test cred (updated)

Calls for investigation into test credibility go unanswered

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is calling for state exams to be more “defensible,” but a study investigating test score credibility requested a year ago by the state’s testing oversight board has still not received a go-ahead.

The committee first formally asked the state education department to join an academic study on the state tests in the fall of 2008, said chair Howard Everson. The education department declined but did not rule out future participation. Since then, Everson has received no requests to revisit the idea, he said in an interview yesterday.

“It’s hard to trust the data right now,” said Everson, a psychometrician who is also a senior fellow at the City University of New York. Everson’s committee, the state Technical Advisory Group, is charged with monitoring the state testing process.

The study, which Everson is developing with Harvard education professor Daniel Koretz, would investigate a phenomenon called score inflation. Score inflation happens when rises in test scores reflect something other than actual learning — for instance, bending the test rules (e.g., giving students more time) or even cheating. Tests may also become so predictable that teachers learn to coach students on how to ace them, experts say.

The researchers propose measuring what test scores really represent by creating a “test within a test” that would assess the same skills but in a variety of formats. If students score worse on the new test than on the regular test, Everson said, that would suggest that score inflation is at work.

The key is to give both tests to the same group of students at around the same time. This would eliminate variables that may account for existing differences in results between state exams and alternative assessments such as NAEP.

If such a study happened, Everson said, it would be the first time that New York state accountability tests have ever been rigorously examined for possible score inflation.

Requests for comment by a state education department spokesman on whether a study on score inflation is being considered were not returned.

The research study designed by Everson and Koretz is still in its preliminary stages, Everson said, and the researchers are in early discussions with several states to participate.

New York would be an excellent site for research because of the high stakes attached to the exams, Koretz said in an interview earlier this year.

“In the old days, when the pressure to raise scores wasn’t so high, it mattered less that tests were somewhat predictable,” he said. “But when the pressure is as high as it is now – everywhere, but particularly in New York with value-added measures for teachers and so on – people have every incentive to look for predictable patterns and to narrow their instruction to focus on those patterns.”

Columbia University sociology researcher Jennifer Jennings has found that almost identical questions have appeared on each state math exam since 2006, making it easier for schools to teach to the test.

Koretz said that with increased attention to high-stakes testing in New York, he hopes that the pressure for a thorough look into score inflation will mount.

“I hope that New York can be what finally breaks the ice,” he said.

Everson was quoted in the Times as saying that the state tests are “about as good as we can build them.” In an interview with GothamSchools, Everson elaborated on that appraisal, saying that the technical operations of state testing–how the tests are administered and scored–are strong. But he made a distinction between the way the tests are being given and the way the results are being interpreted.

“It’s just a hypothesis, but we worry that there would be more score inflation,” Everson said. “We think there would be more teaching to the test.” But there is no way to be sure without more rigorous examination, he said.

UPDATE: The New York State Department of Education is currently researching the possibility of using an “audit mechanism,” like the “test within a test” that Everson described, to guard against score inflation in their standardized tests, department spokesman Jonathan Burman said.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.