Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Conclusion

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Conclusion

‘Truth, like Ol Ma Nature always wins in the end’ D. E. Swacker

The truth and the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that the educational malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing are so rife with conceptual and consequential errors and falsehoods that to use the invalid results of said processes to evaluate any aspect of the teaching and learning process and/or students can only be described as illogical, invalid, unethical and mind-bogglingly insane.  Yet those practices and their offshoots in teacher evaluations continue to be used on a daily basis.

Should the state, through the public education system, be using undeniably false and invalid malpractices, malpractices that have been proven to lack “fidelity to truth” and harm students?

No! The conclusion to be drawn from using these malpractices is that the usage of the results is unjust in discriminating against some students by sorting, ranking and grading (many times in error) by student characteristics that are largely determined by genetic inheritance, family and social influences outside the control of the individual and teacher.  Not only that, but that vast resources are being wasted and educational opportunities for students are being restricted in the name of test prep denying the student ample opportunity to “savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

Should the state, through the public education system, demand that teachers break codes of professional ethics?

No!  Distressingly, if a teacher doesn’t comply with these legally mandated malpractices, it is all but guaranteed that they will not only be reprimanded but worse, letters written against the teacher to be put in his/her file ultimately resulting in his/her termination usually for “insubordination” in not following these unethical mandates.  While it is perfectly legal for the administration do punish teachers, where is the ethics in that? Or justice?

Should the state through its public schools, be in the position of discriminating against some students while rewarding others through bogus practices?  Where is the justice in that?

Just as discrimination against students due to skin color, gender orientation and/or disability status has been adjudicated as unconstitutional so should the daily discrimination that results from the standards and testing regime be adjudicated not only as unconstitutional but should be judged to be the unjust and unethical practices that they are.  There is no justice in state approved discrimination!

Should the state, through its public schools, contravene its stated purpose of public education and government by demanding compliance with the standards and testing regimes that only results in not  promoting the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry“?

The answer has to be NO!

When will the insanity of the grading, sorting and separating and ranking of students, of the standards and testing malpractices end for the most vulnerable of society, the children?

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Seven

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 7

Ethics in Educational Practices

‘Ethics are more important than laws.’   Wynton Marsalis

While many, especially those who make a living off of working with laws, might disagree with Marsalis’ statement much is to be said for this simple thought.  Much like with justice and truth, most folks believe they know what ethics are.  Merriam-Webster Online states:

1 plural but sing or plural in constr:  the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.

2a:  a set of moral principles:  a theory or system of moral values <the present day materialistic ethic> <an old fashioned work ethic> –often used in plural but singular or plural in construction <an elaborate ethics> <Christian ethics> b:  the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <professional ethics> c:  a guiding philosophy d:  a consciousness of moral importance <forge a conservation ethic>

3:  a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) <debated the ethics of human cloning>

As with justice and truth, the topic of ethics has been debated for millennia.  The scope of this chapter does not allow for even a short discussion of the historical issues of ethics and will focus on the current and practical concerns of ethics in educational practices.  As it is, this book falls under the meaning of definition #3 as debating the “moral issues or aspects” of certain educational practices.  As part of that examination I will briefly discuss professional codes of ethics-definition #2b.  And in the spirit of definition #1 of dealing “with what is good and bad” with certain educational practices, and using the fundamental purpose of public education as stated above as the guiding philosophy-definition #2c) I attempt to will forge “a consciousness of moral importance”-definition #2d.

A number of different professional teacher and teacher preparation organizations have promulgated their own code of teacher professional ethics.  In examining a few of them I’ve chosen to use three organization’s codes as typical to extract common statements that will serve as guides to what teacher professional ethics can be.  The American Association of Educators (AAE) code of ethics lists three main categories of ethics:  1) In relation to the students and parents, 2) In relation to practices and performance and 3) in relation toward professional colleagues.  The National Association of State Directors of Teacher and Education Certification (NASDTEC) code details five:  1) responsibility to the profession, 2) respect for professional competence, 3) respect for students, 4) responsibility to the school community and 5) responsible and ethical use of technology.  The National Education Association (NEA) has only two:  1) in relation toward students and 2) in relation to the profession of teaching.

By far the most comprehensive of the three is the NASDTEC code with many pages of detailed commentary.  The AAE code is roughly two pages with some commentary.  And the NEA code can fit on one page with a preamble accounting for about one third and then basic listings of areas of ethical considerations.  The AAE and the NEA focus first on ethics in relation to students and then toward the profession and practices.  The NASDTEC code starts with an overview then lists two sections dealing with ethics in regard to the profession, one for students, one for the school community and in what appears to be a recent addition one on the ethics of technology usage.  All three have short summaries of each section.

Ethics in regard to students and towards practices and performance, are the two categories that interest us and warrant further commentary along with a quick caveat about ethics toward the profession of teaching itself.  Obviously teachers’ main ethical concern should primarily be directed toward the student as noted by the AAE code:  “The professional educator deals considerately and justly with each student, and seeks to resolve problems, including discipline, according to law and school policy” and “the professional educator makes a constructive effort to protect the student from conditions detrimental to learning, health, or safety.” What happens when “law and school policy” actually hinder those dealings as hinted at in the end of the statement?  The answer to follow.  Or from the NEA code:  “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.

In regard to ethical considerations in relation to professional competence and practices the NASDTEC code states:  “The professional educator demonstrates responsible use of data, materials, research and assessment . . . and the professional educator acts in the best interests of all students. . . .”  And the AAE code offers:  “The professional educator assumes responsibility and accountability for his or her performance and continually strive to demonstrate competence.  The professional educator endeavors to maintain the dignity of the profession by respecting and obeying the law, and by demonstrating personal integrity.

Would not “personal integrity” entail not only “respecting and obeying the law” but to stridently opposing and challenging the law or policy that mandates the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing that are “detrimental to learning, health or safety” of the students?  Unfortunately, teachers are under constant pressure to institute and maintain those fundamentally and fatally flawed malpractices.  The vast majority of public school educators, especially administrators, believe that upholding the ethics toward the profession and its practices holds sway over upholding ethics towards the students.  While doings so may be quite beneficial to the educators, it serves to cause harm to the students as their interests play second or third fiddle to administrative decrees which is backwards to the interests of justice for the student.

That teachers and administrators put more emphasis in compliance with state department of education or federal directives and/or laws should not and cannot trump justice for the students.  Again Comte-Sponville:

“Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value. . . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” [my additions]

Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the two most dominant educational malpractices of today–educational standards and standardized testing by utilizing the condensed statements of teacher professional ethics with our fundamental ethical statement of the purpose of American public education in conjunction with a discussion of the demonstrated invalidity and lack of fidelity to truth in educational standards and standardized testing regimes and how all of that plays out in relation to ethical and justice concerns.

