Michelle Obama: The Arts Raise Test Scores (!)

by Diane Ravitch, 5/23/14

A reader sent me this story with this comment: “Bizarro world.”

First Lady Michelle Obama promotes arts education because the arts raise test scores.

The administration said 35 schools would get federal turnaround funding for the arts because early evidence shows that the arts lead to higher math and reading scores.

Time to stop and think. The Bush-Obama high-stakes testing policies have diminished resources, staff, equipment and time for the arts.

The purpose of the arts is not to raise test scores but to express and develop our talents, to enhance our lives, to give us the joy of experience and skill in music and the other arts.

Arts are not a path to picking the right bubble on a standardized test. They are far more valuable than that. The self-discipline required in the arts, the joy of performance is sufficient unto itself.

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School officials raise concerns of new state graduation requirements

By Ginger Dunbar, Daily Local News, 04/24/14

DOWNINGTOWN – During a briefing Thursday concerning the new state Keystone Exam regulations, a panelist of superintendents, state legislators and others shared their concerns, including costs to schools, time away from classrooms and parents’ lack of awareness of the graduation requirement.

The panelist members, from Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties, focused on the new requirements of all students to pass the Keystone Exams in Algebra I, Biology and Language Arts in order to graduate from high school. This requirement, which was implemented in March, will affect the class of 2017, students who are currently in ninth grade.

The panelist discussed how additional preparation time for students who failed the Keystone Exams will take more class time away from students who need to retest in order to graduate. Students can take the exams an unlimited number of times in order to pass.

West Chester Area School District Superintendent James Scanlon said he doesn’t believe that parents understand how this could affect students. He said students may be pulled out of their elective courses to have more time to prepare for retaking an exam.

Max Kneis, a senior at Henderson High School, said it’s stressful, even scary, for students to get their SAT scores back. He said by tying the Keystone Exams to graduation requirements, it’s “pushing that test anxiety even sooner.”

As an example, he said that he would not have the same opportunity he is seeking next year at the University of Pittsburgh, if he failed the exams. He said freshmen in high school may not understand the seriousness that the exams could affect their graduation.

School District of Haverford Township Superintendent William Keilbaugh showed visuals of how many school days were dedicated to the Keystone exams, from preparation to testing time. In the 2011-12 academic year, the Delaware County district used 45 days for the exams. In 2012-13, he said the school had 106 days, or roughly 24 percent of the school year, used in connection with the exams.

“Is it rational?” he asked repeatedly as he added that “time is instruction.”…

read more at Daily Local News

Tennessee Legislature Rolls Back Test-Based Teacher Evaluation Law

Diane Ravitch, 4/24/14

In a stunning reversal,the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly repealed a law to evaluate teachers by test scores, and the law was swiftly signed by Governor Haslam. On a day when Arne Duncan withdrew Washington State’s failure to enact test-based teacher valuation system, this is a remarkable turn of events.

Joey Garrison of The Tennessean reports:

“Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that will prevent student growth on tests from being used to revoke or not renew a teacher’s license — undoing a controversial education policy his administration had advanced just last summer.

“The governor’s signature, which came Tuesday, follows the Tennessee General Assembly’s overwhelming approval this month of House Bill 1375 / Senate Bill 2240, sponsored by Republicans Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy, which cleared the House by a unanimous 88-0 vote and the Senate by a 26-6 vote.

“That marked a major repudiation of a policy the Tennessee Board of Education in August adopted — at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s recommendation — that would have linked license renewal and advancement to a teacher’s composite evaluation score as well as data collected from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which measures the learning gains of students.

“The bill to reject the policy had been pushed chiefly by the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, which engineered a petition drive to encourage Haslam to sign the legislation despite it passing with large bipartisan support.

“Huge, huge win for teachers,” the TEA wrote on its Twitter page, thanking both bill sponsors as well as Haslam for “treating teachers as professionals.”

“Eyeing a 2015 implementation, the state board in January had agreed to back down from using student learning gains as the sole and overriding reason to revoke a license. Composite evaluation scores, in which 35 percent is influenced by value-added data, were to centerpiece.”

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Two interesting points here: one, Duncan has been hailing Tennessee as a demonstration of the “success” of Race to the Top, in which test-based evaluation of teachers is key. What happens now?

