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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Not much to show for “teaching to the test”


Image result for teaching to the testNo surprise: Most students in Rhode Island “failed” the Common Core PARCC tests. As I have explained many times, the tests were designed to fail most students.

They are aligned with NAEP Proficient, which most students have never reached, with the sole exception of those in Massachusetts, where slightly more than half have reached that standard.
What is the point of giving a test that is too hard for most students?

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote to say that the tests were designed to show college readiness, and only 40% (or less) are college ready. But 70% enroll in college. Thus, he writes, a remediation crisis in college.

But really, why should schools test third graders for college readiness?

Colleges set their own admission standards; they can accept or reject whoever they want.
I wonder if Michael Phelps or Simone Boles would have tested “proficient” on PARCC?

I posed these questions to him:

Making the passing mark so high that most kids fail is insane. Does that make them smarter? Will they be denied a high school diploma? Will they be retained in grade? Will the schools become giant holding pens where most kids never get past third grade?

Mike is never at a loss for words so I expect he will answer.

Meanwhile, the RI Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner (formerly deputy commissioner in New York state), was quoted in the Providence Journal:

Less than 22 percent of black and Latino students scored proficient in English compared to a statewide average of almost 38 percent on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a challenging test rolled out last year amid dismal results.

Less than 9 percent of English language learners reached the state standard, and that number fell to less than 6 percent for special-needs students.

Related content R.I. educators urge stay the course on standardized testsIn an interview yesterday, State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said poverty was not to blame for the chronically low scores among urban school districts.

“If you go back 40 years, we’ve always been at a 30- or 40-percent plateau,” he said, referring to the percentage of students reaching proficiency in English and math. “Part of the story is we need to stop changing our minds. We need take a common-sense approach and stick with it for the long haul.”

Rhode Island, unlike Massachusetts, has switched state tests. It has reversed course on whether passing a test should be a high-school graduation requirement. Legislative leadership has undermined the work of education commissioners.

Math scores increased by 5 points this year, with nearly 30 percent of all students meeting the standards. Students improved in every grade level. In English, scores improved by two percentage points, with almost 38-percent reaching proficiency. Students improved in five out of eight grade levels.

Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said Rhode Island is moving forward but “not fast enough.”

“The anxiety about the PARCC seems to have dissipated,” he said. “But the scores are stagnant at the upper grade levels, which reinforces that the test has to be part of the graduation requirements.”

Wagner moved this year to drop the PARCC as a graduation requirement after widespread criticism that urban students were not adequately prepared to take it, among other concerns.

The PARCC, which was originally adopted by 24 states, is down to seven. Rhode Island is the only state in New England to stick with the test, which has been confounded by technical problems and a huge opt-out movement in states like New York. Massachusetts switched to a hybrid of the PARCC and its own test, the MCAS, this past year.

Wagner denied that the test is too hard, a common criticism. Instead, he said Rhode Island has much work to do to put a rigorous curriculum in every school, ramp up teacher training and redesign the way schools, especially high schools, are structured.

High-school students across Rhode Island performed poorly on the tests. In Providence, every high school but Classical scored in the single digits on the math and English PARCC tests.

But it wasn’t just the urban schools that underperformed. At Burrillville High School, only 17 percent of the students scored proficient on the English test. In North Kingstown and South Kingstown, approximately a third scored proficient and in Westerly, 21 percent did.

Wagner says the tests are not too hard. Surely that can’t be an excuse for the vast majority that “failed.” Can’t blame poverty.

The real problem, he says, is that we need to stick with the PARCC no matter how many kids fail.
Tim Duffy of the state’s school committees wants PARCC to be a graduation requirement (Wagner disagrees). What will Rhode Island do with all those kids who never pass?

At this point, it would be a very large majority. Will they drop out? Will they get jobs without a high school diploma? Will they stay in third grade or fourth grade until they pass? Will third grade become a huge parking lot where few students make it to fourth grade?

Please, someone, explain how this would work. And Commissioner Wagner, how many years will it take until most students in Rhode Island “pass” the PARCC test, a feat not accomplished by any other state except Massachusetts? Will students with disabilities stay in school for the rest of their lives?