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Monday, August 12, 2013

Tests and Measurements

 Years ago my family was involved in an exchange program through the school district with people in Germany. My daughter was very young, in elementary school, when we traveled to Germany. She realized that the language was different and she couldn’t understand the written words, but at least the numbers used in the US and Germany were the same so that made her feel a little ...more comfortable. She was very excited about renewing our relationship with the German family we had hosted in our home the year before.

We landed in Munich and had to then travel by bus to Schwandorf. My daughter was anxious to see our friends but grew very disappointed when she saw the road sign along the autobahn that indicated that Schwandorf was 161 km away. She assumed that km was the German abbreviation for miles and reluctantly prepared for a longer trip than she expected. I explained that the Germans used the metric system to measure so the distance was actually 100 miles, not 161 because one of our miles was the same as the German’s 1.6 kilometers. That smaller number made her feel much better, even though the distance wasn’t different, just the form of measurement. One hundred miles seemed so much closer to her than 161 kilometers.

A similar misunderstanding can arise from conversions involving Fahrenheit and Celsius measurements of temperature. And, confusion can also occur when learners are measured by two different tests that have very different forms of measurements.

That’s how I would explain the results from the recent state assessments to parents of children in our district. The performance may not have been any different among learners from last year to this year, but the form of measurement was. Unfortunately, we haven’t been told of the exact conversion method, just the results. The state elevated standards (and lowered expectations when our Commissioner of Education forewarned people of the potential for a significant drop in scores based on the results in Kentucky when that state also changed to the same test) and it appeared that learners were very deficient. They essentially recalibrated the measurement and that prompted a steep decline in outcomes. It's like they went from kilometers to miles and it seems like a big drop in performance.

When you recognize that the test was based on Common Core Learning Standards that have not yet been fully provided to teachers, nor have teachers in the state received supportive instructional materials or textbooks aligned with the Common Core, you can understand the ensuing chaos. As you may have noted in media reports, all schools experienced significant decreases in test scores (most had proficiency rates of less than 50% - including the schools traditionally at the top of performance levels on state tests last year with 80 - 90% proficiency levels).

Our results were disappointing but we should not be alarmed about the performance of our learners. Their progress should not be compared on two separate tests, this year’s and last year’s, which are very different in their construction and standards. We will maintain our course of action and exercise the strategy we have developed, despite the test results. With additional training and the expectation of learning materials becoming available and the curriculum to be completed at the state level, we expect that our learners will progress.

Please be patient and understanding as we sort through the tangled policies and practices imposed on public schools throughout New York. We remain committed to nurturing the dreams and sustaining the hopes of our learners as they invent their futures in a small school with BIG ideas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Enough Said

Singer Tony Bennett swooned over leaving his heart in San Francisco but Tony Bennett, the former State Commissioner of Education in Florida, crooned a different tune when it was revealed that he left his grading scandal in Indiana. As a result, Tony Bennett the former head of education in the sunshine state leaves his post with a dark cloud over his head, and, as a consequence, the bevy of people and policy makers who trumpet the need to use high stakes tests as accountability measures to assign grades to schools and teachers.

Here’s an article from the Tampa Bay Times for the specifics: