Opt-out Co-opted: One Blogger’s View

Education blogger Kevin Ohlandt of Exceptional Delaware just published a fascinating, and disturbing, post about how high-stakes tests were created to be terrible on purpose to generate push-back and to open the floodgates for charter schools and “personalized digital learning empires.”

Why Companies Like Achieve, Inc. Now Want You To Opt Out Of State Assessments

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/why-companies-like-achieve-inc-now-want-you-to-opt-out-of-state-assessments/

NOTE:  The non-profit Achieve, Inc., a corporate entity made up of financiers, academics, lobbyists, former lawmakers, and select state governors, is responsible for developing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to which Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test is aligned.  Here’s the Board of Directors’ roster. One notable member is Maryland State Board of Education Vice President Dr. Jim Gates, Jr.  One of Achieve’s main agendas is standards-based data-driven education. DATA attached to a person from kindergarten to college and/or the workplace!
“Longitudinal data systems should follow individual students from grade to grade and school to school, all the way from kindergarten through postsecondary education and into the workplace … states … must follow students through K–12 into postsecondary and the workforce and establish feedback loops to the relevant stakeholders to make informed decisions that improve policies and practices.”

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND MAGNET SCHOOLS

Read the Exceptional Delaware post and think about what’s happening in BCPS.  While we don’t have charters as the City does, we do have a rapidly expanding magnet-school program and Dr. Dance’s regional “supermagnet” concept, only outlined so far in a Sun editorial, resulting from a meeting between Dr. Dance and the Sun’s editors.

Exactly one month after publishing this editorial, the Sun highlighted BCPS’ magnet-school expansion.  According to the article, admission is  based on luck (lottery), and at least one new magnet is based on a business-school partnership, the new Northwest (as in Hospital) Academy of Health Sciences at Old Court Middle.  More disturbingly, the focus change at Old Court is part of Dr. Dance’s “rebranding” of the school:

“I had been looking for a way to rebrand Old Court,” he said, adding that the school has made progress in the last several years. “It’s hard to change the perception of Old Court. It just had this reputation.”

There is clearly value in preparing students for the workplace in a tough job market, however, considering the magnet expansion countywide, the article neglects to ask, “What happens to the comprehensive schools when the top students are siphoned off?”  This is exactly the question many in the City are asking about charter schools.

DITCHING HIGH-STAKES TESTS

As for moving away from high-stakes tests to testing all the time (Competency-Based Education or STAT), Dr. Dance has publicly recognized that PARCC is flawed and cannot be used to compare Lighthouse and non-Lighthouse Schools, an admission that STAT has not improved test scores.  BCPS will now use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) to monitor achievement:

BCPS has chosen to use the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) to monitor growth in achievement in reading and mathematics for students in Grades 1-8. MAP is used by over 5 million students across the country and allows comparisons to be made between the performance and growth of our students with their peers across the country. BCPS will continue to use the MAP results as indicators of student growth during this period of instability in the State assessment model (PARCC).

The PARCC comments and move to MAP were covered in the BCPS Follow-up to the Baltimore County Council on STAT.  This came after the May 2016 County Auditor’s Report on the BCPS budget (more on that here), which offered scathing comments on STAT’s exorbitant costs and opportunity costs.

Another blog post will be coming on MAP, as assessment developed by Portland-based Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).  NWEA believes in guiding instruction “using valid, reliable, and real-time data.”  Read about NWEA here.

Note that NWEA has a nearly $4-million 5-year contract with BCPS, which was drastically modified in June 2014, directly before STAT’s implementation: https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/061014_RGA-125-14%206%20Mod-Measures%20Academic.pdf

and that NWEA was a major donor to the State of the Schools (SOS) event held to benefit the school system’s Education Foundation, the primary mission of which is to FUND STAT. 

Conflict of interest?

In short, MAP, which is being used to “prove” STAT’s success (since PARCC apparently cannot), is not independent or objective, especially when one considers NWEA’s claim that “highly targeted, 1:1 instruction helps maximize student growth.” https://www.nwea.org/solutions/

Here are some distressing questions:

How much money, time, and effort have been put into PARCC?

How much instruction time and true learning have been lost to PARCC?

How many students and teachers have suffered because of PARCC?

Just to have the Superintendent of a major school system basically deem it a failure?