If there is any silver lining to the APS cheating scandal, it may be the greater scrutiny of testing and its increasing role in American education.
Testing was the bedrock of the sweeping federal No Child Left Behind Act and may play an ever larger role in Race to the Top because of the provisions to base teacher evaluations and pay on student performance as measured in part — unclear how large a part – on test scores.
I asked our own volunteer Get Schooled testing expert – Jerry Eads — to share his view on what has happened in APS and what it says to the larger issue of test-driven education. Formerly coordinator, research and evaluation, for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, Jerry agreed.
Here is his response:
Gerald Bracey, my dear departed friend whose life was dedicated to pointing out the many educational emperors who had no clothes, would be very pleased, perhaps even proud of you and the AJC reporters, Maureen. I saw ethics problems many years ago when running state testing for Virginia.
I was one of the first in the country to implement a “cheating checker” in the state’s scoring system for its minimum competency testing. Soon after I moved here more than a decade ago, I saw a hint of the APS issues when the then head of the Southern Regional Education Board and a member of APS’ community advisory group – called me to ask if the changes in pass rates were possible. I gave him the proper statistician’s answer: “Possible? Yes. But the probability is astronomically tiny.”
Not all that long thereafter, the AJC smelled something funny and followed its professional nose. If it hadn’t been for the AJC and its wonderfully traditional never quit journalism, this particular case of impropriety at APS likely would still be going full steam.
It appears that because of your work, the questions that Bracey, and Monty Neill and Robert Schaeffer at FairTest, nationally recognized testing experts like Walt Haney at Boston (quoted in the Sunday’s paper), and hundreds of others (including little folk like me) have raised now for decades has finally come to the fore of national education policy discussion. It is tragic that any — much less our own — inner-city school district had to be utterly decimated to finally get the attention of the seemingly hopelessly and permanently naïve state and national policymakers.
You ask the right questions, Maureen, but NCLB and self-seekers (or worse) such as Hall, Augustine, Rhee and Paige didn’t start us down this path. The people who should be taken to task are not just those in the districts and schools who are ethically challenged but the policymakers who initiated minimum competency testing and the egregiously shortsighted “pass or perish” policies more than three decades ago – and those who continued them in the face of the overwhelming evidence that neither low-bid pass-fail testing nor punitive policy has had any positive effect on children’s education.
We do care, of course, whether the 5th to 15th percentile students targeted by minimum competency tests are served. But not at the expense of the other 90 percent, and this neglect is precisely the impact of CRCT (and End of Course Tests and the Georgia High School Graduation Tests) minimum competency testing.
I fear that we will hear many policymakers crow about the wonders of value-added testing in the coming years as the solution to make “pass or perish” work. Locally, that’s in no small part an effort to hang on to the pittance tossed our way by the present federal administration. With decent tests and a usable curriculum, such testing at least broadens the myopic focus on the tiny group of students right around the “cut score,” but it’s STILL “pass or perish.”
Sadly, the evidence is very strong that “value-added” testing will be no solution to minimum competency (CRCT etc.) testing. It has been shown time and again that the growth estimates derived from “value-added” testing are grossly inaccurate. Frequently, this testing is so inaccurate that those teachers in the top third one year are in the bottom third the next.
Worse, the same failed “pass or perish” mentality still forms the policy basis of how to produce education change. We are still the insane – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different. As the old adage goes, you can weigh a pig as much as you want, but if you don’t feed it, it just isn’t going to get any heavier. You can change to a more expensive scale – from low-bid minimum competency testing to “value added” — but the pig STILL isn’t going to get any heavier.
You recently provided a post using sales quotas as a parallel to our testing. Indeed, as has been shown by the APS tragedy – which is according to FairTest just a tiny tip of the iceberg nationally – if you put people in untenable positions, they will do what they have to in order to survive.
Would we rather teachers quit, lose their homes and let their children starve when faced with being forced to cheat? A number of your posters seem to think so, but chances are they, too, would do precisely the same thing in the same predicament.
“Value-added” testing does not at all solve that problem. Knowing that with grossly unreliable once-a-year tests teachers and administrators will face humiliating labels and possible termination, some will find ways to survive.
We’ve tried “pass or perish” for well over three decades. NEVER has it helped kids. D’ya think maybe we should try something else?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog