Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ohio's School Testing Quicksand

On Sunday the Dayton Daily News featured a story about Ohio’s public school report cards; the headline, “School report cards faulted.”  Parts of the story merit additional emphasis.

Complaints cited, from local system administrators through parents, coalesced around a lack of transparency of how the scores and grades were derived, volatility over time in what was employed, and precisely how assessments were calculated.  Excepting one measure, graduation rates, all of the grading appears to be based on the phalanx of standardized tests being imposed on Ohio's schools and children.

Defense of the system of scoring was focused, first, on the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) assertion of “nearly perfect scores for design and ease of use,” emanating from the Education Commission of the States.  That Commission, or ECS, claimed bipartisan, appears a richly disguised front for the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI).  Its leadership is wholly political, barely an educational resource found in its lineup.  ECS in turn is linked to an alleged research organization prominently funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.  Independent and objective as a source of rating Ohio’s assessment styles?  Not so much.

The next line of defense came from Ohio’s State Board of Education Vice President, Tom Gunlock, apparently filling in for Board President Debe Terhar, keeping her head down until her term is over in 2014, possibly because of an irresponsible social networking post seeking to link a sitting US president to “Hitler.”  Mr. Gunlock appears to possess no background or expertise that would let him attest to the validity and reliability of Ohio’s test-based school grading, now being questionably extended to subsets of the K-12 student base.  As allegedly a “pay to play” member of Governor Kasich’s political entourage, his responses raise further questions of credibility.

Lastly, an ODE staffer opined in defense that there is a 42 page ODE online site reference to how Ohio’s alleged value added measures are calculated.  A slight oversight or misrepresentation, those 42 pages consist of nothing but promotional rhetoric, and contain no competent explanation of precisely how Ohio’s school grades or VAM scores are created.  Current Ohio Superintendent Richard Ross’ game plan is intact:  Obfuscation 1 -  Transparency 0.

Let’s dig a little deeper.  In 2011 after the Ohio Legislature passed H.B. 153, mandating creation of an Ohio public school Performance Index (PI), to drive school grades replacing the prior system of verbal assessments, a slip on the ODE website suggested that the PI was not doing a credible job of aligning with accepted terminal high school testing represented by pretty well validated SAT and ACT scores.  Following that lead, the most recent SAT, ACT, and PI averages for all of Ohio’s public systems were requested via Ohio’s open records act.  After extended ODE stonewalling, the data were finally supplied.  The result of testing Ohio’s PI scores against the other indices of school performance was reported in this blog, linked here.   The short answer:  The PI did not correlate well with the SAT and ACT scores suggesting major flaws in the logic.  Has that ODE use of standardized test results in 2014 basically changed?

ODE is now building an elaborate edifice of segmented scoring on top of standardized testing that most legitimate educators assert is fundamentally flawed as a basis for assessing learning K-12, and in some instances has become absurd.  Some educators with more courage than Ohio’s composite education community have become proactive in challenging this absurd expression of reform, linked here and here.

The most recently proposed testing of K-3 is considered by legitimate experts on early childhood learning to be wholly inappropriate.  Depending on the survey, up to 60 percent of our public now objects to the present alleged “Common Core” as the basis for baseline K-12 learning in the US.  Some of that objection is likely based on the wrong — anti-Federalism — beliefs, but there is ample basis to question the “Core,” its origins, its validity, and its support by our “billionaire boys club.”  Facts about the present “Core” are linked here.

Bottom line, Ohio has seemingly with little to no intellectual discrimination, and politicized tunnel vision, built a public school rating system on quicksand, and is now going even deeper into dysfunction by building elaborate segmented interpretations on top of porous test footers.  The result so far to critique of Ohio’s education bureaucracy has been its stonewalling.  Was there competence in the present system, the strategy might be putting a hold on the punitive use of what may be simply wrong information, and doing the internal research needed to look at the relationships among all of the testing logged, then seek verification of its validity and reliability in predicting real learning performance before carpet bombing Ohio’s schools.

Decades of overshoot on high stakes testing suggest genuine ignorance among major resources who should be smarter.  An analogy was offered recently in WaPo’s “The Answer Sheet” from the debate over models for reading development.  One side of that argument became extreme, advocating using books that frustrate the learner versus a balanced approach; the example is linked here.   The standardized testing obsession has followed a similar failure of logic, exacerbated by ideology, and the failure to recognize much less respect the law of diminishing returns and Campbell’s Law.

Testing, even the fragmented testing employed is not, has never been the issue.  Use of mechanical, multiple choice testing of fragments of knowledge has always been part of the teacher's formative assessment tool kit.  The issues are:  Comprehensive ignorance of how to assess real learning; deliberate employment of a narrowly conceived accountability tactic initiated with “corporate reform;” privatization of a public educational function creating dysfunctional market control of testing and scoring; and the distortion of reason by ideology, a corrupted expression of that testing designed to create school failures to advance privatization and charter school creation.

Is that the intellectualism that should govern ODE?  Are there needed research and digital modeling skills in ODE to correctly process school performance?  Is there in ODE the core integrity to acknowledge the issues, then correct the game?  Watching ODE’s performances and defensiveness over a dozen years, the answers are up in the air.  A new documentary, countering “Waiting for Superman,” looks at the other side of the coin:  “‘Standardized testing is the new bully in school, pushing and prodding to make the grade, leaving no time or energy for classroom creativity. Inspiration cowers in the corner, a forgotten wallflower of public education,’ says actor Peter Coyote, who narrates the film.”  The "Rise Above the Mark" web site is linked here, and the movie's Trailer 1 here

What’s on the ground now in Ohio’s public systems, and has even greater dysfunction than our public systems' refusals to reform themselves, are the testing and grading scams being politically imposed on Ohio’s schools and children.

A fair strategic assessment of the gestalt of present “corporate reform” is that objections and refusal to conform are building from the grass roots up.  That “wisdom of the crowd” likely exceeds the collective neural capacity of most of our reform education bureaucracies.  The strategic question for Ohio is, when public school assessment and reform sanity overtakes present dysfunction, will the State of Ohio look as stupid nationally as it already does to those who actually understand our public K-12 education challenges?

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