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NCLB Outrages

How “Fringe” is FairTest? Two Views.

Ohanian Comment: Russo's definition of "fringe" is dubious. He says it means being against all standardized tests. I was going to identify myself as fringe and proud of it, but I'm not against all standardized tests. There is a huge difference between standardized tests and high stakes standardized tests.

Russo oils his way through distortions, misinformation, and ignorance--such as his claim of why NCLB passed. It passed because the Business Roundtable wanted it to pass. Read Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?

Russo's blog is substantive, effective, and wrongheaded. For example, below he reveals his ignorance of education when he cites vocabulary tests as worth anything. All reputable research shows that the singularly most ineffective way to increase a child's vocabulary is to give him/her 20 words to memorize each week. Children acquire vocabulary through reading. Not through being quizzed on reading but through reading books of their own choice.

I won't get into all the distortions. Just ask yourself: Would you rather be fringe or a corporate shill?

For the record: If I have a quarrel with FairTest it's because they travel a cautious path and aren't fringe enough.

Dear Bob, Monty, and other folks with Fair Test and ARN:

Congratulations for coming under fire by those who promote standards and testing.

That reassures me that FairTest is undertaking advocacy work and having an impact.

Please do not be defensive about being on the fringe.

The fringe is where FairTest ought to be.
The fringe is where millions of poor and working poor children have been left behind.
The fringe is where disenfranchised students land when they have been pushed out of school.
The fringe is just about all that is left of the public schools in this country.
The fringe is something which "they" created.

It's remarkable really.
Russo, Gerstner, Spellings, Achieve, and the likes, exile most us to the fringes of society. Then they rail, rant, and rave against us for being there on the fringe!

Please, Fair Test, don't try to fit back into the box.
Feel honored by Russo's attack.
Don't get defensive and try to explain how standardized tests can be one part of an assessment package.
Standards are chauvinist.
Standards are biased.
Standards create losers.
Standards sort human beings out.
Standards don't measure anything except the expectations of the rulers so that they can justify continued discrimination and oppression.

Please, Fair Test, don't worry about charges of being out of the mainstream.
I work with the mainstream everyday and believe me, we in the mainstream are out on the fringe.

Congratulations, Fair Test!

We appreciate you out here on the fringe.
Don't leave us out in the cold.

Warmest peacebuilding greetings to one and all,
Steve Orel
on the fringe with pushed out students
Birmingham, Alabama
(one of cradles of the civil rights movement, which has always been considered on the fringe)

How “Fringe” is FairTest? Very.
Alexander Russo
This Week In Education Blog

A recent email exchange among education reporters about the difficulty of finding good (informed, thoughtful, balanced) sources to talk about NCLB brought up the issue of whether FairTest, or any other anti-testing outfit, is too “fringe” to be used as an expert source.

I say they are fringier than the fringe on my old suede cowboy jacket, and as such don't often make for good expert sources in stories on mainstream testing.
It’s not because FairTest is wrong or right on the issues of standardized testing and accountability. In the field of education, some – many? – tests may designed, administered, or used inappropriately.

Nor is it that being on the fringe is necessarily a bad thing. Abolitionists were once a fringe group. So were advocates for women’s suffrage. Evolutionists. Vegetarians. The list is endless.

But FairTest advocates a world that is radically (substantially?) different from the one that we live in. That makes it a fringe position, or organization.

By definition, fringe means out of the mainstream. There are fringe festivals in lots of big cities to celebrate outsider art. The grass surrounding the green in golf is the fringe.

The world we live in has tests – lots of them – used for everything from measuring how well a student is learning new vocabulary in a class every week to deciding whether a student gets to graduate or not.

For better or for worse, I don’t see testing going away anytime soon.

And -- this is key -- I don’t see a broad public or parental view that they should.

NCLB would never have been passed [or lasted this long] if the public didn’t approve of pop quizzes and standardized tests, and none of the current testing and report card requirements in the states and districts would survive a minute if a broad majority or even a substantial minority of the public was opposed.

Tests and teachers – we’re “stuck” with them both. And, far is I can tell, the people generally like it that way.

For these reasons, being as wholly against standardized testing as FairTest seems to be [these days] seems to meet the definition of a fringe position.

For those reasons, journalists using them as convenient experts [on statistics, psychometrics, etc.] who readers assume hold reasonably mainstream views seems likely to be misleading.

There are other testing experts out there -- at NAEP, at the National Academy of Sciences, etc. Maybe I should make a list of them.

Again, Bracey et al may turn out to be right on some of the substance.
As usual, I may be all wrong.
Bring on the fire and brimstone.


National Center for Fair & Open Testing


Earlier this week, education blogger Alexander Russo published a commentary claiming that FairTest was a "fringe" group. He urged journalists to stop using the organization as a source to balance stories about testing and assessment. We offer this response to set the record straight.

Russo's extraordinary attack on an organization with a twenty-year track record did not accuse FairTest of a single factual error or even cite an example of over-the-top rhetoric. Instead, he mischaracterizes us an "anti-testing outfit," a label easily shown to be false by examining the assessment reform proposal we advocated in Russo's home city of Chicago, a plan that includes periodic standardized exams as one component.

