Full Disclosure

Full disclosure: I spent 36 years in public education as a high school math/science teacher and as a district-level administrator responsible for curriculum, instruction and assessment. At the university level I have taught graduate-level classes in curriculum, instruction, and especially in the teaching of higher-level thinking. My background includes speaking in venues across the continent on higher-level thinking, school facility design, and brain research as it applies to teaching. I spent the last 20-plus years in the private sector. I worked for a design firm that specialized in school design and have served as a consultant to districts regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, and facility design.

So I didn't just fall off the turnip truck.

Why am I telling you this? My half-century of serving the public schools tells me we have ignored the vast research base regarding human development and learning and are allowing the privatizers, aided and abetted by the UDDOE, to steal the futures of our nation's children. I cannot sit idly by while our public school system is pillaged by Wall Street.

Today I want to focus on just one aspect of the sacking of our public schools, high-stakes standardized testing. Listed below are just 10 of the many problems identified by our friend, Marion Brady, in his “Problems: High-Stakes Standardized Tests,” found at www.marionbrady.com/documents/TestProbs.pdf. My own background tells me that any one of the ten is reason to question the use of the tests and taken together are reason to totally reject them.

Provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers
Lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning
Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring
Use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores
Are unavoidably biased by social-class, ethnic, regional, and other cultural differences
Have no “success in life” predictive power
Are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences
Are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality and worth
Waste the vast, creative potential of human variability
Simply don’t work. The National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress says the use of standardized tests “has not increased student achievement.”

If you are an educator, what excuse do you have for not speaking up? How could you allow this particularly nasty form of child abuse go on without saying anything? Did you not know of these problems? Now that you do know, what are you going to do? Teachers in Sandy Hook stood up to bullets. Are you willing to stand for what is right?

Reject high-stakes standardized testing. This is the time to speak up.

Problems: High-Stakes Standardized Tests

Our friend, Marion Brady, put together a comprehensive list of what is wrong with high-stakes standardized tests. Feel free to copy and pass around to parents, teachers, and othe r concerned citizens.

A partial list of problems with standardized, machine-scored tests, problems which should
be addressed before such tests are used to determine student life chances, establish teacher
pay and reputation, trigger school closings, affect real estate values, and undermine
confidence in public schooling to pave the way to privatization.
Commercially produced, standardized, machine-scored tests:
1. Can measure only “lower level” thought processes, trivializing learning
2. Provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers
3. Are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893
4. Lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning
5. Unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep
6. Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring
7. Penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways (which the young frequently do)
8. Radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences
9. Give control of the curriculum to test manufacturers
10. Encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators
11. Use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores
12. Produce scores which can be (and sometimes are) manipulated for political purposes
13. Assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known
14. Emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance
15. Create unreasonable pressures to cheat
16. Reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession
17. Are unavoidably biased by social-class, ethnic, regional, and other cultural differences
18. Lessen concern for and use of continuous evaluation
19. Have no “success in life” predictive power
20. Unfairly channel instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail “cut score”
21. Are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences
22. Are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality and worth
23. Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes toward learning
24. Perpetuate the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field
25. Channel increasing amounts of tax money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms
26. Waste the vast, creative potential of human variability
27. Block instructional innovations that cannot be evaluated by machine
28. Unduly reward mere ability to retrieve secondhand information from memory
29. Subtract from available instructional time
30. Lend themselves to “gaming”—use of strategies to improve the success-rate of guessing
31. Make time—a parameter largely unrelated to ability—a factor in scoring
32. Create test fatigue, aversion, and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously
33. Undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to the work are best-
positioned to evaluate its quality
34. Simply don’t work. The National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress says that
the use of standardized tests “has not increased student achievement.”

A Message to Local School Boards Across America (Present Company Included)

A Facebook friend who is a college professor and father of school-age kids in Pennsylvania recently posted this message he delivered to his local school board. It is so well done I thought it needs to be shared with others. So with Tim Slekar's approval:

Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush and prolific educational researcher asks these questions:

Can a mathematical formula sum up a school or a teacher?
Can a letter grade give an accurate portrait of a school?

Last year I appeared before this board and asked what all of you planned to do when the state forces teachers and principals to be evaluated with our childrens’ test scores. I pointed out that using high stakes test scores (derived from NCLB tests) to evaluate teachers and principals is wrong-not because of my personal bias-but because the tests were never designed to evaluate teachers and principals. A point in which I understand the superintendent agrees with me.

But what about the NCLB tests in general? What do or what should we know about these standardized tests? We need to know and our community needs to know that NCLB tests were never designed to evaluate our children as they are currently being used–this is a major problem.

