The Test Validity Trojan Horse: Utah and Florida’s Dangerous Game of Education Poker With Our Public School Children

Public controversy deals with stereotypes, never in subtleties. The Luddites can smash a device but to improve a system requires calm study . . . . Sound policy is not for tests or against tests, but how tests are used. But all the public hears is endless angry clamor from extremists who see no good in any test, or no evil.

-Dr. Lee Cronbach (1975)-

Forward:

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In response to educator/activist Christel Swasey’s very public email to the Utah Board of Psychology regarding her blog post “Utah and Florida’s AIR/SAGE Test Not Valid” (October, 2015), Utah State Board of Education Vice-Chairman Dave Thomas responded with a highly inaccurate, and dangerous assumption that the high stakes, Utah Common Core SAGE test has been subjected to a individualized, independent, rigorous validity study (partial excerpt): 

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As can be expected from any lay educator, Ms. Swasey made a few innocent assumptions and overgeneralizations asserting that Utah’s SAGE test was entirely invalidated via a independent study focusing on Florida schools (using Utah’s data from the private corporation that designed both state’s tests.  You can’t make this stuff up.)   However, Vice-Chairman Thomas’s usage of the same logical fallacy and overgeneralizations, put’s Ms. Swazzey’s innocent mistakes to shame.  He does so by stating that the Florida validity study, “expressly validated the SAGE test.” images-16

Vice-Chair Thomas’s response to Ms. Swazzey’s letter failed to answer many important issues vital to the economic, educational, financial, and moral health of our community.   His non-response was a attempt to get stakeholders in education to focus on irrelevant “trees” at the expense of the “forest” comprised of our children.    That is unacceptable to me as citizen, father, and local clinical community scientist.   

This blog post is about the “forest”:

1.  What exactly IS validity?  (See below)

2.  Did the Utah SAGE test undergo a validity study? (No. See below) 

3.  How important are validity issues in educational testing to your children? (Extremely.  See below)

4.  Will the next 9 pages be the most important education information considered for parents of Utah and Florida’s “divergent learning” students?  (Probably.  See below)

These issues are answered under the constructs of peer reviewed science, parental common sense, and “best practices” ethics in the joint fields of education, assessment psychology, and psychometrics (the field of test design).

My focus is on the parents in our joint communities.   What the respective Board’s of Education and politicians in Utah and Florida do, or do not do, with this information is not a concern of mine.    The world education politics is lucrative, and brutal.  I want no part of that world for me, my family or our clinic.  This post is by a parent, for a parent…and any parent can write me directly at drgary@earlylifepsych.com with any questions.  Press and politicians need not enquire.   

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-Gary Thompson, Psy.D.-

________________________

Chapter 1: 

-Arrogance, Ethics & Psychological Testing: How To (Almost) Get Kicked Out Of Doctoral Training-

Clinical Psychologists are the only mental health care professionals in the country trained and educated concurrently with providing therapy and psychological testing.   As a graduate student in this field, securing needed, multiple testing clinical Clerkships, Internships and Post Doctoral trainings are both a matter of luck and skill.   Clinical training openings are available for about 1 out of every 20 applicants. The few lucky ones who get to work side by side with a expert level assessment psychologist, are subjected to thousands of hours of training, observation and evaluation in the areas of test validity, administration, and assessment ethics as such apply to human subjects.   (Doctoral level psychometricians, however, do not have training and experience with administering the test they create with live clinical clients. Crudely stated, psychometricians create the test, psychologists give the tests and interpret results).

As a third year doctoral student, I was one of the lucky few in Southern California to be trained at the California Family Counseling Center Testing Clerkship under the direction of clinical psychologist Dr. “Jones”.

4 months into the training, Dr. Jones called me into her office holding my latest testing report submission on a 14-year-old girl. From best of my recollection, she shocked me with the following statement:

Gary, I have decided to place you on formal clinical probation for 30 days. You will not be allowed to test or see live clients under my license during this time. You show great promise as a future clinician in the field of psychological assessment, however, I believe your current level of intellectual arrogance is hindering your professional development, and I’m uncomfortable granting you the privilege of working with clients under my professional license.”

