published Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

David Cook: Take back the TCAP

Between 2003 and 2009, the Tennessee Department of Education paid more than $89 million in contracts to six corporations that create the process of standardized tests our public school students are required to take. (Roughly half the money came from federal funds, according to U.S. Department of Education documents).

A $41 million contract went to CTB/McGraw Hill to develop the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Pearson, which makes more money off education than any other corporation on the planet, received just a pittance: a five-year, $19 million contract to administer the End of Course (EOC) exams.

In comparison, Pearson's contract with Texas schools was closer to $500 million. But more on that later.

"Think what could be done with that money if it were used to provide enrichment activities, upgrade technology, provide needed staff development for teachers and parental training for present curriculum, or encourage and train mentors for students," one principal emailed last week.

Yes, think what could be done.

Last week, this very column criticized the TCAP, and the way its culture of over-testing is ruining public education. It struck a nerve; the column was passed around more than a kindergarten cold. More than 5,000 people "Liked" it on Facebook. I heard from teachers, parents, principals, from here all the way to Knoxville, who felt the exact same way.

"The TCAP Death March," one former principal called it.

"Travesty," said another.

Such a response means two big things.

First, if you are an elected official, then pay attention. Thousands of people -- the ones you promised to serve -- are pitchfork angry. Want to become really popular and electable? Get out in front of this.

Second, if you are one of those frustrated parents, teachers, principals or students, then take heart. You're not alone.

In Seattle, students and teachers boycotted standardized testing. Rhode Island students dressed like zombies in a state capitol protest. In Oregon, students organized an opt-out campaign.

The public school superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing. More than one-third of all New York State public school principals signed a letter against the current practice.

In Texas, hundreds of local school boards have passed resolutions against standardized testing; state lawmakers passed a bill that reduced from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate; the outgoing education commissioner called high stakes testing "the heart of the vampire."

Much of the Texas educational reform (what an odd phrase) is rooted in resentment toward Pearson, the British-based corporation that just privatized the GED test, and was recently investigated for ethics so questionable -- like funding exotic trips for state education commissioners -- one IRS lawyer compared them to the Jack Abramoff scandal.

"An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer," wrote Gail Collins, in her New York Times column.

So, how about this?

Next year, the Tennessee General Assembly will pass a law: by 2015, all K-12 public school students will undergo standardized testing only to the minimum amount required by federal law. Standardized test scores shall not be used in determining teacher evaluation or student grades.

To pull this off, concerned parents and students form an across-the-state coalition and begin -- like, yesterday -- to set up meetings with state representatives. Teachers and principals, craft your own public letter.

School boards, do something. Students, thank your teachers each day.

Then research boycotts.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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magenta said...

As long as education is so top heavy, by the time whatever is left trickles down to the schools, then students will always be leftover crumbs. The top will always pay itself first.

Then the schools exhaust so much time and energy on discipline and trying to get students suspended, that students eventually drop out at first opportunity anyway. There are so many variables going on to sabotage learning from the top to the bottom and inside. It's a wonder the system produces anything at all.

Can one imagine what would happen to someone like Einstein in today's school system? He'd likely be on some drug like Ritalin, have multiple suspensions and expulsions on his record. Would have likely been hauled off in handcuffs for wearing mix-matching socks (which he was known to do). And then that hair! and unkempt look would have certainly gotten him suspended.

April 30, 2013 at 8:26 a.m.
timbo said...

Sometimes I think Cook is nuts. With teachers, because he is one, he is just biased.

Let me ask you a question..in Kumbaya World how do you measure progress?. Even more importantly, how do you measure teacher performance?

Cook just thinks it will "happen" because of all the "good" people in education. We tried that and education performance went in the ditch.

Obviously, Cook is not a math teacher. Let's look at his biased numbers. He said there was $89 million spent from 2003-2009 by Tenneseee for testing. That would be about $12 million per year. There are 140 school districts in Tennessee. That means roughly, $90,000 per school district per year. If you take the number of students in say Hamilton County (42,000) and divide that into the $90,000 it would be about $2.16 per student.

DID YOU GET THAT????? $2.16 per student per year.

That is what is wrong with you "journalists" you never do your homework. Yea,...that is funny you are a teacher and a "journalist" and didn't do your homework.

Yea, is it worth $2.16 per year per student to find out what little Johnny hasn't been taught by you "teachers." Yea, it is also worth $2.16 per student to grade TEACHER PERFORMANCE.

