In response to the 8/31/2012 post, “Accountability – A Reasonable Plan,” an old school LYSer writes:

As with any plan, the devil is in the details, which are not discussed in the Cain Plan.  Nonetheless, some initial observations.

1. That is still a lot of testing.  In fact, there is no significant difference in your testing strategy than the one the State already uses.  The current State testing protocol destroys 45 days of instruction. I do not consider 45 days of testing in the school year as “reasonable” or anywhere in the vicinity of reasonable.  The days of testing required for the amount of tests in your plan do not include the “mandatory” field tests, i.e., the process where our children provide free labor to Pearson.  Nor do the days include ACT, SAT, AP, ASVAB, summer retests, or any other test commonly given.

2. The Cain Plan still tests a high school curriculum that is largely irrelevant to the majority of children.  There is no reason on Earth for every child (or even the majority of children) to learn advanced algebra, advanced physics, and advanced chemistry concepts.  Of course the Cain Plan does use the phrase “teach the appropriate content,” so maybe the content is flexible?

3. Although not stated, the Cain Plan implies that the once a year test will remain the standard by which schools are measured.  This ignores the fact that the child may indeed pass the exam on the very next administration.  The Cain Plan takes the poor design of teacher grades discussed in literature (and indeed, Cain himself discusses it), and assigns the poor design to the accountability plan proposed.  Rating schools on one test at the end of the school is a grade on how fast the children learn, not what they learn.  Granted, schools can’t take years to get children through each grade, so there has to be some standard of time, but the “on a given day” premise is not reasonable.

4. I have no particular issue with the 2% number given, although it seems arbitrary.  I suppose it comes from a Gaussian distribution where basically ~98% of students are encompassed within two standard deviations to the left (or right) of the mean?   

5. The Cain Plan has high standards indeed.  The Acceptable rating requires performance that very few high schools ever accomplished under TAKS, much less STAAR.  I remember counting the number of Exemplary high schools in the state several years ago.  Of the traditional public, open enrollment, non-magnet high schools in the state, there were fewer than 10.  The Cain Plan also has a standard of 70%.  Now I know for a fact Sean is well versed in mathematics.  To get 70% of the questions correct on a standardized test is indeed a high standard.  Since standardized test are by definition “standardized”, meaning the distribution is analyzed and adjusted, sticking to the arbitrary tried and true 70% does not seem reasonable.  We will need some other testing design.  Pearson will love it. Not reasonable.

6. Finally, although not stated, it is certainly implied in Cain’s Plan that school’s ratings would remain 100% determined by a single day test score AND the school can not be rated any higher than the lowest performing sub-population.  Again, that is not significantly different (indeed it is no different) than what we already have, and I don’t find it reasonable. This design leads to a severely skewed school rating, which gives parents and the general public a confusing, non-useful metric of schools.

SC Response This was an awesome, reasoned response.  Let me address your issues, point by point.

Point 1 – Too Much Testing: Agreed, we spend entirely too much time testing, to the detriment of teaching (note: we also self-inflict a lot of other activities to the detriment of teaching). The current testing calendar in Texas is a joke.  In other states, the summative test is administered at the beginning of the year.  I have no idea how that was ever decided on. I’m a proponent of end of the course, summative assessment.  I believe that most of these tests could be scheduled during a two-week window in May.   At the HS level, if electronic testing would be adopted, you could test at the end of the course, at any time (trimester or semester).

Point 2 – An Irrelevant Curriculum: If the state mandates the course and articulates the standard, we are accountable to teaching it.  If the state believes that an adequate education can be provided without teaching Algebra II, advanced science, etc., my personal opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

Point 3 – The One-Shot, High Stakes Test: One thing that Texas did correctly (early on, since abandoned), was allowing elementary students two chances to pass the reading test and the math test, without penalty. I believe the retest option is critical and schools and students should get full credit for a second attempt pass.  This would go a long way in reducing some of the pressure that students and adults have to deal with in the current, one shot for all the marbles testing environment. It would give credence to the fact that the speed of learning is less important than actually learning.

Point 4 – An Arbitrary Exemption: Agreed, 2% is an arbitrary cutoff. But as you point out, 2% fits into a reasonable distribution pattern.  I can live with 4%. But what I cannot condone is testing a student who is multiple standard deviations from the mean.  This borders on cruel and it is certainly unreasonable.

Point 5 – The Standardized Test: There’s the rub, I’m not advocating a “Standardized” test. The using of a “standardized” test for accountability purposes is inherently unfair.  As those who work in the most adverse of education settings can attest. What I’m advocate for is an assessment that is based entirely on the content that was supposed to have been taught. Essentially, a final exam composed of valid assessment items.  If we teach the content we are suppose to teach and students cannot get 70% of the answers correct, then we have either a teaching or learning issue occurring in the classroom, that must be addressed. As a professional educator, all I’m searching for is an indicator of instructional quality and concept mastery.

Point 6 – You are Only as Good as Your Weakest Link: I also struggle with the reality of this.  The one low performing sub-pop rubric is tough.  But you and I both know that when a sub-pop doesn’t count, those students are consistently underserved and not one adult loses a wink of sleep.  On the other hand, I’ve yet to see an accountability system that pushes an affluent schools to step up its game.  What I want is a system that pushes everyone to get to strive for the highest accountability levels.  

Notice that we haven’t even begun to address equitable funding, the effect of “cherry-picking” enrollment practices, alternative schools, and other attempts to game the system. That’s when the discussion really begins to sting.

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