Dr. “Jones” then went over my test report, which was riddled with “red pen corrections”.   She expertly went over multiple examples of how I relied too much on testing result numbers, and arrogantly and definitely based multiple potentially life changing clinical conclusions on these numbers alone.   For example, in the “Clinical Summary” section of the report, I wrote the following:

“Client’s test results clearly show she has ADHD, as well as multiple learning disabilities as outlined in the Diagnosis section of this report.”

Dr. “Jones” replaced that line with the following:

“Although tests results indicate strong tendencies towards multiple cognitive and behavioral disorders, multiple background issues of this client strongly suggest that testing results be viewed and interpreted with great caution.”

I was given 30 days to contemplate and write about the only two things regarding testing, and test validity, that any parent, lawmaker, or educator will ever need to know about the subject:

1. Every cognitive, emotional and academic test has strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what a test cannot do, and what populations it fails to accurately and validly measure in with an acceptable degree of statistical measurement, is of paramount importance ethically and clinically.

2. No machine (e.g., psychological test) or data obtained from a machine, can replace common sense knowledge of parents, clinical observation/instinct/training, knowledge of cultural factors, and professional ethical values.  

The respective offices of education in the States of Florida and Utah are currently exhibiting the same dangerous levels of arrogance I exhibited as a new trainee in clinical psychology, by placing an almost “religious-like” reliance on numbers,and failing to understand the basic concepts of test validity and the ethics surrounding academic and achievement assessment, and test development.

No test is perfect. All tests have limitations. One size cannot fit all.

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Chapter 2: 

-Test Validity: Keeping It Simple-

Sans discussions of the ridiculously advanced science behind computer adaptive testing (CAT), Utah’s SAGE & Florida’s FCAT Common Core Achievement Tests simply perform the following task:

The measurement of predetermined variables and/or educational constructs, that results in a data set that can be accurately interpreted.  

That basic definition applies to any academic, cognitive, or psychological test.

Simply stated, the SAGE/FSA test measure “something.”Per publications from both the Utah State Department of Education, and the Florida Department of Education, that measured “something” is the construct of “career and college readiness” in math and language arts.   For parents, lawmakers, teachers and activists, it is imperative to know how accurate and reliable SAGE/FSA tests are in determining “career and college readiness” for public school children.

This process of determining the level of accuracy and reliability is called “validity”.

Very simply put, “validity” is the extent to which a test measures what it claims to measure.

It refers to the ability of the Utah SAGE & Florida FSA to accurately and fairly measure the construct of “career and college readiness” in math and language arts in over 3.2 million combined children in the States of Utah and Florida.

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Ethics and best practices demand that test designers to present evidence concerning multiple types of validity, and to present and summarize these statistical findings in a test/technical manual.  As the above picture illustrates, activist emphasis on validity should NOT be entirely focuses on the test itself, it is imperative that parent stakeholders examine the ridiculous and shamefully misleading validity claims and public statements that these test absolutely measure career and college readiness….in ALL students:

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The boldest claim ever originated via a State Office administration in this century…..

Chapter 3:

-Test Validity: “There Are Lies, Damn Lies, Then There Are Statistics-

We have bought into the notion of strict academic accountability via the use of tests designed by American Institute of Research, with the presumption that testing and more testing, coupled with the threat of not being promoted from grade to grade and of not graduating from high school, will be the engine that drives improvement in instruction and student achievement.images-4

Yet there are many inherent flaws to this approach, whereas it threatens to leave behind the very students that the legislation and testing movement purport to be helping. A strict adherence toward ethical standards in educational testing can help eliminate the influences of political agendas on the science of tests and measurements.

One size does not fit all. No one measure of academic achievement can be the basis of such high stakes consequences in the States of Utah and Florida.

Rothstein (2000) used a baseball example to question the veracity of using a single high stakes test to measure a student’s knowledge:

“Mike Piazza, batting .332, could win this year’s Most Valuable Player award. He has been good every year, with a .330 career batting average…and a member of each All Star team since his rookie season. The Mets reward Piazza for this high achievement, at the rate of $13 million a year.

But what if the team decided to pay him based not on overall performance but on how he hit during one arbitrarily chosen week? How well would one week’s at-bats describe the ability of a true .330 hitter?

