Georgia school chief to feds: Stop the ”measure, pressure, and punish” approach

State School Superintendent Richard Woods today sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, members of Georgia’s congressional delegation and members of the U.S. Senate and House Education Committees about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods. (DOE Photo)

Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods. (DOE Photo)

Here is his letter:

Dear Secretary Duncan,

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) comes an opportunity to address the valid concerns of students, parents, teachers, and communities regarding the quantity and quality of federally mandated standardized tests.

As Georgia’s School Superintendent, I have a constitutional duty to convey those concerns and provide ideas on how to move my state and our nation forward. Georgia recently entered into a $108 million contract to deliver federally mandated standardized tests to our students. That figure does not include the millions of dollars spent to develop and validate test questions and inform the public about the new tests.

This adds to the need for an audit to provide information on the number of tests and loss of instructional time our children endure, as well as a cost/benefit analysis on our current national testing model. As a nation, we have surrendered time, talent, and resources to an emphasis on autopsy-styled assessments, rather than physical-styled assessments. With the reauthorization of ESEA comes an opportunity for a real paradigm shift in the area of assessment.

Instead of a “measure, pressure, and punish” model that sets our students, teachers, and schools up for failure, we need a diagnostic, remediate/accelerate model that personalizes instruction, empowers students, involves parents, and provides real feedback to our teachers.

We need greater emphasis for a federally supported but state-driven formative assessment model that identifies the strengths and weakness of students, coupled with a less intrusive, student-sampled or grade-staggered summative assessment model for the purposes of state-tostate comparisons and world rankings.

Our broken model of assessment is too focused on labeling our schools and teachers, and not focused enough on supporting our students. Our current status quo model is forcing our teachers to teach to the test. We need an innovative approach that uses tests to guide instruction, just as scans and tests guide medical professionals. Oftentimes, we hear teachers called professionals because they have the knowledge and skill set to reach the needs of their individual students, yet in our accountability measures we have not supported or given value to diagnostic tools and tests that teachers need to fully utilize that knowledge or those skills. We must find a balance between accountability and responsibility.

We must give our teachers the tools and trust to be successful or our current path to hyper-accountability will continue to set our students and teachers up for failure. Teachers should not view tests as tools that tie their hands as professionals, but as tools that help them grow in their profession. Students should not view tests as tools that can strengthen barriers to be promoted or to graduate, but as tools that help them overcome those barriers. Schools should not view tests as tools that can doom them to failure, but as tools that serve as a compass pointing them down the path of success.

Testing must be a tool in our toolbox, but we need more rulers and fewer hammers. As Georgia’s School Superintendent, but more importantly as someone with 22 years of Pre-K through twelfth grade experience in education, I strongly urge you to take this moment in history to listen to the concerns of your constituents – parents, teachers, and community members – and reform the federal standardized testing requirements for the betterment of our children. I look forward to working with you to move education forward.

Reader Comments 0

41 comments
proudparent01
proudparent01

Mr. Woods should look at the state of Georgia for the real causes of over-testing in our schools. We test more in Georgia than in nearly every other state. The federal government requires ELA and Math, but we are not required to offer standardized testing every year in science or social studies. The real avalanche of mandated testing in the schools is SLOs. There are 24 tests with 4 at each grade level in Milestones in grades 3-8 with a test for every End of Course whereas there are literally hundreds of SLOs administered with multiple administrations throughout the year. 


Mr. Woods should work to remove the Georgia mandates that are crushing our teachers and students. 

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@mensa_dropout Personally, this makes me mad.  He obviously cherry-picked and now we, the taxpayers, must pay their inflated salaries (based upon their lack of experience.  What I really want to know is:  did they replace previous GA DOE staff?  Or is this additional staff?

jerryeads
jerryeads

Bravo, sir.

One of the things we might do to help Woods' effort would be to do a LOT better job of helping teachers during their preparation to do their own assessing. Teachers are measuring their students strengths and needs every second of every day - they don't wait for some "magic" once a year tool built by a bunch of geeks who don't have a remote clue what a classroom is. The geek tools can be useful, but we've trapped ourselves into believing that those tests are there because teachers are incompetent. Way past time to change that model. The vast majority of our teachers are not only very good at what they do, they always very much want to get better.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@jerryeads


I must disagree with you to some extent, Jerry.  When I was a high school Reading Chair for the entire school, we tested students in all grade levels through our English teachers, once a year, at the beginning of the school year.  I will give you one grade level, as an example.  We tested all 10th grade students on either the Nelson or Nelson-Denny Reading Test, in vocabulary and comprehension. My department generated two lists of all 10th grade students (350).  One list was compiled from highest composite reading score, to lowest score (range was from grade level 16 to grade level 4).  The other list was an alphabetical listing of all the scores for students in 10th grade (Ditto grades 9, 11, 12)


