Saturday, October 15, 2011

Allentown's "Crown Jewel"

I just read about the $15.4 million dollar expansion to the Allentown Art Museum, funded by a combination of private donors and public funds. The festivities surrounding this grand event are happening while art classes for Allentown's poor public elementary school children have been reduced to only 9 times per year. Something is not jibing here, Allentown.

If the arts are flourishing in the Allentown "arts district", then they should be flourishing in the Allentown school district as well. This says a lot about our city's priorities.

Photo from WFMZ News.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

4Sight Testing is Useless

I was pleasantly surprised to see this story about 4Sight testing in The Morning Call "newspaper":,0,7178009.story and this honest comment from an anonymous Allentown teacher:

I_HEART_TEACHERS says: "As a teacher in Allentown...I have known for years these tests were useless. My students will spend approximately five weeks testing this year between 4Sight, PSSA, Study Island and CDT testing. This does not include in-class quizzes and exams.

The content for the 4Sights is ridiculous. Articles used in reading are on topics in which our students have no background knowledge. And the test does not measure competence in reading, it is more like trying to solve a puzzle. It is designed to trick students. What a way to set them up for success!!!"

I too have questioned the validity of these tests, and other tests, for several years. My son's scores have never made sense.These tests are given 3 times per year, in addition to the PSSA, and are supposed to predict how students will do on the almighty, week long PSSA testing extravaganza in the Spring. The 4Sight scores are supposed to measure student growth (value-added data). And there are plans for this data to be used to measure teacher performance. Some states are already doing this! (What a sham!) Research has shown that the value added model has a 30% margin of error. (Attention school board directors!!)

At the beginning of the school year students are tested on material they haven't even learned yet. This is demoralizing and frustrating for students.Teachers use the 4Sight data to determine which benchmarks students need to work on in order to score proficient or advanced on the PSSA test in Spring.The 4Sights are supposed to be closely aligned with the state standards.This "standards aligned system" is supposed to produce success for all, and according to our school district website, "teachers know that alignment is the essence of great teaching." (chuckle). Well, according to new information detailed in the Morning Call story,the alignment is out of whack- The 4Sights don't even align with the state standards!

I've always dismissed the 4Sight scores as nonsense because my son's scores have not shown growth,nor have they aligned with his report card grades. His 4Sight scores were unreliable because they randomly went up and down throughout the year.He has told me that on testing day he was hungry, and just could not concentrate.He gets very upset when he is labeled "basic" or "below basic." He feels even more pressure to perform this year since he has been put in the "accelerated" 5th grade class. He believes that the 4Sights and PSSA tests are the most important factors in determining his placement. I keep telling him to not worry about it and just do his best. He is conflicted because I am telling him the tests are not that important, but school is telling him that the tests are very important. How can teachers comply with this nonsense that does not benefit students or improve learning? There is no evidence that 10 years of NCLB has improved learning. High stakes testing is ruining public education. Yet we still test.

Our district spends 87k per year on the 4Sight tests (the salaries of two full time teachers). And the district spent over 20k on a failed "PSSA pep rally" (the salaries of 2 teacher's aides), then add the huge cost of administering the PSSA. If we ditched the testing, our district would be able to bring back the art, music, phys ed and library teachers who were recently let go. This would actually benefit the children and improve learning.

The teacher who wrote the comment has known for many years that the tests are useless, yet the experiments on our children continue, with even higher stakes (Race to the Top). The tests really do include questions designed to trick students.This is unfair. I have seen the practice tests, and I have monitored testing as a sub. One day my job was to provide encouragement to learning support students while they were taking the 4Sights. It pains me to see kids struggle and fidget, and I know that some students cannot relate to, or understand, the reading content which includes topics like tennis tournaments, traditions of foreign cultures, references to history (a subject that has been cut drastically from the curriculum.) Students need the background knowledge, which should be taught at school, before they can understand and answer test questions.

Hey geniuses, try asking the person in front of the classroom how the students are doing. The ATTS (Ask The Teacher System) would save a lot of money. Teachers know their student's strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are trained to conduct formative and authentic student assessments. Students are NOT just data points. Teachers, how much longer can you go along with this charade? And consider all the time wasted on testing and test prep. When students finish the test early they are only allowed to read or sleep! My son told me that he sleeps when he is done with the test! They must remain seated for hours. It's past the time to end this failed experiment on our kids. High stakes testing is a form of child abuse! It's past the time to end test driven education policy and failed business models.