ISIS and the KKK

This image recently was shared on Facebook, including by me.

racist kkk and isis

The text says, “No one thinks that these people” [a bunch of white-robed and -hooded KKK members in a black-and-white photograph with an American flag] ” are representative of Christians.” The text continues:

“So why do so many think that these people” [a bunch of black-clad ISIS members with what appear to be suicide belts around their middles] “{are representative of Muslims?”

Good question, I say.

One reason is that those Kluxers were in fact representative of many, many millions of white, racist, American, segregationist Christians from about 50-200 years ago. I am not exaggerating in the slightest. Almost all of the lynchings of blacks, anti-racist whites, and union organizers; and massacres of Indians; and slave-whippings promoted by the KKK were in fact committed by official government forces and by unofficial vigilantes or hired guns, and were generally condoned by Federal law and practices and by a majority of white public opinion at various times.But even then there were minorities of whites in the US who opposed that sort of horrible racism, often putting themselves in personal danger by doing so.

Those of us who marched or otherwise struggled against racism over the past 60 years in this country recall how scary it often was. I am certainly glad that we have come to the point that anybody espousing flat-out racism and intolerance is publicly shamed, but it took a heck of a long struggle to get there. And let us not forget how much the development of American capitalism depended on slavery. For details on that, I recommend reading The Half Has Never Been Told … See here for a low-key introduction by the author, Ed Baptist.

Right now in most of the middle east, it is often extremely dangerous to oppose sectarian religious massacres or to propose rationalist or humanist positions on almost anything. Thugs of one type or another run the show in every single country. Under Saddam (another murderous thug who was supported by the US until he wasn’t), Sunni and Shia at least lived together peacefully. After the American invasion of 2003, every single city and neighborhood has been ethnically cleansed of the minority groups who used to live there, and hundreds of thousands died.

Despite often-lofty rhetoric about peace and democracy from our official representatives (think Clinton, Powell, Obama) and discounting all the nasty bravadoccio of people like Cheney, Bush, et al, nothing the US has done in the middle east has had the effect of promoting tolerance or of allowing people of different religious faiths or ethnicities to live together peacefully. In fact, we are finally being told even in WaPo and NYT that the governments we have put into office and supported for over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have been some of the most corrupt and murderous regimes on the face of the planet.

The Taliban and ISIS are certainly murderous and intolerant, but at least they appear to be honest, which gives them considerable support…

Published in: on March 30, 2015 at 8:10 am  Comments (1)  

Why the real “Mr Fitz” keeps teaching

You may know that “Mr Fitz” is a weekday comic strip about what it’s like to teach in a modernday public school. You may not know that the author is a real-live English teacher, and he has a lot to say about the modern-day “Reform” movement in education (nothing positive) and about why he keeps teaching.

Here is his column:

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  

More Testing Resistance

From Bob Schaeffer:

The testing resistance continues to expand rapidly across the U.S. with assessment reform news updates from two dozen states in just the past four days. 

 Senate Takes Up Bill Establishing Opt-Out Procedures

Charter Schools See Rise in Test Opt Outs

Connecticut Testing: The Truth About Smarter Balanced

District of Columbia
 Test-and-Punish Policies Have Not Worked

Assessment Reform Movement is Test for Jeb Bush Presidential Aspirations
State Senate Bill Would Examine Testing Fallout

Georgia School Testing Still Does Not Make the Grade

 Schools Drop Arts, Music for Testing

Educators Seek Three-Year “Hold Harmless” Period From Any New Test Evaluations
Louisiana Parish Topped 15% Opt Outs

District Reports More Than 50% Opt Outs

Maryland Test Study Commission Approved by Both Houses of State Legislature

Massachusetts Educators Explain How Testing is Undermining Learning and Teaching

 Parents Reject State Tests to Reduce Pressure on Kids
Kalamazoo College Goes ACT/SAT Optional

New Jersey 
Testing Obsession is Damaging Learning and Teaching
Educators, Parents and Students Plan “Take Back the PARCC” Event

New Mexico 
PARCC Protest at School Chief’s House
New Mexico Teachers Question Times Devoted to Testing

New York 
Billionaires’ Plan to Remake Public Education
New York Governor Uses Flawed Tests as Political Weapon

