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Media: Testing Dana Goldstein's Latest Article

Test-1I'm generally a big fan of Dana Goldstein's work -- she's the education reporter not enough people seem to know about -- and I can tell she put a lot of time reporting and researching her latest, The Test Generation, in the American Prospect.  But though it's well worth reading, the 5,000-word piece is for me a disappointment overall. It seems hyperbolic at some places (ridiculous tests are coming to every nook and cranny of schools!) and ponderous at others (explanations of growth models vs. value added, etc.).  Goldstein presents the Harrison schools as an example of what could happen nationally, but then doesn't give any evidence that it is happening or why it's likely to happen.  (Slate's cranky media columnist Jack Shafer would call it a fake trend piece.)  She says that parents don't like testing but reports that there have been few complaints.  She says value-added ratings confirm what principals already know, an issue I don't think is settled.  She describes the stresses of testing on students without acknowledging the source of the stress -- teachers.  She insists on describing NCLB's "harsh punishments," a pet peeve of mine (there were exceedingly few of these), and generally blames Washington for things states and districts and schools did of their own volition -- a responsibility flipflop that I see repeated in too many places. Relatively minor issues, over all, but a lot of them.  So veteran teachers don't like all the testing and want to get back to their brilliant rainforest units, and some of the test items are clunkers?   Test scores are up. Parents aren't in an uproar.  My sense is that Goldstein talked to too many teachers who wanted to talk to her, a common mistake in education reporting, and that perhaps she's playing too much to a liberal readership rather than challenging them to think and giving them fresh new insights.


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I have to respond to this: "She says value-added ratings confirm what principals already know, an issue I don't think is settled."

I attended a panel discussion at UC-Berkeley shortly after the original LA Times value-added coverage came out. The panel included LA Times reporter Jason Felch and Hoover Institution researcher Eric Hanushek, plus assorted statistician-wonk types who disputed the validity of value-added measures as a tool for for assessing teacher effectiveness. (One of the wonks was Richard Rothstein, but two of them were UC- Berkeley profs who are to my knowledge unassociated with either side in the education reform debates.)

Everyone, including Felch and Hanushek, agreed that the only clear validity of value-added measures was in identifying the teachers at the very top and the very bottom.

The audience submitted questions in writing. My written question asked whether principals wouldn't already know who the teachers at the very top and the very bottom were. The moderator read my question -- and Hanushek agreed with my point. My point was this, in different wording: value-added ratings confirm what principals already know.

If Eric Hanushek agreed with it, I think the issue IS settled. (I realize you either have to take my word or listen to a long recording, or ask Hanushek yourself, but the recording and Hanushek -- assuming his memory is accurate and he's honest -- will confirm what I'm saying.)

i read goldstein's comment as saying that principals could scope middling teachers, not just the top and bottom -- will go back and check about that.

meantime, check out goldstein's response to my post, in which she explains all she did and what her thinking is:


I have to disagree with much of what you're saying here. Parents are up in arms--but they feel powerless. My in-box is filled with parents concerned about their kids around state exam time: nightmares, headaches, stomachaches, and on and on. But parents don't know what happens if they refuse the test (it varies by state and even by district) and many aren't well-informed enough to be able to argue the case.
The pressure isn't all from teachers: now that we have the change in the school turnaround grants, principals will lose their jobs if their scores don't go up. Just last week I had a long conversation with one of our principals, who had been told by the administration that he's out this year if the scores don't jump. It doesn't matter how good he is at his job; all that matters is AYP and CPI.
There is a ridiculous amount of testing that takes place in many of our schools. Our revamp of the student policy manual is going to have to extend the description by what looks like another page this year.
It is, legitimately, outrageous.

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