benchmark tests, college and career readiness, Common Core, Coronavirus, educates, Ethan Rediske, ETS, Gov. Greg Abbott, Mandatory High-Stakes Testing, Michelle Malkin, mindless testing drones, Pam Stewart, Pearson, STAAR tests
As this is written/updated on March 21, 2020, Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, due to the Coronavirus and mandatory, state wide school closures, has waived all mandatory, high stakes testing for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Sadly, considerable time has already been wasted in drilling for the tests, but not as much as would have been wasted if the tests were still being required. Teachers and students across the state are breathing a sign of relief. Educrats, and those whose identity is dependent upon the data and power the tests produce, are weeping. Please continue reading this series to see why their tears are a good thing for everyone.
In The Tyranny Of Testing Part 1, I focused on how mandatory, high stakes testing is destroying the canon, removing enormous amounts of already scarce classroom time, and leaving little time for the classics and the kinds of writings and other assignments that actually build bigger better brains, new abilities and form the foundation for even more advanced learning. And in the place of building the bigger, better brains of students? The enrichment of Education Testing Services (and to a lesser degree, Pearson)–the company that writes the tests and provides all related “services”–building a political power base for state educrats, and the production of data that is the primary reason educrats exist.
The setting of the first article was primarily Texas, where I teach. Because Texas, by virtue of its size, is a national trendsetter, this is not an unreasonable focus. The difficulties testing imposes on Texas teachers and students are visited on the teachers and students of virtually every other state. During the Age of Obama, the federal government sought to impose progressive orthodoxy on the states. With the advent of the Trump Administration, it appears that trend may, thankfully, be reversing.
This article will focus on taking a glance at trends and outrages from around the nation. You will notice, gentle readers, Texas teachers and parents are not alone in fighting to actually educate children rather than beating them into data production drones. What is being done in the name of testing is quite insane. Our first stop on the high speed testing train wreck, New York:
A New York elementary school recently cancelled its scheduled kindergarten play in order for kids to be more ready for college.
In a letter than went home last Friday, the principal explains to parents the rationale behind canceling the annual event.
‘The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.
Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.’
‘This didn’t come out of the blue. Kindergarten (and even preschool) has increasingly become academic — at the expense of things such as recess and the arts — in this era of standardized test-based school reform. In most states, educators are evaluated in large part on test scores of students (sometimes students they don’t have) and on showing that their students are ‘college and career ready,’ the mantra of the Obama administration’s education initiatives.
And of what might “…preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills…” consist? Why, “…having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers…” And how would that be done? Most kindergarten children are just beginning to read and are learning only the basics of the alphabet and forming letters. Considering most kids don’t make anything resembling firm college decisions until they are juniors in high school–if then–is there no time for a kindergarten play? Doesn’t learning dialogue, working with others, speaking in public and being a part of a production count toward being “readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers”?
I suppose it’s never too early to turn children into mindless testing drones. There was a time when this would have been considered child abuse and parents would have been lined up outside such a principal’s office impatiently waiting their turn to engage in close range social intercourse.
And what are Americans getting for their testing dollars? It’s very difficult for taxpayers–-what do they know? They’re not qualified!–-to tell where the money is going and for what:
A report last year from the Brookings Institution tabulated the average cost of testing per student, and Texas ranked somewhere near the middle – in between a frugal $7 per-pupil in New York, and the whopping $114 per-pupil in the District of Columbia. (This is a separate figure than Texas’ total spending per pupil, which is near the bottom, ranking 49th out of 50 states.)
But those numbers are misleading. Washington D.C. is relatively small, as a testing district, and in New York, much of the cost of testing is borne by local school districts instead of an outside company like Pearson. Those costs did not show up in the Brookings report.
Bob Schaeffer, from FairTest, an organization which advocates against standardized testing, said, in an email, ‘We are certain that New York and Texas do not provide an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison.’
‘The New York State Board of Regents maintains a large, in-house staff, which is largely responsible for test design and item selection,’ he continued. So, in New York, ‘Pearson primarily handles test administration and scoring, while Texas pays Pearson for a full range of assessment services.
As I noted in the first installment of this series, since 2018, Texas has been primarily paying Education Testing Services, though Pearson’s fingers are not entirely out of the testing spending pie. Statistics that suggest Texas is near the bottom of education spending are suspect. Texas has an enormous and costly state education bureaucracy, including multiple regional “education service centers,” full of well paid “consultants” involved in virtually every aspect of education, going far beyond merely tracking teacher certification and licensing. Monies spent on the testing companies are not all the money spent on testing.
