Thursday, August 18, 2011

School District Considers Self-Financing Energy Savings Projects

On Thursday, the Board's finance committee listened to a presentation from a consultant who has been evaluating our school facilities and assisting us in preparing a long term maintenance plan.  (Every school district must prepare and update long-term facilities plans to assure the State that we are not allowing our facilities to deteriorate and also to assure that we use our facilities improvement budget responsibly). 

Our consultant is recommending that we consider implementing about $1 million dollars in energy-saving projects next year.   We spent most of our finance committee time listening to his recommendations and asking probing questions.   The selected projects supposedly will pay for themselves, literally, out of the savings in energy costs.  

Let's use lighting fixtures as an example.   In many of our buildings we have very old, energy inefficient lighting, dating from the days when energy was cheap. Today's newer fixtures use far less energy, and if you buy the new fixtures, allegedly you can recover the cost of the fixture (including installation) in under ten years with the savings.  The idea is that the vendor leases the electrical fixtures on a lease-to-own basis, and promises that the lease payments will be lower than the energy cost savings.  Under the plan, your payments never exceed the actual energy cost savings realized by the improvements, guaranteed.  

Additional savings come from taking advantage of a variety of rebate incentives that will make a contribution to the cost, and some federal tax credits that are available to the vendor for offering and implementing an energy savings project.   Now the lighting is just one example.   If an old school has a door system that is not energy tight, that door system can be replaced as well, and potentially paid for out of the energy savings.  When all is said and done, the consultant claims, our school district could implement $1 million in energy savings projects, completely paid for by energy savings, guaranteed. 

The concept seems attractive.   We retrofit our facilities, for free, as it were, paid for out of reduced energy costs, and when the lease period is over, we have continued energy savings and newer improved facilities fully paid for.   But there is significant due diligence left to be done.   The finance committee recommended that the administration begin that due diligence process by obtaining a detailed proposal on the items that could benefit from this approach.  Then, if the administration recommends that we continue, we would develop a request for proposals, to assure that we afford competing vendors with an opportunity to submit competing proposals.   We must assure ourselves that the work, if authorized, is done by the best qualified vendor for the lowest possible price.  

Care is required in implementing these projects.  Because they are self-financing, it is important that one doesn't think of them as "free."  Public money is involved: scrutiny should be applied to assure that the best value is being obtained for the money expended.  Also, scrutiny is required to assure that the method of calculating savings is legitimate.  The vendors who facilitate these transactions have expertise, and they are surely motivated to prevent themselves from taking an undue risk.   It is important to make sure that the formula only recognizes legitimate savings arising from the project. 

Easy Access to Energy Improvements in the Public Sector
Energy Star
Lease and Lease Purchasing for School Facilities
Learning by Design 
Minneapolis Tribune Article "Schools Learning to Save"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Washington Cuts Montana Schools a NCLB break

Education week reports in this week's edition, that the State of Montana was allowed retroactively to revise its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) proficiency targets downward so that 155 more schools would make "adequate yearly progress" this year. What's going on in Montana?

The underlying assumption of the NCLB law is that all children can reach an arbitrarily set standard of proficiency by 2014.  Each state sets its own standard designated arbitrarily as the proficiency cut score.  There is no basis -- none whatsoever -- for setting the standard at any particular level.   The level set is totally political.  Whatever the level, it will be too high --unattainable-- for some children, and too low to challenge others.  Some states have very high proficiency cut scores, and some much lower.  But no matter what level is set, there is no research that suggests that all students can reach the proficiency level set by any of these states, and in fact, whether you send kids to good schools are bad schools, public schools or private schools, some of them are not going to pass the proficiency level, no matter what it is, because by golly, children are not all the same.

