The 1% testing wars.


Graphic: NY Times

-Bev Johns

Why do D.C. based civil rights, disability and special education organizations all insist on Standardized Testing for ALL students with disabilities?

Why do they insist, through the new Federal policy of Results Driven Accountability for special education, that all students with disabilities meet a grade level standard on the NAEP tests that students without disabilities do not come close to meeting?

The Federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is entirely about the individual needs of ONE student, not standardized Instruction, not a standardized classroom, not a standardized teacher, and not a standardized Test.

IDEA is specially designed instruction for one student that provides a Free and Appropriate and Public Education (FAPE) in the Environment that is Least Restrictive (LRE) for that individual student along the required Continuum of

Alternative Placements, as detailed in the IEP where all decisions are made ONLY by the IEP Team.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing No Child Left Behind, requires every student with disabilities, no matter how complex or severe, to take the State Standardized Test, excepting only 1 percent of all students who have severe cognitive disabilities.

The 1 percent still have to take a state test, just a different one.

The U.S. Department of Education set up a Negotiated Rule making (Neg-Reg) to recommend rules to implement ESSA, including rules on the 1 percent and on a definition of severe cognitive disabilities.

According to Education Week:

The toughest part of the assessment negotiation was on tests for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

The Neg-Reg group finally decided NOT to have a Federal definition of severe cognitive disabilities but to let each State decide on a definition.

According to Education Week:

But the regulations set strong parameters for the definition states come up with, at the behest of civil rights advocates on the panel. For instance, states can’t identify a student as having a severe cognitive disability just because that student doesn’t do well in school, or only because that student is an English-language learner. And states have to take into account both students’ adaptive behavior (how they handle being in school) and their cognitive abilities (their academic potential) in writing their definition.

The suggested regulations will make it very hard for states to get a federal waiver of the 1 percent limit, although local school districts can get a waiver from their state if they can justify having more than 1 percent of students with severe cognitive disabilities.

In a major defeat for the civil rights groups, the Neg-Reg group rejected a rule intended  “to make sure that poor and minority students aren’t disproportionately identified as having a severe cognitive disability.” Recent research has shown that concentrated poverty, low birth weight, etc. results in students of color being under-identified for special education.

There is a developing backlash against major civil rights organizations within minority communities over standardized testing.

An April 24th article in the New York Times, Race and the Standardized Testing Wars, states:

When the parents of more than 200,000 pupils in the third through eighth grades in New York chose to have their children sit out standardized state tests last spring, major civil rights organizations were quick to condemn their decision, along with similar movements in Colorado, Washington and New Jersey.

Reliable testing results, they argued, broken down by race, income and disability status, were critical in holding schools accountable for providing equal education for all.

By refusing to have their children participate, the parents were “inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” according to a statement by the groups.

Because the families opting out were disproportionately white and middle class, testing proponents dismissed them as coddled suburbanites, while insisting that urban parents, who had graver concerns about the quality of their children’s schools, were supportive of the tests.

Earlier this year, proponents of testing began using the hashtag #OptOutSoWhite – a spin on the #OscarsSoWhite social-media campaign – to suggest that testing opposition was a form of white privilege.

Yet as testing season unfolds this year, the debate is becoming murkier.

More minority educators, parents and students are criticizing the tests, opening a rift with civil rights groups and black and Hispanic educators who support testing, like Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Their complaints are wide-ranging.

They argue that the focus on testing has forced struggling schools to cut back on enriching programs like field trips and arts education.

Some view testing as part of a larger agenda, driven by test companies and opponents of teachers’ unions, that seeks to wring profits from education while closing public schools and replacing them with non-unionized charter schools.

Others say that the tests are damaging to students’ self-esteem, because students interpret low scores as proof that they are inferior and destined to fail.

ESSA. A pig in a poke.


Even though I am no longer a member of the IEA, NEA or NEA Retired, I still get their mail and email.

That’s okay. The Chicago Tribune still shows up on my porch even though I cancelled my subscription ten years ago.

This weekend I received an email from NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia on the progress of ESSA testing implementation. The NEA sits on the committee.

Rarely have I read something written so long which says so little. It seems the committee agreed on some things and disagreed on other things. Thanks for the update, Lily.

“We have to get this right. We need to work on real education solutions. We have to collaborate with key stakeholders to raise our voice to deliver on the promise of ESSA and to provide opportunity for all students,” say Eskelsen Garcia.

In this case, collaboration means not knowing anything. For NEA and AFT leaders, sitting at the table means they’re at the table. Not we’re at the table. Or at least we’re not at the adult’s table. We’re at the kids table and we get to hear on a need to know basis. We know the adults are whispering about something. We’re pretty sure it has to do with us.

My parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents used to do it in Yiddish.

There was talk of less testing, but it doesn’t seem like it.

