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Topic: High-stakes testing needs scrutiny
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,471
Registered: 12/3/04
High-stakes testing needs scrutiny
Posted: Apr 11, 2013 4:03 PM
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From Get Schooled blog, The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.
See
http://www.myajc.com/news/news/high-stakes-testing-needs-scrutiny-barge-and-other/nXHCp
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High-stakes testing needs scrutiny, Barge and others say

By Nancy Badertscher

John Barge was working in Bartow County Schools
when a high school student had a panic attack
trying to pass the graduation test and a
fourth-grader became so stressed taking the CRCT
he drew blood stabbing his arm with a pencil.

"I believed well before the Atlanta cheating
issue that we place far too much importance on
high-stakes tests to determine a student's
abilities, as well as a school's quality," said
Barge, Georgia's state school superintendent
since 2011.

Some education leaders and researchers -
including Barge - say it is time - if not past
time - for a national debate on whether
high-stakes tests are having the uplifting
effects that were promised. Or, as factors in
teacher firings, principal bonuses, student
promotions and school funding, are they hurting
public education and encouraging cheating?

"We have strayed far from the true and useful
purpose and intent of testing," said Tim
Callahan, spokesman for the Professional
Association of Georgia Educators, the state's
largest teacher group. "A reset' on the
appropriate place for testing is long overdue."

High-stakes tests, such as Georgia's
Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), are
expected to play a central role in the criminal
investigation of cheating in Atlanta Public
Schools. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall
received more than $580,000 in pay bonuses above
her annual pay in the 12 years she worked for the
district, based on academic goals laid out in her
contract, and she is suspected of creating a
culture of cheating, using threats and bonuses.

According to the nonprofit advocacy group Fair
Test: National Center for Fair & Open Testing,
cheating involving high-stakes testing has been
confirmed in Texas, Ohio, 35 other states and the
District of Columbia.

In one major case, a former El Paso, Texas school
superintendent is in prison for devising an
elaborate plan to inflate test scores at
struggling schools and keep big pay bonuses
coming his way. Ohio state auditor Dave Yost also
found evidence that nine of the state's 600-plus
school districts manipulated attendance data of
low performers, with the idea of improving test
scores. Yost told The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution some criminal charges are
likely.

Standardized tests are nothing new in public
education. But they took on added significance
with the passage of the Bush-era No Child Left
Behind Act in 2001, determining, for instance,
whether a student moves up a grade or graduates
from high school.

Proponents argue that the tests can improve
student achievement and narrow the achievement
gap between racial groups. They say that
students, knowing the potential consequences,
take the tests more seriously and work harder,
and that the results allow teachers to more
quickly assess when students and schools are
struggling and need extra help.

Critics argue that high-stakes testing creates a
pressure-filled "teaching to the test" climate
that puts aside real learning and increases the
dropout rate, largely among low-income minority
students.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Committee and former state school board chairman,
said, "You've got to have a measurement system."

Still, in light of the cheating scandal, Isakson
said he believes high-stakes testing is
"certainly something we should take a look at."

"But if you are going to take that away, you've
got to tell me what the substitute is," he said.

Alfie Kohn, author of "Feel-Bad Education" and
other books, said "we're at least 20 years
overdue for a serious national conversation about
the damage that corporate-style, test-driven
school 'reform' has done to our children and our
public schools."

"Unfortunately, those who know the least about
how kids learn have the most power," Kohn said.
"And they want to continue the test-based status
quo regardless of whether they're Democrats or
Republicans."

Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia
Federation of Teachers, and Calvine Rollins,
president of the Georgia Association of
Educators, said tests clearly have their place,
as diagnostic tools, not as make-or-break
propositions.

"In the current wave of education reform within
the state and across the country, standardized
testing has become over-used. Currently, there
are 1o to 12 state standardized tests being
administered in grades K-12," Rollins said.
"These tests are being used as an accountability
tool and for punitive actions against students,
teachers and schools, not as a tool to ensure
that students get additional help in areas where
they need improvement."

Many educators feel "they must boost scores by
hook or by crook," said Bob Schaeffer, public
education director for Fair Test.

"As with any profession, the more the pressure to
produce unrealistic results ratchets up, the more
people feel compelled to cross the ethical line,"
Schaeffer said.

Isakson, Atlanta school superintendent Errol
Davis and others say that pressure from
high-stakes tests never justifies cheating.

"Pressure causes angst, it causes anxieties,"
Davis said. "Sometimes it causes you to perform
better, sometimes it causes you to get ill, but
the decision to cheat is a decision that you have
to make consciously."

Georgia's focus on high-stakes test is evolving - somewhat.

On one hand, the state is phasing out the
make-or-break high school graduation test in
favor of a series of tests taken throughout high
school. On the other, it's rolling out a new
teacher-evaluation system that factors in how a
teacher's students show growth through
standardized tests.

Barge said concerns about the pressure of
high-stakes testing played a part in his decision
to seek a waiver for the state from requirements
of No Child Left Behind and to develop an
alternative to judging schools on whether they
met NCLB's measure of success, known as adequate
yearly progress.

"Rather than having one test score determine
achievement results for a school, we now look at
multiple indicators of success for high schools,
middle schools and elementary schools," he said
of the new College & Career Ready Performance
Index, which rates schools on a 100-point scale.

That should ease the pressure, Barge said. And,
he said, "I think teachers can get back to
teaching and doing the things that help really
prepare students for the world they will face
after high school."

Excerpts from the APS indictments

"While Superintendent of APS, Beverly Hall set
annual performance objectives for APS and the
individual schools within it, commonly referred
to as 'targets.' If a school achieved 70 percent
or more of its targets all employees of the
school received a bonus. Additionally, if certain
system-wide targets were achieved, Beverly Hall
herself received a substantial bonus. Targets for
elementary and middle schools were largely based
on student performance on the Criterion
Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), a
standardized test given annually to elementary
and middle school students in GeorgiaŠ..

"APS principals and teachers were frequently told
by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses
for not meeting targets would not be tolerated.
When principals and teachers could not reach
their targets, their performance was criticized,
their jobs were threatened and some were
terminated. Over time, the unreasonable pressure
to meet annual APS targets led some employees to
cheat on the CRCT. The refusal of Beverly Hall
and her top administrators to accept anything
other than satisfying targets created an
environment where achieving the desired end
result was more important than the students'
education.

"To satisfy annual targets and AYP, test answer
sheets were altered, fabricated, and falsely
certified. Test scores that were inflated as a
result of cheating were purported to be the
actual achievement of targets through
legitimately obtained improvements in students'
performance when in fact, the conspirators knew
those results had been obtained through cheating
and did not reflect students' actual academic
performance."

What U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan said on Atlanta's
cheating scandal and high-stake testing after APS
indictments were issued

"What happened in Atlanta was immoral; it was
heartbreaking; it cheated children. What I
support in testing is multiple measures and
improving assessments. We shouldn't place too
much emphasis on one test, but instead we should
look at multiple ways of measuring student
growth."
*******************************************
--
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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