State Assessments

 Precursor to Total Federal Control of  Curriculum


    (The following is a transcript of a Presentation by Debbie Pelley, a public school teacher in Arkansas,  given at a national education meeting in St. Louis and incorporates a summary of a testimony given before the Arkansas Senate and House Education Committee. This presentation was also given to legislators/staffers in Washington, D.C.)


     As a teacher in Arkansas, during the time  President Clinton was Governor for over a decade, I have been able to observe the intricate, deceptive, and subtle techniques by which a government takes control of the schools and the curriculum in an entire state.


    In 1987 after the first stages of  Clinton's educational reforms were implemented and the teachers were exhausted and demoralized, I read an article about these new standards   ("Beyond the Standards" by Anne Farris, Arkansas Times, May, 1988.)  in which President Clinton was quoted as saying, "It's the most important thing I've ever done,"  and Hillary was quoted as saying, "We're getting to the starting gate." (See also Marc Tucker's Hillary letter:  I was stunned, thinking what else can they do and puzzled over this matter for some time.  As I look back at the article now, I can see that many of the components of OBE and STW were right there in the article.  The words were there, but I didn't understand the meaning.  I did not know what the definition of "is" was.


   In the same way, legislators are passing laws that they don't understand.  We teachers   have found that most legislators and educational officials are appalled when they are shown documentation as to how their  laws and regulations are actually being implemented in the schools and classrooms.  (Many times we teachers are the only ones that can actually provide that documentation.)


      In 1991 when our OBE law was passed (Act 236) there was one vote out of 135 opposing it.  Seven years later in 1997  there had been so much controversy that most legislators were convinced it was a bad law and went into the legislative session calling the OBE law dead in  the waters.  They struck out about 90% of the law.  However, at the closing of  the session, they passed a school-to-work and workforce education law - not realizing that even according to President Clinton, STW is an extension of  Goals 2000 (or OBE).  The legislators had learned the terminology of OBE but had not yet learned the terminology of STW, and most of  them had no idea there was any connection. 


     The same thing is happening with assessment laws or accountability laws.  The legislators are being snookered.  We found that to be true again when another teacher and I recently testified about testing before the joint interim education committee in November 1998.  I want to give you the highlights of that testimony, and I think you will understand why some of  them were quite surprised. 



Testimony Before Joint Session of  Education Committees

Thursday, November 19, 1998


     As an educator (with a master's degree in Counseling and in English and with twenty-five years teaching experience in Arkansas), I am very concerned that we are teaching the tests, rather than educating our children.  When too much emphasis is put on high stakes tests, the results can be disastrous. I  want to show you to what degree teachers are being encouraged and pressured into teaching the test and the negative effects that  has on education.


     In  workshops around the State, representatives from the Co-op and/or state department are conducting teacher workshops and teaching them how to improve their test scores.  Note that I said how to improve test scores, not how to improve education. [Teacher workshops are called staff development and improving test scores is called aligning the curriculum with the frameworks.]


Throw Away Textbooks and Teach What's On The Test,

Co-op Presenter Tells Teachers


    In February of 1998, a representative from the Co-op,  in one of  the many teacher workshops he conducted, told the teachers, "Arkansas frameworks and  the SAT-9 Test go together.  The state of Arkansas has given you frameworks. The state is saying this is what you should be teaching.  This is what is on the test.  This is what teachers are going to have to do.  A lot of places are throwing away the textbook and are just using these Arkansas frameworks."   Then he reminded them that if the SAT-9 Test scores don't measure up, the state can take over the school.   Arkansas has tests at six different grade levels that come under the academic distress law that allows the state to take over the school if  scores don't measure up.  (The SAT-9  test is the  standardized test that  students are required to take in the 5th, 7th, & 10th grade)   


Sat-9 Test Booklet Outlining Tests Given to Teachers


     This representative from the Co-op then went through the SAT-9 Test booklet and showed the teachers on an overhead how to find the exact objectives that each test item is testing and where to find these booklets (called Compendium and Item Format booklets for each grade level.) He then gave some suggestions about practical ways to improve test scores (but not education.).  In fact, he jokingly said he was there to make good teachers out of  them in an hour.  He suggested among other things that teachers give enrichment work (teachers call that busy work) to good students and teach and re-teach the test curriculum until other students have mastered it.  (In the meantime the good students are bored and are not learning other things they could be learning.)


