Sunday, July 3, 2011

PSSA Scores Don't "Align" With Report Card Grades

Our nine year old son attends our local public elementary school and is a fine student. He has always had good grades. We were very pleased with his report card grades this year, which were very good, and showed that he met all the "standards" and is performing on grade level in every subject area. Last year he scored proficient on the almighty PSSA test.

We recently received his PSSA test score results for this past year and were surprised to learn that they are much higher than his report card grades. He really hit the ball out of the park on this test! He scored "advanced" in every subject area. Part of the reason for his big improvement is that he received extra tutoring in math right before the PSSA test was given. I questioned this, since his grades showed that he was not struggling in math, but his teacher told me that there were certain benchmarks that he did not meet on the 4Sight tests. (The 4Sight tests are given three times during the year to assess where students need to improve, and to prepare kids for the big PSSA). His teachers and the principal told me the tutoring was for his benefit, and had nothing to do with testing. I wasn't buying that, but I went along with the 7:30 am tutoring anyway.

Since I have spoken with other parents I have learned that the tutoring was not offered to all students. It was not offered to some students who were really struggling in math. I am glad my son was able to improve (and he really moved up a lot) but it looks like the tutoring was only offered to the students who would help move the school's scores up, because those students chosen were already proficient, but had the potential to do even better. The lower students, who really needed the tutoring, were left out because it would have been less likely that they would have made enough gains to even reach proficient, so why bother with them? This is how it looks to me. It's fishy, but I am sure they can justify their reasons for only offering tutoring to certain students. And since there are now plans for teachers to be evaluated based on test scores (ASD superintendent Dr. Zahorchak's value added, Bill Gates endorsed, highly flawed system) then it sure looks like some teachers might be focusing more on the kids who can help them get a better evaluation. (The A$D has partnered with the Bill Gate$ Foundation.)

Question: Since our son's PSSA test scores don't align with his grades, then how do I know if he is really learning and improving? Should he be receiving enrichment classes? According to superintendent Dr. Zahorchak, "alignment is the essence of great teaching." All the test scores I have received throughout the year ( 3 rounds of 4Sights, and the mighty PSSA) are confusing to me, and so is the report card. According to scores from his final round of 4Sights, which were given after the PSSA and are supposed to be used to place him for next year, he showed no improvement in reading all year. This does not align with his PSSA score of advanced in reading, nor does it align with his report card which shows steady growth in reading level during the school year. And how are teachers supposed to use such unreliable data to place students? 4Sights are supposed to show growth. Maybe he had a bad testing day and was tired, hungry, or distracted? How are parents supposed to understand all this data if I can't, and I am a teacher. I think the endless drilling, pre-testing, tutoring, and teaching to the test has sharpened our son's test taking skills. Test scores at the elementary level across the district have improved this past year. Teaching to the test at the elementary level seems to be working. But at the middle school and high school levels scores have dropped. This makes me wonder if the older kids are retaining what they have learned. How much actual learning is taking place when the curriculum is narrowed and geared around one high stakes test? And with plans to cut the arts and other electives, students will care even less about school and much less about testing.

I believe that parents in the ASD should opt their children out of testing. You can do this! In PA it has to be for religious reasons, but you do not have to disclose those specific reasons. You can say it goes against your morals and values. There are parents in Colorado and other states starting to opt their children out of state testing. If the masses had the courage to stand up and do this, then the testing would end. It would have to.

ASD school board members should investigate an unethical superintendent who tried to co-erce the union president. See story:,0,4717588.story They have not researched his experimental programs (value added models) which are based on highly flawed research. They are duped. Parents need to get informed about corporate ed reform. There are plans for even more testing next school year. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (no teaching experience) and The Dept. of Ed is focusing on improving the tests, and testing even more subjects. Standardization and testing is big business for Bill Gates and textbook corporations like Pearson. Follow the money. In order to qualify for federal Race to the Top money, districts will have to comply with a new standardized curriculum written by Bill Gates. Don't let money and politics dictate education policy. Speak out, get informed.

Read the new Dissent Article, Dissent Magazine - Online Features -
Firing Line:
The Grand Coalition Against Teachers
it is a great summary of the ed reform movement. And then attend the SOS (Save our Schools) Rally in Washington July 30th. Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action


Anonymous said...

Great post that exposes the charade they call NCLB and now Race to the Top. There is too much testing due to the current data driven reform policies being written by bureaucrats, not educators. Dr. Z has very little teaching experience. He's a politician more concerned about his own resume than the kids. Unfortunately in high poverty districts the parents don't speak out and the administration can get away with all this professional sounding new jargon like "alignment" and "value added" while school board members, principals and local political leaders buy into it because they are so impressed, and they want the grant money.

