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…

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.”