Not very. Last week Piazza batted only .200. But in the second week of August he batted .538. If you picked a random week this season, you would have only a 7-in-10 chance of choosing one in which he hit .250 or higher.”(p. B11)

Rothstein questioned the validity of assessing a student’s knowledge at one point in time.  

Over 75 years worth of peer-reviewed studies have documented that how students fare on standardized tests can be greatly influenced by a host of external factors, including stress over taking the test, amount of sleep, distractions at the IMG_0177testing site, time of day, emotional state, trauma, and others:  Including a child’s zip code.   This reality was not missed by a 17 year old high school student who spoke about the limits of high stakes testing during her graduation speech:

“So I’m the valedictorian. Number one. But, what separates me from number two, three, four, five, six, 50, or 120? Nothing but meaningless numbers. All these randomly assigned numbers reflect nothing about the true character of an individual. They say nothing…about desire or will. Nothing about values or morals. Nothing about intelligence. Nothing about creativity. Nothing about heart. Numbers cannot and will not ever be able to tell you who a person really is. Yet in today’s society we are sadly becoming more and more number oriented. Schools today are being forced to teach to the numbers…. The MCAS serves as just another set of meaningless numbers that add one more reason to focus on scores and forget learning…. Judging us by our competency on a biased test is perhaps the biggest injustice that the state could ever inflict upon us…. Does anyone care about the human beings behind the numbers?

– (Annelise Schantz, the valedictorian of the 2000 graduating class at Hudson High School in Massachusetts)-

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Chapter 4: 

– Relevant Content and Ethical Issues In Alpine Testing’s Validity Report-

The most effective way to increase student achievement involves improving classroom instruction and student support services, not the use of high-stakes testing.”
-The Ethical Dilemmas of High-Stakes Testing and Issues for Teacher Preparation Programs-

Issue 1:

Validity Technical Manuals For AIR Produced Tests in Utah & Florida, Have Yet To Be Completed And Delivered To Stakeholders:

A primary source for evidence of development and validation activities for assessment programs is the documentation provided in a program’s technical manual and supporting technical reports… some of the development and validation activities are ongoing and a comprehensive technical manual was not yet available. “ (Alpine Testing Solution, Inc. Validity Report P.30)

The American Psychological Association’s Ethic Code 9.0 clearly prohibits the use of tests on human subjects that have yet to undergo a completed validation process as outlined, traditionally, in published technical manuals:

APA Ethics Code 9.02: Use of assessments:

(b) Psychologists use assessment instruments whose validity and reliability have been established for use with members of the population tested. When such validity or reliability has not been established, psychologists describe the strengths and limitations of test results and interpretation.

Issue 2:

Fairness & Bias Issues Regarding Vulnerable Populations Have Yet To Be Ethically Validated In Florida Or Utah:

“…Due to the limited time frame for developing the FSA, item reviews related to content, cognitive complexity, bias/sensitivity, etc. were not conducted by Florida stakeholders.” (Alpine Testing Solution, Inc. Validity Report P.35)

Consequences For Not Validating Test For Vulnerable Populations:

Given the interpretation of “reading” by FLDOE, use of a human reader is not an allowable accommodation to ensure the construct remains intact. Students who have mild-moderate intellectual disabilities and limited reading skills will have limited access to the passages without the use of a human reader. Students with vision or hearing impairments, who also have limited ability to read, including reading braille, will have limited access to the passages without the use of a human reader. When required to read independently, these groups of students will not have the ability to demonstrate their understanding of the text beyond the ability to decode and read fluently. For example, without access to the passage, the students will be unable to demonstrate their ability to draw conclusions, compare texts, or identify the central/main idea.” (Alpine Testing Solution, Inc. Validity Report P.35)IMG_0156

Neither Utah nor Florida has produced validity documents suggesting that either the SAGE or FSA high stakes academic achievement tests can validly measure achievement in vulnerable student populations, or that the current testing accommodations allowed or banned, are appropriate or fair.   Both State education entities in Florida, as well as the test designer AIR, make claims that these test accurately measure “career and college readiness” in math and language arts.  This is in clear violation of education test/measurement ethics as established by the National Counsel of Measurement in Education’s Code of Professional Responsibility (NCME Ethics Code):

NCME Code of Ethics:

Section 1: Responsibilities of Those Who Develop Assessment Products and Services:

1.2 “Develop assessment products and services that are as free as possible from bias due to characteristics irrelevant to the construct being measured, such as gender, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, age, or national origin.”

