CURMUDGUCATION: New Test Rules: Old Baloney

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: New Test Rules: Old Baloney

New Test Rules: Old Baloney

Yesterday, John King unveiled the Department of Education’s final rules for testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act, aimed at spinning the continued emphasis on the Big Standardized Tests. Jennifer C. Kerr of the Associated Press signals that she bought the PR and fumbled the story with her very first sentence:

Aiming to reduce test-taking in America’s classrooms, the Obama administration released final rules Wednesday to help states and school districts take a new approach to the standardized tests students must take each year.

If the Obama administration has ever done anything that was truly aimed at reducing test-taking, I have apparently forgotten all about it. The Obama administration increased the weight of standardized testing by using Race to the Top and RttT-lite waivers to double down on high stakes for testing. After a few years of realizing that the public was pushing back hard, they tried in both 2014 and 2015 to pretend that they had an “action plan” for cutting back on testing. This included some meaningless suggestions for how much time should be spent on testing, and a recommendation that schools cut back on all the other tests that weren’t the Big Standardized Test.

This administration has stayed resolutely in the Cult of Testing, and they have not backed away a single inch in eight years. These new rules are no different.

King gives the AP a big fat slice of baloney right off the bat:

Our final regulations strike a balance by offering states flexibility to eliminate redundant testing and promote innovative assessments, while ensuring assessments continue to contribute to a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

“Continue” is a great word, since it assumes a fact not in evidence– that BS Tests have been contributing to a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing. They haven’t. They don’t. And there’s no actual evidence that they measure anything useful (though plenty of evidence that they don’t). Then King gives us this gem:

Smarter assessments can make us all smarter.

Yes. And weighing the pig makes it heavier. And measuring your children makes them taller. And staring at a picture brings it into focus.

The softball reporting continues as Kerr writes

The idea is to focus more time on classroom learning and less on teaching-to-the test — something critics complained the administration had encouraged with grants and waivers that placed too much of an emphasis on standardized testing.

Whose idea is that, exactly, and how is it part of the rules? The suggestion in the USED PR is that an $8 million grant to Maryland and Nebraska is kicking off a new trial run for assessment innovation (Fun fact: Chester Finn, former head of the Fordham Institute and longtime conservative reformster, was just elected vice president of the Maryland Board of Education). This is part of the grant program that will allow up to seven states to try new and improved testing over five years. It looks kind of like chump change, but if corporations interested in piloting competency-based learning style assessment systems decide to get involved– well, this is an open door that already has companies salivating.

Also, as expected, the states may replace one of the BS Tests with some other already-on-the-market test like the SAT or ACT. Sure, those tests were designed for completely different purposes and there’s no reason to think they’ll be an accurate measure of all student or school achievement, but hey– neither is the PARCC, so why the hell not? If it’s a standardized test, and you’ve heard of it, then it probably is a perfect assessment tool. Weighing the pig makes it heavier, and it’s okay if you weigh it with a yardstick.

Oh, and the rules include no cap on time spent on testing because A) the cap idea was ridiculous, mostly because bureaucratic eduwonks pretend not to understand what test prep really is, B) it would interfere with competency-based personalized learning, which will feature standardized assessment every single day and C) nobody has paid caps the slightest attention, since they are the easiest rule to cheat on when you want to avoid the “punish” part of “test-and-punish.” Kerr helpfully throws in the Council of Great City Schools’ bogus figures on how much time is spent, failing to note that CGSC is a long-time member of the Cult of Testing.

So in short, here are your bullet points:

* The new rules on testing are just like the old rules, except for the parts that are worse.

* USED has once again successfully convinced major news outlets like the Associate Press to just run USED PR without questioning or challenging anything the department has to say.

In short, life should not improve for the pigs, whether we’re feeding them, weighing them, or putting lipstick on them.

CURMUDGUCATION: What Do The Tests Measure?

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: What Do The Tests Measure?

