Monthly Archives: May 2015

Standards and Testing – What’s Up with Opting Out?

A few years ago I did a full “executive physical”.   I wasn’t sick or at risk for anything in particular at the time. But I thought it would be good to have a baseline record of lipids, blood glucose, cardiac health, etc.   Fortunately there were no surprises.

At subsequent annual checkups, I was able to have more intelligent conversations with my physician with this data in hand.    Each year I see what indicators are improving, or declining, like weight or cholesterol.  Then my physician might recommend adjustments to my diet or medications.  And if something is going more seriously wrong, it can be detected early.

Standardized testing has been used in our public schools for decades, with much the same motivation:  give students, teachers, and administrators useful information about student performance.

The earliest standardized tests in the US were the SAT (1926) and the ACT (1959).  When I was an elementary school student in the 1970s we took the California Achievement Test (CAT) every year (even though I lived in Massachusetts!?)   And the concept of standardized tests goes back much further, dating back to ancient Greece and the Han dynasty in China (206 BC) — although those examinations did not employ scantron sheets and #2 pencils.

In its current incarnation, standardized testing has noble aims.  Testing is designed to give the public, as well as educators, information about the performance of our students (and thus our schools).  Tests are designed to measure progress against specific standards.  For us, these are the PA Standards, which are aligned to the national common core standards.  With test results in hand, communities and educators  make adjustments to school operations to make improvements — large or small, depending on the circumstances — to better educate students.

If a student is struggling in a particular subject area, an intervention can be designed to get the student back on track.  But the focus is more on system-wide issues.  Test results flag gaps in the curriculum, point to issues in a particular grade or building, and provide benchmarks against other top districts.  Armed with test data, our “data teams” of  teachers and administration can take steps to further analyze and diagnose opportunities for improvement.   (These are not theoretical examples – UCF administration and IST teams in each building examine our test results and takes these kinds of steps every year.)

While this approach to testing may seem like common sense, standardized testing is beginning to draw fire from a small but vocal segment of the public.  In New York, New Mexico, and Colorado, the issue is getting lots of attention.   Delaware recently passed a bill to preserve parent’s rights to opt out.     Maine in considering the same.  In Pennsylvania, this is not yet a hot issue but there are signs that it might become one.

But there are large constituencies who support annual testing.  One reason is that testing plays a critical role in highlighting educational inequity, especially in poor, urban districts.   Without standardized tests, we could not compare the outcomes of English language learners to native speakers, rich districts to poor districts, and see where more resources or new approaches are needed.  And this is one of the many reasons why civil rights groups have come out strongly against the opt out movement.   Public test results prevent schools from sweeping bad results under the rug, and shine light on populations that are being under-served.

What motivates the “opt out” critics, and is there anything we should from their critique?  Is there anything we should do differently as a district?

In my next post will look more closely at how testing functions at UCF.  And then we will examine the argument of the opt out critics.


Official Ballots for May 19

For all of you registered voters in Chester County, below are links to the ballots that will be used in each township where I am running.  (You are going to exercise your civic duty and vote on May 19, right?)   There are a few competitive races, especially for the state-wide offices.

Pocopson Republican Ballot
Pocoposon Democratic Ballot
Newlin Republican Ballot
Newlin Democratic Ballot
Birmingham Republican Ballot
Birmingham Democratic Ballot

Let’s Not “Opt Out”

Our elementary and middle school students have recently completed the annual PSSAs.   In some neighboring districts (thankfully not ours), academic standards and standardized tests are being criticized and some families (less than 1%) are “opting out” of standardized testing.

One of my UCF school board collegues, Jeff Hellrung, recently wrote an OpEd in defense of standards:

When you send your children to school, don’t you want to know that they can perform to clear and reasonable standards that will give them foundational skills for eventual readiness for college or careers? We have those standards in our public schools. They are the PA Academic Standards. We also have valid and reliable assessments to determine whether or not students have mastered the standards. These are our PSSA tests which are given in grades 3-8 in language arts and math and in grades 4 and 8 in science.

Jeff makes a good argument for keeping standards and tests:  they provide valuable information to administrators on the effectiveness of curriculum and programs, and to teachers on the progress of individual students.

To the credit of our educators, Jeff notes that standards and annual testing enjoys strong support at UCF:

our past and current Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendents and teachers have embraced our state standards and accepted accountability for the performance of our students. They have used the PSSA results to address the particular needs of each student. They have  ensured that our students are prepared for but not overstressed taking those tests.

I will be exploring this issue in greater depth on the blog in coming weeks.  The full version of Jeff’s comments can be found at the Unionville Times here.

“I’m not good at Math”

One of the more harmful constructs in American culture is the belief that natural ability, rather than hard work, is the path to success.  And in the field of education, the attitude of “I’m not good at [blank]” can be quite harmful and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

24-year old Sam Priestly, a not-very-athletic English writer, was chosen by table tennis coach Ben Larcombe to demonstrate what hard work can accomplish.  Ben, convinced he could turn anyone into a top-tier player, coached Sam for one hour each day for a year.  The goal was to turn Sam into a top-100 table tennis player.   Continue reading

UCFSD 2015-2016 Budget Hearing – Tonight @ 7pm

As noted in UCF This Week:

There will be a budget hearing this coming Monday, at 7:00 PM in the district office. Financial plans and budgets are important. They support district priorities and provide the funding needed to support our mission. The public is encouraged to come to the meeting and engage in the process. For those who can’t attend, there will be a live stream available on the district website and an archive of the video will be available for review Tuesday morning. If needed, there will be additional budget hearings Tuesday and Wednesday.

The district presentation does a good job of describing how the budget is developed, and how millage rates are calculated.   I appreciate that transparency and clarity.    The “base case” shows an average millage increase of 2.85%.  Please come to the meeting tonight in the District Office, or email me with questions or comments prior to the final budget vote on June 15.


Primary Election on May 19 – Absentee Ballots

If you will be out of town on May 19, note that requests for absentee ballots must be received by Chester County voter services by 5pm on Tuesday May 12, and returned no later than 5pm on Friday May 15.

You may download the application for an absentee ballot here.

Please remember to vote for your favorite candidate!


An Truly Innovative Way to Teach Tech

When public schools get “innovative” on technology, we offer a high school course on Java, talk about 1:1 computing, promote a “day of code” or buy carts of Chrome books so that kids can interact with digital content for a couple of hours each day.

But that’s not what real innovation looks like.  How about a school where every class includes coding as part of the curriculum, even Art?  Where teachers are coached by Google engineers and IDEO designers?  Where students spend full trimesters in lab setting solving real-world problems?

Continue reading