Time Out From Testing Answers Schools Chancellor Klein
New York Schools Chancellor Klein sent a letter to all principals. Jane Hirshmann of Time Out From Testing replied. Her letter is first. Klein's follows. She asks questions we should all be asking.
Dear Chancellor Klein:
We write to clarify the misinformation you have distributed presumably on the advice of your test advisors. As parents we, too, have consulted test experts across the country.
We believe that your misinformed decision-making and public attacks based on this misinformation are extremely harmful to our children. We want you to do what is best for our children and not become defensive, like many public officials who try to fortify
an indefensible position.
Social promotion is not the issue. Basing life
decisions on one standardized test, a fallible test, produced by fallible human beings is the issue. We oppose decision-making by tests even with the addition of a last minute cumbersome appeals process.
Because of our concern about using the third grade test as a high stakes instrument we asked for information about the test itself. It wasn't easy to obtain.
Why was this information so difficult to obtain? We requested the test's Technical Report --a report that all test makers are obligated to provide for public review. Harcourt Measurement told us this document had been "embargoed" by the DOE. The Report
was released only after repeated requests by members of the City Council. Why did your Department make it so difficult to obtain? Why did your Department delete passages in the Report? Does the Department have something to hide?
What's in the Report? A norm-referenced test is one that uses material that a percentage of students will fail. The Technical Report provides evidence that the 3rd grade test is essentially a norm-referenced instrument. (page 25, table 13). Did your test advisors make that clear to you?
The test reflects a bias towards white children . The test makers report (pg 15, table 5) that field-tested questions favor white test takers. 11 questions favor white children; zero favor Hispanic children; 9 questions favor white children; zero favor African American children. Did your test advisors explain that
The Technical Report presents no evidence on how passing scores for the test have been set (pg 23, table 11). Test experts regard such an
omission as contrary to professional standards. The passing score of 20 (raw score points) has been set. How was that done? The Report doesn't say. A passing score of 20 would imply that approximately 16,900 of NYC's 80,000 third graders will fail. Did your advisors tell you that?
The Technical Report defines a large error of measurement (pg 23. table 2). The test company reports that the test is accurate to within three questions. If the "passing score" were 17,
this would mean that 11,500 would fail. If the 'passing score was raised 3 points, 22,800 would fail. So the error of measurement on the ELA test could lead to a swing of plus or minus 10,000 children failing the test and being
"flunked" to repeat grade 3. Did your test advisors alert you to this?
Dr. Walter Haney, a nationally known test expert once hired by Commissioner Mills to
review the Regents exams who reviewed the Report states that the Technical Report does not provide "even a scintilla of evidence to support the use of the ELA test as a reasonable basis on which to control promotion of students from grade 3 to grade 4."
Moreover, it says nothing about how the test matches New York State learning standards.
Who supports the use of high stakes tests? Aside from your Department and some in the State Education Department it turns out that no reputable academic or national educational organization supports the use of high stakes tests -- not the American Education Research Association, not the National Academy of Science, not the National Council of Teachers of
English, not even the US Office of Education's Division of Civil Rights endorses high stakes tests fallible tests where the results determine critical decisions such as promotion or graduation.
Thus, both the test and the appeals process you have put in place are based on a flawed policy and subject young children to needless suffering and ultimately to unjust failure.
It is time to stop focusing on testing and concentrate on providing our children with
The following letter was sent to New York City school principals:
As you probably know, virtually all of our third grade students attended school the day of the English language arts test last week. And nearly 100% attended for today's citywide math test. The ELA test received plenty of media coverage; however, much of it was based on or in response to serious misinformation generated by those who oppose the test and what they label "high stakes testing." In my opinion, our third graders were treated badly by the anti-test "activists" who obtained and shared the test with the media or spread misinformation about it, and also by those who used the 2003 test to prepare students for this year's test, whatever their motives. The public deserves
accurate information in the important debate about our education policies. And our children deserve a test-taking environment free from self-serving or inflammatory rhetoric.
So let me take a minute to address the misinformation. First, the citywide ELA test is a valid, reliable assessment of our third grade
students' knowledge and skills. It does NOT, as some claim, include questions that are racially biased. It does NOT include items which "favor" specific groups. It is NOT designed to fail some children at the bottom of a scoring
curve. And the repetition of some questions from the prior year does NOT in any way invalidate its reliability as a measure of student preparedness for advanced work at the next grade level. On the contrary, this practice helps ensure that our tests are consistently reliable. With the great turn-out on test day last Tuesday, and during the first day of make-up testing on Wednesday, nearly all
of our third-graders took the test before copies were distributed to the media by irresponsible individuals. Therefore, for most of the children, the test was not compromised.
We will give another form of the ELA test to students who could not take it in make-up because of its distribution to the media by a group called "Time Out From Testing." We will give parents of the few students who may have unwittingly practiced on passages from the test the option to take a new test or to have their original test scored without the carry-over items. We will begin contacting the parents of affected students early next week to ask them to select the >option they prefer. The ELA retest for those who need it will be held Wednesday, May 12.
An investigation of how the test was obtained by "Time Out From Testing" is underway. We await the conclusion of the investigation to determine what actions might be appropriate.
We are looking into a few reports that copies of last year's citywide ELA were not returned last year, and were instead used for practice this year. If you are aware of any other instances like this, please let us know. If true, this obviously was done contrary to our long-established and frequently communicated test procedures. If the investigation shows that school staff knowingly violated DOE
test procedures, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. Our primary focus must remain on the children. We are committed to continued progress on the reforms necessary to put the Children First in our public school system. As our experience with this test confirms, reform will be resisted by some who would preserve the status quo, ineffective as it might have been for vast numbers of
our students. I will rely on each and every one of you not to allow such incidents to distract you from the genuine progress we are making with your help and that of teachers, coaches, parents and parent coordinators. Keep up
the great work.
Joel I Klein
Chancellor Joel Klein
New York City Department of Education
New York City, New York
April 29, 2004