1.9 “Avoid false or unsubstantiated claims in test preparation and program support materials and services about an assessment or its use and interpretation.”

Section 6: Responsibilities of Those Who Interpret, Use, and Communicate Assessment Results:

“The interpretation, use, and communication of assessment results should promote valid inferences and minimize invalid ones. Persons who interpret, use, and communicate assessment results have a professional responsibility to:
6.8 Avoid making, and actively discourage others from making, inaccurate reports, unsubstantiated claims, inappropriate interpretations, or otherwise false and misleading statements about assessment results.”

USOE 2014 SAGE Test Press Release

This claim has no basis in objective fact. It is a dangerous commission of the truth......
This claim has no basis in objective fact. It is a dangerous commission of the truth……

Issue 3:

Alpine Testing Solutions, Inc., & Partner edCount, Inc., Failure To Disclose Conflicts of Interests In Their Validity Report

EdCount lists the contractor who designed the SAGE and FSA test (American Institute of Research), as a partner on its corporate website (Ed Count Corporate Webpage):

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(Note: Within 2 hours after taking the above screen shot which list AIR as a partner, edCount, Inc. deleted the AIR reference from its corporate web page.)

This lack of disclosure violates multiple professional ethical codes as outlined in the American Educational Research Association (AERA Ethics Code), and the National Counsel on Measurement in Education: Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement (NCME Ethics Code):

AERA Code of Ethics:

10.02 Disclosure

Education researchers disclose relevant sources of financial support and relevant personal or professional relationships that may have the appearance of or potential for a conflict of interest to an employer or client, to the sponsors of their professional work, and to the public in written and verbal reports.

14.05 Reporting on Research

(h) In reporting on research, education researchers address any potential conflicts of interest that may have influenced or have the appearance of influencing the research, along with a statement of how these were managed in the conduct of the research.

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17.0 Responsibilities of Reviewers

Education researchers adhere to the highest ethical standards, including standards of competence, when serving as reviewers for publication, grant support, or other evaluation purposes.

(b) Education researchers disclose conflicts of interest or decline requests for reviews of the work of others where conflicts of interest are involved.

NCME Code of Ethics:

Section 8: Responsibilities of Those Who Evaluate Educational Programs and Conduct Research on Assessments:
8.2 Disclose any associations that they have with authors, test publishers, or others involved with the assessment and refrain from participation if such associations might affect the objectivity of the research or evaluation.

Chapter 5: 

-11 Findings of Facts & General Conclusions-

  1. Utah has yet to have its own AIR produced SAGE test “independently” evaluated for validity.

  2. The test designer, AIR, has yet to supply either Florida or Utah stakeholders with validity “technical manuals” as required by professional educational psychology ethics and practice.

  3. There are no validity documents currently available that meets ethical and industry standards regarding the viability of either the SAGE or FSAtest with vulnerable student populations, “divergent learners”, African American, or Latino students.

  4. Substantial evidence strongly suggests that both the SAGE and FSAare currently works in progress, and as such, it is reasonable and proper to strongly infer that both tests are still in their experimental phase of development.

  5. There is no objective evidence currently available that supports Florida and Utah education administrative claims that the Utah SAGE or Florida FSA test can validly measure “career and college readiness” in any of the approximate 3.1 million combined public school children.

  6. There is no objective evidence currently available that supports Florida and Utah education administrative claims that the Utah SAGE or Florida FSA test can validly measure “career and college readiness” in a wide range of “vulnerable” student populations, or that the SAGE or FSA test designer provide evidence that accommodations provided (or rejected) for these students reduce or eliminate bias and fairness issues established via 100 years of peer reviewed research.

  7. There is currently no independently validated, or peer reviewed research to support that the new, rigorous academic standards being measured by Florida and Utah educators are developmentally and cognitively appropriate for the students being tested by the SAGE and FSA.