Trying to transition to computer, rather than paper, testing, has been a disaster, as Dallas News.com reports:
Texas will throw out more high-stakes STAAR testing results after talking to school administrators who said more students were affected by crashing computers than previously reported.
The Texas Education Agency originally said about 71,000 students were affected when computers kept crashing during the administration of the tests in April and May. The TEA said some students were unable to log on for up to three hours because of server issues when taking the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests.
Late Friday afternoon, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath sent a letter to school district superintendents across the state saying he is widening the state’s net for determining how bad the problems were and how many students were affected.
The TEA officials said Friday that they don’t know yet how many more students were hit by the crashes, but added that the agency is working with the state’s vendor — Educational Testing Services — to identify the additional students by June 8.
And how does this affect those 71,000–almost certainly many more–students?
Morath reminded districts in his letter to administrators that he does not have the authority to waive graduation requirements for high-schoolers who might have been affected by the glitches. Seniors are required to pass five required end-of-course exams to earn a diploma.
So the state’s incompetence endangered graduation for 71,000 or more kids, but too bad, so sad. Nothing is more important than the enlightened policies of self-imagined elite educrats and the production of data.
NOTE: Spring, 2020, Texas is allowing individual school districts to determine the graduation of the class of 2020 without STAAR test scores.
Yet another significant problem with testing is the Lake Wobegon Syndrome, the pretense that all kids are above average and can take and pass mandatory tests. To understand the absurdity, imagine that we mandate every child dunk a basketball to graduate from high school. This is, of course, ridiculous, and for some children even the attempt would be dangerous, yet this is precisely what states do with handicapped students.
I know of special education teachers who have had to “guide” students through these tests, students so profoundly handicapped they were confined to wheelchairs, could not speak, feed themselves, read, write, or hold a pencil. Some will always wear diapers and will never be able to wipe themselves.
They aren’t the only kids forced to take tests. Imagine being the teacher of a child who can walk and more or less feed himself, but whose mental capacity is that of an 18 month old. Imagine children who cannot read, remember, who cannot add, subtract, or write more than their name–that, badly indeed–forced to take even “modified” versions of these tests.
To “accommodate” these and somewhat less handicapped kids, states are transitioning to online tests. That hasn’t worked out terribly well in Texas and elsewhere. Yet these student’s test scores are a part of each school’s and each school district’s accountability grades. Schools that excel in helping these vulnerable children, and as a result have a large population of them, are in effect punished for their altruism and expertise.
We travel now to Florida to explore who is truly brain damaged: unfortunate students, or the educrats determined to force tests on them at any cost:
Andrea Rediske’s 11-year-old son Ethan, is dying. Last year, Ethan, who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind, was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test over the space of two weeks last year because the state of Florida required that every student take one. Now his mom has to prove that Ethan, now in a morphine coma, is in no condition to take another test this year.
Ethan wasn’t the only brain-damaged child in Florida to be forced to take a standardized test; I have written in the past about Michael, another Florida boy who was born with only a brain stem — not a brain — and can’t tell the difference between an apple and an orange, but was also forced to take a version of the FCAT last year. (See here, here and here.) There are many others in Florida and across the country as well.
Why does Florida — and other states, as well as the U.S. Department of Education — force kids with impaired cognitive ability to take standardized tests? Because, they say, nearly every child can learn something and be assessed in some fashion. Even, apparently, a boy born without a brain.
The idea that every child can learn something might make a trite platitude for a classroom wall, but in fact, what some children can learn is heartbreakingly small, and the idea that multiple choice testing instruments can “assess” their ability to transfer a bit of pudding from their plate to their mouth, or their ability to make some kind of signal when they need to use the bathroom is the height of lunacy, even cruelty. The scores produced by such children are utterly meaningless. Yet educrats will spout that platitude–-I’ve seen them do it and been tempted to strangle them then and there–-so tests are put before these children. In many cases, they don’t so much as recognize them as tests. In fact, it’s impossible to tell if they recognize them at all or what they think them to be if they do. More capable children might understand they are tests, but have no more ability to answer than a child given test questions in Aramaic.
Publicity last year in Florida about some of these cases sparked interest among some state lawmakers to pass legislation to make it easier for severely disabled students to get waivers from taking these tests. The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter warning lawmakers to keep assessing all children, and one Florida Education Department spokesman told me that ‘waivers do not apply to students with a chronic situation.’ Legislation did get passed but it wasn’t what some had hoped. It allows parents to request a waiver (Michael’s parents abandoned him shortly after he was born, and he lives in an Orlando care facility for children called the Russell House), and the state has set out a long series of actions that have to be taken — including approval by the education commission — to get a waiver.
