Remember last year when Dr. Wardynski was telling us how STAR testing was going to improve everything in this district? Finally, the district would know the “growth of our students.” (I suppose that means that they had no idea if our students were growing before, huh?)
Remember how Wardynski claimed that STAR was the key to our ability to assess whether or not students were progressing, and for him—more importantly—whether or not teachers were “good” teachers or not?
For two years, we’ve been told that the STAR Enterprise test was the pinnacle of educational methodology. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was as important as the “Phenomenal” results we were seeing all because we were testing Pre-K through 12th with the STAR Enterprise tests (Early Literacy, Reading, and Mathematics).
Well it seems that there’s a new test in town that will, once again, change everything.
We Need More Testing!!
During the week of October 14-18th, the district administered a new test called SchoolNet from, you guessed it, Pearson. I guess that Wardynski wasn’t providing nearly enough return on investment for his consulting for Pearson, so they told him, “Hey, Casey, why don’t you begin using our test rather than that silly STAR Enterprise test to evaluate your teachers and students?”
And so we are.
Welcome to SchoolNet, aptly named as it allows Pearson to catch every piece of important data that they might be able to sell someday to someone on your child.
You see, SchoolNet is more than a test; it’s also a database. It’s a Pearson database that tracks your child’s personal information (name, parents’ names, address, birthdate, ethnicity, race), performance on Standardized Tests, Disciplinary Incidents, Enrollment and Academic Record, Program (such as SPED, or Gifted), Benchmark Tests (STAR) and Classroom Tests (once teachers have been trained to input this information into the database.
Why don’t we let Dr. McNeal explain it all to us as she did to the board on October 3rd during her Instructional Goals presentation.
If you prefer to read her comments, you may do so below. I have interspersed a few comments in parenthesis below:
McNeal: So, all our questions are aligned to standards. And we will be giving our first benchmark across the system in K through 12 starting Thursday of next week.
(McNeal attempts to log-in to SchoolNet).
McNeal: Oh! (She was unsuccessful.)
McNeal: Dr. Wardynski told me not to let this happen. (McNeal attempts to log-in a second time and is successful.)
McNeal: There it is. Alright this is our Dashboard. And you can see, here’s our total enrollment (23,838). Here’s our dropout rate (0.14%). Our Special Ed students (9.83%). Our LEP students (4.13%). Our chronic tardiness (11.95%). Our daily attendance (96.75%). And our chronic absences (0.71%). So, and we also have our benchmark tests on here. And we can drill down, for example, to daily attendance. We can go from looking at just the school system. We can look at the daily attendance across each school. If you’re green, you’re good. If you’re orange, you’re not. So, uh we can look at attendance. And then from even there, we can go from the school to the teacher, to the classrooms. So, uh, and then, when I’m looking at an individual school, here I’m looking at Butler, I can see the, uh, ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades, I can see what their attendance is. I can see where the teachers’ attendance are. And I can even drill down further into the classrooms to see that.
But, I’m going to go and show you one of our benchmark tests that we’re going to be giving next week (October 14-18th). This is, when the students open up, their test will be assigned to them. But I’m just going to show you, um let’s see . . .
Wardynski: Fifth grade math?
McNeal: Fifth grade math when I find it. Here. Now their will say, “Hello, whatever their name is.” You will ask, they’ll, their test will look like this. It will have their name, “Hello, whoever their name is,” this is the test their going to be taking, and then it will, they’ll start the test. Also, these tests are scrambled so, everybody doesn’t have the same question at the same time. So question one for Johnny might be different for question one for Jannie. So when they start the test, they say, “what is the value,” they’ll read the question of this number and let’s say.
(She clicks on B. Several people tell her that is the incorrect answer).
McNeal: I’m not going to figure this out, so I’ll guess, and then you can go on to the next question.
(Yes, the director of assessment and accountablity for our district rather than solving the 5th grade math problem she is faced with chooses instead to guess incorrectly and move on. Funny, isn’t it? I wonder how often our students do the same exact thing? And yet, their performance is tied directly to teacher, principal and school evaluation. Laurie McCaulley can be heard laughing in the background.)
McNeal: So these questions, it doesn’t tell you if the answer’s right or wrong cause this is a benchmark test. But, what is important about this test is, is that every, for example, fifth grade math student across the system, will be taking the same test.
(As if this hasn’t been the case before. Every fifth grade math student across the system as taken the same STAR test for the past 3 years.)
McNeal: All these questions are directly related to a standard. So at the end of the test period, we will know by teacher, by school, by student where we have our strong standards to where we have our weak standards. So it’s not like this school is taking one test, and this school’s taking another test. We are taking the same test. And in high school, it gets, not just from math and reading, we are going into individual courses, and we have many tests for them. And these tests are assigned by courses, so I, if you are taking honors math, you get a different test than if you are taking regular math.
(So, it would seem that every student across the district isn’t taking the same test after all. Funny how quickly the district changes its collective mind.)
