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HR 5: Student Success Act: Some Thoughts on the Testing

February 22, 2015

In this post, I offer some commentary on HR 5, known as the Student Success Act (SSA), a massive piece of legislation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), that has been approved by the House Education Committee and is headed to the House for a vote possibly as soon as Friday, February 27, 2015.

The full text of the bill (597 pages) can be found here: student_success_act_text.

Specifically, my commentary in this post concerns the mandated standardized testing detailed in the first 52 pages of SSA.

As I read these 52 pages, I did so while thinking like a lawyer.

Here goes:

On page 26, SSA notes that states must select English and math assessments that are to be used to evaluate schools. However, one of the requirements of these assessments– assessments measuring student outcomes– is that such “be used for purposes for which such assessments are valid and reliable.”

Reliability in assessment has no tie to how the assessment it used. An assessment is “reliable” to the degree that it consistently measures something.

The problem for the federal government is that no assessment designed to determine student achievement can be “validly” used to grade a school or a teacher. Thus, states can challenge SSA on this point. The burden of proof then rests with the assessment companies– if they peddle the assessment as one measuring student achievement– even if such is supposedly “aligned” to a set of achievement standards– then to advertise the assessment as useful for measuring schools or teachers is to violate validity.

By the way, I have yet to read an ad from an assessment company to the effect that their standards-aligned assessments are useful for grading schools and teachers. To advertise as much is to become legally liable.

Also regarding assessment as delineated in SSA pages 26 – 31, it is possible for states to administer such assessments without using student names on the assessments. On could restrict identifying students by classroom. If one follows the language of SSA as it is written in the above file, even the producing of “individual” student reports “to address specific academic needs of students” and “that are provided to parents” is technically possible to do without identifying specific students if teachers and parents are provided with individual reports for an entire class.

The use of a classroom identifier also technically fits the requirement of providing a report of “the parent’s child” (page 51).

Identifying student by entire class as opposed to individually is pretty solid protection of the individual student against all of the testing data mania.

To preserve a parent’s right to participate in class-level testing anonymity, a district could allow parents the option of having their children include specific names on tests or sign a waiver of the student’s name in favor of a general, classroom identifier.

SSA also includes no details on the length of the test. Sure, it mandates testing in English and math for grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, but given the language of the bill, it is possible to seriously cut the amount of testing time, which is better for students and for state and local school budgets.

SSA also includes no specifics regarding the weight of these assessments in grading schools.

Put all of the above together, and one could have relatively anonymous testing on a test that is 45 minutes in length, once per year in English and math for grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and that counts for 5 percent of a school’s grade.

None of the above hinders the test-outcome reporting each state must submit to the federal government (pages 46 and 47).

State legislators would do well to assume that this SSA bill (or one similar) will pass into law, and they should begin thinking creatively about how to technically meet its requirements if the state wants to continue to receive ESEA funding.

More commentary to come from me on SSA. Stay tuned.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

7 Comments
  1. 2old2tch permalink

    So what you are saying is that the language used is so ambiguous (and to some extent inaccurate) that states can water down the testing requirements to a point that they are palatable if not useful?

  2. I think starting at Page 250 they are trying to make sure I no longer have a job doing teacher preparation at a university. As I go through it line by line I realize the only way to get a teaching license is to prove you can improve student achievement scores on their tests. And then it gets worse from there.

  3. What about opposing HR 5 in favor of a bill that doesn’t demand yearly testing and abolishes VAM?

    • I think that is a great idea. It’s just that the Republicans seem fixed on their annual testing.

  4. Is it true you are coming out with a book on alternatives to mega-testing? Oregon’s union is working in cooperation with the ODE to come up with a much briefer, more reasonable and non-punitive schedule of tests – keeping in mind also there are too many local and state tests besides SBAC or PARCC.

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