Saturday, March 30, 2013

What About the Students?

Ok, first of all, get ready, because this has just a teeny bit of math geekiness in it.  But hold on until the end, because I promise there is a point coming.

We have been notified that the new common core assessments through the PARCC consortium are going to be "more rigorous" and that we need to prepare for a dramatic drop in the number of students deemed to be proficient on the new tests.  To what purpose, I'm not sure, but it's important for us all to realize that these scores on the current assessments are DERIVED SCORES.  For the math novices among you, this means that the scores are set by looking at a normal curve and determining where on the curve to draw the line for acceptable performance.  In other words, here in Ohio, 400 is the magic number that separates "proficient" from "basic."  But the actual accuracy that a student must score to achieve the 400 changes every year based on what score is at a given level on the bell curve.  You see, psychometricians love the bell curve.  In fact, if a test does not yield results that form a bell curve, the test is not used.  Period.  That means that for ANY test that is used in this way, about 68% of the student scores will always cluster in the middle of the distribution.

In case the lightbulb hasn't gone on for you yet, understand that the only way all of a sudden 40% more students will fall below proficiency is if the Policy Makers decide to move the score for "proficient" to a higher level on the bell curve so that a higher percentage of scores fall below the magic number to pass.  On the current tests, students have been consistently scoring higher and higher and yet a similar percent of students will always be below proficient because the score for proficient is set by a point on the bell curve and NOT on a percent of accuracy.  If every single student in the entire testing population all of a sudden achieved a score 40 points higher in accuracy, the bell curve would simply move and the percentage of students below proficient would remain the same.  We are aiming at a moving target.

Not only have Policy Makers determined for some reason to cause more students to fail by changing the cut score for the passage rate, but the content of the tests appears to be wildly inappropriate developmentally.  What third grader can sit and type out a coherent paragraph on a QWERTY keyboard?  ELA standards tested at the fifth grade level appear to be several years beyond what any group of normal fifth graders has ever been able to perform.  The technology required to take the math assessments raises serious concerns about whether we are testing math ability or technological literacy.  We are being set up for failure, folks.

There are corporate reformers bent on making public schools look bad.  Public school teachers are being portrayed as greedy union slugs, only in it for the money (yes, we're all getting rich on our barely median income).  The new assessments will open the door for more third party vendors to hawk their wares and suck more money out of the floundering public school coffers, promising to increase our scores on poorly designed tests.  Charter schools will siphon off more and more money into the pockets of management companies who then spend millions on lobbyists, political campaigns, and advertising.  This may be inevitable, but my question is this:  What about the students?

Does anyone think it makes one iota of sense to treat children like this?  Not proficient.  Below average. Not as smart as you should be.  Failures at the age of 9.  Try as you might, students, you're not going to rise to the level of our expectations.  Work as hard as you can, but most of you will never be good enough to pass these tests.  What kind of perversion is this?  Who does this to children?  And why?

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