Daily Archives: March 28, 2011

President Obama on standardized testing: “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble”

President Obama is widely seen as a proponent of accountability in K-12 education (see, for example, this article).  However, comments the president made today suggest that Obama does not see standardized testing (a major subset of accountability) as a panacea.

The Associated Press reports:

“Too often what we have been doing is using these [standardized] tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools,” the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C…

“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting…”

The president endorsed the occasional administering of standardized tests to determine a “baseline” of student ability.


Wisconsin Republicans seek professor’s personal emails

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The Republican Party of Wisconsin is seeking, under the state’s open-records law, to obtain e-mail sent by a Madison professor who has publicly criticized that state’s Republican governor, a move the professor is denouncing as an assault on his academic freedom.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin at Madison received the records request on March 17, two days after the professor, William Cronon, published a blog post examining the role conservative advocacy groups have played in formulating legislation recently proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers. The most prominent of the legislation, a bill to strip University of Wisconsin and other public employees of their collective-bargaining rights, was passed after a bitter debate that featured huge rallies at the State Capitol and demands for the recall of lawmakers on both sides of the issue.

USA Today investigates DC Public Schools’ standardized testing anomalies

USA Today has published a major investigative article on standardized testing anomalies at District of Columbia public schools, many of which were praised (and financially rewarded) by former chancellor Michelle Rhee.

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

USA Today goes on to explain that the paper launched in investigation of  DC Public Schools because of the national attention DCPS has received during and after the tenure of Chancellor Rhee; indeed, the paper reports, DCPS received tens of millions of dollars in federal funding based on its purported improvements in test scores. But there was a problem:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones…

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.’s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill…

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

Bakersfield, CA teachers fear for their safety

KERO, the ABC affiliate in Bakersfield, California, reports:

“I am scared to death to go back to work tomorrow,” said teacher Sunny Mueller. “We’ve had teachers assaulted, shoved around, eggs thrown at them,” said Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association president Brad Barnes. “Last week, there was a homemade bomb that went off in the boys bathroom,” said teacher Katie Irwin.

Mayhem. That’s how teachers last night at the Bakersfield City School District board meeting described their classrooms and schools. Specifically Curran middle school, Stiern middle school and Mckinley elementary.Also kids are allegedly bringing drugs, alcohol and weapons on campus…

Teachers say the problem is lack of discipline enforcement by the district. “Kids are not being suspended for bad behavior,” said Irwin.

The union says BCSD is not suspending, expelling or rotating students because budget cuts have left fewer resources to do so. Also, schools only get paid when a student is physically in school, so money is lost every time a student is suspended. Barnes says about $675,000 is lost per year from suspensions which is why the district has enforced a policy to reduce student suspensions 40 percent.