North Dakota 
Opt-Out Movement Heats Up

 Superintendent “Profoundly Concerned About New Common Core Tests”
Excessive Testing Consumes Learning Time in Ohio

Oklahoma Teachers Slam Emphasis on State Tests

House Passes Bill to Suspend Test Consequences for Teachers and Schools

Pennsylvania “Test In” Shows Parents, Teachers Question Value of New Exams

Rhode Island 
Districts Have Large Numbers of Opt Outs

Texas Common Core Tests Are a Failure
Texans Advocating for Meaningful Assessment (aka Mothers Against Drunk Testing) Powerpoint

 State Board Will Not Use Smarter Balanced Scores to Evaluate Schools This Year

Virginia Governor Signs Bill Into Law Repealing A-F Grades

Test Security vs Privacy in the Social Media Age

New Video “Defies Measurement” Available for Free

Parents of Disabled Children Tell National Groups: “You Do Not Speak for Our Children”

“No Child Left Behind” Is a Cheats’ Charter

The Cult-Like Religion of Corporate Ed Reform

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773  fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468


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Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 10:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Will eating meat really kill you?

A number of recent press blurbs claim that recent studies have proved that eating meat in any form will definitely kill you and take years off your life.

You can read an excellent analysis casting much doubt on those studies here.

If you don’t want to read that anlysis, here is the gist of it: these Meat-Kills studies are NOT based on actual, controlled experimental studies with two groups of people whose food intake and other habits are actually measured and whose outcomes are measured.

Instead, they are based on people writing down what they THINK they ate over the past four years. And unfortunately, most of us have a hard time remembering what we ate yesterday, much less a week ago. The chances of someone remembering accurately what they ate over a period of four years is … about zero. Plus, people generally lie on questionnaires like this. They over-report the amount of exercise they do and the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat, and under-report the amount of sweets, alcohol, red meat, and junk food that they consume.

Another problem with this ‘study’ is that the folks who claimed they did eat red meat or items like salami and hot dogs also claimed that they smoked more tobacco, were less physically active, and ate about twice the number of calories per day as the folks who claimed they did not eat red meat. We know for a fact that smoking cigarettes  WILL kill you.

So, if the folks in the study were telling the truth, could the real culprit be something other than the meat? We won’t know until someone does a better experimental, controlled study.

Published in: on March 25, 2015 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Visiting 18 DC schools in 90 days to try to figure out which 12 to put on the lottery application 

An account by an experienced education reporter of trying to navigate DC’s complex new application process for her son.

She says that the entire process is heavily weighted towards wealthier families…

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 12:33 pm  Comments (1)  

Resisting the Testing Juggernaut

This is from Bob Schaeffer:

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: “Bob Schaeffer [EDDRA2]” <>
Normally, FairTest sends out these news clips summaries once a week, early each Tuesday afternoon. With school standardized exam season now in full gear, however, the flow of stories about testing resistance and reform actions is accelerating rapidly. This special edition  — with updates from more than half the 50 states over just three days — reports on the first, too-modest steps by policy makers across the U.S. to respond to the growing grassroots pressure for assessment reform.

As more students opt out, parents demonstrate, school board members pass resolutions and polls show strong public opposition to test misuse and overuse, we are confident that there will be many more updates by next Tuesday and in the coming weeks.

Remember that back-issues of “Testing Resistance & Reform News” are archived at:

National Revolt Against High-Stakes Testing is Growing: So Is Its Impact

School Test Cheating Investigated

Tests Graded by Non-Educators

Educators Blast Weak Education Reform Bill
Colorado Schools Need Less Testing, More Teaching

Superintendents Say Students Can Opt Out of Tests, No “Sit and Stare”

Teacher Urges Parents to Stand Up Against New State Exams
Florida House Unanimously Endorses Small Reduction in Testing Overkill

Parents Launch Opt-Out Drive

Illinois Students Opt Out of PARCC Tests

Indiana State School Board Member Offers Ideas to Cut Testing Time

Louisiana Opt Outs Top 4,000

Maryland State Senate Votes Unanimous Approval of Test Review Commission

Massachusetts Schools Deal with PARCC, Pearson and Pushback
Teachers Say PARCC Is Failing Students and Schools

Michigan Testing Politics Adds Stress for Students and Teachers

Assessment Reform Depends in Part on Federal Law Changes
Minnesota Students Face Too Much Testing

