Test Mania: A School Is Not a Spreadsheet

teacher studentLAUSD has issued more than 9,500 Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to UTLA bargaining unit members, denying educational opportunities to our communities, and shuttering Arts Programs, Adult Education, and Early Childhood Education.

The LAUSD school board majority says they they don’t have a choice, even though they’re spending $2 million to $4 million (the equivalent of 25 to 50 employees) on citywide implementation of the Early Start Calendar; they’re keeping $200 million locked away in a drawer, accounting for it as money they’ll spend later; and over the next four years the District intends to increase the number of administrators by 27% (according to the four-year budget LAUSD submitted to the county).

There’s at least one other area they’ve prioritized over saving jobs and programs:  high-priced periodic assessments, created by outside companies.

The LAUSD budget receives little attention, in part because the public is given a very small window to scrutinize the few numbers that are available. Additionally, the available information is scant on substance, despite the misnomer at the top of the website:  “LAUSD Budget Realities: Budget Transparency”.

Given this lack of transparency, it isn’t even clear how much LAUSD spends on periodic assessments. We do know that in 2010 LAUSD signed a five-year, $24 million contract with Core K12.

In an effort to solve the mystery of how much periodic assessments are costing, I posed the following questions in an email to Core Education and Consulting Services (which owns Core K12), Core K12, and the LAUSD Communications Office:

How much is LAUSD spending on periodic assessments? How much has LAUSD expended in contractual agreements with Core K12 and/or its parent company Core Education and Consulting Solutions? Are there proposed contracts with Core K 12 and/or its parent company that have not been signed yet? If so, in what dollar amounts, please? Is there any discernible proof whatsoever that any of the results produced from these non-mandated testing agreements has led to even the slighest increase in academic achievement, literacy, and/or graduation rates? Are there any plans to scrap any of the existing contracts in light of proposed lay-offs of over 5,000 Certificated Employees, class size increases in K-3 from 24 to 30, and 3 students per class in grades 4 and 5, and the elimination of the following programs:  Adult Education, Arts Education, and Early Childhood Education?

I gave each of the above parties more than five business days to reply. None responded.

No Child Left Behind, and its step-child, Race to the Top, both incorporate the use of student test data in teacher evaluations, despite that, according to a study conducted by the US Department of Education itself, the best of these models is inaccurate as much as 25% of the time.

In New York late last year, at least 658 principals from around the state signed a letter protesting the use of student test scores to evaluate principals and teachers. (To support their efforts, please sign on to their position paper here.)

Ignoring these voices, the New York City Education Department released test score data, and, predictably, the information is wildly inaccurate as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

California Governor Brown has repeatedly called for a reduction in testing, even doing so during his State of the State speech in January (just over 11 minutes into speech). California has the ninth largest economy, not in the nation, but in the world, yet we’re near the bottom of all states when it comes to per pupil funding.

david lyellThe path to improving education starts with giving teachers the tools we need to serve our communities: Small class sizes, clean campuses, responsible supervision, enforcement of existing discipline policies, access to books, libraries, nurses, counselors, arts education, early childhood education, and adult education.

If a school excels by the limited measure of one standardized test score, but is not an environment that nurtures growth and learning, how much growth and learning is really taking place?

The current LAUSD school board majority needs to remember that the immeasurable elements of nurturing, protecting, and fostering growth and development in every single child are qualities that simply can not be quantified in a score. A school is not a spreadsheet.

David Lyell

About David Lyell

David Lyell is a 13-year veteran LAUSD teacher, and secretary of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).
David was one of six activists to march the entire 352-miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento from March 5 to April 21, 2010 as part of The March For California's Future, a diverse coalition of labor, faith, parents, educators and children calling for tax fairness and adequate funding for public education and essential public services in California.
David has blogged for the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism's Intersections SouthLA, as a free-lance reporter and photographer for a defunct cycling publication in Southern California, Southwest Cycling, and also wrote for another shuttered newspaper, The Peninsula Times Tribune.

