Saturday, September 27, 2008

WASL Workgroup (WWG) third session

On Monday, the WASL Workgroup (WWG) held its third session. Before I report on that session, I want to clarify the importance of what is occurring. I want you to think of the relationship of Standards, Curriculum and Assessments as a bridge. Standards and Assessments are the pylons and Curriculum is the span that crosses the chasm. The three are intertwined, and if you don't understand the importance of this, the devious, deceitful, unscrupulous Supt. Bergeson and bloated staff of blundering bureaucrats do. She is doing her utmost to protect her campaign contributors, political supporters and the WASL interests. That is one of the reasons that dishonest Asst. Supt. Joe Wilhoft lied to the WWG when he was if national percentile rankings could be used to determine a pass/fail point. Dishonest Asst. Supt. Joe Wilfoft wrote a position paper on this subject when he was employed by the Tacoma School District. He is too sharp an individual to have conveniently forgotten his efforts. That is also the reason why she did her utmost to subvert the Legislature's directive to give us world class math standards.

In 1991, the previous math standards were replaced by an educational reform package that was initiated by then Gov. Booth Gardner. The new standards became the Essential Learning Requirements (ELAR's) and Grade Level Expectations (GLE's). The wording within these standards was Reform Math oriented. The wording of these standards precluded publishers of conventional math curricula like Singapore Math, Saxon Math and Houghton-MIfflin from submitting bids for school district math curricula, because their curriculum did not meet the bidding specifications determined by the State Math Standards and written by OSPI or the Educational Service Districts. Reform Math has proved to be a disaster for the Public School Students of this State. Results have shown that they have deficient math skills. This is a whole generation of students. Why else would Community Colleges offer more remedial math classes than college level courses, if this wasn't so? If the standards were valid, then there would be no need to replace them. Math hasn't changed over time, should why should the standards?

The State Legislature recognized that there was a problem, even though Supt. Bergeson and her bloated staff of bungling bureaucrats didn't. If she did, she should have corrected the problem sooner. A standards battle has been raging over the last two years, which really hasn't been reported by the news media. The new math standards have been adopted and are in place. Many people are disappointed that the wording of the standards contain too much Reform Math Language, especially since the State Legislature directed Supt. Bergeson to give us world class math standards. Singapore, Finland, California, Indiana and Massachusetts are universally recognized as having world class math standards. The wording of the new Math Standards has been changed enough to allow the publishers of the Math Curriculum that these states use to meet bidding specifications, and allow local school districts to adopt and implement the more conventional curricula of the past.

The Washington Learns Commission, as part of their recommendations, recommended that state math curricula be limit to a choice of three curricula determined by OSPI. Not much has been said about this recently, but I want to assure you that the concept is still alive and well as Representative Priestly mentioned it.

The new battlefield has now shifted to the Assessment. The Assessment determines how the Curriculum is to be taught. Even though many teachers believe or say they don't teach to the test, they do. Teachers have to teach to the curriculum directives issued by Supt. Bergeson and her bloated staff of bungling bureaucrats or to the directives issued by curriculum administrators within the local district. These directives can nullify quality curricula.

As part of Gov. Gardner's educational reform package, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was introduced in 1994. The WASL requires that the student solve mathematical problems by using words, pictures, tick marks and everything but mathematical formulation and arithmetic reasoning.

Here is an example off what I mean. This problem was on the 2006/7 3rd grade Math WASL Test. This was an open ended 4 point question. The question asked the student to find the square area of a rectangle. This is a simple question testing for multiplication skills. My youngest daughter wrote a convoluted answer as to how she derived her answer as she was taught to strategize by WASL Standards. She flung the bull and missed the broadside of the barn by a mile. Even I couldn't understand her logic and I know the scorer didn't, because she received no points for answer. Yet, right below her verbal answer, was the equation 3 x 4 = 12, which was the correct mathematical formulation and answer for the problem. The question is, did she get the problem right and does she know how to multiply and apply those mathematical skills to a practical problem. I believe that she knows her math, but her math is unacceptable according to WASL Standards. This is the importance of the standards test and how it influences teachers and students. The convoluted logic of the WASL Standards is the cause of why public school students in Washington State have no math skills.