We distributed these results in an afternoon meeting with all teachers of the four major curriculum areas, i.e. English, Social Studies, Science, Mathematics.  Most of the faculty in the meeting were quite surprised to learn of the wide range of reading results for those students in their classes.  I suggested that these teachers write the vocabulary and comprehension grade equivalents in reading by each of their students' names in their grade books.  That was an easy way for those teachers to immediately ascertain if poor grades were a direct result of poor reading skills.  Later, I gave another workshop to these teachers in how to instruct students with a wide range of reading skills through reading-in-the-content-area strategies.  Accruing these reading scores yearly greatly improved instructional delivery for individual students.  Teachers were for the most part unaware of the wide range of reading variances of students in their curriculum areas.


Testing is valuable for diagnostic purposes for instruction.  Moreover, these results need to be generated on computers and stored that way instead of as they were years ago in office vaults, so that teachers can use the results effectively, just as physicians use diagnostic testing for more precise awareness of medical needs.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

Impressive comments from Superintendent Woods.  Let us hope that the folks making major decisions about education are willing to listen to his advice when it comes to the downside of the testing movement.

Astropig
Astropig

Looks like Superintendent Woods is walking the walk. Bravo.He made this explicit in his campaign,and now he's rolling up his sleeves and doing what he said he would. Moving forward is a refreshing change.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

There is a need for the teaching profession to emulate many of the physician's state-of-the-art practices, such as accruing an academic developmental history of individual students on computers (which doctors now do for individual patients), which would be updated continuously. These academic developmental histories, on computers for all students, would allow teachers to see the developmental history of a given student (over several years) in a second.  This is called is a diagnostic/prescriptive approach to instruction. It is very effective in certain areas of instruction.


Standardized testing is useful in building these computerized developmental histories of students throughout Georgia for more precise instructional delivery. Testing should be used mainly for diagnostic purposes.


Many educators, even those with Ph.D.s in various areas of education, continue to have little understanding of why students, invariably, will be functioning at various points on a curriculum continuum at every grade level. Many students will not be on the same grade instructional level in the same age group.  The reason why this fact will invariably be true is more complex than simply blaming teachers.  One must have a thorough diagnostic evaluation of every student's developmental history in order to assess correctly if given students have made good progress in a year's time, even if some of those students have not reached their traditional grade mastery level within that year's time period.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr @MaryElizabethSings


EdUktr


Not sure where you live or what insurance you have, but from my perspective, there isn't a great deal of "choice" among service providers.  It sort of comes down to who will take your insurance and who is taking patients at the time you need a provider.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr @MaryElizabethSings 

" Not sure where you live or what insurance you have, but from my perspective, there isn't a great deal of "choice" among service providers."

Competition just doesn't work in the medical field.There can be only one service provider in a given geographical area. You are being unreasonable and extreme by demanding choice.If you had real choice in medical services,then by definition,there would be less of that service available to the poor,people of color and the disabled.You just want to enrich "for profit" health care providers for your own selfish reasons.

These are pretty much direct quotes from your rants against school choice.I guess you won't mind if I appropriate them to deny you the best choice for your family in another field of service.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr @Quidocetdiscit @MaryElizabethSings I


It wasn't meant to be a rebuttal.  It was meant to be an observation.  Believe it or not, some of us post here to "discuss" issues, not necessarily to try to "win" some point against other posters.  Not  everything is a competition.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr @MaryElizabethSings


Why not tell EdUktr there is no "competition" in the medical field, since he is the one who initially posted the comment suggesting there is...? No, instead you use my observation (which actually agrees with your premise) to attack me and suggest I am selfish while going off on a sort of tangent about school choice.  Don't you have better things to do with your time?


Oh, can you please provide me with a "direct quote" in which I called people "unreasonable and extreme" ? Shouldn't be hard, since you said they were direct quotes. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig @Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr @MaryElizabethSings


You comments have no logical connection to what I posted.  I pointed out that I really have very little choice of medical providers in response to EdUktr's suggestion that somehow the medical field is a wide open market, and you go on to use my very straight forward comment to suggest  I was somehow advocating for no market choice in any area of business or service providers.  That "connection" only exists in your mind, I am afraid.  Perhaps you are the one who has a case of dizziness.  I suggest you sit down and put your head between your knees.  It will help with with the blood flow and will help clear out your thoughts because you seem somewhat confused. 


Oh, and I am still waiting on those quotes which you accused me of posting.  Unless you can, I think I will refer to a refrain you have posted yourself... "I respectfully suggest you refrain from putting words in my mouth."