In fact, FairTest's critique focuses on the misuses and overuses of high-stakes exams, practices that the measurement profession's own "Standards" also condemn. Since our creation by leaders of major national civil rights and education reform groups in 1985, we have consistently advocated for assessments of students, teachers and schools that are fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial. Used properly, standardized tests can be one part of such an assessment package (see FairTest's goals at: http://www.fairtest.org/ftgoals.htm).

The core of Russo's argument is that FairTest is "out of the mainstream." That charge is also false. A broad range of polls and focus groups show that the American public, particularly parents and educators, continue to have grave doubts that the test-and-punish approach will bring about real improvements in academic performance. The impetus for schemes such as "No Child Left Behind" and state graduation tests comes from politicians and corporate executives who have latched on to the simplistic notion that there's no problem in education that more testing can't solve.

Pasted in below is the cover story from the forthcoming Twentieth Anniversary edition of the FairTest Examiner summarizing public opinion data demonstrating that a substantial segment of Americans agree with FairTest about the limits of standardized tests.

All of us at FairTest very much appreciate your continued interest and support. Special thanks to those who posted responses to Russo's blog or sent us private notes.

You can help provide the resources we need to continue the struggle against the powerful forces, who believe support for fair, open and sound assessments is a "fringe" point of view, by clicking on the "Donate Now" button at www.fairtest.org or by sending a check to FairTest, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139. All contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

Surveys Show Public Supports FairTest's Goals (from FairTest Examiner, Summer 2005)

Politicians, test-makers, various corporate leaders and think tanks, and many editorial boards of leading newspapers have conducted massive public relations campaigns in support of both No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) and state-mandated high-stakes testing. Despite these efforts, the public remains very skeptical of the testing agenda.

FairTest’s believes there is too great a reliance on testing to make major decisions, multiple measures must be used for making educational decisions, and NCLB needs major changes. Survey and focus group data show that FairTest’s views are in many cases the majority or near-majority opinions on these topics.

For example, Phi Delta Kappan’s 2003 and 2004 annual surveys questioned support for basic components of NCLB (Examiner, Fall 2003).

• When asked, "In your opinion, will a single test provide a fair picture of whether or not a school needs improvement?" two-thirds responded "No" in both years.

• In both years, nearly three-fourths stated that is was not possible "to accurately judge a student’s proficiency in English and math on the basis of a single test."

• Also in both years, 80% said they were concerned "a great deal" or "a fair amount" that "relying on testing for English and math only to judge a school’s performance will mean less emphasis on art, music, history, and other subjects."

• In 2003, 66% said they "believe the emphasis of NCLB on standardized testing will encourage teachers to teach to the tests," and 60% "believe this would be a bad thing." A similar question was not asked in 2004.

The national PTA surveyed parents last winter. Nine out of ten respondents indicated that "factors in addition to student test scores should be used to effectively measure school performance." Further, over half said, "NCLB’s reliance on testing has had a negative effect" on untested subject areas. Similarly, on a national survey by the group Public Agenda, almost six in ten said that "schools today place far too much emphasis on standardized tests" (Examiner, Spring 2000).

That same survey reported that nearly eight out of ten respondents agreed "it’s wrong to use the results of just one test to decide whether a student gets promoted or graduates." An Ohio poll reported that 70% of respondents supported a graduation exam, but 69% said students who fail the test should graduate if they have good grades (Examiner, Fall 2000).

Louis Gerstner, former chair of IBM and founder of the Teaching Commission, has been strongly promoting high-stakes testing. In an April Commission survey, many of the findings contradicted Gerstner’s goals.
For example, 52% of the general public and 71% of teachers said standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement.

Fewer than 30% of respondents to a survey by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation believed standardized tests are the best way to measure children’s school performance. (Examiner, Spring 2001). The 1999 Kappan poll found that only one-quarter of respondents thought standardized tests provided a more accurate picture of student academic progress than do teacher-based sources of information, a finding repeated the following year (Examiner, Winter 1999-2000). Even a poll by the strongly pro-testing Business Roundtable found that its respondents were far more likely to trust a local teacher "in presenting information on school performance" than any other person or group, presumably including corporate leaders (Examiner, Summer 2003).

As people dig deeper into the issues, they seem to become more opposed to test-based accountability. Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) established a national dialogue in 2001 with hundreds of participants engaged in ongoing discussion about NCLB. "Participants increasingly rejected the ‘one-size-fits-all’ notion implied by the NCLB legislation," explained McREL’s report. They placed increased parent involvement at the top of their priorities for school improvement, but believe that under the testing regime, "Parents may have fewer opportunities to become engaged in their children’s schools."

Participants, McREL added, want students to become "good citizens" and obtain critical thinking skills. They want schools to "support the development of every child’s unique talents and skills… They want multiple measures of performance and multiple ways for students to demonstrate their competencies." And they want research and development of better assessments.

• Kappan polls at www.pdk intl.org/kappan/kpollpdf.htm

• Teaching Commission at www.theteachingcommission .org, click on press center

• PTA at www.pta.org/aboutpta/pressroom/pr050

• McREL at www.mcrel.org/topics/productDetail.asp
? productID=204

— Alexander Russo and FairTest
A Dispute


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