Category Archives: blogathon

Smarter Balanced Assessments 34

Cost/benefit analysis.

I think there is a very real danger of costs being underestimated and benefits being overestimated with regard to the Smarter Balanced assessments. It could be our costs will end up being much less than the costs being paid by other states (both for the SBAC vendor and technology), but it doesn’t make sense to count on it working out that way unless we have concrete evidence that it will.


California districts request an additional one billion dollars to reimburse districts for costs related to new statewide online testing program (includes Smarter Balanced assessments).

Time to Administer

As Common-Core Test Season Begins, Teachers Feel Pressure (EdWeek). Quote from this article from Ohio teacher Lori Michalic:

“I really appreciate what PARCC and Smarter Balanced are trying to do. I get that better tests take more time,” she said. “But in reality, we’re looking at what’s happening to kids, and they’re losing [instructional] time. I think we’re caught between theory and reality.”


Steve H commenting at Joanne Jacobs: “Low state test cutoffs for proficiency end up becoming the top goal for all. That’s why the CCSS PARCC test’s “distinguished” level only means that one is likely to pass a college algebra course. Their top goal is no remediation. It’s now officially institutionalized in K-6 curricula. Incredibly, many people think this is fine.”

Steve H commenting at Joanne Jacobs: “There has always been testing. I took the Iowa Basic Tests when I was in school. When did testing change into something that is needed to give schools feedback on how each child is progressing? Are teachers potted plants?”

lulu commenting at Joanne Jacobs: “I have friends who are considering opting out of testing because they can’t figure out how to deal with the fact that, in addition to a week of testing, the kids are spending 2 weeks taking practice tests. They think that their kids could find many more educational things to do during the 3 weeks of school time that is devoted to ‘testing’. They’d be fine with 2-3 days, but once you stretch into mutliple weeks of instruction time lost, you lose parents who care about education.”

Steve H commenting at Joanne Jacobs:

Nobody looked at the raw percent correct scores and the actual problems. Since the tests are supposed to check for higher level thinking and problem solving, all results get changed into meaningless terms like “problem solving” and numeracy” – terms that give the school no tangible feedback on what to fix. If they just tested basic skills, then that would give everyone more concrete feedback. What sort of higher order thinking skills make it OK to do poorly on basic skills tests? Aren’t those skills supposed to be the derivative end result of their top-down engagement, student-centered, problem solving approach to education? Either way you do it, students have to do well on basic skills tests. As I always say, you can add more understanding to good basic skills, but understanding without skills is nowhere and can’t be fixed.

No amount of big data analysis will fix this fundamental flaw.

Steve H commenting at Kitchen Table Math: “When I was on a parent/teacher committee long ago that analyzed NCLB data to figure out why our students’ “problem solving” skills were down that year, the solution was to work harder on problem solving.”

Auntie Ann commenting at Out In Left Field:

About 50% of the problems with the Common Core tests could be fixed by just doing the things on paper.

The move to computer-based testing is a disaster. I tried taking an online sample, and the computer interface was incredibly time consuming and frustrating. How are kids supposed to show their work on a computer screen? Something that can be quickly done with a pencil and paper becomes unwieldy and aggravating on a monitor. (My grad school thesis contained equations long enough to fill an entire page, I know how hard it is to do math with a computer!)

We’ve seen a lot of math problems from the tests, but I would think the language arts part are just as bad. Does the 8 year old touch-typist have an enormous advantage over the kid who actually knows grammar, spelling and has good reading comp, but who hasn’t spent much time at a keyboard? Probably.

It’s a case of the shiny new thing being adopted because it’s shiny and new, not because it is actually useful.

Peter Greene on benefits of “Big Standardized Tests” at Curmudgacation: Spellings Remains Steadfastly Wrong, Why Critical Thinking Won’t Be on The Test,

Math Consultant: Smarter Balanced Math Tests Have ‘Egregious Flaws’ (EdWeek).

Iowa has already paid for a digital library as part of the new Iowa Core website. From State Board of Education packet for the October 30, 2014 meeting:

The Iowa Core Resources Project was made possible with a $1 million state appropriation approved by Iowa legislators in 2013. This funding was used to develop a new Iowa Core website and to secure examples of optional instructional resources that teachers can use, if they so choose, to implement the Iowa Core in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 8,000 resources are available at no charge in a central, searchable online location called, which is accessible through The materials are adaptable to fit the individual needs of local classrooms.