EdUktr
EdUktr

@MaryElizabethSings

And just as with medical care, parents should be free to choose among competing service providers.

Astropig
Astropig

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig @EdUktr @MaryElizabethSings 

Why not just move to Monopoly Nation, Quido? In Monopoly Nation,there is only one provider for every service.One car company (their cars are so good that you are back in the market again in only two years!), One supermarket chain (open 4 hours a day,3 days a week for your shopping convenience!) and of course, just one cable TV company.(Comcast).There is only one restaurant allowed in Monopoly Nation and they have a clown as their corporate identity. (I'm lovin' it!)I'm sure that this vision of monopoly providers every place in it's hapless citizens lives has you dizzy with anticipation.


Good thing the rest of us think that choice is not evil.

MD3
MD3

Thank you Mr. Woods! The testocracy has one goal, and it doesn't have anything to do with children. It's all about the $$$ that the Pearsons of the world are stealing. Test obsession brought us serial cheaters like Beverly Hall and Michelle Rhee. It put shackles on the creativity of our teachers and drove many of them from the profession. It narrowed the curriculum and placed bubble sheets above all else. It's well past time to end the madness. Hopefully Senator Alexander will finally restore some sanity and slap Arne Duncan back into his place. Hopefully there's finally a light at the end of this darkness.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Only 22 years.  What a newb.


But seriously, we need accountability at all levels.  Testing to see how the STUDENT is doing.  And, remediation or retention if needed.  Evaluation of parental effort.  Evaluation of teacher efforts, based on the teacher's work, not the student's.  And evaluation of the principal, central office, state department, and the feds--are they doing their part?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady  "Testing to see how the STUDENT is doing.  And, remediation or retention if needed. "


RETENTION?  You can't say that!!! That is NOT politically correct.  It must be racist, right!

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady  Seriously, though, you are correct.  Evaluation of teachers should not be based on student scores (that is measuring STUDENT LEARNING, not teacher performance).  Evaluating teachers - test to see if they know the material (some would fail that) and evaluate how well they put the material across to the students ( I had a TA in college that would fail that one - no one could understand what he was saying).


Administration - evaluate them on attendance, discipline, and social promotion - THEY control that!

Lynn43
Lynn43

@class80olddog @Wascatlady  Teachers are tested on the material BEFORE they are issued a certificate.  I was tested many years ago just to get my certification renewed.  I don't know if college professors have to have certification.  Maybe someone else can answer.  I once served as a University supervisor to a student teacher and I had to submit my certification, but my student was an education major.


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lynn43 @class80olddog @Wascatlady 

College professors' "certification" that's required is the final degree they possess--the doctorate in their field if they're tenure-track or else the Master's. The degrees "certify" that one knows the content, but that's all.  As to "how well they put the material across to the student," that's what the 7-year process of getting tenure determines. 

straker
straker

Federal standardized testing seems to be just another social experiment designed to bring Black student test scores up to the White level.


Like the seemingly endless number of other similar experiments, this one has failed.


But, stay tuned.


When this one is finally scraped, another will be sure to follow.


Only in America.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@straker Or, maybe, to bring white and black Americans up to level with Asian-American students?

dg417s
dg417s

I was taking a class in grad school that what taught by man working for the DOE and he was talking about a CRCT question discussing the shape of a football. Guess which group of students got it wrong by a large percentage - fortunately, it was a field test item and didn't count.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@dg417s 

Now if the question had asked about the shape of a soccer ball, how many white and black students would get it correct?

EdUktr
EdUktr

If "teaching to the test" were possible and our teachers were actually doing so—then administrators would have to answer the awkward question "Why aren't test scores improving?"

But, of course, neither assertion is true. Just politically useful.



EdUktr
EdUktr

@dg417s

The wide availability of free and reduced price breakfast and lunch for virtually all who apply makes that impossible to believe.



Falcaints
Falcaints

@EdUktr Some students come to me with absolutely no desire to learn, they would rather sleep.  I can't give them desire.  No amount of brilliant lesson plans, engaging banter or differentiation will help them.  The number of those students is unfortunately much larger than anyone would ever admit.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Falcaints @EdUktr


Yes, some students throughout time and in every society have no desire to learn. But most of the time, in most societies, they are put out of school and into menial jobs, and teachers aren't tasked with preparing them for college whether they have the skills, motivation, or inclination to go.

dg417s
dg417s

It's hard to make a student care if A, B, C, or D is correct when their stomach is growling, and that is a huge and growing problem.

dg417s
dg417s

For many kids, that free and reduced meal is all that they eat in a day. Hardly filling.