The results are not valid because the tests are being used incorrectly. The problem is the high stakes consequences. NCLB tests are simply a tool. Tools are designed for specific purposes. This tool was not designed to evaluate achievement in a high stakes environment. In other words the tests were not designed to administer rewards and punishments. They were never intended to communicate how well or poorly our school, its teachers and administrators are doing. They were designed to give a quick snapshot in time of the estimated academic achievement of the test taker–that’s it!

Just an FYI, NCLB tests are not even good at telling us about academic achievement. Education researchers can predict students’ test scores BEFORE THEY TAKE THE TESTS just by knowing the socioeconomic status of the test takers. (I can talk to you about this later if you have questions.)

Back to why NCLB tests don’t work. As soon as NCLB mandated that standardized tests be used to reward and punish the results of the prescribed standardized tests became invalid. Again, standardized tests and the scores from these tests if used properly can give us a snap shot of academic achievement. However once standardized test scores have high stakes consequences attached to them, each and every single score from every single student is an invalid measure of achievement. Again this is not my point of view. This is a fact that has been demonstrated by testing experts. The American Educational Research Association (AERA) released guidelines that warn against the improper use of high-stakes tests because of issues concerning validity and the potential harm that can be caused from inappropriately using high stakes test scores to administer punishments and rewards. AGAIN. Not my opinion. This is just a fact that any testing expert would agree with.

Therefore I am asking the board again: What are you going to do?
You all understand that in 2014 our school district will be labeled “failing.” This is a guaranteed scarlet letter that our children, teachers and principals will be forced to wear. How much longer are you going to allow the children of this community to be used as political pawns in a system that was designed to prove that our teachers, our principals and our schools are failing?

Before you tell me to take up with the politicians that designed this disaster let me remind you that each of you was elected by the people of this community to uphold the Pennsylvania constitution which states specifically in regards to education,

“shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth”

Therefore it is your job to make sure that our children receive the best educational opportunity possible.

You are the politicians.

That’s why I am taking it up with you. And that’s why I ask you again: What are you going to do to save this community from being falsely labeled failing?”

Open Letter to Michelle and Barack Obama:

Open Letter to Michelle and Barack Obama:

Here is what the experts say our kids will need to be successful in the 21st Century:

Basic, scientific, mathematical, and technological literacies.
Inventive thinking including curiosity, creativity, and risk taking as well as higher order thinking and sound reasoning.
Effective Communication including teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills.
High Productivity refers to the ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results. It includes the use of real-world tools and the production of relevant, high-quality products.

Here is what your kids get at Sidwell:

Pretty much everything on the list

Here is what my kids get in our local public school thanks to NCLB and RttT:

High-stakes bubble-in tests in a narrow range of subjects (mostly reading and math), beginning in the lowest grades and extending through high school
Test-prep curriculum designed to produce one right answer
Regimented day with all students in cohort on the same lesson at the same time
Little opportunity to explore interests, participate in cultural activities, or play

Somehow this isn't getting it. Do you get it? We need to end the Federal mandates, return the schools to the local communities, and provide the resources local schools need to transition to 21st Century learning. Our children's future depends on it. Our nation's future depends on it.

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

Do you really want to go down in history as the president who killed public education? If not, it is time to stop listening to your advisors, including Arne Duncan, who are busy selling what has been the greatest public education system in the history of the world, to corporate interests that have no direct connection to the children in the program. It is time for you to start listening to parents and teachers who are closest to the problem.

Sending money to the states and districts that can write the best proposal has siphoned dollars away from the children who need it most, those in schools with high rates of poverty in our most economically hard-hit school districts. Researchers have long known that the biggest obstacle to improving achievement is not teachers, but the many manifestations of poverty that affect learning. Redirect the efforts of your administration to the reduction of the effects of poverty if you really want to improve the chances of these children.

Reliance on high-stakes test scores as a measure of accountability must end. Education assessment experts have recommended from the start that the tests are not designed to make decisions about the lives of children and now your administration has pushed states and districts to use tests, that are not even useful for truly evaluating children's achievement, to evaluate teachers. This ridiculous extension of the purpose of high-stakes tests will go down in history as a waste of time, money, and the careers of highly competent teachers. The practice must end. Many forms of real assessment are available if you really want to measure achievement. The National Assessment of Educational Progress already exists and has shown that the reform efforts of the past decade, the very ones your administration is championing, have not proven helpful and, in fact, have exacerbated the drop out problem.Dear Mr. President:

Robert J. Valiant, Ed.D.