Rivendell Academy Head of Schools Keri Gelenian on Smarter Balanced assessments, “The amount of instructional time and administrative time that has been devoted to preparing for the testing is completely disproportionate to any conceivable benefit that I can see coming from our results.” (Vermont, HT: Diane Ravitch).


“Bribing” kids to take common core assessments (Washington Post).

Pearson, PARCC Criticized for Monitoring Social Media for Test Security (EdWeek). Mercedes Schneider shares SBAC tips for monitoring students on social media.

When It Comes to Standardized Testing, How Much is Too Much? (WNPR News audio, CT using SBAC).

Explanation of why new common core assessments cost more (Marketplace).

Opting out (Washington Post). mmazenko commenting at Joanne Jacobs on the refusal movement:

Thomas appears to be clueless about all the issues raised by parents who are refusing a flawed testing model. For most, it’s not about “not wanting to do the test.” Many parents/kids have patiently and agreeably participated in MAPS, NNAT, Nelson-Denny, CoGAT, ACT, SAT, AP, and state tests like CSAP in Colorado for years … with no complaints. However,, the PARCC/SB mess is an entirely different animal. From excessive time to equity issues to new and unproven models to technology issues … the refusal movement is far more complex than Thomas could fathom.

Steve H commenting at Joanne Jacobs on opting in or opting out: “Opt in, opt out. go ahead. Parents still have to ensure that learning gets done at home and set higher expectations than anything specified by CCSS. Reality and competition don’t care one bit about NCLB or CCSS results. If you’re expecting proper educational feedback from CCSS, then you’re a year late and many tutoring dollars short.”

Alignment might not matter all that much (NPR).

Common Core Testing Nationwide (Seattle Schools Community Forum).

One parent’s experience taking the Smarter Balanced assessments (Washington).

State’s Prepare Public for Common-Core Test Results (EdWeek).

Common Core Supporters Run Ads in Iowa (Wall Street Journal).

Portland teachers union resolution objects to new Smarter Balanced test (The Oregonian)

Common Core Seen Falling Short in High School Math (EdWeek).

Smarter Balanced Assessments 33

Technology challenges of online statewide assessments.

Over the last few years, I have linked to articles about technology challenges large and small that other states have encountered while trying to administer statewide online assessments (see, for example, here, here, or here). The stories keep coming, some SBAC related and some not, and the following links may include previously blogged articles as well as more recent articles.

Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced assessments not running well on iPads (Maine).

Three States to Decline Use of Adaptive Feature of Smarter Balanced Assessments (EdWeek). Smarter Balanced assessments millions over budget and adaptive-testing software not working properly (Wisconsin, not using AIR software).

Familiarity with online testing helps, but even so, technical problems happen during field testing (Ed Week reporting on multiple states). Quote from a South Dakota principal, “Starting in kindergarten, we need to do a lot more work just navigating the computer.”

Other Statewide Online Assessments or Related School Technology Issues

Denial of service attacks disrupt statewide online testing (Kansas).

We’re Not Ready for Online Tests, Most District Ed-Tech Leaders Say (EdWeek).

Vendor software incompatible with school browsers (Minnesota).

Technical issues with log ins and connection interruptions, disrupting school instruction and testing schedules (Florida). Software updates blamed for testing disruptions (Florida). Peter Greene at Curmudgacation: FL Testing: Crash and Burn.

School districts debate move to statewide online testing (Colorado).

After Ed-Tech Meltdown, a District Rebounds (EdWeek).

Idaho Schools Face Potential Tech Crisis Over Broadband Issue (EdWeek), but it is resolved for now (Center for Digital Education).

Sunshine Week

It’s Sunshine Week and in honor of it, Ryan Koopmans [on Twitter as @RyanGKoopmans] is sharing an amicus brief in a pending Iowa Supreme Court case on open meetings involving Warren County Supervisors.

