Friday, April 8, 2011

Test week wrap-up

After a week of vigorous commentary and complaints about CMS's "field test" of new exams, I sat down today with Chris Cobitz, the CMS official in charge, to get his take on the issues. Despite a lot of resistance and some obvious glitches, Cobitz says he's "very confident" that CMS is on track to get the results it wants: A set of exams that will size up student knowledge and help measure teacher effectiveness.

 A story running Sunday will provide more info, but here are highlights:

*Yes, the K-2 tests took a lot of time. Cobitz says the field tests, which were supposed to run no more than 50 minutes per child, contained more items than the real test will, including some questions that were intended for the grade lower and/or higher. Because the kids were taking only one subject this week, CMS used the opportunity to try out a longer list of questions. By May, they'll be doing about 10 "tasks" per subject, with a target time of 15 minutes per subject (reading, math, social studies and science) per child.

Cobitz says faculty reports convinced him that asking young children to read a passage and write even a short response was too time-consuming. So those exercises will be eliminated for the math, science and social studies tests (they're essential for reading).

Is the time demand still going to be too much? Cobitz says he's hearing a lot of concern from principals. Superintendent Peter Gorman said today it's too early to say if CMS will look at any revisions based on this week's concerns.

*Yes, there were mistakes, though Cobitz says most were minor. He says out of about 3,500 questions, he's identified "three dozen" with mistakes that shouldn't have gotten past the CMS staff that screened them -- things like repeated words, numbering errors or answers that didn't match the instructions. Those will be corrected or eliminated by May, he said.

I skimmed some K-2 tests, and they didn't look as sloppy as I'd expected from reading the critiques. There was one second-grade math question that confused me; I approached the question about someone who "wants to make a prism" as a sort of engineering question (how is this guy making it?). It wasn't until I looked at the answer that I understood it was just asking for the two-dimensional shapes that formed the surface of the prism. I can't say if that was a bad question, or if it just wasn't aimed at middle-aged reporters.

The kindergarten social studies exam was heavy on holiday questions, as several commenters noted. That's because one of the N.C. goals for kindergarteners is to "explain celebrated holidays and special days in communities." The kids are supposed to be able to "explore how families express their cultures through celebrations, rituals and traditions; identify religious and secular symbols associated with famous people, holidays and special days of diverse cultures; and state reasons for observing special, religious and secular holidays of diverse cultures."

I saw the question about Christmas symbols; baby Jesus and the star of Bethlehem were listed as acceptable answers, but so were trees and ornaments. There was a question asking how Americans could celebrate Memorial Day, one asking for two holiday traditions "you enjoy with your family during winter," and one asking the name of the February holiday celebrating love. Cobitz says his staff scrapped several proposed questions about the Mexican Cinco de Mayo.

*The amount of paper that went into this is mind-boggling. I walked in to see a stack maybe two inches high of tests Cobitz had pulled for me to look at. That was one version of each of the K-2 tests, or 12 tests. There were actually four field versions of each test. Each test contained the version the student used and the guide for the person doing the test, with explanations of how to present the question and a key to the answers. So if a teacher gave 10 versions of the same test, she got 10 identical copies of the teacher guide. That will be streamlined in May, Cobitz said, when there will be individual tests for students and one or two copies for the adults giving the test.

Expect to hear more about this at Tuesday's school board meeting. Parents, teachers and students (including high-schoolers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the number of tests they're taking) are planning to pack the chamber -- which will already be crowded with people interested in Gorman's budget proposal -- and let the board know what they think of the tests.

And WFAE's Charlotte Talks will feature a panel of parents and CMS officials talking about the tests at 9 a.m. Monday.


Rev. Mike said...

And which questions on the test measure the effectiveness of the teacher in scanning for abuse or monitoring vision and hearing deficits? Or how they manage unprepared students, those that come unprepared because they have no choice versus those that choose not to prepare? How does it measure their ability to handle conflict in the classroom or the embarrassing moments of bodily functions that invariably happen in the classroom? THESE things are ALSO paramount to an effective teacher.

Oh, and by the way, try getting that out of one of those computers. :)

Anonymous said...

It's not necessary Rev., it spews incessantly on a first name basis from the divine leadership in CMS on a daily basis.

Pamela Grundy said...

