Sunday, April 10, 2011

CMS 'field tests' our patience

A one-question test on testing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

How many hours does a typical fourth-grader spend on tests in a year?

We’re talking assessment tests – End of Grade tests, National Assessment of Educational Progress tests – also known as the only tests kids tend to like more than parents.

Kids like the tests because they’re not graded, and because their teachers often don’t assign homework the night before so students can be test-fresh. Parents, however, range from fretful to impatient that the emphasis on these tests seem to be leaving less room on the chalkboard each year for other kinds of learning.

This week, some of those parents – along with many CMS teachers – are spitting paper clips with the administering of 52 new “field tests,” which are part of a program that eventually will supply another measure of how well teachers are contributing to student progress.

Parents threatened to pull students from the tests. Teachers complained about the time spent on them. Even some test-weary high school students threatened to muck things up by filling in wrong answers.

Enough, everyone seems to be saying.

But is it?

The field tests, called Summatives, will be given in subjects that are not covered by N.C. End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests, CMS says, which means that teachers can be better evaluated in most every class, not just the current 10 percent.

Plus, officials say, those tests will add only one to three hours of testing time per year for students – depending on grade.

Which brings us back to your one-question test: How many hours a year does a fourth-grader spend filling in the bubbles and such?

That number is 17, says CMS. Out of 1,035 instructional hours. That’s less time test-taking than some of us fourth-graders spent reading Sports Illustrated inside our textbook. (Sorry, Mrs. Berry.)

Except that 17 hours isn’t really what students lose to testing.

“It’s not even close,” says Jenn O’Kane Fenk, a teacher at Ardrey Kell High School and mother of a CMS elementary student.

What the 17 hours doesn’t include are those homework-less nights before and during testing days – or the intentionally light workload students get during testing days. It doesn’t include how some schools pretty much take the month of May to prepare for End of Grade tests – often at the expense of other subjects and topics.

It also doesn’t include the annual exhale near the end of the school year – the weeks of field trips and movies that fill the time after EOGs, when there isn’t a test to teach to anymore. I’m still trying to determine the educational significance my third-grader received from watching “Stuart Little” – twice – after EOGs were through.

Add to all that the new Summatives. “It pretty much kills your whole spring,” says Fenk.

Superintendent Peter Gorman and his staff say the numbers gained from the new tests are worth it – that they provide more precise insight into teacher performance. They have credibility here – the less talked-about CMS story this week is that the system again is a finalist for the Broad Prize, which rewards innovative, measurable achievement in urban school districts.

But Gorman and his staff also are data-driven people – and data-driven people almost always believe that more numbers are better than fewer numbers.

The rest of us? We appreciate the value of numbers, if they provide a sound and clear understanding of performance. But we know that even accurate numbers don’t measure all the other kinds of successes that come during a school year – a teacher’s well-timed nudge, the warm encouragement during a difficult moment. We worry that the more tests we have, the more evaluations are pushed toward uptown and away from the schools and principals, the teachers and parents.

CMS needs to make a better case of how more numbers will complement the classroom, instead of merely measuring it. Because the problem with numbers is that when you rely too much on them, a number is all our children seem to be.

32 comments:

John said...

Pete, Nice column. I agree, if CMS is going to add more testing then there should be a clear understanding of the gap they are trying to measure and they should follow up with a concise gap closure plan once the data is in and has been analyzed. I believe that the source of frustration is that they are testing for testing sake and that the results are not tied to or correlated to new changes.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher and parent, here is what the school system in this state is all about: test, practice test, practice test for the practice test, on and on. Everything is built around multiple choice testing. I would suspect that someone is making a lot of money selling testing materials (workbooks, practice books, test pencils) to the state. In the end, it goes back to politicians running the schools.

Anonymous said...

The CMS school board should be ashamed of themselves for rubber stamping everything this "leader" proposes. The tests we administered to the students last week were comical; embarrassing. Pete's two years in the classroom proves that those who cannot, become superintendents. Pete, you are lying to us about our salary, and we know it. The school board knows it, and more importantly, the parents know it.

