Monday, April 18, 2011

Testing lessons and the coal-mine quiz

Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are closed for spring break, but the testing folks are analyzing results of the district's recent field tests in hopes of having valid questions selected by the start of next week. As you probably recall, CMS is rolling out 52 new tests, designed partly to help officials rate teacher effectiveness as part of a move toward performance pay.

The one-on-one tests for grades K-2, which outraged some parents and teachers because they were so time-consuming, will survive with some revisions, said Chris Cobitz, the CMS official in charge of the new exams. Instead of asking children to do 15 tasks for each of four subjects (reading, math, science and social studies), the tasks will be limited to 10 to hold testing time to 15 minutes per subject. Cobitz said his staff is talking to the elementary schools that had the fewest problems with field testing to set up guidelines for all schools.

The "best practices sheet" isn't ready yet, but one thing has been decided: Only school staff will be allowed to administer the real tests in May. Parent volunteers, who did some of the field testing this month, will still be encouraged to monitor the testing, Cobitz said.

Despite some requests for a shift to multiple-choice answers for the youngest kids, Cobitz said CMS will continue with open-ended questions, which require the adult tester to judge whether the child's answer is worth full, partial or no credit. CMS is looking at technology to streamline the testing, but that won't be available in May, he said.

Cobitz's crew is also poring through feedback from the schools about bad questions in the field tests. People administering the tests are supposed to preserve testing security, but we've all heard reports of everything from typos and faulty numbering to questions that just don't make sense.

If you listened to Charlotte Talks last Monday, you heard host Mike Collins challenge CMS officials Ann Clark and Andy Baxter to answer a question that a listener had sent in after seeing it on a third-grade test. The question involved a coal-mining town, and none of the three options sounded sensible. Clark and Baxter didn't even try, and Collins acknowledged it was possible he didn't have the precise question (I was listening from home, and I was stumped, too).

Cobitz, who wasn't on the show, later looked up the question: In a town built around a coal mine, which is most likely to be true? The options: All women work in the mine, most men work in the mine, the mine never lays people off, or the mine is the safest place to work.

The correct answer is "Most men work in the mine," Cobitz said. It's not so much about gender roles but about the relationship between a community and its dominant industry, which students should have learned in third grade, he said. The question was solid, according to Cobitz -- but it won't be used because it has been made public.

He said he's also hearing complaints about the new high-school chemistry exam (it replaces a state exam that N.C. officials recently discontinued). But Cobitz, a former chemistry teacher, said so far the CMS test seems to match what students should be learning.


Wiley Coyote said...

Another question that will be taken off the test:

A school district has a $100 million budget shortfall. Which answer is most likely to be true:

A - Educators running the system have no clue about budgeting priorities

B - The district spends more money on useless testing

C - Teachers will now be made to "play to pay", meaning either you play by the rules or don't get paid and will be laid off

D - Beg taxpayers to pass hundreds of millions in bond monies due to overcrowding only to turn around 5 years later and close 10 schools

The correct answer is A but stumped the panel because they have no clue what budgeting means and it will be removed from the test.

Evidently Mr. Cobitz isn't hearing complaints about the entire testing mess.

Anonymous said...

Ann - Do you know how much money is in the 2011-12 budget for test development? To carry out its plan, CMS needs to develop tests for art, music, band, chorus, media, dance, etc, etc, etc. CMS has indicated that these test will not be multiple choice. So, I would also like to know how many dollars are budgeted for scoring the new tests.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Carol, they've been saying the development of additional tests is included in the $1.9 million currently budgeted, and that ongoing costs will be about $300,000 a year.

Anonymous said...

THE REAL pfp FORMULA: 1 + 1 = 3

I’m for PFP mostly because it represents a break with teaching methods that consistently produced too many fry chefs at burger doodle. I want students streaming out of our schools that have the feel and look of the kind of employees that modern businesses want and will pay good wages for.

I also want teachers who are happy at their hard jobs. One of the difficult parts of compensation is how to reward employees. Most people consider cash at the top of the list. But many believe who you are forced to work with to be second or third. Bringing together like motivated people is the central theme of PFP. In the business world this is called synergy.

Bolyn McClung

Pamela Grundy said...


If you look at surveys about teacher priorities, most place teamwork and strong colleagues above pay.

One of the problems with "reforms" like pay-for-performance is that their advocates have laudable goals -- improving teaching and learning -- but then choose pie-in-the-sky methods that aren't going to get us to those goals. Then when other folks point out in detail why the chosen methods won't work, the response is typically "the status quo isn't working so something must be done." None of these plans will work if they don't take into account what happens at real schools and with real students. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be happening much these days.

Pamela Grundy said...


Sorry for the typo.

Anonymous said...

"None of these plans will work if they don't take into account what happens at real schools and with real students."
Unfortunately this "not taking into account what happens at real schools and with real students" has also been the case for many an academic study "proving" that the authors' pet theory about education is correct, whether that theory concern student assignment, the achievement gap, teacher incentives, etc. As we all know data can be manipulated to prove just about anything. And this manipulation of data has certainly not been limited to CMS.

Anonymous said...

None of the statements issued by CMS officials have addressed the classroom learning time lost to review for these tests. Cobitz and his cronies can't explain how they intend to test artistic accomplishment. The exchange with Mike Collins on that issue demonstrated how ridiculous this program is. By the way ask Cobitz whether they administered a middle school social studies test focused entirely on U.S. history to IB students who study only world history. CMS has closed its ears to parental complaints. The Board has shown no leadership on the issue. I will be registering my frustration with my vote at the first opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Isn't NC history with an emphasis on its relation to US history part of the NC middle school curriculum? Do IB students not study NC history?

Anonymous said...

The IB comments are interesting. No one has answered yet whether or not IB middle school students study any American or NC history. If not, how can that be, since NC history is part of the standard course of study? Additionally, is a student well rounded if they do not have a knowledge of US history? Can they really be a good citizen without that knowledge? And aren't IB students usually exceptional students--shouldn't they know something about US history simply because they should be the kind of students who read widely and have probably visited many U.S. historic sites with their families (I know, not all would do this but a good many would)?

Anonymous said...

From the IB webpage describing IB middle school curriculum:
"In particular, the framework is flexible enough to allow a school to include other subjects not determined by the IB but which may be required by state or national authorities."

From the NC Department of Public Instruction standard course of study:
Middle School social studies curriculum:
Sixth Grade
South America and Europe
Seventh Grade
Africa, Asia, and Australia
Eighth Grade
North Carolina: Creation and Development of the State

It appears no middle schooler specifically studies American history (although it has been taught in earlier grades) until 8th grade under NC history. So US history questions should have been no harder for IB students than for others, as surely IB students are required to take NC history.

So it seems to me it is a stretch to be griping that IB students had to take a test that included American history.

Anonymous said...

NC History/US History is taught in 8th grade. IB students follow the same course of study as other students in CMS.

IB students are IB students because they won the lottery. They must be on grade level to get in to middle school IB programs, but that's it.

The coal mining question is odd bc if they were to relate any industry to NC it would be textiles (with mill life), not coal mining.

Anyone else think it odd that these tests are heppening now, when in two years they will need to be completely rewritten for the core standards curriculum changes. Why didn't the district wait to do this for two years, since PfP won't even begin until 2014-15 for teachers, at least that's what they were told.

Sound like Pete really was trying to pull a fast one with the new bil he introduced in the legislature. Wonder if the school board will have the guts to act like his boss and have him suspend testing. Or does the tail wag the dog??

Anonymous said...

Teachers do not forget all of this inappropriate testing is to evaluate your level of effectiveness. Did any of you recall Gorman during the recent board meeting (4/12) stating that 95% 0f teachers were at standard on evaluations? He questioned “why is this…we need higher markings”. More than a few teachers at more than a few schools were told that at standard was acceptable, because teachers began questioning the disappearance of their “above standard” markings that they had clearly earned. Many teachers remember being told by their administrators that downtown requested that “above standards” be limited, that everyone falls into this rating in some way or another, and that it was noting to become excited or to worry about if a teacher received these ratings.. Other posters have mentioned that CMS is also with holding certain marks of “distinction” found on the current NC State evaluations for teachers. All of this to justify taking teachers’ salaries. He simply refuses to do what is right! (Watch Principals sending off evaluations w/out your signatures).

Wiley Coyote said...

Has anyone informed Gorman that the canary in the coal mine died?

therestofthestory said...

To 10:05 AM, some research (I will explain why SOME in a minute) suggests that you need 3 to 5 years of teacher evaluations before you can determine if a teacher is highly effective. With a 2014 timeframe, "Pete" will have his 3 years of tests, even if the tests are written poorly. His problem then will be how to fund PFP. To fund PFP, "Pete" will need the NC Legislature to up the pay scale. With whatever "up" portion there is, creates a pot for his PfP pay increment. The point of this is that teachers who are not highly effective will get no raise, which was automatic before when the scale went up. Such is the case of Anon 10:24 points out with the end of the "above standards" rating from uptown to the principals. This eliminates any grounds a teacher could have challenged PfP for. Now back to the explanation for "some". More current research shows that the likelihood of a teacher continually be rated "highly effective" is very low. They might make it 2 years but the third year is nearly impossible. Not enough information was collected in the research to give any reason for this.