District's Test Data to Drive the District


      He said some schools had improved their scores up to 11% by using his practical suggestions. In my opinion, these practices corrupt the scores and the purpose of  the test in much the same way teaching the objectives of an IQ test would corrupt those scores, and I  first thought this man was advocating practices that would not be acceptable to our State Department.  I even  made an effort to discuss this with two different education officials.   However,  I now  understand these workshops are being conducted all over the state under the guise of  "aligning the curriculum to the frameworks."  Superintendents reported  that the Director of  the State Department told them in  a recent meeting  that , "you will be given test score data on your district; use that data to drive your district." In the joint education committee meeting in July,  the Director of  the State Department basically said that textbooks were a hindrance to good teaching which sounded a lot like throwing the textbooks away, as the representative from the Co-op suggested.


Teachers Asked to Prepare for Test with Repetitive Boring Drills and Worksheets


    This fall numerous teachers all over the state of Arkansas were pressured by their administrators (who were pressured by the State Department and the academic distress law) to begin their school year by preparing their students for the SAT-9 which must be given a few weeks after school starts.  Teachers in many schools were given workbook curriculum like "Scoring High" booklets and asked to teach these drills every day until the students took the test.  Many teachers and parents complained that their students were bored and unhappy with this constant drilling.  This is not a very good  way to start back to school nor a good way to motivate students.  I strongly believe in drills and worksheets when used appropriately, but  many teachers know how to teach the test curriculum in a more effective and interesting way than these booklets do; but they weren't given the choice.  And many teachers have a moral disagreement with teaching the test to this degree.    


Tests Controls Whole Curriculum


    Even worse, the tests are now going to control the entire curriculum all year in many or most schools.  In some schools the teachers are required to put in their lesson plan books the objective of  the test item they are teaching that day.  In other words, every lesson has to revolve around one of  the test objectives.  And teachers in some schools are reporting that their principals are telling them, "If it is not on the test, don't teach it." (Add:  In a workshop conducted by the assistant to the Director of  the State Department of Education,  teachers were told (and this is on tape) that "we would be hearing terms like 'weeding out' and advised to look at our curriculum and do the things that teach directly to the standards and the test and let things go that don't."  The Director himself  said concerning the benchmark standards, "It's not something teachers will do in addition to; it will be done in place of."


   The whole curriculum then for 7th grade would be this one page of  specific objectives.  Be sure to look at these in my material.  There is no writing on here, no literature, no parts of  speech, etc.


Teaching to Test Corrupts Purpose of Test And Narrows the Curriculum


     As stated earlier, this process corrupts the purpose of  the test, much like the IQ test would be corrupted if teachers spent all year teaching the objectives on that test.  Tests are designed to be a sampling of the material taught.  In a test over 100 multiplication facts, a teacher would typically give a test over ten facts, and the grade for each student would be about the same as if the test covered all 100 facts.  But if the students knew which ten the teacher was going to give,  they could study a lot less and still make the same grade, but they would know only ten multiplication facts instead of 100.  The same thing is happening in our testing program in Arkansas - the test is becoming the entire curriculum rather than a sampling of the curriculum.


     For example, on the Objectives on the 7th grade SAT-9 booklet for language arts  (attached for legislators), given to the teachers by the State Department, there are six objectives (specific rules) on capitalization and eight questions on the actual SAT-9 Test.  read.  If  teachers aligned the curriculum with the test and spent a proportionate time on each objective as teachers are being encouraged to do by representatives from the Co-ops and State Department, then capitalization would be 17% of the 7th grade language arts curriculum, or 32 days of the year spent on capitalization - 32 days the teacher could spend teaching and reteaching six capitalization rules in the 7th Grade.  I think OBE calls that "less is more"  (READ THESE CAPITALIZATION RULES OFF.  These are the type of absurdities that only the teachers in the classroom seem to be recognizing.  I


Test Scores Drop When Tests Change


    Then what happens when we change tests?  The same thing that has happened every time Arkansas changed tests in the past; the scores go down.  For example, when we switched from the Metropolitan nationally normed test to the SAT nationally normed Test in 1992, the scores for 7th graders in Arkansas dropped from 63% to 51% (12%) on the basic battery.   Scores on nationally normed tests have been dropping in Arkansas since the late  80's. This is when the pressure began to be put on the teachers to score well on tests  and this pressure has been building ever since.  Most teachers resisted this pressure to a great degree and continued to educate, or the problem would be much worse. (I added at this point, "we get very frustrated because teachers won't actively oppose these reforms, but I have to say that on the whole the teachers have been very effective at passive resistance.  They continue to do all the extra work and put it on paper, but a large majority of them go right back in the classroom and teach the kids the best they can.