Supt. Bergeson and her bloated staff off bungling bureaucrats at OSPI refuse to correct test and answer errors, and the WASL contains both, as Asst. Supt. Joe Wilhoft admitted that statements that I made to the WWG were true. That is one reason that many schools are failing to meet the No Child Left Behind Act Standards (NCLB). They are being unfairly assessed. Another reason is that the assessment test needs to be fair and curriculum related. The WASL is not. At the last WWG session, Sen. King, from Yakima, remarked that teachers teach to the abilities of the middle 60% of the students in a class. If the students are learning what the teachers are teaching them, then there is absolutely no reason for the failure rates that are taking place at many schools. The students are not stupid and the teachers are not incompetent, even though Supt. Bergeson would like us to believe otherwise. The WASL is the problem and if another test was substituted for the WASL, our statewide results would be much better. The WASL is a scandal that needs to be exposed.

This brings us to the WWG Session that occurred on Monday. The purpose of this session was to get an indication of what other states are doing and the results of their experiences. The states that were chosen were Delaware, Illinois and Maine. Each state was interviewed separately and had representatives from a high level state educational office take part in an interview.

Deleware had a hybrid system. They use standarized vendor tests, which are supplemented by state tests. Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the tests they use, and I don't believe the question was asked. The reason they use standardized tests is because they want to see how their students and school systems compare to others nationwide. There is no national comparison for the WASL, because there is no other state that is stupid enough to use it. Test results are released within 7 weeks. My daughters took the WASL in April and I'm still waiting for the results. Unlike Washington, Deleware does not require a test for a high school diploma. Commercial tests are cheaper to administer and less time consuming to correct, than the wasteful, extravagant WASL.

Illinois was next and they use the ACT for meeting NCLB requirements. The representative was asked why this test was chosen, but did not know the answer, because they hadn't been in the position long enough. The reason is, that Illinois has some outstanding universities within the state and they require the ACT for admission. Also, many of the neighboring states, which also have some excellent unviersities, require the ACT for admission. When asked if the state had a high school graduation requirement, this person made the best comment I heard all day. He said the local school districts determine their own graduation requirements. Illinois officials trust their teachers and local school districts. Superindent Bergeson and her bloated staff of bungling bureaucrats does not. Many of the school districts in Illinois are considered some of the best in the nation, but the state does have a large racial acheivement gap, which is caused by people in wealthy suburbs supporting their schools with property taxes. I did see that in one suburb, the per capita student expenditure was $17,000. Our state average is $8,000/student. Representatives from the ACT were also there.

Maine was the last state that interviewed. Maine is the first state to use the SAT to meet NCLB requirements. The reason they chose the SAT is many students in the state already take the test. What wasn't stated is that the state universities and those of the surrounding states require the SAT for admission. The spokesperson did state the results of the SAT did encourage some students to attend college, even though that was not their original intention. I believe that the Maine public school system is also considered to be very good, or among the best. Don't let the fact that they are last on the SAT list deceive you. By testing 100% of their students, many more average students are taking the test, thereby lowering the average score. The fact that their average scores are what they are, is really a testament to the quality of their public school system. Maine has no high school graduation test at the state level.

For me this was also one of the most frustrating sessions that I've attended. Assessment and diagnostic tests are very expensive. The cost of the new revised WASL, even though it is supposed to have fewer open ended items, is going to be 25 - 30% more expensive than the existing WASL. This is occurring at a time, when there are severe budget pressures within the state. The question is, is it more prudent to teach our children or to assess them? There were times I just wanted to scream out: our children are supposed to be taught, not assessed! If all of our money is being used for assessment, what is going to be left for teaching? Local school districts are facing tremendous budget pressures and facing reductions in basic services.

The next speaker was an educational consultant, who was very familiar with some of the members of the WWG. As he talked about assessment and diagnostic testing, and I was reviewing the per student cost of some tests, I was ready to scream, why don't we trust the teacher? The per student cost of some of these tests are outrageous and he was talking like there was money to burn. A teacher appears to me to be in the best position for assessing the abilities of their students. If a teacher is teaching to a curriculum, which is aligned with the state standards, then every time a student asks or answers a question, or turns in their homework or takes a test that is an indication of their strength or weakness. Wrong answers, in this regard, are almost more important than right answers, as they may show weakness, or perhaps a lack of understanding of what is being taught, and the teacher is in the best position to recognize the problem and correct it, before it gets out of control. What good is an assessment test, whose results are not known, until six months after the test is taken?

