Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marty & Bill & Veronica & Winston

Okay, now that I have your attention through the use of "hot" New Mexico first names, let me first waste your time by giving you what I feel is the single most informative 211-word analysis of standardized testing I've ever read. And I've been wasting lots and lots of time lately reading tons of standardized testing analysis.

I promise I'll get to the Bill, Marty, Veronica, Winston stuff in a minute.

The quoted passage below comes from a NY Times Op/Ed by Todd Farley, former standardized testing grader and author of an upcoming book about his experiences called Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry. I'll admit it, I'm such a total Standards-Based Assessments (SBA) nerd at this point that this book title appeals to me like "G.I. Joe"-meets "Transformers"-meets-"Anything Featuring Nearly Naked Women" appeals to a 13-year old boy.

Anyway, here's the passage:
A few years later, still a part-time worker, I had a similar experience. For one project our huge group spent weeks scoring ninth-grade movie reviews, each of us reading approximately 30 essays an hour (yes, one every two minutes), for eight hours a day, five days a week. At one point the woman beside me asked my opinion about the essay she was reading, a review of the X-rated movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” The woman thought it deserved a 3 (on a 6-point scale), but she settled on that only after weighing the student’s strong writing skills against the “inappropriate” subject matter. I argued the essay should be given a 6, as the comprehensive analysis of the movie was artfully written and also made me laugh my head off.

All of the 100 or so scorers in the room soon became embroiled in the debate. Eventually we came to the “consensus” that the essay deserved a 6 (“genius”), or 4 (well-written but “naughty”), or a zero (“filth”). The essay was ultimately given a zero.

This kind of arbitrary decision is the rule, not the exception. The years I spent assessing open-ended questions convinced me that large-scale assessment was mostly a mad scramble to score tests, meet deadlines and rake in cash.
There's actually more in the Op/Ed, but I already feel bad for copy/pasting so much of it. Things about "grading" tests while in "happy hour mode" and stuff. And that's just the Op/Ed....the book should be...oooh, I'm so excited.

But not too excited to forget my promise to provide a thought or two about Marty, Bill, Veronica & Winston.

What do these four people have in common, besides being the sort of political "celebrities" that make simple use of their first name enough in that Cher, Madonna, Manny sort of way? Actually, I'm thinking of them as two couples: Marty & Bill, and now Veronica & Winston.

I've never read a 1,500 word newspaper article headlined "Marty and Bill Hate Each Other's Guts", but we've all read plenty of sly references and such that can pretty much be boiled down to the fake headline above. I could be wrong, but I doubt these two guys regularly meet at Spectators to watch Monday Night Football together. Probably no exchange of Christmas cards or "Secret Santa" stuff.

Well, reading all the recent stories concerning the State Public Education Department (PED) and Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) has me wondering if perhaps Veronica and Winston have quickly developed a Marty/Bill level of shared revulsion already.

Take the graduation rate SNAFU. The PED announces figures that everyone thinks are too low, the District comes out with new, higher, figures, the PED "blasts APS" (annoying outdated Sports Desk video-promo or $ required) for having lousy record-keeping, and the District fires back saying the PED numbers "had been harmful to the District's morale and reputation".


And this is all well and good in providing needed levity to school teachers around the State of New Mexico. Trust me...this stuff is seen by teachers as high comedy nearly equal to reading NYT Op/Eds about people grading standardized tests while smashed. The spat also provides insights into "my world". Again, trust's like this all the time. It really is. Honest.

So far, so good. Entertainment and insight into dysfunction, all in one sloppy statistical package.

But there's a problem here. I hesitate to rain on this hilarious Edu-Reality Show ("Real Educational Officials of New Mexico", "Are You Able To Count Graduates Better Than An Educational Official?", "The Biggest Statistical Loser"), but there's one VERY BIG REASON why Veronica and Winston (PED and APS) need to get over themselves. A big financial reason.

We're currently smack dab in the middle of the proposal-writing process for all the unprecedented and unprecedentedly cash-rich federal grants flowing from the Obama Administration. Millions and even billions of dollars. Money I've been boring regular readers here about for months.

Given this situation, it is imperative that we NM education types are all on the same page, working together to create well-coordinated grant proposals likely to win federal approval, while also putting our absolutely best, most professional face forward to help that process be as successful as possible.

But here's Veronica and Winston sniping at each other like Kate and Jon Gosselin** about a bunch of graduation rate statistics we ALL know are bogus to begin with.

Not good, people.

Not terribly professional, regardless of how funny it is. I may be wrong, and Veronica and Winston may actually be getting along like a house a' fire, sending each other Twitter messages and emailing each other five times a day. APS' "Research, Development and Accountability" (RDA) Department and the State PED Accountability office might be meeting for drinks every Friday for "Happy Hour", but it sure as Hell doesn't look like it.

And as a state desperately in need of getting its hands on all the Obama edu-cash it can, it would be a shame if any animosity or lingering resentment from our District/State educational officials resulted in weaker, unfunded proposals. Just imagine the finger-pointing then.

Just think of the Reality Show depths possible then.

So stop it, you two, and that goes for everyone at both PED and APS. Stop your bitching, and go get us some money. We need laughs, sure, but we need cold, hard cash even more.

*It occurs to me that non-Edunerd New Mexicans may not know that "Veronica" is Veronica Garcia, Secretary of the NM Public Education Department and "Winston" is Winston Brooks, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent. I apologize for making the assumption everybody would just know that.

**I truly have no idea who Kate and Jon Gosselin are outside of my students mentioning them. I apologize if the Veronica/Winston, Kate/Jon analogy is unfair, doesn't make sense and, most importantly, isn't funny. Maybe I should have used other reality show pairings, but I must admit I don't know any reality show pairings.


Steve said...

I am watching the John Adams HBO dramatization and I am getting inspired by the words, "liberty will reign in America". Did he mean rain, or rein? We need to speak the truth. The NY Times article shows the ridiculousness of the testing as it is done. Follow the money and the corruption that goes with it. Pursue the education grants, of course, but we need to question the cuts being proposed in our state and the waste of the testing. No one should lose their job if a penny is being spent on the SBA. Let liberty rein in the corruption, rain on the drought of common sense, and may it reign in America.

Abuelita2 said...

I do so enjoy your posts!! Even though I cry and wring my hands while I read and laugh.

I "graded" open-ended SBA items for the company that is providing them for N.M. recently. It was completely subjective! Four of us working on the same items disagreed, and it was just a matter of opinion.

michelle meaders said...

What is SBA here? I'm assuming it's not the Small Business Administration.

jscotkey said...

Michelle: many acronyms, so little explanation...

Standards-Based Assessment =
Tests that determine Adequate Yearly Progress and all that No Child Left Behind stuff

I've changed the first reference in the post in order to catch the mistake today, and apologize for my inevitable failure to ID these things properly in future postings.

ched macquigg said...

APS raised its graduation rates by dropping from the statistical data base, any ninth grader who was not in the ninth grade for the first time.

Drop those least likely to graduate, from the calculation and voila, a higher graduation rate.

They should just go ahead and drop every kid with a GPA lower than 2.0. Then we would be graduating almost 100%, and we could stop worrying about it.

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