Concerns that ACTAP Tests are Flawed - Not Valid


      We teachers  also have great concerns about the criterion referenced tests for the 4th grade, 8th grade and exit exam (called ACTAP tests) that Arkansas has been  and is developing.  Any time a newly designed test is failed by 50% or more of  the students, there has to be a problem with the tests. (98 percent of students failed the math portion and 89 percent the reading section of the pilot exit exam in 1996. Gazette, 8-8-96.)  Teachers have reported that the 4th grade criterion tests that was just piloted has many of  the same problems as the exit exam and only a small minority passed that test. 


      I have looked at some of  these new type tests and am appalled by them.  Under the guise of critical thinking, they are testing data that is totally subjective and data that can't really be taught.  On some of  these questions the teacher could work with the students all year, and they still would not be able to get the questions right.  I found questions in my field on tests that I and other teachers did not know what answer the test makers would consider correct. 


Advanced Systems That Designed Arkansas's ACTAP Test Also Designed

Kentucky's KIRIS Test


     The problems with these kind of tests can best be explained by a panel of  testing experts from five universities who evaluated Kentucky's criterion referenced  tests, called the KIRIS Test. Kentucky's test is relevant because the same testing company, Advanced Systems, that designed their state test is designing 4th grade, 8th grade and exit exam tests in Arkansas, often called ACTAP tests.  [In a letter from Advanced Systems dated November 21, 1994 they say,  "I believe that the lesson we have learned in other states, especially Kentucky, can be of great value to Arkansas. ]


Testing Experts Call Kentucky's KIRIS Test "Seriously Flawed."

And Outlines 50 pages of Possible Legal Problems with the Test.


      "In July, 1991, Advanced Systems (a tiny New Hampshire firm) was named contractor for the five year Kentucky  (KIRIS) Test, the largest contract of its kind ever awarded in the US testing industry." [Quoted from Advanced Systems own documents) Four years later  this panel of experts from five universities, commissioned by Kentucky's Office of Education Accountability, issued a scathing report saying the KIRIS test was "seriously flawed" and  included a 50 page appendix of possible legal problems. [32 million for the first five years and almost 40 million for the next 4 years.  Senate  Floor Leader, Dan Kelly,  in July, 1997 said, "We have already spent more than $100 million to develop, administer and grant rewards on the basis of this flawed test."]  


      From the very beginning these tests were controversial and  were the constant subject of  many newspaper articles throughout the state.  (I have about 100 of these articles that make this testing experience in Kentucky look like a comedy of  errors - several of these articles are attached.)  In February, 1998,  Kentucky terminated its contract with Advanced Systems, saying Advanced Systems had failed to  deliver a "usable product." [This was a quote from the executive director of Office of Education Accountability]  The vote in the Kentucky Senate was 35-1 to scrap the KIRIS tests.   [Leader Dan Kelly of Springfield said the lopsided vote in the Senate of 35-1  indicated that, "We have said very loudly that the KIRIS system is not valid and shall end," and other senators said "the testing system has accumulated too much bad feeling from teachers and parents." Senator Vernie McGaha, a retired teacher and a freshman senator said he "faulted the Education Department for not responding to the public discontent, and said that the state should rely on teachers' judgments of how pupils are doing, not an expensive and problematic state test."  Quoted from Louisville Courier-Journal 2-20-98.  Some legislators are asking that the KIRIS test be replaced with a nationally normed test.]


Curricular Validity of Kentucky's KIRIS Test Questioned by Testing Experts

 (67%  of  one year's test was puzzles.)


     These testing experts (from five universities) discussed curricular validity on the Kentucky tests. They said that some of the items on the 1993-94 math assessments "might be characterized as brain teasers or math puzzle type exercises not solvable by systematic strategies" and might not be appropriate for instruction in the classroom.  These testing experts said puzzles constituted 67% of the 1991-92 KIRIS assessments and 40% of the 1993-94 assessments.  They also said that the Debra P. court held that for the assessments to be valid that the majority of teachers must recognize the skills as being something they should teach. The president of Advanced Systems said in 1994 that they had earned their reputation almost by accident, saying, "We couldn't afford to hire anybody who knew anything about testing, so we hired people who were bright and committed." (information taken from "Little Firm that Could" www/teacher, June 8, 1994 Education Week)  For you who will understand this, Advanced Systems probably earned their reputation because in 1993 they  took part in the New Standards Project, which seeks to establish a world-class standard of performances for all students in the US.  New Standards Project is a branch of the NCEE, National Center on Education and the Economy, headed by Marc Tucker, Hillary Clinton's friend.