One day when my oldest daughter was in the 5th grade, I happened to be at school, and the principal and I had an impromptu meeting about her 4th grade WASL. I was told that she was predicted to be weak in Algebra. I couldn't have cared less about this assessment, because I could see that she was not being taught to formulate mathematical equations, because of WASL Standards. She was being taught to strategize and fling the bull, and she flings it very well. Believe me, as I am the recipient of many of her tosses. It appears to me that we are trying to do too much too soon, instead of making sure students learn basic fundamental academic skills and how to apply those skills to practical problems. We appear to be teaching to the calculator, and by doing so, our students are not learning the basic skills needed to solve a problem, if the calculator doesn't work. At one of the Citizens Math Advisory Group Meetings that I attended, a ninth grade teacher stated that she had students that could not formulate a mathematical equation. Last year my oldest daughter took 7th grade Honors Algebra. Her average grade for the year, was 4-. That isn't saying much for the validity of the WASL being an assessment tool.

The next speaker really shocked me as she was the legislative auditor and was asked about the possibility of performing a performance audit on the WASL. As I listened to her answer question from the WWG and explain what her staff has the ablility to do, I'm not sure that a performance audit as she described it, would be effective. These are some of the problems that I've encountered with the WASL and if you've seen others, let the members of the WWG know along with your district legislators. This is how I would answer some of these concerns, by invoking and interpreting the standards that were in place when the problems arose:

1. This error occurred on problem 29 of the 2004/5 4th grade Math WASL. The
student was given a choice of two correct answers on a mutiple choice test,
either of which be correct, as plural values were supposed to be translated
into numerical values. The student is supposed to recognize that Hirato is
very popular, has more than two friends and his brother drives a nine
passenger van or SUV.

2. The aforementioned square area rectangle problem. The student is supposed to
explain the process by which the answer is derived. In this case she did,
mathematically, but not verbally. This could easily occur within the nebulous
Elar's and fuzzy logic of Reform Math.

3. Graphing problems on the 6th grade Math WASL. The student is supposed to
know how to interpolate. This violates the premises of one of the consultants
that spoke at the second WWG session. He stated that test questions should
be consisely and clearly written.

I think you get the idea. I haven't said much about the reading and writing portions of the WASL. Both of my daughters are excellent readers and writers, and with English being the nebulous language that it is, standards and correct answers are even harder to define. If you look at the following four words: read, reed, read and red, I believe you will understand what I mean. These are spelled differently, but pronounced the same; spelled the same, but pronounced differently; spelled the same but have different meanings (present tense and past tense). Neither daughter has received a perfect score for their reading test, but they've missed so little, that there isn't much to judge the fairness of the scoring.

In terms of curriculum directives, these were some that really concerned me. These are not chronological, but put in grade order. It is possible that they have also been rescinded, but if you follow the logic through the grades, I believe that you will see the cumulative damage they are doing to our children. As you review these, consider that this what is happening to mine, the same or worse maybe happening to yours.

1. 2nd grade. The students are being taught to carry in math. The teacher tells
us at Curriculum Night that a new method for carrying is being introduced. This
is an excellent experienced teacher and she has cumulatively taught my
daughters for three years, through 2 grades. She tells us that a new method for
carrying is being introduced and that students will now be taught to carry the
10 for the tens column, the 100 for the 100's ect. We're talking second graders
here, so who among you has seen second graders keep their cloummns in a
straight line? Adults even have a hard time doing it, or at least I do. The
students in her class lost track of the digit that was being carried, and
therefore derived the wrong answer. I knew my daughter knew how to add and
subtract at that time, because she could mentally calculate change from a
$500 bill, when we played Monopoly. Which bungling bureaucrat at OSPI is
going to be courageous enough to take credit for this lunacy?

2. 4th grade. Students are being taught to add, subtract, multiply and divide in row
format instead of column format, because this helps with mental math. What
good is mental math, if you don't know the basics? How is the student going to
learn to manually add and subtract, and multiply and divide larger numbers,
when the situation arises that a calculator is unavailable?

