Monday, August 25, 2014

Vermont Tells Arne Duncan to Stick It; Should South Dakota Follow

School is starting in Lennox.  Teachers have had in-services and like all the teachers in South Dakota, the Common Core and SLOs were on the forefront.  Diane Ravitch posted the move taken by the Vermont State School Board when they adopted a resolution about the role of testing and other things in education.  A few highlights of the post include:

What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress. 
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth....

As a teacher, I am not opposed to testing.  I am opposed to testing that is used as a single snapshot of what is or is not important in student's education.  I am opposed to using testing to compare create a one-size-fit-all mentality.  

The statement continues:

Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation. 
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
The School Board then laid out eight concepts that they wanted to focus on from testing protocol,  test development criteria, value-added scores, to test cut-off scores.

I want to leave you with the following resolved statements:

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and 
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and 
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
South Dakota GOP love to have other people take the lead on policy issues like ALEC and Minnesota, maybe they should pay attention to Vermont. 


  1. Mike, I understand you opposition to standardized testing, but why are you throwing out SLO's with that bathwater?

  2. I am not throwing SLO with the standardized testing. It is that it was one of the main focuses. I do have a problem in a way with the SLO process because it is supposed to be limited to non-performance measures. I know that I and some of the other high school English teachers had a difficult time finding a good process to do SLO since there are not tools like DIBELS or other tools that many middle school and elementary teachers are using.

  3. But that is the strength of SLO's. You now have the opportunity to measure student growth and NOT be tied to standardized tests. You now have the opportunity to use your evaluation methods to demonstrate the growth of your students. In fact, that evaluation may be a performance evaluation - not just a traditional "test."

    SLO's now afford teachers to ability to show there are other ways, other than standardized tests, to demonstrate growth and provide "accountability."

  4. Please don't get me wrong. I think the SLO concept is much better than a specific focus only on standardized tests that are administered once at the high school level. I also think that the SLO is a very good tool to help a teacher focus on concepts and standards that the student is struggling. I do not in any way think that I showed contempt for SLOs.

    I do think that there are some issues with the SLOs though. No tool is perfect. No tool should be thought of as the solution to education problems.

    Here is the problem with the SLO and evaluating writing skills, in my opinion. I may have it wrong, we have only had two full days of testing it during the summer and some of the questions couldn't get answered.

    A teacher wants to evaluate the use of evidence in a student's paper to support his/her position. To have a true baseline, the teacher would have to have students write the paper with sources without any instruction. Those papers would then have to be evaluated for the skills that will be taught. Do you grade students on something that they have not been taught? Do you just give it back to them as a completed task? How much extra time will it take to establish the baseline before you go to the task if it is over an entire grade level (if that is your target audience)?
    Then after you work with the student on that specific goal, you must assign a very similar assignment of equal length and complexity, if not the same assignment or risk invalidating the measurement.

    To top it off, it is my understanding that the testing should not be over a unit, but something that is extended through out the semester (since all high school English classes in our district are a semester). Many skills are taught through a focused unit and evaluated with a final project at the end of the unit. Take for example this standard for 9-10 writing:
    11-12.W.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
    a. Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s)
    of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
    b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    c. Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
    d. Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
    e. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.

    You can't do this focus on a persuasion paper or on an expository paper. Yet, we were told that it should be a skill that is taught for a length that is longer than a unit. The other issue that bothered me was that we must develop a SLO over a subject that is being tested over on the Smarter Balanced test if you teach a subject at the junior level. I happen to teach sophomore speech, freshman and sophomore debate, advanced communications, and junior composition and American literature. My SLO is required to come from the junior class. I am not sure why it has to be connected to the Smarter Balanced test unless that test will be given a lot more weight for us teaching at that level.

    Thanks for the comments. I am sorry for the length of this one. I just wanted to make my position clearer that a short back and forth.