Nation’s “Leading School Takeover Expert” Calls Connecticut Mastery Test “Not Very Helpful”

For the last six months we’ve seen Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor stake their careers on tying Connecticut’s Master Test to a new teacher evaluation system that they claim will allow administrators to determine which teachers are doing their job successfully and which need to be removed from the classroom.

In an extraordinary exchange on education expert Diane Ravitch’s nationally respected blog, (see http://dianeravitch.net/2012/05/31/test-test-test-test-another-day-in-bridgeport/), Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, and his Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, make the case that Connecticut’s Mastery Test is flawed.

Vallas, who has run the school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said “I have always been critical of annual state tests that are high stake, that are too narrow, that are administered too early and that produce data that is dated by the end of any given school year. Connecticut’s assessment system has all of those shortcomings. It is unfair to both teachers and students.”

The new Chief Administrator for the Bridgeport’s schools, and Vallas’ top associate added “Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum

If Vallas and Kase are correct, Connecticut has just committed millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours to using a test to evaluate teachers that doesn’t measure teacher skills and is inherently unfair.

Below you’ll find my response to Kase and below that, Kase’s original post: 

Dear Sandy,

Yesterday, in the rush to respond to Mr. Vallas’ post on Diane Ravich’s blog, I didn’t get a chance to address the key issue that you raised – that being the Connecticut Master Test is not good.

You wrote, “Bridgeport schools were already using a myriad of tests, most of which they created and were not yielding data that could be used effectively to indicate the true needs of the children. As a result, the instruction being provided, while well-intentioned, was not based on accurate data. Paul and I have a duty to change that situation and to support teachers in providing the right instruction for the right children. None of us want to over-test our students. Testing serves an important purpose, but the tests have to be targeted and meaningful so that teachers have the data they need to plan effective lessons. As a result, we decided to give an end-of-year test in June.”

Focusing on the most important test of all, you point out that, “Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum.”

I recognize that you and Paul have extraordinary experience with the utilization of standardized tests.  What is so troubling is that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor just staked their careers on tying Connecticut’s Master Test to a new teacher evaluation system that will depend on the results of that test.

It is an incredible shame that neither you nor Paul took the time to inform Connecticut lawmakers that the results from the state’s test are not even valuable enough to determine which instruction is right for which students.

As you are aware, Connecticut just went through a tumultuous legislative session in which Malloy and Pryor consistently said the exact opposite and assured teachers, parents and communities that school administrators will be able to utilize the test scores to determine which teachers can do their jobs and which cannot.  In fact, millions of dollars were authorized to implement a 10-town pilot program in which the test you and Paul called “a bad test” will be linked to a teacher’s career.

I know my former colleagues in the General Assembly will be extremely upset to learn that someone of Paul’s caliber finds the Connecticut test so useless that he trashes them in a nationally respected blog.

In addition, you say that Connecticut teacher’s “hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be” on the Connecticut Mastery test, however the test will and Paul instituted will allow you to make reasoned decisions about next year.  Of course, that begs the question about why your test did not follow the approved curriculum that is presently in place.  In fact, as far as I can tell your test was not linked to the present curriculum in any way what-so-ever.

Considering you have already announced a new curriculum development process for this summer, including the use of Rubicon Atlas, there is absolutely no way that your new test could possibly serve as the bench-mark you claim it to be, nor could it be used to determine placement for next year, since it doesn’t measure what the student was taught this year.

Your rhetoric about not “over-testing” students is commendable but the more we learn about the testing you’ve institute, the clearer it is that this test does not have value looking backwards or going forward.

Considering the issues you raise, I hope you will send it on to Connecticut policymakers so they can consider necessary changes to this year’s “education reform” legislation.

Original Post from Dr. Sandra Kase:

June 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Dear Diane,

It was disappointing to read your criticism of the work that Paul Vallas and I are doing in Bridgeport. It indicated to me that you did not have a full understanding of the educational conditions facing many of Bridgeport’s schools.