3. 5th grade. My oldest daughter is told to divide 9 into 144. This was a written
assignment. She strategizes her answer by writing, I multiplied 15*9 and was
short, so I tried 16*9. I checked my answer by doing long division. Her long
division was correct. You don't check division by doing division, you check it by
multiplication. I'm not blaming the teacher for this, but the curriculum and the
curriculum directives. This was the TERC Curriculum that has since been
replaced by the Houghton-Mifflin Curriculum in the Edmonds School District.
She received a 4 for this problem.
4. 6th grade. I'm told that 3x3, 4x4 and 5x5 digit multiplication is no longer being
taught. Once again this is not the teacher's fault, but that of the curriculum that
was chosen for her to teach from. CPM2 has replaced this curriculum.
I think you now have a good indication why our childrens math skills are so weak. Add an assessment that forces the student to use English to explain their answers, and you get a better idea why the math problems exist as they do and why so many students have to take remedial math in college.

After the legislative auditor finished, Asst. Supt. Wilhoft gave a presentation about the types of tests that are being used and purposes of these test. This was an objective and informative presentation. After Asst. Supt. Wilhoft was finished, Sen. McAuliffe asked for a side by side comparison of the ACT and SAT.

These are my views and if you either agree with them or disagree with them, I would like to read your opinion, and I would also hope you would forward your opinion to your legislators and the WWG. I am familiar with the ACT, but not so for the SAT. What I know about the SAT is what I heard at the WWG and from what I've read from what I believe to be other credible sources. Both tests are used as a college admissions test, and both tests are very credible. The SAT is used by many of the colleges and universities in the East Coast States. The ACT is more prevalent in the Midwest and South. More Washington State students take the SAT than the Act, but the choice of an out of state college or university really determines which test the student should take. I don't believe any major Washington State University requires either test. Some students take both tests. The approach to testing appears to be slightly different. The ACT is more basic skill oriented, while the SAT is more reasoning oriented. More states use or will be using the ACT for NCLB compliance than the SAT. Both tests take about 4 hours to complete and are administered at one sitting. Compare this with the dubious, worthless WASL that takes two weeks to administer. Individual results are available within 6-8 weeks, compared to the 6 months it takes to get WASL results. High school results are being returned quicker, but that is probably the reason for the exhorbitant increase in the cost of the WASL. Both of these test, even with all of the bells and whistles, would cost about $75/student. The WASL costs in excess of $100/student and that doesn't include the costs that local school districts are forced to absorb. They are intense, but no worse than any college final exam.

Many people abhor universal testing, but that argument is rendered moot, because of NCLB, which requires testing for federal funds. If testing is required, then let's make sure, it is valid, fair, and curriculum related. It should also be economical and provide us with valid information, not only about how are students are doing, both against their local peers, but also against their national peers. Even though many high school students may not intend to go to college, why not give them a test that can double as a college admissions test, if they should realize that they need to go to college. Colorado does it and is one of the states that test 100% of their students with the ACT. I believe that is a common sense and logical approach to mandatory universal testing.

Since the ACT is a comprehensive skills oriented test, I believe that this test should be chosen to replace the WASL. I'll discuss the math portion of the ACT as I am more familiar with it. I had my oldest daughter take this test and then purchased the test booklet and her answer sheet. This portion of the test consists of 60 problems, which the student has one hour to complete, basically allowing one minute per problem. It is a well constructed multiple choice test and wrong answers do not count against a student's score, where as they do in the SAT. I believe that this is important and tends to penalize the more average student, who would be more prone to getting a wrong answer. The math questions are classified into 3 categories: Algebra, Trigonometry and Geometry. These questions are intermingled throughout the test, with the easier problems being at the front of the test and the more difficult problems being toward the end of the test. No problem is very difficult, if you know how to solve it. It appears to me that this is a test that you cannot study for, as it is a comprenhensive test that tests all of the math skills that the student has learned throughout their schooling and that means K-11, with the exception of calculus. The students can review those areas where they believe they may have a weakness, but if you try to cram for it, you will go insane. It also appears to me that it is quicker to solve the problems manually than using the calculator. In order to solve problems manually, the student has to have math formulation skills. I did self test myself, and my skills have suffered from years of neglect and non use, but I could still solve the problems, as well as many high school seniors in this state, as my score was now on par with their average score. We were taught math in my day, and as a math teacher recently told me, once learned, you never really forget your skills. At my best, as a seventeen year old, my score would have been better, but not among the top. The test scores are converted to a 1 - 36 basis and this score can be translated into a national percentile ranking. There is also a table that can be used to correlate this to SAT Scores. The subcategories can be used to assess weakness. The ACT is also used by this state, as a WASL Alternative. A minimum score of 17 qualifies for passage in this state. The national average is about 21. The minimum score of 17 isn't much below that of the Washington D. C. Public School System, which is under Congressional administration. It seems to me that Congress ought to clean up the mess they created in Washington D. C. and give everyone a model to work from, before they try to tell everyone else how to run their school system. I believe that would keep them busy for at least 20 to 25 years, before they even got their act together and determined how they would approach the problem.

