Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And Then There's the Tests -

Yes the test. It all comes down to the test. In many states there is only one test, given at grades 3, 5 & 8, that decides whether a school make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or not. Now, each state gets to choose there own tests and some test every child every year from kindergarten on up. They are trying to sell this as a way to"inform your teaching" but that's load of crap. Many of the tests that each state uses are off the self, norm referenced tests, published by the same outfits that write the text books. So if every kid in the country has to take a test every two or three years, or maybe every year, why there'd be a whole pile of money in that for somebody. Exactly, the same corporate pals that profit from the America Reads "scientifically proven" reading programs. The same programs that have been chosen by some of the people involved in designing them. (Here is an interesting exchange that occurred in the Fresno Bee courtesy Susan O'hanian) Once again we see the "making huge profits off children's education" beast raise it's ugly head. But let's get back to the tests...

As I have said many, if not most of these test are "norm referenced." That means all of the scores are averaged and each student and school is given a percentile ranking. 97 percentile means 96% of the students that took the test scored worse than you. Likewise a score of 20 percentile means that 80% scored better than you. So to show AYP a school has to better it's score, percentile ranking, each year on this test. Remember all schools are supposed to have 100% of the students "proficient" (We'll discuss what this means exactly at a later date) by 2014. So while all schools are trying to better their scores, the same amount of schools are failing and excelling because it's all graded on a curve and that is the way it has to be!

Now, you have probably heard that the students at any given school are broken down into subgroups and that if any one of these subgroups fails to make AYP the whole school fails. This means that a particular group of low achieving students could conceivably be counted in several subgroups and really throw things out of wack! But I'm getting side tracked. As the above norm referencing makes no sense, neither do several other features of this law. English language learners, a group that is growing larger every day in schools across the nation, have to take the test in English only. Now eventually even the US Ed. Dept. saw the folly of this and graciously changed it so that these new English speakers can wait a whole year before they have to take the test. Now most experts agree that it take between 4 and 10 years until kids become fluent in "academic English," so it would seem that this subgroup is setup for failure from the start, but it gets worse. You see, after these students get exited from their ELL program they are no longer counted in that subgroup, so there never really is any chance at all to raise those scores. Oh, they can count them for a year or two after they are exited but still it all seems like a setup.

Luckily there are ways around some of the regulations. States get to set there own standards for AYP so some are setting them pretty low, with many more to follow as the bar keeps getting raised year after year. In some places, students are just held back the year before they have to take the test, and in this way scores look great! In some cases these kids are held back until they quit. Or in places like Houston Texas, the dropouts just are not counted. There is another way to avoid lack of progress in AYP. If any particular subgroup is to small to be statistically significant, that group's scores do not have to be counted. States have some leeway in setting the numbers on these groups. In our town, the first year scores were announced three of the five grade schools and the high school did not make AYP because of the reading scores of special ed students (this is yet another long story to be addressed at another time). So the State DOE sees this happening across the state and they raise the number necessary to count the kids. The next year all of our schools make AYP, not because there was any improvement but because the State fiddled with the numbers. And this is happening all across America. It's a joke. Even when schools are making serious efforts to raise test scores that is exactly what they are doing, not increasing learning but raising test scores.

As usual I have more to say but have run out of steam. Until next time...

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