There was talk that they would no longer link teacher evaluation to measures of student performance. But in Illinois, the law continues to require it, thanks to statutes actually written with the IEA at the table.

There continues to be a requirement of 95%  state-wide participation in PARCC or PARCC-like assessments.

There is a 1% cap of the number of Special Education students who can be receive testing waivers. Good luck if our state has more than 1%.

More on this last issue in a later post.

The NEA called on its members to write Congress and demand support for ESSA for a year before it was passed. They promised it would be teacher-driven.

Instead it will drive teachers crazy.

Members had no clue what was in it.

The IEA gave Republican Senator Mark Kirk an “A” grade and the only reason they gave was that he voted for ESSA.

It was always a pig in a poke.

That’s what we bought and that’s what we still have.


ESSA will change little about teacher evaluations.


Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 3.04.05 PMIn spite of the enthusiastic endorsement of the IEA and our parent NEA and the AFT, little will change about teacher evaluations as a result of the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka ESSA.

As I wrote at the time ESSA passed in Congress and was signed by the President, Illinois and other states had already made it law linking teacher evaluations and individual student performance measures such as PARCC.

In fact, IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin headed the committee created by Governor Quinn that wrote the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA).

In an interview I did with NPR’s Dusty Rhodes:

Fred Klonsky, a retired Park Ridge art teacher and education blogger, can’t envision state lawmakers undoing that measure.

“Now that they’ve passed ESSA, that law doesn’t go away,” he says. “Teachers are still going to be evaluated exactly in the way that they were being evaluated before the bill was passed.”

EdWeek reports today:

The nation’s state superintendents are trying to send the message that, even though there are no longer any federal requirements for teacher evaluation, states aren’t abandoning their commitment to review their teachers on a regular basis.

“A question I get asked by reporters is, ‘Aren’t states just going to back away from teacher evaluations [post No Child Left Behind]?’, and my answer is ‘No,’ ” said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers in a press call with reporters. But in the future, states must emphasize teacher development, he said: “These systems had a tendency to err more on the evaluation side than the support side.”

ESSA: Teacher evaluations and Pay for Success.


President Obama signs ESSA last December.

-From a report by Springfield NPR education reporter Dusty Rhodes. The entire report from Illinois Issues can be found here

Another reason Illinois teachers may not feel much difference under ESSA is that —barring a transformation in the General Assembly — the new law’s teacher evaluation guidelines won’t apply here. Unlike the NCLB waiver system, ESSA does not require state teacher evaluation systems to hinge on students’ standardized test scores. But when Illinois applied for a federal Race To The Top grant in 2010, it had to prove that it was ready to implement exactly that kind of evaluation. It did so by enacting the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which was rolled into a broader Education Reform Act in 2011.

Fred Klonsky, a retired Park Ridge art teacher and education blogger, can’t envision state lawmakers undoing that measure.

“Now that they’ve passed ESSA, that law doesn’t go away,” he says. “Teachers are still going to be evaluated exactly in the way that they were being evaluated before the bill was passed.”

There’s a reason NCLB was passed in the first place: States weren’t doing a great job of educating all children. But after 13 years of NCLB, the federal government hasn’t proven to be much better at it, as it failed to close the achievement gap. And while ESSA basically throws the ball back into the states’ court, it bring in one other player: the private sector.

For example, ESSA contains a provision allowing “pay for success,” also known as “social impact bonds.”

One example of the bonds in action comes from Utah. Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker committed $7 million to fund preschool for some 600 4-year-olds. Tests showed that 110 of those children could be headed for special education, but the investors bet that preschool would cure their deficiencies. When the children reached first grade, only one of those 110 demonstrated a need for special education, according to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, thereby saving the school district $281,000. The investment bankers received a check for $267,000, which is 95 percent of the savings, and will continue to receive that payout until their $7 million is repaid with interest.

Chicago Public Schools have entered into a $16.9 million social impact bond deal with Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker involving more than 2,600 children.

U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, took credit for including “pay for success” in ESSA. The provision has been criticized by education experts like Diane Ravitch, Beverly Holden Johns and Mercedes Schneider for injecting a private profit motive into crucial decisions about the education of young children. Johns points out that they are complex contracts where the investors possess the financial expertise. Schneider says these bonds are an “open door for the exploitation” of children who do not score well on tests.

ESSA also includes a provision to help private and religious schools access federal funds, including a block grant program funded at $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017. States will be required to create an ombudsman position to monitor and enforce distribution of Title 1 and other federal funds to private and religious schools for “equitable services.”

Educators are watching another component of the new law which allows for non-university “teacher preparation academies” run by venture philanthropists to churn out teachers deemed “masters” with little classroom experience.

IEA’s Klickna hides the truth about ESSA.