  8. The corporations hired to independently evaluate the psychometric qualities of the Florida FSA(using Utah SAGE technical documents as a key source of information) failed to disclose there conflicts of interests, thus calling into question the reliability of the entire $600,000.00 validity report.

  9. Alpine Testing did not conduct an independent validity review on fairness, bias, sensitivity, for student populations with learning disabilities, English language learners, or African American students.

  10. Alpine and Florida relied entirely upon Utah’s department of education “review” of these issues. (A “review” by paid employees of a State education entity does not, on any level, meet the standards of unbiased psychometric analysis required in the private sector world of test validity).

  11. Utah’s “review” of these issues did not include ANY actual validity data regarding the fairness, bias or sensitivity of the SAGE test for these populations for the simple reason that none were done. USOE’s “review” not only does not meet ethical standards, such a review can hardly been deemed either independent, or without potential bias.

In layman’s terms, because of the current experimental nature of both the SAGE and FSA test, neither the Utah State Office of Education, the Florida Department of Education, Alpine Testing, or the American Institute of Research has provided ANY psychometric data which indicates that vulnerable student population’s academic achievement has been measured accurately or fairly. In addition, the offices of education in states of Utah and Florida have yet to publish any independent research which refutes the claims of over 500 of the nations leading developmental and research psychologists that the standards being measured are, in fact, developmentally inappropriate to teach (let alone measure with any test, no matter how valid).

In summary, it is reasonable and proper to state that a substantial amount of evidence supports a conclusion that both Utah and Florida Offices of Education, via their joint contractual participation with behavioral research corporation American Institute of Research, are in the midst of a massive academic & psychological experiment using public school children as their independent variable of analysis….

…without informed written parental consent.images-12

Until these issues have been admitted, clarified, and resolved, it may be in the best interests of parents to heed the instructions of Alpine School Board Member, Brian Halliday, to opt their children out Utah’s SAGE test, or any other test that does not have published documents of validity as such may relate to their unique children.

“Parents are, and must always be, the resident experts of their own children.”

 

-Gary Thompson, Psy.D.-

Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center, Inc.

http://www.earlylifepsych.com  

“Crazed” Maine H.S. Student Requests Common Core Interview: She Needs To Be Careful What She Wishes For”

Two days ago, I received the following email from a high school student in the State of Maine:

“Dear Dr. Thompson,

I’m a student from ____________ High School in Maine. In a journalism class I’m taking, I’m doing a multimedia story on Common Core. The focus of the story is Common Core and whether or not it is harmful to student learning. “Common Core Standards Negatively Impact Student Learning”
I read the letter you wrote to Mr. Beck and Mrs. Swasey, and I thought the points you made were very interesting.
I have a few questions I’d like to ask you for my research, and if it’s okay with you, I’d like to use your answers in my story. I would be sure to let you review the pieces including your answers before submitting my work. I’ve enclosed the questions below.
1. How did you first hear about Common Core? What were your initial thoughts?
2. What inspired you to research more about Common Core?
3. What were the most surprising things you learned from your research?
4. Do you feel that education in states that have adopted the use of Common Core Standards will be affected negatively or positively? Why?
5. In your opinion, what makes Common Core so popular? Why have all but four states adopted it?
6. What are the most important things to know about Common Core?
Thank you so much for your help. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sincerely,
“Jane Doe”

 I replied:

“Dear Ms. Doe:

I would be honored to do this for you.
 

However, if your goal is to become to the most loved and popular by administration and (many) teachers  at ___________ High, you may wish to change your topic.  :).”

I vowed to get off the common core advocacy train, which includes denying any and all interview requests and speaking engagement on the subject.    The entire country has completely lost their collective minds when it comes to the subject of Common Core.  Many have lost their collective souls.   I’m a Dad and a Doctor, and my firm desire at this point of my life is to focus on my clinic, as well as the homeschooling of my four year old daughter.   When I walked off the podium in Idaho on November 1, I left the Common Core Wars with a sense of accomplishment, as well as peace.”

I know many of you are also “sick and tired” of the Common Core debate, so I apologize if I digress with this subject on this post.   However, I imagined my own Senior in High School requesting assistance from a profession for a education project, and it broke my heart with the thought that she would be rejected or ignored.