Mississippi Ends Graduation Testing Requirement
Mississippi Parents, Students Protest PARCC Tests

New Hampshire
Students Administered Wrong Smarter Balanced Assessment

New Jersey
Furor Over Test Privacy
Concern Mounting About Pearson’s Role in Education

New Mexico
Educators Block Test-Based Teacher Evaluation Bill
New Mexico Teachers Not Allowed to “Disparage” Standardized Tests

New York
Is Testing Public Education to Death
New York Must Clear Up Mystery of Missing Test Items

High School Students Opt Out of New Tests
Ohio School District Blasts PARCC Exam

Oregon Schools Begin Testing Under Protests; More Families Opt Out
Scores From New Oregon Test Will Not Be Used on School Report Cards

Pennsylvania‘s PARCC Tests Benefit Pearson, Not Pupils

Rhode Island
Parents Mobilizing Against New Standardized Test

Tennessee Voters Overwhelmingly Oppose School Closings Based on Test Scores

State Senate Overwhelmingly Endorses Bill Easing Graduation Testing Requirement

Utah‘s New Civics Test Will Waste Student Learning Time

Senate Endorses Suspension of School Consequences From Test Scores

No Child Left Behind Fails to Work “Miracles” — Spurs Cheating

Ditch the Test and Punish Model: AFT President

What if “Education Reform” Movement Got It All Wrong?

More Testing Promoted as the “Rational Solution” for Schools: That’s the Problem

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

Published in: on March 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Which groups are over- or under-represented in regular DC public schools and the DC charter schools?

I’ve been taking a careful look at where various groups of students in Washington DC are enrolled, using various official DCPS and OSSE documents, to see which groups are under- or over-represented in my city’s regular public schools and charter schools.

Here is the bottom line:

Black students are over-represented in the charter schools, but every other single group I calculated (special education students, English-language learners, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, Hispanic students, students deemed officially At Risk, white or Asian students, multiracial students and even students who got ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ on the DC-CAS) are over-represented in the regular DC public schools.

I will present my results below in the form of circle graphs, and I made it so that the area of each circle is proportional to the total number of students in each group. I also showed where the division line between the public school population and the charter school population would be if the subgroup’s population was split evenly among the two school systems. If you want to take a closer look at any of the graph, merely click on it.

All Publicly-Funded DC Students

First, the overall student population. As you can see, the regular DC public schools enrolled 57.2% of all publicly-funded students last year, while the charter schools enrolled 42.8%, and the total population was 76,659 students.

pie chart all students dc 2014 dcps vs charter

African-American students

Next, let’s look at where Black (African-American) students are enrolled. You may be surprised to find that they are over-represented in the DC charter schools, and under-represented in the regular DC public schools. They are the ONLY group to be divided in that manner.The dotted circle represents the entire population of publicly-funded students; last year, Black students represented 71.6% of that entire enrollment, or 54.894 students. Only 52.7% of those (Black) students were enrolled in the regular DC public schools, which is a smaller percentage than the percentage seen in the orange slice of the pie chart just above this paragraph. And 47.3% of all African-American students in publicly funded schools are in the charter sector, which is a larger percentage than the percentage shown in the green slice in the previous pie chart.

pie chart black students charter vs public dc 2014

Students in Poverty

Next, let’s look at students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, but keep in mind that this statistic is no longer very accurate, since for the last two years, quite a few schools have been permitted to designate every single one of their students as eligible, no matter what the family income might be, if the school as a whole fits various conditions. For what it’s worth, here is the graph:

pie chart free or reduced lunch charters vs public 2014

As you can see, 70.8% of all students in regular public schools and in the charter sector (or 54,270 students) are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is a measure of family poverty. Of those students, 60.4% are in the regular public schools, which means that students in poverty are somewhat over-represented in the regular DC public schools.

Special Education Students

pie chart special education charters vs public 2014

Here, the green-and-orange circle is fairly small, because according to the official statistics, only about one student in eight (or 12.5%, or 9,592) is officially considered to be in special education. Once again, the outer dotted circle shows the size of the entire DC publicly-funded student population, both public and charter, and you can see that special education students are over-represented in the regular public school sector and under-represented in the charter school sector.