Anonymous said...

CMS sayes that they are only adding 1-3 hours of testing. How about time to practice that test...my Community House MS student apparently finished learning Math after the 3rd quarter. At the beginning of the 4th, she began EOG practice, this is what she will do until test time.

Anonymous said...

How can a person who has lost the confidence and respect of his teaching staff continue to keep his job? Didn't he have similar results in California?

Ned said...

The bureaucratic class (the layers of analyst and middle manager patronage jobs found in any public sector agency) need something to do.

Their favorite method is to tell someone (who already has a 40-hr per week job) to go measure something in their spare time.

This gives the bureaucratic class something to talk about. Meetings will be had. Hands will be wrung. Powerpoints will soar.

And so will taxes.

Anonymous said...

The real problem with testing is that its focus is so narrow, and its results so overvalued. At best these tests measure a very shallow look at a very broad curriculum. They don't measure a student's ability to reason, to synthesize of to excel in college or the workforce. All assessment research says multiple measures are essential to determining both the success of the student and the teacher, but anyone who thinks that CMS is going to treat these tests that way are likely to be disappointed.
As a teacher facing these tests for the first time, I am going to need to abandon the tactics that I am told have inspired students for years, and revert to the drill and review necessary to do well on these tests. CMS will tell you that this is not necessary to get underperforming kids to succeed. But those people don't teach. And probably couldn't.

Anonymous said...

As a parent, substitute teacher, and a future teacher, I find all these tests ridiculous. I got the same comment from my seventh grader as I did when I asked a group of high school students (all of different grades) about these "field tests". Without telling them what anyone else had said, each one told me that most of the questions were about information they had yet to go over. Most knew that certain information was coming but didn't study it at length in the classroom. Yet.
Teachers most often must go over information in August and September that was covered the year before. Then toward the end of the year, teachers must get students ready for the end of year tests which are not really at the end of the year. Teachers also must deal with unacceptable behavior in the classroom and that takes away from instruction time as well as the mandatory days they must miss for in service time as mandated by the state. And Gorman wants to hold these teachers to a pay for performance structure? Add up all the time I have been in a classroom as a substitute and I have more experience than Gorman.
Let Chicago have him. Please.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget, we also give regular classroom tests and common assessments (need that data). As a CMS second-grade teacher, I spend A LOT of time testing. For a while, I was keeping a tally of how much time my class was actually sitting and just testing, and in one week they spent 3 hours testing! Seems a bit much for a 7-year old.

Anonymous said...

Parents threaten to pull kids from the tests?

This in itself is incredible but shows how the inmates now run the asylum and try to dictate school policy is this messed up pc age yet teachers are required to pass marginal students by the administraion too just to get rid of them.

The bottom line is the whiny parents and so called community leaders who blame others on their own shortcomings making for a double standards. This is a concept for certain failure because you can never ever please these whiners with pandering.

Its the liberal concept go awry and a bottomless pit. You cant appease the un-appeaseable and you need not try. Return to the old ways where the trained cetified licensed administrators and teachers are in control not the asylum inmates.

On another note when will this idiot newspaper change the pandering front page online? IT SUX. "All Things Charlotte"? Really? The DNC may argue with that non-inclusive moronic term. Change it to All Things America.

Wiley Coyote said...

I deal with data everyday. Mountains of it. Consumer products data delivered by the two largest companies in the industry, Information Resources and A.C. Nielsen.

It isn't necessarily the quantity of data, it's the quality and integrity of the data being analyzed where one gets the most accurate results.

Data can be spun to tell you pretty much any story you want it to tell, even using negative numbers spun into a positive light.

Even if the data garnered after testing is accurate, say from a student that didn't do well on an EOG, those numbers still don't tell you the capabilities of that student and whether the teacher was effective teaching him. My son is a perfect example.

Every year, we would have to go to the school and get his schedule changed to more challanging courses because CMS put him in classes THEY felt he should be in based on the previous years EOG tests.