McNeal: If you’re taking AP math, you’re going to have a different math test than if you’re taking honors math. So it goes across the board. I think we have close to 57 different tests that will be launched on Thursday.
Wardynski: Can you go back to the part that administrators and teachers see?
McNeal: Another thing you could do, they could look at their questions and go back and forth here. Let me go back to the, um. Once you get into the test, you have to get out of it.
Wardynski: There ya go. So, can you hover over the standard ID? So that is a standard. It’s one of those Common Core Standards. That’s what it looks like. So that is a math standard. It’s fifth grade. Um, the rest of that code tells it exactly where it fits within the overall group of standards. And it tells you what it means, recognize that a, whatever, it’s got something to do with decimals.
(Again, isn’t it interesting that Wardynski, while attempting to demonstrate just how simple the standards are, has difficulty explaining what the standard is?)
Wardynski: And that’s what a standard looks like. The standard isn’t any more complex than that. It’s not curriculum.
(But it does determine the curriculum, which is the entire point of this presentation.)
Wardynski: It’s not a book.
(But it does determine the texts which are being taught and how they are being taught so that the curriculum is aligned with the standard.)
Wardynski: Um, that is it. So when people discuss the common core standards, this is what we’re talking about in school systems. Um, may surprise folks, and board, and others to know but, when folks took a fifth grade math assessment in the year before this, unless it was the Alabama Reading Math Test, every classroom might have had a different assessment for the same thing.
(And exactly, sir, how is that a bad thing? Classrooms were teaching to standards before the advent of CCSS and Pearson’s SchoolNet test. Why is it bad for a teacher to assess students on what they’ve actually covered in the course, say rather than Latin prefixes and suffixes that haven’t yet been covered because of issues with the pacing guides that the district developed? Why is it bad for students to be tested on what has been taught?)
Wardynski: You can imagine how hard that would be to make sure that they’re all hitting the same target. And hitting it at the right time. This really moves us ahead a long way. If we moved away from these standards, we would lose our ability to do this.
(Which means, by the way, that CCSS is entirely about testing.)
Wardynski: When we’re done with this assessment, and the testing period’s over, mom and dad will be able to pull up the window that looks just like this. They’ll know what this question was designed to do. They’ll know what their child got. They’ll know what the right answer was. Um, they’ll be able to see the exact same question that we can see tonight.
(We are nine days removed from the conclusion of the testing period, and so far “mom and dad” cannot actually do any of this.)
Wardynski: 92,000. Um, so there won’t be a lot of repeating going on, uh, as there was in the old days when we use the same tests every year. Um, our teachers are the ones working to select the items and put these assessments together.
(This was done by a small, select few of approximately 79 teachers for the district as a whole. It was not done by your child’s individual teacher unless your child’s teacher was one of the 79.)
Wardynski: They don’t have to write the item, but they select them and decide when are we going to administer it. What’s the sequence. Does this come before that? Does this come later in the year? Um, how broadly do we assess? And uh, so our teachers are the ones creating these assessments. So when folks talk about Washington D.C. doing it, that’s actually our teachers doing it.
Wardynski: Um, is there anything else to mention on this?
McNeal: Um, also you wanted me to show, let me go back to the powerpoint (here McNeal shows two slides that are not included on the powerpoint posted on the board website linked to above) what, uh, when, here is the actual, um.
Wardynski: We have to go to dead data now cause of privacy reasons.
McNeal: I can’t show actual student data live. I would have to go to jail tonight, and I don’t want to.
(Funny that they pretend to be worried about displaying student data isn’t it?)
McNeal: So, um, but here is a student with no names or anything, and this student last spring, cause I’m loading all of our standardized tests like this is, if you look, this student took the end of course, right here, it says level English 9, ACT End of Course at Butler High School. And the student right here, it shows that the student made a 162, which shows this student is at or above of college readiness benchmark level. So, but it also takes it down to in common core where we have domains. Critical reading, mechanics of writing, modes of writing, reading comprehension. And this student got, in this one area, 20 out of 26 points, 9 out of 10 points for mechanics of writing, 6 out of 6 points for modes of writing, and 22 out of 29 for reading comprehension. So, not only are we putting data, we’re putting our student data in there so each student can see, we don’t have to go to the Q folder, we don’t have to open the Q folder walked out, it is right there for the teacher to look at the student’s data.
(This information is also there for the district as she is demonstrating. According to the Pearson SchoolNet website, this data is there for the state, and one presumes Pearson as it is their database.)
McNeal: And here is another sample.
Wardynski: Mom and dad will be able to see that too, right?
(Again, not as of this writing.)
McNeal: Yes. And here are the, uh, I think, I think this is the same student, uh, but this is STAR math and reading scores from last year. And to us, we know the scale scores, that doesn’t tell me much, but this student was in the 74th percentile. And uh, percentile rank. And uh, that is at above benchmark for her grade level. And in math, this is a 69. So, no, backwards, this is 69 for reading, 74 for math. But uh, that, uh, not only will uh, the end of course data be in there, but the last year’s ARMT data, all of our STAR benchmarks will be in there, so, instead of having to go every place to look to find out what the teacher, what the student knows, the teacher has access to it immediately in the classroom to effectively start instruction at entry level that is required for that student.