From page 7, on the purpose of open meetings laws:

That purpose–to educate, not punish–is logical but easy to miss. If government officials want to meet in private in violation of the law, then they will do so–and they probably won’t get caught, since it’s virtually impossible to monitor private conversations. So if the open meetings laws are to serve a purpose, it is to speak to the vast majority of officials who want to obey the law and do the right thing. It’s to provide a backstop against the natural inclination to hash things out in private.

And from page 8 (emphasis changed to bold):

The very first section of the Iowa Open Meetings Law makes clear that it’s an ideal that public officials should strive to achieve; it’s not something to be “gotten around.” The law’s purpose is to “assure” that “the basis and rationale of governmental decisions” are “easily accessible to the people,” and to do so it demands that any “[a]mbiguity in the construction or application of [Chapter 21] should be resolved in favor of openness.” Iowa Code [Section] 21.1 (emphasis added). That message is pretty blunt. But in case it is lost on any government official, we’ll rephrase it: If you’re taking actions that are designed to hide “the basis and rationale of governmental decisions,” and there is no stated exception in Chapter 21 for doing so, you’re probably violating the law.

I will honor Sunshine Week, in a lucky coincidence, by visiting the Capitol to attend and blog about an education committee meeting.

I will also honor it by thanking some of the local bloggers and microbloggers who help shine the light on government by reading government documents and/or attending open meetings and writing about them for the rest of us:.

Thank you!

Wishful Thinking

There seems to be quite a bit of wishful thinking at work with regard to the Smarter Balanced assessments. That aiming for minimum technology requirements and hoping for the best is enough. That we won’t need to buy anything more than we already have. That the state will find the money to pay for it all plus 4% growth plus fully fund the teacher leadership system (no need to prioritize spending, we can have it all!). That somehow, we can pretend that it’s all benefits and no costs, and in any case, it’s worth it (whatever it ends up being).


The experience in other states is that the move to statewide online assessments is a massive (and expensive!) undertaking, with many opportunities for things–large and small–to go wrong, even with the best planning.

In the next post I plan to address assessment technology issues experienced by other states (followed by a post on time and costs to administer the assessments). You can answer for yourselves whether Iowa is engaging in the best planning for a move to statewide online assessments.

Of course I’m not immune to wishful thinking myself. Surely legislators, prudent minders of the state budget, won’t vote for schools to pay more for assessments when schools could pay less for an assessment that meets all the minimum legislative requirements and covers all the required subjects. That legislators surely won’t vote to pay more without knowing exactly how much more it will be now and in the future. That legislators won’t knowingly impose unfunded mandates on our schools. And that somehow this decision on statewide assessments will be about assessments and not political sausage-making.

*Inspired by Math with Bad Drawings. I think we can all agree that Education in Iowa should stay away from both analogies and bad drawings from now on.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 32

Tech readiness: field test edition

It has been nearly one year since I last wrote an extended post on Iowa’s tech readiness for statewide computer adaptive testing. In the time since I wrote that post, Iowa participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessments field tests, which were an opportunity not just to test the test, but to uncover issues with the technology infrastructure used to deliver and administer the assessments.

What did we learn about Iowa’s tech readiness through the field testing? It’s hard to say, as there has been little media coverage of the field test experience in Iowa. In fact, the only media mention of how field testing went in Iowa I was able to find was an EdWeek article that mentioned that the Denison Community School District had some issues with the text-to-speech function during the field tests.

No news isn’t necessarily good news. Even if we assume a lack of headlines indicates that field testing went smoothly for participating Iowa districts, Iowa’s school technology infrastructure could hardly be said to have been put to the test.

Participation in the field testing was voluntary and, as best I can tell, only 8% of Iowa’s school districts, representing slightly less that 14% of Iowa’s K-12 student enrollment participated in the field tests. Only two of the eight largest districts in the state participated (25% of UEN members), joined by only three of eleven UEN associate members (27% of UEN associate members or 26% of total UEN membership).

Of the participating districts, I could find only four mentions of the scope of field testing participation (one district mentioned third grade, one mentioned sixth grade math, and two mentioned third grade math). Keeping in mind that state law requires that districts to test nine grade levels of students (grades 3-11) in three subjects (mathematics, reading, and science) starting in the 2016-2017 school year, it is likely that not even the technology infrastructure of even the individual participating districts has been adequately tested.

