Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Resistance builds as CMS test week continues

At East Mecklenburg High last night, parents swapped strategies for resisting CMS's push for more testing, as kids take "field versions" of dozens of new exams. Take your kids late or keep them home altogether so they'll miss the test, some parents suggested. Tell them to sign their name and leave it blank in protest, said another.

One man, who didn't identify himself, noted that the exams for older kids use a multiple-choice "bubble-in" format and urged them to choose one consistent answer: "Let them bubble E for 'Enough' and send a message to Dr. Gorman."

Someone else said each question has only four possible answers.

"Mark B for 'Bull!' " another man called out.

That's the mood among some parents, who are outraged at the time kids are spending on tests designed to rate teachers. Students in kindergarten through second grade were tested Monday and Tuesday. In calls, emails and comments on yesterday's blog, numerous teachers and parent volunteers said the one-on-one tests that officials had described as taking 15 minutes per child were taking up to an hour.

Many also raised questions about the quality of the test items, noting subject matter that seems too advanced and questions with spelling and punctuation errors. Some asked who's getting paid to put these tests together.

Chris Cobitz, the CMS official who's overseeing the new tests, said this week's field tests showed that asking young children to read and answer some of the questions was taking too long. That's something CMS will take into account in creating the final version, to be given in May, he said.

Cobitz said Measurement Inc. of Durham is being paid to submit questions, which his staff reviews. Putting them in front of real kids this week helps CMS staff winnow out questions. If some questions seem too advanced, he said, that's intentional. It not only lets teachers see how high-fliers do, it may indicate a question that is too easy -- if, for instance, most first-graders end up correctly answering a question that was designed for second-graders.

"We pay for items we accept," Cobitz said. "One of three we fully intend to reject. We don't pay for the ones we reject."

He acknowledged there are typos, a result of the rush to get some 400 tests ready for this week. Yes, that's larger than the number of subjects (52) discussed earlier; there are four versions of each test, he said.

"Punctuation is something we can fix," he said.

Now it's time for the older kids to start field-testing, everything from third-grade social studies and science to a raft of high school electives. That poses its own challenges, especially when parents are urging their children to resist.

Courtney Kramer, a German teacher at Smith Language Academy, says she sent home letters with her sixth-grade home room explaining the field tests, which don't count toward student grades or teacher ratings.

"When I passed out the letters and we started to talk about the tests, one student raised his hand," Kramer wrote. "He said, 'Why don't we just fail it on purpose? It doesn't count for a grade and they will have to make the real tests easier.' Of course the rest of the students in the class agreed. If this reaction was immediate in my class, I can only imagine how many other students all over CMS have decided to purposefully fail."


Anonymous said...

"it may indicate a question that is too easy -- if, for instance, most first-graders end up correctly answering a question that was designed for second-graders."

Why can't this indicate that the teachers are appropriately doing their job. How much sense does this statement make?
"Too many kids got that question right, so it must be a bad question"

Anonymous said...

There has been one comment about the ABC testing/accountability that actually worked. I can attest that it did work as I was in a school that made high marks and all of us received the bonus. It made the SCHOOL feel like a TEAM-including secretaries and custodians as well as special area teachers; as all staff received a bonus.
Let the principal then weed out the low teachers and deal with them. He/she should be able to see how the teachers are working within the school.
With students switching teachers as much as they do-even at the elementary level, how can you not do it on a grade level or school level basis??

Anonymous said...

With the exception of South Carolina ranked 49th in student achievement (thank God for Mississippi),

I'm getting paid to substitute today and tomorrow for a teacher serving on a test designing committee in an elective course not found on any standardized K-12 test in this country or any other country. Global Competitiveness Starts Here!

The sad thing is, I'm more qualified and experienced than this teacher in the subject area. But what the heck, for $90 bucks I get to teach a subject I love without all the regular hassles a full-time teacher has to endure. Some students think I'm a "rock star" teacher with "classic" capabilities. So what do I care if CMS thinks I'm effective or not? I get to TEACH! So take that bubble sheet and smoke it!

Pamela Grundy said...

To express concerns about this explosion of testing in service of an unwieldy and unworkable pay for performance system, visit and join more than 1,100 Mecklenburg County teachers, parents and community members in signing our petition for fair and effective teacher assessments.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else see a problem with encouraging sixth grade students to deliberately fail a test?

Parents can certainly express their displeasure over testing policies, but the vast majority of students, especially elementary and middle school students, are not going to fully understand all the issues involved with this. They are going to think it's cool to jump on the bandwagon.