How was it that America became the “top dog” nation of the world by the end of the 20th Century without having a standardized public education system?  In the past century over 13,000 separate and distinct school districts went along, doing their own thing, developing their own curriculums as seen fit by the local democratically elected school boards.  And the result of that variety, multiplicity and non-standardization?  An educational non-system that the world admired, copied and emulated.  Why then the push for standardization in the very late 90s and in this current century?  There are many reasons, most having to do with the neo-liberal ideology in free markets and choice but that is not our concern.

Educational standards and standardized testing form the basis for federal and state mandated practices such as rating and ranking students, schools and districts, and teacher assessment through such invalid schemes such as Hanushek’s Value Added Methodology (VAM) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGP).  Considering that the standards and testing malpractices cause significant harm not only to the students but also  to teachers and schools through invalid schemes, that the errors, falsehoods and unfounded claims by proponents of standards and standardized testing render said practices invalid, unethical, unjust and contravene the fundamental purpose of American public education, these mandates violate the trust of the citizenry by not fulfilling the stated purpose of American public education of promoting “the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry“.

Our concern is the invalidity of, the injustice of, the unethicalness of and the broken promise of providing to our children an education that promotes “ the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” in the educational standards and standardized testing regime.

In “Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing” it states at the very beginning of Chapter 1-Validity that “validity refers to the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretations of test scores for the stated proposed uses of tests.  Validity is, therefore, the most fundamental consideration in developing tests and evaluating tests” (my emphasis) and I would include the standards upon which those tests are supposedly based in that development Noel Wilson has addressed those validity concerns in his review of the prior version of the “Standards. . .” in “A Little Less than Valid:  An Essay Review” stating “To the extent that these categorisations are accurate or valid at an individual level, these decisions may be both ethically acceptable to the decision makers, and rationally and emotionally acceptable to the test takers and their advocates. They accept the judgments of their society regarding their mental or emotional capabilities. But to the extent that such categorisations are invalid, they must be deemed unacceptable [and unethical] to all concerned.” (my emphasis) The brilliance of Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing is in his flipping the concept of validity as proposed in the “Standards. . .” into one of invalidity as far as the test taker is concerned.

Taking into account Wilson’s proofs of the invalidities of educational standards and standardized testing we can only conclude that any results are therefore invalid, false, error prone and lacking a fidelity to truth as all the psychometric error factors are kept hidden from all but a select few involved in the promotion and dissemination of those malpractices.  As such those malpractices can only be considered unethical and unjust.  When have the proponents made explicitly clear those validity (and reliability) concerns?  Hardly ever, especially not to the person taking the tests.  They can’t!  Wilson has proven the fundamental concepts to be epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt.  All the errors in classification, in labelling, in construction, in slides of frame of reference, etc., which Wilson has identified are never addressed.  By not explicitly acknowledging all the errors in the process, proponents of the standards and testing regime are not being honest and therefore lack the fidelity to truth that should be the guiding principle for all educators.  Their actions must be considered unethical.

Not only that but since these practices cause untold harm through false conclusions that result in students being denied certain educational goals and aspirations the process must be deemed unethical as a violation of the ethical principle of “the educator shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning”.  False and error filled test results can only insure to produce those harmful conditions and, therefore, rightly should be rejected on ethical grounds.  The results of the tests discriminate against some students not only through mis-categorization but also in falsely labeling (grading) some students as beginning, not proficient, average or whatever other terminology is used to describe the various categories of results.

Should the state be discriminating against individual students through invalid, harmful, unethical and unjust malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing?

Considering that the fundamental purpose of public education in America can be summarized as “. . . to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” there is only one answer:

NO!


  1.  See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
  2.  The National Education Association (NEA): http://www.nea.org/home/30442.htm;  The American Association of Educators (AAE): http://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/about-us/aae-code-of-ethics; and The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC):  http://www.nasdtec.net/?page=MCEE_Doc
  3.  The story of that ideology and its practices that have done so much damage to American public education is easily located by a quick internet search.  An excellent review is to be found in Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
  4.  See:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-added_modeling
  5.  See:  http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/student-growth-percentiles.html
  6.  See:  The AERA/APA/NCME’s “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing”
  7.  See:  http://www.edrev.info/essays/v10n5.pdf

 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Five

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 5

Error Concerns in Educational Assessment

The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. Walter Lippmann

Wilson notes “To estimate error is to imply what is without error; and what is without error is determined by what we define as true, by the assumptions of the frame of reference that forms our epistemological base.”  In other words, depending upon the point of view of the assessment frame (as described above) there are different sorts of errors that plague assessment accuracy and validity.  Not only that but also when we confuse and conflate assessment frames, which practically speaking is guaranteed to happen, we compound the errors and thus compromise the accuracy and validity of any assessment of student learning and work.  Wilson points out thirteen sources of error (there are more) in the process of making, using and disseminating the results of standardized testing (and its precursor educational standards), any one of which renders any results and conclusions drawn from the tests invalid.  Let’s list and discuss those sources and then examine each frame of assessment in relation to some of the errors and the resulting consequences from which the students suffer and the accompanying harms to the students in relation to the fundamental purpose of education.

The thirteen types of errors are (Wilson’s descriptions in italics):

1. Temporal errors:Practically, temporal errors are indicated by the differences in assessment description when the assessment occurs at different times.”  In other words different scores obtained for test takers on the same or psychometrically similar tests taken at different times constitute a form of error.  In psychometrics this is a reliability issue.

2. Contextual errors: Practically, contextual errors include all those differences in performance and its assessment that occur when the context of the assessment event changes.”  The context changes often, such as one student sitting in a hard old wooden desk to take the test with no air conditioning on a 95 degree day, window open and all the noises of the urban environment pouring in versus the student sitting in comfortable chair, carpeted flooring to reduce noise, in a closed silent air conditioned room.  Any differences in scores that might accrue from any number of different contextual differences are considered errors.

3. Construction errors: “Practically, construction errors are indicated by all those differences in assessment description when the same construct is assessed independently by different people in different ways.”  In psychometrics this would be another reliability issue as different types of assessments may yield different results, think of the difference of student performance on the same test taken by computer test versus a pen and pencil test both of which might even be considered psychometrically reliable.

4. Labelling errors:Practically, labelling errors are indicated by the range of meanings given to the label by all those who use it before, during or after the assessment event.”  Think of end of term grading.  A student might consider a “D” grade a perfectly fine grade whereas his teacher and probably parents would not agree and consider it a less than acceptable one.

5. Attachment errors:Practically, attachment errors are indicated by the specification of those elements and boundaries of the assessment event that have become lost in the assessment description.”  Think of the girl in the introduction who proudly proclaimed “I’m an ‘A’ student.”  The ‘A’ is a description of her prior interaction with the subject matter/curriculum not of her. We cannot logically “attach” the label to the subject matter/curriculum nor can we “attach” it to the student.  The label is of the interactions that she had with the assessment.  Attachment errors are some of the most egregious as the student internalizes those labels, many times negative and damning, through internalization or subjectivization.

