Are you more than a test score?


by Duane Swacker

I support the evaluation of the 8th grade N.A.E.P. reading scores for Florida.  It is likely that the Florida ‘miracle’ of sudden large increases in fourth grade reading scores in the early days of school choice has nothing to do with teaching and learning.  It has to do with retention policies and the exodus of low achieving students to voucher supported private schools.  Half of these students then return to public schools in middle school

The scores for public schools go up in fourth grade when poor readers leave or are retained, and come down in eighth grade when they return.  It is the age old problem of the failure to recognize that studies must compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

It is important to know whether Florida’s assessment scores are artificial high in fourth grade.  If so, the testing system itself is giving false reports of student progress.  There is a deeper problem, however.  Should we be relying on assessment scores in the first place?  It is past time to be asking this question.

A reader, Duane Swacker, questions the need for more studies.  The invalidity of accountability studies has already been determined, he asserts.  He cites the evidence and questions my statement:  “I welcome an evaluation of Florida’s school accountability approach to improving student learning.”

Actually, that “evaluation” has already been performed, back in 1997 by Noel Wilson.  Any “reforms” (sic) that uses standardized testing as its basis is COMPLETELY INVALID as proven by Wilson.  So that from the start the “reform”, actually educational malpractice, using student standardized test scores suffers all the foundational conceptual (onto-epistemological) errors and falsehoods that render any usage of the results, as Wilson puts it, “vain and illusory” (not to mention the unethical usage of using the results of a test for something other than what the test was designed.
For 15 years I’ve searched, begged and pleaded with testing supporters to show me where Wilson might have gone wrong with his analysis.  Nothing, zilch, zero, more crickets than I hear from my nerve damage hearing loss and tinnitus.  To understand his analysis please read is never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700
Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine.
1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.
2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).
3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.
4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”
In other words all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.
5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.
6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.
7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”
In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?
My answer is NO!!!!!
One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:
“So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

Politifact: Bush is Mostly Wrong

Jeb Bush is pushing privatization in New Hampshire.  In this latest move, all parents would receive a voucher to attend a school of choice–private or public.  Bush argues that competition from vouchers make public schools better.  He cites research in Florida conducted by David Figlio.  Figlio himself says that the number of students he studied was small, and it makes sense that public schools were able to make modest gains because they had not lost that much revenue.

(In the long run, public schools had lost some low achieving students to private, small and mostly religious schools in early grades, half of whom in middle school, returned.)

 

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Origins of Florida’s Tax Credit Vouchers–Or, Don’t Buy a Pig in a Poke

Diane Ravitch requested this article.  As I wrote it, I was struck by what a small, but politically well connected club was behind Florida’s choice movement.  They attracted big money to sell their ideas.  The end result, in spite of the growth of Florida’s tax credit vouchers, shows that: Not all Choices are Good Choices. 

Following Jeb Bush’s 1994 defeat in his run for governor, he dented his image.  According to a Tampa Bay Times report, in a televised debate Bush responded ‘not much’ when asked what he would do for black voters.  Faced with criticism, he launched a charter school in Miami, and the school choice movement in Florida began.

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Perspectives on Florida’s FTC Private School Tuition Programs

Public schools are the foundation of our democracy.  Yet, too often school choice divides rather than unifies communities. Parents want the best for their children, but when are choices good choices?  In this radio interview, Sue Legg and Charles Showalter discuss the issues surrounding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.  You can listen to Tuesday’s broadcast here.

Sue Legg on Talk Radio about Vouchers

LWVUS announced a partnership with labor talk radio.  Now, the U.S. League has turned to Florida for a story about our tax credit scholarship program.  I did my homework, of course, for an interview on Tuesday, March 7th at 1:30 pm.  You can listen.  Go to their website and select the option best suited for you.  I use the Internet player .

The background for the story is historical and interesting.  Who would believe that President Ulysses S. Grant was a key player in the controversy over the separation of church and state in our schools.  Like any important education issue, the debate never ends.  It does morph as it has in Florida with the implementation of school choice policies.

Will Kentucky give up integration and go charter?

Kentucky:  United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Seven states have resisted the urge to go to charter schools.  Kentucky is one of them.  They kept bussing plans from the 1970s integration in place between the city of Louisville and its surrounding suburbs.  Yes, there was some complaining, but forty years later children are in classes with diverse socio economic and racial groups.  The latest opinion poll shows an 89% approval rating.  The Atlantic article contrasts Louisville with Detroit where charters abound.  Louisville comes out ahead, hands down.