I know that living up to standards out in the real world of actual performance is something that is beneath you "educators." You just want to operate in your own little world without any oversight by us commoners.

The problems with the schools are simple. It is that nobody gets measured , everyone gets a trophy, atmosphere, has dumbed down the population that same population is over-dosed with self esteem.

Let me let you in on a little fact..public teachers work for us. We have every right to expect performance for the Number 1 in the world spending on education.

You just want to do a bad job and hope we don't notice. Either you are that stupid or you are just lying.

Keep the tests.

April 30, 2013 at 1:41 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

This was truly pitiful.

Timbo I came up with $12.83 per student per year, based on about 935,000 students statewide. Could be off a bit one way or the other. Still it's a small price to pay for getting a good reading on which students-and more importantly-which teachers, are doing well.

April 30, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
medrep63 said...

Thanks again David for bringing a problem to the front. I agree with Timbo on one hand that teachers do need to be accountable to someone. I worked in the corporate world for many years before returning to graduate school and becoming a counselor. So I have experience with evaluations and performance appraisals in this arena. And there is some "dead-weight" in education just like in any profession. And I agree with Magenta (shocking ) that the dead weight is at the top. The trickle down is crumbs. But the dead weight in Nashville will keep justifying their existence with numbers and stats. However, the amount of money spent on testing is absurd. I don't have the answers to all the problems, but I can for sure tell you that the Tn. Dept. of Education is staffed by people who do not see human beings, they only see statistics. And as I said last week, until you get the parents/parent/guardian invested and interested in their kid's education, nothing will change. The teachers are not only responsible for teaching the kid, they are now charged with raising them too, and if something goes wrong, these are the people who are the first to complain. And the state of TN. requires Nothing from the parents. NOTHING. And before someone cries foul on my part, I am not talking ALL Parents. But we do have a massive amount of people who are taking taking from the system and giving nothing back. They scam the system, take advantage of the system, and do nothing. It's generational too. I try to get my students to understand that they need to get their diploma/degree, and they need to work and provide. Nothing should be handed out..but they are living in an environment where they see just that..hand outs and scamming. No work ethic, parents using drugs, and living off other people. Why should they graduate and get a job. They don't have to, someone else will pay them to sit at home.

May 1, 2013 at 8:41 a.m.
timbo said...

Laughing boy..... You're right about the $12 if you take the total divided by the total amount of students but you forgot that the 89 million was over a seven-year period. What I did was use Hamilton County is an example. I took 89 million divided by the seven years ( 2003 – 2009) , Then I divided that by 140 school districts in Tennessee. That was approximately $91,000 per year per school district. I've been divided that by the 42,000 students in Hamilton County. That is approximately 2 dollars Per student.

In any event, it's not very much to make sure the students are doing well and the teachers are being held accountable. Real numbers are two a liberal like the crucifix is to a vampire.

May 1, 2013 at 9:22 a.m.
CriticalReader said...

Timbo, Not all students take a TCAP. Only juniors in HS take the TCAP writing exam, which is essentially a test with no bearing on their grades. It is often referred to as a "no stakes test" and most students don't even know what they make on them. Surely you don't believe that the students' scores on this test would be a fair representation of the teacher? Maybe a comparison could be made that at a factory, the worker makes the same pay for turning out 10 products or 50, yet the boss is held accountable for the amount of total products -- and the quality -- which is being put out. If the boss has no way of making the workers care about doing more (because they already get their pay), why should he be responsible and accountable for their lack of drive? It seems kind of similar to the teachers who have no control over the kind of work or work ethic students put into their writing test (which they know cannot harm them at all if they do poorly). I'm just not sure that this part of the TCAP is "fair" or a realistic measuring stick.

May 1, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.
timbo said...

Critical Reader..... Good point, but somehow teachers and students need to be held accountable. It might not be "fair" but it is all we have at the moment. My main point was that Cook cherry-picked his numbers. When analyzed the cost per student is pretty low.

Your right, teachers have no way to control who they have to teach. Since that is true, teachers should be careful in their over-estimating their contributions to education. What you are saying is that if kids were smarter teachers would be less important. You can't have it both ways. If they can't teach the difficult students then what good are they.

Teachers with their benefits are paid about right. The smart students don't need them and the dumb ones can't be taught according to you. Where does that leave us?

By the way, my father was a teacher for 35 years.

May 1, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.
Leaf said...

I don't think it's just the money spent on the actual test, which is pretty cheap. I think some of the complaint is that there is a lot of time spent teaching to the test, and very large consequences tied to the students' performance. I think standardized testing has its place but there probably is too much of it currently.