6. Frame of reference errors: “Practically, frame of reference errors are indicated by specifying the frame in which the assessment is supposedly based, and indicating any slides or confusions that occur during the assessment events.”  The different assumptions about assessment made in the four frames logically do not allow for sliding between various frames in assessing student learning.  Think of having the prospective driver take a multiple choice test about driving and including the result/score in with the results of the actual driving part of a driver certification test.

7. Instrument errors:Practically, many aspects of instrument error are covered by other category errors. To avoid unnecessary overlap, I will limit the practical indicator of instrumental error to those errors implicit in the construction of the measuring instrument itself; what is conventionally called standard error of the estimate.”  In other words, what is supposed to be a guarantor of quality that allows us to know how much error in measurement a test has so that hopefully mis-categorization of student results is not obtained becomes an argument for the supposed validity of the results.  The standard error of estimate might best be considered a psychometric fudge to even out result discrepancies and is hardly ever published, certainly not for the test taker.

8. Categorization errors:Practically, categorisation errors are all those differences in assessment description that occur when particular data is compared with a particular standard to produce a categorisation of the assessed person.  Categorisation errors derive from confusions about the definition of standard of acceptability, from differences in the meaning of what is being assessed and in the magnitude of its measurement, and in the variability of the judgment process in which the comparison with the standard is made.”  Categorization errors get to the heart of the invalidities involved with attempting to assess student responses in relation to an educational standard.  Since the making of educational standards have not followed established protocol by standards organization, the individual standard itself is invalid and any attempts to use it as a basis for assessing student responses is invalid.  Standards imply a unit of measure that can be measured with more or less accuracy and there is no basic unit of student learning, to attempt to invent one out of thin air and use it as a basis of “measuring” student learning is invalid.  The abuse of the usage of the meanings of standards and measurement by the psychometric community is unethical and will be further discussed in Chapter 6.

9. Comparability errors: “Practically, comparability errors are indicated by constructing different aggregates according to the competing models. The differences that these produce indicate the comparability error.  Comparability errors include all those confusions about meaning and privileging that inhabit the addition of test scores, grades or criteria related statements.”  Again this hints at psychometric reliability issues in the comparability of test scores from two different tests that supposedly measure the same construct.  Not only that but since tests almost always assess multiple constructs, which questions of which constructs get priority not only in placement on the test but in points assigned indicate comparability errors and greatly affect the validity of the results.  Think of two different Spanish assessment that covers the same grammar and vocabulary constructs in different ways, perhaps a written and an oral test.  Which construct take precedence in each test and which section garners the lion’s share of points?

10. Prediction errors:Explicit or implicit in most assessments is the claim that they relate to some future performance, that they predict a particular product from some future event, a quality of some future action. Practically, prediction error is indicated by the differences between what is predicted by the assessment data, and what is later assessed as the case in the predicted event.”  SAT or ACT as a predictor of college success indicate prediction error due to minimal correlation.

11. Logical type errors:Logical type errors occur whenever there is confusion between statements about a class of events, and statements about individual items of that class. Practically, logical type errors are made explicit when the explicit and implicit truth claims of a particular assessment are examined and any logical type errors are made explicit. Such exposure may invalidate such claims.” Many mistake the overall score to mean much more than it is, a conglomeration of assessments of multiple constructs that in essence says nothing about the students learning of each construct.  To say that a student scored 73% on a test of German of Chapter 1 vocabulary and grammar says nothing of what the student learned.  It’s just a statement on the percentage of answers correct not on a level of student’s learning and knowledge.

12. Value errors:Practically, value errors are indicated by making explicit the value positions explicit or implicit in the various phases of the assessment event, including its consequences, and specifying any contradiction or confusion (difference) that is evident.”  Value errors are those that privilege certain values in the teaching and learning process.  Think of the Native Americans in the past who were forced to change names, learn English and study common school subjects instead of being allowed to live and learn in their own culture.  Less obvious, perhaps is the current push in some states to eliminate bi-lingual education.

13. Consequential errors:Practically, at a simplistic level, consequential errors are indicated by the differential positive and negative effects that individual teachers and students attribute to the assessment process: At a more profound level it involves an explication of the very construction of their individuality, and all of the potentially violating consequences of those constructions.”  How might student learning change when the teacher uses many weeks for standardized test preparation in order that the students may garner high scores instead of actually focusing on curriculum, allowing the teaching and learning process to continue unabated throughout the year?  How will the students internalize that process of learning to pick the correct answer instead of learning subject matter?  Consequential type errors are some of the most atrocious and intolerable of errors that results in turning the educational practices of standards and standardized testing into education malpractices.

In the Judge frame error in assessment is the difference between a teacher’s evaluations of the same work at different times—temporal errors.  It has been accepted for a long time that evaluator reliability over time in assessing students work is less than adequate.  No teacher is infallible in grading student work no matter how much training in rubrics or whatever other grading scheme is used.  Course grades as a proxy for percentage of total points earned form another source of error by the act of abridging the complex situation of the classroom teaching and learning process into a single concept, the grade.  Much valuable information of student learning is lost in this transition and thus constitutes error in assessment—logical type error.  By definition the Judge frame is subjective, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is when the judge/teacher claims more accuracy than warranted.  And most teachers do claim more accuracy than is warranted.  In doing so the teacher is being unjust to the students through lacking “fidelity to truth” in the teacher’s claimed expertise.  And in being unjust he/she, as part of the state, “fails in its chief design” to “promote the welfare of the individual.

The psychometric fudge in the General frame attempts to alleviate the error between the “true score” and the “estimated score”.  The statistical manipulations of data are just that and have little to no relation to the realities of the teaching and learning process. As Wilson states in the same chapter “Their theoretical elegance has hidden their inapplicability to most practical learning and teaching situations; the mystification of their statistical constructs has hidden from teachers, students and public alike the enormous extent of rank order inaccuracies and grade confusion, and the arbitrary nature of all cutoffs and  [supposed] standards.”  Even though there are massive epistemological and ontological errors (see the above mentioned thirteen to name just some) throughout the whole process of educational standards and standardized testing the many supporters of those two malpractices insist that the results are objective and accurate.

With Wilson having destroyed the credibility of the assertions of objectivity and accuracy of those in the General camp, one can only surmise that they are not acting with a “fidelity to truth” attitude.  Just a cursory look at anecdotal evidence shows consequential and labelling errors and points to serious harms to students involved in this current standardized testing craze—students soiling themselves, students refusing to participate after of few minutes of frustration, students apoplectic about the effects of their scores on their teacher’s evaluation, the negative internalization of the results by students, the discrimination of ranking and sorting rewarding some and punishing others—the list goes on and on.  There is no doubt that these standardized testing regimes are a case of the state not “promot(ing) the welfare of the individual . . . and is usurpation and oppression and the state fails in its chief design.

