Friday, August 31, 2012

Primum non nocere

Parents: here is another opt-out opportunity: More required testing due to state and Race to the Top requirements.   I will post more about interim tests, DIBELS, AIMSweb and other testing that is harming the education of our children when time permits.  More and more of our children's time is being spent on testing instead of real learning.

Timely article from the Buffalo News on the increase in testing.  The article focuses on the pre-assessments.   Here are a couple of key quotes:

This is not a true measure of learning: "In many cases, teachers have to give two tests: one at the beginning of the course, and another at the end of the course, so that teachers can determine how much students learned during the semester or the year.

Follow the money-- huge loss of our tax dollars, while class sizes grow: "Several districts surveyed by The Buffalo News said they could not identify a specific dollar amount they had spent to purchase tests from vendors or develop them with using their own staff, but estimated the cost in the hundreds of thousands."

 Primum non nocere-- How pre-assessments harm our children.


Picture a kindergartner or first grader heading to school, a mix of excitement, curiosity and fear as the child starts the school year.  How would that child react to starting the school year with an exam containing words and concepts that she has not experienced? Is this “pre-assessment” of skills that a child will need to learn by the end of the current school year the first impression of education that we would want a young student to have?    Sadness, apprehension, and feelings of failure are not the way we want our children to begin the start of the school year.

Welcome to the world of corporate education children.  The pre-assessment is the ignorant idea from so-called reformers that we can measure a child’s academic growth by comparing test results at the beginning of the school-year to an exam towards the end of the term.

In New York State, we call the aftermath of the pre-assessment Student Learning Objectives(SLO):
“A Student Learning Objective is an academic goal for a teacher’s students that is set at the start of a course. It represents the most important learning for the year (or, semester, where applicable). It must be specific and measurable, based on available prior student learning data, and aligned to Common Core, State, or national standards, as well as any other school and District priorities. Teachers’ scores are based upon the degree to which their goals were attained.”
Educators who teach a course that does not have a state exam must use Student Learning Objectives to determine part of their evaluation.  Here is how this process works: Teachers that need to use an SLO must give a pre-assessment to their students.  This exam could be a district, regional or corporate created test that would assess the students in what content and skills the children should obtain at the end of the school year.  Basically we are giving the students a version of our final exam.  On the surface, this sounds easy for teachers: almost all the students will score poorly on the pre-assessment because they have not learned the curriculum yet and achieve a low baseline level.  Could teachers be cheering for their students to do poorly on the pre-assessment?  Hoping children fail: is that where the world of corporate education reform has taken us?

All around the country teachers are being evaluated by student test scores.  Sadly in New York State, this process is being rushed at such a pace that presenters have likened the methods to the “building a plane in the sky” commercial.

Many educators have noted that it is the state education department officials who have the parachutes in the “plane”, while the teachers and students are left helpless.  Nothing could be closer to this scenario than the Student Learning Objective(SLO) in New York. The SLO process is being used because the NYS Education Department could not figure out how to evaluate teachers who do not have a state exam for their course or grade level.

After the “pre-assessments” are scored, teachers need to make a prediction as to how their students will perform on the final assessment of the year.  How can an educator who barely knows their students determine a goal for a final exam score for the class?   If the teacher does not meet this “expected outcome of performance”, then that educator loses points on his or her evaluation score.  Puzzled?  Me too. The SLO relies on the fact that the pre and post-assessments are valid measures of learning, which we know is not the case.

The idea that giving a pre-test to students who have never been exposed to certain concepts would be good for a laugh if we were not conducting this cruel experiment on children. Here is another blatant example of the almighty importance of “the test”, not to mention more real learning time lost.  At the SOS Convention I heard that we need an educator’s Hippocratic Oath similar to the doctor’s ethical pledge,  which contains the phrase “first do no harm".   I, for one, will never give this type of pre-assessment to my students for that very reason.