Lastly to Bolyn and Pam, as you well know, education research will show you almost anything you want. Most of this "pay for performance" research is a statistical conclusion reached by a guy who purposefully ignoring a teacher's credentials in his variables. Thus you get this justification from "Pete" that teaching credentials are no longer a requirement. Thus helps fuel this fad for TFA, TNJ, etc. which I essentially call "scabs"/low bid contractors who will never be subjected to PfP.

So as all these "fads" show, there is no "silver bullet". And as likely shows, there is not much that can be done at a schoolhouse level to improve the plight of these kids other than replace their parents. One could draw the conclusion that (chronicially/generationally) poor people having children is de facto child abuse.

Anonymous said...

One only has to visit some CMS high schools and count the number of unplanned/planned pregnancies walking the hallways to kill the pfp evaluation. A teacher never knows whether Jekyl or Hyde will show up each block and what the fight will be over that day. Of course, that applies to both known genders and a few yet to be determined. It's wonderful knowing that each day's transgression will be available on You Tube each night courtesy of the phone videography classes.

Anonymous said...

Restofthestory--I agree with you about fads and silver bullets. That's been going on for a long time. Unfortunately trying to find that elusive solution to low achievement has cost the rest of us both money and local control over public schools.
One good thing that I've seen coming out of the PfP issue has been the "diverse" (I wish I didn't have to use that word!) groups all finally admitting that how and where and with whom children spend their out of school time has a powerful affect on how their education will progress. This is quite an about face for some of the players in this game.

Tested_to_Death said...

"Instead of asking children to do 15 tasks for each of four subjects (reading, math, science and social studies), the tasks will be limited to 10 to hold testing time to 15 minutes per subject." quote from Ann's blog post, based on quote from Chris Cobitz.

Wait, that's 15 minutes times 4 subjects (reading, math, SS, sci). So, one hour per K-2 student. My school has over 450 K-2 students. Where are we going to dig up 450 HOURS of extra time to administer these tests? It took almost a week when the field tests were "limited" to 50 minutes per student. Are we supposed to administer all the tests together (one hour block) or in 4 15-minute blocks, plus time for a break in between each block? That would add up to more time, especially if the students needs to go to the bathroom, etc.

We can kiss the month of May and maybe the few days in June goodbye. We'll be preparing for testing (EOGs) or testing testing the whole time. How sad for that to be the last thing a child remembers before going on summer break for 2 months. School = testing. I'm sure they will be *excited* to return to that place in the Fall...

Anonymous said...

CMS is going to video tape a one and a half hour class as part of it's teacher effectiveness evaluation process?

Who gets to edit it - FOX, CNN or CMS TV? Or, who is actually going to watch the tape in it's entirety? Is one person going to watch it or a panel or experts?

Trust me, any "problem" students" while be conveniently working on an independent project this day. It's called "differentiated" learning!

Anonymous said...

THIS IS JUST THE TYPE OG THING THAT PROOVES THAT THE CLOWNS DOWNTOWN are needed for Educating our students.......Downtown is talking with people at elementary schools who had the fewest problems to determine how to tell other schools how to administer the test. I FIND IT BEYOND OFFENSIVE AND MORALLY INAPPREHENSIBLE THAT THE OVERPAID KNUCKLEHEAD LIKE COBITZ AND AVOSSA'S CLOWNS have to rely on teachers and other school based staff to figure out how to implement the very rubbish they have created. Gorman and his goons should be ashamed of themselves for further burdening teachers with creating a method to implement their MILLION DOLLAR wasteland project. These idiots STEAL TIME from students and teachers and STEAL taxpayers monies to conduct an experiment that they are obvuiously to inept to implement themselves...GORMAN YOUR A THEIF dressed like a clown, who has the ethics of an Enron or better yet Madoff scam artist....WANKER!

Anonymous said...

Dear Charlotte Observer, Readers,and Ms. Helms,

I've posted this on the comments site in response to a CO article written by Ms. Helms, not in response to this particular blog; however, the two are related, and I wanted to post it here in hope of getting a meaningful reply from Ms. Helms.

Why is it that so many comments are removed that show many "Likes," several in the double digits? I understand removing them for offensive reasons or abuse, but I recall some which have been removed, some which I gave a "Like" to or a reply to, and found nothing wrong with them, while other comments--which do seem to violate or come close to doing so--your policy are left up. Can you go into a bit more detail as to the guidelines you use. And please don't reply with, "Read our comment policy guidelines. . ." for I know that some of the items removed either did not violate your policies or you are not holding all comments to the same standard. Which is is. Is there a chance that some "smoky room politics" is going on between the CO and regular contacts in education or politics, perhaps an effort by the CO to not offend and therefore risk the closing of doors that may disrupt its regular lines of communications with certain ed stars or pols?

