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Using A Gates Grant to Sidestep Standardized Testing in University Admissions?

July 31, 2014

Billionaire Bill Gates believes in testing. However, it appears that he believes in “the market” even more. Consider Gates’ words to legislators in 2009:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. [Emphasis added.]

Bill Gates has no background in K-12 classroom teaching. He has no background in assessment. He does have money, lots of money. It must be his money that allows him to even write a guest editorial in the April 2013 Washington Post to share his views on the *appropriate* role of student test scores in teacher evaluation. He assumes that student standardized test scores will work as a component of teacher evaluation. He also assumes that merit pay can and will work, if only “we” would be careful as “we” “drive the long-term improvement our schools need.”

We?

Bill Gates has no background in teaching. Instead, he views education through the lens of business. And if the tests are interfering with business, perhaps it is time to pull back on the testing in order to save Gates’ extensive CCSS investment. To this end, in June 2014, the Gates Foundation declared the need for a “moratorium”– not the end of testing, mind you, and not the end of CCSS– just a break from the consequences of testing in order to take the heat off of CCSS:

The Gates Foundation is an ardent supporter of fair teacher feedback and evaluation systems that include measures of student gains. We don’t believe student assessments should ever be the sole measure of teaching performance, but evidence of a teacher’s impact on student learning should be part of a balanced evaluation that helps all teachers learn and improve.

At the same time, no evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. …

Including the assessment results in teacher evaluations even though they won’t count for two years also has benefits: First, the teachers can begin to use the assessments to inform their practice, and second, teachers can see how their performance looks using these measures and make sure it lines up with other measures of teaching practice. This is crucial in building teacher trust in the assessments.

In our view, allowing two years in which assessments will be administered and scored but not yet taken into account strikes the best balance between a commitment to teacher evaluations that measure student learning and a commitment to ensure that teachers will not be harmed as they complete the transition to the Common Core.

Protecting the Gates investment. Cutting mass education a deal.

 

The Gates Foundation published this position only five days after Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation to immediately replace CCSS with Oklahoma’s former state standards until new standards and assessments could be developed.

This is not good for Gates’ CCSS investment, which Gates hopes will bring American education “to scale” in order to benefit “the market.”

Gates does not restrict his business applications to K-12 education. He is willing to spend his billions on better business models for higher education, as well. Consider this January 2014 grant to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU):

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities:

Date: January 2014
Purpose: to support a cohort of public urban research universities to develop new business models that can increase access, improve success rates and find greater cost efficiencies and then use national association networks to scale promising practices
Amount: $2,507,628

Much of this funding has been divided among seven universities in a seeming “innovations contest” to “improve success rates.” The seven recipients have one year to develop its “innovations”– with the intent that “successful” innovations will be “scaled” (efficiently reproduced).

Temple University was one of the recipients:

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) announced today that Temple University is one of only seven universities nationwide selected to participate in an innovative, one-year project that seeks to transform the way higher education is delivered.

Temple will receive $225,000 as part of the Transformational Planning Grant project—an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—to research, develop and test new university business models that can increase access, improve student success rates and find greater cost efficiencies. …

APLU intends to use its national network to work to scale the most promising findings and practices of Temple and the six other grantees—California State University, Fresno; Florida International University; Georgia State University; Portland State University; the University of Akron; and the University of Illinois at Chicago—to help its more than 200 public university members across the country better meet the needs of their evolving student populations.

In an interesting turn of events, Temple University plans to use its Gates “better business of education” money to admit students without use of standardized test scores and instead incorporating “noncognitive approaches” to student success:

Temple’s Transformational Planning Grant will be used to develop new approaches for recruiting and evaluating prospective Temple students. The project will be piloted among students in Philadelphia area high schools whose potential may be overlooked by traditional measures of achievement, such as standardized testing. Temple also will analyze how these “non-cognitive” approaches—strategies that take into account factors such as a student’s grit, determination, self-assurance and self-advocacy—can be incorporated into the university’s academic policies, financial aid strategy, and advising and support services.

So, it seems that Gates might experience some “business model clashing” given the Gates preference for standardized testing as assumed “good for education business” and now a Gates grantee assuming that standardized testing could “overlook potential” in some students– which implies that standardized testing has limitations that make it suspect a component for any high-stakes decisions.

No seasoned teacher needs to be told that some students just don’t test well.

But Bill Gates is certainly no seasoned teacher. He is just a man with lots of money who gets to purchase his viewpoint. He believes that standardized tests should be “part” of “measuring” teacher effectiveness.

I wonder what Gates will do if via Temple University’s “innovation” he is faced with the news that forsaking standardized testing “promotes greater cost efficiencies” in the business of higher education.

Would he be willing to promote such a finding “to scale”?

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3 Comments
  1. ColoMom permalink

    Love that Temple U is forsaking standardized testing scores for admission. HST don’t measure a student. However, I am curious how Temple will measure the student’s grit and tenacity.

  2. Ira shor permalink

    Thanks! for this terrific focus on a contradiction in Gates’s business strategy.What will he do if Temple finds that SATs and other standardized tests are simply not useful, helpful, or accurate??We’ve known since at least 1977 that SATs were weaker than high-school transcripts to predict success of students in their first-year of college–‘On Further Examination,’ study of the 12-year SAT-decline issued by the College Board chaired by former Sec’y of Labor Willard Wirtz. HS grades had a .52 predictability; SAT’s .50. but CB refused to say SAT’s were unnecessary and irrelevant as long as the HS transcripts told us more. Every educational policy is also a business policy for those who run the education sector.

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