SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Benchmark Testing’ Category

Time to Listen Instead of Pretending to Listen

Attention SCUSD board members! You need to collectively get your heads out of the sand and direct the interim superintendent to provide you with the simple costs associated with school expenses (programs and services). Community advocates are on to something important as a possible alternative to lay-offs — it’s time to listen instead of pretending to listen.

It is dreadful public policy-making to have an expectation (stated or not) that community people, parents and teachers must themselves decipher byzantine budget documents in order to do what is the job of the superintendent and her staff.

One example: Why can’t board members direct the superintendent to present a list of every outside consultant and third-party provider (e.g., ALS, SAVA,) employed by the district?

What are these consultants/providers doing and what do they cost? Period.

From this data, you might have a productive discussion (with teachers, administrators, and supporters) about the viability of these services and whether any programs deemed “necessary” could instead be provided on a site-by-site basis.

The proposed cuts (and the imminent threat of teacher layoffs) is spinning out of control and wreaking a detrimental impact on teachers’ livelihoods right now.

A committed group at C.K. McClatchy High School is disentangling pieces of the budget to create a master schedule for students next year.

Here is what McClatchy teachers predict: 50 fewer course sections offered (which translates into 1000-1200 students with holes in their schedules and at least 600-700 unable to take the electives they need to get into college), no library, no EL intervention classes, the destruction of McClatchy’s award-winning music program, and a seriously reduced counseling staff (3 of 4 counselors were pink-slipped).

To think that McClatchy will rebound in the fall when and if the district decides to rescind some of the lay-offs is…

…well…it’s just laughable.

The absurdity of the demand that teachers need to find fiscal ways to fill these budget black holes also seriously impacts their ability to actually do their jobs: teach!


Written by scusdobserver

March 30, 2009 at 2:37 pm

DUMP Benchmark Testing!

By Larry Tagg

Lately, when teachers have met to discuss unnecessary expenditures in the Sacramento Unified School District, the first person to raise his or her hand always points to the ALS Benchmark Tests as a big waste of money.

If any other district expenditure is held in lower regard by high school teachers than the ALS test, I am unaware of it. If any other days are seen as more worthless than the four days the district mandates for ALS testing, I have not heard of them. If there is a slam dunk where cutting the fat in the budget is concerned, it is certainly the ALS tests, and it has been so for years, ever since their advent three years ago. Yet the ALS Benchmark Tests are still on the budget, and the district administration still fights to keep them.

They are defended, I have been told, as “predictors” of scores on the year-end California Standardized Tests at the end of the year. Yet, I have talked to one head of a highly-regarded high school program in the district whose teachers analyzed the numbers. Their conclusion was that there was a very poor correlation between success on the ALS tests and success on the CST tests.

I detect, too, a certain amount of “snake oil” in the whole idea of an expensive “predictive” test. One has only to develop questions on standards that are tested on the year-end CST tests. Anyone can do it. In fact, the English department at my high school, Hiram Johnson, did do it. The year before the ALS was introduced, we were encouraged by the district to develop our own scope and sequence, curriculum, and periodic benchmark tests. We planned, devised, and executed our own rigorous benchmark tests during the 2005-2006 school year. We were united as a department, and convinced that we were accomplishing something important. The following year, with no notice, the district mandated the ALS Test.

Since the year they were introduced, there has been almost no development on the ALS tests: each of the quarterly tests has been almost exactly the same as the year before. The readings are the same (all are more than seventy-five years old so that they are out of copyright), and the questions are virtually the same, although some questions are moved around and, in some cases, one new question has been substituted (per forty-question test).

The administration of the tests is slipshod. For instance, one year ALS delivered eighth grade tests to our tenth graders by mistake. The tests always arrive by surprise, take a day to administer, and then disappear. The fourth test arrives at year’s end, too late to “predict” anything. The feedback on scores is delivered by means of a website, DataDirector; teachers have to be trained to access the scores successfully, and it is never announced when the scores are available. In fact, there have been large gaps where DataDirector was not functioning, when it was impossible to get access to the scores.

That the test is largely a waste of time is bad enough; that it is, in these tough times, so expensive is unsupportable. The estimates of the cost are extremely hard to come by—the district seems to be loath to publish them. The estimates I have heard have been upwards of a million dollars a year. If so, something like ten teachers—or nurses, or librarians, or counselors, or social workers—could be re-hired for the same money that we spend on these tests.

Written by scusdobserver

March 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Benchmark Testing