When Paul and I arrived in January, we were confronted with a 13 million dollar budget shortfall, schools without sufficient books and resources, teachers who had not had the benefit of consistent instructional training and support and administrators who were not empowered to make educational decisions for their own schools. Bridgeport schools were already using a myriad of tests, most of which they created and were not yielding data that could be used effectively to indicate the true needs of the children. As a result, the instruction being provided, while well-intentioned, was not based on accurate data. Paul and I have a duty to change that situation and to support teachers in providing the right instruction for the right children. None of us want to over-test our students. Testing serves an important purpose, but the tests have to be targeted and meaningful so that teachers have the data they need to plan effective lessons. As a result, we decided to give an end-of-year test in June.

Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum. Second, the results are not sent to districts until well after school ends. Our plan is to create a coherent benchmarked system next year that is predictable and does not “over-test” our students. Teachers need data they can use when planning instruction.

I am not a corporate reformer. I am a career educator who has had experience in turning around the lowest performing schools, an achievement in which I take great pride. I understand the need to support and train teachers so that they can use their own creativity effectively. I also understand the need for “un-regimented” learning and have already supported many opportunities for those kinds of experiences in the schools. No one is substituting testing for teaching. However, I also know how important it is for children to learn how to read and understand mathematics at high levels. I believe that teaching students these important skills and providing opportunities for creative activities are not mutually exclusive. It’s disingenuous to state that they are.

Paul and I are interested in building the capacity of teachers and administrators to provide the highest quality education with opportunities for children that are unprecedented in Bridgeport. Many groups and individuals are asking what they can do to support our efforts to raise the achievement of Bridgeport’s students. Positive change will not occur until everyone is working together to achieve the desired goals. While constructive criticism is always welcomed, it should be accompanied by positive suggestions. We look forward to working with all constituents to create schools of excellence in Bridgeport.

Best regards,
Sandy

 

Vallas Explains His Bridgeport Testing Frenzy on National Blog; Just Fails To Tell the Truth

On May 31, 2012, American education expert Diane Ravitch posted a blog about the decision by Bridgeport’s Interim Superintendent, Paul Vallas, to end the school year with another round of standardized tests.

Yesterday Vallas posted a response on her blog and I, in turn, responded to Mr. Vallas’ comments.

 It is a long read – but I would urge anyone who is impacted or following the developments in Bridgeport to take a look.  Mr. Vallas’ claims are beyond astounding;

Ravitch Blog: Test, Test, Test, Test: Another Day in Bridgeport

Paul Vallas has taken over as superintendent in Bridgeport, Connecticut, while running a consulting business on the side (he just won a $1 million contract to help fix the Illinois schools).

He is concerned that students and teachers slack off after they take the state tests in March, so he has just imposed yet another round of tests for the end of year, which will precede the administration of even more tests.

You see, this is the way corporate reformers think. If students don’t have tests to face, they won’t learn anything. If teachers don’t have a test to prepare students for, they won’t teach anything. They think that no one in school will do anything unless someone at the top is holding out a stick or a carrot.

What they do not understand is the basic idea of intrinsic motivation. By relying so heavily on extrinsic motivation, the corporate reformers will snuff out any outcroppings of intrinsic motivation.

What the Bridgeport approach will do with certainty is to eliminate any time for creative activities and projects; to remove any time for exploration and un-regimented learning. It will substitute testing for teaching. It relies on coercion as the prime motivator for learning.

It is a plan that will prepare students for factory work in the early twentieth century.

Diane

 

Paul Vallas’ Comment To Ravitch’s Post on June 8, 2012

Diane,

As someone who has known you for a long time as a colleague and a friend, I am taken aback by your post about Bridgeport testing. We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came. Therefore I will respond in this forum.

As I explained to my teachers in school visits and by memo, which I would have been happy to share with you, the Connecticut assessment test is weak. I have always been critical of annual state tests that are high stake, that are too narrow, that are administered too early and that produce data that is dated by the end of any given school year. Connecticut’s assessment system has all of those shortcomings. It is unfair to both teachers and students. Thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term. Our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.

There is no downside to these baseline assessments. The results do not factor into student promotion or teacher retention. Allow me to reiterate, they will simply provide current, data-guided decisions about summer school interventions to the benefit of students who are struggling, they will inform as to where additional supports should be allocated to individual students next year, and they will provide a baseline that will guide the implementation for next year’s new curriculum and instructional program. It is a responsible, proactive, vigorous measure to ensure teachers have the information they need to be effective in as close to “real time” possible, and that students get the support they need beginning on day one of next school year.