Thank you,

Ecila's Daughter

Anonymous said...

Great post by Anonymous APRIL 19, 2011 10:24 AM. He or she states that teachers at several schools were told that standard ratings were acceptable, and that is no doubt true. Unfortunately, teachers at some other schools were told that a "developing" rating was also acceptable--that in one aspect of their jobs or another all or most teachers were "developing"--yet suddenly the noose tightened when Dr. Gorman release his RIF criteria, which allows no developing ratings for experienced teachers on evaluations and two for inexperienced teachers. So once again, it's not so much the what of it all, it's the underhanded how they went about it. And this approach sounds so similar to that used for introducing the PFP system. I now have doubts that this was mere coincidence and seriously wonder if the scenario portrayed by Anonymous and the one I describe above were not both created by design at the Ed Center.

Anonymous said...

This is insane. 2 weeks ago these bozoos said that teachers who teach the subjects may not administer the exams due to "ethics" (unlike the state CMS does not trust its employees) so they gleaned parent support. NOW according to Chris Blowbitz "
Parent volunteers, who did some of the field testing this month, will still be encouraged to monitor the testing, Cobitz said"... Seriously...what a joke....can you clowns make anymore money and do any less????

Ann Doss Helms said...

Ecila's daughter: Ironically, your comment went to spam, but I just restored it. On the blog, that's the main reason that comments vanish, and once I figured that out I've been checking and restoring them. I have never figured out what triggers the spam filter.

I don't have a formal standard for deleting blog comments and seldom do so, though I have zapped a few that were totally off topic or vulgar. I can live with "wanker" (see 12:49), but if they make me ashamed to have my mom read the blog, they're gone.

I emailed our online staff to ask about the comments on regular stories. I'm going to attach the answer, but I think it's the standard language you've already gotten.

Here's what I can say: It's not a "smoky room deal" with officials. I'm the person who would hypothetically stand to gain access (or not lose it)from such an arrangement, and I've never had any discussion like that with CMS folks or with our online crew.

BTW you were smart to post here to get a personal response. I do read some story comments, but on the blog the volume is lower and the quality higher, so I keep much closer tabs.

Ann Doss Helms said...

And here's what I got from our online editor:

We remove only comments that violate our policies. However, we monitor the abuse reports queue, not every story that has comments. So if someone reports a comment as abusive, we review and remove it if it is in violation; if not, we approve it and it stays posted. Often comments that violate our policies may not be flagged for review by readers, so they may never be reviewed and removed. This is noted in our commenting guidelines:

We do not monitor each and every posting, but we reserve the right to block or delete comments that violate these rules.

You can help: Notify us of violations by hitting the "Report Abuse" link. Users who continue posting comments that violate these guidelines may, at our discretion, be blocked from submitting future comments as well.

Anonymous said...

I am just curious as to how and why CMS got this idea in the 1st place. The company being used targets systems like CMS to peddle their wares to. The company being used contracts item writing out and pays per question... no content knowledge or teaching knowledge required to write questions for them. The company being used is also into real estate development. Clearly this is a company whose focus is quality in education (sarcasm meant to drip from the last sentence). So... WHY? If Dr. Gorman is totally behind the idea that people don't need teacher training to teach... these tests are examples of WHY that is patently UNTRUE... Assessments written by those without foundation knowledge or intimacy with the NCSCOS. And after next year, the NCSCOS if going away as NC adopted the National Common Core Curriculum... so, CMS is spending millions of tests written by people without any knowledge of what is supposed to be taught in classes beyond they may have taken them at some point in their own lives and without any knowledge of how to formulate effective questions and answers... ALL TO CHECK UP ON TEACHERS? Teachers are being put to the test by someone who only has to have a HS diploma to get a job writing a question for Measurements, Inc.?? Seriously?? Yes. It is true...sad and true.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where anonymous 8:10 is getting his or her information about Measurement Inc. However a quick check of their webpage shows the following as requirements for being employed as a test writer:


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 firm is a NC company, out of Durham, so in all probability they are familiar with NC curriculum.

This whole thing has turned into a very nasty fight with an awful lot of incorrect or incomplete information being put out there.

Anonymous said...

Would this be the same Company?

DURHAM, N.C. – A Durham, N.C.-based educational testing company will pay $110,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC had charged that Measurement Incorporated discriminated against Jacqueline Dukes when it fired her for refusing to work on her Sabbath. Dukes is a member of a Christian denomination called Children of Yisrael which prohibits its members from working on the Sabbath, from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.