Wednesday, July 23, 2014

State fails for attempt to remove standard from tests Mark Guydish Commentary

February 19. 2013 7:36PM
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CALL IT THE de-standardization of standardized tests. When test results don't meet your goals and you can't change the tests, change the way you use the tests.

The most recent glaring example: Gov. Tom Corbett's attempt to change how state standardized math and reading tests were used to determine if charter schools meet mandated Adequate Yearly Progress goals. The details are obtuse; suffice it to say that, without required federal approval, the state changed how it uses test results to determine if charter schools meet AYP, and the system differed substantially from the one used for traditional public schools.

The move made it easier for a charter school to meet AYP. The Pennsylvania State School Boards Association determined that, statewide, 44 charter schools that made AYP under the new system would have missed the goals without the change (Bear Creek Community Charter School likely made AYP under either system).

Last week the federal department of education rejected the state's change, ordering it to recalculate AYP this year for all charter schools using the old system.

The notion of using standardized tests in two different ways to measure academic success for schools defeats the purpose of standardized tests (the state's logic, not detailed here, was semantically defensible but short on common-sense). Yet this de-standardization of how standardized tests are used has rapidly become the norm:

• Special education students must have Individual Education Plans that set goals for each student. Those goals may say something like The student should perform at grade level X regardless of what grade the student is in, setting a goal relative to the student's current performance and abilities. Yet the Federal No Child Left Behind Law requires that, by 2014, that same student perform at his/her actual grade level on the state math and reading tests. Even the state attempt to accommodate this has changed; one of two alternate tests for special needs students has been dropped.

• The state's new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program created an annual list of low-achieving schools. The state looks at total percentage of students scoring proficient or better in math and reading tests; if a school's performance is in the bottom 15 percent statewide, it lands on the list. It's utterly relative; theoretically, a school could exceed AYP goals and still be low achieving.

Say you're a salesperson. Your boss assigns you to a district with historically terrible sales results. To compensate, your boss says your goal is to increase sales by 5 percent. You do, and when you come back, he says you still have to meet the company-wide goal of 10 percent. You do, and the boss says everyone else increased sales by 15 percent, so you are now a low achieving salesman and all your clients have the right to switch to another sales rep.

And by the way, there is now a special class of charter salespeople (not you) who can each meet his/her 10 percent goal as long as just one client buys 10 percent more a year, regardless of how overall sales grow or shrink for that salesperson.

Crazy, right?

Welcome to the de-standardized world of Pennsylvania's standardized tests.

Mark Guydish can be reached at 829-7161

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