With regard to the comment about running a consulting business on the side, after my previous districts, Bridgeport is a small district by my experience. I was recruited Bridgeport to become interim Superintendent with the full understanding that I would continue to be available to help other school districts as needed. You will recall that I have been doing work in Chile and Haiti. The Illinois contract you speak of, which has yet to be tendered, is actually a request to do turnaround in two historically failing districts. I have assembled a team of top educators, many of whom you know or know of, and all of whom come from the traditional schools community. While the price tag on that contract may sound exotic at $1 million, that actually covers the cost of the team for three years work in two school districts. Let me point out that in New York, that much money is frequently spent annually on interventions targeting a single school only. I hope these are the not the only projects where we can make the type of impact we are making here in Bridgeport. I expect it to be quite a challenge and one I look forward to. Give Dr. Kase and me a call if you wish to discuss further or the next time you want an explanation of any of our programs. Your call is always welcome.

Regards,
Paul Vallas

Jonathan Pelto’s Response to Paul Vallas on June 8, 2012

Paul,

I’d like to take a moment to respond to the comment you recently posted in response to Diane Ravitch’s blog about the testing mania that you have brought to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

My name is Jonathan Pelto and I’m the one who writes the CT Blog called Wait, What?.

I spent nearly a decade as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, serving as a member of both the Appropriations and Education Committees. During my tenure in the Legislature, I had the honor of helping to develop the Education Enhancement Act and the Education Cost Sharing Formula, the two most important pieces of education legislation in modern Connecticut history. I represented the 54th House District, while my friend and colleague, Nancy Wyman, who presently serves as the state’s Lt. Governor, served in the 53rd District.

In addition to spending nearly four decades working on and monitoring education policy in Connecticut, I’ve managed or worked on numerous political campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Although I’m from far northeastern Connecticut, my first campaign working with Bridgeport politics was thirty years ago. Since then I’ve been a regular observer, and sometime participant, in Bridgeport politics.

Your response to Diane raises a few key issues.

Let me first address your introduction in which you say;

“We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came.” Therefore I will respond in this forum.”

That paragraph is probably the most insulting, self-centered and sophomoric thing I’ve ever read. Only someone who is obsessively self-centered would start with such an absurd and arrogant introduction. No one, least of all someone of Diane Ravitch’s caliber, would be expected to “check in” with you before articulating an opinion about your public activities. You are a public employee, engaged in the public’s business. If you wanted a life of quiet insignificance you should have chosen to be a hedge fund manager.

Then, to add insult to injury, you go on to say that you;

“Explained” to your “teachers in school visits and by memo that the Connecticut assessment test is weak…”and “thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am [sic] administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term.”

But of course, Mr. Vallas that is an absolute and total lie.

The memo that you or Sandra Kase wrote to all teachers, of which I’d be happy to give you a copy, speaks of the “lull in learning” that takes place after standardized tests and announces that you have scheduled another round of tests – to be done exactly like the first round – in order to ensure that teachers are focused on their jobs till the end of the semester.

Your memo reminded me of Governor Malloy’s comment that a teacher need only show up for four years to get tenure or his statement that he is okay with teaching to the test as long as the test scores go up. They are statements that are, at best, disingenuous.

As we now know, your testing scheme actually disrupted the finals and end of year projects that would have given teachers and administrators the ability to finalize the lists of who needed summer school. Your tests not only failed to do that but were actually counterproductive to that very task.

You go on to inform Diane Ravitch that “our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.”

Come now, please. Try to maintain some element of the truth. The additional standardized test was an opportunity to know one’s students. And who needs extra help from a test that appeared late in the year and failed to remotely follow the approved curriculum?

 

What about the 11th grade math test that included topics that aren’t taught until 12th grade or the 5th grade questions that were simply wrong?

What about the question that proved the pitfall of standardized testing when it asked urban, minority students to respond to a question about a “deck” when it turns out that not a single student knew what a “deck” was, although all knew that the porch was the thing that is attached to nearly every house in Bridgeport.