According to the enthusiast of the Specific frame there really shouldn’t be any error as all of the learning and behavioral objectives are specifically enumerated in advance and the student responses purportely indicate a mastery of the learning or behavioral construct.  For example X percentage of correct answers on a multiple choice test means that a test taker is certified to be able to do the construct that is being tested.  Think of a written drivers test as part of obtaining a drivers license.  One usually has to get a 70% correct answer rate.  Does that mean they know all it takes to be and adequate and safe driver? Not necessarily and it is a logical type error to believe so because that written test is not a test of driving but of knowledge of just some of what goes into driving a vehicle.  Even during the actual driving test (it too is in the Specific camp) the assessor can evaluate only a small part of what it takes to drive a vehicle in all circumstances.  The driving tests hint at a number of Wilson’s errors, comparability being just one-that of determining what the actual construct being tested is (construct validity) and what types and quantity of activities, questions are sufficient (construct representation) to objectively say that the construct has been met.  Think of the prediction error in asserting that the young driver is capable of safely driving by awarding him/her the license—”Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.

Ask a group of ten teachers how to assess a given learning objective or construct and more likely than not you’ll get ten different answers.  Choosing questions and correct answers in the Specific frame is not as simple as it first appears—value errors are many.  And as it is many tests in the Specific frame end up being tests of minimum competency as that is the easiest fashion in which to design the test.  So while some students may be able to answer one set of question satisfactory, they may not be able to answer others that may be more important in assessing the same construct.

Which students are privileged and which ones hindered by that fact?  We don’t know but we know it happens so that some are allowed to drive, to move up a grade, to begin a program of study while others aren’t.  Considering the amount of error(s) involved in just the construct representation side of the Specific frame, should the state in the form of public schools be discriminating against some through faulty assessing mechanisms?  From what we know of the purpose of government in this country and from the fundamental purpose of public education as outlined above the answer has to be an unmitigated NO lest the state “fail in its chief design” and discriminate against some and not “promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

The Responsive frame has no problem in unearthing any errors of thought, ideas, actions, and responses of the student in his/her learning process.  In the Responsive frame assessment is meant to further the learning (and teaching) process in a fashion similar to what is called a formative evaluation these days and it is not meant to be a pronouncement, a judgement of the student as in a summative evaluation.

Wilson says it well:  “Within such a frame there is no question of a right judgment, of a correct classification, of a true score. The response might be sensitive or insensitive, sophisticated or ingenuous, informed or uninformed. The verbalisation of that response might be honest or manipulative, its fullness expressed or repressed, its clarity widened or obscured. It still belongs undeniably to the assessor, and the expectation is not towards a conformity of judgment, but a diversity of reaction. The lowest common factor of agreement is replaced by the highest common multiple of difference. The subject of assessment is no longer reduced to an object by the limiting reductionism of a single number, but is expanded by the hopefully helpful feedback of diverse and stimulating and expansive response. . . This frame is, in fact, a necessary part of any educational processes that value diversity and freedom of students, and thus includes this broad equity concept of fairness and justice.”  Here we have the ideal frame to fulfill the purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

As cogently stated over 2,000 years ago by Marcus Tullius Cicero “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.”  Considering that Noel Wilson has proven that the whole enterprise of making, using and disseminating the results of the educational malpractices that are educational standards and standardized testing, that are epistemologically and ontologically lacking in fidelity to truth, would it be fair to say that currently there are many idiots in the lawmaker houses, in the state departments of education, in district central offices, and in the schools themselves?  I know my answer, do you know yours?

Read on to more fully understand the abuse and misuse of the English language that has occurred in educational standards and standardized testing discourse.  Much of that discourse falsely proclaims an objectiveness and scientific attitude that isn’t there.  I will focus on the two most fundamental concepts of those malpractices ‘standards’ and ‘measurement’ to show just how shockingly atrocious and scandalous that usage is.


  1.  See:  Chapters 13 “The Four Faces of Error” and Chapter 17 “Error and the Reconceptualization of Validity in “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error.”
  2.  By evaluations I am not including multiple choice, true/false or matching questions (although there can even be errors made in grading these simple tests) but more complex grading involving rubrics or other multiple point schemes.
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
  4.  In his 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” which the folks at the APA, the AERA and the NCME, the supposed keepers of the holy grail of standardized testing choose to continue to ignore and not respond to at least not in their latest, 2014 version of “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing” where one would think that they would address Wilson’s concerns.  I believe they have had ample time to find out about and address those issues.  Professional irresponsibility?

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Four

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 4

Aesthetics and the Nature of Assessment

There are no facts, only interpretations. Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche couldn’t have known just how true his aphorism would eventually be in relation to assessing the teaching and learning process as many children at the end of the 19th century didn’t complete much schooling, perhaps only elementary school.  Standardized tests for assessing what the student supposedly knows wouldn’t be invented for another few decades.  From the advent of standardized testing the promoters of standardized tests have claimed the mantle of objectivity that the tests are a scientific method for assessing what a student has learned.  This claim of scientific objectivity–supposed facts about what a student has learned has since been thoroughly debunked by Noel Wilson and standardized testing is rightly seen by some for the less than objective or scientific “interpretation” of student learning that it is.

In assessing (interpreting?) student work, the assessor necessarily starts with some assumptions, notions of perspective from which he/she bases his/her work.  Some claim an objective frame, others a more subjective view.  Part of each frame or notion is “what is the nature of quality?” and “how do we identify it?”, in other words the aesthetics of assessing.  Aesthetics is the proper term as quality is a subset of beauty and the judging a work of art or of student work is properly viewed as an artistic expression and not a scientific one.  What are some different frameworks in which we aesthetically judge the work of students?

Wilson, in his seminal 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”, identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions or epistemological bases about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge–think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly, the General Frame–think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame–think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame–think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

The Judge frame obviously is in the subjective camp although its proponents will tell you that they are objective.  Most of us view the world through the Judge frame in our day in and day out interactions with the world where seeing is believing and damned be those who suggest that perhaps our perceptions are other than we think.  Those in the Judge frame of mind know and identify beauty, grace, buffoonery, ugly, smart people or idiots and all those other daily descriptors we use—no need for Wittgensteinian word games or post-modern relativities.  If you can’t plainly see what is there well then you’re just an ignoramus.

The General frame’s high priests, the psychometricians, would like you to believe that the General frame is in the objective scientific camp.  It’s not!  With their numbers and statistics, their correlation coefficients and item response theory, their validity and reliability pronouncements, and the supposedly standardization of the testing process, they loudly proclaim their scientificity credentials.  They’re mistaken!  The bulwarks of the General frame, of the psychometric world—educational standards and standardized testing–have rationo-logically been blown to bits, intellectually nuked by Noel Wilson in his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”.  It is a testimony to his brilliant expose that the psychometric community has never refuted nor rebutted the study, attempting to bury it in the dustbin of history by not referring to it at all.