Students Learning English as a Second Language

pie chart ESL students charters vs public 2014

Here we are looking at students who are learning English as a second language (the acronyms for this status change nearly every year – ESL, ESOL, ELL, etc). Not all of them are of Hispanic origin! There are probably over a hundred different languages spoken by the parents and families of students enrolled in DC’s public and charter schools.Once again, this group of English-language-learners is over-represented in the regular DC public school sector; as a whole, they make up about 9.2% of the entire student population.

Hispanic Students

pie chart hispanic students charter vs public 2014

Here we are looking at the entire population of Hispanic students (quite a few of whom are fully fluent in English!). Once again, this subgroup is over-represented in the DC public school system and under-represented in the charter school sector. They compose about one student in seven of the grand total (14.4%), and of that group, 65.0% are enrolled in the regular DC public schools.As a reminder, the percentage of students enrolled in the regular DC public school system is only about 57%, so this is about an eight percentage-point gap.

At-Risk Students

You may recall that this is a fairly new, official subgroup of students, comprising students who are homeless, are over-age, on welfare or food stamps, and various other indications of risk. I have heard from some charter advocates that these numbers are not always accurate. I don’t have access to school-level official records; I only have what  DCPS and the charter sector provide to OSSE and then OSSE disseminates.

pie chart at risk students charters vs public 2014

Notice here that the dotted line for equal division is very close to the dark line separating the orange wedge (regular public schools) from the green wedge (charter schools). So while this group of students is over-represented in the regular public schools, it’s not by a lot (1.4 percentage points). Note that At-Risk students make up nearly half (45.2%) of the entire DC publicly-funded student body!

White or Asian Students

pie chart white or asian students charter vs public dc 2014You may wonder why I combined the populations of white (caucasian) and Asian students. Simple answer: both groups are pretty small; in fact, many schools have none at all of either group. In cases where there were some students enrolled, but there were too few for them to be enumerated, that meant there were fewer than 10 students. I arbitrarily decided to make that number five (5) at each such school. I also omitted Native American students altogether because their numbers were so tiny you couldn’t even see the circle if I were to draw one.

Unlike in some cities, where white students are self-segregating themselves into charter schools, DC’s self-segregation pattern is different in that about half-a-dozen elementary schools in upper Northwest are located in overwhelmingly affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. For various reasons, white families there are sending their students to those local public schools (and to Deal and Wilson) in greater and greater numbers, so the proportions of white students at those schools has been pretty steadily increasing for the past 10 years or so. By contrast, there is only a very small number of charter schools that have any significant number of white or asian students.

As a result of these historical patterns, you can see that white and asian students are very strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector: 78.8%. White or asian students make up about 10% of all publicly-funded students in DC.

Multi-Racial Students

This is another relatively small group, comprising less than two percent of all publicly-funded preK-12 students in DC. It is strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector.

pie chart multiracial students charters vs public 2014

Students Who Scored ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ on the DC-CAS

You may be surprised to discover that students who “passed” the DC-CAS in 2014, that is, who were marked ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ on that test, are slightly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector. Caveat: in my calculations, I averaged the percentages of those ‘passing’ in reading and those ‘passing’ in math, to come up with a single number for each school. I then calculated how many students that was at each school who ‘passed’, and then added all those totals together, for each school in each sector, and then compared those totals to the entire population in that sector. (Not by hand! I used Excel!)

pie chart prof or adv on dc-cas charters vs public 2014

So there you have it: for all of the subgroups I calculated, every single one was somewhat or slightly or strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector, except for the total numbers of African-American students.

Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm  Comments (8)  

More From Steve Rasmussen on Shoddy Test Items on the SBCC Samples

I am quoting extensively from Steve Rasmussen’s long and well-crafted critique of the released practice Common Core test items, because I think it’s very eye-opening and not enough people are reading it. Here is the money quote:

“…the Smarter Balanced tests are lemons. They fail to meet acceptable standards of quality and performance, especially with respect to their technology-enhanced items. They should be withdrawn from the market before they precipitate a national catastrophe.”