Ethan got a waiver, but now there is a new obscenity transpiring. His mother sent an e-mail Tuesday to Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and to Scott Maxwell, who has movingly written about Ethan and similar casesor the Orlando Sentinel, that the state is requiring her to prove that her son still can’t take another standardized test and can therefore keep his waiver. The e-mail says:
‘Rick and Scott,
I’m writing to appeal for your advocacy on our behalf. Ethan is dying. He has been in hospice care for the past month. We are in the last days of his life. His loving and dedicated teacher, Jennifer Rose has been visiting him every day, bringing some love, peace, and light into these last days. How do we know that he knows that she is there? Because he opens his eyes and gives her a little smile. He is content and comforted after she leaves.
Jennifer is the greatest example of what a dedicated teacher should be. About a week ago, Jennifer hesitantly told me that the district required a medical update for continuation of the med waiver for the adapted FCAT. Apparently, my communication through her that he was in hospice wasn’t enough: they required a letter from the hospice company to say that he was dying. Every day that she comes to visit, she is required to do paperwork to document his ‘progress.’ Seriously? Why is Ethan Rediske not meeting his 6th-grade hospital homebound curriculum requirements? BECAUSE HE IS IN A MORPHINE COMA. We expect him to go any day. He is tenaciously clinging to life.
This madness has got to stop. Please help us.
I’m unaware of any testing instrument that can assess opening a child’s eyes and producing a little smile, and I’m certain multiple choice questions can’t measure Ethan’s contentment and comfort, nor the heart and kindness of a teacher like Jennifer who actually knows and cares about Ethan.
Ethan Died February 7, 2014. I have no doubt Ethan received his reward and the peace that passeth all understanding. May Florida’s educrats, and educrats everywhere that so bedevil children like Ethan and their parents and teachers, receive what they deserve.
UPDATE: Shortly after Ethan’s death, Andrea spoke before the Florida Board of Education, urging them to give local school districts the ability to exempt disabled students from mandatory tests.
My name is Andrea Rediske, and I am Ethan Rediske’s mother. Before you peg me as merely an angry and grieving mother, let me tell you a little bit about myself: I am an educator. I have a master’s degree in microbiology and have been an adjunct professor of microbiology for 11 years. I have a passion for education and I know how to write an exam that accurately assesses the abilities of my students.
Not only was the Florida Adapted Assessment inappropriate for the level of my son’s abilities, it endangered his health – the long, stressful testing sessions requiring him to sit in his wheelchair caused pressure sores, fluid to pool in his lungs, and increased seizures and spasticity that contributed to his deteriorating health.
Only after climbing a mountain of paperwork and garnering media attention was Ethan granted a medical waiver for the FAA. Despite assurances at his IEP meeting that the waiver would be granted again for this school year, the school district demanded paperwork proving his continued medical fragility. The insult to this injury was that he was on his deathbed – the school district and the state of Florida required a letter from hospice care stating he was unable to take the FAA.
This incident caused anguish to my family and his teacher, and shows a stunning lack of compassion and even common sense on the part of the Department of Education. His exceptionally talented teacher faced threats and sanctions because she continued to work with him even though he wasn’t preparing for the FAA. I wonder if these administrators are more concerned with policy, paperwork, and their bottom line than the children they have been elected to serve.
Andrea’s pleas could draw tears from a stone, and break the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge, but not the Florida Education Commissioner, one Pam Stewart. Here is the letter she issued to Florida teachers shortly after Andrea’s appearance:
It would be a moral outrage to deny that opportunity to any child based on any reason including special needs. For all students, it is important that we measure progress so that we educate all children regardless of their circumstances.
In a single paragraph, Stewart, whose heart must be a shriveled lump of sludge, sums up the educratic mindset: every educratic initiative is far more important than the children forced to endure it. Perhaps Stewart really does believe what she writes, but if so, what better proof of her utter lack of professional acumen and human compassion? To experience moral outrage, Stewart need only gaze in the nearest mirror.
Any competent teacher understands that measuring the progress of any student is done through guided practice and accomplishment over time, not the data point produced by any single test. Americans lived happy and productive lives long before the invention of mandatory, high-stakes testing. Yet Stewart, if Ethan were still alive, would zealously harry and bedevil him and his parents lest he be denied the invaluable opportunity to take a state mandated test that would actually harm his health and hasten his death. How else could his “progress” be measured, even as he lay dying?