What Do The Tests Measure?

Christopher Tienken (Seton Hall) has solved a mystery.

Along with Anthony Colella (Seton Hall), Christian Angelillo (Boonton Township SD), Meredith Fox (Nanuet Union SD), Kevin McCahill (George W. Miller Elementary) and Adam Wolfe (Peoria Unified SD), Tienken has once again answered the question— what do the Big Standardized Tests actually measure?

Put another way, Tienken et. al. have demonstrated that we do not need to actually give the Big Standardized Test in order to generate the “student achievement” data, because we can generate the same data by looking at demographic information all by itself.

Tienken and his team used just three pieces of demographic data–

1) percentage of families in the community with income over $200K
2) percentage of people in the community in poverty
3) percentage of people in community with bachelor’s degrees

Using that data alone, Tienken was able to predict school district test results accurately in most cases. In New Jersey 300 or so middle schools, the team could predict middle school math and language arts test scores for well over two thirds of the schools.

I suppose some folks could see this as good news (“Cancel the PARCC test and don’t pay them a cent! We can just fudge our test results by plugging in demographic data!”) but I’d characterize it more as frightening, given that ESSA continues to demand that teachers and administrators and schools be judged based on test scores (generally under the euphemism “student achievement”) and if those test scores can be fudged based on data having nothing to do with what actually goes on inside the school, then a whole bunch of careers and funding are riding on things that have nothing to do with schools.

This is also one more reason that any future teacher (there are, I hear, still one or two out there) who is paying attention should know better than to take a job in a poor neighborhood, where anything from her professional standing to her future career is liable to be trashed by the demographics of her neighborhood.

There are other conclusions to be drawn here, not the least of which is that you are in one of those A-F school rating states, the best way to change your school’s grade is to change your demographics (aka turn into a charter and recruit students from outside your old neighborhood).

Make sure to read this report and pass it on. It has been peer reviewed, it is legitimate research, and it does raise huge red-flaggy questions about the validity or usefulness of the BS Tests. At the very least you can be asking your state and national policy leaders, “If we can generate the same data by just analyzing demographics, why are we wasting time and money on these tests?”

In the meantime, here’s an oldie but a goodie from Tienken, in case you like your explanations more video style.

Wayland Union Schools receives FIRST Grants

December 8, 2016

Wayland Union Schools, MI – Wayland Union Schools was awarded $8,750 in grant funds by the Michigan Department of Education for their FIRST Lego and Robotic Teams.

The District now has a total of three teams:  FIRST Lego League (FLL) at Pine Street, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team at the middle school and the FIRST Robotics Team at the high school.  This is the first year for FLL and FTC and year two for Robotics which received the Rookie of the Year award last season.

FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international organization that holds more than 2,600 events worldwide.  They have four programs for various age groups.

The FIRST Lego League Team at Pine Street is coached by Kelly Boston, Media Specialist at Pine and WMS. Their competition was held on November 19. They received 2nd place for Innovation Solutions to find ways to help the declining bee population.

Wayland Middle School’s FIRST Tech Challenge team, FTC Catatechnics, is coached by WMS teacher, Michelle DeYoung-Foster.  They had their first competition on December 3rd in Allendale and will compete again this Saturday, December 10th at East Kentwood High School against other middle school teams.

The high school’s FIRST Robotics team #6090 has around 25 members this year and is coached by Keith Kohtz, a WUS parent and community member.  They will compete in March of 2017.

All teams have volunteer mentors and spend many hours preparing for competition. Students learn important S.T.E.M. skills, problem solving and team building.

For additional information about FIRST Robotics, please visit


*Please note my email address has changed to

Laurie ZywiczynskiDirector of Community Relations
Wayland Union Schools

269-792-2281 ext. 2811

MI GOP continues attacks on public school employee unions

​The Michigan House Commerce Committee recently passed bills which attack labor unions in three ways:

  1. Prohibit local school districts and unions from jointly negotiating to include paid union release time in collective bargaining agreements (SB 280)
  2. Prohibit the union from paying into MPSERS for employees on union release time or for those employees to get retirement service credits for time on release (SB 279)
  3. Ban community colleges from collecting union dues through paycheck deduction from those who choose to be union members (SB 279)

The Michigan House could vote on this bill at any time.

