Thursday, March 21, 2013

Testing makes strange bedfellows

Diane Ravitch and Heath Morrison form an unlikely mutual admiration society.

Ravitch, an author and advocate who was in town Wednesday for lectures at UNC Charlotte, is wary of leaders trained by the Broad Superintendents Academy.  She views philanthropist Eli Broad as part of the  "billionaire boys club"  pushing a reform agenda that's demoralizing teachers, weakening public schools and handing over public education to corporate interests.

Peter Gorman,  a Broad graduate and former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  is a case study in the kind of things Ravitch doesn't like.  He rolled out lots of new tests,  planning to use them to rate teacher effectiveness.  He closed several high-poverty schools,  citing low performance and the pressure of the recession. Then he resigned to take a job with the new education division of  Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ravitch contends that such testing and technology companies are the only real beneficiaries of Broad-style reform.

Ravitch says she met Morrison,  also a Broad graduate,  when she spoke at an American Association of School Administrators meeting about a year and a half ago.  Morrison,  who was superintendent in Reno, Nev., approached her afterward to tell her  "we're not all like that."

"He pretty much said,  'Watch me,' "  Ravitch said Wednesday.

After Morrison was hired to lead Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  he posted a recommended reading list.  Ravitch's  "The Death and Life of the Great American School System"  was featured prominently. But what persuaded Ravitch that Morrison was really different was a December article in the Observer reporting his strong criticism of North Carolina's testing program.  In her education blog,  Ravitch hailed  "wonderful news from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina,"  and said that because of his comments,  she would  "happily add Heath Morrison to the honor roll as a champion of American public education."

Meanwhile,  the struggle over testing in North Carolina continues.  MecklenburgACTS,  which fought Gorman's testing push,  has launched a new petition drive to get the state to postpone and rethink its latest round of testing,  which is tied to national Common Core standards.  UNCC students have created United to End Standardized Testing,  or UnTEST.  Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards,  recently named national Superintendent of the Year,  is working with Morrison to try to persuade state officials that while some testing is helpful and appropriate,  the current plans go too far.

Rebecca Garland,  chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction,  says opponents are exaggerating the scope of new testing.  In the December article,  Morrison referred to 177 new state tests,  a number that  MecklenburgACTS leaders Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer repeated in an opinion piece on the Observer's editorial page this week.

"Never, at any point in time, has NCDPI planned to implement 177 new tests across the state,"  Garland writes in a rebuttal submitted to the Observer today.  "In 2012-13, there were 35 new tests, but for many different subjects that have not been traditionally tested.  We will add an additional nine next year."

Here is Garland's description of the new tests, which is the most detailed I've seen:

Of the 35 added this year, six are specifically to meet the needs of students in the Occupational Course of Study, which is designed for students with disabilities.  Within the 35, there also are exams designed for various implementation plans for the new standards.  For example, a typical high school junior would only take one math Common Exam.  The district will select from four options (Algebra II, Common Core Math III, Common Core Integrated Math III, and Common Core Algebra II) based on decisions they have made locally about transitioning to the new standards.  

At the high school level, new tests should REPLACE current tests that teachers are using during the regular final exam schedule. For example, a World History student who previously spent 90 minutes taking a teacher-made final exam will now spend that time taking a Common Exam in World History. No additional testing time is required.

At the middle school level there will be five new assessments -- two in science (grades 6 and 7) and three in social studies (one each for grades 6-8).  This ensures no students are left out when we look at the picture of teacher impact on student growth.  For example, a seventh-grade teacher may teach English to 25 students and social studies to 60 other students.  Should we ignore those 60 students when we look at how students are growing?  The answer, of course, is no.

At the elementary level, there are three new exams – fourth-grade social studies and science and fifth-grade social studies – that schools may use if they need to or if they choose to use them. A school would need to use these only if they had elementary school teachers who do not teach English Language Arts or mathematics. For example, if a fifth-grade teacher were to teach only science and social studies, their school would need a way to measure the impact of that teacher on their students. That’s where these new exams would be used.


Anonymous said...

The schools are testing students in OCS(some of those students have learning abilities way below what is standard)in courses such as algebra 1, biology, and other course completely above the child's level or ability. Unnecessary but definitely a money maker.