The proponents, growing every day in the competency based education (CBE) and the computerized so called individualized instruction movement of the Specific frame, also claim to have an objective means of assessing student work.  They conveniently forget that the decisions about curriculum, what counts as objectives and activities and/or cut-off points for “competency” or passing a course or year of study are all very subjective in origin.  If nothing else in public education one can count on old malpractices to be recycled into new ones such as programmed learning or outcome based education (OBE) from the 60s, 70s and 80s morphing into computerized competency based education being heavily promoted, usually by those who have a major financial stake in products developed, to accomplish such malpractices.  Those older malpractices were abandoned because they didn’t work and made the teaching and learning process into a dry, dead monotony of worksheets and trivia.

All is not so gloom and doom, though, when it comes to assessing student learning as Wilson offers us a frame in which honesty and fidelity to truth obtain—the Responsive frame.  The proponents of the Responsive frame freely and proudly admit that it is subjective.  The interaction between the teacher and the student and his/her parents is such that the expectation is for the student to more fully understand where he/she is in relation to learning the subject matter at hand.  Some will note that the responsive frame is not as efficient as a grade or simple mark may be.  But in the long run it serves the teaching and learning process far better than any of the more supposedly efficient other three frames.  Discursive give and take between the student and teacher, student portfolios, student performances assessed by both the teacher and student, and many other evaluative activities are valued for the fullness of assessment and student awareness of that assessing in contrast to the stilted assessment of the other frames.

Which frame then embodies the concept of “fidelity to truth”?

The Judge frame is obviously subjective in its practitioners’ proclamations of student learning assessment.  And that fact is fine, except that it is never explicitly stated.  In American public education the Judge frame dominates in the grading of students, even though most teachers will deny that fact for they have the percentages of points assigned to student work to prove that what they are doing is indeed objective.  It’s not!  The usage of percentage of points earned, almost always converted to a simplistic letter grade, is not measuring student work, i.e., objective, but subjective in all aspects from choosing curriculum to devising assessment devices and the number of points used.  So by not explicitly stating up front the subjective nature of the Judge frame “fidelity to truth” is not obtained.

In contrast, the praticioners using General and Specific frames claim to be objective with their psychometric machinations and computer determined learning patterns.  But the subjective nature of these frames is hidden behind psychometric jargon and behind the subjective human decisions that determine the course of instruction and grading parameters in either standards and standardized testing or computer and any programmed learning.  The testing bible  itself suggests this supposed objectivity “As in all scientific endeavors. . . .” in talking of validity issues.  By obscuring the subjective nature of those malpractices the proponents of the General and Specific frames deceive the users and the general public.  Where is “fidelity to truth” in that?

Which leaves us with the Responsive frame.  The only frame in which the purely subjective nature of the teaching and learning process and of assessing student learning is acknowledged and used to further the student’s awareness of his/her being.  And explicitly acknowledging that subjective nature, by working in the Responsive frame, allows educators to claim a “fidelity to truth” attitude, outlook and viewpoint.

Anything less than completely encompassing “fidelity to truth” in our assessment practices, which the Judge, General and Specific frames cannot do, can only cause many harms to the students resulting in injustices being foisted upon the students.  And those harms and injustices, by definition, contradict and contravene the fundamental purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” leaving us with the only right and just framework for evaluating student learning—the Responsive frame.


  1.  For an interesting history of standardized testing see:  “The Big Test:  The Secret History of the American Meritocracy” by Nicolas Lemann.
  2.  See his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”
  3.  As defined by oxforddictionaries.com:  Aesthetics (n) “A set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
  4.  Scientificity is a pseudo-scientific approach and/or having the appearance of scientific thought.
  5.  Not a peep of a response to Wilson’s critiques of standards and standardized testing is found in the latest version of the testing bible “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.”  How’s that saying go?  The silence is deafening!
  6.  See footnote #3 of the introduction.
  7.  A more complete discussion of the lack of “fidelity to truth” of some of the practices, of validity and invalidity issues, of educational standards and standardized testing used in supposed measuring of student learning is to be found in Chapters 6

 

 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Three

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 3

Justice Concerns and Educational Malpractices

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically in Western thought justice along with fortitude, prudence and temperance has been considered one of the four cardinal virtues. Comte-Sponville considers it the only cardinal virtue “that is an absolute good in itself.” The other virtues can be considered good only in certain contexts; for where is the prudence in being so cautious as to not venture forth in the world for fear of calamity, in being courageous (fortitude) in a cause that is evil such as a suicide bomber who kills innocent people, or in temperance in being so ascetic with satisfying bodily desires–eating, drinking, making love so as to deny ourselves those simple pleasures?

The two components or types of justice are: justice as agreement and compliance with the law and justice as equity and fairness. I concur only with justice being a “good in itself” when it is concerned with fairness and equity (a difficult state to determine) but not when the justice of what we are dealing with is the law and the law is itself unjust in fairness and equity. Aristotle said “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” For ancient Greeks like Aristotle and Socrates whatever the law dictated was what was just, so much so that Socrates refused help to escape his sentence to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. He believed that fulfilling the social contract, the law of the time in carrying out the death sentence was the only course of justice. Was justice really served by his legal execution, even if self-inflicted? I leave the answer to others as it is beyond the scope of this book to delve into all the justice concerns involved with Socrates death.

Ideally laws would satisfy and ensure equity and fairness concerns obtain. But it doesn’t take much to realize that many laws are not just in equity and fairness concerns. Mankind, as noble as Aristotle may have wished, can indeed be less than noble than animals in the application of laws. But we humans do judge, especially in regards to issues of educational practices.

Aristotle also said “The just, then is the lawful and fair, the unjust the unlawful and unfair.” True justice therefore consists of laws, rules, policies and practices that promote the most equity and highest degree of fairness. Aristotle’s definition serves well as a starting point in analyzing, and in judging whether an educational practice is just with the caveat that, as Comte-Sponville notes, “morality and justice come before legality, at least where the essentials are concerned. . . . And what is essential? Freedom for all, the dignity of the individual and the rights of others.”

Combining our justice concerns with the fundamental purposes of education as described above we can establish a guiding principle with which to judge educational practices and outcomes: An educational policy and/or practice is just when it promotes the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.

Furthermore we must keep in mind as Comte-Sponville notes that “justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number.” For example educational practices such as grading, the testing and selection criterion for entry to “magnet schools” or select public schools, or standardized tests like the ACT when mandated as compulsory by the state and whose results are used by post-secondary institutions to sort and separate and therefore reward and punish students either through selection or denial of admittance should be rejected as being unjust due to the inherent discriminatory nature of those practices even if they are valuable for efficiency in selection for various institutions.

