Reading and Writing and Dancing as Long as the Music Plays

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

Where Are You, Parents?

Peg with a Pen is a phenomenal education blogger who has decided to keep a public roll call of teachers who have publicly committed to refuse to administer the inappropriate high-stakes standardized tests that currently run amuck in this country. Two of our courageous Oklahoma teachers are listed there, and I am very proud of them.

As a classroom teacher in Texas in the 1990s, I was there when the large scale high-stakes testing began in earnest. As teachers, for the most part, we were somewhat baffled, but being the generally compliant types that we are, we grumbled a bit and spent a few hours trying to prepare our students for those once-a-year tests. Back then the only ones that made a real difference in terms of student impact were the ones that students took in their senior year. I remember specifically that the daughter of a dear friend of ours was unable to pass her Algebra test after multiple attempts, not because she didn’t understand the concepts or couldn’t do the problems, but because she had severe test anxiety. Despite hours of tutoring, she was never able to pass the test and never graduated from high school. I remember thinking at the time that there was something wrong with this picture.

When NCLB passed, we began to see the testing monster had even sharper teeth. Everybody knew the goals were impossible, so we teachers naively thought the pendulum would swing and sanity would eventually return. It didn’t. With Race to the Top and Common Core, the tests and their consequences have become unbearable.

A few months ago, I posted a blog asking the question, “When do Ethics Kick In?” I was suggesting, however obliquely, that the ethical responsibilities of teachers meant that they should begin efforts to openly oppose the testing. I’m confident that blog is not responsible for the movement we are seeing now among some teachers, but I think these “insubordinate” teachers see this issue much as I did. It is important to stand up and advocate for children who cannot speak for themselves and repudiate the tests, even if it jeopardizes jobs. It is a legitimate form of civil disobedience akin to that engaged in by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Ghandi. To be brutally honest, I’m not sure whether I would have had the intestinal fortitude to take such a stand back in the 90s or early 2000s, even if I had understood then how powerful the testing lobby was becoming, but I sincerely applaud these who are doing so now. So…here’s my new question: “Where are you, parents?”

As a teacher educator, I moved into the Opt Out camp several months ago, when I saw that taking Common Core out of law in Oklahoma didn’t mean it was gone from Oklahoma schools. And I saw that what was keeping it in place are the standardized tests connected to the state longitudinal databases. I am aware that there is a significant “Opt Out” movement among parents, and I think this is a critical piece in the fight to end the damage of the “test and punish” mentality and put an end to inappropriate data collection and third-party access. But what I haven’t seen is a concerted effort on the part of the parents of the students of these brave teachers to rally around those teachers publicly and offer their support. I don’t see groups of parents through their parent organizations such as PTAs and PTOs writing letters or going to specific administration offices on behalf of those teachers. I don’t see the parent legislative action committees that sprang up in the last two years all over Oklahoma and the entire country going to bat for these teachers. If it’s happening, I haven’t seen it or heard of it. If it’s happening, parents, you need to make more noise!

Where are you, parents?????

ACT vs EOI – Are We Asking the Right Question?

Sunday night I participated in/monitored a Twitter chat hosted by #oklaed concerning the issue of using the ACT in the place of EOIs for students to qualify for high school graduation in the state of Oklahoma. I will admit that I’m far from being “Twitter competent.” Things move too fast and I get confused trying to follow all the threads. That said, I was impressed with what was NOT discussed during the hour of fast-paced tweets.

As I was going through my doctoral program, I remember reading research that said that the most reliable predictor of college success was high school GPA. I even mentioned that to one tweeter and was surprised that he was not aware of this research, but I couldn’t tweet correctly to get my message out. I kept forgetting to add in the hashtag!

Nevertheless, I felt challenged to see what I could find regarding the current state of research on the topic, so I went to Google Scholar and typed in “college success high school GPA.” I found an enormous number of studies looking at what predicts college success, with varied methodologies and nuances. After reviewing several of them, I determined that my initial impression from my doctoral study days still held. I looked at totally independent studies and studies funded and produced by ACT and College Board. All of them agree that college success in the freshman year below a college GPA of 3.5 is predicted equally by ACT or SAT scores or high school GPA. If we decide that “college success” essentially means passing the freshman year, high school GPA is every bit as useful as ACT or SAT.

ACT and SAT scores do appear to do a slightly better job at predicting high levels of success during the freshman year (i.e., college GPA above 3.5). These are the students that the more selective universities target, so it makes sense for students desiring to attend these universities take one or both tests. But, if GPA predicts reasonable success below the 3.5 level, why should ALL students be required to take it?

Some of the studies look at what characteristics of the students are determining their success. Most conclude that while ACT and SAT scores are focused only on cognitive abilities, high school GPA picks up on other non-measurable attributes such as effort and motivation. In addition, one study, the most recent I found, reports that high school GPA predicts retention and graduation rates better than standardized entrance exams. A study from 2007 shows that using GPA to predict college success has a less deleterious effect on minority students.

Given these considerations, why would we want to install the ACT as the final exam for Oklahoma students? And by the way, who will be paying for having all Oklahoma seniors take the ACT? John Thompson shared his opinion in a post earlier suggesting that some sort of portfolio project would be more reasonable and educationally sound, and I agree. As educators, we need to focus on eliminating these unproductive and costly tests, not robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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