(Sure, if there were reasonable class sizes allowing a teacher to individualize instruction. As it is, there is no individualization taking place for the vast majority of our students.)
Wardynski: So, no health records, no religious records.
McNeal: All this is academics.
Wardynski: This is academics. So we hear about the common core, and all the stuff that common core is going to do. This is what it does. It’s about your child, their academic progress, information that helps us guide instruction, gives you information on college readiness, uh, we’re not keeping track of you know, any of that other stuff you may have heard about from their health information, or any of that else in here.
(Except, of course, that this database does keep track of tardies, absences, and disciplinary records. And typically, absences, if they are excused, are an indication of the child’s heath records.)
McNeal: I want to show one other thing. We’ve been taking a discipline test, our discipline handbook test, and uh, on a district level, and the principal can see it for their schools, we can see who has taken it online. And then, here are the schools. And if I hover over a school, I can immediately. Whoops, I’m going to pull up student data.
(It’s kinda hard not to pull up student specific data, isn’t it, Dr. McNeal?)
McNeal: If I hover over that, it will bring up all the students and their scores.
(So we’re grading a student’s understanding of the discipline policy? Why?)
McNeal: So this is instantaneously. It will be very quick when I start bringing up things like this.
Wardynski: To do this last year was impossible.
McNeal: Yep. You take, you take a test, it’s there. It’s linked. It’s over with. It’s done. It’s filed.
McNeal: Thank you.
So it seems that the district is quite pleased with their new toy. For the record, here’s a screen shot of exactly what data Pearson is tracking about your child:
Here’s the list:
- Student’s Name
- Parents’ Name
- Disciplinary Actions (If your child is disciplined in school, Pearson will know.)
- Performance on Standardized Tests (STAR-funny, I thought this was a “benchmark.”)
- Academic Record (they’re loading data from previous years)
- Programs (SPED, ELL, Gifted, etc.)
- Performance on Benchmark Tests (SchoolNet)
- Classroom Tests (once teachers have been “trained” to include this information)
In order to have access to this information, I had to request a meeting with my daughter’s principal to hear a sales pitch on how amazing this new tool and test actually is.
When I asked where the data was being hosted, the answer was, “I’m not sure.” There are two options: locally or on a Pearson server. Either way if the data is being stored in a Pearson database, Pearson likely has access to it. And what they do with it is entirely up to them.
You see, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was dramatically watered down in 2011 to allow companies like Pearson to collect this “academic” data without your consent.
If the data, such as discipline issues, tardies, absences, not to mention every test score your child has ever made, is entered into a Pearson database, Pearson has access to it.
No Parent Portal Yet
And finally, despite the superintendent’s claim that parents would have access to this data the week following the administration of the test, this information is still not available.
Well it could be that the test scores were ridiculously low all across the data. At Mt. Gap, barely more than 50% of the students “benchmarked” in reading. The numbers for math were a bit higher in the 70’s. Rumor has it that across the district, only about 40% of the district “benchmarked.” This was the number that was cited for Huntsville High School, for example.
For ninth grade students (and these aren’t estimates or rumors), district wide, 58% were proficient in English, 21.8% were proficient in math and science, with 25% proficient in social studies.
Now, I’m sure that the district will claim that these numbers show that the new test is far more “rigorous.” When I asked my daughter about why her reading score wasn’t an A, she said, “because they tested us on things we haven’t covered yet, like Greek and Latin root words.”
According to every test that they’ve forced her to take, she reads well above her grade level.
When I asked her principal about this discrepancy, she claimed that there were some issues with the pacing guides developed by the district over the summer, but that I should give the district a bit more time.
Be Patient As We Make This Up As We Go
I’m not exactly sure how, but I managed not to laugh out loud when it was suggested that I be patient with the district on the matter of the endless number of assessments they’re requiring. Here are just a few reasons why I’m loath to be patient with these people:
- Every single time they’ve asked me to be patient, they’ve put me off simply so that they could make the decision without parental input.
- They’ve told us, endless number of times, that the STAR assessment would bring equity to the district. In fact, they told us that during the meeting on October 3rd. And now that assessment isn’t sufficient. We have to add SchoolNet, otherwise, we’re condemning our students to third-class status. We truly have wasted a quarter of a million, haven’t we?
- When the superintendent doesn’t get what he wants, he simply changes the rules of the game.
- When the superintendent doesn’t get what he wants in his tools to evaluated and punish teachers, he simply changes the standards of evaluation.
Not one single decision that the superintendent has enacted here in Huntsville has been well thought out, planned, nor supported by best practices in other districts. And our students, our kids, are paying the price.
It’s time that we all said, no more.