But here's the problem.  NCLB says that all students must reach the State's NCLB standard by 2014, and that is not possible.   At the beginning, states could set the AYP (adequate yearly progress) level at some low percentage of students proficient.   So for example, it might have been acceptable for 65% of the students in any school to reach proficiency in math.   But each year, the percentage is supposed to increase, until eventually, in that utopian year, 2014, all students, 100%, must be proficient, even though everyone knows that's not possible.   If a student has various ethnic or racial groups then each ethnic or racial group of 20 or more students counts separately.  So, an all white school with few disabled students only has one way to fail AYP, but a school with 5 ethnic groups and students with disabilities has six different groups who have to pass the cut score level separately.  

Now as years went by, schools with higher disadvantaged populations started to fail AYP first.   That was no problem, at first, because the school districts who made AYP kind of bragged about it and pretended that their teachers and their curriculum were superior, really.   It was sort of fun, really,  to beat up on disadvantaged kids in disadvantaged schools.  But as the AYP cut scores went up and up, year after year, more and more schools were branded as failures, until the vast majority got "dinged" by AYP, even the schools where the children of bankers, lawyers, and doctors attended.  Not because they were doing worse than before, but because no matter how well you did, the passing scores kept rising and rising.  NCLB was either designed purposely  to make all public schools fail, or it was designed by total blithering idiots, or  a little of both. Even the children of doctors and lawyers and bankers can't all pass an arbitrary proficiency level, because by golly their kids aren't all the same either.

Now some pretty smart people have been warning for years, that it was just a matter of time before all schools, even schools that are highly regarded, would be branded as failures.  A few days ago, the Washington Post reported that some of suburban Virginia's highly rated exceptional schools and districts, are no longer making AYP, because the ever rising score requirements have passed them by too.  That shocked lots of people in the Washington elites who had concocted NCLB.  Nobody ever dreamed that their own schools would get penalized; this was supposed to embarrass schools where other kids attended.   Everybody knows that suburban Virginia has wonderful schools, but  still some students in these fantastic schools just can't reach the ever increasing requirements.  It was ok when urban school districts were branded failures, but once NCLB started to brand mostly white suburban districts as failures, well that was just too much.  There was a rising tide of demands for exceptions, waivers, or anything to prevent these districts from having to pay the penalties that NCLB brings.

This year, the State of Montana had way too many schools fail to make adequate yearly progress, and the leadership of the State and its Congressional delegation demanded relief.  NCLB wasn't supposed to penalize Montana kids either.  The state Superintendent of Montana's public schools wrote:
If the game of basketball operated like NCLB, every student, despite her or his athletic ability or interest, must make the team; and then, the only way a student can score points is by a slam dunk. Under NCLB rules, free throws don't matter, lay-ups don't matter, three-point shots don't matter, assists don't matter, and rebounds don't matter. Only the slam dunk matters. And, over time, the basket keeps rising in height.
"Montana schools", the superintendent wrote,  "have steadily increased the percentage of students reaching proficiency or advanced on its state test. Since 2005-06, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading has increased from 78 percent to 85 percent this year and, in math, from 61 percent to 68 percent."  But that increasing test performance was not rising as fast as the NCLB targets, which must go up to 100 percent by the utopian year of 2014.  And so, Montana, Utah, Idaho, and South Dakota all applied for retroactive reductions in their NCLB proficiency targets.  And by golly,  somebody in Washington listened, and Montana was allowed to go back and lower its goals retroactively.  Bingo, 155 schools that were going to be called failures are now designated as making adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime, the deadlock over NCLB re-authorization continues.  Nobody is willing to fix the law.  Republicans blame Democrats; Democrats blame Republicans.   We are driving our public schools over a cliff.   We have designed a system that is based on the false premise that all children are the same, as if all we have to do is snap our fingers and eventually all children will be perfect.   In the meantime, instead of fixing NCLB for all children, the schools with powerful friends get waivers and exemptions.