The state always knows what’s best for our children. Doesn’t it?
How empty the souls of Pam Stewart and any like her.
There is hope, however, and more and more students–and even their teachers–are refusing to participate in what they see as the destruction of education. Across the nation, more and more teachers are refusing to administer tests, and students are refusing to take them. Actually, over the years, I’ve seen more and more students sit for the tests, but randomly mark answers within a few minutes, refuse to do the writing, and take a nap.
The Invaluable Michelle Malkin provides a broader perspective in an article titled “Revolt Against The Testing Tyrants.” Great minds apparently think alike.
College-bound students in Orange County, Fla., for example, now take a total of 234 standardized diagnostic, benchmark and achievement tests from kindergarten through 12th grade. Reading instructor Brian Trutschel calculated that a typical 10th-grade English class will be disrupted 65 out of 180 school days this year alone for mandatory tests required by the state and district. ‘It’s a huge detriment to instruction,’ he told the Orlando Sentinel last month. The library at one Florida middle school is closed for a full three months out of the 10-month school year for computerized assessments.
‘It’s horrible, because all we do is test,’ Nancy Pace, the school’s testing coordinator, told the newspaper. ‘There’s something every month.’ My Colorado 8th-grader has been tied up all week on her TCAPs (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program), which used to be called CSAPs (Colorado Student Assessment Program), which will soon be replaced by something else.
If you’ve read the first article in this series, gentle readers, this should surely sound familiar. Malkin continues:
Now, pile on the latest avalanche of federal pilot testing schemes tied to the Common Core racket. When they’re not preoccupied with getting ready for Iowa basic skills tests, NAEPs, ACTs, PSATs, revamped SATs, CLEPs, FCATs, TCAPs and scores of other state exams, American kids will be busy testing new tests. Because the Common Core testing scheme mandates computerized administration and because the tests incorporate bandwidth-hogging videos and graphics, school districts across the country must spend gobs of time and money on test preparation.
The San Francisco Unified School District shelled out more than $800,000 this year for new computers, keyboards and headsets for testing, and will buy 5,300 Apple computers next year to start standardizing the district on a single operating system, according to the EdSource.org website. Rural students will be yanked out of the classroom and herded on buses over the course of several days to get to tech-connected districts, where they will spend several hours each day (on top of hours of travel) taking experimental Common Core-aligned field tests that won’t count until next year.
“Common Core,” though still technically in effect, has mostly fallen out of political favor, though the philosophies behind it continue to do enormous damage. Malkin observes that some school districts around the nation are finally becoming fed up with at least some of the testing and are allowing parents to opt out their children. In fact, it’s not a matter of allowing parents to keep their children from being tested to death. Parents have always had that right, but have not always asserted it:
The testing tyrants are doing everything they can to stop parents from protecting their children: deceive, bully, intimidate and obfuscate. The state of Connecticut recently sent out a misleading letter to parents warning them that ‘all children enrolled in public schools’ are legally required to ‘take yearly assessments.’ But as parent Wendy Lecker points out, the bureaucrats failed to disclose that the mandate applies to ‘statewide mastery tests,’ not ‘to experimental field tests such as the PARCC and SBAC pilots,’ which ‘fail to satisfy the basic elements the law clearly sets forth of the required statewide test.
Some states deny high school diplomas to students refusing to take the tests, but few colleges will refuse admission to otherwise qualified students. Malkin is quite correct. Parents are the ”primary educational provider and decider.” While school districts routinely ignore teachers, they are often afraid of and responsive to enraged and rational parents. There is much power there. Enraged and involved parents forced Texas to back down from 15 tests to only five.
Educrats assume that mandatory testing must continue forever, and that more and more money be spent, because it is the only way to assess student progress. As the execrable Pam Stewart said, they must not be denied that opportunity for assessment even if they cannot actually participate, cannot benefit from it or understand the tests or the results. But America built the most educated workforce and the most technologically advanced society in human history in a scant two hundred years all without mandatory, high-stakes testing. These tests could be swept away tomorrow and the only consequence would be tens of thousands of educrats out of a job.
Actually, that would be a net benefit to society. With schools closed across the nation and testing canceled, life will go on. Teachers will teach, kids will learn, and somehow, the nation will survive without the single data points grotesquely expensive tests provide. We did very well indeed for more than two centuries before the invention of such tests. Perhaps there’s a lesson it that somewhere? One we don’t need mandatory, high stakes tests to learn?
Return next Monday for Part III of this continuing series. I hope to see you then!