Which leaves us to see what we can learn from the experiences of other states: that it helps to already be administering statewide tests online, and in the absence of that, it helps to make large investments in technology upgrades and training.

Consider the field testing experience of the Pulaski County Special School District, as reported in EdWeek:

The Pulaski County Special School District in Little Rock, Ark., credited a bandwidth upgrade and lots of upfront technology work with an uneventful PARCC field-testing experience. Chief Technology Officer Will Reid said his staff loaded computers with Java and other software updates and tested every computer’s functionality ahead of time.

. . .

[Chief Technology Officer] Reid, from Pulaski County, said the field-testing “went much smoother than we anticipated from a technological perspective.” But the trial run involved a very small number of the district’s students, and he thinks it will be “an extreme challenge” when the test goes districtwide next year.

“It takes such a coordinated effort between IT, teachers, administrators, and students for this to go off successfully,” he said.

Many of the tabs I am trying to close this weekend, regular readers will be unsurprised to learn, relate to Smarter Balanced assessments specifically, or online statewide testing or common core testing more generally. Stay tuned for more posts on these issues later today as the spring cleaning blogathon continues.

Legislative Update 3/14: First Funnel Survivors [updated]

Update: The Gazette list is just a partial one. Additional education bills survived the first funnel, including both SF 429 and HF 446 that keep the statewide assessment issue alive, previously blogged about here. The Iowa House Republican newsletter has a list of House education bills (which includes bills that The Gazette did not list) that survived first funnel organized into categories here.

The first funnel deadline was last Friday, and The Gazette has a partial list of bills that lived and died. Below I have pulled some of the bills that are education or education-related bills:

  • SF 60: broadband expansion bill.
  • SF 345: antiharassment/antibullying bill (successor to SSB 1044).
  • HF 307: start date bill which would set the earliest day of classes at August 23rd (successor to HF 13). Amendment H-1007, which would make the Thursday and Friday of the high school state wrestling tournament a school holiday not counted as instructional time, has been filed by Jacoby (D-Johnson).
  • SF 227: local control start date bill (successor to SSB 1058).
  • HF 549: a bill to change collective bargaining arbitration proceedings involving teachers employed by school districts and AEAs (successor to HSB 204).
  • SF 473: a bill relating to the state preschool program for four-year-old children (successor to SSB 1101 and SF 246).
  • HF 6: a bill expanding the criminal offense of sexual exploitation by a school employee to include an individual employed by a school district, including a full-time, part-time, substitute, or contract employee. Amendment H-1023, by the Committee on Judiciary, would also add volunteers and contract employees of school districts with significant contact with students but would exclude students enrolled in the district. The amendment would also exclude from the definition of “school employee” a person who would otherwise meet the definition under (b)-(e) (coaching authorization, non-teacher employees, volunteers, or other contract employees) if they are less than four years older than the student with whom the person engaged in prohibited conduct and the person is not in a position of direct authority over the student.
  • SF 181: a bill to allow police officers to qualify as classroom driver education instructors (successor to SSB 1003).
  • HF 271/SF 431: a bill to add fine arts to the Iowa Core (SF 431 is successor to SSB 1234). The fiscal note for SF 431 estimates that it will cost $115,000 annually to add a fine arts consultant at the DE.
  • HF 204: a bill to continue the open enrollment exception for purposes of enrolling in CAM or Clayton Ridge school districts for participating in online learning programs and adding requirements for those school districts (successor to HF 97).
  • HF 582: a bill to replace the terms “core curriculum”, “Iowa core curriculum”, and Iowa common core with the term “Iowa academic standards” and to require the DE to establish data collection, data privacy, and data sharing policy for student data collected by the DE, school districts, and accredited nonpublic schools (successor to HSB 173).

Automated Teaching

I made a joke about schools offering 21st century versions of WHIMP a few weeks ago, but apparently they already exist. The New York Times featured one such version yesterday in an Opinionator column titled “Reaching Math Students One By One“. [HT: Chris at A Blog About School.]

The column describes a program known as Teach to One or School to One, depending upon where it is used, and it is hard to know where to start.

How about since when are airports the ideal model for places where children are compelled to spend their days?

