Severe Weather Protocol During State Testing

Here in Texas, it’s the start of tornado season as well as the start of high-stakes testing season, so it’s important for teachers to know what to do if the two events should overlap. (Source:

  1. Should a severe weather situation occur during testing, please remain calm. To display any kind of anxiety would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.
  1. Please do not look out the window to watch for approaching tornadoes. You must monitor the students at all times. To do otherwise would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.
  1. Should students notice an approaching tornado and begin to cry, please make every effort to protect their testing materials from the flow of tears and sinus drainage.
  1. Should a flying object come through your window during testing, please make every effort to ensure that it does not land on a testing booklet or an answer sheet. Please make sure to soften the landing of the flying object so that it will not disturb the students while testing.
  1. Should shards of glass from a broken window come flying into the room, have the students use their bodies to shield their testing materials so that they will not be damaged. Have plenty of gauze on hand to ensure that no one accidentally bleeds on the answer documents. Damaged answer sheets will not scan properly.
  1. Should gale force winds ensue, please have everyone stuff their test booklets and answer sheets into their shirts….. being very careful not to bend them because bent answer documents will not scan properly.
  1. If any student gets sucked into the vortex of the funnel cloud, please make sure they mark at least one answer before departing. And of course make sure they leave their answer sheets and test booklets behind. You WILL have to account for those.
  1. Should a funnel cloud pick you, the test administrator, up and take you flying over the rainbow, you will still be required to account for all of your testing materials when you land. So…..please take extra precautions. Remember…..once you have checked them out, they should never leave your hands.
  1. When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests, unless of course they have been through standardized test training.
  1. Please do not pray should a severe weather situation arise. Your priority is to actively monitor the test and a student might mark in the wrong section if you are praying instead of monitoring. I’m sure God will put war, world hunger, crime, and the presidential primaries on hold until after testing is over. He knows how important this test is.

Value Added Meets the Schools: The Effects of Using Test-Based Teacher Evaluation on the Work of Teachers and Leaders

The March 2015 issue of Educational Researcher was devoted to the perceived usefulness/uselessness (depending on the perceiver) of high-stakes testing. The issue contains multiple perspectives from teachers, principals, and education researchers. The abstract from the journal’s editors sets the tone for the issue:

Teacher accountability based on teacher value-added measures could have far-reaching effects on classroom instruction
and student learning, for good and for ill. To date, however, research has focused almost entirely on the statistical
properties of the measures. While a useful starting point, the validity and reliability of the measures tell us very little
about the effects on teaching and learning that come from embedding value added into policies like teacher evaluation,
tenure, and compensation. We pose dozens of unanswered questions, not only about the net effects of these policies on
measurable student outcomes, but about the numerous, often indirect ways in which these and less easily observed effects
might arise. Drawing in part on other articles in the special issue, we consider perspectives from labor economics, sociology
of organizations, and psychology. Some of the pathways of these policy effects directly influence teaching and learning
and in intentional ways, while other pathways are indirect and unintentional. While research is just beginning to answer the
key questions, a key initial theme of recent research is that both the opponents and advocates are partly correct about the
influence of these policies.

New Education Initiative Replaces K-12 Curriculum With Single Standardized Test

As the season of high-stakes testing hits America once again, we have one choice: cry or laugh.

The new test will reportedly cover all topics formerly taught in K-12 classrooms, including algebra, World War I, cursive penmanship, pre-algebra, state capitals, biology, letters of the alphabet, environmental science, civics, French, Newtonian mechanics, parts of speech, and the Cold War. Sources said students will also be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of 19th-century American pioneer life, photosynthesis, and telling time.

Officials said the initiative would also focus on improving teacher performance by tying teachers’ salaries to the test scores of the students they hand the assessment to.,38048/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=LinkPreview:1:Default

The Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Tests Are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used: An In-­Depth Critique of the Smarter Balanced Tests for Mathematics

My biggest critique of the Common Core is not the standard themselves — it’s the ham-handed way that publishers attempt to assess students’ knowledge. This recent article by Steven Rasmussen echoes these thoughts and is an utterly disturbing look into the way high-staking testing in mathematics is being implemented:


Here’s the introduction:

This spring, tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will be administered to well over 10 million students in 17 states to determine their proficiency on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). This analysis of mathematics test questions posted online by Smarter Balanced reveals that, question after question, the tests:
• Violate the standards they are supposed to assess;
• Cannot be adequately answered by students with the technology they are required to use;
• Use confusing and hard-to-use interfaces; or
• Are to be graded in such a way that incorrect answers are identified as correct and correct answers as incorrect.
No tests that are so flawed should be given to anyone. Certainly, with stakes so high for students and their teachers, these Smarter Balanced tests should not be administered. The boycotts of these tests by parents and some school districts are justified. Responsible government bodies should withdraw the tests from use before they do damage.

The full report is 34 pages long, giving example after example of horribly written test questions. This example was my personal favorite:

Question 2: A circle has its center at (6,7) and goes through the point (1,4). A second circle is tangent to the first circle at the point (1,4) and has the same area. What are the possible coordinates for the center of the second circle? Show your work or explain how you found your answer.

In Question 2, the test makers ask students to solve a geometric problem and show their work. In general, asking students to show their work is a good way to understand their thinking. In this case, would anyone begin the problem by not sketching a picture of the circles? I doubt it. I certainly started by drawing a picture. A simple sketch is the most appropriate way to show one’s work. However, there’s just one major issue: There is no way to draw or submit a drawing using the problem’s “technology-enhanced” interface! So a student working on this problem is left with a problem more vexing than the mathematical task at hand—“How do I show my picture by typing words on a keyboard?”

I highly recommend reading the report in its entirety.