Here is some of the rest of his critique:

Flaws in the Smarter Balanced Test Items

What happened? Despite elaborate evidence-centered design frameworks touted by Smarter Balanced as our assurance that their tests would measure up, the implementation of the tests is egregiously flawed. I wish I could say the flaws in the Smarter Balanced tests are isolated. Unfortunately, they are not. While the shortcomings are omnipresent and varied, they fall into categories, all illustrated multiple times by the examples in this critique:

• Poorly worded and ambiguous mathematical language and non-mathematical instructions;

• Incorrect and unconventional mathematical graphical representations;

• Inconsistent mathematical representations and user interfaces from problem to problem;

• Shoddy and illogical user interface design, especially with respect to the dynamic aspects of the mathematical representations; • Consistent violations and lack of attention to the Common Core State Standards;

• Failure to take advantage of available technologies in problem design.

As you’ll see as you look at these test items with me.

The result? Untold numbers of students and teachers in 17 Smarter Balanced states will be traumatized, stigmatized and unfairly penalized. And the quagmire of poor technological design, poor interaction design, and poor mathematics will hopelessly cloud the insights the tests might have given us into students’ understanding of mathematics.

Technology-enhanced items could have made use of widely ratified and highly developed technologies (e.g., graphing calculators, dynamic geometry and data analysis tools) to engage students in substantive tasks. Instead, these tests rely on a small number of pedestrian and illogical interface “widgets”(arrays of checkboxes, crude drawing tools, graphical keypad, drag-and-drop digit pilers, etc.) that the test item writers used via question templates.The widgets often provide window dressing for multiple-choice questions.

Spending $330 million of federal spending could have funded real innovation—or at least deployment of the best technologies available for these tests. The public at large—students, parents, educators, policy makers—who see these poor and dated uses of technology may incorrectly conclude that technology can not significantly improve mathematics instruction. These tests give educational technology a bad name.

Soon after I circulated the first version of this critique, Elizabeth Willoughby, a fifth grade teacher in Clinton Township, MI, sent me the following note:

After reading your piece covering the flaws you found on the Smarter Balanced assessment, I had to reach out and thank you. I teach fifth grade. I put my students on the math test, made a video and sent it to Smarter Balanced. My students are on computers almost every day—they are tech savvy. The video is worth a watch:

I watched Ms. Willoughby’s video. You should, too. Her “tech savvy” kids are as confused by the test interface as I was. The video vividly demonstrates that even these very capable students will get stuck on the Smarter Balanced tests as a result of the shoddy interface. Ms. Willoughby also shared with me her email exchange with the Smarter Balanced Help Desk on the subject of her students’ problems. The email below is part of this exchange and occurred in March 2014:

…Reading below, you will see my students took the practice test and had many issues with the student interface. Smarter Balanced, in reply, sent me a series of confusing emails filled with half-information regarding access to TIDE and field tests which supposedly has updated tests with cleaner, easier to operate user interface tools… I would greatly appreciate an answer to a simple question:

Your email below acknowledges the issues with the student interface tools found on the practice tests. Your email also indicates you found the same issues in the recent field test. Your email below clearly indicates you will make changes to the practice test to address these issues…Can I get a general timeline as to when the update to the practice test will occur and will the practice test reflect all of the student interface skills students will need to perform tasks on the actual test?

As these skills are unique to your assessment (not found in other programs, apps, etc.), your practice test needs to provide those practice opportunities. I don’t mean to press, however, these ARE high stakes tests. I need to be prepared and I need to prepare my students for success on these tests, which includes providing them with the ability to use the assessment with success. Thanks, Elizabeth L. Willoughby

Ms. Willoughby received no satisfactory reply. Despite vague assurances the iterative rounds of field tests would address her students’ frustrations with the interface, we see that nothing has improved by the launch of the actual tests. CTB created nearly 10,000 test items for Smarter Balanced. If half of these are for mathematics, there are almost 5,000 items already deposited in the mathematics item bank. Bad items will surface on tests for years to come.