Desegregation helped the city thrive.  Unlike Detroit, where affluent citizens fled to suburbs and bankrupted the inner city, all sorts of people and businesses flourish in Louisville.  Now their city cohesion is threatened with the introduction of three charter school bills in the state legislature.

Rep. Moffett’s bill 103 allow charters statewide but includes multiple authorizers.  This means that not just local school districts but mayors and universities or others could start a charter school.  Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate with public funds.  How is the public to know the effectiveness of charters?  If there are multiple authorizers, there will be different standards of oversight.  Some states have had charter school operators shop their ideas from one authorizer to another to find the one that will let them in.  The charter industry likes multiple chances to get started, but there are many reasons to keep the oversight and regulation of charters local and systematic.  Here is the take of one charter school proponent on why single authorizers work better.

Rep. John Carney, Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced his version of a charter bill 520 that allows only local school districts to authorize charters.  Disputes would be moderated by the State Board of Education in much the way that Florida operates.  The charters would take the same state accountability tests, follow the same health, safety, financial and transparency laws, and give priority to low income students attending low achieving schools. The staff analysis of this bill points out important concerns about sectarian and online schools, financial impact on public schools, provision for school closure as well as a major constitutional concern.

Targeting charters for low income students in struggling schools can be a trap.  Charters typically siphon off students in these areas who are more likely to succeed thus creating a downward spiral in those neighborhood schools.  It can make a bad situation worse.  The attrition rates of charters is typically high for both students and teachers.  The charter schools themselves fail at a high rate.  After all, the only ‘advantage’ of charters in those areas is that they can require teachers to work longer hours with less pay and no retirement benefits.  This is how the charters fund the extended time needed to improve student learning.  It’s all about money that is in short supply.

Bill 70 introduced by Senator Neal, would limit charters to a pilot project in Jefferson County.  The results of any pilot are clear.  They increase segregation both economically and racially, and they do not improve academic achievement.

If the educational goal is to close the achievement gap, then it will take something more disruptive than charter schools.  It will take a commitment to equity and that costs money.  Equity means that the needs of all children are addressed.

  • It likely will require more time time–a longer school day and school year.
  • It will help families and students to get access at schools to physical, mental and social support services; in other words, a community school concept where existing community services parents use are delivered in schools, not all over town.
  • School populations will be diverse in order to create a climate of possibilities.
  • Instructional strategies will have to be engaging to students with different abilities and interests.  This means that test driven curriculum and teaching strategy must yield to a more hands on, group based approach.
  • School cultures must be supportive and welcoming, not solely competitive for the next advanced class, targeted magnet, or gifted program.  Finding communalities must be as important as identifying exceptionalities.

There may be instances in which local district may benefit from the flexibility to try new instructional programs in a limited setting with a particular group of students.  Often state laws, district and teacher union regulations make these innovation programs difficult to implement.   Here in Gainesville, we have a charter that is affiliated with a psychologist’s clinic to help dyslexic children.  It is a unique approach that would not fit well in the district school, but the charter works with the district staff.  These collaborations can work but they are targeted to specific needs the district recognizes.

What does not work for schools is a whole sale ideology that private enterprise operates better than public responsibility.  In Florida, over a third of the charters operate for-profit, skim millions in self interested real estate and management scams, and compete directly with competent public schools thus weakening both the charter and public sectors.  The educational funding pie gets divided three ways, public, charter, and private tax vouchers which ensures no sector is adequately supported.

One of our mottos comes to mind:  School Choice is a Distraction, not a Solution.

Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.

 

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

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Blow Open School Choice Year?

It’s National School Choice Week, and Florida House leaders say this is their year to get rid of restrictions to the expansion of Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and charter schools.  House Education committee chair Michael Bileca, R.Miami and House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Chair Manny Diaz R. Hialeah are leading the charge.  They may be aided by Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the House, R. Pasco.  Corcoran’s wife started Classical Preparatory School.  It is not a Title I school; it has only 30% minority and FRL children.  The percentage of minority children (30%) is similar to the district percentage.  The difference is that Classical Prep charter has 31% who qualify for FRL while the district percentage was 56.3.  So, this charter is selecting children primarily from higher income families.  It is not clear what need this charter fills.

 

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