Anonymous said...

So, does the Observer check the accuracy of op-ed pieces it publishes before they are posted? I realize that these are opinion pieces but if their premises are based on incorrect numbers that to my mind is a problem. Perhaps Meck ACTs could provide this blog with the source of its "177" tests (did they use that number because Heath Morrison had said it, or do they have actual proof that there are 177 new tests?).

Anonymous said...

So is Heath's mispeak fall under the umbrella that Rhonda wants to be able to correct misinformaiton in school board meetings?

Anonymous said...

This whole movement has worked out well for the "philanthropists." They use their vast wealth to create policies (like the Gates Foundation did with RttT) and studies that promote their cause while convincing everyone teachers and public schools are to blame for all of society's problems. They make money off their charter schools and are heavily invested in testing companies (ETS, Pearson). This agenda has been advanced using public tax money. Its a shame most parents and citizens don't realize what is going on.

Anonymous said...

If there are 177 subjects totaling the NC curriculum (for example 3rd grade math and 4th grade math are 2 different tests) and they develop one test for each, what is outrageous with that? And it replaces an existing test as described in the article?

Has this become a case where another set of folks have learned to "manipulate" the press for thier own soapbox and glory?

Anonymous said...

"My misinformation is more correct than your misinformation. Here are four more sites that corroborate what my seventh grade misinformation dispersal team has distributed to the media."

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Ms Ravitch started all of this when she helped form the policy under NCLB.

Ann Doss Helms said...

11:35, sometimes folks on the editorial board ask if I can confirm a fact in a letter. In this case no one asked (and honestly, I'd forgotten that Morrison used the 177 figure in the December interview).

I think one source of different numbers is the definition of "new." Garland seems to be referring only to subjects and grade levels that have never been tested before. But the state (along with a testing consortium preparing exams for several states) is also developing new tests to replace the old reading, math and science EOGs. As 12:38 notes, if you count each test at each grade level, that adds up pretty quickly.

I'm going to see what I can find out about the origin of the 177-test tally, but I'll be out of the office most of the day so it may be tomorrow before I get it.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great argument to get the feds out of public education.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

12:53--Folks leading Meck ACTS apparently love having the feds involved in local education. They fought for years to have federally imposed busing returned to CMS.

Anonymous said...

Meck ACTS petition includes the claim there are 177 tests in their petition twice ("Whereas the state of North Carolina is preparing to launch 177 expensive new high-stakes state tests, and......." and "Postpone implementing the 177 new state tests,"). So surely they have solid evidence that there really are 177 new tests. Right, Meck ACTS?

Anonymous said...

So, what's wrong with Microsoft Certified Teachers and Students?

It's done wonders for the IT "profession"...

Anonymous said...

Really Re-Pete (Heath) stood on a chair and told her to watch him? Dude we are watching and your toad like moves are wasting our childrens time. So far your Gorman in a smaller package so careful that woman may come back around and slap you.

Ettolrahc said...

Well heck bells just change all the schools, including charter, private and home schools to appease whomever the observer wishes to promote for this week.

Wish we had a person actually writing stories for the observer who did think the government allows the sun to rise.

But I still love Ann and I think she is smitten with me.

Anonymous said...

All the while, public education remains stagnate.

At the end of the year, whether students are given a test made up by the teacher or the state, they either know the subject or they don't.

If not, flunk them.

If all testing was stopped tomorrow, it wouldn't change a thing.

Wiley Coyote said...

I know this is about testing, but here is a perfect example of why testing doesn't matter and where in the dirt educrats and educators have their collective heads stuck in status quo land:

CHICAGO (AP) March 21, 2013 — Chicago teachers, students and parents reacted with tears, questions and anger as news trickled out Thursday about which schools the city plans to close as part of a cost-cutting effort that opponents say will disproportionately affect minority children.

Here's the key phrase: "disproportionately affect minority children".

That statement is used ad nauseum about any issue the status quo doesn't like.

Fact: Enrollment: 404,151

Fact: Chicago public schools is 91.2% minority, 8.8% White.