I support evaluating teachers, but the way CMS is going about it with so much emphasis being put on tests is not the way to do it.

My son and others like hom who are smart kids but don't tests well will be a teacher's nightmare, especially since their livelyhood depends on how well their students perform.

Anonymous said...

" There's no separating adult interests from those of children. When teachers have control over what they teach, when they work in sane and supportive environments, when they are fairly paid for the work they perform, when they have provisions that allow them to take care of their families in times of need, this can only lead directly to improved educational experiences for children".-Ravitch_

Anonymous said...

We need to spend more time on education and less time on testing. As it stands, we are teaching to a test. The last 2-3 weeks of school, nothing is done. The first month of school, little is done.

Why spend money on testing at a time when class sizes are growing and schools are shutting down.

Peter, did you hear from Chicago yet?

carol said...

Your problem fails to address the de-motivation of high school students, especially boys, which is partially attributable to the teach-to-the test mentality. A lot of boys "smell a rat"when they get to middle and high school, and just refuse to apply themselves to the cat-and-mouse game that turns learning into a drone, instead of a meaningful, exciting experience. I suspect this is especially true for kids from tough neighborhoods, who find the learning experience irrelevant to life as they know it. The more effort that goes into preparing kids for tests, the less time and energy is available to creating a motivating learning experience. What is the cost to society of kids who never finish even a high school education? Very high indeed!

therestofthestory said...

"...But Gorman and his staff also are data-driven people – and data-driven people almost always believe that more numbers are better than fewer numbers..."

Hmmm, then why the angst not to stop Bright Beginnings, SS, and WSS?

pstonge said...

therestofthestory:

The numbers on Bright Beginnings are inconclusive us far, and remember, it was Gorman and staff who proposed the BB cuts. Most of the angst came from the school board and public.

Wiley Coyote said...

Bright Beginnings is a prime example of an entitlement bonanza that serves few people, has mixed to inconclusive results. Yet tens of millions of dollars has been spent on this black hole for a decade.

Politicians can't bring themselves to do away with it because it panders to their base and fear of losing votes is attached to it.

At least Gorman had the guts to state the facts and take it a step further by saying the state program based on BB wasn't much, if any, better.

Anonymous said...

I love how the 6th grade science test had questions on genetics, the female reproductive system, and pedigree. Those were very relevant questions.....for the 7TH GRADE. My 6th graders were tested on material that they won't even learn until NEXT YEAR!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I will be giving a district formative tomorrow and it will cover material that my students have not been introduced to. All of the material supposedly on the formative is covering end of course goals that are not covered during the first term of the two term course. This is a day of instruction lost. There are approximately seven weeks of instruction remaining and five goals to cover, plus re-loop and review. I need every instructional moment available to adequately prepare my students for their EOC. The district pushed summative and formative testing is getting out of hand. The questions are ridiculous and the results are useless.

Anonymous said...

Although CMS likes to say only a small amount of time is taken away due to testing, they are not giving the community the entire picture. I am a K-2 teacher in CMS who gave the summative last week. Yes, for each child it may have only added 20-30 minutes (with a max of 50 minutes), however, do you know who gave the tests? At our school we as teachers were pulled all day to give the tests to each kid individually. I spent the entire school day doing a read-aloud to kindergarteners. Who taught my class? A sub...did my kids lose instruction? YES!

Since data is so great I would like to see more data and research on the effectiveness of the board. Perhaps "Pete" as he likes to call himself in emails attempting to appear as our "buddy" would like to look into this type of data. Since people who have never stepped into a classroom evaluate us teachers, I propose people in the community who have no idea about running a school system should make evaluations to measure Pete and the board. Perhaps we could gain valuable insight into their effectiveness....maybe we will find that you should all be part of the budget cuts.

Teacher said...

