09/20/2012 11:09 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Opt Out Chronicles: Anti-Testing Nut

Last March I went to my local school board to voice my concerns about the announcement that my home state of Pennsylvania planned on using student test score data in future teacher evaluations. I spoke about the problems using Value Added Measures and then asked what our board planned to do? If you remember the board responded by releasing crickets.

However, I did find out that the superintendent released a memo to the school community later that week (I guess I am not a member of this community since I did not get one). In the memo the superintendent stated that I was right but since this was a state mandate there was nothing to be done. This was a matter for politicians and until they act the school district was going to follow the directives from the state of Pennsylvania.

Of course this was not a satisfactory response and I felt compelled to react immediately. However I was reminded by colleagues that I should "take some time and cool down." For some reason I listened to them because it is now September and a new school year has started--I took five months to cool off.

In those months I wrote the follow-up speech in my head hundreds of times. However it wasn't until I re-read the research on Value Added Measures that I decided that I had to respond. And this time I decided not to focus on VAMs exclusively. Instead I wanted to help educate the board about the problems with high stakes testing. I made this decision because a friend informed me that most of the board think I'm just some anti-testing nut.

"What? A testing nut? Are you kidding me?" Don't they understand the dangers associated with high stakes testing?" The answer was "No. You need to teach them. Don't lecture them."

So here is what I plan to present to the board in two weeks.

Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush and prolific educational researcher asks these questions:

  1. Can a mathematical formula sum up a school or a teacher?
  2. Can a letter grade give an accurate portrait of a school?
Last year I appeared before this board and asked what all of you planned to do when the state forces teachers and principals to be evaluated with our childrens' test scores. I pointed out that using high stakes test scores (derived from NCLB tests) to evaluate teachers and principals is wrong-not because of my personal bias-but because the tests were never designed to evaluate teachers and principals. A point in which I understand the superintendent agrees with me.

But what about the NCLB tests in general? What do or what should we know about these standardized tests? We need to know and our community needs to know that NCLB tests were never designed to evaluate our children as they are currently being used--this is a major problem.

The results are not valid because the tests are being used incorrectly. The problem is the high stakes consequences. NCLB tests are simply a tool. Tools are designed for specific purposes. This tool was not designed to evaluate achievement in a high stakes environment. In other words the tests were not designed to administer rewards and punishments. They were never intended to communicate how well or poorly our school, its teachers and administrators are doing. They were designed to give a quick snapshot in time of the estimated academic achievement of the test taker--that's it!

Just an FYI, NCLB tests are not even good at telling us about academic achievement. Education researchers can predict students' test scores BEFORE THEY TAKE THE TESTS just by knowing the socioeconomic status of the test takers. (I can talk to you about this later if you have questions.)

Back to why NCLB tests don't work. As soon as NCLB mandated that standardized tests be used to reward and punish the results of the prescribed standardized tests became invalid. Again, standardized tests and the scores from these tests if used properly can give us a snap shot of academic achievement. However once standardized test scores have high stakes consequences attached to them, each and every single score from every single student is an invalid measure of achievement. Again this is not my point of view. This is a fact that has been demonstrated by testing experts. The American Educational Research Association (AERA) released guidelines that warn against the improper use of high-stakes tests because of issues concerning validity and the potential harm that can be caused from inappropriately using high stakes test scores to administer punishments and rewards. AGAIN. Not my opinion. This is just a fact that any testing expert would agree with.

Therefore I am asking the board again: What are you going to do?
You all understand that in 2014 our school district will be labeled "failing." This is a guaranteed scarlet letter that our children, teachers and principals will be forced to wear. How much longer are you going to allow the children of this community to be used as political pawns in a system that was designed to prove that our teachers, our principals and our schools are failing?

Before you tell me to take up with the politicians that designed this disaster let me remind you that each of you was elected by the people of this community to uphold the Pennsylvania constitution which states specifically in regards to education,

"shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth"

Therefore it is your job to make sure that our children receive the best educational opportunity possible.

You are the politicians.

That's why I am taking it up with you. And that's why I ask you again: What are you going to do to save this community from being falsely labeled failing?"

What do you think? Is this teaching and not lecturing? Do I still sound like an anti-testing nut?