Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Accountability with Honor
( and yes, we use a small reading test)

Accountability is the main reason the testing fiasco began in the first place and continues today.  However, the reality is the current process leads to a false accountability.  Instead, I present true accountability.  The question is not how many students in your school are proficient on a test.  The question becomes how many students make dramatic gains toward demonstrated proficiency while under your watch and compared with how they have done in the past.  Is the current teacher really responsible for the success or failure of students past performance?  I think not! Yes the test is a convenient way to determine a score.  But other assessments can better give information to determine proficiency success.

When students are involved in debate contests, are there not ways to judge them?  When performers appear on THE VOICE, is there not a way to judge them?  When students are involved in a project that uses a variety of mathematical and scientific skills such as science fairs is there not a way to judge them?  When school bands have a competition, is there not a way to judge them?  As students present a variety of small projects throughout the year is there not a way to judge them?  When students give a speech, is there not a way to judge them?  Of all forms of assessment, the test is the least able to determine achievement

Schools labeled as failed are based on unconfirmed generalities primarily using a singular test that not only changes with frequency but leads to inconsistency based on the students ability to take a test. The solution to a successful school under the current system is, in part, determined by the schools ability to play the education game.  So let the games begin.

We are familiar with the well publicized scandals of recent years.  This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The game of subtly keeping low scoring kids out of school is tough one to catch.  A simple trick is having a lottery where only those kids with readily available support systems apply.  Those in crises or devastated by the economic caste system, or whose parents work 2 or 3 jobs would miss the boat.  And the school that wins can give a sigh of relief as they don’t have to serve those kids. 

A popular trend when “No Child Left Behind” became law was to force low scoring kids out of school just before the test.  Easy enough to do.  And there is the always popular suspending kids for the day of the test or even better yet, give them a “time out”.  That way the absence didn’t show on their record.  The battle for the best scoring kids has been going on for years and it continues.  Do charter, choice or private schools all take kids with special needs?  And that also goes for troubled and low scoring kids.  There are a multitude of games that I don’t even know about, but they are there.  They are there because education is a game about winning, not learning.

Regardless of the games, in order to understand and adapt the current system of education, we must understand natural differences in children.  When we have a range of skills and abilities from the severest of the cognative disabled children across the board to those book learned students who are good test takers, this wide range will never be at the same place at the same time on their academic pathway to success.  It is not human nature for all to be the same unless we want to develop robots or throw out all that are slower.
And then we have kids who have roadblocks put in the way of learning. They are most often the victims.  Clearly when we look at all students, it is easy to understand the reality that they blossom beautifully at different rates.  Adding to the normal range of skills we add real obstacles that slow learning.  According to Paul Tough, childhood stress literally slows the brain.  Together with malnutrition, chronic illness and a wide range of obstacles, some kids (we don’t know which ones) no matter how intelligent will be slow to achieve.  And then we add too low expectations that also slow the learning process and too high expectation that push kids out of school, the reality is that with one single standard the two problems mentioned will exist forever.  Expectations must be individual.  Remember raising the bar?  This is designed to keep kids out of school.  They think it is cheaper but don´t ever believe that sustaining a prison system is cheap.

Remember some of the obstacles that get in the way of learning?  Two that simply do not get in the way of learning is income or poverty by itself and race.  These two issues have nothing to do with the lack of intelligence and that should be made clear.  Of course many kids in poverty are also afflicted by the afore mentioned obstacles.  However, poverty families without those obstacles are fully able to function well.  Thus when someone says “my students are all poverty stricken children of color and they all go to college, the question must arise, which poor children of color are you serving?  We must abandon the racist belief that all poor black children are the same, blossom at the same time in the same way, are struggling and it is the school that saves them.  It lacks ethics for the school to take full credit for what the parents do.  Often said is “my students all come from single parent families and they are doing well”.  There are many great single parents and they should not be disrespected.

Schools have been labeled as failed schools and closed or lose money under the premise that their students are ill-served and would do better served in a more successful school that has better teachers and a stronger curriculum.  Instead, resources are cut, the curriculum is narrowed to avoid the strengths of many students and students that need us the most are gathered, by elimination into a few schools, hearded like cattle, just to be seen as stupid and their schools called failed, no matter the gains that they make or how intelligent they really are.  

The fundamental question becomes, do we really know which schools are successful and which teachers are successful?

Has the current process of test based assessment consistently closed schools that are seeing real progress with a high percentage of students?   This test “sees” a student for a couple of hours on a single day where the teachers see the student every day of the school year.  Which do you think better understands the child?

To ensure kids really learn on an even playing field and schools and teachers are held accountable we now explore how to transform the current shattered system of education into one that serves all children well.