Yes, yes, I know. This "revolt" is all very exciting--probably feels like the sixties and seventies to some of the organizers (and perhaps to some in the media who are encouraging this). But I believe encouraging young students to be disrespectful at school is courting trouble for these kids and their teachers in the future. Isn't disrespect a big enough issue already?

I do have to wonder what the real objective is here--to scuttle the testing policy? Or to embarrass and perhaps bring down the current school administration. If one checks the web page of the organizers of this "revolt" you can see that they have had objections to many CMS policies. It seems they have finally found a cause that has gained traction.

Lyndie said...

Cobitz has lost sight of CMS' mission: "We pay for questions we accept" What about the costs in terms of student frustration, student esteem, teacher morale, etc.? This is just one of the ways that an urban school district in contention for the Broad Prize should know better. We cannot afford to alienate students from school in general or testing in particular. It should not be up to my Kindergarten-age child or anyone else's child to do the work of the Superintendent's office. Questions that span the range of abilities are ok, if they are plausible. But if Gorman's staff can't take the time to proofread the tests and work with committees of teachers to weed out inappropriate questions so that our children's time and our teacher's time is not wasted or even used to push kids away from the learning process, they should be fired and not replaced. That salary money can fun a real pay-for-performance program.

Anonymous said...

Here's the description of Measurement Inc.'s test development capabilities from their website:

"MI employs a full-time test development staff of over 80 professionals including psychometricians, project directors, content specialists, editors, graphic artists, and support staff. We are experts in recruiting and training educators to write and review thousands of high-quality test items annually. Our experienced project managers, working in cooperation with clients, assure that all items and tests are valid, reliable, and free of bias.

Our experience includes not just development of items and test forms but also test item specifications, field test plans, performance and oral assessments, observation checklists, administration manuals, scoring guides, and interpretation guides. Our in-house psychometricians conduct relevant psychometric analyses including standard setting, scaling, and equating. MI has developed tests for students in kindergarten through college in multiple content areas, for those with limited English proficiency and/or physical and cognitive limitations, and for professionals seeking a variety of certifications."

So, someone help me out here.....why do we have tests with glaring mistakes and formatting problems if this firm is developing the test questions and has this much expertise in the area?

JAT said...

To build on Lyndie's point ---

As near as I can tell, every CMS student is due, oh, $45 a day for doing the work that highly paid CMS staff and CMS consultants should have done.

I suggest submitting an invoice to CMS for your child's work and see what happens. I know I could use the $450 that is owed my kids.

therestofthestory said...

Students have been deliberately failing tests before. They have a class with a teacher they do not like, like expects themto participate in class or expects them to do homework, so they deliberately fail the EOC thinking they are punishing the teacher. While that did not work directly before, they now know this will punish the teacher so they will be even more vengeful.

Wiley Coyote said...

To Anon 8:54...

I do not belong to any of these groups, which are too numerous to mention, but I do object to pretty much everything CMS and public education does in general.

"Educators" with all of the "Drs. of Education" have been running the asylum for decades doing the same thing over and over again with very little results to show for the billions of dollars spent.

It's time for a new mindset in public education.

It's time to tell parents and parents to be that:



social promotions...

entitlement mentality associated with everything surrounding an FRL student and somehow they have a hardship so we'll make exceptions for them...

discipline will begin at home and disruptions at school will not be tolerated or your child will go to alternative schools...


Private schools seem to be doing quite well and have been for decades.

I wonder why.....hmmmm

Jacob said...

Ann -- it would be worth your time to look into Measurement Inc. I knew someone who worked there in the 90s, and it was more akin to McDonald's than to the "Excellence in Assessment" it purports to be.

Anonymous said...

Why haven't we heard from anyone on the board about these issues? Ann, please try to interview board members or at least get a comment. I have e-mailed all of the board members and have not received a single response. Does anyone know if there is any legal way for the county commission to cut off funding for the testing program specifically? I would imagine not but there must be some way to exert sufficient pressure to put an end to this excessive testing.

Pamela Grundy said...

In response to Anonymous 8:54.

I would encourage everyone to take this person's suggestion and visit the Mecklenburg ACTS site, We've gathered a great deal of information about pay for performance there. You can also link from there to the site of Parents Across America, the national group with which we are affiliated. This testing issue is a national one, not related to who is or is not in charge of a particular district. While you're at the site, I urge you to join the more than 1,100 concerned parents, teachers and citizens who have signed our petition.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Good suggestions for reporting on board views and the company involved; the biggest constraint at this point is my time, while juggling some other stories.

Speaking of which, CMS's Cobitz is eager to show me copies of the K-2 tests (he says comments about 100 questions are off base; there are 25-30). I put him off til later this week so I could meet commitments I'd already lined up today. Say what you will about this program, I do give CMS folks credit for trying to share info about it (though I never got a chance to watch the K-2 tests in action).

