How to waste $500,000+ in education funds

The following press release from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) landed in my e-mail box with this headline: “Charter School Consortium Selected to Measure Student Growth, Inform Teacher Instruction.”

What does this mean?

Measuring student growth, of course, means using student standardized test scores to determine how effective teachers are — even though the method being developed by school reformers and used across the country has been branded as unreliable by assessment experts. One of the problems with using test scores to evaluate how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s score is that most subjects don’t have standardized assessments — yet.

Under this evaluation method, there should be a standardized test in every single subject so teachers in subjects beyond math and English language arts can be evaluated. (To explore that notion, look at this blog post written a while back by a student, titled “Student: Why do I have to take a standardized test in Yearbook.”)

The grant provides federal Race to the Top money for this purpose. Actually, $2 million in total is being doled out by OSSE, and several different grants will be awarded from this pool of Race to the Top money. According to the actual grant description, applicants are expected to do this with the money:

Applicants will develop assessments that will be used to measure growth or growth measures from existing assessments for use in teacher and leader evaluations. The assessments must be aligned to common core or next generation science standards where applicable and must address a priority grade or subject (see Appendix A). Applicants must also contribute the assessments/items/measures along with technical information about these assessments/items/measures to OSSE who will provide access to all LEAs. Assessments must be field tested if they have not already been field tested.

Read on, and you will see how so much money will be spent on a single, fruitless exercise.

The release:

WASHINGTON, DC – A consortium of District public charter schools will receive nearly $500,000 to develop rigorous models for measuring student growth through the 2012 Race to the Top Expanded Growth Assessment grant, an award announced today by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

 Selected to measure and compare student growth, the consortium led by KIPP DC and including Friendship and IDEA Public Charter Schools will use the award funds to support implementation of the Measures of Academic Progress, a national, computer-based assessment designed by the Northwest Evaluation Association to measure student’s subject-and-grade-level proficiency.

 “OSSE is committed to expanding teacher evaluation metrics under rigorous conditions to ensure quality,” said State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Jones, describing how the grant project will provide assessments and growth measures in several grades and emphasizes priority subjects not currently included in the existing District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) statewide exam.

 “We are all partners in education, and this award presents us with a way to streamline existing assessment processes and provide schools with usable data to better inform teaching practices.”

 Under the grant, the Measures of Academic Progress will be administered three times during the 2012-2013 school year to 5,370 students across eight grade levels throughout the three consortium schools and will be aligned to both the DC CAS and Common Core State Standards. The assessments will increase efforts to expand student data, assess college readiness and compare student performance nationwide, and student progress will be tracked and measured throughout the school year to establish proficiency baselines when assessing teacher instruction.

 

 About Race to the Top

Created by the U.S. Department of Education to support states that demonstrate strong plans for education reform, Washington, D.C. received $75 million in Race to the Top award funds in 2010 over four years and in year one, engaged 90% of the District’s K-12 population while directly impacting nearly 59,000 students and 200 District schools. Race to the Top emphasizes four key goals: transitioning to enhanced standards, enhancing the access and use of data, improving teacher and principal effectiveness and turning around the lowest achieving schools.

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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 11, 2012