The WWG asked for public comment and I couldn't resist the urge to speak. I didn't have prepared comments, but I did tell the WWG that I believed the purpose of our public school system was to teach and not spend its time assessing. Our school system is structured for local control and that we should trust our teachers to assess and diagnos. Illinois trusts its teachers and I believe our teachers and students are just as good as theirs, but our curriculum and assessment isn't.

The decisions regarding standards, assessment and curriculum are long cycle decisions. Once made they are not going to be changed over night, and our children will be effected by them. Once again, look at the standards battle. The previous standards were in effect for 17 years, and look at the damage that they have done to the quality of public education in this state. Add to that the faulty assessment of the WASL, and it becomes obvious to me how badly many students have been betrayed by their public school system and Supt. Bergeson.

My greatest fear is that even though the members of the WGG are listening to me and that they are probably hearing the same thing from many of their constituents, I don't have any credibility with them. When WWG makes it recommendations, the powerful lobbyists of the special interest groups, the IOU's from campaign contributions, and political power of big powerful corporations and everyone who benefits from the WASL and the destruction of the public school system will come into play and nullify all of the good work the WWG is doing. Don't forget that every greedy overpaid consultant who is filling their silk lined pockets at public expense, will be using every scare tactic and dirty trick in their book as they they try to protect their lucrative fees.

Once again, the managing newseditors have turned their vicious character assissins and hatchet men loose on the Edmonds School Distirct and failed to fully investigate the story, as they purposely try to destroy the credibility of the Washington State Public School System. This is really what happened with the school lunch fiasco.

Each month Supt. Brossoit has a Roundtable Luncheon in which various school problems and programs are discussed. I find these programs extremely enlightening and informative. The June Luncheon occurred just after the Legislature concluded its special session. He explained to us that it costs about $8,000 a year to educate a student, and the state only provides about $5,000 of this amount. The gap is generally closed by Operation & Maintenance Levies, and various federal and state grants, with the problem being that the gap isn't entirely closed. The other problem facing the Edmonds District along with many other districts is declining student enrollments. It appears that we may be on the receding wave of a minor population boom. It is hard for me to believe that this is happening, when I see the amount of new home construction that is taking place in South Snohomish County, but the enrollment figures don't lie. Since the state funds education at a per student amount, there is an automatic reduction in school district budgets when enrollments decline. He made it very clear, that he wanted to avoid the financial messes of the Shoreline and North Shore School Districts. No mention was about the disaster the Seattle Public School System has become. He made it very clear that tough choices were going to have to be made and then he went through the school district budget and aired some possibilities for reductions.

The areas of reduction were:
1. Reduction of librarian hours in some of the smaller elementary schools.
2. Closure of two smaller elementary schools.
3. Elimination of bussing for those students that live within a mile radius of a school.
4. Elimination of bussing for those students that participate in after school activities
at Middle Schools.
5. Increasing the stagger for start and end times at various schools, so that school
bus runs can operate more efficiently, thereby reducing costs.

School transportation is a very sensitive subject within the Edmonds School District, because many of the areas have unpaved shoulders, which double as sidewalks, which makes for a dangerous situation for pedestrians, especially on dark winter nights. There are also sexual offenders residing in some areas. He is forming a citizens committee to study the bus problem. The elimination of the after school middle school bus runs caused an uproar and was later restored. This is about a $200,000/year program. Since this program was restored, and unlike our federal government who can print an unlimitied amount of money, the money to pay for this program has to come from another program or somewhere else within the budget. I'm sure that once this program was restored, Supt. Brossoit gave orders to his accounting staff to propose ideas on how to fund this restoration. As the accounting staff scoured the books, they ran across this recievable for unpaid lunches that totaled about the same amount as the after school bus runs. If this debt could be collected, the problem would be solved.