In any case, I find it interesting how there is so much attention paid to "holding teachers accountable" but nobody says anything about holding administrators or school boards accountable. In the for-profit world, the boss takes responsibility (usually).

May 1, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Accountable? Simply divide ALL the education money among all the students for whatever schooling they choose: home, private, public, college, out-of-state...even park the money in an education/retirement/MSA fund and go get a job. Then if parents decide a school isn't getting the job done, they move their child and their money somewhere else. Instant accountability.

It keeps restaurants improving, because they have to keep their customers happy. Public schools aren't on that short a leash, so they keep costing more without doing better.

Maybe let parents do whatever testing they want? Send home a catalog of tests at the beginning of the year, and let parents do whatever testing and whatever reporting of results they want. With 900,000 students in Tennessee, the market will demand and supply tests for this purpose.

May 2, 2013 at 1:18 a.m.
Leaf said...

AndrewLohr, it must be really easy for you to make decisions since the world you inhabit is so much simpler than the real one.

May 2, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook should know these tests are not strictly memorization. Far from it. Reading comprehension and mathematics proficiency are measured as well. There has to be some accountability, "giving a good effort" won't get it done. There is a reason some valedictorians achieve 35 on the ACT and some get a 20, local standards differ greatly across the country.

May 2, 2013 at 11:53 a.m.
timbo said...

Leaf... You are dead right. School boards, administrators, and principles should be even more accountable. They are in charge and point the direction. Whatever problems there are come from their poor management.

When a company does badly, they don't blame the guy on the line, they fire management.

Teachers need to be accountable for what they are supposed to be doing. Now, they are supposed to make sure the students can pass the test.

May 2, 2013 at 12:12 p.m.
CriticalReader said...

Timbo, I guess it seems that in America, the bottom of the education pyramid receives almost all of the attention. The smarter kids rarely make any sort of waves or demands and so they rarely get the attention they need because it is supposed that they will "get it on their own" or "do it themselves" (and this is probably because they have been in classes where the teacher is constantly working with the bottom students trying to get them to the bare minimums instead of helping them excell.) Imagine if teachers actually tried to get the top students to a higher level instead of worrying over the bottom who will probably be a leach on society anyway? I admire that America wants everyone to have the same equal advantages and I also believe everyone can learn, but I also believe that most are apathetic and distract where a teacher's focus should probably be.

I don't really have an opinion about teacher pay because I think it probably is a good job and is adequately compensated -- for the most part. I will add that I disagree with merit pay or any pay attached to test scores, etc., because again, it's just not fair. A teacher at Signal Mountain will probably get better test scores than a teacher at Howard. Should he/she get a higher salary because of that? There are too many factors like class size, parental involvement, culture, and many others.

May 3, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.
timbo said...

Criticalthinker.....I think you are right about the top students. Also, I know it sounds mean, but we spend 10 times the amount on mentally challenged students who have little chance of making a contribution.

What if we spent more money on the smart ones and they cured cancer of even, mentally challenged people.

May 3, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.
Easy123 said...

"What if we spent more money on the smart ones and they cured cancer of even, mentally challenged people."

I can not even begin to explain how ignorant that ENTIRE statement is.

May 3, 2013 at 11:05 p.m.
magenta said...

See: EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!! Principal Fires Guards, Expands Arts and Sees Test Scores Soar

Sources: NBCNews, Demungrnd, altnt org., legal news:

"Bott completely cut the school’s security infrastructure and revitalized its art programs. Musical instruments were pulled out of locked storage and returned to classrooms. Faculty reopened dance and art studios that had been out of commission for years.

Within a year, the school already saw “significant increases in the numbers of students reading at grade level and the percent of students proficient on grade level math assessments.” And within three, Orchard Gardens completely transformed. Not only have test scores and grades improved—students are also better behaved.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott told NBC. “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

Orchard Gardens’ refocus is emblematic of studies linking arts education with academic achievement. A 2012 study by the National Endowments for the Arts found that “At-risk students who have access to the arts in or out of school also tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.” Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens is starting to see that play out."

May 4, 2013 at 2:16 a.m.
fairmon said...

From the time Carter established the department of education and all the subsequent legislation the number of students in public schools has doubled while the number of administrative positions has increased 700%, similar to the per student cost. Are students doing better or worse? Ask employers that hire them and they will laugh at your ignorance of what the system is producing.

May 4, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.
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