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Tag: standardized tests (Page 1 of 2)

3-2-1 For 1-8-17

Three readings worth your time this week.

End of year retrospectives can be tedious and, in the case of 2016, rather depressing. However, Planet Lab’s review of their favorite satellite imagery from the past year is beautiful and the pictures tell some interesting stories. (about 5 minutes)

dana boyd, who has made a career of trying to understand teenagers (and who really does spell her name with no caps), asks Did Media Literacy Backfire? in a recent essay. I disagree with about half of her analysis, especially concerning her implication that we must empathize with people who willfully choose to remain ignorant, but she does make some good points. The piece is worth a read. (about 10 minutes)

I often wonder how many of the education reformers who love standardized tests could actually pass one of them. After all, most of the knowledge and skills students are asked to recall are not required in adult life. But you know these exams are really out of touch when a writer is unable to answer the questions based on her poems. Her analysis is amusing, in a weird sorta way: “Texas, please know, this was not the author’s purpose in writing this poem.” (about 10 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

The BBC World Service has a new podcast about 50 things that made the modern economy. Sounds dull but it’s actually a wonderful series of short stories about technologies we take for granted that have had a big impact on our lives. It’s not necessary to listen in order so try out the series with their episode on the iPhone, which is actually about how government research has found its way into almost every part of every smartphone. (8:58)

Speaking of the economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been bouncing close to the 20,000 mark this week. And, according to the folks at Planet Money, that so-called “milestone” is completely meaningless. In this segment, they explain in simple language why “The Dow” offers little or no information about how the American economy is doing, and why you can and should ignore all the breathless reporting on that number. (17:40)

One video to watch when you have time

Considering their huge audience, you may have already seen this latest video from OK Go. But on the off chance you haven’t, enjoy not only a good song but also the amazing extreme slow motion effects that accompany it. The group has always had a wonderfully geeky (not to mention messy) visual style, so if you like this, explore YouTube to find more of it. And check out the making-off video to understand the complexity of those four minutes. (4:12)

Question The Numbers

The PISA results for 2015 were released this week. US students were ranked below the average of other countries. And their scores dropped from 2012, the last time the test was administered.

Cue the panicky headlines!

The stories, of course, are largely written by news staff who barely know what PISA stands for (Programme for International Student Assessment) and who have probably only read the executive summary. The stories I’ve read barely bothered to report precisely what the test was assessing (other than math, reading, and science) or none questioned whether it was a valid assessment.

On the other hand, Yong Zhao is someone who understands PISA and and other standardized testing systems, and he asks three questions that should be essential for anyone trying to put these numbers (or those of any standardized test) in context.

Does it accurately measure what matters?

How does it assess skills needed for an uncertain future with such certainty?

Does its results in reading, math, and science accurately capture the domains of expertise each individual needs for successful participation in the future society anywhere in the world?

Although Zhao’s reaction to the PISA results for the Post’s Answer Sheet blog is a little convoluted in trying to tie these test results to the failure of polling to predict the recent elections in the US and UK, he does finally arrive at the cautionary conclusion all those headline writers should have reviewed before pushing publish on their stories.

PISA’s confidence in the predictive power of its assessment also comes from the past. The subjects it chose to assess — science, reading, and math — have long been believed as important for success in life all over the world. They have been the core subject matter schools teach worldwide with the belief that they are essential for living in the modern age. But will these subjects turn out to help today’s 15-year-olds some 10, 20 or 30 years later? Are they the right candidates for all people in the future, or might different individuals need different sets of skills and knowledge?

PISA not only tries to use its test results in these subjects to predict what skills and knowledge 15-year-olds will need to succeed in the future, it also disseminates, based on these scores, education policies and practices it believes will equip children with these skills and knowledge. It has the potential to affect the livelihood of hundreds of millions of children, hence the entire world.

The consequences are serious. The stakes are so high. Therefore, we must question the quality of the PISA results before eagerly jumping to conclusions. Don’t read too much into it.

Whenever someone collects a large pile of data, especially about kids, question the numbers.

Compared to What?

From Seth Godin’s blog today.

The easiest way to sell yourself short is to compare your work to the competition. To say that you are 5% cheaper or have one or two features that stand out–this is a formula for slightly better mediocrity.

What about a school comparing itself to others using average scores on standardized tests? Or worse, the numbers of students who simply took a particular test?

American education policy sells kids short, aiming for a mediocrity of the lowest common denominator for them, instead of searching for Godin’s magical unicorn.

Playing Calendar Games

Offered without comment:

Several prominent Virginia superintendents [including ours] are pushing the state to give standardized tests months earlier in the school year, a shift they say would reduce the impact of testing on classes and free teachers to offer more meaningful lessons. [emphasis mine]

Ok, maybe just one.

Why not just go straight to those “meaningful lessons”, the “key 21st century skills that are linked to college and career readiness”, and the “hands-on kind of learning they’re great at”, and cut way back on excessive and incredibly wasteful, one-size-fits-all testing programs? Do that instead of playing games with the damn calendar.

Incidentally, that last paragraph should be screamed, not read.

Still Not Much Value Added

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last month preliminary results from a study sponsored by the Gates Foundation were released that seemed to support the validity of using a “value added” system to evaluate teacher quality.

This month, someone else looking at the same data came to a very different conclusion.

But Economics Professor Jesse Rothstein at the University of California at Berkeley reviewed the Kane-Cantrell report and said that the analyses in it served to “undermine rather than validate” value-added-based measures of teacher evaluation.

“In other words,” he said in a statement, “teacher evaluations based on observed state test outcomes are only slightly better than coin tosses at identifying teachers whose students perform unusually well or badly on assessments of conceptual understanding. This result, underplayed in the MET report, reinforces a number of serious concerns that have been raised about the use of VAMs for teacher evaluations.”

“A teacher who focuses on important, demanding skills and knowledge that are not tested may be misidentified as ineffective, while a fairly weak teacher who narrows her focus to the state test may be erroneously praised as effective.”

So, who’s right? This being education research, it probably means neither and both.

However, there’s one question that never seems to be addressed in all this research about teacher quality.

Are constant waves of standardized, mostly multiple choice exams – accompanied by a narrow school focus on test prep – the best way to improve student learning?

I’m gonna vote no.


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