testing Archives - The Jose Vilson


Changing The Language From Anti-Testing To Pro-Whole Child

by Jose Vilson on September 12, 2013

in Jose

I like getting into discussions with people who like saying “Jose, why are you against testing?”

Let me lay out the argument and the reason why, instead of referring to myself as anti-testing, I’m calling myself pro-whole-child.

The argument is that testing isn’t bad. We should have experts who look at the lay of the education land, help set standards for what children ought to learn at every grade, and then help develop assessments that help us get a glimpse as to whether students learned that material. Testing seems more stable, and less prone to error since these guys spend their working hours on developing precise problems and test them on children and adults to make certain that the problems absolutely mean to assess what they mean to assess. Plus, having these common assessments between grade levels could make for interesting longitudinal studies and provide critical feedback for teachers, parents, and students about student and teacher performance.

I hope I got that right because, as it turns out, I think there’s something inherently wrong with this.

To a certain extent, I do agree with having a viable, thorough curriculum from K-12 that expands on content knowledge, helps students question, and goes beyond teaching students how to multiply in high school. Often, it’s the students in the lower-income brackets that get tossed into the least demanding classes with the teacher who likes to say, “Well, at least they’ll learn something!” I have a thing for high expectations, and I can’t shake it no matter what others say either. Plus, in my classroom, I give exams rather often. Outsourcing this task to the experts seems like a good idea because it’s less work for me on many levels.

Yet, that’s just not how this plays out currently. In fact, the current status quo strips away any real teacher expertise and potential for creating curricular equity. For one, students, educators, and parents at this juncture don’t worry about learning the standards; they worry about passing the test. The ramifications for passing the test include loss of funding, an overabundance of visitors who critique more than help, and eventually a process for shutdown that often dismisses the students who go to the school. Schools in these situations become less like cultural centers and more like test factories, churning out kids who can pass tests but can’t imagine or create without being given the answer outright.

Also, people who advocate for the Common Core State Standards miss the bigger picture that people on the ground don’t: The CCSS came as a package deal with the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and austerity measures including mass school closings. Often, it seems like the leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouths when they say they want to improve education but need to defund our schools most in need of a demanding curriculum, if that’s the argument. It makes no sense for us to have high expectations of our students when we don’t have high expectations for our school system, especially when it comes to funding.

Lastly, and most importantly, “testing” isn’t the same as assessment. We have plenty of things we can assess and test, of course. The way we talk about testing, however, is mostly a math and English-language arts third through eighth grade game. I don’t want that. I prefer we emphasize math, ELA, science, social studies, arts, (daily) physical education, and anything else that would give our students an experience that makes them better for having done it. In other words, I want more than what they’re getting now.

I prefer people don’t refer to me or anyone else who thinks like me about these things as “anti-testing.” I’m not anti-testing. I’m pro-whole-child-assessment. We don’t have a fancier name for this, but it’s more appropriate than the drivel attached to the “anti-testing” label.

I want less tests and better assessments. There. And I wear the “pro whole child” label proudly.



Stop And Frisk These Test Scores

by Jose Vilson on August 12, 2013

in Jose

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

I’d rather have a tall glass of “innocent until proven guilty,” whether it’s about my standing as a citizen in NYC or my students’ test scores.

This month has been rather unsuccessful for Mayor Bloomberg and two of his political postures: his stance on stop-and-frisk and his direction in education reform. Despite what comes out of his office, everyone ought to recognize it as a major fail, and a blow to an already tarnished third term.

I can’t tell you how quickly my jaw dropped when I saw my school’s test scores. I didn’t get a glimpse of them, but when I heard only ~30% of students “passed” the English or Math test, AND that the scales were aligned to the NAEP, I knew NYC would be in some trouble. I sighed, and hoped none of my students took the drop personally. Only a handful of eight graders at my school got a 4, the highest level possible.

I can’t understand the games some adults play with their lives, especially when they tie these scores to all types of notions, including their scholarships, honors classes, and their actual ability as students.

Then I read this by Diane Ravitch and almost flung my phone at someone:

The state didn’t just “raise the bar.” It aligned its passing mark to a completely inappropriate model.