Liana Heitin, in a September 23, 2014, article in Education Week, “Will Common-Core Testing Platforms Impede Math Tasks?” wrote:

Some experts contend that forcing students to write a solution doesn’t match the expectations of the common-core math standards, which ask students to model mathematics using diagrams, graphs, and flowcharts, among other means. “It’s not like, during the year in classrooms, these kids are solving these problems on the computer,” said David Foster, the executive director of the Morgan Hill, Calif.- based Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, which provides professional development for math teachers, creates assessments, and has worked with both consortia. “It’s such an artificial idea that now it’s test time, so you have to solve these problems on computers.” Mr. Foster, who has authored problems for the new Common Core tests, goes on in the article to say: “I’m a mathematician, and I never solve problems by merely sitting at the keyboard. I have to take out paper and pencil and sketch and doodle and tinker around and draw charts,” he said. “Of course, I use spreadsheets all the time, but I don’t even start a spreadsheet until I know what I want to put in the cells. “All Smarter Balanced and PARCC are going to look at is the final explanation that is written down,” he said, “and if there’s a flaw in the logic, there’s no way to award kids for the work they really did and thought about.” Mr. Foster added: “I’ve played with the platform, and it makes me sick. And I’ve done it with problems I’ve written.”

Further along we hear the same sentiment from another expert:

 But, as James W. Pellegrino, a professor of education at the University of IllinoisChicago who serves on the technical-advisory committees of both consortia, points out, students can solve a single problem in any number of ways, not all of which are easy to explain in words. “The worry is [the platform] narrows the scope of what students can do, and the evidence they can provide about what they understand,” he said. “That leads to questions about the validity of the inferences you can make about whether students really developed the knowledge and skills that are part of the common core.”

In a post to the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics listserv in July 2014, Martin Gartzman, Executive Director of the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Chicago, took specific aim at the shortcomings of the PARCC tests, but also stated that his criticisms applied equally to Smarter Balanced:

I understand that creating a large-scale assessment, such as the PARCC assessment, is an incredibly complex task that involves many decisions and many compromises. However, I assert that we are being far too generous about PARCC’s decision regarding the ways that students can enter their responses to open-response, handscored items. By accepting that decision, we are essentially endorsing an assessment system that, by design, does not give students a fair shot at showing what they know about mathematics, and that we know will underrepresent what Illinois students understand about the mathematics addressed in the CCSS-M.

This is not an issue of students needing to get used to the PARCC formats. The problem is that the test format itself is mathematically inadequate. The extensive PARCC field test definitively affirmed that the limited tools available to students (keyboard and equation editor) for entering their responses made it extremely difficult for many students to demonstrate what they knew about the CCSS-M content and practices.

While the experts cited here are highly critical, I think the actual situation with the new tests is even more disastrous than they describe. The tests suffer from the problems they describe and the issues go far beyond the limitations imposed by computer keyboards and equation editors. The appalling craft displayed in these tests compounds the problems that even well-conceived computer-based mathematics tests would have to overcome to effectively assess students.

In July 2012, Measured Progress, a contractor to Smarter Balanced, warned in Smarter Balanced Quality Assurance Approach Recommendation for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:

In this industry and with a system of this highly visible nature, the effects of software that has not been sufficiently tested can lead to an array of problems during a test administration that can be financially and politically expensive.

 Interestingly, my online review of the Smarter Balanced proposals and contract documents finds little evidence of attention to quality assurance at the level of “widget” or item development. There are vague statements about item review processes, but few specifics. There is a tacit assumption that the companies that develop high-stakes tests know how to develop mathematical test items and will do it well and that they are capable of performing their own quality assurance. Those of us in the education industry know better.

Unfortunately, the Smarter Balanced tests are lemons. They fail to meet acceptable standards of quality and performance, especially with respect to their technology-enhanced items. They should be withdrawn from the market before they precipitate a national catastrophe.

We know, however, that this won’t happen. Test season has already started. Kids Deserve Better Struggling students will likely be penalized more than proficient students on the Smarter Balanced tests as the cognitive load of grappling with poorly designed interfaces and interactive elements will raise already high levels of test anxiety to even more distracting levels. Those who attempt to mine the test results for educational insight—teachers, administrators, parents, researchers, policy makers—will be unable to discern the extent to which poor results are a reflection of students’ misunderstandings or a reflection of students’ inability to express themselves due to difficulties using a computer keyboard or navigating poorly constructed questions and inadequate interactive design.

Time spent prepping for these tests using the practice and training tests and learning how to use the arcane test tools like the “Equation Response Editor tool” is educational time squandered. Many schools have scheduled inordinate numbers of days just for this test prep, but using the tools offered by Smarter Balanced will lead to none of the educational outcomes promised to support CCSSM.

