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…