And if you are so concerned about preparing for the fall’s high school seniors, how do you rationalize your decision to purchase new textbooks before the group that is assigned to develop the revised curriculum even meets.

That doesn’t even begin to address your unilateral decision to shift next fall’s high school seniors away from reading African American and world literature and, instead, having them read an anthology of British Literature.

I had the opportunity recently to tour a Title 1 school in New York City. Their school wide curriculum development process, which included full utilization of the Rubicon Atlas software program, was a weekly event throughout the year and they are still not completely ready for next year. Under your approach, the curriculum will be developed in a few short sessions and presented to teachers in the days immediately before the start of the school year.

Finally, as a Connecticut resident let me just say that your belief that you are entitled to run “a consulting business on the side” since Bridgeport is such a small district compared to your previous experience” says more about your commitment and dedication than anything you could have possibly said. The $229,000 plus benefits may seem a pittance to you, but Connecticut residents are not out of line to believe that for that amount of money the children, parents and teachers of the City deserve someone’s full-time attention.

Since it was you who introduced the notion that an “expert’s” comments should go unquestioned, let me just say, as an expert on Connecticut politics, that while you will come and go as you please, that last comment of yours implying that setting Bridgeport’s schools is virtually child’s play compared to your previous efforts will live to haunt Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport leaders who recruited you. If one of my employees said something so incredible insulting, I’d tell him he needn’t return in the morning.

I have watched your activities from afar since you arrived in Connecticut and your post on Diane Ravitch’s blog says more about you and your intentions than anything else I’ve read to date.

Commissioner Pryor, What’s that stench? It’s Coming from the Double Standard!

At yesterday’s State Board of Education Meeting, Commissioner Stefan Pryor recommended, and the State Board voted, to take over the New London School System.  They also voted to renew Achievement First – Bridgeport’s charter for another five years.

As was the case with Windham’s Schools, the Commissioner and Board determined that the New London’s democratically elected Board of Education was not capable of running a school district without state oversight.

At the same time, the Commissioner and board members decided that while Achievement First – Bridgeport “has some work to do on its curriculum,” it is “helping to close the state’s achievement gap.”  The school’s performance was so impressive that the State Board of Education not only voted to give the school a five year renewal (instead of a more limited three year renewal), but it also approved Achievement First’s request to add 135 new seats at the school, which will mean an additional $350,000 a year in state funds for the school, when the new charter school funding formula is fully implemented.

So Achievement First – Bridgeport must be succeeding where Windham and New London are failing.

But take a look at the following chart and don’t forget that the greatest predictors of poorer performance on standardized test scores are poverty, language barriers and the number of students who need special education services.

Greater poverty, a higher percentage of special education students and higher numbers of non-English speaking students mean lower school or district wide test scores.

The data is absolutely clear.  Achievement First – Bridgeport has fewer poor children, half the number of special educations students and less than a fourth the number of non-English speaking students…and yet their test scores are the same as Windham’s and significantly lower than New London’s.

Think about it.

Achievement First – Bridgeport’s students are less poor, less likely to need special education services and far less likely to have language barriers and yet they do far worse on standardized tests than New London’s students and about the same as Windham’s students.

But Windham and New London face an unprecedented state takeover and Achievement First – Bridgeport is rewarded with a 5 year renewal of their charter and permission to expand.

What would account for such an outrage?

Ignorance?  Unlikely, I got these numbers right off the State Board of Education’s website.

On the other hand, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education and the Chairman of the State Board of Education are both “big supporters” of charter schools.  As we know, Commissioner Pryor was a founding member of Achievement First, served as one of their Directors for eight years, resigning that position only to accept Governor’ Malloy’s offer to become Commissioner,  and, as a Director for Achievement First, voted for their aggressive expansion plan that calls for nearly doubling the number of students they manage.

Meanwhile, Chairman Taylor is a long-time member of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board, ConnCAN being the charter school advocacy group created by Achievement First.  ConnCAN being the group that spent half a million dollars lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s proposal to expand funding for Connecticut’s charter schools.

So there you have it, the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education are taking actions that directly benefit organization that they are connected too, while undermining the most basic democratic rights of two of Connecticut’s communities.

There are some who would say that it is almost criminal.