Anonymous said...

My school's PTA has sent out a request for volunteers to help proctor test. I find it disheartening that limited volunteer resources have to be designated to test proctoring instead of more meaningful and impactful activities. Also, what happens at schools that can't find adequate volunteers to help proctor these tests? Do the tests proceed without adequate supervision (which surely would undermine the reliability of the results)? Or, are teachers pulled away from classroom activities to serve as proctors? How can CMS impose additional testing requirements without a plan for how to administer those tests?

Anonymous said...

One of my students at CPCC used the testing as an excuse for arriving to our evening class two hours late. She said she had to spend the time teaching the test material to her children because the teachers weren't doing an adequate job.

Anonymous said...

I recently spoke with my child's principal and teacher about my concerns about test quality and tasting process. The principal expressed appreciation for my taking my concerns & questions directly to the school personnel. I believe the intent was that going to the source is better than relying upon the information in the media.

I asked to see a copy of the kindergarten test that my child would be taking ...after it was completed so as to avoid any impression of coaching for the test. And the response was the test is considered secure and can't be shared. If that is the case, then it seems I have no choice but to rely upon these reports in the media, and they do not put the test quality in a favorable light.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 12:39:
I think you took a very reasonable and intelligent approach to the testing issue--going to school personnel first. Because this has become such a sensationalized issue it's very unfortunate that the public can't see the initial tests (after the testing is over). Having so many people make judgments based upon media and blog reports (with no assurance that blog information is accurate or complete) is only muddying the waters and in my opinion is creating a sense of hysteria. I think the way this has been handled on all sides (including the media's role) has been counter-productive.

Anonymous said...

let's not lose sight of the bigger picture as what is yet to come....this is JUST the field test. Some schools are doing field tests for the state, some have just finished testing for NAEP and the rest are getting ready for End of Grade Tests. This past 3 weeks, and the up and coming 6 weeks will be full of k-2 summative tests in reading, math, social studies and science, 3-5 end of grade tests in reading and math, 5th grade science end of grade tests, summative tests in 3-5 social studies and 3-4 summative tests in science. Add to this that special education students get Extend 2 testing that will be field tested in the next two weeks, along with make-ups for anyone absent, and re-takes for any 3-4-5 grade student who does not pass the first time. There is a reason the testing window in elementary schools is the entire MONTH OF MAY and into the FIRST WEEK of JUNE. Then we can talk about middle and high school......WOW

Anonymous said...

I FAIL TO SEE HOW COBITZ and his CREW can validate any test items. For example, several questions on the World History test focused on various recent events.......Being that there is still 30 school days of instruction left and the pacing of the course, no teacher has covered that content yet. HOW DO THEY KNOW IF THE ITEMS ARE "legitimate, valid, too advanced, and many of the other lies he mentioned" if the content has not even been taught?

Wiley Coyote said...

Again, this doesn't have to be difficult.

Put a curriculum in place, have all teachers who teach that course use the same book(s).

Let the teachers teach the content as they see fit but have the course segmented into four units, two per semester.

At the end of each unit, the teachers would then give a "mid-term" type test provided by the district that has questions related to the information taught in that unit.

This test would be no different than what the teachers themselves would come up with anyway so right there it alleviates all of the hooplah and angst over "oh my God the test"!

Students would be graded on the results, just as if the teacher had thought up the questions.

So over the course of the year, students would take these 4 tests, with the last test covering the entire year plus whatever other tests, pop tests and assignments the students were given and then they would get a final grade for the year.

CMS can take the four tests they implemented and analyze those to see how students overall fared compared to their peers and CMS should get an idea of how the teachers did teaching the curriculum.

I don't think I'm oversimplifying the process here but rather looking at it standing outside the forest.

Educators have their heads stuck so far in the forest they can't see the trees.

Anonymous said...

One more try--repeat of repeat of repeat that have all disappeared-- Anonymous who sought answers at her school--You acted in a very reasonable manner by approaching your principal with your questions. You were wise to recognize that not all information coming forth on this blog may be accurate or complete (the nature of the beast).

I wish that CMS could reveal the test questions (after the tests have been taken) so the public could judge accurately what's going on, rather than relying on blog reports.

I think all sides, including CMS and the media, have erred on how this has been presented to the public. This issue is overshadowing everything else, with crucial budget decisions coming up soon. Shame on everyone for creating such a sense of hysteria!

Wornout_Teacher said...

