Archive for the 'Testing' Category

June
19th 2017
PARCC Rides Off Into the Sunset… On a Circular Track

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Education Politics & State Board of Education & Testing

It’s no secret that people don’t love Pearson’s PARCC tests. Even way back in 2015, states were practically tripping on themselves trying to get away from the unpopular test, which was originally designed to provide comparable results across state lines. That trend has continued, and only a handful of the original dozens of PARCC states remain. Now, it looks like Colorado is jumping ship. It’s about time. But are we really leaving PARCC behind? Or are we just witnessing a rebranding effort?

Colorado’s experience with PARCC has not been overly pleasant. For starters, and although there have been some improvements on this front, results have been slow to roll in despite promises from test-making giant Pearson Education that their technology would make those results available faster. It’s hard to do much with test scores that come in after the new school year is already in full swing. That makes it very tough to create buy-in on the part of educators, parents, or even education observers.

PARCC has similarly failed to convince students and parents of its value, and opt-out numbers have soared. Those opt outs are a serious problem for a number of reasons. First, they signal that the state is spending many millions of dollars on a testing instrument that parents and students do not see as valuable enough to use, particularly in certain grade levels. Second, they throw a serious wrench in the state’s accountability system. You know there’s an issue when you have to start flagging school and district accountability reports with asterisks for “low participation.” Finally, and more seriously, the unreliable data caused by the opt-out movement harms parents’ ability to make informed educational choices and adds fuel to the fire of the anti-reform movement.

There are many, many issues involved in Colorado’s current testing situation. But I remain convinced that one of the primary drivers of Colorado’s testing woes has been PARCC’s unpopularity. That’s why I was thrilled to see Independence Institute support a bill this year to remove PARCC from all Colorado high schools and replace it with a test that prepares students for and aligns with the SAT in 11th grade. That bill has since been signed into law.

Now, it looks like Colorado is taking similar steps in earlier grades. Thanks to a Colorado State Board of Education decision back in December, Colorado will soon move away from PARCC testing in grades 3-8 as it withdraws from the PARCC testing consortium. That should be cause for celebration for parents concerned about PARCC and a good catalyst to begin returning our focus to sensible accountability and testing. But don’t get too excited yet. Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2017
Say Bye Bye to High School PARCC Exams

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Governor & Testing

It’s been a while since we talked about PARCC. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to talk about. The test remains enormously unpopular—a fact that breeds high opt-out rates; limits student, educator, and parent buy-in; and fosters instability in our ability to measure schools’ performance and provide good information to parents looking to choose schools for their children. Now, thanks to a new bill at the legislature, PARCC will very likely be leaving Colorado high schools for good.

It’s hard to talk about PARCC-era testing without talking about opt outs. That subject can get complicated quickly. There’s a lot more going on with the formal “opt-out movement” than meets the eye, a lot of which is pretty concerning. But a good deal of the fuel for that particular fire comes from opposition to PARCC. Don’t believe me? Consider this (from a previous post on the issue):

I still believe PARCC—not the idea of standardizing testing itself—is a big part of the problem here. Americans overwhelmingly still support the idea of regular standardized testing, and this level of anti-testing angst didn’t exist back in the TCAP era. Don’t believe me? Check out the CDE graph from the last ESSA Hub Committee meeting below. Further, the heaviest concentration of opt outs is in older grades, with most lower grades meeting or nearly meeting the magical 95 percent participation threshold. One would expect to see a more even distribution of opt outs across grade levels if we were looking at a true cultural shift among parents overall. One might even expect opt outs to be higher among younger children whose parents are worried about “subjecting” them to standardized testing.


Colorado took a big step back from the PARCC hot potato in 2015 by ditching PARCC as the statewide test for high school sophomores and juniors. Instead, students began taking tests aligned with the 11th-grade college entry exam all Colorado juniors take. That test used to be the ACT before Colorado’s awkward switch to the SAT in 2015. Tenth graders now take the PSAT, which is designed to track with and prepare students for the full SAT in their junior year . As of right now, however, 9th graders still take the PARCC exam. A new bill, HB 1181, would change that. Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2016
Column Promotes Productive Conversations About Testing, Opt Outs

Posted under Accountability & Testing

It’s no secret that I am deeply skeptical of the opt-out movement and its true motivations. I worry that the movement’s leaders are pushing (or maybe have already pushed) us down a road that is ultimately designed to lead to less choice, less change, and less opportunity for students.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are legitimate concerns buried down in the opt-out conversation, and those concerns should be the focus of our conversation. As I’ve often said, we should be careful about using an unpopular testing instrument (PARCC) that has failed to deliver on its promises as a way to argue that no measurement is needed in the enormous government enterprise that is public education. Similarly, we can acknowledge the power and importance of providing parents, educators, and taxpayers with reliable, valid data on educational performance while still recognizing that there are major issues in the current accountability system that need to be addressed.

