Sunday, March 27, 2005

Educational Equity in Alaska -

Taking at tip from Joe over at Shut Up and Teach, here is a site from and about my state, Alaska. This site is headquarters for resistance to high stakes testing in Alaska. Especially interesting is the history page and the graphs that show who is passing the high school test and who isn't. For a real life story about the damage NCLB and the high stakes testing it requires, do to real people be sure to read, Julie Mae's story.

On a related topic is this article from Kappan by two authorities on the "science of testing." It is not necessarily pro or anti testing but raises some interesting points for pondering. "Many of us have an intuitive understanding of physics that works surprisingly well to guide everyday action, but we would not attempt to send a rocket to the moon with it. Unfortunately, Mr. Braun and Mr. Miss Levy argue, our policy makers are not as cautious when it comes to basing our school accountability system on intuitive test theory."

In fact I think I must read it again.


Dave Shearon said...

What do you make of the differences in pass rates among different backgrounds? Is it that the test is unfair to the students, or that the test reveals that not all students are achieving to the same level?

If, in fact, students are not achieving to the same level and the test reveals this, "multiple measures" would not change things, unless, of course, "multiple measures" actually means, "Tell 'em they passed regardless." This is, of course, exactly what led to "high-stakes" testing in the first place. Students know we're not asking very much from them. See:

Further, it is unquestionably true that the quality of teaching students receive affects their ability to pass cut score tests. (It also affects things like scores on ACT tests, but let's leave that for now.) For example, in Tennessee, 4th grade students in the bottom quartile on the 's state McGraw-Hill developed achievement test had a 62% chance of passing the math portion of our old high school competency test on the first try if they had four straight years of the most effective math teachers in grades 5-8, but only a 16% chance if they had four straight years of the least effective. (For more of what's known about this area, see

So, which to attack? The test that is revealing differences in the quality of teaching received by many students, and the resulting differences in their levels of achievement? Or, the culture within school system central offices and school boards that hinders the ability of teachers to cooperatively improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools? I've chosen the latter.

NO said...

Perhaps you right Dave, perhaps multiple measures would give us similar results, but I do not believe that is not the point here. I have been to your site and although I am sure we could find things to disagree on, I believe that we are basically in agreement. "First, teachers must be allowed (and have the time) to work in small teams focused on improving student achievement . All teachers. All subjects. All types of achievement. When teachers are engaged in serious, deep, questioning discussions of what their students know and can do and how to help them learn more, schools get better. Every time.. " I would add with the strong leadership and backing of the building principle. But that is not what these high stakes tests are bringing us to in school after school across the the country. Instead of good teaching we get shallow drilling for the tests in reading, writing, and math with science, social studies, P.E. and the arts left behind or completely out in some cases. And this is happening in the schools that teach the kids that really need good teaching the most.

Dave Shearon said...

I know there's a lot of claims that "high stakes" (high stakes for whom?) testing has caused significant shifts to poorer quality teaching. I haven't seen any real evidence of that, just lots of stories. (And, in this case, data is not the plural of anecdote!) However, what I haven't seen is lots of stories saying, "Yep. We really trashed our teaching and learning and now our scores are great."

Personally, I have seen a number of instances where some of the very best, most engaging, even (dare I say it?) "constructivist" teaching was going on, AND THE VALUE-ADDED SCORES BACKED IT UP! And, I've talked to lots of highly-regarded teachers who, in the words of my younger son's 5th grade teacher, say "I don't worry about the tests. I teach my kids to think, and they always do fine."

Granted, not all states have as good a system as Tennessee's. I'm especially leery of state-developed tests. On the whole, however, I'm far more concerned about the mentality that it is up to the central office to "do something about the test scores" than I am about the tests.

Oh, and when I was on the Board, our research department said that analysis of our scores showed we were focusing too much on lower order skills, it was the higher thinking skills that were hurting our scores!

Dave Shearon said...

Oh, and there are stories of testing helping teachers improve their teaching. Glenda Russell her in Tennessee is one. Jay Mathews wrote about her. He also wrote on a high school teacher in Virginia under the SOLs.

NO said...

High stakes for whom? For the student who does not get a diploma or progress to the next grade. There is a lot of truth in what you say Dave, but it will take a lot to get me to believe that these very stressful, for the kids, pass it or else tests, are a positive force in public education in the U.S. And isn't it interesting that private and voucher schools are not required to take them.