Telling MSNBC to “go to hell” was easy.    Saying the same thing to a 17 year old kid with the guts enough to do this project in a public school already deeply engaged in Common Core, was another issue.

I simply could not say “no”.      Below is the written responses I gave to this brave (“crazed”?) teenager.    Ignore it if you must, I do not blame you.   The purpose of this blog is to explore my journey into homeschooling with daughter, not Common Core.   However, this may serve as “background” regarding the choices I will make regarding “Baby Zoey” and her education journey, and may help you understand my “mindset”.     Enjoy.

“Interview With Dr. Gary Thompson”

Professional Bio of Dr. Gary Thompson

Dr. Gary Thompson is a clinically and educationally trained doctor of psychology. Dr. Thompson is a proud supporter of public school teachers, and the mission and goals associated with public, private, charter and homeschooling of our nation’s children.

Dr. Thompson has previously used his expertise assisting parents navigate the complex public/private school maze of Individual Education Plans (IEP) and 504 accommodation meetings. He has represented over 500 children in various public school IEP/Consultation settings in 25 different school districts in multiple states. Dr. Thompson received both his Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and Master’s Degree (MS) from Phillips Graduate Institute in Los Angeles, California, and completed his award winning doctoral training Internship and Residency requirements at A Better Way Child & Family Services located in Berkeley, California. He attended both Brigham Young University, and University of Utah for his undergraduate degree in Communications/Pre-Law.

In addition to his extensive clinical experience, Dr. Thompson also received two years of pediatric neuropsychological assessment clinical training from the renowned Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine based in Irvine, CA. Dr. Thompson is also a certified civil litigation paralegal with 10 years of litigation experience in a wide variety of legal settings.

Dr. Thompson now exclusively devotes his time consulting with parents about education options and interventions for gifted and special education children, and is currently homeschooling his own special needs, “divergent learning” four-year-old daughter. His wife, Dr. Frances Thompson, is a licensed clinical psychologist and current CEO of Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center based in Salt Lake City, Utah and Valencia, California (www.earlylifepsych.com). They are the parents of four children ranging from the ages 4-25, with three fairly recent graduates from public schools in the State of Utah.  

Questions/Responses:

  1. Interview Question: “How did you first hear about Common Core? What were your initial thoughts?”Dr. Thompson: “In early 2013, I received multiple emails from a “activist” mother in Utah (Chrystal Swayze, founder of Utahans Against Common Core) and a producer from the Glen Beck/Blaze T.V. Show, who forwarded me original source materials from the Utah State Office of Education regarding the new standards, data gathering procedures, as well as the proposed new Common Core computer adaptive testing programs.   I replied that as registered Democrat, and proud supporter of the general political platform of President Barack Obama, I was not interested in participating in “activist” related activities as professional. In addition, I bluntly stated that I was not a “fan” of either Glen Beck, or his politically based T.V. talk show. After continued “hounding” from Ms. Swayze, I finally read the material, and forwarded a professional opinion authored by myself and our clinic’s extremely Progressive attorney, Edward D. Flint, to both Ms. Swayze and the Glen Beck Producer.

    Both Mr. Flint and I were “puzzled” about the many aspects of educational change along the lines of data privacy and achievement/psychological that were about to happen in our community public schools. We outlined our professional concerns both as a doctors and lawyers, as well as parents of “divergent” learners that were currently enrolled in Utah public schools.   I naïvely published the letter on my personal Facebook page, and I was surprised to find that the letter “went viral” around the nation, where it apparently has now been found, two years later, by a high school student in Maine.”

  1. Interview Question: “What inspired you to research more about Common Core?”Dr. Thompson: “I’m not a professional educator by any means. I have zero expertise in the areas of “Standards” or “Curriculum” as such applies to public school students.   I have never commented professionally on “Standards”, “Curriculum”, or politically toxic issues associated with “State vs. Federal Control” in public school issues. I’m not a teacher/administrator or a politician.   I briefly taught first year graduate students during the later part of my graduate school years, but that is the extent of my “teaching” experiences. Politics?   I hate politics, and I’m not exactly a fan of politicians or the political process.   They both give me headaches.   I will never run for public office. It’s just not “my thing.”