Arkansas's ACTAP test have same Problems as KIRIS Test


     These experts put into words my feelings as I have looked at some of these tests. I  believe there are many items on these tests that teachers would throw out in favor of  more constructive teaching if  they had the opportunity to do so.  In a teacher survey of the 2nd Senatorial district in Kentucky, 80% of teachers said students would not be equipped for basic skills under the KIRIS test.  I believe we must involve the regular classroom teachers if we are ever going to make any progress in education.  (I have some suggestions as to how to do that if anyone is interested.)


Teachers Face Moral Dilemma


      Many of our educational reforms tout local control as one of  their goals.  I submit to you that a state mandated curriculum assessed with state tests leaves little or no control for the schools, teachers, and parents.  I ask each of you legislators to ask yourselves these questions.  If you were a teacher and knew in your heart that teaching the state test was cheating your students (children) by denying them the opportunity for a good education that you knew you were capable of giving them, what would you do in your classroom?  Would you obey the authorities and  teach the test and defraud the students and the parents that you know and love; or  would you continue to teach the curriculum that you know really educates?  Which course would be right and which would be wrong.  This is the moral dilemma that good teachers in Arkansas are facing.  This is always the dilemma that citizens face when the government takes control rather than allowing local control.  That is why local control is the basis of a democracy. (End of Summary of Testimony to Arkansas Senate and House Education Committee)


     These state testing systems are laying the groundwork for the national tests that President Clinton is pushing.  In his State of the Union address he said he "will send Congress a plan [that] holds states and school districts accountable for progress" and he will withhold federal funds if they don't.  We have the blueprint in Arkansas for his accountability process.


     President Clinton's reforms in Arkansas have resulted in a decrease in scores on standardized tests at all grade levels  - 24% decrease in basic battery of  4th graders, 20% for 7th graders and a 16% decrease for 10th graders over a period  of  8 years. Robert Holland with the Richmond Times has written two good articles in which he summarized these reforms and scores.  These articles and the summary of  the scores on Arkansas's State Department letterhead are included in this packet.


    These tests are not about education but about an agenda.  The panel of testing experts who evaluated the Kentucky Tests said two thirds of the reading passages were on controversial topics and that, "selections are pro multiculturalism, pro women's rights and non traditional roles, pro animal rights,  pro consumer rights and pro environment."


   Kentucky did not give up on their testing program even though it was like a comedy of errors because it was being driven by an agenda.  US Education Secretary Richard Riley called Kentucky a lighthouse for the rest of the nation and said President Clinton's Goals 2000 would help states duplicate what Kentucky has done and is doing.


     When Arkansas's OBE law was passed in 1991 it was sponsored by two senators;  one of them very conservative,  In a meeting with these two senators, one of them told us that they "were just trying to get some values back into the classroom."   The other one said that  "The law was wirtten in Bill Clinton's office behind closed doors."  Now President Clinton is telling us he wants accountability and basics and is deceiving Governors, legislators, and  even some committed protesters of OBE and STW into believing that is what assessments and testing are all about.


    We desperately need legislators and staffers to spend the time to get to know the various pieces of this educational reform puzzle so they will be able to recognize them when they see them in proposed legislation before they become law.  That fact that we have not been able to get them to do that has been extremely discouraging and frustrating to us.  It is, however, very encouraging to us teachers for me to be able to share this information with so many people today that share our concerns and who, I know, will diligently use it to educate other people on this matter.


Debbie Pelley

Jonesboro, Arkansas


    About the author: Debbie Pelley has been a teacher in Arkansas for over 25 years.  She has a Master's Degree in English and Counseling.  She served on Governor Mike Huckabee's transition team on education in1996and has made presentations on OBE and STW at numerous community meetings.  She testified before a US Senate Education Committee about the influence of rap music in the tragedy in her school in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  Part of her testimony was carried on NBC news and was covered from coast to coast in newspaper articles.  













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