As you may have read, in The New York Times or elsewhere, NYSED has dumped Pearson and awarded the contract for developing state assessments to Questar Assessments, a relatively small Minneapolis based company.
Some are viewing this as a great first step, but this is a stretch at best. We’ll get back to that. First the bright side.
According to NYSUT, the new agreement includes a “promise to involve New York teachers in every step of the test-development process.” This addresses a major complaint about these tests – that the questions are clearly not written by people who actually work with children.
With all the talk about “accountability” in education, it’s good to see the term applied in an authentic context. As Karen Magee said, “Pearson offered a bad product and today Pearson got fired. Teachers have called for this for years.” Pearson’s errors are legendary, and perhaps that will be at least one piece that will improve.
As many of us know, there is a world of difference between teachers being a legitimate part of the process vs. sitting teachers at the table just for the purpose of saying “there were teachers involved.” NYSED has never said that they agree with educator complaints (the questions are developmentally inappropriate, unnecessarily complex, or invalid measures of the standards), let alone that more teacher input would address these complaints. So there is much reason to be suspicious that bringing more teachers in will actually make the tests any better – NYSED still has final say over the test content.
And as far as errors go, Perdido Street School blog reports that Questar, as a company, is a mess, so we really shouldn’t be expecting better results. “Test scorers treated like cattle, imprecise scoring, managers who can’t answer scorers questions, scanning glitches, incompetent schedulers – sounds even better. Meet the new company for 3rd-8th grade testing. Sounds a lot like the old company, doesn’t it?”
And finally, let’s address the idea that this is a good first step. As many bloggers and writers have pointed out, changing vendors does nothing to actually change the laws that require students to spend time taking meaningless tests, force schools to narrow curriculum, and will result in good teachers losing their jobs. In fact, there is a reason to believe that it will have just the opposite effect. Mary Ellen Elia, the new State Ed. Commissioner, said at least some of the right things: “[She] hopes the new assessments will take less time, and that teachers will have access to their students’ results quicker so they can use the information to drive classroom instruction.”
But she also had this to say: “I am not a person who believes that children shouldn’t be tested. Life is one big test. We have to get to the point where people are at peace with that.”
Anytime someone answers a question that hasn’t been asked, you need to think about what the real purpose is. Nobody is saying that children shouldn’t be tested, but this allows her to position critics as being against all testing, as opposed to inappropriate high stakes tests. You can expect her to use this next Spring to attempt to undercut the opt-out movement. Watch for comments along the lines of “We’ve got rid of the company that was causing errors, we got teachers involved in the process, we’re releasing the data earlier, and we relaxed the gag order, so the only opposition to testing now comes form people who don’t think kids should take tests and teachers who don’t want to be evaluated.”
You can also expect her, or others, to use Pearson’s firing itself against us: “We fired Pearson because they weren’t doing their jobs, but teachers don’t want to be held to the same standard.”
This gambit will fail. Parents and teachers in New York are way smarter than that.