It Depends on What the Meaning of “Testing” Is

Bill wagging finger

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Lots of really good back and forth about NCLB testing and the federal opt-out over the past few days, in response to Matt’s posts. I just want to step in and point out something that seems to be getting lost in the discussion.

Testing of all students (other than those that get an opt-out) is not the only kind of NCLB-related testing. NCLB also required all states, for the first time, to participate in the Nation’s Report Card. NRC participation created the “academic transparency” Matt is looking for, but without raising any concerns about opt-outs, because it’s given to a representative sample of students rather than to all students. If you want to measure how states are doing at serving subgroups of students, this can be done by testing representative samples of those subgroups via the NRC.

My position is that the feds should not throw huge piles of money at schools, but if they’re going to do so (and it seems nothing can stop them) they can and should require the kind of “transparency” NRC provides without pushing states to test every child – and also without interfering with states’ ability to test every child in public schools if they wish to do so. Testing a representative sample of students provides “transparency” without forcing any particular child to take the test.

Unfortunately, the Common Core people have destroyed the bipartisan consensus for “transparency” of even the NRC kind, because now all testing has become suspect. Well done!

20 Responses to It Depends on What the Meaning of “Testing” Is

  1. But Greg under your plan the test makers won’t make enough money and how will Bureaucrats know who to blame?

  2. matthewladner says:

    Greg’s proposal, while increasing the risk of losing campus level comparable data, would make far more sense than the House bill, which basically kills campus level comparable data for the entire country in one fell swoop.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You could even get at least some useful data at the district level.

      Seems like testing a representative sample is something we ought to be doing regardless of what we decide to do about the other kinds of testing.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Also note: it’s worth asking whether the Feds have the same legitimate interest in building level data that states have. The Feds aren’t supposed to be micromanaging where and how states spend the money, right?

      • matthewladner says:

        The data that millions of parents are using on Greatschools is campus level data. There certainly is a huge value to having it. The vast majority of states had campus level data before NCLB, and if the House can’t do any better than ruining it everywhere I will take my chances with the states.

      • Greg Forster says:

        I’m with you there! A federal right to opt out is awful.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Matt, I keep repeating this request. Can you please explain why parental opt-out right anchored in the law was a non-issue is states like California or Washington throughout the last 15 years, but now suddenly it becomes such a threat that comparable data will now become “worthless.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        Rates of actual use of the opt-out will be much higher than they were before, thanks to the Common Core fiasco.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Precisely my point. The issue is not opt-out ability, the issue is the way Common Core was shoved down parents throats.

        Eventually we should remember that the government works for the people and not the other way around.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Yes, we should. But while we await the Eschaton, the way things are right now a federal opt-out will, in fact, have the effect of ruining state data. And it is clearly an example of federal interference in state responsibilities regardless of effect.

        Let’s make a deal. You decide what policies would work on Earth Prime, where Common Core didn’t happen, and the rest of us will keep talking about what works here on this version of Earth, where it did.

        Edit: Okay, just to be clear, the opt-out will ruin some state data, not all of it. But they have no right to do that. And to the extent that some data are ruined, all data loses some degree of usefulness for comparisons.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Sorry, Greg. It doesn’t work this way. If the feds don’t suffer for their stupidity they will have no incentive to cease and desist. Moral risk 🙂

        Incidentally, NAEP suffered for years from minor issues such as different fractions of special ed in different states getting accommodation or opting out, etc. Nobody argued that NAEP was therefore worthless … just the margin of error was a bit higher.

      • Greg Forster says:

        You’re going to make the Feds suffer for their stupidity by . . . giving them the power to set opt-out policy, i.e., giving them more power than they had before?

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        The government can’t set the opt out policy. The amendment is simple and sweet: “States shall allow the parent
        of a student to opt such student out of the assessments
        required under this paragraph for any reason and shall
        not include such students in calculating the participation
        rate under this clause.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        You had me at “states shall.”

      • matthewladner says:

        We will have neither reporting on the level of opt-out, nor the level of “strategic nudge out” so in essence all the data becomes suspect.

        “We tested our best performing kids, and they are all proficient!” is a new and creative way to meet that ill-considered 2014 100% proficiency deadline at least.

        We may as well get rid of standardized testing entirely rather than go to the expense and trouble of gathering in a fashion that makes it unreliable.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Actually, reporting opt out is perfectly OK. Just not counting it in the denominator for the 95%. Regs may even require reporting it, for all I know,

      • matthewladner says:

        Even if this were a well thought out proposal (which it clearly is not) reporting would be of limited utility as it would tell us nothing about staff induced strategic opt out.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        OK. By now I guess we must look like a dog with a bone to others. We are repeating ourselves.

        The cause of this amendment is Common Core that turns out to be hard to uproot even in states that want to do it. So this is the only “exit” option left to the parents, which to me seems as their right. Parents have the ultimate authority over, and responsibility for, their children. (Actually, there is also the nuclear option of parents instructing kids to intentionally fail on the tests that have no stakes for students, but let’s not go there).

        In principle this amendment does not change the status quo in the majority of states that already allow this practice in their state law or in their state practice (where the law is silent).

        You want to avoid people bailing out? Listen to them! Get rid of Common Core rather than fight for constraining people even more to do things against their will.

        The current ESEA re-auth bills promoters claim they will get rid of Common Core and of the federal push for nationwide uniformity. If they are right, nobody will care about the amendment. If they are lying to us, this is a good whip for parents to have.

        This is my last post on this thread.

  3. Ann in L.A. says:

    Wisconsin just passed an interesting law:

    >> Jagler became the lead sponsor of a little-noted bill that was approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed a few days ago by Gov. Scott Walker that calls for UW administrators to determine which public high schools (including charter schools, but not private schools) send into the UW system more than six graduates in any given year who need remedial math and/or English. <<

    It will make public the names of high schools that are failing to get their graduates past the remedial college level. It looks like it won't publish the full numbers, only which high schools have more than 6 graduates placed in remedial ed in state schools.

    What will happen when fully-Common Cored kids hit?

    • Greg Forster says:

      Common Core won’t last that long, at least in any meaningful form.

      The obvious thing to do in response to this law is to relabel all remedial courses as non-remedial. UW is strongly aligned with the blob and will not suddenly start helping the cause of reform simply because they passed a law pretending it will.

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