Continuing with Comte-Sponville’s thoughts in his chapter on justice: “without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy. . . without justice, values would be nothing more than interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” In other words there can be no promoting of the welfare of, the well-being of the student as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education without the entirety of justice being considered. Without justice considerations public education quickly devolves into a “what’s best for me” scenario in a Spencerian atmosphere of dog eat dog rule of the jungle.

Although both types of justice, as law and as equity and fairness are important in this study of educational malpractices it is the latter that are more applicable and important. The blind and uncompromising application of the law, of educational directives of federal, state or local origin can be viewed as a corruption of justice. Aristotle states that “the equitable is just” while also stating that equitable justice is “but a correction of legal justice.” Or as Comte-Sponville makes clear “Let us say that equity, which is not different from justice but a form of it, is applied justice, living justice, concrete justice—true justice. . . Justice does not make just people, people make justice.”

So where does that leave us when educational practices are found to be conceptually error filled resulting in invalid outcomes that by definition are unjust, that end up discriminating against many students? Lamentably, the vast majority of educators choose expediency-legal justice over justice as equity and slough off justice as equity concerns. A brave few though have challenged the unjust malpractices of the status quo usually paying a heavy price in personal health, welfare in family and professional life. Those brave souls have followed a perhaps not well known American tradition, that of civil disobedience. Let us finish up our discussion of justice with the words of an American author and philosopher who knew well the deprivations (time spent in prison) of civil disobedience:

“The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [bureaucrats, administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”– Henry David Thoreau [my additions]

And one last thought from Mahatma Gandhi “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Mahatma Gandhi.


For a complete discussion of Justice see Comte-Sponville’s “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues” Chapter 6 Justice.

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Two

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 2

Fidelity to Truth in Educational Discourse

‘We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because the lie is more comfortable.’  Solzhenitzyn

In his book “Truth: A Guide” Simon Blackburn, editor of the “Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy,” concisely states that truth is “the control of belief by fact.”  Seems quite simple!  But in his book Blackburn outlines the many battles fought over what truth is over the course of at least the last two millennia by many philosophers, thinkers and writers.  Almost all the well-known names of the Western canon—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein to name just a few, can be sorted into differing alethiological camps.  Anyone who has studied the subject soon understands that determining a final answer to the question “What is truth” more likely than not realizes that it is quite difficult to firmly answer (not counting those of a faith belief tradition who claim to have “The Truth”) and that perhaps the best way to address the subject is to just leave it alone (a minimalist position).

But just leaving truth alone is not feasible for a study such as this.  Far too many believe that they have truth, however they determine it, on their side. At the same time many mistake expediency for truth.  What happens when it is shown that their truths are actually falsehoods and their conclusions are invalid and that the results of their false beliefs and practices are unjust and harm the most innocent of society, the children?

Yes, truth matters!

Realizing that all truths are contextual not only in time, space and experience this study is limited to examining the veracity of claims of truth and validity (for how can something be truthful if it is not valid?) for the fundamental positions upon which educational practices of today are based.  The educational practices examined—grading, educational standards and standardized testing–in this study are found overall to be riddled with error therefore lacking in validity and truth.

The flip side of truth is error.  Truth implies that something is without error.  How does the concept of error play into the discussion of truth?  Noel Wilson elaborates: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”  In other words all the logical errors involved in the aforementioned educational practices render any conclusions invalid.

Now, let’s delve into Comte-Sponville’s concept of “fidelity to truth.”  What is meant by fidelity to truth, that of being faithful/true to truth?  Preliminarily and primarily, Comte-Sponville states “All fidelity is—whether to a value or to a person—is fidelity to love and through love.”  Since he considers love to be the greatest and hardest to achieve virtue that statement rightly precedes all his other thoughts on the subject.  We can follow that up with the consideration that fidelity is the “will to remember” truthfully and that fidelity “resists forgetfulness, changing fashions and interests, the charms of the moment, the seductions of power.”  Fidelity to truth means “refusing to change one’s ideas in the absence of strong, valid reasons, and. . . it means holding as true. . . ideas whose truth has clearly and solidly established.”  At the same time fidelity to truth means rejecting discourse that has been shown to have errors, falsehoods and invalidities.  However, “Being faithful to one’s thoughts more than to truth would mean being unfaithful to thought and condemning oneself to sophistry.”  To be unfaithful to truth, to be in error, then is to reject that which makes honest communications, policies and practices cogent and a human good, a virtue.

The characteristics of truth in public educational discourse can be understood as encompassing fidelity to truth in the following:

  • Speech and/or writing accurately describes policies, practices and outcomes (discourse).
  • Using the correct/intended meaning of a word in light of the context.
  • Discourse serves to enlighten and not obscure meaning.
  • Discourse is free of contradictions, error and falsehoods.
  • The “control of belief by fact” (S. Blackburn).
  • Discourse is based in skeptical rationo-logical thought processes in which a “scientific attitude” holds sway.
  • Discourse based on/in faith conventions is eschewed and rejected outright due to separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
  • Discourse of expediency based on the rationalizations of “Everyone is doing this”, “It is dictated by the State Department of Education” or “NCLB mandates that we have to do this” is firmly and rightly rejected.

In rejecting expediency over truth as a guide to or rationale of instituting practices that are based on fundamental errors and falsehoods resulting in invalid conclusions that many times harm students, we should keep in mind Hanna Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil.” She concluded that the Holocaust did not occur because of the monstrosity, the evil of the people involved but by the small everyday functioning of ordinary people, perhaps at best not knowing of or at worst of turning a willing blind eye to the results of their daily task along with the daily work of others that compounded into the atrocities of the Holocaust.  The vast majority of “Good Germans”, including Eichmann, believed that they were just following orders as they had been brought up (educated) to do.  Eichmann even believed that he was “saving” as many Jews as he could by instituting certain procedures.

Now, I am not suggesting that some of our current public education laws, policies and practices are the equivalent of the Holocaust.  What I am pointing out is that in order for everyday banal evils to occur, as with some public education practices that cause harm to innocents and that do not allow for students to enjoy their constitutional mandated benefits and rights in utilizing public education, are made possible by teachers, administrators, boards of education, state departments of education, the federal department of education, etc., many have to and have put expediency over truth.  And in putting expediency, especially expediency of self-interest, over truth we regrettably allow unjust practices to flourish and cause untold harm and psychological violence to be perpetrated against the students who have little means to refute and reject such malpractices.

As Comte-Sponville puts it:  “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete . . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value? . . .  Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”  [my additions]

And in speaking of justice one must consider its various meanings and aspects and how it plays out in examining educational malpractices.  Which I shall begin in the following chapter. 

