discuss-sudbury-model Educational Reform

Dale R. Reed (dale-reed@postoffice.worldnet.att.net)
Sat, 16 May 1998 20:31:28 -0700

Danny I enjoyed your article in the May Sudbury Valley School Journal.
You are certainly correct on all accounts. I think we are seeing the
end times of the government school system. At least I hope so.

I figured you would find the following piece in today's Seattle Times
interesting. Dale

http://www.seattletimes.com/news/education/html98/test_051698.html

Posted at 11:46 p.m. PDT; Saturday, May 16, 1998

State tells schools: Dont cheat
by Jolayne Houtz and Dick Lilly Seattle Times staff reporters

Reports of irregularities in the administration of new state tests this
spring prompted the states schools chief to send a memo yesterday
reminding principals, superintendents and others of the consequences of
cheating in preparing students for the tests.
"These improper actions by a few reflect negatively on all of us and can
seriously erode public confidence in . . . our schools," said the memo
from Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction, and Chuck
Collins, chairman of the state Commission on Student Learning.
The reports involved the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, a
new statewide performance-based test of fourth- and seventh-graders.
There were reports of teachers and other school staff members copying
secure test materials to share with students and staff members, reading
passages on a reading section of the test to students, and correcting
students spelling on the writing section.
Those reports were brought to state officials by school administrators,
Bergeson noted. The state did not release the number and location of
districts that have reported irregularities.
Bergesons memo went out the same day that the Seattle School District
acknowledged it is investigating allegations that students at T.T.
Minor Elementary received improper coaching in advance of the districts
standardized testing.
The incidents involve different tests and are unrelated, but they raise
similar issues. In an era of heightened public demands that schools be
accountable for their students performance, some experts say educators
are increasingly pushed to do things that might artificially inflate
their test scores.
The pressure is tangible. Seattle schools Superintendent John Stanford,
for example, is pushing principals to improve student performance, and
their schools standardized test scores comprise part of principals job
evaluations.
"Teachers recognize that principals are under a lot of pressure," said
Karen Morgan, a teacher with the districts STAR program, which coaches
new teachers during their first year in the profession.
"I think that Stanfords pressure does have the potential of sort of
screwing people up," said Morgan, "but it has the other effect of
getting people to try harder (and) it might be worth it."
One thing is clear: Schools ignore the pressure to improve at their own
peril. There are increasing calls for state or district takeovers of
low-performing schools and sanctions for principals and teachers who
fail to improve student performance.
A task force led by Bergeson and Frank Shrontz, retired Boeing chairman,
is developing an accountability system for Washington schools that will
reward good performance and lead to official intervention and sanctions
in low-performing schools.
"Around the country, we know the higher the stakes, the more
testing-security issues you have to deal with," Bergeson said. The memo
she and Collins wrote emphasizes the consequences of cheating, noting
that it violates professional ethics, testing protocols, state law and
state Board of Education rules covering acts of unprofessional conduct.
Civil penalties and sanctions for educators who break testing rules
include fines up to $500 and revocation of professional certification.

Formal review system needed
The memo was sent to every principal and superintendent in the state,
school-board presidents and other organizations.
"The bottom line is people can get their credentials pulled. They cant
just willy-nilly do whatever they want to do," Bergeson said.
She noted theres also been some misunderstanding in schools that have
kept or copied test items after the test was administered, for use in
staff development. Thats not allowed, because most test questions are
rotated and will be reused.
A more formal system for reviewing allegations of improper practices is
needed, said Gordon Ensign, who oversees testing for the state
Commission on Student Learning.
State officials typically have gotten just two or three such reports
about testing improprieties each year, and often there have been none.
"The stakes just werent that high before," Ensign said.
While he doesnt want to become "the test police," Ensign said the
increasing attention being paid to test scores means a greater need for
vigilance to be sure those scores arent tainted.

Legitimate ways to prepare
Identifying whats tainted can be difficult, however. Teachers can do a
number of things to prepare students for testing, some legitimate, some
not, said Monty Neill of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing,
a Cambridge, Mass., organization critical of standardized testing.
Talking with students about testing, giving them practice tests and
discussing general test-taking strategies are all considered legitimate
practices, he said - while teaching specific items known to be on a test
is clearly cheating.
In between, there are layers of gray - tutoring, practice tests that
mirror the real thing and other activities designed exclusively to boost
test scores that dance around the line of whats educationally
acceptable.
"The bulk of inflated score gains is not cheating," Neill said. "Its
just tailoring the curriculum closer and closer to the test."

Jolayne Houtzs phone message number is
206-464-3122. Her e-mail address is: jhou-new@seatimes.com
Dick Lillys phone message number is 206-464-2479. His e-mail address
is: dlil-new@seatimes.com
Copyright ) 1998 The Seattle Times Company

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