Education is not Moneyball

I initially embraced value-added methods of teacher evaluation, figuring that they could revolutionize education in the same way that sabermetricians revolutionized professional baseball. Over time, however, I realized that this analogy was somewhat flawed. There are lots of ways to analyze data, and the owners of baseball teams have a real motivation — they want to win ball games and sell tickets — to use data appropriately to ensure their best chance of success. I’m not so sure that the “owners” of public education — the politicians and ultimately the voters — share this motivation.

An excellent editorial the contrasting use of statistics in baseball and in education appeared in Education Week: I appreciate the tack that this editorial takes: the author is not philosophically opposed to sabermetric-like analysis of education but argues forcefully that, pragmatically, we’re not there yet.

Both the Gates Foundation and the Education Department have been advocates of using value-added models to gauge teacher performance, but my sense is that they are increasingly nervous about accuracy and fairness of the new methodology, especially as schools transition to the Common Core State Standards.

There are definitely grounds for apprehensiveness. Oddly enough, many of the reasons that the similarly structured WAR [Wins Above Replacement] works in baseball point to reasons why teachers should be skeptical of value-added models.

WAR works because baseball is standardized. All major league baseball players play on the same field, against the same competition with the same rules, and with a sizable sample (162 games). Meanwhile, public schools aren’t playing a codified game. They’re playing Calvinball—the only permanent rule seems to be that you can’t play it the same way twice. Within the same school some teachers have SmartBoards while others use blackboards; some have spacious classrooms, while others are in overcrowded closets; some buy their own supplies while others are given all they need. The differences across schools and districts are even larger.

The American Statistical Association released a brief report on value-added assessment that was devastating to its advocates. ASA set out some caveats on the usage on value-added measurement (VAM) which should give education reformers pause. Some quotes:

VAMs are complicated statistical models, and they require high levels of statistical expertise. Sound statistical practices need to be used when developing and interpreting them, especially when they are part of a high-stakes accountability system. These practices include evaluating model assumptions, checking how well the model fits
the data, investigating sensitivity of estimates to aspects of the model, reporting measures of estimated precision such as confidence intervals or standard errors, and assessing the usefulness of the models for answering the desired questions about teacher effectiveness and how to improve the educational system.

VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.

VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.




Opting Out of High-Stakes Assessments

In response to the growing movement of parents who have opted out of high-stakes testing, Michelle Rhee wrote a defense of the (commercial) enterprise in the Washington Post. This op-ed piece was brilliantly deconstructed, point by point, at I encourage you to read the whole thing. A few excerpts:

[Michelle Rhee]: No, tests are not fun — but they’re necessary. Stepping on the bathroom scale can be nerve-racking, but it tells us if that exercise routine is working. Going to the dentist for a checkup every six months might be unpleasant, but it lets us know if there are cavities to address. In education, tests provide an objective measurement of how students are progressing — information that’s critical to improving public schools.

Except that the current crop of Standardized Tests are not like stepping on a scale or going to the dentist. They are like trying to find out a child’s weight by waterboarding him. They are like having your teeth checked by a blind blacksmith. Because, in education, tests NEVER provide an objective measure of anything, because tests are made by people. Yes, tests are useful– but only good tests. And do you know what good tests are useful for? They are useful for providing information critical to helping further the education of students.

I am not a Systems True Devotee. STDs believe that we just have to create a well-oiled precision machine and it will spit out Smarterer Student Products like toasters off an assembly line. I would stop to further develop the point, but we’re only one paragraph in. These woods are dark and deep, but we have miles to go.

From this diving board, That Woman proceeds to register her stunned amazement that in various places, there’s a movement that is convincing parents to pull kids out of these tests! Really!!! These marvelous tests that will tell us how schools are doing!! What in the name of God are they thinking!?!?!!?


[Michelle Rhee:] This makes no sense. All parents want to know how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom. Good educators also want an assessment of how well they are serving students, because they want kids to have the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Allow to help you comprehend this, O She. You are correct that parents and educators do want to know these things. Your mistake is in believing that they can only know this by looking at standardized test results.

Yes, the Great and Powerful Woman Who No Longer Has a Curtain To Hide Behind imagines a world where parents sit at home after eight months of school, wringing their hands and saying, “Oh, jehosephat, I wish we knew how Janey was doing in school. But we have no idea.” Meanwhile, at school, teachers sit and the lounge and say, “Yeah, I’ve been with this kid for eight months but I just don’t know how he’s doing. Thank God we’re going to be giving a high stakes high pressure badly written unproven standardized test soon so that I’ll know how it’s going.”

In That Woman’s universe, parents and teachers (sorry– public school parents and teachers) are dumber than dirt. In fact, the list of People Standing in the Way of Educational Excellence gets longer and longer. Parents, teachers, democratically elected school boards– reformy fans have an enemies list that keeps lengthening.



[Michelle Rhee:] We don’t need to opt out of standardized tests; we need better and more rigorous standardized tests in public schools. 

Yes!! When you’re doing something stupid and bad and non-productive, do it More Harder!!


[Michelle Rhee:] We also shouldn’t accept the false argument that testing restricts educators too much, stifles innovation in the classroom or takes the joy out of teaching. That line of thought assumes that the test is the be-all and end-all — and if that’s the perspective, the joy is already long gone. 

Here’s a multiple choice test for you, dear, exhausted reader. Select which statement best reflects the meaning of the above excerpt:

1) Do not assume that the test is the be-all and end-all. It will just be-all the way we decide to end-all teaching careers, school existence, and student futures.

2) You cannot claim that this year’s testing is sucking up all the joy of teaching, because we actually drained that lake long ago and killed the fish flopping in the mud with fire and big pointy sticks.