Past Post:
AYP Means Are you phooling

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Replace Lane System with Leadership and Responsibility Compensation

 In this post, I want to suggest that it is time to replace traditional lane compensation --  progression in teacher pay based upon the earning of post bachelor degree credits -- with responsibility pay embedded in a career ladder.

The University of Wisconsin's Consortium for Policy Research in Education has done a lot of work on  strategic management of human capital in education.  Among their publications is a series of papers making recommendations for reform in teacher compensation, and I often turn to CPRE research, because it is is thoughtful and well documented. One of the things that I like about CPRE's work is that it carefully distinguishes among teacher "base pay,"  "base pay progression," and "variable pay". Base pay is the regular pay that you receive in your particular position. It is the pay that you are entitled to as long as you keep your job.   Base pay progression is the way in which your base pay increases. Across the country, in almost all districts, teachers base pay progresses based on steps -- the number of years that the teacher has been employed in the District, and lanes -- a pay increment that is earned by passing post college coursework.    In most districts, the teacher must pay for the credits earned out of her own pocket in order to earn lane credit.   The cost and time commitment required to earn lane credits can be considerable.  A teacher who advances to the highest possible lane  puts in tens of thousands of dollars earning lane credits and numerous hours of class-time and (hopefully) study.  Variable pay is pay contingent on meeting some objective, such as student test score results, and variable pay is almost non-existent in most systems.  Today's post does not argue for variable pay:  it argues that responsibility and leadership pay should supplant the current lane system for base pay progression.

Public teacher compensation provides base pay progression based on  "training and experience."  There is a fair amount of research that suggests that teacher performance and student results improve with experience, although some critics claim that the effect is limited to the first five years of teaching, more or less.  However, because step increases are provided regularly and somewhat reliably (when the State provides adequate funds to pay them), steps attract teachers into the professions at lower salaries than they would otherwise accept, if only base pay, without step progression, were offered.

The problem with lane pay is that there is overwhelming evidence that, with some exceptions, lane pay does not equate to conduct that improves teaching and learning.  The Center for Educator Compensation reform presents a bibliography of studies that make this point:
The preponderance of evidence suggests that teachers who have completed graduate degrees are not significantly more effective at increasing student learning than those with no more than a bachelor’s degree. Five studies reviewed by Rice (2003), which examined student achievement in a wide variety of grades and subject areas, found that teachers having completed an advanced degree had no significant effect on student performance (Summers &Wolfe, 1977; Link & Ratledge, 1979; Murnane & Phillips, 1981; Harnisch, 1987; Monk, 1994). Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) also found that on average, elementary teachers who had completed master’s degrees were no more or no less effective than others at raising student achievement, with one exception. Elementary teachers with master’s degrees appeared to be less effective, on average, than those without advanced degrees if they earned the degrees more than five years after they started teaching.
Now there are exceptions to this basic claim.   Secondary teachers surely benefit from advanced substantive training in their field of responsibility.   Biology teachers who know more biology will likely do a better job of teaching biology, especially when they are teaching higher level courses.  Historically, however, Districts have exerted very little control over the kind of courses that must be taken, and districts have demanded virtually no proof that the course taken actually translates into improved instruction.    The question is whether there might be a better use of scarce compensation dollars that would actually attract and retain quality teachers, and do a better job of improving teaching and learning, than the current lane system.  I believe that the answer is responsibility pay -- compensation for leadership and responsibility.

