I have opted my kids out of the SAGE, end-of-the-year state tests. Here are the reasons why.
- Eliminates parental/local control
- Grading teachers and schools, based on a test is wrong
- I don't agree the test is assessing 'critical thinking'.
- 'Fuzzy math' methods and answers are rewarded
- A pilot test: no validity or reliability
- I can't verify the test is actually testing anything I want; going on faith
- No data privacy guarantees
- Individual stress levels for a child
Tying teacher and school grades to SAGE scores eliminates local and parental control of education.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the use of the SAGE scores for teacher and school grading eliminates any other measurement of success. For example, let's assume you are someone who wants a lot of focus on traditional math methods and standard algorithms. As such, you request a teacher who you know has a very traditional leaning. Since the Common Core standards are requiring, not just the traditional algorithms and math facts, but "how" you got to the answer and "communication" about math, a teacher who doesn't focus on these additional methods will probably have kids who score lower on the SAGE test. The fact that you may want exactly what this teacher is providing is irrelevant. Others have determined what this teacher must teach in order to be 'successful'. A teacher who uses, as one educator calls it, the "closed-door veto" (a teacher who closes their door and does what parents want in spite of what they were told), will be subject to penalties for their test scores. What used to work with facts, will no longer work with specific "processes" required by the tests. The importance of what is taught and tested is being dictated to us at the state-level. Parents will, eventually, have no choice over what their kids learn in any public school setting. Tying teacher and school grading to the tests replaces accountability to parents and teacher individuality. How to make kids get good scores on the SAGE test is the most important thing--the job of the teacher now, wrongly, depends on it. Everyone is in favor of accountability. But accountability to whom? AIR and the USOE, but not parents.
Grading teachers and schools this way is wrong
There are so many factors that go into teaching and learning and testing. To evaluate a teacher or a school based on how my child takes a test is wrong. To elevate the importance of a test over the 180 days the teacher spends with my child is offensive. The grades my child earns from his teachers indicate, much more, how my child is performing and learning than a single test. We are trying to create a science out of what really should be an art. Additionally, what teacher will want to teach the "more difficult" students or those with special needs who don't qualify for an alternate assessment? If your job is linked to how your students do on the test, why would you teach special ed? Is education just about how well you can contribute to society? Or is education about the improvement of the individual? This model is horribly wrong.
"Critical Thinking" questions aren't
As I have gone through the sample questions, and seen the examples presented, I am not convinced the 'critical thinking' questions actually test critical thinking. Instead of testing a division fact: 12/4 = ?, we ask students to take stars and put 12 stars into 4 boxes, showing there are 3 in each box. Then, we provide the division symbol (the hardest part of a word problem--which operation am I using), and the students fill in the numbers. To me, this is a counting problem, and a convoluted one, at that. Just because a question is complicated or written out as words doesn't necessarily mean it is testing critical thinking. It may just be convoluted and confusing.
Math questions are not testing math, but communication, and fuzzy math processes
The two examples given, so far, show that if a child knows basic math, it may not be important. However, they need to know "the process" or how to "communicate" about math. (Is it critical thinking about math? I don't think so. You may disagree.) If a child doesn't complete the star problem, is it because he can't read or is it because he can't do division or is it because it took so many steps to get the answer, he gave up? We don't know. What about a child who speaks English as a Second Language or who has a disability? It isn't uncommon for a child who might struggle with English to be very capable in math. Are we testing their math skills or their communication skills? Do we know? I'm opposed to 'fuzzy math', and I don't want to provide any legitimacy to a test that rewards fuzzy math methodology. In it's bid to test 'critical thinking', we have moved from fact-based assessment, to communication and process. And that means, SAGE skews the questions in favor of a fuzzy math methodology.
No validity or reliability: This is a Pilot Test
SAGE is being piloted this year by the entire state's public school students. The parent panel flagged about 500 questions, most of which were left in the test to see how they worked out. Our children are being used as Guinea Pigs and free Quality Control Testers for the SAGE test. Why should I have any confidence in the result? (While this article talks about the PARCC and SBAC tests, not SAGE, the process and the conclusion are the same: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/27/march-madness-millions-of-kids-being-used-as-common-core-testing-guinea-pigs/)
I can't see the test questions
Associated with the validity or reliability, we are trusting the people at the State Office of Ed (USOE), AIR, and the parent panel to make sure the questions our children are being asked are not problematic and they are actually testing what we want tested. Perhaps they are not blatantly objectionable, but if they are testing division by counting stars, I'm not impressed.
I have no say over how, when, or with whom my kid's information will be used. It might be okay. It might not. It might be okay right now. In five years, will it still be okay?
Our contract with AIR, references FERPA (the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) when it comes to data privacy. AIR also says they will comply with other state and federal laws (not sure what those are, if they exist). FERPA is the only standard that is used to protect individual student records. (It isn't the "Gold standard", but it was, at least something.) In 2012, the US Dept of Ed, changed FERPA. FERPA used to require parental consent for the use of student information. Now, it is optional, and pretty much anyone can use or share personal student data with any other entity without parental knowledge or consent. In short, the reference to FERPA provides no guarantees on what will or will not be done with my child's data.
Originally, our contract with AIR didn't contain any language preventing the sharing of student information with a third-party. Fortunately, AIR signed an addendum to their agreement, stating they wouldn't share personal student data with a third-party without the USOE's permission. (But the USOE isn't me. So, I am still concerned and dependent on trusting the USOE. If they are offered enough money, will they? Others have.) Still, as a research organization, there isn't anything in their contract to prevent AIR from collecting and using any information passing through it's servers (including our students' responses to writing questions, personally-identifiable information, etc) for its own internal research. They have provided a letter indicating the contract precludes this, as well as prohibits using behavioral indicators. I have yet to find those references in the contract. State Law does allow the use of "behavioral indicators" on end-of-the-year tests.
In conclusion, AIR is not prevented by state law or their contract from using behavioral indicators. They are not prevented by state law or their contract from using our students' data for their own internal purposes, including research. They are, currently, prohibited from sharing any personal data with a third-party, unless the USOE allows this in the future. They have sent a letter stating they will not collect behavioral data. I hope they will be true to what they promised. I have no legal guarantee.
The final issue is the amount of stress and concern this places on some children. The first time I opted my elementary school child out of end-of-the-year testing, the response was one of overwhelming relief. Even though the results of the tests would not have had an impact on the overall grade in the class, the amount of emphasis and preparation reminded me of studying for the MCAT. A post-graduate test like the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT is one thing, but stress over a test in elementary school? It's not worth it to me to find out my child's supposed "proficiency". As I said before, the time spent with the teacher and the teacher's evaluation are infinitely more beneficial to me and to my child.
In the end, I have to take everything about this test on faith. My children, their teachers, and their schools will be evaluated by a brand new test over which I have no control. I must have faith in the USOE and AIR.
- Faith the test questions accurately assess the stated performance
- Faith that the results are reliable for assessing the quality of my child's teacher and school
- Faith that the USOE and AIR will protect personal information on my child