Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Good Are School Achievement Tests If Household Affluence Is As Good a Predictor of Outcomes?

If the affluent children are going to do well and the impoverished kids are going to do poorly on achievement tests, why waste the time? Seriously.

Oh, yeah, I know the answer: because we wouldn't have known that if we hadn't given a gazillion tests. So, uh, can we stop now?

Here's a reasoned argument against the importance of testing, this one in The Nation:
In fact, the work of the many researchers Brill approvingly cites—including Kane, Staiger and Stanford’s Eric Hanushek—shows that while teaching is the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, family and neighborhood characteristics matter more. The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.
Here's a very good article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development:
 One of the chief reasons that children's socioeconomic status is so highly correlated with standardized test scores is that many items on standardized achievement tests really focus on assessing knowledge and/or skills learned outside of school—knowledge and/or skills more likely to be learned in some socioeconomic settings than in others.
Back in the late 90s, while I was both a teacher and a weekly technology columnist, I discovered that student test scores were just then starting to be posted online. I anxiously started to browse through the results of test scores at various schools and districts around the San Fransisco Bay Area and closer to home in the Napa Valley. It didn't take long to notice a strong correlation between affluence and test scores.

The first column I wrote on the subject was titled, "Understanding Student Test Scores: Follow the Money."

Now we have a brand new type of controversy over student test scores. Apparently, the new test scores due out in August of this past year were "embargoed," meaning they weren't released because something was wrong. Here's a few paragraphs from a Diane Ravitch blog explaining why. In the words of a New York teacher, Katie Zahedi:
Days before the release of embargoed New York Common Core test scores, laced within comments/double talk about “higher standards”, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Commissioner John King in assuring New Yorkers that lower scores on the Math and English Assessments were expected.  The NYSED claims to have formulas to account for all sorts of nuanced variables so maybe they will produce one for the testing fiasco called the Bunkum Conversion Table!
What the public may not understand in the midst of today’s controversy is that when a test yields 80% (of a particular cohort) of students passing over a 5 year span, and scores suddenly drop to below a 35% passing rate, that the problem is probably unrelated to student performance. In fact, the last two years of tests produced by the NYSED have been rife with mistakes, missing tables needed for computation, and confusing and misleading questions.
The failure rates on the NYSED site are dissimilar to reported numbers in the 8/6/13 New York Times, leaving principals unsure how the data is being or will be manipulated for public reporting.  What is immediately clear is that the NYSED is out on a limb with its political machinations of student test data.
Historically, up to 15% of my students have been scheduled for Academic Intervention Services (AIS) for remedial help. Now, thanks to “higher standards”, those students’ needs are obfuscated by the new facts that nearly 70% of my students have been identified (by a state test) to be in need of remedial math.
Whoa! This a brand new slant on a slow-boiling problem, in this case as a result of imposing the new Common Core standards, which some claim are not developmentally appropriate at certain grade levels. These test scores seem to highlight that suggestion. It also seems that New York aligned its new standards to NAEP, explained here. No wonder things got out of whack.

Now enters Secretary of Education Arne Duncan into the fray. Recently, he angered parents (white parents, it seems) when he said:
It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary. You've bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.
 Oh, snap! He walked that back pretty fast:
Duncan walked back his bumbling remark on Monday, saying in a statement that his comments had been “clumsy.” But he insisted that he wants to have honest conversations about the challenges of the new Common Core standards. “I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities,” he said.
Here's a bit of video about reaction:

This parent looks very much like that kind of parent whose kids would do well in any properly developed achievement test. She even says her child is "thriving" in a school that already uses the Common Core standards. Still, she's upset by what the tests based on these standards can potentially do to her child, or anybody's children, for that matter. Her prescription -- keep corporations and the federal government out of local education -- is something I've supported since No Child Left Behind and Obama/Duncan's Race to the Top. I call them No Art or Music Program Left Intact and Race to Reject Electives. I don't like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment