Thursday, October 2, 2014

"A Crummy Commercial?" Day #2 at Interim Studies.

I have now spent two days in a row at the OK Capitol, listening and participating in Interim Reports. Listening to experts in the field share their concerns, and Legislators pushing their issues. It has been enlightening.

I wrote about my Tuesday here...not a shining success, but a great learning opportunity. Kind of that first time you try a new lesson...reflection reveals ways to improve.

And on to Wednesday. A study on high stakes testing of IEP students, and then the main event, the first meeting about life in Oklahoma after Common Core.

How do I explain my Wednesday afternoon? This scene, with a bad word at the end, from my favorite Christmas film tells it all. I was raised very near where Ralphie trudged through the snow (yes, the snowsuit scene is truly appropriate).

But it's THIS scene that flashed through my mind as I listened to the presentations yesterday, for "Common Core: What's Next." I had now seen and participated in two Interim Studies, so I understood the format: presentations and questions.

So we began. Professor Jim Ferrell, from NSU introduced the subject, restating some tired reform myths that made me squirm and want to rebutt, but then he spoke of the need for equality and equity in our schools...I liked his definition of equity: "treating students unequally until they are equal." After just hearing the study on IEP students' woes with all the high-stakes testing, was I the only one in the room who saw that at some point, we must admit some students, some citizens, would never be 'equal'?

He made a passing reference to P.A.S.S., and intimated that they will NOT be found 'college and career ready.' That was interesting, since the Regents have get to make that pronouncement. I wondered if he knew something we don't.

He spoke of the Pygmalion Effect as if it was new information...I looked up the date of the study: 1968. Teachers and teacher candidates have heard that story often...and I, for one, always squirm: I hope I had high expectations for all my students, along with realistic expectations, and positive regard.

He spoke of rigor, but never defined it...would love to hear what he means, especially since his definition of equity is one of the best I ever heard.

Then he introduced the major presenters for this session: Representative David Brumbaugh, Scott Dittner, and Oklahoma's own Linda Murphy. I've done a lot (read: A LOT) of emailing to the Education Committees of both Houses of the Legislature. I have their names in gmail groups for quick access. I'd never heard his name in any of the education discussions.

Puzzled, I checked my handy OAEC Legislative app, I learned that his committee assignments are Energy and Aerospace, Government Modernization and Accountability, the Appropriations Subcommittee for 'Non-Appropriated,' (man, do I have a lot to learn still!) and the Appropriations Subcommittee for Public Safety. I was confused and did not see the connection between his expertise and Common Core: What's Next?

He began by talking about the testing problems of the past, the number of companies, the costs (Pearson-$16.7 million; CTB-$13 million; and the new contract to Data Recognition-$39.94 million over six years.), and the problems. He loves tests, as they make teachers accountable to taxpayers...oh, and to parents, too. He seems very comfortable with the business model being used in schools.

He talked about the delivery problems (online woes), and said we could easly use paper and pencil tests. He talked about the lack of bandwidth in schools, and the fact there isn't enough money to increase, why not paper-and-pencil?

He told us his children attend private schools, where they're tested once at the beginning of the year, and once at the end of the year. He likes that model, but did not suggest it for public schools.

I still was not seeing a connection to his presentation on testing concerns and Common Core...what's next? We must produce state-wide standards that DO NOT in any way resemble CCSS. We must have the Regents 'certify' the standards as 'college and career ready,' even though we really have no idea what that means. Don't we need professional development, once the standards are accepted and certified? Collaboration with educators to create lessons? Here he stood, talking about tests. And tests. And tests.

According to Rep. Brumbaugh, we need better tests, less test preparation, less time out of school testing...Our kids need tests that measure problem solving, and schools need to teach problem solving (Don't even get me started here!). We need control over cut scores (again, I bit my tongue...we have seen lots of political control over cut scores, and the resulting disasters in our schools). Schools and teachers need accountability. Better tests will see A-F grades skyrocket. Oh really? Do tell me more.

Then, he began talking about norm-referenced tests...Wha?? Our tests in Oklahoma are all criterion-referenced tests...measuring kids against the standards we've set for them. Oh, but wait! We're beginning that conversation about CCSS, what's next, by talking about tests. We have no we can have no testing of standards, no criterion referenced tests.

I have nothing against norm-referenced tests...they have a purpose. They measure our students against others. But what a strange turn to be taking. Or maybe not.

He also spoke of the test bank Oklahoma has...and how we could use it. But he offered no suggestions.

I continued to listen. He talked about no 'emotive' questions on his norm-referenced tests, no 'what do you think' questions...lots of right-wrong questions, like in reading comprehension. So, questions about problem solving with one right answer?  I was lost...what DID that mean? He wants a suggested reading list, from the classics, the books we read when we were in politically-charged books, no technical manuals. Alice's rabbit hole was opening up at this point, ready to swallow me whole.

What does any of this have to do with CCSS? Representative Casey asked a great question, and got an interesting answer. He asked if, since Rep. Brumbaugh's own children were only tested twice a year, how did he know the school was doing their job? Gotta hold schools 'accountable', don't we? The answer? ACT scores. Another 'tell me more' moment, but the hearing progressed with out an answer.

He also talked about making sure tests didn't let kids deliberately give wrong answer so the questions would become progressively easier. He was referring to computerized adaptive testing...but not calling it that. I had to look it up, because I'd forgotten the term. The test can adjust the difficulty level of the next questions, based on whether the current question was answered right or wrong. He's assuming kids will deliberately bomb the test so they get easy questions. But he also is touting pencil-and-paper testing. Not compatable with computerized adaptive testing.

The more I listened, the more confused I got...he was discussing some pretty techical testing issues, but there was a disconnect between what he was saying, and our current situation...and I kept circling around to what any of this had to do with CCSS, and our need to have standards and lessons in place for our kids.

Brumbaugh's part of the presentation was finished, and he turned it over to Scott Dittner...a representative of Riverside Publishing, home of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Meaningless personal connection here...Years ago, I lived in Iowa City, just down the road from the big ITBS center. It was a lovely building.

Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a norm-referenced the Representative was speaking about. A norm-reference test that can predict a student's score on the ACT or SAT. A test that shows a growth model. A test that...sounds a lot like the tests Rep. Brumbaugh's own children take. Like little Ralphie's secret decoder ring, things started clicking into place....Norm reference, connected to ITBS! He made a big point of ITBS showing growth...of being able to predict growth...used the term 'growth model' And, about that bank of test questions we already have? Those criterion-referenced questions? ITBS can incorporate them into a test for just a small charge.

ITBS seems to work from 'national standards,' not CCSS standards.

It was a crummy commercial. Representative Brumbaugh likes ITBS, and Mr. Dittmer wants to have our testing contract...we'll just have to shift to a nationally-normed test instead of our CRTs. No biggie. It's not like the third grade ELA/reading test, the 8th grade ELA/reading test, the seven EOIs that our policy makers cherish so close to their hearts, that mean nothing to any college anywhere, are important or anything. It's not like teachers have been teaching to standards that are then tested and measured. Sure...let's just go norm-referenced...and again, I say, I have no problem with a norm-referenced test...any more than CRTs.

I do have a tiny question about how norm-referenced tests can continue the 'test and punish' culture. They clearly show kids score above, at and below the norm...Will the high stakes NOW hit teachers and schools if predicted growth models are not met? Is that the new game in town? My head was spinning, but I clearly saw how one presentation set up the second.

Linda Murphy was the third presenter. She asked the questions that should have been asked at the very beginning: "Why are we testing? What are we testing? And Who decides?" There it is. Three short sentences that must be addressed first...not at the end. FIRST. Why are we testing, and what are we testing Who gets to decide??

There will be one more long session that I know of: October 15, at the Capitol. Hopefully we will get to hear some ideas about, I don't know, standards and collaboration and professional development, instead of a crummy commercial.

If I needed evidence that testing runs education, there it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment