Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alexa Posny Interview - Part IX

My recent interview with Dr. Alexa Posny, the new Assistant Secretary of Education for OSERS (the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services) covered a lot of ground. This is the ninth in a series of occasional posts concerning the interview over the next few weeks. "JG" indicates that I am speaking. "AP" indicates that Secretary Posny is speaking.

In this post, Dr. Posny talks about standardized tests and data collection requirements:

JG: Okay. The other thing about no child left behind that many people have challenged, including President Obama when he ran, was the idea of putting everything into one big standardized test - -

AP: Yes.

JG: - - and measuring everything on that. Is it fair to do that? If you don't use the one standardized test, what else do you use, unless you develop your growth model you talked about?

AP: Okay, well, growth model is part of it, but what we haven't been able to do and it's just because just the sheer volume and if we have to start somewhere, are the performance measures. I mean, what are the other things? How can they put this into practice? All we're getting is what they - - all we can do is on the multiple-choice tests. We need to do performance. We need to take a look at some of these other skills that they really need to be there and I've always been the biggest proponent of multiple measures. The issue is, is how do we do that for the enormity and the number of kids that we've got to be able to do this. And the other thing is, is that what we've got right now is a summative measure. It is a measure for a point in time. It has validity, it has reliability, and it has merit, but it's not the whole picture. It's only one segment of what we should be taking a look at. You know, I look at what special educators have done over the decades, in terms of the continuous progress monitoring. I mean, I think special educators have been doing this - - instructional focus, leading towards the ultimate - - I think that's some of the best things they do. So, I think we can all learn from each other and that's what we want to see now in general ed. But the thing that special educators need to know - - what they needed to do and what NCLB basically forced them to do, is what are the standards. So, again, I just think it's down to yeoman's job of changing how we think about teaching.

JG: Okay, interesting. I've heard a lot of complaints about that. The other thing that came up a lot when I talked to people I know when I told them I was going to do this interview with you was the concept of data collection, in terms specifically of requirements that change from time to time, either in terms of what the data are or how you collect them or what you do and then, when you compare them, whether or not that's even valid after you've changed them from last year. So, again, I think most of people out there in the states are agreeable to the concept of collecting the data and comparing it, but I think they have some trouble with some of the changes in that. Would you like to respond to that?

AP: Sure. But first of all, let me just state, data is my friend. I use data all the time because I think data tells the story and when you change the data sets or you change any perspective within there, can you compare? No. And you shouldn't, unless you can do some kind of an analysis that says, no, it wasn't changed that significantly. It's kind of like what NAEP does. I mean, they have changed the standards. They have changed the assessments and all of that and yet, they're still able to do the comparison over the course of time because they have done the analysis that allows them to say, no, it wasn't changed that significantly and it's the same. But if the definition is changed, there are parameters that really change the construct and the answers, no. And then, you know, when we changed - - and I'm talking about back in Kansas - - when we moved from the three assessments and changed them to the seven, basically, we put in a jagged line, in terms of the trend, and I said, you cannot compare. You know, from 2005 to 2006, I said, the world changed. And I said, so there has to be a break in there, to say there's - - you really can't do a fair comparison.

JG: Okay.

AP: I mean, that's just part of data.

JG: Right, and I think that's the frustration that I've been hearing mostly. It's not so much that they have to do it, it's just sort of that they don't like it to change so much.

AP: And I'm with them 100%. If I don't have to change it, I won't, believe me.

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