Sadly, I rarely see anyone attempt to find the reasonable middle ground in these conversations. Many folks are either vehemently opposed to everything or desperately trying to preserve the current system. That’s why I was so pleased yesterday to read a Chalkbeat op-ed from Eric Mason, Colorado Springs School District 11’s director of assessment. Continue Reading »

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October
14th 2016
High Opt-Out Rates, Accountability, and Choice

Posted under Accountability & Opt Outs & Testing & Union

It’s been a while since we’ve had to talk about testing and/or opt outs. I bet you’ve enjoyed that break as much as I have. Sadly, though, the break’s over. I saw an article this morning that I feel compelled to pontificate about, and so pontificate I shall. If the thought of another testing-related blog post makes you feel physically ill, I won’t judge you for excusing yourself now.

I opened my email this morning (yes, five-year-olds have email) to discover a story from Chalkbeat Colorado about how low state test participation rates have called school and district ratings into question. From that article:

State education department officials putting together the latest annual school quality ratings have flagged more than half of the state’s districts and one-third of its schools for test participation below the federally required minimum of 95 percent. The ratings are preliminary, and districts and schools may appeal before they are finalized this winter.

While districts that fell below that participation mark will not face negative consequences under Colorado law, state officials are urging the public to proceed with caution in considering ratings in places with high testing opt-out rates.

Some school leaders and advocates are crying foul, however, arguing that it’s irresponsible to rate schools based on incomplete data. Meanwhile, longtime critics of the ratings are seizing on the development to renew calls to reform the system.

In other words, low participation on state tests—largely driven by the opt-out movement—are making it difficult to see how, exactly, some public schools and districts in Colorado are performing. Continue Reading »

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September
21st 2016
What the Heck is Academic Growth, Anyway?

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Data & School Accountability & Testing

Growth is exciting. I love watching my mom and dad mark another notch on the wall every year, and it’s been crazy to watch my favorite little puppy grow into a full-size dog almost as big as me. Education wonks get excited about growth too, although the growth you often hear policy nerds talking about has nothing to do with how tall someone is and everything to do with how much academic progress he or she is making.

Academic growth sparked a wave of nerdy jubilation yesterday when the Colorado Department of Education (finally) released growth data for our viewing pleasure after the switch to the PARCC assessment. All those juicy numbers are just waiting for you to explore them—assuming, of course, you can successfully navigate the department’s notoriously terrible SchoolView site. For those of you who would rather peruse curated information presented in a more digestible way, Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia put together a helpful story that includes some interactive spreadsheets and charts. You should definitely head over there and see how your school and/or district stacked up.

Those of you expecting me to do a deep dive into the growth scores of various schools and districts are about to be disappointed. We’ll have to save that for another time. Those of you who have absolutely no idea what “academic growth” even means, on the other hand, are in for an educational treat. Continue Reading »

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August
26th 2016
2016 Ed Next Survey Data Released

Posted under Accountability & Educational Choice & Grades and Standards & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & Tax Credits & Teachers & Tenure & Testing & Union & Vouchers

If there’s one thing I look forward to most every year, it’s the release of new survey data on education opinions in America. I’m just kidding. I obviously look forward to Christmas most. But new survey data is a close second.

About this time last year, we were gleefully digging through the results of the 2015 Education Next and Gallup/PDK education surveys. The latter poll, you may remember, is not really one of my favorites when it comes to fairness and a general lack of bias. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if this year’s version is a little more credible. In the meantime, we can chew on the generally more convincing Education Next results for 2016.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Education Next poll, it gathers a nationally representative sample of adults (about 4,000 this year) and asks them questions about just about everything you could ever imagine related to education. There is tons and tons of useful, interesting information buried in this year’s results and the accompanying narrative summary and interactive graphs, but we’ll just focus in on the big stuff for today. Continue Reading »

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August
18th 2016
New School Year, New Assessment Data

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

As I mentioned last week, it’s back-to-school season in Colorado. As it turns out, it’s also get-your-test-scores-back season. Yes, that’s right. We have a whole raft of new data to dissect and discuss. Hooray!