    However, I do have professional, doctoral level training and experience along the lines of HOW kids learn, and the best practices associated with measuring (testing), developmental learning processes along the lifespan of kids, and the constructs associated with learning (achievement, cognitions, and emotions). In addition, as a founder of a clinical psychology clinic, I was also very well versed with privacy laws associated with medical/psychological/education data, and the importance of keeping such data as private as possible.   Finally, as a parent of kids in public schools, I was VERY motivated to find out exactly what these new changes were exactly all about, and how the proposed changes would affect the public school experiences of my very diverse set of “dual exceptional” (gifted and learning “disabled”) kids.

    After my infamous letter went viral, and my subsequent reluctant T.V. appearance on the Glen Beck Show, Mr. Flint and I were invited by the Utah State Superintendent of Public Schools to visit with him to clear up any “misconceptions and fears” we had concerning Common Core, as such applied only to Common Core testing, developmental practices, and psychological/academic testing data privacy practices.   After a three hour long meeting, it was fair to say that none of my concerns as a doctor of clinical psychology, or as a parent, were answered with any degree of certainty.   Mr. Flint and I left the meeting scratching our heads in confusion.

Politics aside, both Lawyer Flint and I knew that if the Common Core “reforms” were adopted as outlined in the materials presented to us, and explained directly by the State Superintendent of Public Schools, both sets of our children, and many others in Utah, would be in for a very rough ride.   As such, I became a very reluctant “advocate” for special needs and divergent learners in public schools wishing to adopt the Common Core philosophies of education delivery and testing.”

Interview Question: “What were the most surprising things you learned from your research?”

Dr. Thompson: “How the most far reaching changes in our nation’s public schools were reached with little to no backing of independent peer reviewed research in the areas of clinical psychology, educational psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive psychology.   Most “studies” supporting Common Core were published either by public school associated (and paid) “think tanks”, or non profit organizations that received direct funding from either the federal government, or private billionaires (e.g., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.) who stood to make a financial profit from the proposed changes.   As someone professionally trained under the “local clinical community scientist model” of clinical psychology, I was appalled that science related choices were being made almost entirely with profit and/or political agendas taking the forefront.

Regardless of one’s stand on high stakes testing, most can agree that psychological/achievement testing is occurring at unprecedented level. In the private sector, our child psychologists make a living via the gathering and interpretation of data from multiple sources. The assumption is that the more data there is to analyze and interpret, the more informed decisions will be when it comes to choosing what practices should be implemented into public school systems, or as part of a clinical treatment plan or education evaluation.

 

It is the inaccurate and unethical interpretations of this data that is fueling the chaos, damage and despair at the ground levels of public schools in the nation. Public school policymakers’ orgy-like thirst for the gathering of data (fueled by millions of dollars invested by private corporations) has resulted in little to no focus on how this data is being utilized on the ground level. “Ground level” is defined as our kids. Public schools have replaced the intimate art form of assessment with a dangerous over reliance on numbers. The arrogance of assuming that science has advanced to the point where we think that standardized testing of any nature can capture the complex essence of a child’s cognitive, emotional, academic, developmental, and cultural qualities, forms the basis of the scientific half-truth that Common Core testing can measure “career and college readiness.”

 

Moreover, simply put, we have never utilized the experimental concept of computer adaptive testing on a mass level in the history of our nation. As with all experiments, we simply have no ideal what Common Core tests will measure, or how traditionally low-performing; vulnerable groups will be affected by this experiment.

It seems every local school district website in the nation affirms emphatically that this test is basically the end all, be all, “Holy Grail” savior for the next generation of diverse learners in America. Making this bold claim of test efficacy to parents and ground level teachers without documented validity data is unprecedented. Psychology has a long and storied 150-year history documenting the many abuses that have happened to people when organizations or practitioners play fast and loose with ethical guidelines associated with testing.

 

My recent presentation given in several states (“When Agendas Trump Science: Stick Happens http://vimeo.com/110738936) is a wake-up call to the education community regarding the importance of following best practice ethics, and the consequences to children when such are ignored.”

Interview Question: “Do you feel that education in states that have adopted the use of Common Core Standards will be affected negatively or positively? Why?”

