Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UFT Leadership Takes a Stand on Testing

I was pretty surprised, after having sat through the convoluted explanation of why parents love testing at the DA, that UFT leadership would muster the temerity to pass something resembling a resolution on testing. I went to a seminar on testing this week, and I can tell you the room was not feeling the love for it. There is, of course, AFT President Randi Weingarten's position that she does not oppose testing, but rather the high stakes opposed to it. That sounds good, until you realize they are more or less inseparable and that the position is therefore meaningless. That's precisely the sense I get from the UFT resolution.

In particular, there is this line:

RESOLVED, that the UFT affirms its support of standards and its support of multiple measures to assess student progress, evaluate teachers and gauge the success of schools; 

I mean, what does that say? First of all, as for standards, it says that Mike Mulgrew will still punch you in the face and push you in the dirt if you lay a stinking hand on his Common Core. We know those are the standards he supports, and despite his sarcastic talk about Bill Gates and flying saucers, we know in fact that hundreds of millions of Gates dollars are behind it. When is Mulgrew gonna wake up and realize Gates is not our friend? When is he gonna empathize with the children labeled as failing due to developmentally inappropriate nonsense? 

What are multiple measures? They are in fact, the use of VAM, student test scores to evaluate teachers. The American Statistical Association estimates teachers move test scores from 1 to 14%. Mulgrew openly admits he doesn't understand these formulas, and I wish he'd openly admit about more things he doesn't understand. I don't understand why he went to Albany and helped negotiate a law that made test scores part of our assessment. I don't understand why he never considered the absurdity of music teachers being judged by English tests, whether or not they happen to be students taught by said music teachers. 

And this resolution clearly affirms support for evaluating teachers on such measures. Though Randi Weingarten has openly said, "VAM is a sham," nowhere in this resolution is it repudiated. The original resolution sought to "eliminate high stakes testing." That's pretty clear. UFT says they shouldn't be used to much, we maybe ought to do some other stuff, that we ought not to increase the weight of standardized testing, and so forth. 

Parents are sharp. Parents know all about these tests. They know that the state sets the cut scores and makes them look any damn way they please. Parents remember when the test scores were inflated, when every New York child was above average, when the New York Times reported the tests were dumbed down a full year after Diane Ravitch noticed it. She was right then and she's right now. Kids are overtested, VAM is junk science, and it's ridiculous to condemn schools full of high needs kids as failing simply because they don't get great test scores. It's particularly ridiculous with the Common Core tests, expressly designed to make our public schools appear to be failing. 

Personally, I find the following particularly offensive:

WHEREAS, setting standards is also a natural and appropriate part of education, as without them, students who may be struggling – such as English language learners, students from high-poverty neighborhoods or students with special needs – can fall through the cracks;

These are precisely the students whose schools we've sat by and watched as they close. These are the kids with whom I work every day. The tests they take are inappropriate, have been so for years, and are only getting worse. From what I hear, the placement tests are beginning to resemble Common Core tests. ESL students have particular needs that are not being met. The best tests my kids take are the one I write. It's not because I'm a brilliant writer of tests, it's simply because I see these kids every day, and base the tests on what they really need to learn. I write on each test how much each answer is worth. I grade it by the set rules, and usually give it back the next day. We go over it in class, and kids can say where they need to improve and how to do it.

That's a whole lot different from some test for which you sit hours, never get back, never see what you got wrong, and never even know whether or not the questions are just practice for Pearson. What stand is UFT leadership instructing the loyalty oath signers to approve here?

I'm not really sure. They've been concurrently for and against so many things for so long I just can't tell anymore.
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