With Fall re-test scores coming out this week (we'll communicate them to students and parents on Tuesday), it seemed a good time to recap the working group's activities and update the status of our juniors.
First, the hoped-for surge in test passage rates isn't materializing, at least not at Licking Valley High School. (I'll update this post on Tuesday if I get more information from other Licking County schools).
Before Fall re-tests, 95 LVHS juniors were on-track to graduate, in a class of 169. After Fall re-tests, that tally is 101, or 60% of the class. Even with the generous interpretation of "on-track" offered by the Ohio Department of Education, and allowing for exemptions for students with disabilities, the total is 70%.
Not that we're surprised. After all, the pathetic number of released test items and total lack of school-based item analysis virtually ensures that the kind of high-quality feedback necessary for improvement isn't available.
The state board's working group's first three meetings featured presentations from the Ohio Department of Education that were intended to justify the 'rigor' of the tests and present a clear picture of the situation. See notes here:
Meeting 1 notes
Meeting 2 notes
Meeting 3 notes
In the fourth meeting, group members came ready to discuss some proposed solutions and add their own. In small groups, they listed pros and cons of various plans and came back together to report out.
What happened was in a word, remarkable.
All four groups, with access to an infinite number of choices, came back with solutions that followed the same general theme: we need a system that allows for more than standardized test scores. Board / committee member Peggy Lehner, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said "Only one (solution) comes close to what we currently require."
All four groups offered similar solutions for the class of 2018 -- some sort of 'safe harbor' provision that exempts them from the consequences of not achieving 18 points. Beyond that, it was evident the group members wanted a "re-do" for the overall system. "This should be a caution," Senator Lehner remarked. "Because this group appears to desire something different."
To applause from most in the room, group member and high school student Jessica Frey summed it up: "I'm advocating for not looking at students through one set of guidelines. There should be multiple options."
The working group, with representatives from Ohio businesses, colleges, communities and schools, is indicating they want to do more than craft a narrow, short-term solution for the class of 2018. Whether or not their work has a bigger reach is up to the state board and department of education.
Here's hoping they heed the group's message!
Keep your eye on...
(my personal take on political elements of the process)Who thinks the tests are a good idea?
The comments of a working group member from Akron Public Schools (an Assistant Superintendent standing in for the district Superintendent) gave voice to a recurring doubt that has been gnawing at me for months: Who in the business community, exactly, thinks these tests are a good idea? If career and workforce readiness is at the reason for their existence, then who is demanding them?
The only indications from this working group seem to point toward this emperor not having any clothes. First, the department's speaker from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce trumpeted college and career readiness, but used slides from a presentation that also showed the kind of 'routine cognitive tasks' like the ones on EOCs are decreasing precipitously in workplace applicability.
Second, the Chamber of Commerce member of the working group, Tom Zaino, has expressed the need for educated employees in Ohio. But he has also appeared skeptical of the narrow band of skills measured on the test and the wisdom of use of the tests as a sole determiner of graduation. For example, he asked, "Why can you not just have a non-college-ready diploma?"
Last week, the Akron Public Schools rep reported she had convened a group of 50 top business leaders to create a 'graduate profile' -- what they'd like to see students have upon graduation. In groups, they reported out their 'wish list.' The result? "Not one mentioned a specific academic standard."
What is the state legislature prepared to do to remedy the situation?
Senator Lehner has continually voiced a willingness to fix the problem in the legislature if the state board can't or won't, and she speaks emphatically on this point. Her comments above are in line with previous ones in that they seem to indicate legislative action might be imminent. With the state budget bill currently in progress and due to be done by June, and Ohio's ESSA draft plan due soon (the state could delay submission until later in the summer if it wants), it makes me wonder if a series of events might bring the whole testing system down in a crumbling heap by the beginning of the next school year. It seems a long shot, but I continue to maintain that any legislator measuring the will of his or her constituents via polling or other means cannot possibly maintain all this testing is needed or desirable.
Will the Department of Education be able to continue to defend the tests?
At every working group meeting, someone in the room has pinned down State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria on what I think are vitally-important issues: First, what evidence does the department have to demonstrate the validity and reliability of the tests? Second, when are schools and districts going to get detailed item analysis from the tests?
I can empathize with Dr. DeMaria and the department on the latter -- I'm pretty sure it is up to the legislature to pony up enough money to make full item release / item analysis possible, and he has stated it is a matter of money, in the meetings. In my humble opinion, I think a straight "up or down" vote among the state board members would reveal a near-unanimous consensus that schools need and deserve the data. If what the board needs is a resolution from the Superintendent, through a member... will they get it?
On the former, I'm not a psychometric expert, so when such information becomes available it will take me some time to digest. (In meeting 4, Findlay High School Principal Craig Kupferburg repeated another member's previous request for data indicating validity and reliability from the department.) What I do know is that our teachers are teaching to the right standards, and the test-performance history of the class of 2018 -- statewide -- speaks for itself. What I do know is that we have ample data that suggests the online test(s) were more difficult than the pencil-and-paper ones. And what I do know is that the progression from PARCC test items / platform to AIR platform -- combined items to AIR platform / Ohio items is a textbook case of putting a 'moving target' in front of kids, then comparing the performance data in an apples-to-oranges manner.
What I don't know is how long the experts in the big building in downtown Columbus can continue to maintain the tests are fair, with the defenses they've mounted to this point, and all in the name of 'rigor.' I think it is time to level with everyone about the tests' limitations, and deal with the consequences.