These tools are not learning tools that lead to mathematical insight, they’re highly contrived force-a-square-peg-into-a-round-hole test-specific tools. If widespread testing is going to be a reality in schools, and if schools are going to deploy scarce resources to support computer-based tests, then it is essential that tests successfully assess students and contribute more generally to the improvement of the quality of education.

There is no good reason for the tests to be this bad. The past forty years of extraordinary progress in research-directed development of mathematics visualization and technology for expressing mathematical reasoning could be put to use to power these tests—elegantly and effectively. As an example of computer-based assessment pursuing a vastly higher quality standard than that achieved by Smarter Balanced and CTB, look at the December 15 and January 5, 12, and 19 blog posts at Sine of the Times (, which describe work we did some years ago at KCP Technologies and Key Curriculum Press.

Others in the mathematics education community—researchers and practitioners—know how to do quality work.

“Déjà Vu All Over Again”

The results of the Smarter Balanced tests for 2014–2015, when they come, will further confuse the national debate about Common Core and contribute significantly to its demise. Because the general public has no reason to believe that these results do not accurately reflect mathematics education in this country, they will not realize that the poor performance of students on these tests is due, in significant part, to the poor craft of the test makers. When poor results make headlines, will anyone point the finger in the direction of the test makers? Likely not. Students and frontline educators at all levels will be attacked as incompetent—but the incompetent test makers will get a free pass. I’ve seen this before.

Twenty-five years ago, Creative Publications, a California publisher, developed MathLand, an innovative elementary mathematics program. These Critique of Smarter Balanced Common Core Tests for Mathematics, SR Education Associates materials were rated as “promising” by a U.S. Education Department panel. But Creative Publications had rushed the materials to market for the 1992 state of California adoption and MathLand was not ready for “prime time.” However “promising,” it was poorly crafted—ideas were not fully developed, there had been little or no field-testing, little revision of the original manuscript, and there had been no application of the iterative principles of product engineering.

Even so, a majority of California school districts adopted MathLand. Why? Because it was a promising idea and the craft issues with MathLand were invisible to an untrained eye. And there was no pilot period during which schools and districts could properly vet the materials within the California adoption timeline and reject them if they proved lacking. Whatever one’s position on the underlying educational principles of MathLand, the materials did not work well in classrooms—but no one found this out this until too late. Completely lost in the public uproar over MathLand was the distinction between good ideas and poor craft. As soon as they were able, California districts abandoned MathLand.

Creative Publications disappeared.

In California, the MathLand fiasco discredited California’s 1992 Mathematics Framework and significantly contributed to the launch of the national “Math Wars.”

It has taken 20 years to undo the damage these poorly crafted materials did to our mathematics education community. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the high-stakes tests under development by Smarter Balanced and PARCC are not one and the same. However, in the public eye, and particularly in the crosshairs of Common Core political opponents, Common Core and the Smarter Balanced/PARCC high-stakes tests funded by the federal government are two sides of the same coin.

As Diane Briars, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) President, pointed out in “Core Truths,” a July 2014 “President’s Corner” message: “Particularly problematic is a tendency to equate CCSSM with testing and with test-related activities and practices.”

While certainly not perfect, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are a step forward, especially because of the prominence of the Standards for Mathematical Practice. I believe that CCSSM should continue to receive full support and that it should evolve and improve based on the experiences of practicing teachers, mathematics professionals, mathematics educators, parents, students, and a wide range of other stakeholders. In high-performing countries like Singapore and South Korea, national curricula are revised and improved on a regular schedule. South Korea, for instance, has revised its national curricula once every 5 to 7 years and is now using the 7th iteration of the curriculum. 34 However, the appalling Smarter Balanced high-stakes tests could well be the death of the national effort to improve mathematics instruction via Common Core—before we ever get to iteration 2. That would be tragic.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Comments (4)  

History of Math Pedagogy Conference Tomorrow; also math-related exhibit at Phillips Collection – here in DC

Some of you might be interested to know that tomorrow is not only Pi day (3/14/15 at 9:26.53 AM) and pi minute and pi second but also the opening of a conference of the History of Math Pedagogy- Americas, at American University.

Here is the link to the meeting, which will cost you $65.

