From Paul Vallas's babble about teaching to get kids 'over the bubble' to Byrd Bennett's NWEA 51st percentile fetish... Same Bullshit, different century!

Raise Your Hand and other groups supporting this year's Opt Out of the ISAT testing program have just revealed, thanks to an anonymous teacher, that CPS officials are telling "instructional leaders" to focus intense instruction of children whose NWEA MAP scores are between the 20th and 50th percentiles. Why? Because those children are most likely to get their scores above the 50th percentile, thereby improving a school's standing according to the latest "matrix" of how schools are ranked and sorted.

The data driven manias of the second decade of the 21st Century are being stage managed by Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett (center above) along with Board President David Vitale (left) and Rahm Emanuel (half right). At the end of the 20th Century, the same bullshit was being preached by CEO Paul Vallas, flanked by Board President Gery Chico and Mayor Richard M. Daley. Same bullshit, different shovelers.That's the story from 2014, when the test in question is the NWEA MAP and the fetish again is the percentage of a school's students scoring above the magic number -- the 50th percentile.

But in 1998 and 1999, the same nonsense was being preached by a different CEO about intensifying instruction for a middle group of students in order to get the scores to the 51st percentile on a completely different test, the ITBS! Then it was Paul Vallas; now it is Barbara Byrd Bennett.

The amazing thing about this bullshit -- and that's the only word that applies -- is that it has survived through four major testings and five CPS schools "CEOs". The first time this particular formula for improving school standings was presented was in the late 1990s. At the time, the CPS CEO was Paul G. Vallas, and he urged teachers to focus intense instruction on those students he said were "on the bubble" just below the 50th percentile. Then, as in 2014, the objective was to achieve some kind of data driven Nirvana -- scores about the "50th percentile."

The result was that students below the 20th percentile and those well above the 50th percentile received a curriculum of not-so-benign neglect, as we reported then from various sources. The biggest scandal was revealed during a conference on test resistance held in 1999 a Columbia University and sponsored by Fair Test and Teachers College. One Chicago honors student, from Crane High School, reported to the conference that she had been basically ignored -- because her scores we so "high" that she wasn't "on the bubble" Vallas had mentioned.

Also ignored were the children so far below the "bubble" that their scores could never go "up" far enough to reach the magic "50th percentile."

I had heard the same nonsense a few years earlier from Catherine Lawrence, who at the time was the main salesperson for Riverside Publishing, which was selling the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the TAP tests to CPS. Riverside was making millions from the ITBS and TAP tests -- until those tests were no longer the Tests De Jour for Chicago.

Since Vallas was dumped by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2001, CPS has had to focus on an every changing array of so-called "standardized" tests. This year, the ISAT is being phased out, but CPS is still planning to waste a week of teacher and student time in March on the ISAT testing cycle. But this year, as the report form Raise Your Hand below shows, once again teachers are being told to teach to the kids "on the bubble" and ignore the high scores and the low ones. The only thing missing is the Vallas Babble that always accompanied his versions of reality.

Since Paul Vallas was ousted from CPS, the CEOs have been:

Arne Duncan (2001 - 2008)

Ron Huberman (2009 - 2010)

Terry Mazany (2010)

Jean-Claude Brizard (2011 - 2012)

Barbara Byrd Bennett (2012 - today).

The babble has changed but the bullshit remains. Chicago no longer uses the ITBS or the ISAT to provide the meaningless data driven stuff that tyrannizes schools, teachers and children. But today, as in 1998 and 1999, once again teachers and principals are being told to neglect the majority of their kids so that they can goose up a minority and achieve one of those minor miracles of data manipulation that we've been subjected to for way too long.


What's Up with all the Misinformation about ISAT?

We are hearing from parents that there is a lot of erroneous information being shared at the school level about negative implications of opting out of the ISAT. We met with CPS Accountability Office on Monday and expressed concern about the confusing letters that have been sent home to parents about ISAT from CPS. Below is an ISAT fact sheet:

ISAT Fact Sheet from More than a Score

Other issues discussed with the Office of Accountability/Assessment:

*CPS promotion policy More than a Score shared alternative promotion policy. CPS new policy says that all students who score below 24% on NWEA need to go to summer school.

*Expressed feedback we were getting from parents who are concerned about NWEA use for SE admission versus private school test options. CPS is reviewing this.

*Overtesting some schools are using multiple literacy assessments for primary grades, optional tests not really optional in some networks, etc. * Notice to parents on testing we would like schools to share which standardized tests are being given to parents each year

What teachers are saying about culture of testing at CPS:

Anonymous post by a CPS teacher sent to MTAS:

Today we had a grade level meeting about the NWEA scores for the fourth grade students at my school. We teachers were all given printouts of our students most recent scores: RIT bands, percentiles, the whole shebang. Then we were instructed to highlight the students in our classes who had scored between the 37th and 50th percentile. These students, the admin informed us, are the most important students in the class; they are the ones most likely to reach the 51st percentile when students take the NWEA again in May. Making the 51st percentile is VERY important to CPS, and thus to principals, literacy coordinators, test specialists and teachers-who-dont-want-to-lose-their-jobs.

It might not be important to individual students, their parents or anyone else, but it is life or death in Chicago Public Schools. We nodded, wide-eyed. These students, our guide continued, should be your primary focus. Make sure they get whatever they need to bring them up to that percentile. Sign them up for any and all academic programs, meet with them daily in small groups, give them extra homework, have them work with available tutors...whatever it takes. What about the kids at the very bottom, one teacher wondered, the kids under the 20th percentile...shouldnt they be offered more support too? The admin squirmed a bit. Well, they dont really have any chance of hitting the goal, so for right now, no. There was silence.

Left unsaid was what might, could, will happen to any school that does NOT have enough students meet that magic number. No one really needs to say it. We all saw the 50 schools that got closed down last year. We see the charters multiplying around us. Weve also seen the steady stream of displaced teachers come through our school doors as substitutes. We know that we could be next."

Raise Your Glass Winter Pary March 4th

Our annual winter party is right around the corner. Buy your tickets and come celebrate four years of strong work and collective activism to improve our school system!


February 13, 2014 at 6:16 PM

By: Rod Estvan

educational destruction of students with disabilities

Thanks George for this article. The practice of focusing on students most likely to reach the 51st percentile," or any other cut score on a standardized test has had devastating consequences for students with disabilities in CPS and other urban school district. Is it a surprise that in 2013 that 42% of CPS students with IEPs were reading at the warning level. Which is the lowest quartile measureable by the ISAT and PSAE.

That 42% figure comes to 9,177 students most of whom are likely in general education classrooms for a big part of the school day.

Lets be clear here, we arent discussing students with more severe and profound disabilities who were given the Illinois Alternative Assessment (2,536 of the 24,386 disabled CPS students tested were given the IAA in 2013 10.4%).

The 42% of students with disabilities who fall below the target area are often given special education services for reading, but they are also supposed to be participating whenever possible in remedial programs used for all students. But not really, as Georges article so clearly demonstrates, regular education teachers are often advised to write these kids off to special education services because they are so far behind. The problem with that is of course that special education was designed to supplement general education, not to supplant it.

There are fortunately teachers who are ethical and refuse the advice of school improvement consultants to focus on those who can be saved, like the teacher who reported what took place at their meeting.

This practice, which George correctly notes has been going on for a long time, has the effect of undermining inclusion for students with disabilities. Parents of low performing students with disabilities often want their children out of regular classrooms and placed in separate settings. Why, because they feel their children are being ignored and passed along from grade to grade based on modifications to the standards. This is a very sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.

Rod Estvan

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