Here is the data:

  5th Grade Reading at Goal 6th Grade Writing at Goal % Free or reduced lunch % Special Education % Not Fluent in English % From homes where English is not the Primary Language
             
Achievement First Bridgeport 23.6% 26.6% 66% 8% 6% 6%
             
Windham Schools 22% 24.9% 73% 16% 25% 35%
             
New London Schools 36.6% 34.8% 94% 14% 21% 25%

 

Paul “The Standardized Testing Master” Vallas Does The Victory Dance!

This week, the children who attend Bridgeport’s public schools have the opportunity of taking a whole new round of standardized tests.

This is thanks to Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s “interim” superintendent, who is collecting $229,000 plus benefits for a part-time commitment to the city’s schools; Vallas decided to divert scarce resources away from instruction and to more testing, despite the fact that students took the same basic standardized tests just 90 days ago.

Vallas, and his ever-growing cadre of out-of-state consultants, announced that there is a “lull” in teaching after standardized tests are completed so in order to ensure that Bridgeport’s teachers are doing their jobs, there would be a new round of tests for all Bridgeport students.

Yesterday, the tests arrived from Riverside Publishing, a subsidiary of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company.  Riverside is conveniently located in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, just down the street from where Vallas first worked as a budget guy and then as CEO of Chicago’s schools system.   According to their website, “Riverside Publishing is dedicated to providing society with the finest professional testing products and services available.”

Vallas could be considered a regular customer.

The cost of this extravaganza has not been divulged, but the good news is that these tests come with the name and seal of the City of Bridgeport printed right on the front page of each test so the students taking the test will know exactly where they are.  (You just don’t get to see that every day in the standardized testing world).

Who determines exactly what questions are asked for any given grade is always a bit of a mystery.  States and school districts hire consultants, the testing companies have a broad array of previous test questions.  A top administrator might even be able to throw in a personal favorite or two.

One Bridgeport student reported that the test included a series of questions related to the difference between affect/effect.  Sadly, it was asked of students who hadn’t had that specific grammatical mistake as part of their curriculum.

Other students said they thought a whole section of a question was missing because “it made no sense” and afterwards the other students said they skipped that whole section too.

There are also widespread reports that Vallas’ operation has not met some of the most basic requirements when it comes to the standardized testing protocols for special education students.

Failure to provide the specific supports and services outlined in an IEP is illegal and from what people are saying it sounds like the whole test might have to be invalidated for students with special needs.  Perhaps special education students aren’t a particularly high priority for this round of standardized testing?

Meanwhile, in the “it’s a small world department,” one of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Executive Vice Presidents, Mary Cullinane,  worked closely with Paul Vallas when he was CEO of the Philadelphia Schools and she was at Microsoft, responsible for developing Philadelphia’s famous “School of the Future.”

As E-School News reported, “when it opened its doors in 2006, Philadelphia’s School of the Future (SOF) was touted as a high school that would revolutionize education: It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement. But three years, three superintendents, four principals, and countless problems later…the Microsoft-inspired project has been a failure.”

A Philadelphia blogger added, “on its first day, Sept. 7, 2006, former school district superintendent Paul Vallas and former Mayor John Street rang bells outside the school in Parkside to start the new year.

It was an expansive, space-age-looking facility – dubbed the “Microsoft School” because the company helped design it – where every student was issued laptops and textbooks weren’t required.”

But then came the news that last year, “only 48 of the 120 members of the senior class would be eligible to graduate.” As the school year ended, one frustrated parent was even quoted as saying “now, we can’t seem to get any answers on how many will actually graduate.”

It is ironic, to say the least, that since ringing the bell to open the “School of the Future,” Vallas has blown through New Orleans, Haiti and Chile and has now joined us in Bridgeport, while former Microsoft VP Mary Cullinane, who developed a school with Vallas that didn’t use textbooks, is now a corporate officer with the company that Vallas is buying his standardized tests and textbooks from.

And people say there is a problem with American Education…

Standardized Testing Gone Nuts – An Update from Bridgeport, Connecticut

It was only a month ago that, fresh off the 2012 state-wide Connecticut Mastery Tests, Bridgeport’s $229,000 part-time superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, announced that Bridgeport’s students would be given yet another battery of standardized tests at the beginning of June.