Please write an email to your state representative NOW and ask them to oppose these bills.

While this is a blatant attack on unions, it’s important that legislators understand that this will hurt the school environment, and directly impact our students. Please emphasize in your emails and conversations with legislators that union release time is about improving the school environment and resolving issues as efficiently and effectively as possible.

To deepen your impact, please click here to look up your state representative’s phone number and call their office now.

Some background information on the bills:

  • Senate Bill 280, introduced by Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), would prohibit public employers from negotiating with their employees’ unions to include release time in collective bargaining agreements.
  • The bill casts a wide net to severely inhibit the ability for labor and management to work collaboratively to improve teaching, learning, and the school environment.
  • Public schools benefit when labor and management are able to communicate and collaborate. The fact that some collective bargaining agreements include union release time is evidence of this.
  • Currently, union release time exists only where the school board and administration have deemed it productive and more cost-effective to have personnel dedicated to resolving labor issues.
  • Senate Bill 280 was amended in the House Commerce and Trade Committee at the behest of Rep. Gary Glenn, the Mackinac Center, and the Michigan Freedom Fund to prohibit community colleges from deducting union dues from employee paychecks. The cost to employers for deduction of union dues is negligible. This legislation is merely an attempt to limit the ability of local unions to function.
  • Senate Bill 279, also introduced by Sen. Knollenberg, will prohibit local union officials from earning MPSERS service credits while they are released to work on labor activities, regardless of whether they pay into the system.
  • The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates this will cost the MPSERS system $900,000 annually.

Please click here to send an email to your legislators now.

In soldarity,

Julie Rowe, American Federation of Teachers

P.S. Our victory in stopping the attack on MPSERS is because of our nearly 15,000 emails and thousands of phone calls made to legislators. We must stand up to this attack, too — click here to send an email.

National leaders must share vision: Every public school student can succeed regardless of zip code

Our public schools are the place where we prepare the nation’s young people to contribute to our society, economy and citizenry.  It’s a tall task. So we expect our elected leaders and policymakers, regardless of political affiliation, to fundamentally believe in and value a strong and inclusive public education system that ensures every student can succeed, no matter their ZIP code.

Unfortunately, with the recent nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, the nation is entering dangerous, uncharted territory.

For the first time ever, our Secretary of Education could be an anti-public education activist whose sole “qualification” for the job is the two decades she has spent attempting to dismantle, destabilize, and defund the American vision of public education.

That’s why, together with the American Federation of Teachers, we’re calling on Betsy DeVos and political leaders at every level to commit to a public education system that welcomes students of all backgrounds, identities, origins, and abilities.

Will you help us issue this call?

Sign our open letter. Declare your commitment to a public education system that opens doors to all, and demand that our Secretary of Education and elected leaders make that commitment too.

By signing this letter, you’re sharing in the vision that student success should not depend on living in advantaged circumstances, getting accepted by a private school, or winning a charter school lottery.

Betsy DeVos has championed every kind of scheme to dismantle this vision. Not only do these divisive policies not work, they actively harm our most vulnerable students by ignoring and exacerbating glaring opportunity gaps. 

Act now and sign on to this letter today. Your voice will make a difference!

Thank you for stepping up to protect public education, the bedrock of our democracy. And thanks for everything you do.

Lily Eskelsen García
National Education Association

Shut the door! The revolving door!

Tell congress to close shadow lobbying loopholes.