I see you looking at your calendar, and I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t students take these tests like, last spring? Well, yes. Yes, they did. And you’re not the only one who finds the delay perplexing. As it turns out, that reporting lag causes some major problems for local school and district leaders looking to make adjustments for the new academic year. To make matters worse, the recently released PARCC scores only cover state-level data. That means district- and school-level data in English language arts and mathematics won’t be available until later this month.

In fairness, releasing the scores in August is significantly better than releasing them in, say, November. And I should mention that scores from the older TCAP tests were also released in August. Still, one of the promises of computer-based online testing was that it would get valuable data into the hands of educators faster. That simply hasn’t happened. Maybe the delay has something to do with the fact that 2015 testing compromise legislation added the option of taking a paper-and-pencil version of the test, but I’m not sure that explanation will do much to bolster support for the faltering PARCC assessments.

But we can save a discussion on the merits of PARCC itself for another time. We have data to look at, including data from Colorado’s own CMAS tests in social studies and science and from the venerable ACT. Continue Reading »

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April
7th 2016
Opting out of What, Exactly?

Posted under Accountability & Innovation and Reform & Opt Outs & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Testing & Union

It’s Thursday again, which (I think) still qualifies as a serious work day. I suppose that means we should do something that amounts to serious education policy-ing rather than just watching a video or something. Oh, stop looking at me like that. You like it when we get nerdy.

If the plan is for us to be serious today, we should pick a super-serious topic. And if we have to pick a super-serious topic, what could be better than opting out of statewide assessments? It is, after all, testing season in Colorado.

I was thinking about opt outs yesterday as I read a Politico article about a new push by the opt-out “movement” to diversify the people who participate. Or should I say who don’t participate? Whatever. The point is that they want the movement to be less white. More specifically, they’d like it to be less white and poorer.

Now why would opt-out folks want something like that? Continue Reading »

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March
25th 2016
Better Than TV: Senate Education Committee Gets Interesting

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Testing

I had a nice, easy (read: boring) education policy post planned for this fine Friday afternoon. Then I stayed out way past my bedtime to attend a Senate Education Committee hearing that turned out to be so wild and crazy and fantastically entertaining that I feel compelled to share it with you.

Those of you who have been reading my ramblings for a while probably remember how much time we spent talking about the Great Testing Debate of 2015, in which legislators from both sides of the aisle worked to scale back state testing. The debate ultimately culminated in a couple of legislative compromises (see here and here) that significantly scaled back testing, especially in light of further reductions made on the PARCC side of the equation.

But that doesn’t mean everyone was satisfied. A strange (and somewhat disturbing) mashup of hard-right conservatives and union folks want even deeper cuts—especially after ESSA’s passage created some additional state leeway on the testing front. Ninth grade has become the biggest focal point in that conversation, with SB 16-005 aiming to cut that grade’s test entirely.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on the policy ins and outs of SB 005 itself. My Independence Institute friend Ross Izard made clear last year that the Education Policy Center is supportive of a statewide assessment in 9th grade. I believe some statewide assessment at this critically important high school transition is valuable for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. I’m siginificantly less excited about that assessment being PARCC.

But who cares what I think? Let’s talk about the fun stuff! Continue Reading »

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March
10th 2016
New Study Examines Impacts of Evaluation Reform Across America, Findings Decidedly Unscary

Posted under Accountability & Research & Teachers & Testing & Union

You know that feeling you had when you were a kid and you got a new book? The excited rush to rip it open and start devouring it? Well, I’m that way with educational research. Some folks might say that makes me a “nerd.” Those folks would be right. Today I proudly embrace my nerdiness and present: Little Eddie’s Thursday Research Roundup.

Okay, “roundup” is probably overselling it a little. I actually just want to talk a single new study on teacher evaluation reform in America. The study, conducted by Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Vanderbilt University, takes a look at the effects of evaluation reform on teacher effectiveness ratings in 19 states across the country. It also digs into the issue a little deeper with surveys and interviews in a large urban school district. Continue Reading »

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