There are questions that could border on violating students' equal access to education. A question asking the student to tell two symbols of Christmas, with one of the possible correct answers being, I quote, "Baby Jesus". Student would receive 0 points for the question if they could not name any symbols of Christmas. So, if you do not celebrate Christmas, and schools are not encouraged to display religious symbols around Christmas, you would get that question wrong, thus potentially lowering your final score, if the test were theoretically a part of a student's grade in the class. That is wrong. These tests are testing cultural knowledge and background knowledge, not what students are learning in school.
Some other gems:
Tell what a veteran is and why we celebrate Veterans' Day.
Tell why we celebrate Memorial Day (which we don't, except for having the day off from school!)
Tell why/how we celebrate Earth Day.
OH, these questions are on the Kindergarten test by the way.
Yes, this really is happening.

Wornout_Teacher said...

One Kindergarten science question asks students to identify which tool is used to measure the wind. The "answer" is a "wind vane." First, that is not the commonly used term for that item; the commonly used term is "weather vane". Second, it doesn't "measure" anything, it indicated wind direction. An anemometer "measures" wind speed. Yes, KINDERGARTEN test. I feel like I am living out the novel 1984. Testing is learning. Bubbling is thinking.

Wornout_Teacher said...

Also, Kindergarten students are required to WRITE answers (as SENTENCES) to answer social studies questions. Writing is a language arts objective, not a social studies objective at this age. You can't determine a child's social studies knowledge if they were unable to WRITE the answer to the social studies question, because in that question you are testing their WRITING ability. Anyone who has taking a basic assessment methods class in college knows that. This is akin to asking a dyslexic child to read word problems on a math test. They will fail because they cannot access the math question, based on their reading ability. So these students have the math test read to them because the math test is supposed to assess their MATH ability not their READING ability.

Ann Doss Helms said...

To the person trying repeatedly to post: Sorry! I checked the spam filter this morning, but it kicked into overdrive this afternoon. I just restored the ones that weren't duplicates of your message. I have no idea why it was being filtered before and was finally posted intact.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I finally divided my post into small paragraphs rather than one long paragraph. Then it stayed posted. Perhaps it filters for ease of reading. I was beginning to think it just didn't care for my opinion!

Ann Doss Helms said...

Yeah, but it posts some REALLY long comments. I've noticed that sometimes comments with web links get filtered, but that's not consistent either. Oh well -- I'm still mystified by the system, but at least I finally know where to find the disappearing comments.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain why 5th graders took a field test in science today when NC already has a 5th grade EOG in science? Why would CMS pay for a test that NC is already giving?

Anonymous said...

I just took one of the field tests today.
If anyone wants my answers-
Anyone with kindergarten level vocab can take the chemistry field test!

Anonymous said...

You know , as a CMS teacher I thought I was living a nightmare when Gorman fired many of our top performing Math and Science teachers . I thought it was the end of the world when he replaced some caring productive Principals with detached ineffective “strategic staffer” Administrators. But to read about some of the questions on the field test for kindergarten students truly confirms…CMS is being run by a mad man!

Anonymous said...

Half A League
Half A League

Into The Valey Rode The 600

Anonymous said...

Teachers should be able to participate in a confidence vote on Dr. Gorman's leadership. I urge all parents to speak at this Tuesday's school board meeting to demand that the school board send a survey to all CMS teachers that would allow them to vote on whether they have confidence in Dr. Gorman's ability to lead them.

Dr. Gorman has been in his job for six years. If teacher morale was low when he took the job, he has had ample time to change that. If not, than the low teacher morale that sullies the current educational climate has happened on his watch. Either way, Dr. Gorman has not done his job.

While he cannot be blamed for the repeated teacher layoffs year after year or the lack of pay raises, Dr. Gorman is to blame for trying to implement this ridiculous system of standardized testing that cuts into instructional time and the pay for performance plan that is linked to it. There is no excuse to spend $2.3 million on testing plus an exorbitant salary of $93k for Mr. Baxter's position at a time when fourth grade students will find themselves in classes of 32 students (next year) because of more teacher layoffs.

Wornout_Teacher said...

The insanity of field tests and PfP reminded me of George Orwell's 1984, especially these quotations:

"The essential act of the Party [CMS] is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty."

"Power is not a means, it is an end. One [Pete] does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one [Pete] makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship."

"The purpose of Newspeak [Petespeak] was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible."

"It was like swimming against a current that swept you backwards however hard you struggled, and then suddenly deciding to turn round and go with the current instead of opposing it. Nothing had changed except your own attitude; the predestined thing happened in any case."

"Until they [teachers] become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."