Or why is students entering middle school/junior high with a range of math or reading skills from Kindergarten to eighth grade always treated as a given? Is there never a point at which school administrators and school boards are obligated to stop celebrating middle school/junior high remediation success stories and start asking questions? For instance–after congratulating awesome remediation teacher, of course–can we ask administrators why so many students are entering our middle schools/junior highs with such a wide range of skills after five to seven years of schooling under their belts? What can we learn from successful middle school/junior high level remediation programs that we could use to change elementary school curricula or teaching methods so that fewer students require remediation in our middle schools/junior highs? What can we learn from successful middle school/junior high remediation programs that we could apply to elementary school interventions so that students get effective help, perhaps years sooner, rather than later?

How did automated teaching become the 21st century ideal? In person lecture: bad! Pre-recorded Khan Academy lecture: good! Teacher generated quiz: bad! Computer generated quiz: good! Teacher exercising professional judgment about what to teach next and how to most effectively teach it: bad! Computer algorithm generated lessons/assignments: good!

Also, I can’t understand this quote being offered without question:

“For any subject, any room, it can’t be true that one teacher teaching 30 kids is the best way, says Joel Rose, an education expert [and co-developer of School of One] who in 2009 worked for the New York City Department of Education.

Aren’t schools offering different levels of math by middle school/junior high? Is it really so impossible for one teacher to teach thirty children pre-algebra or algebra or grade six math that it seems like a good idea spend a lot of money to throw all 120 students into a single, giant room? I don’t think so, but I guess that doesn’t sell expensive computer-based solutions.

The column includes positive comments from teachers who use the program, but I am seriously asking: does this sound like a fulfilling professional teaching career? Carrying out the mandates of a computer algorithm in an airport-like atmosphere?

Spring Cleaning

Spring is less than a week away and the weather has been beautiful so I’m ready for some spring cleaning.

Between real world chores I am going to try to finally close all of the dozens of tabs I currently have open in a spring cleaning weekend blogathon. Please bear with me, as some of the tabs have been open for quite some time. But by midnight Sunday they will all be closed whether I got them blogged or not.

Reflections on the Blogathon Challenge

Thanks to Chris at A Blog About School for issuing the Blogathon Challenge and thanks to Nicholas J for unofficially joining us.

It was exhausting but most days it was helpful to have the pressure of a deadline to just sit down and get a post published, although I think I proved Chris’s point that quantity can come at a cost of quality, even though he didn’t.  In any case, hats off to all the bloggers who routinely manage to post daily–it’s a lot of work.

Some things I’ve learned:

To trust the publish later feature on this blog.

A bit about Twitter.

Penelope Trunk is on to something.  Cookbook Labs was far more controversial than I’d realized it would be and easily received the most page views of all of the Blogathon posts.

That this blog doesn’t fit squarely into a particular blog type.  I’m a parent but not primarily blogging about my own children, the school/district my child attends, or home schooling, I’m a lawyer but not a blawger, etc.

To plan ahead next time I take up a blogging challenge.

So, a sincere thank you to both regular readers and those who drop in following a search or a link.  I hope that most of you find something of interest here.

Cure Worse Than The Disease?

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the need for a waiver from NCLB requirements.  So, inspired by this comparison of NCLB versus the Connecticut waiver request (HT @daskmartin), I thought I would write a quick overview of Iowa’s waiver request.

College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students

  • Adoption of the Common Core Standards
  • Statewide implementation of Response to Intervention and PBIS
  • Implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessments by 2014
  • “Model” curriculum by July 2013
  • Art, music, and world languages standards
  • End-of-course of assessments aligned with the Iowa Core by 2014
  • Required college entrance exam by 2014
  • Optional career readiness assessment by 2014
  • Switch to InTASC teaching standards
  • Teacher career pathways

State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support

Performance goals:

  • 100% of school buildings will have at least 80% of students proficient in math and reading.
  • 100% of students will make at least a year’s growth in a year’s time

Current Annual Measurable Objectives:

  • Make or miss AYP (based on reading scores, math scores, participation in accountability testing plus graduation and attendance rates).
  • Subgroups must include at least 30 students (at the school level?).
  • All schools are expected to meet the same targets.