Each year at the beginning of the school year, parents receive an information packet and within this packet, is an application request for free or reduced lunches. These forms also go out again at the start of each trimester. It appears to me that if the students that did not pay for their lunches were entitiled to free or reduced price lunches their parents would have made the application. If their parents didn't apply, then their parents had the ability to pay for those lunches and the cost of those lunches is a legitimate debt. Evidently some of the dead beat parents were media savy and figured they could get free lunches for their children by embarassing the school district, which they did as the managing editors turned their vicious character assissins and hatchet men loose on the school district, without properly investigating the situation. Adding to the problem are federal regulations.

School lunches are subsidized by the federal government. Supt. Brossoit explained to us at his recent Roundtable Luncheon that the problem used to be controlled by having a cashier at the front of the line and either allowing the student to take tray or not. If the student didn't have a tray, then they would be entitiled to a sandwich. Federal regulations require that the cashier be at the end of line, which resulted in the problem. It's fair game to question how the receivable became so large, but not the debt itself. That is a legitimate debt that is owed to the school district and it is money that the district needs in order to fund some of its programs. Undeserving parents are getting a free lunch for their children, while deserving students in other programs are being harmed, because the funds are not there to fund their programs.

The Edmonds School District could be facing a real financial problem in 2010. The district needs to replace its current Operation & Maintenance Levy at the same time the 9 wise guys that sit on our State Supreme Court redefine basic education. How can any voter have confidence in a public school system that takes away lunches from its students and half the students in the district fail an unfair fraudulent assessment test? Supt. Brosssoit should have been awarded a well deserved Schrammie for the ineptitude of his Communications Director, not for the removal of the lunches, and Ken Schram should give one to himself, for his sloppy reporting and failure to properly investigate the situation. Add to this the problem that is occurring within the financial and housing markets, in which homeowners are feeling financially distressed, and the conditions for a disaster are iminate. Who's going to vote for an O & M Levy, when they have a chance to reduce their mortgage payment, especially those that might not have children in the school system?

We are in the midst of an election campaign for various public offices, but you'd never know it, based on the lack of information that is being reported in the newsmedia about the secondary offices. The quality of Public Education in this state is at a very critical point. The system cannont take another 4 years of Supt. Bergeson's inept leadership and the WASL. Yet the WASL is a scandal the newsmedia refuses to touch, because managing editors are more interested in protecting their advertising revenues than they are in serving the public interest. Too many students are lacking basic fundamental academic skills and are being forced to take remedial courses at the college level. This shouldn't be happening. Curriculum leadership under Supt. Bergeson is a failure. If it takes average students 12 years to learn basic fundamental academic skills, then I don't understand how a single remedial college course is going to correct those deficiencies. Those students will always be deficient and the cause of their deficiencies is a lack of a solid basic fundamental public education.

The next meeting of the WWG is October 13 in hearing room B of the John L. O'Brien Bldg. in Olympia. The WWG is allowing for a large block of time for public comment in the afternnon. I would guess after 1pm. If you have something to say, but cannot attend the meeting, I would email your District Legislators and one or more of the following members of the WWG. These are the members that have attended pretty much all of the WWG Sessions: Sen. McAuliffe (Chairwoman), Sen. Oemig, Sen. King, Rep, Quall, and Rep. Santos.

Reported by Nick Daniggelis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Singapore math has standards, curriculum, and assessment all wrapped up into one highly-rated, world-class package that guides all primary and secondary instruction AND it gets used by all students. It is the most sucessful public school system in the world. Why can't US schools treat all children equally?

ANS: The public pays education departments to be math experts, write curriculum, and then evaluate their own textbooks using arbitrary standards that completely skirt AERA standards for research.

Scholars from all over the world have pointed this out time and again, often risking their own reputations and it seems their voices have not been heard.

Bergeson, McCune, Griffin, and Carkhuff financially benefited from the reform bill initiated by Booth Gardner.

The possibilities schools challenge grant and WASL were wasteful and unethical. To this day, the public remains mystified over what actually transpired.