Despite a massive school budget deficit, in which Vallas was forced to lay-off  teachers and other school personnel, it was announced that Bridgeport was able to come up with the money needed to pay for another round of expensive standardized testing.  Word out of the Central Office was that Vallas had gotten “a good deal” on the tests.

According to a memo sent to teachers in the last week of April, Vallas and his traveling entourage of education reformers, said that they had determined that, “traditionally, instruction wanes after the administration of the state tests.  Unfortunately, this “lull” in teaching and learning deprives our students of much-needed academic support.”

The purported purpose of more standardized tests, therefore, was to keep teachers on their toes and prevent them from “lulling-off” for the rest of the school year.

Meanwhile, Vallas wrote to students and parents informing them that “since the State tests are given in March, there is almost three (3) months of learning and hard work that is not measured in the test results.  As a result, you, your teachers and principals do not always get credit for the real progress you have made and your teachers and principals often do not have the information needed to make decisions about who needs additional help over the summer and where to start things off when schools re‐open at the end of August.”

So to parents, the tests weren’t so much to keep teachers focused, but to help the school system service the students by giving them “credit” for the extra 90 days of learning, while determining “who need additional help over the summer.”  [It makes one wonder how on Earth school officials have been able to determine who needed summer school over the past hundred years or so].

Although Vallas promised the students and parents that the Bridgeport School System would “continue to post any updates and answer questions about the new round of testing on Bridgeport’s “Youth on the Move” website, nothing more was ever posted.

Now, the latest news is that Bridgeport’s system-wide standardized testing will be given the week before the end-of-the-year final exams, a period normally reserved for reviewing the materials that have been covered throughout the school year.

So rather than give Bridgeport’s students the opportunity to review and prepare for the tests that actually matter (the exams that translate into grades), Bridgeport’s corporate school leadership will be eliminating that critical instructional time so that students can take a standardized test similar to the one they took only ninety days ago.

Then, and only then, can students in Bridgeport take the exams that produce the year-end grades.

If the content of these standardized tests are the same as they were 90 days ago, then the process is a complete waste of time and money since fundamental scores aren’t likely to change much in such a short period of time.

If, on the other hand, these new tests cover different information, then they are a complete waste of time and money because the Vallas administration never told teachers what was on the tests so that they, in turn, have never had the opportunity to help students prepare for them.

One thing that is certain though, this entire duplicate testing program has taken away from teaching the actual curriculum and the ones who will suffer the most are Bridgeport’s school children. (And we wonder why parents and students feel disengaged from their schools).

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to pick up the financial tab for this gross absurdity.

The one thing we do know is that if Bridgeport’s standardized tests scores go down or student grades suffer, it has nothing to do with the teachers, the fault will lie directly with the outside administrators who have come in and screwed things up even more.

Test them, test them and then…test them again: The Federal Waiver is NOT the solution.

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor announced that Connecticut would be one of the states receiving a waiver from the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

And there was much rejoicing.

You’d think Connecticut had won the lottery or something.

The Governor even said “Quite simply, a waiver is a profound recognition that what we achieved over the last few weeks, that is real standards of accountability combined with a turnaround plan for struggling schools is the recipe we need to close the nation’s largest achievement gap.”

But the real problem is that our elected officials either don’t understand or don’t care that the waiver is as bad for Connecticut’s schools as the underlying law.

Instead of changing the flawed and destructive No Child Left Behind law, Malloy et. al. are “celebrating”  a waiver that further condemns Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and schools to a system that will do nothing to provide our children with the knowledge and skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st Century.

According to a detailed study published by the non-partisan research organization, Connecticut Voices for Children, “many of the features of NCLB will remain in place even if a waiver is granted by the Obama administration, particularly the use of standardized testing to manage and evaluate schools and districts.”

Wait, What?

That’s right.  In fact, a reasonable person might very well conclude that the waiver is actually worse than the law itself.

The waiver does away with the “annual yearly progress” approach that was mandated under the NCLB law and replaces it with a system of evaluating and ranking schools based on a “School Performance Index.”

