.

The National Research Council has concluded that 10 years of test based accountability has next to nothing to improve student achievement.

Several weeks ago, the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously voted to withdraw Vermont’s waiver application because they found it to be punitive and they wanted to move away from yearly testing rather than massively increase testing. Vermont is a high achieving state that also scores highly on children’s well-being and adequate and equitable school funding.

In the words of Governor’s Shumlin’s staffer, Vermont wanted to continue to move in the right direction for their children.

I am asking you, as stewards of Connecticut’s education policy, look at the research and take a stand against this improper and damaging overuse of standardized tests. Please- move in the right direction for our children.

Thank you, Wendy Lecker

Testimony on Standardized tests and education from  Mary Gallucci, Willimantic, CT

Recently Bilal Khan, of Amistad Achievement First High School in New Haven, spoke in Windham to promote the role of Teach for America in closing the achievement gap. Bilal Khan, a graduate of Windham High School and NYU, became a teacher through TFA. He praised the high test scores of Achievement First students in New Haven, which, as many people claim, represents a “closing of the gap.” Mr. Khan did not deal specifically with the attrition between 9th and 12th grade at the Achievement First High School, but he did note the 100% college acceptance rate of high school seniors which, together with the high standardized test scores, spells success. And yet, it did not result in success for most of the students once they entered college. Many struggled to complete their first semester and even dropped out. Mr. Khan said that it was puzzling, and that at the Amistad Academy they are trying to determine what happened.

As a lifelong student and educator myself, I can tell him that the answer is not hard to find. Being a good or even excellent test-taker does not translate into being a successful student who can think and solve problems creatively, as is demanded in most universities and even in many vocational schools and careers. Too many of the gap-closing methods, such as those being practiced now in Windham under the total leadership of Steven Adamowski and following on his practices in Hartford, center around test-preparation strategies and drilling. This is not learning and many children tune it out after a while. Test prep in the aftermath of No Child Left Behind is structured on a behaviorist model—teach some factual unit of knowledge that can be measured by a machine-gradable test, drill it often (to the exclusion of other types of learning) and then present the child who completes the exercise “successfully” with their test score. Performing an activity of limited scope for a reward is something that rats in a labyrinth can be taught to do. It is demeaning to reduce education to this practice. Children, who are not rats, and who learn in complex and varied ways, will reject this behaviorist system. They do not need nor want the lump of cheese. The rat knows that this is the “end” and scope of the activity, but the child knows there is more. And in wealthier districts, they can have more than the test prep and drilling, so, thus far, many high-performing districts are complying with the test regime.

But I applaud and would even encourage the human spirit that rejects this model of education. The students who graduated from Achievement First with high test scores and college acceptance letters are not, in the end, much better off than those who remain in the neglected and failing schools. Getting the high score on the standardized test reveals very little about a person’s intelligence, which is multi-faceted.

Reformers settle for too little. The reliance on tests denies the potential of the student, and attempts to lock him or her into a joyless routine of drilling and test taking. I must condemn in the strongest language possible reforms based on standardized test results, and evaluations for teachers that include these results , because they deny the creativity and the humanity of both the child and the teacher.

Testimony from Darcy Hicks, Westport:

I am a parent and a former teacher in Westport, CT. I left my job as teacher because I felt that the time I needed to actually teach was squeezed out little by little each year, as experimental remedies were dropped into my lap, and into the laps of my students. These distractions never did anything to help the learning in my classroom – in fact, they kept us from engaging in the deeper, active learning that is necessary for success.

In Westport, our test scores are high. But I can’t see the benefit in that – beyond a pat on the backs of high-stakes testing proponents. What does it do for our kids? Where is the data that shows that testing in any situation leads to children staying in school, getting better jobs, and achieving happy, literate, successful lives? Until you can show us that data, this is a game – an expensive waste of time – that goes in circles.

The dictionary defines gambling as follows: “the act of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance, or acting recklessly.” Without knowing what test scores indicate, using them to evaluate teachers and students is gambling.

We need to recover the time needed to engage our students again.

Below is a video with excerpts of their testimony. The video was prepared by the Connecticut Education Association and starts with the testimony of CEA’s Executive Director.

Posted on by wendy lecker Posted in Uncategorized

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