Fact: 87% are low income.

Fact: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard today announced that the current school year will mark the highest recorded graduation rate for the District, which is projected at 60.6 percent. The District has seen steady increases in graduation rates over the past five years.

Fact: Salaries (annual average)
Teachers: $74,839

404,000 students, over 91% minority and 87% low income with less than a 61% graduation rate, yet these people are crying about minority students being disproportionately affected?

You can't make this stuff up.

Ettolrahc said...


Are you trying to post stuff the observer does not want posted again?

Anonymous said...

Odd that we still haven't heard anything from Meck ACT about the source for the claim of 177 new tests.

Anonymous said...

I think the rising sun "disproportionately affected minority students" in Chicago Public Schools as well.

Wiley Coyote said...

Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)

Chicago Tribune March 4, 2013

In an effort to improve college and career readiness, the state board of education approved increased passing requirements and tougher questions on the ISAT taken this month by students across the state in third through eighth grades.

A Tribune analysis of 2012 ISAT scores in reading and math found that there would be a significant drop in the percentage of passing grades by students in both near northwest suburban districts if the new benchmarks were applied to the old scores.

According to that analysis, 84.5 percent of sixth-graders at Algonquin Middle School in Des Plaines met or exceeded standards on the ISAT reading exam last year -- 88.3 percent on the math exam.

Applying the higher benchmarks, those percentages would fall to 58 percent and 53.9 percent, respectively, the Tribune found.

Other District 62 schools would have experienced somewhat similar drops in passing grades, the Tribune found.

Across the state, about 365,000 students would have failed the ISAT math exam and 372,000 would have failed the reading exam if the new passing threshold had been implemented last year, according to a Tribune analysis.

Without the higher passing threshold, 129,000 students failed in math and 186,000 failed in reading last year.

Rashid said that part of the district's task is to explain to parents that a failing ISAT grade does not reflect poorly on their child's abilities.

"Common sense tells you that if something goes down, you've performed poorly," she said. "That's not necessarily the case."

Oooooookay, sooo what is the case?

Again, you can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine why Chicago would be closing schools...!

Anonymous said...

Heath easily says testing is now bad. Since NC-PDI signed on to the RttT funds he gets a pass and blames it all on the State. He is Peter Gorman light.

Anonymous said...

BofE, MOrrison and his EXPANDED Staff


Pamela Grundy said...

For all those so eagerly awaiting MeckACTS' reply, both Carol and I were on the road all day (headed different directions). Hope none of you turned blue in the meantime. We used the 177 number that Heath Morrison has repeatedly and publicly referenced, and which has been previously published. As Ann notes, we count as "new" any test that students haven't seen before (or that has been significantly revised). Once you count every subject, including all high school and middle school special subjects it adds up to an overwhelming number of new tests for schools and districts to handle.

We welcome a discussion of the number of tests, because that will help inform the public of the scope of the changes heading our students' way. One of the hardest things about trying to get a handle on what's going on with public education (as Ann and some of the Forum's more diligent contributors can attest to) is trying to get basic facts.

Anonymous said...

Pamela, at first you seem to be saying that you have been using the 177 figure because you heard Heath Morrison cite that number. However, you go on to imply that you did your own independent count based on your definition of what constitutes a "new" test.

So this begs the question: did you actually count the tests or is Heath Morrison your one and only source for the 177 figure you love to cite?

Wiley Coyote said...

December 21, 2012:

“I am very troubled by the amount of testing we are being asked to do,” Morrison told The Charlotte Observer editorial board. “We can teach our way to the top, but we cannot test our way to the top. We’re getting ready in the state of North Carolina to put out 177 new exams.”

The sad thing is, "teaching to the top" won't happen with or without standardized testing.

If so, it would already have happened at some point in the past 40 years.

Anonymous said...

Intelligent people who think critically reassess positions and assumptions periodically. If you read her book, it's clear Diane Ravitch has done just that. Those who are so entrenched in their position "being right" are products of the vapid school system she refers to, which abandoned critical thinking long ago. Digging our way out of that seems just more wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

So, is it okay to publish an article or create a petition if you don't really know the accuracy of the "facts" you are using?