Second, state Commissioner Kevin Huffman is so unpopular that anything he supports is likely to be rejected. His enemies hope he doesn’t leave Tennessee because whatever he recommends generates opposition, even among his allies.

Why VAM Is a Sham

Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all, 1/19/14

The centerpiece–and the most destructive element–of Race to the Top is the insistence that teachers must be evaluated to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, whether they go up or down.

It is destructive because it makes standardized tests the purpose of education.

The tests cease to be a measure and become the aim.

That is wrong.

It leads to a narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, and cheating.

And the measure itself is fraught with error. The teachers with high ratings one year may get low ratings the next year. Some with low ratings may get high ratings the next year. They did exactly the same things but their ratings shifted. One gets a bonus, the other gets fired. It is wrong to make the tests so consequential.

Here, if you have not read it, is an excellent summary of the VAM research, explaining why VAM is misused, by the distinguished psychometrician Edward Haertel, presented in a lecture to ETS.

You should also follow VAMboozled, which is testing expert Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog. She will publish a book this spring, showing the invalidity of VAM. She points out that more than 90% of researchers in the related field agree that VAM is misused by federal policymakers….

keep reading at Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all

D.C. Teacher Evaluation Scores Flawed

by Diane Ravitch, 12/23/13
Last Friday, officials at the central office of the District of Columbia Public Schools quietly released the news that the teacher ratings on its highly touted IMPACT system contained errors. It was not clear how many teachers were affected. If you want to bury a policy disaster, the best time to announce it is on a Friday before a long holiday, on the assumption it will be ignored and forgotten.

Researchers have warned for the past three years that grading teachers by the test scores of their students is error-ridden, inaccurate, and unstable. Earlier this year, the distinguished psychometrician Edward Haertel of Stanford warned in a major lecture that value-added scores should not be used as a fixed percentage when evaluating teachers and should have multiple safeguards to avoid error. Did anyone at the U,S. Department of Education or anywhere else take heed? Of course not.

As Valerie Strauss notes in the linked article, this inherently flawed and demoralizing process has been widely accepted (it is a major element of Race to the Top; in addition, states that want waivers from the impossible mandates of NCLB must agree to adopt this procedure, no matter how ill-conceived it is.)

Strauss writes:

“Testing experts have long warned that using test scores to evaluate teachers is a bad idea, and that these formulas are subject to error, but such evaluation has become a central part of modern school reform. In the District, the evaluation of adults in the school system by test scores included everybody in a school building; until this year, that even included custodians. In some places around the country, teachers received evaluations based on test scores of students they never had. (It sounds incredible but it’s true.)”

Only a few weeks ago, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley wrote on her blog that the ratings on the D.C. IMPACT system made no sense.

Now the company that created the rating system has acknowledged the errors.

Let’s see if some enterprising journalist digs into this fiasco.

Even when test scores go up, some cognitive abilities don’t

by Anne Trafton, MIT News, 12/11/13

MIT neuroscientists find even high-performing schools don’t influence their students’ abstract reasoning.

To evaluate school quality, states require students to take standardized tests; in many cases, passing those tests is necessary to receive a high-school diploma. These high-stakes tests have also been shown to predict students’ future educational attainment and adult employment and income.

Such tests are designed to measure the knowledge and skills that students have acquired in school — what psychologists call “crystallized intelligence.” However, schools whose students have the highest gains on test scores do not produce similar gains in “fluid intelligence” — the ability to analyze abstract problems and think logically — according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists working with education researchers at Harvard University and Brown University.

In a study of nearly 1,400 eighth-graders in the Boston public school system, the researchers found that some schools have successfully raised their students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). However, those schools had almost no effect on students’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence skills, such as working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and ability to solve abstract problems.

“Our original question was this: If you have a school that’s effectively helping kids from lower socioeconomic environments by moving up their scores and improving their chances to go to college, then are those changes accompanied by gains in additional cognitive skills?” says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and senior author of a forthcoming Psychological Science paper describing the findings.

Instead, the researchers found that educational practices designed to raise knowledge and boost test scores do not improve fluid intelligence. “It doesn’t seem like you get these skills for free in the way that you might hope, just by doing a lot of studying and being a good student,” says Gabrieli, who is also a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research….

read more at MIT News