This new SPI index actually increases the reliance on standardized test scores because it requires that standardized tests now be used IN ALL SUBJECTS and AT ALL LEVELS.”

Thanks to this federal waiver and Connecticut’s new “education reform” law, our children will now be facing an education system that is either teaching to the test or testing the students beginning in the third grade and running every year after that.

And ready for this?

Part II of the waiver that Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor are bragging about actually prevents the use of “classroom-based assessment of student learning such as local tests, essays, projects, performances, or presentations.”  In addition, qualitative information observed in schools by experts or participants” cannot be used as part of the school evaluation system.

So instead of providing greater flexibility in determining how to measure success, the waiver provides “greater flexibility” on spending – as long as we become even more reliant on standardized tests.

Furthermore, the Governor and Commissioner failed to explain that the waiver is the very vehicle for instituting the controversial and detrimental Commissioner’s Network system.

When Connecticut’s children, teachers and education system are wasting even more time on standardized tests, they’ll know who to thank – the participants of today’s press conference.

For the CT Voices report, go to:   http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/edu12nclbwaiverchartrev.pdf

For news coverage of today’s events, see http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/gov._to_feds_its_about_time/ or http://ctmirror.com/story/16474/winning-nclb-waiver-national-spotlight

Whoa, Seven in Ten Florida School Students Are Illiterate!

Talk about an Achievement Gap…

Oh, no wait, it’s going to be okay after all.  Florida’s Board of Education held an emergency meeting last week to “lower the passing grade” on the state’s standardized mastery tests because far too many students where failing.

The good news is that seven in ten Florida school students aren’t illiterate after all.

State officials explained that by increasing a passing grade from 3.5 to 4 on scale of zero to 6 and adopting higher expectations for punctuation, capitalization, spelling and sentence structure, the test was now “too hard.”

Known as FCAT 2.0, Florida’s standardized test was developed by NCS Pearson, Inc., the “leading and most innovative provider of assessment and education data management services in the world.  The England-based Pearson corporate conglomerate includes Pearson PLC, NCS Pearson Inc., Edexel, Pearson Language Testing, Pearson VUE, the Penguin Publishing Company and the Financial Times Group. The $1.5 billion company has seen profits soar upwards of 20 percent a year, thanks in no small part to the American standardized testing frenzy.

In Florida, the standardized tests are used as the major element in developing letter grades for every school.  Top schools are rewarded, while schools at the bottom are punished.

It looks like the Florida school board knew bad news was coming because at their regular board meeting two weeks ago they implemented a policy that, regardless of the results, no school would be dropped more than one letter grade this year.

But when the standardized test scores arrived, the results were far worse than expected.

27 percent of fourth-graders received a passing score (compared to 81 percent last year)

33 percent of eighth graders passed (compared to 82 percent last year)

38 percent of tenth graders passed (compared to 80 percent last year)

At their emergency meeting last week, the Florida Board of Education voted to reduce the score needed for a passing grade.  Florida’s commissioner of education, Gerard Robinson, said the action was needed to “correct the process, not the results.”  (What a great line).

Meanwhile, a growing number of county school boards, including those in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, adopted resolutions blasting the state’s standardized testing program.  Apparently board members were particularly concerned that “the exams reduce time devoted to teaching and put unhealthy stress on students.”

The superintendent of schools in Leon County went even further writing in a commentary piece, “let’s discard the FCAT once and for all.”

And an Orange County school board member has been leading a charge to reduce the use of standardized testing saying that Florida’s testing “takes up to 77 days of the school year” and costs Orange County “more than $1.5 million” to conduct.

In Texas, at least 438 local school boards of already adopted resolutions demanding a reduction in the use of standardized testing.

Here in Connecticut, however, we are headed in the opposite direction.

Governor Malloy’s now famous quote that he doesn’t mind teaching to the test as long as test scores go up was followed by the passage of the new Connecticut “education reform” bill that adds even more standardized tests for Connecticut’s students and a new, ten-city pilot program that requires that standardized test scores be used as a primary factor in determining which teachers to keep and which to fire.

Quite a commentary when Florida and Texas are contemplating moving away from over-reliance on standardized test scores while Connecticut’s public officials demand even greater use of the “teach to the test mentality.”