The state scores have four levels: level 4 is the highest, level 1 is the lowest. In the present scoring scheme, students who do not reach level 3 and 4 have “failed.”

NAEP has three levels: “Advanced” is the highest (only about 3-8% of students reach this level). “Proficient” is defined by the National Assessment Governing Board as “solid academic performance for each grade assessed. This is a very high level of academic achievement.”). “Basic” is “partial mastery” of the skills and knowledge needed at each grade tested.

“Proficient” on NAEP is what most people would consider to be the equivalent of an A. When I was a member of the NAEP governing board, we certainly considered proficient to be very high level achievement.

New York’s city and state officials have decided that NAEP’s “proficiency” level should be the passing mark.

They don’t understand that a student who is proficient on NAEP has attained “a very high level of academic achievement.”

And then it hit me. The fact that we can’t even compare any one year with other years for the last decade speaks volumes about the sorts of education policy we’ve encountered in NYC. To bewilder, anger, and frustrate parents, students, and educators across the city looks less like collaborative learning and more like a shakedown.

Speaking of which, a judge ruled today that “stop-and-frisk,” questioning or otherwise, is unconstitutional. I wish Bloomberg, Ray Kelly, and the NYPD would have stopped this nonsense back when we deemed it inappropriate. Despite 57% of white residents of NYC approving of stop-and-frisk, it rarely affected them. 86% of those affected were Black or Latino, and at a 12% success rate, it did more to agitate relationships between certain communities and the Giuliani-inspired police state.

In both instances, it’s very easy to blame the system for its inefficiencies, or the people who lead these systems as some politicians do. It’s more appropriate to hold the right people accountable for the direction NYC has gone in for the last decade. That’s why mayoral control ought to mean.

We can’t say the teachers didn’t teach when scores go badly and take the credit when scores get inflated. We can’t take pride in stopping and frisking Black and Latino youth, yet continually tell these communities that it’s what’s best for them. The citizens of NYC demand respect, as parents, as citizens, as people seeking a better way.

As a person affected by both of these initiatives, I thought to myself, “What if we stopped frisking my students and stopped and frisked education reformers with quick fix disaster plans coming into our public schools? What if we created environments that cared for our most disenfranchised?”

In the meantime, I implore all of you reading to stop and frisk those test scores. You might find, as Bloomberg did, nothing at all.



p.s. – photo courtesy of http://www.wnyc.org/i/620/372/c/80/photologue/photos/bloomberg-and-kelly-at-ground-zero__.jpg


In my new co-blog The Collaborateurs, I wrote a little bit about testing and race. Here’s a bit:

What’s sometimes missing from this side of the argument is that the effects for students is much worse than for teachers. Obviously, the teaching profession has a long way to go before we have the right working conditions and respect from society to make this profession more … professional. On the other hand, a few of the people who replied to my thoughts said that it’s teachers, and not students, who get labeled failures when they don’t do well.


How can we say that children don’t get labeled failures? At least most of us have a degree to fall back on, if not an advanced degree, and perhaps another job they can take up in case this job fail. We don’t want to leave, but if we have to, we’ll be OK.

Read the rest here. Like. Share. Thank you!

Jose, who wishes Mr. Vilson the best this week …


Short Notes: Pearson Makes Money, Whether You Like It Or Not

April 21, 2013 Short Notes

A few notes: William J. Reese lets the world know that none of this testing business is new. Good read. [New York Times] Pearson apologized for errors on the gifted and talented test. They get a stern warning, and get to sit in the corner for millions of dollars. (Commentary mine.) [GothamSchools] I was asked […]

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Short Notes: We Are Powerful Beyond Measure

December 9, 2012 Short Notes

A few notes: I’ll be writing lots on the Future of Teaching blog. Here’s my first offering of the week, a congratulatory note for Dr. John Holland. [Future of Teaching] We need you to take action. If you’re against the continuing proliferation of testing, please sign. Thank you! [AFT] What does it mean to be […]

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An Open Letter To NYS Education Commissioner John B. King [Testing Isn't Natural]

May 29, 2012 Mr. Vilson

Dear John B. King, Let me just get this out of the way: testing is not natural. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that parents have gotten fed up with the abundance of testing placed upon their kids, and the continual dependence on standardized testing as a measure of actual student learning. The facts are […]

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