Testing should be used for diagnostic purposes. It is currently being over used for competitive purposes, to get money, and to rate teachers. This is bad for kids, teachers, and everyone else. Teachers have always assessed student growth, and have always taught the standards, and done testing. Now Z arrives with new business world model and people are so convinced that big change is needed, and the so called "status quo" isn't working, so they fall for Z's BS without really researching his plans. Business models for education have always failed. Let's get back to authentic teaching and learning.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks Anon. I've always said, a school is not a business, it's a learning environment where growth and development of children should be central. In a business, the boss can choose who to hire, in a public school a teacher cannot choose her students. In real life, outcomes are not always "aligned" with our expectations. Shit happens, and we adapt. The business model and jargon are useless nonsense, but fool a lot of people who believe that things must drastically change. These people do not want to acknowledge poverty as the cause for low performing schools.

Learning is not a race to the top competition with rewards and punishment. Not all students are college material. We are ignoring who they are right now if we focus too much on college readiness and test scores.

Tim Slekar said...

The utter stupidity of the entire standardized testing movement produces the situation detailed in this blog. Give public schools back to the teachers and parents of the local communities where the schools stand. Get rid of the corporate reformers and stop the madness! Dr. Z. was a disaster as Secretary of Education for PA. How a city system agreed to hire him as their super after the destruction he caused across the state is beyond belief. Allentown please wake up before your entire community based public school system is destroyed.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks Tim! Readers, Tim Slekar, PhD is Head of the Division of Education, Human Development, and Social Sciences at Penn State Altoona. He writes for The Huffington Post and has been on Fox News. He has interviewed Diane Ravitch. And he reads my blog!

I am hoping that Allentown wakes up before it is too late. I blame our school board members who were so impressed with Z's resume that they did not even question his ideas. I can remember last summer at a PTA board meeting when the principal at my son's school was trying to sell me on Z's plans, and I seemed to be the only one in the room who was skeptical. He seemed annoyed by that. When I applied for substitute teaching, a top administrator in the ASD told me that I needed to get on board with SAS, which he mistakenly referred to as "student aligned system" (SAS stands for standards aligned system.) Sounded real fishy to me from the start because SAS contradicted what I had learned about teaching the whole child.

Now that my son has been through 5 years of teaching to the test, I worry if he will really be prepared for college. He's gotten much better at taking tests, but since the curriculum has become so narrowed, he has missed out on social studies, science, and the arts. I know for a fact that almost the entire school day is spent on reading and math drilling and test prep. Even in 1st grade there is a 1.5 hour block of Math in the afternoon. Kids get restless and bored. They are not making connections to the real world, other subjects, or themselves. This makes learning meaningless, even though the test scores may go up. And being able to choose the best answer does not demonstrate real learning. Choosing the second best answer could also demonstrate some learning, but there is no way of measuring that on the test. It's a sham.

What's crazy is that the NEA is on board with evaluating teachers based on these bogus test scores. Young teachers are being brainwashed into believing that testing is important. Also the National PTA supports this idea, and receives money from Gates. Parents need to speak out against testing. It's bad for our kids. Don't stand for it.

Mrs. Dottie said...

What I don't get is that the report card format is aligned with teaching the standards, which aligns with the testing. According to my son's report card he "meets" the standards for his grade level. It does not say that he "exceeds" the standards and is performing above grade level. But his PSSA scores and his Math 4Sight scores show that he is advanced.

How can these scores be used to place students? Students who may really need help could be pushed along because they may have scored well on the test. Teaching to the test will result in students who may be able to regurgitate facts or choose the best answer but cannot think critically or apply learning to real life experiences, or make connections to other subjects. It is a real dumbing down. But the scores will look impressive and we will get a false sense that students are improving. The market based reformers will claim that their shady methods are working, at the expense of our children. It's got to stop.

Anonymous said...

The standardized testing movement diminishes a child's joy for learning, and a teacher's joy for teaching. Social studies, science and the arts have been either eliminated or drastically cut back due to the strong focus on improving reading and math scores. Dr. Z's "Pathways" could have disastrous results and be very harmful to our children. Your concerns are well documented here and I wish more parents would question such drastic curriculum changes.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Yes, the joy is gone. Also those "teachable moments" are squelched when you have to follow a schedule and a script. Michele Obama wants kids to get movin' while phys ed is cut from elementary school. Our leaders are really out of touch with reality. Recess has been taken away due to test prep. Also think about all the money spent on testing, when there is a shortage of funding for art supplies, even textbooks. But even in Kindergarten kids rarely engage in hands on activities. They must stay in their seats and do guided reading, and endless worksheets like well behaved worker drones.