Mr. St. Onge,
You only reported on 3-5 testing. The real crime is the number of hours spent testing in K-2. Those tests are administered one-to-one and the teacher must sit with the student and use a rubric to score the student's answers. Last week teachers spent an hour per child and a proctor had to be present. With 20-25 students in a class that is 20-25 hours of one-to-one testing. An incredible amount of teaching time has been lost in grades K-2!

Anonymous said...

How about the costs for the tests? 52 new tests that we are paying for some company to write AND grade. Millions upon millions of dollars we do not have at the moment. We are cutting GOOD teachers to make room to pay for these tests. How about trimming class sizes first? 41 in one of my periods and 39 in the other two do not allow me to be more effective as I cannot give any individual attention. These tests will probably show what I already know. It is hard to be effective while teaching shoulder to shoulder in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Pete, please address the statement made by an earlier poster in your next webinar: How can a person who has lost the confidence and respect of his teaching staff continue to keep his job?

Anonymous said...

No, we are going to cut experienced, higher-salaried teachers for the less experienced, mercenary group known as the Teach for America clan. Pete loves them. Why? A lot less money paid out by the system when these wannabees get next-to-nothing in salary.

Anonymous said...

Watching "Stuart Little" or any other mother can have an educational significance. Was your kid asked to summarize the movie so he can show his writing skills? Was he asked to rewrite a different end? Would he be able to name the characters and describe them? Relate the themes of the movie with another movie or his real life (adoption, bullying...)
As you can see, showing what it looks like a stupid movie can be more challenging and educational than a multiple choice test in which an averagely trained monkey could get a 60%. However, it is not till 10th grade that students will have a real written test, and then, magically their senior exit is expected to be at a college level...
Multiple choice= Not 21st century skill=Dumb people

pstonge said...

Anon 9:31: Those are excellent points about the educational possibilities that Stuart Little offered. But no, those weren't offered post-Stuart.

Anonymous said...

I think that "Pete" needs to go on to Chicago and let the teachers do the job that they went to school for. Seems like to me he doesn't care what the future for these kids are, if they don't get the education then they will not can not become anything they want to be when they grow up. If "Pete" had to live on a "Teacher's Salary" he would know how it feels to always having to fear of losing the few dollars they do have coming in. Live like alot of them have to "Pete", paycheck to paycheck & then see what you think!

Anonymous said...

Pete, Thank you for putting words to many of our fears. Having seen the formative test in action, I can tell you it consumed a lot of precious time. Dr. Gorman has said there is no money to give teachers even if they do perform well based on the summatives. If there's no money to reward the teachers than these tests can only be used to punish them.

Anonymous said...

"Pete" IS doing the job he went to school for. He doesn't have to worry about going "paycheck to paycheck." He was a very sought-after super, and Charlotte won his services after interviewing, bidding, begging, borrowing and wooing. The teachers went to school to teach, and TOO MANY are not doing a good job of it. unfortunately, "Pete" has to run the "business" of CMS. Reality: CMS is broke, and there are waaaaay too many "teachers" that are worthless, and waaaay too many students below grade level.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the point. Is it that there are too many tests or too little or that nothing is done after the testing is over? I understand the textbooks are taken up after the tests leaving nothing but movies. Figure out how many hours that is St. Onge and get back to us.

pstonge said...

Anon, 2:31: The point is that testing takes up too much time. Schools vary on how much they stop teaching after EOGs, so there's no number of hours that's definitive.

Thanks...

Anonymous said...

My 7th grader said the social studies test was very difficult and that he had not learned the subject matter. My 5th grader said the science test was much harder than other tests and that she had not been taught the information during the year.
What is the point of the tests? Is it to revise the curriculum?

BTW, CMS SCHOOL SYSTEM DOES NOT TEACH ABOUT EACH INDIVIDUAL STATE! If you don't believe me, call downtown-the states are not part of the curriculum.
4th grade-NC history
5th-early US
6th-Europe, South America
7th-Asia, Middle East, Africa
8th-NC history

How stupid are our children going to look when someone asks them to find Phoenix on a map? (well mine won't because I make them learn this information during summer break).