CRPE writes that many young highly motivated teachers come to public education with expectations for advancement that differ from the old training and experience paradigm:
Anecdotal evidence from several sources, however, suggests that once in the system, these individuals want to be successful in the classroom, to be in schools led by instructionally oriented principals, and to be in an organization with high expectations for the achievement of all students and that relentlessly pursues that goal. The individuals also want career ladder structures that put them in positions of responsibility around the instructional program, such as a teacher team leader role, an instructional coach role, a content expert role, etc. They also want a pay system that is based on their performance, taking into account both their level of instructional expertise and improvements in student achievement. They do not want to have to wait several years for a leadership position as an assistant principal, nor wait 20 years to get to the top of the salary schedule. They want a performance-based career ladder and salary structure that lets them move up to higher pay either based on new and increased responsibility or their own performance and/or the performance of their students.
This idea of advancement through leadership, I believe, is critically important to the ability of education to respond to changing needs.  Contrary to the popular belief system, education has too few leaders, not too many, and the shortage of leaders makes it almost impossible for public education to be agile --  that is to respond to changes at the pace necessary to make necessary changes.   We can't add tons of more administrators to solve this leadership gap, and it wouldn't help anyway.   We need to rethink the pyramid of leadership within the teaching profession itself.   In some districts, those few with plenty of resources, the solution is to add specialists in the central office, but these specialists are not part of the district's teaching infrastructure.  They aren't in the school on a daily basis.  They don't eat with fellow teachers in the lunchroom.  They don't teach any longer, and consequently, their ideas are constantly being criticized as being out of touch and unrealistic.  In most organizations, leadership is embedded in the organizational infrastructure.   Leaders have supervisory responsibility as well as productivity responsibility.   But the teaching profession is structured so that teachers as a profession are basically powerless to participate in the management of their own profession.

An army has privates, corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and so on.    Each level of leadership has a direct connection to the persons above and below.  In a school district, there is no pyramidal structure of leadership.  Teachers are teachers are teachers.   This system stifles teachers who have drive to improve their institution.  It turns professionals who would like to see change into cynics instead of active contributors.   We desperately need to reform the profession of education so that young teachers who aspire to display their talents for leadership have a recognized place in the systemic structure: so they can make a difference in what we do.

If the school district wants to improve elementary science instruction --- something that we need to do -- there should be science leaders in each building, teachers with strong science backgrounds who, as part of their instructional leadership role, can be delegated the responsibility to lead their fellow teachers in making that transformation.   If the school district wants to improve the implementation of its use of web-based communication with students and parents -- something that we need to do -- there should be teacher leaders who can lead the implementation of these changes, not as a special assignment, but because they are recognized teacher leaders with operational responsibility.   And the only way that we can make this happen is to restructure the current structure of the profession and provide opportunities for advancement and compensation through leadership and responsibility.

A teaching structure that rewards initiative, leadership, and contributions to school improvement would transform the profession.  It would be good for teachers, especially those with leadership potential,  and it would create public support for better teacher compensation.

New Teacher Pay Structures CPRE Research Paper (2009)
Lane Improvement as a Cost Component
Arizona Career Ladder
Center for Educator Compensation Reform   Summary of research on link between student achievement and training and experience.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A word about Matt Damon's Attack on Testing

About a week ago, the media paid quite a bit of attention to a passionate speech in support of public school teachers by actor Matt Damon.  The speech included an attack on the overuse of standardized tests, as follows:
I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.
I've been writing a bit about the widening scope of the standardized testing scandals in which individual schools and even school districts have been alleged to have produced quantum leaps in standardized testing scores through organized cheating by some of the educators themselves.  And in the course of those posts, I've made it clear that I believe in regular use of standardized testing as an important component in teaching and learning.   At the same time, Damon's emotional attack on overuse of testing resonates.   The best teachers do make learning exciting for its own sake.  The best teachers don't engage in "silly drill and kill nonsense" and the best teachers do approach children "like an individual puzzle."   How does one harmonize the truth in Damon's argument with a belief that standardized testing is important?

I think we have to recognize that we don't have to choose between the folks who claim that standardized testing will transform public education through a system sanction and rewards, on the one hand, and the folks who seem to want to drive standardized testing out of education altogether.   Standardized testing --- like the NWEA progress based testing -- provides data that can be used to approach each child "like an individual puzzle."    These new testing systems actually adjust the difficulty of the test to the level of the student, automatically, as the student answers questions.  They provide individualized scaled scores that provide information to the teacher on where the student is struggling.  They reward the student and teacher for the amount of progress.   As we get more sophisticated in the use of these tests, the hope is that educators will become more and more sophisticated in using the results of these tests to help each student progress.

Standardized testing also provides no-nonsense information for parents.   Instead of telling a parent, "Mary is such a hard worker,"  properly read, these tests tell a parent exactly where a student stands on the important skills of reading and math.   If a student is not progressing, a parent finds out immediately, instead of finding out in 8th or 9th grade, when it is way to late to develop a remediation plan.  

Part of the fear of standardized testing is that testing will be used improperly to rate teachers, not based on the quality of their teaching, but on the preparation and intellect of the particular students who happen to be assigned to her classroom.   This issue is not unique to education.     A hospital that handles the most difficult cases fears that ratings based on outcomes may wrongly suggest that the hospital isn't as good as a hospital that  specializes in less difficult cases.  In education it has become customary for school districts serving exclusive neighborhoods with low poverty populations, few immigrants, and few first-generation students, to boast that "our test scores are really high."   Yet, we all know that the most important factor in determining the test scores of students at the end of the year is the test scores that they had at the beginning.  When I taught two classes of the same subject, one after another, my class of high fliers way out performed my other class, even though I worked just as hard to help both classes excel.

The strength of progress-based testing is precisely that it focuses on the progress that the individual student has made.  Properly used, progress based testing rewards a teacher for moving a student a year (or more) ahead, whether the student started behind or ahead at the beginning of the year.

Teachers understandably fear that their evaluations, and perhaps their continued employment, will depend not on their effectiveness, but on a political process that assigns students to their classroom.   This is a legitimate fear, but the solution is not to wage a war on standardized testing, but to use testing appropriately.  The primary purpose of standardized testing is to help teachers do their job better.  Standardized testing like the NWEA can do that by providing meaningful data to teachers and administrators and parents that tell them how well students are learning.  If used wisely, that information can be an invaluable tool in public education.

Prior posts and links on testing
NWEA Provides Window on Student Achievement

Using NWEA for Accountability
RITS, NWEA and Progress Based Testing
Testing Scandals I
the Notebook
Editorial in USA today
National Center for Fair and Open Testing 
Washington Post  article
Los Angeles Charters Accused of Cheating Closed
Testing Scandals II

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Challenge of Keeping School Districts Sustainable

I've been thinking a lot in the last couple of months about how we are going to keep our school district financially sustainable.  We who are stewards of public education revenues at the local level need to take a long hard look at what the future is bringing, and how we are going to manage our budgets.  We are living in a time of high unemployment.  Across the country many districts have cut teachers and raised class size significantly.  These teacher cuts have resulted partly from real budget cuts in many states.   But they have also resulted from wage and benefit increases in districts across the country.   In Minnesota during the last two years, many district increased their compensation costs by amounts significantly greater than the state revenues would allow and they made big cuts to do it.   Can this go on year after year?    At the same time, most districts in Minnesota experienced significant growth in their special education deficits, reflecting the failure of the state to cover the growth in special education costs that is happening across the State in most districts. How can we justify cutting our work force, at a time when we have high unemployment and young people are graduating from college prepared to teach in  a brutal market?

In Minnesota, and many other states, there is significant upward pressure on teacher salaries resulting from the step and lane system of compensation. Education Week writes that forthcoming research by Stanford University economist Eric A. Hanushek concludes that, in 2008, 9.5 percent of teachers’ total salaries was devoted to paying them for obtaining advanced degrees, and 27 percent for accumulated experience past the second year of teaching.   At the same time, average teachers salaries have probably not kept pace with the growth in salaries paid to other college educated professionals.  So this posting is not the beginning of an argument that teachers are overpaid!

The question that is panicking those of us responsible for managing school budgets is that we cannot see a way to make the current compensation system work and keep our school districts afloat.  Like the United States Government, we have a revenue problem and we have a cost problem.  If we were making cars or building roads,  or running banks, we'd solve this problem by making productivity gains.  We'd buy labor saving devices and cut our labor force.  Or, we'd outsource our production to some third world country.   But teaching is inherently labor intensive.  But children still seem to need adult contact when they are  learning.   Colleges respond to revenue cuts with a broad variety of options that aren't likely to work in elementary and secondary education.   They grow their class size into the hundreds.  They use graduate students to provide low cost teaching assistants or teachers for introductory courses.   Increasingly, they have taken to covering many courses with poorly paid adjunct teachers who work without tenure, benefits, or pension.   And, they cover revenue shortfalls by increasing tuition.

In the next several years, especially during the coming funding crisis, school districts are going to be forced to decide whether they will continue the current practice of increasing compensation costs faster than revenues and making cuts to make up the difference.  Going down that road is eventually going to destroy public education as we know it.   If we are to survive, we need to step out of the current paradigm of solving our problems with continuing cuts, and work harder to find alternatives.

What are the alternatives?  If we are going to find alternatives, the first thing that we have to do is get off our current treadmill.  We are locked into a negative spiral, addicted to a pattern of cuts and more cuts.  If we don't start considering alternatives, pretty soon, we'll wake up one morning and discover that there's nothing left that is recognizable as a school.  I'll write more on this toic in my next post....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Testing Scandal

In a recent post, I wrote about the test-score cheating scandal in Atlanta Georgia and Washington, D.C.   The two scandals have some things in common.  Both involve challenged school systems with nationally recognized former superintendents.    Both received attention nationally as examples of how great leadership in the central office can lead to eye-popping growth in test scores.  In both cases, there are allegations that leadership looked the other way when teachers or parents brought forward troubling information that might have revealed the problem.  As we discuss the implications of these scandals, we can't emphasize enough that the vast majority of educators recoil at the concept that other educators would engage in this conduct.  And, in some cases, these scandals are steps away from being proven:  they rest on statistical evidences suggesting that something is seriously amiss.   In Washington, D.C., as well, some of the schools ensnared in cheating scandals have experienced significant reduction in test scores once new testing regimens were installed to ward off cheating. 

Now we are hearing reports of possible widespread cheating in Pennsylvania.  July 21st New York Times carries a story about a small Philadelphia publication called the Notebook has exposed what appears to be a new round of cheating scandals:

In Pennsylvania, the 2009 statistical analysis that was unearthed by The Notebook has provided many good leads. Chester Community Charter, one of the state’s biggest schools, with 2,700 students, was among those most often flagged for suspicious erasure results. It also was flagged for questionable test scores: in 2009, 65.4 percent of eighth graders were proficient in math, compared with 22 percent the year before......Chester Community Charter School, which was heavily flagged in the 2009 study for “aberrant” erasures and test scores, is operated by Vahan Gureghian. Mr. Gureghian was the largest individual contributor to the governor’s election campaign last fall, giving more than $300,000.....In April the governor visited Mr. Gureghian’s charter, praising it as a model “that needs to be reported to all the people of Pennsylvania,”
A total of 89 schools — 28 in Philadelphia —  both charters and traditional publics had been flagged by the state for, among other things, an improbably high number of erasures, as well as questionable gains on reading and math tests.

What is happening in these schools where cheating is occurring?   Let us all agree that part of what is going on is a manifestation of deep moral failure.   There is no justification, no rationale for distorting the results of student testing.  None.  But it is important as well to consider some of the pressures that are leading to this epidemic of cheating at times endorsed or facilitated by a very small unrepresentative group of teachers and administrators.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing wrote in an Editorial in USA today:
The cheating spike is the predictable fallout from the pervasive misuse of standardized tests in public schools. When test results are all that matter in evaluating students, teachers and schools, educators feel pressured to boost scores by hook or by crook. Just as in other professions, some will cross the ethical line.Cheating is not the only negative consequence from test misuse. Many schools have turned classrooms into drill-and-kill test-prep centers, reduced the difficulty of exams and narrowed curriculum. Some even encouraged students to drop out in order to boost scores. Basing teacher evaluations on students' test scores, as some propose, is guaranteed to ratchet up the pressure and further distort schooling.
According to the National Center, "in the past few months, improper test score manipulation have been uncovered in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and many smaller communities."  