"It's the one thing they [CMS] can't do. They [CMS] can make you say anything - anything - but they [CMS] can't make you believe it. They [CMS] can't get inside you."

Anonymous said...

I am glad people are up in arms about this; but honestly there are more things in CMS that are concerning to me. For example the wasteful spending of the transportation department and the lack of equity for students. That to me is a more pressing issue that the Observer is ignoring.

Anonymous said...

Here's where the test questions have come from...teaching experience is "ideal".

Job Description from Measurement Inc:


Write test items in reading, mathematics, science, or social studies at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Training and very specific writing assignments will be provided. Assignments are completed on a contract basis, and the item writer completes assignments off-site.


A bachelor’s degree is required. The ideal candidate will have experience teaching in the subject and grade level. Experience in writing test items is also desirable. The ability to write in accordance with externally imposed specifications is essential.


The amount of payment varies by item type but ranges from $15 to $30 per item accepted, depending on content and format.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:50,
Both of your points are indeed true. The equity issue slices in many directions for all socio-economic levels as well as the busing issues that have plagued this community for eternity. One point that was passionately voiced last night at the MecklenburgACTS meeting was the loss of a community voice in the direction of CMS. Many parents are concerned that outside political interest groups of all persuasions are trying to inject a product with little or no proven worth into what should be a local decision. It's unfortunate that the BOE has bent over for the Broad zombie leadership manifesto in the name of what's best for your student while ignoring the daily beatings and lack of security many students "enjoy."

"Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege?" Many of us actually dislike the milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples."

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Anonymous said...

I wrote the Speech and Debate curriculum and was not asked permission to have my intellectual property sent out to a testing company. I wrote the curriculum to help save programs. This curriculum has now been implemented in school systems across the country. I am proud of this and always willing to share the materials, but am incredibly irritated that my materials were sent to a company to be used for crafting a "test" without my permission. As CMS didn't pay for the rights to use my curriculum in the first place, I feel more than justified in my ire as I see that something that was created to provide resources for teachers and quality materials for students has now been bastardized for profit by a testing company and for a school system.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:32--I too hate that the community has little voice in the direction of CMS, but this is nothing new. Under busing no one had any say over where their children would attend school. And as I recall every school had to be in lockstep on curriculum daily.

Ever since busing ended, many outside interest groups, such as the UNC Chapel Hill Center for Civil Rights, Gary Orfield at the UCLA Civil Rights Project, Roz Mickelson at UNCC, and Richard Kahlenburg with the Century Foundation have attempted to insert their opinions into our local assignment issues. You can find links to several of these folks on Meck Acts' webpage. And at their next meeting you might ask Meck Acts' leaders how they feel about busing and a community's right to choose how they will assign students.

Anonymous said...

My third grader took the science test yesterday. He is a straight A student in the TD program. There were 50 questions. He said that he guessed on about 60% of the questions because they were not about things that his science class had ever studied. My sixth grader took the social studies test. She too is a straight A student in all honors classes. She said that she guessed on about half the questions - using test techniques she has learned to eliminate obviously incorrect answers. The questions related to subjects that she has not studied yet. How can these tests possibly be useful if over half the questions do not track the CMS course of study?

Anonymous said...


The complaints about specific test questions are beginning to shed some like on what CMS wants to know. It appears, from the blog comments, that the school system is interested in discovering what information a child learned outside the classroom. In other words, how well are parents preparing their children to enter formal education.

This might make sense. Teacher's biggest complaint is they shouldn't be held responsible for what students don't know.

As an example: if a teacher asks a 1st grader how much is 1 apple plus 1 apple and the student says "what's an apple" then the part of the lesson plan based on "learning starts with common knowledge and experience" just gets wiped-out.

It may be worth considering that the test have multiple purposes.

Then again we could go with the other blog comments that the test were designed to irritate and inflame the community while dooming the children to jobs selling fries because of lost classroom hours.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, Seriously? The purpose of these tests is very clear and has been made so. They are meant to measure teacher performance plain and simple.

Are you proposing that CMS has concocted Pay for Performance as a ruse in order to test how parents are educating their kids?

Anonymous said...

If all of this testing continues, the NC legislature needs to allow a LOT more calendar flexibility so that our children truly have 180 INSTRUCTIONAL days with any testing days considered additional.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
acremark said...

In response to 'Anonymous 8:54 am':
Although I was impressed by my student's critical thinking skills in realizing the potential impact failing the field test on purpose would have, in no way did I encourage my sixth graders to fail. I told them that they should do their best on the field tests, as they should in everything they do, whether or not it counts as a grade.
Just wanted to set the record straight. Thank you.
Courtney Kramer

Unknown said...

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