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter One

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 1

The Purpose of Public Education

‘Honesty is the first chapter in wisdom’ Jefferson

Ask any teacher or administrator “What is the purpose of public education?” and more likely than not they will recite their district’s mission statement, perhaps one as succinct as the Nebo School District’s in Utah We engage, empower, and collaborate to ensure student success.”  Or perhaps it more typically reads like this one from a rural Missouri district “The mission of the Warren County R-III School District is to empower each child to fully reach his or her potential as a life-long learner, a responsible adult and a contributing member of a diverse society.”  Or it may even come with a disclaimer as this long mission statement from a Pennsylvania district:

Mission Statement

The Mission Statement, Beliefs, and Goals presented below are the result of work completed by Cumberland Valley School District’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee. These philosophy statements are not an attempt to state how things are, but rather are intended to give impetus and direction toward meeting the needs of all children who attend the schools of this district now and in the future.

Our Mission

The Cumberland Valley School District, in collaboration with students, educators, parents and the community, is committed to developing 21st century learning and thinking skills through a rigorous, relevant, and comprehensive curriculum, while preparing students to be innovative, productive citizens in an interconnected world. (italics in original)

Does each mission statement, being used as a proxy for the fundamental purpose of public education, help fulfill the fundamental purpose of public education?  What is that fundamental purpose and where can it usually be found?  Is there even a fundamental purpose?  To answer the last question first, it depends!  Well, what does it depend on then? In answering that question we also answer the where question—the constitution of each state.

But there’s a catch, not every state constitution gives a purpose for its authorization of public education.  It’s a 50/50 split with 25 states not giving any purpose such as West Virginia’s authorization “The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” (Article XII, Sec. 12-1) and 25 states providing a rationale.

Those 25 rationales can be divided into three types.  Those that declare that the purpose of public education is to ensure that the state’s form of government will continue, such as South Dakota’s “The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools. . . .” (Article VIII  § 1).  Those whose fundamental purpose focuses on the individual and his/her rights such as Missouri’s “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools . . . .” (Article IX Sec. 1a)  And those that are a combination of both.  As it is, fifteen mainly focus on the benefits of public education to the individual citizen and the preservation of his/her rights, five on the benefit to the state and five that state both citizen and government benefits.

All together then, there are 25 states with no stated fundamental purpose, five with a purpose that extol the benefits of public education to the state, fifteen commending the benefits to the individual and five a combination of benefit to both state and individual, resulting in 80% of those with a stated purpose of having the benefits for the individual as the primary rationale.  Is it possible, then, to discern a fundamental purpose of public education?  Yes, I believe it can be ascertained, by starting with the fundamental purpose of government in this country as stated in each state’s constitution (sometimes as troublesome to recognize a stated purpose as that of public education).  Since public education is a function of each state and not the federal government we must begin at the state level to determine what the fundamental purpose of the state is.  In examining the constitutions one finds that there many and varied exhortations.

For example Alabama’s constitution states:  “Objective of government. That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Section 35)  Or this from Nebraska “All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others, and for lawful common defense, hunting, recreational use, and all other lawful purposes, and such rights shall not be denied or infringed by the state or any subdivision thereof. To secure these rights, and the protection of property, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Art. I, sec. 1)

All well and good, eh!  Quite compelling is the Missouri constitution’s wording on the purpose of government:  “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.” (Article. II, Sec. 4. § 3.)

Tying together the aims of our constitutional government with the purpose of public education as stated in some of the state’s constitution allows us to propose a common fundamental statement of purpose. Since 20 of the 25 state constitutions give a reason attending to the rights and liberties of the individual through public education combined with the mandate of state constitutional government as reflected in Missouri’s constitutional language of “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry. . .” it follows that the rights and liberties of the individual in being educated as each sees fit supersede those of supporting and maintaining the government.  And that one can logically conclude that if the educational wants and needs of the citizens obtain then those of the state will follow.  But without an educated citizenry who can promote their own interests, and who can understand and tolerate others thoughts, opinions and desires, the state would surely be subject to tyranny by those whose knowledge and wants exceeds most.

I propose, then, the following statement of the purpose of public education with which, hopefully, most in the United States could agree:

“The purpose of public education is to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.”

Any educational practice that is shown to hinder, block and/or otherwise cause an individual to not be able to indulge in any of aspect of his/her rights as stated has to be considered as harmful and unjust not only to the individual but also to society and therefore must rightly be condemned as educational malpractice and ought to be immediately discontinued.  Trampled rights are rights that are non-existent and the educational malpractice that tramples any right is unjust and as noted in Alabama’s constitution “is usurpation and oppression” and as Missouri’s declares “. . . when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.

I contend that many of today’s federal and state mandates and even long standing educational practices are, indeed, malpractices that trample the rights of the most innocent in society, the children, the students of all ages attending public schools, in essence “it [public education] fails in its chief design.”  Should the government through the public schools be sorting, separating, ranking, and/or grading students through logically bankrupt invalid practices discriminating against some while rewarding others?  I contend it should not!  Where is the justice in discriminatory practices?  By evaluating those malpractices against the aforementioned purpose we will be able to ascertain whether or not they are just.

In what follows concepts of truth and Sponville’s “fidelity to truth” will be illuminated, justice concerns will be discussed, professional ethical issues delineated, and the error and falsehood filled conceptual bases of standards and measurement and grading as now used in public education will be elaborated.  It will be shown how using the epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt schemes of grading, educational standards and standardized testing come together in causing untold psychological harm to the students, discriminating against some students while rewarding others and begetting structural injustice causing public schools to “fail in their chief design.

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education Introduction

By Duane Swacker

About Duane Swacker

Introduction

‘All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.’ Galileo Galilei

The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public [education] policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter” states systems theorist Russell Ackhoff.

Many longstanding practices in American public education are rightly described as “doing the wrong thing righter”.  The simplistic grading of students, rating and ranking schools as the US News and World Report does, believing that through using educational standards and its flip side standardized testing we can “measure” student learning and achievement, whatever that may mean, are just a few.

As noted by Ackhoff, doing the “wrong thing righter” is damaging enough to the bottom line in business but in the teaching and learning process it results in error, falsehoods and invalid conclusions about what a student has learned.  More than that, students internalize the labels that misleadingly describe a student resulting in multiple harms to many students, violating their personhood.  The tremendous waste of educational resources, time, energies and monies for practices that are harmful, epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt and that contravene the fundamental purpose of public education should give us pause.

“I’m an ‘A’ student” declares the bright fresh-faced student as she confidently walks into class the first day finding a seat next to her friends.  I hate to burst her bubble but little does she know, she isn’t.  The first few days of a new school year class time is spent going over the syllabus, rules and regulations, and how grades will be determined for the semester and year.  In discussing grades I had the students fill out a very brief survey:

I am a (n) _____student.

A

B

C

D

E (none of these)

F

Then I’d have one student read the answers aloud as another tallied up the various answers on the board.  Inevitably the majority of answers were either an A or B as in order to take Spanish the students had to have an A or B grade in their prior year’s Language Arts class.  Every now and then a C might appear, and never a D or F. (Why is it that in the grading scale the only letter with a word associated with it is F-fail?)  And out of every hundred or so students usually only one would get the correct answer E.  Why is it, that only one out of one hundred students would understand what was really being asked/demonstrated by the brief survey?