Principals are expressing concerns. Teachers are expressing concerns. Parents are expressing concerns. It's time for CMS to hit the pause button.
Please visit the Mecklenburg ACTS website,, to read our call for CMS to suspend summative testing and to join the nearly 1,500 Mecklenburg County residents who have signed our petition challenging the expansion of testing required by pay for performance.

Wiley Coyote said...

Assuming all 1,500 signatures on the petition are CMS parents with kids in the system (which is questionable), that comes out to1.1% of the student population.

That percentage is slightly higher than the percentage of parents knocking the doors down to get their kids back into CMS schools from private schools.

I support pay for performance as one component in evaluating teachers.

I don't support the current process.

Perhaps Mecklenburg ACTS would do well to propose their top bullet points for evaluating teacher performance and define the "qualitative assessments", unless the first sentence on their petition means NO PFP of any kind.

We oppose the use of standardized test scores as an integral part of any teacher pay system developed by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

Maybe that's why you don't have 15,000 or 25,000 signatures, because the majority of the public supports using some sort of testing to evaluate teachers.

Anonymous said...

Many have commented on the number of questions on these tests. As a teacher who administered and/or read each one of the K-5 tests, let me clarify. The K-2 tests were about 25-35 numbered questions. However each quesion contained at least 2 parts, many 4 parts. So, when teachers say the tests had 100 questions they are correct. The K-2 tests were performance questions they were not multiple choice. The 3-5 tests were between 50-70 questions and were all multiple choice.

Pamela Grundy said...

We don't have 15,000 now, but we get more every day.

Anonymous said...

You know none of this is going to make a difference. Gorman has never backed down. And the Board lets him do whatever he wants. Assessment needs to drive evaluation, not the reverse.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, if testing kids (with mindless tests like ones for culinary arts and weighlifting) were helpful why don't the private schools you boast of use them? Nashville tried it and it failed and they gave up after spending millions. Sorry, but a mc test for classes on the last day will not shore up the education mess in CMS or in our country.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you something Ann! I gave the kindergarten test all week. You may have "skimmed" one- however, there were MANY mistakes ! It took an average of 30-40 minutes per student !! The questions on this test were so age inappropriate. I get mad just thinking about it.. the money, time WASTED !! all of the people who believe in PFP- until you have taught in a class with students who are above grade level, on grade level, below grade level, non-readers, ESL students, EC students, students with autism, student who have shooting in their neighborhood and talk about it, students who do not have a parent at home because they have to work, students with behavior issues, no break some days, paper work, testing, testing, testing - SHUT YOUR MOUTHS !!! What is says- is we dont care that you just had a murder in your neighborhood, house broken into- parents in jail- etc.. hey kids- just pass these tests!!! I could go on forever !! These big wigs downtown -everyone of them need to come teach for a day - they would never make it.. Come on Ann- give the test- then you can see and write it more accurately then speaking to the assessment personnel...

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see if CMS discovers a "disparity" in teacher effectiveness when it comes to the issue of gender and race. Because while our country is obsessed with comparing which race and gender performs the best on student standardized tests than I'm assuming this same data will be included in CMS's performance plan when it comes to teacher pay. What happens if a disproportionate number of white teachers receive higher pay than African American teachers, or, vise versa? Asian teachers? Hispanic teachers? One race is going to receive higher pay on average than others. There is simply no way this can't happen if the pay-for-performance plan is truly unbiased. Will male teachers make more money than female teachers? What about subjects and grade levels? Which grade levels will make the most money? Which subject areas will make the most money?

Can someone say major lawsuit?

Has the board of education suddelnly come down with amnesia regarding the history of segregation and forced busing in Charlotte?

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 9:51...

Go back and read what I said.

I oppose the current way in which CMS is going about PFP testing but support a common sense approach, which I have outlined in other comments.

Regarding private schools, it's a moot point. Parents pay thousands to ensure their kids get a decent education without all of the disruptions and concerns over whether or not the school zone they live in today will be the same one next year or whether the magnet program your child is in will be available the next year.

There's a lot to be said for not having to deal with educrat"crap" and school boards day in and day out over your child's education.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase many of your comments; CMS?-common sense?-forty years?-right!

Anonymous said...