When it comes to the money being spent to influence our politicians, we don’t know the half of it. A recent study suggests that the lobbying industry is at least twice as large as official reports claim, because insiders and government officials are using loopholes to avoid being classified as lobbyists.1 These “shadow lobbyists” are using their influence to sway public policy — we just don’t know about it.2

We need to speak up now to close loopholes used by shadow lobbyists. Tell Congress to act.

In Washington it’s called the revolving door — that’s when public servants leave office and turn around to lobby former coworkers on behalf of the special interests. The Obama administration has taken steps to close the revolving door by putting in place a ban on lobbying after leaving government, but loopholes make that rule easy to avoid.3

Here’s just one example: a former top Obama official who helped develop net neutrality rules now advocates against those rules for the mobile phone industry.4Because of loopholes in our ethics laws, he never disclosed that work to the public.

If we want to reduce the influence of special interests, we have to crack down on shadow lobbying. That means closing loopholes that allow former officials to exert influence on public policy without registering as lobbyists. We also need to extend the ban on lobbying after government officials leave office, to ensure the access gained while in public service isn’t used to benefit special interests.

Will you tell Congress to crack down on special interest influence and shadow lobbying?

The new Congress needs to know: it’s time to give our ethics rules real teeth that will put an end to the shadow lobbying industry. By closing loopholes, we can make serious progress towards reducing the influence of special interests in our federal government.

Ask Congress to stand up to the special interests and end shadow lobbying.

Thank you for speaking up,

Andre Delattre, 
U.S. PIRG Executive Director

1. Andrew Prokop, “Billions of dollars are spent on lobbying that we have no idea about,” Vox, December 17, 2014. 
2. Thomas Edsall, “The Shadow Lobbyist,” The New York Times, April 25, 2013. 
3. Josh Gerstein, “How Obama failed to shut Washington’s revolving door,” Politico, December 31, 2015. 
4. Ibid.

Michigan lawmakers planning to use School Aid Fund to process tax refunds leaving local districts short

URGENT – Call lawmakers to stop $400M hit to school funding!

Dear Jeffrey,

As MEA reported last week, a new threat has come up in lame duck which could cost schools more than $400 million next year.

Being billed as a “technical fix” to how tax refunds are paid, this legislation (which has yet to be formally introduced) would use a back-door way to drain school dollars to help pay for tax refunds. Right now, if you get a tax refund, it is paid from General Fund dollars only — the School Aid Fund has been protected from being used for this purpose. This is a way to raid the SAF and take money from our kids without it being obvious. The per district cost would be $273 per student next year alone!

Pressure is mounting by legislative leaders on State Representatives to pass this in lame duck. We need to contact State Representatives immediately and urge them to oppose this cash grab from our students. Lame duck isn’t the time to address tax policy, and lawmakers should not sneak through huge cuts to school funding.

To help with your lobbying, see what this new School Aid Fund raid would cost your district in this MEA breakdown of the damage.

Why make this change? Just like when lawmakers started to pay for higher education out of the School Aid funds meant for K-12 schools, they want to tap into school funding to pay for other things. The GOP agenda of aggressive tax breaks has left the state cash-strapped and some lawmakers see the SAF as an attractive pot of money.

Thursday’s Update: What’s the bill number for the “tax refund technical fix” threat to school funding? NO ONE KNOWS!

Yesterday, we encouraged you to contact lawmakers about a new threat to school funding that could cost upwards of $400 million next year because of a “technical fix” to how tax refunds are paid.

Many of you emailed to ask what the bill number is and if we had any specific legislative language to share. The answer is, “We don’t know — and neither do most lawmakers.”

In a procedural move common for lame duck, those pushing this change intend to substitute language (which they’ve yet to share publicly) into another bill that’s already under consideration by the Legislature. Use of such a “vehicle bill” allows for the concept to move more quickly through the legislative process.

However, even with the absence of specific information, contacts to lawmakers about how much this “technical fix” will cost local schools is having an impact in Lansing and has slowed those pushing the change from even introducing the new language.

Your MEA-Retired Leadership Team

To find your state legislators go here: