Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Privatization is Harmful to Public Education

The following comes to us from Dov Rosenberg, Instructional Technology Facilitator from Durham, NC.
  •   Less than 20% of privately-managed public schools (charter schools) are successful; they also segregate children and minimize the decision-making power of parents & the community, ultimately making public schools less effective.

    Less than 20% of charter schools are successful:
    • *Even the pro-charter documentary “Waiting for Superman” notes that only 1 in 6 charter schools succeed.
    • *Charter schools can artificially inflate their published success rate by deflecting low-scoring kids back to public schools, usually
    Charter schools segregate children:
    • *Most charter schools are racially homogenous.
    • *Without diversity requirements, charter schools can market to specific demographics, ultimately segregating communities.
    • *Children from the same neighborhood often go to different schools, don’t know each other, & don’t play outside together. Alienation negatively impacts neighborhood communities.
    Charter schools minimize the decision-making power of parents & the community:
    • *Private control, as opposed to elected control via school board, leaves curricula to be defined by a corporate agenda.
    • *Corporate-controlled charter school home offices are often centralized out of state.
    • *One more thing for parents & kids to worry about as they wait for acceptance letters.
    • *Undermine a fundamental democratic principle that the people closest to (& therefore most knowledgeable about) problems are the best positioned to deal with them.
    Charter schools make public schools less effective:
    • *Taxpayer dollars are deflected from public schools into charter schools where they’re utilized w/o transparency or accountability.
    • *Charter schools have the freedom to select high-achieving kids w/ few needs so low-achieving kids w/ high needs get deflected & ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
    • *Charter schools aren’t obligated to provide special services for high-needs kids so they often get deflected & ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
    • *Only families who can navigate application processes can apply to a charter. Families w/o the time or know-how to “work the system” (often very poor and/or immigrant families) are ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
    • Private entities have already tried running school districts according to corporate models & seen disastrous results.
    • *Minimal time for socializing & physical activity b/c recess & PE are cut in favor of test prep, particularly affecting low-scoring students.
    • *Testing anxiety has lead to sickness, vomiting, & even incontinence in the classroom.
    • *Excessive testing stifles the love of learning.
    • *Year-end tests require sitting still & staying focused for 3.5 hours, which leads to behavior problems.
    • *Encourage the promise of extrinsic motivators such as rewards for high scores (bribes) & punishments for low scores (threats).
    • Pressure to pass tests has lead to stimulant abuse in teenagers.

The Harmful Effects of High Stakes Testing

The following comes to us from Dov Rosenberg, Instructional Technology Facilitator from Durham, NC.
  •     High stakes tests do not effectively gauge student ability, are harmful to children, and make public schools less effective.

