Embedded Assessments = Testing All the Time

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ushered in a wave of damaging high-stakes standardized testing.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its emphasis on “innovative assessments” will create, as this 12/1/16 Washington Post article describes, a new threat from embedded assessments.

The New Standardized Testing Craze to Hit Public Schools

A recent piece from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, asks if it’s Personalized Learning or Continuous Online Testing?

Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.”

Embedded assessments are at the heart of digital competency- (or mastery-) based education (CBE). The BCPS STAT initiative is CBE.  It’s the delivery of education via software. Glitchy flawed test-phase programs like iReady, Middlebury, and Ascend Math — all described below — seem meant to replace the teacher, not provide another tool for the teacher to practice the art of teaching.

When BCPS students and parents are not allowed to see the assessments, how can they  assess where “mastery” of a concept or standard fell short?  If schools are deterring parents from actively participating in their children’s education, there’s a problem.

At a 2016 media event at Greenwood, Dr. Dance discussed embedded assessments — for some of them, instruction time isn’t stopped and students don’t even know they’re being assessed:

Baltimore Sun:  Dallas Dance talks about school assessments

This recent piece by local (and national) journalist and BCPS parent Joanne C. Simpson reveals how embedded assessments are being used in our school system.

{Note: Due to problems downloading the contracts noted below, the actual links are offered at the end of this article; copy/paste the links into a browser.}

The Computer Just Graded My Test, and Gave Me a C

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is a new education fad that emphasizes ongoing online/computer-based assessments and testing. The question is: What percentage of software-delivered lessons and testing will go on at BCPS–and how much will screen time increase–especially in the next year or two as STAT (the laptop initiative) is set to spread to all grades.

Few seem to know that computer-embedded assessments are already being used in BCPS classrooms–for diagnostic, formative and summative (the graded kind) of assessments–a running tally of $12 million in recent spending authorities, and counting.

The following BCPS Board of Education-approved spending authorities for contracts are mostly aligned with STAT. This information has been pulled together, and now seems a good time for parents to know what’s around–and to determine how well these offerings work so far.

One program is iReady/Curriculum Associates, which is used primarily in elementary grades. Read more about problems with iReady here.

BCPS just tripled the spending authority to $1.2 million. Teachers I’ve talked to at BCPS are finding lots of problems, such as iReady not really differentiating learning for each student as advertised. Other feedback? Contract spending authority info here.

Another is Kahoot, a game-based model that ranks students against each other on screens at the front of the room, yet has no evidence of positive learning outcomes. (It also rewards speed above all.)

Others are Padlet and Quizlet (formative, for feedback). And the testing–and grading–of students is already happening via screens. The computer-based testing company Escoreny, as well as Pearson software, are being used for end-of-unit tests and other graded assessments. Some info on Escoreny and its recently expanded $1.3 million spending authority to create constant “end-of-unit” assessments: http://escoreny.org

Overall, we can determine whether these programs seem effective, or not, and let teachers and administrators know. I’ve heard from students and others that some online math assessments have incorrectly graded or processed answers, lowering students’ grades. “Estimation” answers, for example, are unrealistic. The students beat the program to a right answer, but are marked wrong. (So teachers need to go back and regrade by hand.)

These are also costly programs, hitting multi-millions in spending authorities and related software licensing fees and updates, records show. For example, Middlebury Interactive, the flawed Spanish language computer-based program, now has a $7 million, decade-long contract spending authority with BCPS. That’s for an in-development software program. How well is that going for elementary school students?

Even more familiar to elementary students and parents out there: DreamBox, with its required hour per week and push “reminders.” DreamBox collects “50,000 behavioral data points per hour per student.” What are behavioral data points? 50,000?

How much is DreamBox costing us in the long run? And what about all that student data mined by a for-profit company? DreamBox Learning’s BCPS spending authority nearly doubled recently for just another 9 months, $636,000 to $1.2 million.

(In terms of math software, other parents probably know Ascend Math for middle schools. Has that been a help? Hope so, as it’s another million-dollar software program so far.

Ascend Math, ~$480,000 expanded to $1.3 million for three more years, plus other agreements.) Contract spending authority here.

In the end, there are likely benefits to some of these offerings. And the practice of skills is one. Another modality is fine, and tech can offer some new approaches for teachers to evaluate, and for students to self-assess. Yet is it worth the millions of dollars? How much will this approach expand here? (I’m not sure BCPS staff is being told what has been outlined in various district plans.)

A primary concern for me as a parent: Are our students just working out the bugs in for-profit software? Whetstones for flawed products, as happened in Detroit (a lot of similarities, including the ‘building the plane as we fly it’ weirdness): http://www.aclumich.org/article/guyette-how-eaas-buzz-program-exploited-detroits-most-vulnerable-kids

One way or the other, it seems these computer-embedded tests and assessments portend more screen time for students, and less direct time with teachers.

Oh, and can we please stop flying a half-built plane with our children on board?

Contract Spending Authorities:





DreamBox Learning


Ascend Math