Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Data files
Data walls
TweedleDee and 

Data are indicators, signifiers, proxies.  Representations.  What is being represented?  A test score is not a child. A test score is not a child’s knowledge or growth.  A child’s test score is no signifier of a teacher’s caring or guiding of the intellect or openness to curiosity and questions.

Then why are these headlines not entirely good news?


Citing “glitches” in the computerized administration of the test for some children in some grades, in the loss (seriously, the loss!) of scores for students in one entire district, and other “reporting” issues, the Texas Commissioner of Education, Michael Morath, declared that scores on the STAAR test, a product of the Educational Testing System, would not be used this year to determine grade retention or promotion for students in 5th and 8th grades – a waiver from this legislated state requirement.
 The Commissioner promises to “hold the Educational Testing Service accountable.”  Does that mean the failure to fulfill contractual obligations will require ETS to refund our tax dollars?  Does the contract, in fact, have a penalty clause for non-performance?  And if not, does “accountable” mean that everyone in the Texas Education Agency or other state offices who had anything to do with negotiating and authorizing the contract will be fired?  What is “accountable” when children’s education is at stake?

We wish the headline had read “Commissioner Admits STAAR Useless, Apologizes to Teachers and Children.”  We wish the story explained that the Commissioner called a press conference to admit that the “emperor of standardized testing wears no clothes.”  He would go on to say that for more than 20 years the test scores had been indicators of not much (family wealth as an exception), that the school ratings they produced were proxies for a real investment in our children’s education.  

Good news that this year’s scores will not have “high stakes” for 5th and 8th graders.   Bad news that the reasons given are superficial, themselves poor substitutes for admitting it’s time to move beyond “data-driven” schooling and get back to educating all our children.


The Houston Independent School District’s board voted earlier this month not to renew its $680,000 contract with SAS Institute Inc for the EVAAS system of teacher evaluation based in large part on the students’ scores on the state-mandated standardized tests.  Teachers and parents, and many principals have known for years the system is a hoax, its claims completely phony, and its entire logic flawed: there has never been a test of children’s learning designed to measure teacher “performance” nor the “impact” of a teacher on a child’s learning.   It is, in fact, unethical to use a test for a purpose it was not designed, piloted and validated for – thus even using children’s test scores to determine the “value” a teacher “adds” to even one child’s learning, is unethical.   

Here's what SAS says it can do with your kids' data:

Did the HISD board reject the test because the district faces huge budget shortfalls left by the prior superintendent as well as requirements to share tax revenue with poorer districts?  Is the HISD board trying to get out ahead of the lawsuit brought by a group of Houston teachers challenging its validity and citing its harmful effects on many of our best teachers?  Is there another vendor lurking, circling, lobbying with even grander claims for improving learning through their system of measuring teachers?

SAS Institute Inc markets its expertise in “analytics,” tracking and analyzing corporate data, from shipping logistics, to health care data, to casinos and the military, to “education.” (Be sure to click on their "Industries" tab for a sense of how education appears as one among many industries they serve.) Our children aren’t shipping containers and their learning can’t be captured by “metrics” and “analytics.”  

When will they ever learn?

See Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s analysis of EVAAs, including her study of its use in Houston.
see Diane Ravitch’s comments on this decision by her hometown school board. 

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