Comments

  1. Mark Hemphill says:

    Not to dismiss the comments made by others, but, Mr.Lyell, I do hope that you read what Mr.Isenberg had to say.  You see, he brings up the principal failings of UTLA which you very apparently overlook but reinforce by what you’ve written.  If this seems confusing to you,  permit me to explain.
    What I read from you smacks of the same frailty that we also hear from that ever silent sphinx of Wilshire Blvd., Warren Fletcher.   What you’ve said amounts to nothing more than a report, like newsletter for a club.  As always, there’s never any action plan on the part of the union to address all the wrongdoing committed daily by LAUSD.  So it amounts to nothing more than well defined griping.   The fact that your seldom seen and less often heard president refers to John Deasy as his “boss” is a clear indicator of the way in which the union negotiates with the district.  So it should come as no surprise that we’re facing a potential of 11,550 more jobs lost to the new RIF.  It further comes as no surprise that Deasy currently is going about his business of ignoring negotiated agreements with time lines to pursue his witch hunt against teachers without facing any effective resistence from the union other than the very highly paid impotent field representatives who do little more than walk accused union members through the steps of being driven out of the district.
    As for yourself, I could help but notice that you list yourself as 13 year veteran of teaching and former substitute teacher for LAUSD.  Strange, there seems to be so little record or memory among others of your years in subbing.  Any, yet, you managed to run well financed campaign as an unheard of substitute teacher.  Then there’s the 352 mile march, a march in which you all merely road a chartered bus and disembarked for photo ops.  Well, I could go on here.  But it would seem that the your record and that of your leader as well as the AJ Duffy do-nothing-but- collect- a-check leftovers speaks for itself.   So I have to wonder if that smile that appears on the often used photo of you seen here is only suppressing the laughter that you and your colleagues must certainly share at your ability to get away with continually failing the union membership

  2. I liked this article very much. You can tell that the author is a very experienced and sensitive teacher before reading his bio at the end.

    The LAUSD board says it has no choice but to lay off more staff? They they don’t have a choice? This just is not true, as the writer tells us. They have a couple of million dollars which, supposedly, they are going to spend on implementing the Early Start Calendar, and they’re keeping $200 million, supposedly, to be spent later on administrators???. This shows where their priorities really are: administrators and costly consulting services first, but teachers and students somehow are at the bottom of the list. WHAT??? They have money to spend on high-priced periodic assessments, created by “outside companies” like Core Education and Consulting Services, but they don’t have money to pay teachers, who are the bedrock of the schools? And of course, the students seem to come last and sadly are at the bottom of their list.
    I believe the author has asked CORE the appropriate questions, and what a surprise, he never got an answer. I wonder who Core Education and Consulting Services is funded by, and doesn’t it sound like there might be a right-wing agenda here?.
    No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, will continue to be inaccurate, and poor instruments for assessing student and teacher performance.
    I agree with Mr. Lyell that “small class sizes, clean campuses, responsible supervision, enforcement of existing discipline policies, access to books, libraries, nurses, counselors, arts education, early childhood education, and adult education…” will give both students and teachers and students the opportunity for growth and learning.

  3. Spreadsheet indeed!  People that think like David Lyell are blessed in life with a warm heart.  Pity the other impoverished souls.

  4. I have been raising this issue for years

  5. Randy Traweek says:

    David, you leave out the most expensive expenditure of all. Deasy is marching forward with AGT. That will mean brand-new baseline tests (pre-tests), interim assessments (probably two) and a final granddaddy assessment near June to measure growth. These will need to be all new tests and given in every subject of every grade every year as all teachers (the few who are left) need to be evaluated. The costs of the performance assessments will be a drop in the bucket by comparison. In fact all that SPA money and all those tests will probably go into the toilet because the periodic assessments will not work as AGT measures. $200 million locked in a drawer? Guess what for.

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