It’s test time.
My students are dutifully pecking answers onto their iPads before a hand goes up.
“Mr. Singer, I can’t log in to the server.”
“It keeps kicking me out.”
“Mr. Singer, what does this question mean?”
Then every single hand in the room pops up all at once.
“What’s the matter!?” I say, trying not to let the frustration into my voice.
A lone student in the front offers to speak for the group.
“The Website just kicked us all off.”
If that sounds like the optimum environment to assess student learning, then you must work for Data Recognition Corp (DRC).
It is typical of the company’s Classroom Diagnostic Tools (CDT) test in Pennsylvania.
The assessment, which cannot be taken with pencil and paper but must instead be taken on a computer or personal device, has always been glitchy.
You type in a response and what you typed only appears after a delay.
When moving from one screen to another, you have to wait through a seemingly endless interval until the next screen loads.
And during this year’s first sessions, multiple teachers told me of students whose tests cycled through all the questions without input from the students and then gave them an unalterable grade.
This is not the best way to diagnose students’ abilities in reading, math and science.
Yet that’s what the state Department of Education strongly encourages we use it for – three to five times a year!
This is not a mandatory test.
It’s strongly suggested by administrators in Harrisburg. And that’s enough to make some local principals march wherever they’re told.
Ironically, Gov. Tom Wolf proudly proclaimed that he was reducing the amount of time students in the Keystone state would take standardized tests. But he’s only talking about the federally mandated Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams which he’s cut by a total of almost 2 hours a year.
There are still a battery of suggested pretests on the state’s wish list – tests that are supposed to predict success on the PSSA or Keystone Exams – tests used to show whether kids are getting the skills they need.
Do you understand it now?
Do you understand it Now?
Do you understand it NOW!!!!!!!?
Of these, the most common is the CDT.
If schools follow the state’s instructions and give students this exam in reading, math and science 3 to 5 times a year, that’s an additional 50-90 minutes per test. That comes to 22.5 hours of additional testing!
So 22.5 hours minus 2 hours equals… NOT A REDUCATION IN TESTING!
Moreover, the CDT test is cumbersome to proctor.
I’ve given my students this test for about seven years now and it never fails to be anywhere from tricky to an outright disaster.
This week, I had a class of students on their iPads unable to log on to their accounts at DRC headquarters. In another group, five students were dropped from the server without warning and couldn’t finish.
Defective software and having to repeatedly log back in to the system are hallmarks of even the most successful CDT session.
Even if you like standardized tests and think they are the best way to assess students, the product and service provided by DRC is extremely low quality.
But keep in mind – you’re paying for it, folks! In the last 8 years alone, taxpayers forked over more than $1 billion for this service and the PSSA and Keystone tests, which DRC also produces.
It’s incredibly frustrating, a waste of classroom time and taxpayer money.
No one does their best when they’re exasperated, and this test is almost designed to make students feel that way.
Yet some local administrators are trying to use the assessment as part of a high stakes matrix to determine classroom placement.
Whether your child is registered in the remedial, general or advanced class could be determined by this shoddy excuse for an assessment. Whether your son or daughter has the advantages and esteem of the advanced class could rest on a malfunctioning data system. Whether he or she has to settle for months of mind numbing test prep instead of authentic education could be decided by defective software.
No matter how you look at it, this doesn’t help the teacher diagnose academic deficiencies and remediate them. That is, unless your idea of remediation is printing out a worksheet of test look-a-like questions based on the ones the student got wrong on the CDT.
This is bad assessment supporting bad pedagogy forced on us by bad policy.
But that’s not even the worst part.
Why are we doing this in the first place?
Have standardized tests ever been proven accurate assessments of student learning? Moreover, has it ever been proven useful to give pre-test after pre-test before we even give the ultimate high-stakes test?
Most countries don’t test their students nearly as much as we do in the United States. Finland, which has students who routinely return some of the highest scores among developed nations, only makes its children take one standardized test.
One test from K-12!
In addition, countries like those in Scandinavia don’t have nearly the child poverty rate we do. Nor do they fund their schools based on local property taxes. They provide more funding and resources for needy students than rich ones – we do just the opposite.
Numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between parental income and the test scores of their children. In short, kids from wealthy families who go to schools with the best of everything generally score very well on standardized tests. Students from poor homes who go to underprivileged schools do much worse.
So all this testing does nothing to help students learn. It simply reinforces the inequality already in place. And then it’s used as a justification for that same inequality.
High stakes standardized testing is not about increasing student outcomes. It’s about boosting corporate incomes – corporations like Data Recognition Corp.
Finally, there’s another danger we haven’t even hinted at involved with the CDT.
As an on-line test, it collects an awful lot of data about the children taking it. This information is kept in a database for students entire academic career so that it can be compared with subsequent results.
This is private student data in the hands of a private company.
We are putting our children’s futures in the hands of a for-profit company with little to no assurance that it is safe. There is little oversight, accountability or even awareness of the issue.
Therefore, any knowledgeable parent would be entirely within his or her rights by refusing to let their child take any of these tests.
You need refer to the same part of the law:
“PA School Code Chapter 4.4(d)(1)(2)(3):
(d) School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians have the following:
(1) Access to information about the curriculum, including academic standards to be achieved, instructional materials and assessment techniques.
(2) A process for the review of instructional materials.
(3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.”
That includes the CDT.
Opt Out PA has provided this helpful form letter you can use and modify to meet your needs before sending it to your local principal:
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(1)(2)(3) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [NAME], excused from PSSA test prep, including (but not limited to) CDT’s and Study Island because of religious beliefs.
So while Pennsylvania’s lawmakers dither back and forth about the political realities of standardized testing as an accountability measure and as they blithely ignore the threat posed to student privacy by on-line testing, parents can take matters into their own hands.
Your child’s teacher would like nothing better!
Imagine being able to actually teach and not have to spend days of instruction time troubleshooting a Website while corporate lackies cash our check!
Imagine students in school to actually learn something – instead of testing them into oblivion.
Imagine a student raising her hand to ask a question about the curriculum and not the software!
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