Dr. Thompson answer: “Again, I have no comment on the “Standards” issues associated with Common Core.   Common Core is a lot more than a “set of standards.”   (Everybody wants and desires appropriate “high standards”.   What exactly those “Standards” should be is best left for educators, politicians and parent ground level activist to figure out as far as I’m concerned.)   Those who do not support Common Core, often state, “One size does not fit all.”   On the flip side, “one size” DOES fit SOME kids, and for those kids who are adjusting well to the education reforms, I say, “Great!”   I’m happy for their positive progress. However, peer reviewed research clearly states that a very large statistical contingency of diverse learning kids in public school settings (e.g., black, Latino, gifted, learning disabled, autistic, ADHD, depressed and anxious kids, to name a few) will most likely struggle significantly under many of the Common Core teaching and testing practices.   There has been a long and storied history in education psychology circles regarding the tendency to assess African-American and Latino children against the standards of Euro-Americans (Campbell, 1996; Sternberg, 2004). This ethnocentric tendency has lead to inaccurate and invalid interpretations of cognitive and achievement test results as well as the cognitive/achievement competencies in ethnic minority children and teens (Campbell, 1996; Sternberg, 2004). The vast majority of peer reviewed research into cognitive/achievement testing of African American and Latino children has been devoted towards alleged or perceived test bias of the instruments used to measure the constructs of achievement/intelligence, or the extent of tests’ predictive abilities in regards to academic functioning (Brody, 1997; Buss, 1996; Castenell, 1998; Fabio, 2005; Francis, 2005; Kim, 2003). To my knowledge, no test designer has yet to solve this issue.

 

If it is the claim that PARCC, SBAC and the U.S. Department of Education have solved the puzzle related to test bias and validity for these populations of children, then it truly is a time to celebrate one of the most impressive discoveries in assessment in the history of mankind.

 

In addition, peer-reviewed research is replete with examples and double-blind studies of how learning disabilities and diagnosed mental health issues along the range of depression, anxiety, and trauma can dramatically alter the validity of testing results under any setting. If it is the claim of education officials that they have also solved this puzzle, I look forward with anticipation of their publication and peer-reviewed statistical assurances that these issues have been properly accounted for.”

  1. Interview Question: “In your opinion, what makes Common Core so popular? Why have all but four states adopted it?”

Dr. Thompson answer: “It is beyond my scope of expertise to comment on why a experimental program the size and scope of Common Core is “popular” amongst the politicians and State level education suits.   You would be best served to ask those folks directly. In my spare time, I have found an interest in “following the money” that is associated with the implementation of Common Core.   The acquisition of money and associated power regarding education seem to be very “popular” and all consuming in American political and education circles of both major political parties. When you find a logical and coherent answer to your question from the brain trusts associated with the implementation of Common Core, I would appreciate that you forward it to me in your spare time.”    

Interview Question: “What are the most important things to know about Common Core?”

Dr. Thompson: “Again, the term “Common Core” is very broad in scope comprising, at a minimum, Standards, Curriculum, teaching practices, high stakes testing, and privacy issues associated with learning data.   In my areas of expertise, I will bluntly summarize the “most important” things to know about Common Core in the areas of testing, developmental teaching practices, and data privacy issues:

1. High Stakes Testing: A highly experimental process that has absolutely zero independently reviewed and openly disseminated validity studies.   Children are being subjected as experimental guinea pigs via the wishes of private testing corporations without the explicit informed consent of their parents/guardians.

2. Developmental Practices: Many “standards” and accompanied Common Core curriculum practices and philosophies do not conform to 100 years of peer-reviewed science in the area of cognitive development.

3. Data Privacy: There is no such thing as “data privacy”.   Opening the doors of having intimate psychological, achievement, and cognitive data on students on State/Federal/Testing Company computer servers is a “Pandora’s Box” that we will someday wish was never opened.   We have a long history in America with struggling how to match our laws and ethical practices associated with rapid innovations in technology. It appears that we are ignoring our history at the expense of political agendas and profits for private corporate interests…. all at the expense of our children…. my clients…and my own children.”

Next Blog:  “Education Wars In The Home: Our Struggle With Have Differing Views Regarding Education Directions”.

cropped-img_28592.jpgDr. Gary Thompson Chatting on Live TV With Glen Beck