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State education board slams Obama administration’s testing policies

Arne Duncan (By Jacquelyn Martin-Associated Press)
Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Vermont’s Board of Education recently passed a resolution on assessment and accountability in public education (see full text below) that slams some of the Obama administration’s key school reform policies.

Adding its voice to the growing chorus of critics who have called on the Education Department to reduce its focus on using standardized testing as a chief accountability measure for students and educators, the Vermont board approved a “a Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability that statistician and researcher Gene Glass  called on his Education in Two Worlds blog “a remarkably intelligent statement about practices in assessment and accountability.”

Pushback against excessive standardized testing from parents, educators, students, public officials and others is growing around the country. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent post on SmartBlog that he, too, “shares these concerns” about too much focus on standardized tests and test prep and believes “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.”

His remedy? He offered states “the opportunity to request” a one-year delay, until the 2015-16 school year, for when the standardized test scores of students are factored into a teacher’s evaluation. That’s the administration’s definition of flexibility. Even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to link test scores to teacher evaluations, said a two-year delay should be given.

Here are some of the passages in the Vermont resolution relating to the federal government’s policies:

*”Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation.”

*”Judicious and Proportionate Testing — The State Board of Education advocates for reducing the amount of time spent on summative, standardized testing and encourages the federal government to reduce the current requirements for annual testing in multiple subjects in every grade, 3-8, and then again in high school. Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes.”

*”Value-added scores – Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. A strong body of recent research has found that there is no valid method of calculating “value-added” scores which compare pass rates from one year to the next, nor do current value-added models adequately account for factors outside the school that influence student performance scores. Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose.”

*”Mastery level or Cut-Off scores – While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined, cut-off scores; employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. The skills needed for success in society are rich and diverse. Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical.”

*”Use of cut scores and proficiency categories for reporting purposes — Under NCLB states are required to report school level test results in terms of the Percentage of Proficient Students. The federally mandated reporting method has several well-documented negative effects that compromise our ability to meaningfully examine schools’ improvement efforts:

— Interpretations based on “percent proficient” hides the full range of scores and how they have changed. Thus, underlying trends in performance are often hidden.

— The targets established for proficiency are subjectively determined and are not based on research. Interpretations based on “percent proficient” also lack predictive validity.

— Modest changes to these subjective cut scores can dramatically affect the percent of students who meet the target. Whether a cut score is set high or  low arbitrarily changes the size of the achievement gap independent of the students’ learning. Thus, the results can be misleading.

Glass wrote:

Will it be fobbed off by less courageous states as just one little exceptional place up there in New England? Not really relevant? Peculiar? That would be a shame. Or will it be seen as the knowing and progressive document that it is, worthy of serving as a model for policy statements across the nation?

Here’s the document:

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · August 29, 2014

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