Cobitz's comments demostrate that he and Gorman are willing to say and do anything to get this testing in place. No one has addressed the biggest drain on classroom teaching this testing will cause- and that is the weeks of review that will replace learning. Virtually no new material will be taught in the fourth quarter. This is an outrageous waste of my tax dollars and my children's time.

Anonymous said...

If my kid's soufflé falls flat can I reinstate corporal punishment with a spatula on the teacher who didn't meet or exceed expectations? In France this would be a serious offense. No performance pay for this culinary poser. And they better reimburse CMS for that new food processor!

Has Coach Joe White been effectively taught the "Carolina Shag" in elective Dance or PE class? If not, we need to get rid of these loser teachers too.

And about those horticulture teachers hanging out in green houses at a few high schools... What do their lawns and gardens look like at home? Huh? How about some covert undercover investigative reporting here?

Anonymous said...

Ann, Thank you for what appears to be a pretty careful evaluation of the process. I think your comment that the tests "didn't look as sloppy as I'd expected from reading the critiques" is quite telling. Some have used this blog (and other websites) to attempt to whip up a sense of hysteria.

Wylie makes an excellent point about what percentage of the public has actually been involved in this. And do we really know who is posting on this blog?

As for those students who will be wearing tee shirts showing the number of tests they have to take--if they include AP and IB exams in that number (and I heard one student bemoaning the number of AP exams he has to take)they are being disingenuous. Remember that students choose to take AP and IB classes, knowing full well that they will be taking extra exams at the end of those courses.

I cannot judge whether or not these tests will eventually be an effective tool, but I do think the nastiness that has been created over this issue is way out of line.

Anonymous said...

Disappearing posts again--second try:

Thank you, Ann, for being willing to look at the past week's tests objectively.

I think your comment that "things weren't as sloppy as I'd expected from reading the critiques" is quite telling. Some posting on this blog and at other sites have attempted to whip up a sense of hysteria over this issue.

Wiley makes a very good point--of all the parents (and taxpayers) in Mecklenburg County, how many have really been involved in this? And do we really know who has been making the negative comments on this blog?

A meeting of "around 80" parents, teachers, and students (as one meeting was described) is really just a drop in the bucket (if evenly distributed that's only a little over 25 of each group).

As for the students who will be wearing tees showing how many tests they have to take, if they include IB and AP tests in that number they are being disingenuous. They knew going in that AP and IB would require extra testing.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 11:09...

To follow up on my earlier comment about how many people support the Mecklenburg ACTS petition.

Some people still support busing, I don't. Some people don't support any kind of teacher evaluation process, but I do. Even those who support evaluating teachers have different opinions on how to go about doing it.

To me, all of this boils down to how do we effectively teach our kids, run our schools efficiently and ensure those who work in the system get rewarded for their efforts accordingly.

The problem whith public education is that there are many different groups involved, some parents not involved and those who don't care one way or the other.

This is the way public education has existed for decades.

1 - White flight, brain drain and later Black flight have continued to erode diversity within the public school system. The demographics of CMS don't come anywhere close to the makeup of the County. Private schools are doing quite well and have since busing. Many families moved to other counties or areas less affected by the constant turmoil of school boundary lines changing.

2 - Some parents send their kids to public schools and expect the system to do everything to educate them and do nothing at home or at the school to support their kids.

3 - Some parents get totally involved in their kid's education and do what is necessary to support them at school and at home but don't get involved in PTA and other groups for whatever the reason(s).

4 - Some parents do the same things as in point 3 yet do get involved in various groups like Mecklenburg ACTS, Save Middle School Sports, NAACP and their boycotts and whatever else the flavor of the day is, groups against teacher pay for performance, and others.

5 - Then you have the group aptly named All Others.

These are people who have already sent their kids through public schools, private schools or don't have kids, who could care less about what happens within CMS.

So to sum this up, the 1.1% of petition signatures is not surprising given the fact there are 135,000 CMS students with parents falling into one of the bullet points mentioned above.

Until we ALL get serious about public education and eliminate the status quo that has paralyzed it for 40 years, we can meet back here in 2015 and not one thing will have changed.

Anonymous said...