Start with simple pre and post-tests given one on one for the variety of skills needed for reading.  Short and simple tests are valuable as we are simply looking for a snap shot in time.  A test serves no purpose if it doesn’t reach kids in the way they best respond and certainly if it doesn’t give information to the classroom teachers in a timely manner.  To assure an even playing field, the data gathered for school assessment purposes must be only from students who took the pre-test at the beginning of the year and the post-test at the end of the year.  Now, of course, subtract the pre-test scores from the post-test scores to determine yearly gains.  However, it is extremely important not to compare student scores with other students no matter how similar or dissimilar.  This isn’t a sporting event where all a child has to lose is a game.  This is education where what a child has to lose is the rest of his life.  Using the seventh grade as an example, first it must be determined whether or not accurate tests were given in the past.  If not, take the pretest information and divide by six to determine the average gains in those past years.  This will then give you an idea about the student’s progress. 
If, you have a record of individual tests confirmed by teachers, you can chart actual progress and also determine if the student had ever reached the levels that your school is now seeing.  For example, if your school observes a child gain one grade level that had never been seen before, don’t let anyone tell you that your school is a failure.

Here is an example of how the school assessment might read: 
75% of students gained one year or more in reading.
15% of students gained two years or more in reading.
Of the 75% who gained the full year in reading, 50% were lagging two or three years behind on the pre-test.
Of the 75% who gained a full year in reading, 20% were lagging four or more years behind on the pre-test.
17% of all students gained less than one year in reading.
Of the 17%, 100% were lagging more than four years on the pre-test with 80% being chronic truants.

Clearly understand that tests are only a snap shot in time.  Therefore the teachers must confirm the scores from their wide range of authentic classroom assessments.  If there is a contradiction, consultations must determine the actual skill level of the student.  This might include the use of a variety of assessment tools.  (Just a side note for those who are obsessed by the possibility of cheating, if the post-test scores were inflated, the next years teachers would raise holy hell when compared to the new pre-test.  And this test is not given by the classroom teacher.)

Some might have a concern that one full year gain doesn’t allow students to “catch up” to their peers.  Consider this, first kids blossom in different ways and at different rates. (Given, of course that they are human) Crediting author Susan Ohanian for recognizing kids learn like sap from a maple tree, one drip at a time.  Secondly, in the wealthier suburbs, where most students are on level, a “successful” school is expected to see increases of one year in reading, why would it be different in urban schools.  Of course we want students who are behind to gain more, that’s what students do when we trade winning for learning.  However, if schools bring a high percentage of students up by one level and in previous years those same students averaged .33 of a grade level gain, it is highly probable that the light went off and the student’s level would continue to grow.  Remember, to bring students up to level, they must learn faster than the better students.  This can be done, but one drip at a time.

The test is only a snap shot in time.  When the test is taken out of the realm of politics and a wide range of assessments are used to educate the student, then, and only then, will assessment have value.

The question of accountability is extremely important.  No one wants an educator in their school who is doing damage to kids.  And, yes, we can use a simple test score as an indicator.  However, by itself, the test does not show the value of a teacher or a school.  There are way too many variables such as previous teachers, environmental causes, physical health, mental health as well as natural differences in all human beings.  However, if you couple slow progress by many students in a particular class, with the test, there would be reason to be concerned. This concern would lead to a full assessment to determine if the teacher is using the correct methods as well as creating the right atmosphere for learning.  To get rid of teachers or close schools utilizing artificial means is just a power game with a political agenda.  Simply by switching the child’s school accomplishes nothing.  But to make changes based on an even playing field and valid facts is essential.

To take politics out of the teacher and school assessment we must also take politics out of teacher observations.  School administrators have their hands full managing a school and lack sufficient time to fully assess a teacher.  Consider using retired teachers to be assigned to these duties.  Rarely is it that a retired teacher would tolerate an unsatisfactory teacher in the classroom.  The costs would be significantly less than hiring more administrators and they would have more time in the classrooms.  In addition they would be more suited to understanding the needs of the teacher and available to help.  And they certainly would have no hesitation to recommend that administers “pull the plug” if the teacher was unsuccessful. 

Seek out information with quality assessment in the classroom, in everyday lessons not on one single day of high pressure tests.  And taking off the pressure allows room for the unquantifiable.  The path to demonstrated proficiencies will easily include those skills that can't be quantified.  Build these into every lesson!

A child is more than a test score.  Currently we push kids out of school for blossoming different than the norm.  In the process we lose so many brilliant students.  How do we know who will become the next Dr. Temple Grandon, or Dr. Ben Carson or the next Albert Einstein, all who experienced difficulty with the current school process?  How do we know when genius will unfold if we lose kids to the street before they blossom?


  1. Sound and sensible. The "retired teachers" would need to have been successful teachers, and they would need training as well in a coherent, but simple framework of evaluation.

  2. Agree, I worked with several agencies that did just that. And the teachers were good

  3. When I taught undergrad math, I told my students that tests were simply a means of communication between student and teacher designed to guide the instruction process, that it was a matter of some inconvenience that third parties had taken it on themselves to intrude on that two-way dialogue — but that was just the way the world was and we had to deal with it as best we could without losing sight of the main purpose of what we were about.

    As things have turned out in today’s inverted world, corporations and corporate owned politicians have totally perverted the natural student-teacher relationship beyond all hope of recognition.

    And it has to stop.

    Or the nation will really be at risk …