    High-stakes tests do not effectively gauge student ability:
    • *Constrict wide expanses of knowledge into only what can be measured by a multiple choice test.
    • *Many contain nonsensical questions, have multiple correct answers, or have no right answers at all (look up Pineapplegate).
    • *With hundreds of millions of American kids taking the same test, ethnic & regional differences aren’t considered, making them unavoidably culturally biased.
    • *Unduly reward the superficial ability to retrieve info from the short-term memory.
    • *Pass/Fail status is often determined by politicians while test scores are often manipulated for political purposes.
    • National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress: “Standardized tests have not increased student achievement.”
    • Measure only low-level thought processes, trivializing true learning.
    • Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; scoring errors can have life-changing consequences.
    • Curricula constructed from high-stakes tests are based on what legislators assume children will need to know in the future. Countless previous attempts at predicting the future have ended in failure.
    • Are often only marginally aligned with curricular standards.
    • Provide minimal feedback that is useful to classroom teachers.
    • Penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways (common in children).
    • Test results are not able to predict future success.
    • Claimed to be used as a diagnostic tool to maximize student learning, but are actually used to punish students, teachers, & schools.
    High-stakes tests are harmful to children:
    • *Minimal time for socializing & physical activity b/c recess & PE are cut in favor of test prep, particularly affecting low-scoring students.
    • *Testing anxiety has lead to sickness, vomiting, & even incontinence in the classroom.
    • *Excessive testing stifles the love of learning.
    • *Year-end tests require sitting still & staying focused for 3.5 hours, which leads to behavior problems.
    • *Encourage the promise of extrinsic motivators such as rewards for high scores (bribes) & punishments for low scores (threats).
    • Pressure to pass tests has lead to stimulant abuse in teenagers.
    High stakes tests make public schools less effective:
    • *The lowest & highest achievers are left out as instructional resources are focused on learners at or near the pass/fail threshold.
    • *Fewer opportunities for kids to enjoy creative classes that make them love school.
    • *Arts & other electives are cut in favor of test prep & testing, particularly affecting students from low-income families.
    • *Children don’t receive adequate instruction in non-tested areas like science, history, geography, government, etc.
    • *Divert billions of state taxpayer funds from public schools to pay huge testing firms like Pearson & ETS (Educational Testing Services).
    • *Divert precious time resources to test facilitation, preparation (such as begging proctors to volunteer), & administration.
    • *As top private schools have rejected high stakes testing, more affluent families have moved their children out of public & charter schools, where high stakes tests are unavoidable.
    • When test scores trigger automatic retentions, much older students in classrooms can cause additional behavior problems
    • On norm-referenced tests, nationally, 50% of students are below average, by definition.  Thus, requiring all students to be at or above “grade level” is statistically impossible.
    • Give testing firms control of the curriculum
    • Test scores are used to evaluate teacher effectiveness in lieu of more effective administrator observations
    • Reduces teacher creativity & autonomy, thereby reducing the appeal of teaching as a profession
    • Minimize teachers’ ability to accomodate multiple learning styles and provide adequate differentiation
    • Create unreasonable pressure on students & teachers to cheat as well as on administrators & school districts to ”game the system”

What's Wrong With Standardized Tests?

What's Wrong With Standardized Tests?