Waiver Proposed Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO):

  • The DE will calculate AMO trajectories for each school and each eligible subgroup in each school that will depend upon current distance from the statewide performance goals, such that all schools will meet statewide achievement score target of 85 at the end of ten years.  [Note page 57: only 25 of over 1300 schools currently have an achievement score at 85 or higher.]
  • Eligible subgroups must include at least 10 students at the district or school level (more subgroups will have reportable results than under the NCLB 30 student rule).

All schools will be classified under a new classification system (and all schools and districts, regardless of classification, would be required to complete Continuous School Improvement Plans):

  • Distinguished (Exceptional for three or more consecutive years)
  • Exceptional
  • High Performing
  • Commendable
  • Acceptable
  • Needs Improvement (Focus)
  • Priority
  • Unacceptable (Focus or Priority for three consecutive years)

Schools will be classified according to a Performance Index Score (0 to 100 points possible), a Closing Gap Score (percentage of subgroups meeting AMOs), participation in accountability testing of at least 95% for all students and each subgroup (n=20), and a graduation rate of at least 60% for all students and each subgroup (n=10).  [See page 51 for a chart showing numbers required to fall into each classification category.]

The Performance Index is made up of two parts, an achievement score based on reading and mathematics assessments (with equal weighting for proficiency and growth for all students) worth up to 80 points and Other Academic Indicators (OAI) worth up to 20 points.

OAIs by type of school (see pages 60-62 for charts showing how points will be awarded in each category):

  • High School: graduation rate (10 points), college ready rates (5 points), attendance rates (5 points).  [Note college ready is calculated from Iowa Assessment scores at each level that track to earning a college ready score on the ACT.]
  • Middle/Junior High School: college ready rates (10 points) and attendance rates (10 points).
  • Elementary Schools: attendance rates (10 points) and 3rd grade reading proficiency rates (10 points).

The DE proposes to add more measures to this accountability system in the future including, Smarter Balanced Assessments, end-of-course exams, college entrance exams, post-graduation data, career readiness exam, safe and supportive schools indicators (suspension and expulsion rates, parent satisfaction, levels of students engagement, staff working conditions), and Response to Intervention measures.

Reward schools (Exceptional/Distinguished): will get state recognition (including special logos), will have to write CSIPs but will have some autonomy in identifying areas for improvement, and can apply to become Studio Schools to mentor other schools.

The DE plans to seek administrative law changes to apply interventions and sanctions to non-Title I schools in addition to the Title I schools affected by NCLB.  Interventions and sanctions for Focus/Priority/Unacceptable schools may include: parent notification, charter options, a state review panel, and set aside of 20% of Title I funds for implementing turnaround principles, extended learning opportunities (tutoring or summer school), and professional development.

Supports for all schools in the state include implementing Response to Intervention, PBIS, and anti-bullying programs; and implementing the Iowa Core and universal constructs.

And, a quote from page 105, just because it made me laugh: “Since Iowa is a local control state, the selection of professional development providers is a local district decision.”  Is this what school board elections are all about–choice of professional development providers?

Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership

This section includes the teacher/administrator evaluation changes, including requiring the use of “student outcome measures” as part of the evaluations.  The DE plans to develop measures of student achievement for “untested subjects” for use in evaluating teachers of those subject areas.

Note that in an article about Senator Harkin’s decision not to run for re-election, Education Week notes that Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill would not require student achievement to be used as part of evaluating teachers.

Is the cure worse than the disease?  I think so for several reasons.  First, it incorporates accountability by high stakes testing into state law–if the ESEA reauthorization substantially changes the worst parts of NCLB, we’ll still be stuck with it until state law is also amended/repealed–not necessarily an easy thing.  Second, it seeks to apply NCLB accountability interventions and sanctions to all schools in the state, not just the ones receiving Title I funds (except required SINA transfers, which may be the only thing a successful waiver application actually rids us of) which is a pretty high price to pay for accepting roughly ninety million dollars of Title I funds per year.  Third, tying student test scores to teacher evaluations is controversial and is not required by either NCLB or Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill.  Finally, because I still believe that the route to better schools is political accountability at the local level (ie. local control) rather than top down, high-stakes-testing-driven accountability.

If we are desperate enough to pass bad law this session to escape NCLB requirements, let’s just refuse the ninety million dollars instead–surely we can find state money this year to replace those funds.  Otherwise, why not wait and see what relief ESEA reauthorization might bring?