Ann, when you first said you were going to try to get a look at the tests, I thought to myself what a shame it is that couldn't administer one to a student. Like you, I saw some tests on Monday and thought, "yeah, it's not perfect but it's not THAT BAD." It wasn't until I had to administer them for two hours on Wednesday that I realized how very confusing and poorly designed they were. It's hard to go into without giving specific examples which I cannot do, but all day long teachers were conferring together "Do I mark a because the student said...or do I mark b because he also said....then again, I could mark C or D depending on how your interpret the response or the question." Very few questions were cut and dry. And teacher pay is going to be based on tests like these, I sure hope my students will be assessed by someone who uses broad interpretations.

Anonymous said...

I thought the purpose of this test run was for CMS to discover glitches and judge usability. I don't think CMS ever said that these were the exact tests that would eventually be used for evaluation.

Anonymous said...

I think Kaye McSpadden's column today is interesting. Lately she has joined the charge against Pay for Performance, but in her column today she actually admits that a child's family and background influence that child's opportunity for success in school more than anything else. She points out that studies suggesting otherwise have been flawed.

She also says that minority students' achievement level has increased dramatically since 1992, but that the achievement gap still exists because all students are doing better. That doesn't quite square with what we've been told all these years.

Could it be that we have been spending lots and lots of money trying to fix one scapegoat after another to no avail because they weren't really the problem? Does this mean that groups like the NAACP would better serve their communities if they working constructively to strengthen those communities and families rather than engaging in the demonstration and demands thing?

Anonymous said...

Athletic Director teaching 0 to 2 classes and Head coaches teaching 1 to 2 classes means taxpayers are spending on TWO salaries WITH supplements for the teaching of ONE position.How is this justified? Wasteful spending at the highest level.Why does an Athletic Director need 25 hours per week for planning?

Anonymous said...

" There's no separating adult interests from those of children. When teachers have control over what they teach, when they work in sane and supportive environments, when they are fairly paid for the work they perform, when they have provisions that allow them to take care of their families in times of need, this can only lead directly to improved educational experiences for children".-Ravitch-

Anonymous said...

And if you really believe CMS will be able to fix the multitude f problems with these tests by may, I have some beach frong property in Indiana to sell you!

Anonymous said...

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore anon 5:27?

Anonymous said...

Walk into any school right now and witness that "teach to the test" is the norm from now through the May testing window. Let's stop ignoring that fact. There is no more authentic learning going on as the May tests are what is driving instruction. Study Island, Practice Tests etc. Parents ask your students what they do in school and what they do for homework.

Anonymous said...

On top of everything else, Measurement the company that is building these tests for CMC. Check out this article in the NY times: "...More than 7,000 students were incorrectly graded on the standardized test...The mistake occurred because of an incorrect answer key used by Measurement Incorporated, a Durham, N.C., company hired by the E.R.B. to tabulate the scores. The employee who was responsible for the error resigned, according to the company that spoke on behalf of the E.R.B.

Measurement Incorporated did not respond to e-mails or phone messages. Mr. Clune said new measures would be put in place, and he was reviewing whether or not to continue employing Measurement Incorporated. As

Anonymous said...

Dr. Gorman said last night that he got only 5 criticisms regarding the field tests. As a CMS teacher, I know that I have yet to be asked to review or critque the field test...and I have not heard from any of the people who were working long days testing the K-2 students were not given additional time or a forum to share their concerns, experiences or corrections.

Anonymous said...

Correction to previous post, he said 50 corrections reported...

Anonymous said...

OK, so how would the standardized testing agency designing the 52 tests in subject areas including, theatre, visual arts, chorus and dance measure the American democratic process last night that included civil disobedience?

What percentile did the folks in the audience and various speakers score - according to a bubble sheet test?

And about all those signs people were holding? How did they score based on artistic quality, effective communication and the ability to make a darn bit of difference?

Anonymous said...

This may be a shot in the dark, but I heard the PFP is only going to affect the top 25% of CMS teachers? So only a small portion are going to see ANY bonuses? Does anyone know more about that?

Anonymous said...

My children did not participate in last week's field test and they won't be participating in the actual test in May, either.

Anonymous said...

"Wake Forest values individual academic achievement, initiative,
talent and character ABOVE STANDARDIZED TESTING. Therefore,
submission of standardized test scores is optional for admission.
If scores are submitted, they will be treated as supplemental
information through the evaluation process".