Friday, July 17, 2009

Testing Tactics Fuel DC CAS Gains

In a surprisingly candid article in the Washington Post today, even the Rhee administration admits that they used strategies to target and test prep students on the cusp to bump the percentage of students deemed "proficient" under NCLB. In the piece, Kerry Sylvia calls it "less about serving children and more about making the adults who run the school system look good." Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform was incorrectly identified as a group that opposes some of Michelle Rhee's reforms. We don't oppose them. We just want them to be done right.


Linda said...

One sure way to ensure real education reform is to insist on valid and reliable testing. Right now in DC there is no security around these tests. Request that another test be given by outside test administrators. For next year, insist on a new test (one with different items) and demand that the test be given under the strictest conditions. The classroom teacher or principal should not administer the test. Drilling on test items should be strictly prohibited. If these demands are not met, enlist the aide of journalists, national teachers unions and state and federal departments of education. Good luck!

Mark Simon said...

Linda, there is a national check on the testing data that states and districts generate themselves. Its called NAEP. Every District participates in sample testing using the federally administered NAEP test in reading and math. Last year in NYC, for example, Chancellor Joel Klein claimed that his reforms were producing stunning achievement results, but when the NAEP scores came out it showed that the results were flat -- no improvement at all after five total system reorganizations and billions of dollars spent.

The original design of NAEP was to test in 8 broad areas including health, citizenship, etc., not just reading and math, and there is a new call to get back to a more robust NAEP testing rather than the NCLB testing that can be manipulated. The "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" group just issued a report on school accountability that advocates this. There is a link to it on the right hand side this "Real Education Reform" web site.

As Bill Turque's article in the Post the other day indicated, we'll get a reality check in DC when the NAEP scores come out in the Fall.

meaningful change said...

I want to comment on how Turque's article refers to the group, Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform.

It seems like with many other issues the common analysis is pitting one group versus another. Why is it an either/or? Like anyone who is critical of Rhee is completely against her,hates everything that she does and wants to see her fail. I realize there is some very vocal opposition to her policies and some people believe that DCPS would be better if she left, but again everyone who is invested in the system should be able to express their opinions.

Most of what I have seen in criticism of Rhee's efforts has been an attempt to voice concern with policies that experienced teachers or parents know are not moving towards an improved educational system.

Why can't people offer a different view especially if they are putting forth alternatives?

Characterizing individuals in this manner only serves to take away the possibility of a real exchange of ideas.

I have seen this characterization also promoted by people within Rhee's administration. It is a tactic of dismissing anyone who disagrees as people who no matter what will always complain and will never be happy.

This is an age old strategy employed by politicians as well. It divides rather than bringing people together for a much needed dialogue.

Linda said...

Meaningful Change:

You make an excellent point. Actually most of us who want educational reform do agree about many things: We want children to have social supports as well as the best schools possible. Of course, we want the best teachers in the classrooms of the children who need it most. We want to have courteous and meaningful discourse with people who have different views. However, you know that when someone insults you it is difficult to be objective with that person. The best way to shut down communication with another person is to tell him how inadequate he is. I can't speak for other people, but when Rhee insulted the DC teachers with that foolish (for her but not for the photographer) cover of TIME, I responded with a visceral dislike for her, even though I am a retired teacher from California. I know how hard most teachers work and I know how short a time Rhee (and others like her) spent in the classroom. I was also angered by her assertion that her students went from the 13th percentile to the 90th. If this were true, why isn't she telling the rest of us how to do it? After all, that's the educational equivalent of a cure for cancer. Of course, it is likely that it is not true, but many such "miracles" have built the careers of ambitious "educators." Rhee surely knew this. No one is accusing her of being dumb. So it's difficult to be open with someone who has probably based all her ideas and strategies on a big, fat lie.

If the two reform movements are going to come together in DC, there will have to be another leader for the district, someone with some of the social and political skills of Barack Obama. Teachers will never cooperate with someone like Michelle Rhee. You are right: many of us do want to see her fail. Badly.

meaningful change said...


As someone who works for DCPS, I can say that I am extremely concerned with the direction the system is taking. Not only do we have to contend with improving test scores for NCLB and more importantly improving the quality of education systemwide, we also have to compete with charter schools. Each year more students are migrating to charters and the rolls of DCPS keep falling. I see that Rhee's policies are making this worse.

Part of me believes that if this system has any hope of improving that Rhee has to go. From her dictator like management style to her habit of bring in very young and largely inexperienced people to run downtown (many of who are classified as interns) and her tunnel vision focus on teaching to the test. However, we have had so many leadership changes in DCPS (I lost count now)with each superintendent lasting about 2 years. This further destabilizes an already fragile system.

With each new leader, swaths of employees (with important institutional memory) as well as policies are kicked to the curb. New people bring in new policies, new programs, etc and while everyone is getting settled in and adapting, our kids are largely failing. So if Rhee goes, here we go again with more chaos. I am torn.

To address the point of wanting to see Rhee fail, I think it is more about people knowing that she is going to fail unless she does an abrupt turnaround. I agree that it is tough to see a leader as arrogant as she is and not want her to reap what she sows but for me even though I have little respect for her leadership style, I know if she crashes and burns (which may be inevitable) that the children will once again suffer the most.

bryan.r.petit said...

I am a retired teacher (DCPS and other places) with an idea on how to improve public education, especially in the inner city. It's an idea emanating from the front of a classroom, not from a graduate seminar somewhere. The input of teachers on what to do about the schools is being marginalized by professors and think tank types that have very little actual classroom experience.
I would like to find a forum to present my ideas. Can anyone help me with this? Thanks.

Linda said...

Meaningful Change:

I understand your point. If Rhee fails, the children will be the ones who lose. You might be right, but I am forming my opinions on an assumption that might be different from yours. My assumption is this: The primary cause for poor instruction in "inner-city" schools is the difficulty in attracting highly-qualified teachers to these schools. Research tells us that fully credentialed, experienced teachers head for the suburbs. During good economic times big cities such as DC, Detroit and Los Angeles literally have to beg teachers to fill their classrooms. I was one of those teachers long ago in Cleveland and it pains me to think of the damage I might have done to my students.

So if Rhee "succeeds" by continuing to bash her teachers, she will cause the best educators to leave the district and discourage the "best and the brightest" from applying. Once this recession is over, the district might have a very difficult time hiring qualified teachers. This of course, will hurt the children more than anything. So, to me, if she fails, the children win.

If Rhee really wants to help the students, she will treat the teachers with great respect and help them to get the training and materials to do the best job possible. She will make certain the work environment is safe and pleasant. She will follow district procedures in getting rid of the "bad" teachers without making a big deal out of it and humiliating people. Most important of all, she'll hire the best teachers possible by promising to treat them with the gratitude, salaries, safe working conditions and due process that these people deserve.

Yes, I feel very sorry for the students of DC but my heart also goes out to the teachers. They are people too.