In Loco Parentis, High Stakes Testing, and Opt Out
By Tim Farley
Just a few years ago, parents sent their children to school with an enormous amount of trust and faith in the teachers and administrators. There was a general sense that the education professionals would consistently act in the best interests of the students in their charge. In fact, there is a Latin term, “in loco parentis,” meaning, “in the place of a parent” as it applies to a school setting, and allows educators to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit (less of course any violation of civil liberties).
How should the concept of in loco parentis apply to the opt out movement? Are the tests our children are taking different from the tests we took as kids? How are these tests being used?
Let’s examine some of the NYS Education Department’s (NYSED) grades 3–8 test questions. NYSED, after much pressure from the opt out movement, has started releasing the test questions from the grades 3–8 ELA and math tests. Last year, they released approximately 50% of the test questions and this year they are expected to release 60%. I will provide two examples from the 2015 Grade 4 ELA test. Released test questions for both ELA and math can be found here.
The questions below come from the 2015 NYS ELA Grade 4 Test. For the sake of brevity, I will not cut and paste the entire reading passage the students were required to read, nor will I include all of the questions, but I encourage readers to do so and keep in mind that students taking these tests are either nine or ten years old.
The first reading passage is titled, “The Night the Bat Got In,” by Virginia Kroll. The text includes words such as: hassock, stifling, erratically, frenzied, illuminated, and emerged. The reading passage (with a readability level well above grade level) is followed by six questions.
Q5: Which phrase from paragraph 17 helps readers understand the meaning of “illuminated” in paragraph 19?
A “hear the flapping”
B “unfamiliar surroundings”
C “turned on the floodlight”
D “in the backyard”
Besides the requirement for students to flip back and forth several times through the test booklet, the students are challenged with identifying the best choice out of four plausible answers. For those of you who are curious, the answer is “C.” Thirty-three percent of all NYS students answered this question correctly.
Q6: Which sentence would be best to include in a summary of the story?
A Mr. Overton and Mr. Halvorsen have a plan, but Andrew objects.
B Because of Andrew, the bat is able to fly off into the night.
C Mr. Overton praises Andrew for his smart thinking.
D Andrew asks everyone to wait quietly.
The answer to this question is “B,” and 59% of all NYS students in grade 4 answered this question correctly.
Interestingly, if you take the average percentage of the multiple choice test questions answered correctly (from the test questions released), the statewide average for correct answers of the released test questions is 57%. This includes two questions that had 33% and 26% of students answering correctly. If you remove these two questions, the statewide average response goes to 61%. Since the statewide passing rate in 2015 was 31.3% (a 26% discrepancy), one could argue that the state released the “easier” 50%.
As if the tests themselves are not bad enough, they are using the student test results to measure teacher effectiveness. NYSED uses a model called, “value-added model” to determine how much impact a teacher had on her students’ growth. In the spring of 2014, the American Statistical Association determined that “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”
Using a new “matrix” system, a whopping 50% of a teacher’s overall effectiveness rating is derived from her students’ results on tests that are designed for the majority of students to fail.
Parents are not stupid. It doesn’t take long to determine that their kids are being set up to fail along with their children’s teachers and schools. If every teacher and administrator were to take “in loco parentis” as seriously as it was originally intended, the opt out rate would be significantly higher.