Talking about the new federal education law to Springfield’s public radio reporter Dusty Rhodes, IEA President Cinda Klickna said, “You know I think overall, we’re really happy with it. As always, as we move into the implementation, we’re going to have to be paying attention to consequences and ramifications that are in there that weren’t quite understood at the beginning, Even though there will still be tests, they won’t be used in the punitive way they’ve been used for the past decade.”

I had to read that again.

Either Klickna is ignorant of what the law does or she is hiding the truth.

The use of student performance measures, including tests, are currently used to punish teachers throughout the state.

The punishment is a part of Illinois law. PERA, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, was passed and signed by Governor Quinn. It was proposed to the legislature by a commission headed by the IEA’s own Executive Director, Audrey Soglin.

Nothing in ESSA changes what PERA requires. In fact, ESSA strengthens the powers of the state and state legislatures in enacting teacher evaluation laws and regs.

I asked a national NEA leader about this.

My assessment of the situation in Illinois was confirmed.

It was also confirmed by local union leaders throughout Illinois, most of whom have already set up their PERA committees or are in the process now.

All school districts in Illinois must be in compliance with PERA by 2016.

ESSA will have no impact on it.


ESSA. The heart of NCLB beats on.


-Alfie Kohn

The outrageous and incalculably damaging reality of testing students every single year — extraordinary from a worldwide perspective, in fact virtually unheard of for students below high school age — continues in ESSA. Annual testing is something we’ve been conditioned to accept and even to view as tolerable compared to the reality of multiple tests a year, what with benchmark exams in between the other exams, districts piling on with their own assessments, new Common Core tests, and so on. Far from challenging this reality, the law that President Obama just signed cements it into place. And beyond the issue of how often they’re administered, standardized tests — still yoked to overly prescriptive, top-down standards — remain the primary way by which kids, teachers, and schools are going to be assessed.

Conservatives, in effect, have been saying to the federal government, “We demand that you stop imposing your terrible standards and tests on our communities. It’s the states’ job to destroy critical thinking and curiosity, and we’ll do that with our terrible standards and tests, thank you very much.” If you’re a teacher, it may not make much difference if oppressive dictates originate in Washington, D.C., the state capital, or even the district office. The point is still that your skills as a professional educator, and the unique interests and needs of a particular group of kids, don’t count for much. ESSA remains the Eternal Standardization of Schooling Act.

The new law not only mandates annual testing — and tries to counter parental efforts to opt out their children (by demanding 95 percent participation in those tests) — but offers as a definition of failure the “lowest-performing 5 percent of all schools.” A relative definition like that sets up education as a contest, guaranteeing that, no matter how well everyone does, some schools will always be classified as inadequate. The menu of interventions threatened for “failing” schools, moreover, is depressingly familiar: taking them over, turning them into charters, and so on.

If you’re willing to wade through nearly 400 pages of legislative language, you’ll find any number of other wince-worthy provisions. ESSA encourages the use of computer adaptive testing, which is welcome news mostly to companies that sell that technology. It opens the door to privately funded “Pay for Success” initiatives similar to Goldman Sachs’ money-making preschool schemein Utah. And it endorses non-university “school leader preparation academies.”

But, again, the problem isn’t limited to particular stipulations. The point is that, even with more authority re-devolving to the states, the broader foundations of what has been the educational status quo in America for a generation are allowed to continue and in some cases are actively perpetuated: the creep toward privatization, the traditional approaches to pedagogy and curriculum, the bribe-and-threat manipulation of educators and children, and, above all, the reliance on standardized testing. For worse and for worse, the heart of NCLB lives on.

Read the entire post here.

Art is a core subject under ESSA. Count your brushes.


After No Child Left Behind was signed by President George Bush (1) in 2002, I received notification from administration that my art budget was being cut by 25%

I wasn’t asked what supplies I would choose to go with out. The budget office simply cut 25% of each item I had included in my budget order.

If I ordered 25 brushes, they erased  seven brushes from the order form.

25 sets of crayons? 7 boxes would be gone.

7 pencils.

7 bottles of yellow paint.

Yellow paint. It’s a primary color. I taught K-5. Yellow is important.

No Child Left Behind declared that Art was a core subject.

On page 534 of the PDF, as part of Title IX.

“The term ‘core academic subjects’ means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.”

I received some gushing emails over the past few days, excited that the reauthorized ESEA, aka Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) had left No Child Left Behind behind.

And that the arts were considered a core subject.

“The term ‘core academic subjects’ means English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, and physical education, and any other subject as determined by the state or local educational agency.”

Many of my art teacher colleagues received this news with mixed emotions.

Would it mean our students were now going to be tested in the Arts?

I doubt it. And it would be a terrible idea.

Left to local states to fund it, will the arts be better funded.

I doubt it.

As always, my art teacher colleagues should count their brushes, crayons and pencils to make sure they have at least one per student.

That is If there is still art, declared a core subject since 2002, being taught in the school.