Are standardized tests fair and helpful evaluation tools?
Not really. On standardized exams, all test takers answer the same questions under the same conditions, usually in multiple-choice format. Such tests reward quick answers to superficial questions. They do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking.
Are standardized tests objective?
The only objective part of most standardized tests is scoring, when done by an accurately programmed machine. Deciding what items to include on the test, how questions are worded, which answers are scored as "correct,” how the test is administered, and the uses of exam results are all made by subjective human beings.
Are test scores "reliable"?
A test is completely reliable if you would get exactly the same results the second time you administered it. All tests have "measurement error." This means an individual's score may vary significantly from day to day due to testing conditions or the test-taker's mental or emotional state. Scores of young children and scores on sub-sections of tests are particularly unreliable.
Do test scores reflect significant differences among people?
Not necessarily. The goal of most tests is to sort and rank. To do that, test makers make small differences appear large. Questions most people get right or wrong are removed because they don’t help with ranking. Because of measurement error, two people with very different scores on one exam administration might get similar scores on a retest, or vice versa. On the SAT, for example, two students' scores must differ by at least 144 points (out of 1,600) before the test’s sponsors are willing to say the students' measured abilities really differ.
Don't test-makers remove bias from tests?
Most test-makers review items for obvious biases, such as offensive words. But many forms of bias are not superficial. Test-makers also use statistical bias-reduction techniques. However, these cannot detect underlying bias in the test's form or content. As a result, biased cultural assumptions built into the test as a whole often are not removed by test-makers.
Do tests reflect current knowledge about how students learn?
Not at all. While our understanding of the brain and how people learn and think has progressed enormously, standardized tests have remained the same.  Test makers still assume that knowledge can be broken into separate bits and that people learn by absorbing these individual parts. Today, cognitive and developmental psychologists understand that knowledge is not separable bits and that people (including children) learn by connecting what they already know with what they are trying to learn. If they cannot actively make meaning out of what they are doing, they do not learn or remember.
Do multiple-choice or short-answer tests measure important student achievement?
These kinds of tests are very poor yardsticks of student learning. They are weak measures of the ability to comprehend complex material, write, apply math, understand scientific methods or reasoning, or grasp social science concepts. Nor do they adequately measure thinking skills or assess what people can do on real-world tasks.
Are test scores helpful to teachers?
Classroom surveys show most teachers do not find scores from standardized tests scores very useful. The tests do not help a teacher understand what to do next in working with a student because they do not indicate how the student learns or thinks. Nor do they measure much of what students should learn. Good evaluation provides useful information to teachers.
How has “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) affected the use of standardized tests in the U.S.?
NCLB has led to a huge increase in testing.  It requires state testing of every student in grades 3-8 and once in high school, more than twice previous federal mandates.  NCLB also led to an explosion of other standardized exams, including “benchmark” tests often administered 3-10 times per year.  U.S. students are now the most tested on Earth.
What is high-stakes testing?
High-stakes tests are used to make important decisions such as student promotion or graduation, granting teacher tenure, or sanctioning schools for poor performance. Twenty-six states now have graduation tests; some states and districts have tests for grade promotion. NCLB attaches sanctions to test results. Even though NCLB has failed to improve schools, policy makers continue to expand high-stakes test uses such as “value-added” teacher evaluation.
What happens when tests become high stakes?
High-stakes testing often results in a narrow focus on teaching just the tested material (test preparation). Other content in that subject as well as untested subjects such as social studies, art and music are cut back or eliminated. High-stakes testing also produces score inflation: scores go up, but students have not learned more. Their scores are lower even on a different standardized test. This undermines the meaning of test results as well as education.
What are other consequences of high-stakes testing?
Attaching high stakes to test results increases cheating and other efforts to boost scores without improving educational quality. This can be done by arranging for low-scoring students to be absent on test day or pushing them out of school, often into the prison pipeline.
Are there better ways to evaluate student achievement or ability?
Yes. Good teacher observation, documentation of student work, and performance-based assessment, all of which involve the direct evaluation of real learning tasks, provide useful material for teachers, parents, and the public. Many nations that do the best in international comparisons, like Finland, use these techniques instead of large-scale standardized testing.

►Other FairTest fact sheets and reports provide details and research evidence to support the points in this fact sheet.
If you are concerned about the harmful consequences of standardized tests, please sign the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing at http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution. And see our website –http://www.fairtest.org - for more ways to fight test misuse and overuse.

What' wrong with standardized tests - May 2012.pdf189.87 KB

How Standardized Testing Damages Education (Updated July 2012)

How Standardized Testing Damages Education (Updated July 2012)