I disagree with folks who argue we need to get rid of standardized testing. I disagree with the suggestion that we shouldn't use test scores to assist with teacher evaluation.   I disagree that if we drive standardized testing out of our schools that teaching and learning will improve.   Quality testing, and especially quality standardized testing provides teachers, parents and administrators with critical information.

The problem is that we are misusing testing by demanding that all students must reach an arbitrarily selected proficiency score, and the misuse is placing extraordinary pressures on children and their teachers.

The problem lies in the pundit and political class who have decided that all it takes is for someone in the nation's capitol or in state capitols to decide that all children will achieve at an arbitrarily chosen proficiency level, and presto chango, if we humilate their teachers and school districts for failure to reach that level, magically, all students will reach that  level.   I personally witnessed an example of this form of educational malpractice here in Minnesota, when I served on a state committee that set the basic reading standard at a level driven by politicians, despite overwhelming evidence that this level could not be achieved.   Test score objectives are being set by politicians and uninformed advocates who have no clue what they are doing.

The truth of the matter is that we can do better for a lot of kids, but there is also a limit to what teachers can do on their own.   Not every child can reach a level that somebody in Washington pulls out of their you know what.   Children have varying intellectual capabilities.  There are some children who have great difficulty understanding addition and subtraction.   Teaching them second year algebra, as the State of Minnesota demands that we do, is not likely to succeed.   There are some children who arrive at school alienated and unmotivated.  There are some children who arrive at school with physical or mental disablities that drastically limit their ability to learn.  There are some who refuse to do their homework or cooperate with their teacher.  Yes, we can do better with some of these children, and we should. We can use test scores to provide valuable information on how students and their teachers are progressing, and we should.    But what we are doing instead is establishing by fiat proficiency goals for all children, whether they can meet those goals or not.

Everyone who actually teaches children knows that the proficiency standards that are being utilized across the country are too low for some children -- not demanding enough-- and too high for others.  Children are not widgets; they aren't interchangeable parts on an assembly line.    Some work harder than others.  Some get more parental support than others.  Some have high intellects, and some have low.  Some just can't stand math, darn it.  We don't need to get rid of testing:  we need to stop misusing testing to humiliate teachers and students.  We need to stop overstating how much and how fast we can bring about change.    And, certainly, we need to take steps to assure testing integrity.

While there are many negative impacts of the distortion of test results, one of them is that the cheating schools have been used by pundits and politicians as proof that radical transformation can occur almost overnight simply by adopting a superintendent's visionary plans.  In today's Washington Post there is an article reporting on the test scores in some of these turnaround schools a year after their testing practices were examined. 

Reading and math scores on citywide tests fell this year in several D.C. schools that came under scrutiny for potential security breaches in the previous year’s exams, according to data made public Tuesday. In a few cases, the plunge recorded through the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System was especially stark.  At Noyes Education Campus in Northeast Washington, the pass rate in reading dropped more than 25 percentage points, to 32 percent, and the pass rate in math dropped more than 20 points, to 28 percent. Noyes was one of three schools for which some 2010 scores were invalidated in May after an investigation found evidence or strong suspicion of cheating.

Links in this post.  I encourage you to look at these sources.
My recent post on Atlanta
the Notebook
Editorial in USA today
National Center for Fair and Open Testing 
Washington Post  article
Los Angeles Charters Accused of Cheating Closed 
Connecticut Cheating Investigation