And here is the schedule:

In addition,  The Phillips Collection, is mounting a special exhibit, “Man Ray – Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare.” This exhibit contains mathematical models from the Institute Henri Poincaré in Paris, alongside photographs of these models by Man Ray from the 1930s, and his paintings inspired by the models in the 1940s. On Saturday afternoon we will be touring this exhibit, as well as a related exhibit by contemporary Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Peggy Kidwell, Curator of Mathematics at the Smithsonian Institution, will be giving a talk at our meeting on Saturday morning related to the Phillips exhibits.

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Resistance to Over-Testing is Alive and Kicking

… from Bob Schaeffer at Fair Test …

Once again, this week’s stories come from more than half the states as the testing resistance and reform movement rapidly accelerates across the U.S. and wins more victories.

What Test Scores Reveal About the “No Child Left Behind” Legacy
Five Issues Which Will Decide if No Child Left Behind Era is Over

Some Schools Resort to “Bribing” Kids to Get Them to Take Tests

‘s Problem Linking Common Core Tests to High-Stakes Testing
Arizona House Passes Bill Allowing Student to Opt Out of Standardized Exams

California Testing Protests Include Opt Out Movement and San Diego School Board Resolution
California Phys. Ed, Arts, Music Courses Are “Collateral Damage” in Push to Boost Test Scores

 State School Board Says Test Opt Outs Will Have No Negative Consequences for Students, Teachers or Schools
More Colorado Families Opting Out of New State Assessments

Connecticut Voters Agree: Schools Should Spend Less Time on Testing
Many Key Questions Not Yet Answered About Connecticut State Tests

Delaware Opt-Out Movement May Prompt State Review of Testing Policy
Lawmakers, Educators Seek Delay on Tying New Delaware Test to Teacher Evaluation

Florida Lawmakers, School Administrators Incensed Over Computer Exam Fiasco; Seek Test Suspension
Computer Testing Disaster Fuels Calls for Florida Assessment System Overhaul

Idaho Debate Brews Over Standardized Testing

Illinois Test Scores Not Best Predictor of School Outcomes
Chicago Principal Supports Parents Opt-Out Drive

Indiana Maps Out Minor Changes to Avoid Repeat of Testing Uproar
Indiana State Super Says: “A Test Never Taught Anyone to Read”—A-test-never-taught-anybody-to-read–5413872

Louisiana Parents’ High Anxiety as PARCC Testing Looms
Opt Out of PARCC Billboards Pop Up in Louisiana

Maine Bill Would Allow for Opting Out of Testing

Maryland Policy Makers Weight Testing Issues–20150303-story.html
Governor Questions Maryland Testing Volume

Michigan Teacher of the Year Blasts Standardized Testing Policy

Minnesota Governor Wants to Cut Number of Tests Students Take

Mississippi Parents Opt Their Children Out of Testing 
Mississippi Moves to End Exit Exam Passage Requirements–Graduation-Tests

New Hampshire District Promises No Punishment for Students Who Opt Out
New Hampshire Gets Fed’s Permission to Reduce Testing, Pilot Performance Assessment

New Jersey State Assembly Passes Bills Curbing Testing Excesses
PARCC Testing Can’t Be Fixed

New Mexico Test Protest School Walkouts Continue

New York City School Chancellor Blasts Gov. Cuomo for Test-Based Teacher Rating Scheme
Long Island, N.Y. Activists Sustain Opt-Out Pressure

North Carolina School Grades Don’t Pass the Test

Ohio Won’t Punish Schools for Students Who Opt-Out of State Exams
Ohio State and Federal Lawmakers Work Together to Reduce School testing

Pennsylvania Schools Should Be Judged by Inspections, Not Test Scores

Rhode Island Parents Say No Mandatory Participation in PARCC,100574?
Reliance on PARCC Test Will Spell Disaster for Rhode Island

Tennessee Task Force to Look at District Testing Overuse

Texas Standardized Testing Creates Parental Worries
Tide Turns Against Federal “No Child Left Behind Law” Born in Texas

Wisconsin Over Testing Takes Joy Out of Learning and Teaching
Why Wisconsin Parents Are Sitting Their Kids Out of Tests

High-Stakes Testing Has Trickled Down to Kindergarten

Common Core Test Tutoring Companies See Business Boon

The Big Error of School “Accountability”

Ditch the SATs and ACTs
FairTest List of “Test-Optional” Colleges and Universities

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office-   (239) 395-6773   fax-  (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468


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Published in: on March 10, 2015 at 1:08 pm  Comments (1)  

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