How do schools use standardized tests?
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era has seen an unprecedented expansion of standardized testing and test misuse. Despite ample evidence of the flaws, biases and inaccuracies of standardized exams, NCLB and related state and federal policies, such as Race to the Top (RTTT) and the NCLB waivers, have pressured schools to use tests to measure student learning, achievement gaps, and teacher and school quality, and to impose sanctions based on test scores. This is on top of using tests to determine if children are ready for school; track them into instructional levels; diagnose learning disabilities, retardation and other handicaps; and decide whether to promote, retain in grade, or graduate. School systems also use tests to guide and control curriculum content and teaching.
Aren't these valid uses of test scores?
Measurement experts agree that no test is good enough to serve as the sole or primary basis for any of these important educational decisions. A nine-year study by the National Research Council (2011) concluded that the emphasis on testing yielded little learning progress but caused significant harm. NCLB demonstrated what happens when tests are misused. Negative consequences include narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining student engagement and school climate. High school graduation tests, used by 25 states, disproportionately penalize low-income and minority students, along with English language learners and the disabled. They do not promote the knowledge, skills and habits needed for success in college or skilled work. Tracking generally hurts slower students but does not help more advanced students. Too often, the assumption is that low-scoring students need low-level remediation rather than enrichment, challenge and support. Retention in grade, flunking or holding a student back, is almost always academically and emotionally harmful. It generally does not lead to sustained academic improvement, lowers student self-esteem, and leads to dropping out.Screening and readiness tests are frequently inaccurate and can lead to misdiagnosis of student learning needs.  
Who is most often hurt by these practices?
Students from low-income and minority-group backgrounds, English language learners, and students with disabilities, are more likely to be denied diplomas, retained in grade, placed in a lower track, or unnecessarily put in remedial education programs. They are more likely to receive a "dumbed-down" curriculum, based heavily on rote drill and test practice. This ensures they will fall further and further behind their peers. Many drop out, some ending up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” On the other hand, children from white, middle and upper income backgrounds are more likely to be placed in "gifted and talented" or college preparatory programs where they are challenged to read, explore, investigate, think and progress rapidly.
How do tests control curriculum and instruction?
In many districts, standardized exam results have become the single most important indicator of school performance. As a result, teachers and administrators feel enormous pressure to ensure that test scores consistently rise. Schools narrow and manipulate the curriculum to match the test, while teachers tend to cover only what is likely to be on the next exam. Methods of teaching conform to the multiple-choice format. Education increasingly resembles test prep. It is easy to see why this could happen in low-scoring districts. But some high-scoring schools and districts, striving to keep their top rank, also succumb. The pressure is so great that a growing number of administrators and teachers have engaged in various kinds of cheating to boost scores.
Are test results a good way to measure teacher quality?
Student tests cannot reliably, validly and fairly be used to judge educators. Researchers looked at popular value-added methods of teacher evaluation and found them fraught with errors and unreliable. One researcher concluded that “a teacher’s performance evaluation may pivot on what amounts to a statistical roll of the dice.” The negative consequences for teaching and learning will only intensify when educators are judged “in significant part” by student test scores, which is a requirement in both RTTT and NCLB waivers. Knowledge of the arbitrary and inaccurate consequences will deter some strong young candidates from becoming teachers or principals, and drive good, experienced educators away from working in the most high-need schools. 
Don't standardized tests provide accountability?
No. Tests that measure as little and as poorly as multiple-choice exams cannot provide meaningful accountability.  Instead of being accountable to parents, community, teachers and students, schools become "accountable" to an unregulated testing industry. “Score inflation” results when narrow test preparation replaces more in-depth and comprehensive instruction. Not only do students get an inferior education, but the public gets the mistaken impression that education is improving.
If we do not use standardized tests, how will we know how students and programs are doing?
Standardized tests can be one part of a comprehensive assessment system. However, they offer just a small piece of the picture. Better methods of evaluating student needs and progress already exist. Careful observation and documentation of student work and behaviors by trained teachers is more helpful than a one-time test. Assessment based on student performance on real learning tasks is more useful and accurate for measuring achievement -- and provides more information for teaching -- than multiple-choice achievement tests.
Are other methods of assessment reliable?
Trained teams of judges can be used to rate performance in many academic areas. Studies have shown that, with training and clear guidance, the level of agreement among judges ("inter-rater reliability") is high. At the Olympic Games, for example, gymnasts and divers are rated by panels of judges. Advanced Placement essays and its Studio Art assessment are scored entirely by teams of trained educators. Independent evaluators have consistently judged collections of student classroom work (portfolios and learning records). A process of sampling from classroom-based evidence can provide richer information, be adequately reliable, and help stop teaching to the test. As with multiple-choice exams, safeguards are needed to ensure that race, class, gender, linguistic or other cultural biases do not affect evaluation.
How do other nations evaluate their students?
The U.S. is the only economically advanced nation to rely heavily on multiple-choice tests. Other nations use performance-based assessment to evaluate students on the basis of real work such as essays, projects and activities. Ironically, because these nations do not focus on teaching to multiple-choice and short-answer tests, they score higher on international exams.
Revised July 2012
HowTestsDamageEd.pdf276.33 KB