Why?  Because socially ingrained practices such as student grades, practices that have existed for generations, are usually accepted as right, good, valid and the way things are, even after they have been shown to be detrimental to students and contradict the fundamental purpose(s) of public education.  Breaking away from societal habits of long standing practices such as grades in schooling can be an almost impossible task, especially for students who don’t have enough life experience to question, counteract or refuse to accept them.  The vast majority, not only of students but also parents and teachers accept grades and standardized test scores as an acceptable practice.  “It’s how school works!”  In this book I will show why using educational standards and standardized test scores as assessment practices are invalid, harmful, unethical and unjust educational malpractices.

I explore the fundamental concepts underlying educational standards and standardized testing used as a basis to supposedly measure student learning to show that said practices which most accept as “the way things are” are based on logical errors and falsehoods that render the practices invalid.  And in being invalid those practices can only cause harm to many students as they are subjected to the many quirks and whims of practices based on false and invalid notions.  As any craftsman, artisan or gourmet chef knows; when one starts with inferior materials it is impossible to construct a high quality product.  It’s the old garbage in, garbage out to put it a bit more crudely.  How can we construct a high quality educational experience for students if we start with practices that are of the lowest intellectual quality and that lack validity?

Many current educational practices, start with and are based on inferior “materials”.  In the teaching and learning process, those deficient materials are the rationo-logically challenged conceptual foundations used to justify the malpractices of student grades, educational standards and standardized testing that cause much harm to each and every student, whether the ‘A student’ or the ‘failing student’.  I will show that those practices are, indeed, malpractices based on faulty logic and irrational thinking that render them invalid, harmful and unjust.

In order to do so, though, we must first explore some basic concerns that relate to the purpose of public education, to truth considerations and fidelity to truth in educational discourse, to justice concerns, to aesthetic matters of quality, to (mis)labeling and attachment issues in pinning names onto students in the sorting, separating and ranking involved in grades and standardized test scores, to Foucault’s “subjectivization” or “internalization”, to conceptual (epistemological and ontological) foundations of standards and measurements, to the misuse and bastardization of language that serves to obfuscate meaning for purposes other than to enhance just and ethical teaching and learning environments, to practical ethical concerns and, finally, to obtaining “fidelity to truth” in public education discourse and practices.

Most everyone believes they know the purpose of public education but few actually know where to find the fundamental purpose and what that purpose is.  In Chapter 1 I will explore what those purposes are and how they should serve as our fundamental criterion, the guiding spirit against which all public education practices should be judged.  A brief discussion of the purpose of government follows and what the effects of a government gone awry in its doings are.  Issues of personal liberty in relation to public schooling will also be discussed.

In Chapter 2 I explore what constitutes truth in its various manifestations and that without “fidelity to truth” in educational discourse and practices one can only end up with a logically compromised teaching and learning process that may serve certain political ends but doesn’t, can’t serve the students justly.

Following up on “fidelity to truth” and closely allied with it, in Chapter 3, I explore the nature of justice and how justice concerns, in light of the fundamental purpose of government and public schools, interact to either help or hinder individual student rights and liberties.

In Chapter 4 I will focus on the nature of assessment touching on issues of quality, assessing quality, objective vs subjective assessment and on Wilson’s four frame of references in the assessment process and how confusing and conflating the frames in our evaluation practices add another layer of invalidity.

The 13 logical errors identified by Noel Wilson in his 1997 treatise “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” will be discussed in Chapter 5.  His never refuted nor rebutted definitive destruction of the concepts of educational standards and standardized testing are delineated and then discussed in relation to Foucault’s concept of subjectivization and its impact on students in relation to the stated purpose of public education.

In Chapter 6 I explore the conceptual foundations of measurements and standards as conceived by the major standard and measurement organizations.  It will be shown how the misuse of these terms and concepts lend a false sense of scientific veracity to the educational standards and standardized testing regime.  Also included is a brief discussion of the conceptual error and falsehoods of standardized testing as it is outlined in the testing bible “Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing.”

Professional ethical considerations are addressed in Chapter 7, first through the dictionary definitions of ethics and then through a brief discussion of various ethical codes of conduct from three organizations that are involved in education.  Commonalities found in the codes are identified and discussed in relation to considering whether the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing in respect to fundamental student rights as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education should be considered unethical.

In the Conclusion I ask a series of questions concerning how the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing analyzed as malpractices through logical definition and thought can only result in massive amounts of errors, falsehoods and inaccurate categorizations of students which cause much harm to students, are unethical, fail to honor constitutional mandates and therefore should be rejected immediately and replaced with practices that are “faithful to truth”, help uplift the student to his/her potential in enjoying his/her constitutional rights and privileges in liberty.

Finally, in the Afterword I will present some thoughts on how to obtain “fidelity to truth” in educational practices so that we may break the cycle of educational malpractices in which we currently find ourselves.

Bye Treehorn

I love primary education.  I love primary schooling. I love primary school kids.  When I left school in 1944, I just wanted to get amongst the whole mix of teaching and go bush to teach young kids. My big brother would bring home stories about the kids at Nogo River in rural Queensland and it all sounded so fascinating.   I eventually made it to Teachers College, and by 1947 I was the Head Teacher, of all things, of a one-teacher school. I loved it. My dream achieved.  For eleven years, I did my  apprenticeship in four  different localities. All of my one-teacher schools are closed now but I still remember the names of the pupils. Many have passed on and some are in their eighties. You see,  when I first started as a Head Teacher cum Principal I was eighteen years of age.  My two or three ‘scholarship class’ members were fourteen or fifteen years of age.  I now have a lot of former pupils. Love each one of them.

The years went on and the love for primary schooling and kids just grew and grew.  I now love nostalgia.  I love catching up with former pupils who remember me for the right reasons. It’s the sort of feeling that only schoolies enjoy but can’t explain; and is unique to those who care about kids. I thought that I shared these feelings with an endless number of others. I was sure that every primary teacher was the same way. I kept this belief for sixty years….that everyone in primary schooling loved kids and teaching them, as much as I did; and would go to the ends of the earth for them.

I was wrong.

2008-17 has revealed that many employees in the field of primary schooling in Australia don’t care much about kids. They care deeply about some kids, but not the universal kid. I had accepted, early in the piece, that Australian every-day adults, generally speaking, prefer to have as little as possible to do with kids, apart from coaching the local under-eights footy team.  Treehorn, when I found him, validated the view that all adults, including parents, teachers and principals prefer not to be bothered too much by what distresses kids.   I was disappointed [‘floored’ is a better term] to learn, in particular that Australia’s  school principals don’t have much interest in the ‘generalised’ school child, at all. They like their job and do it well and that’s it. They  meekly and  publicly approve of the extreme. heavy, burdensome NAPLAN testing device because Julia Gillard told them to do so after she returned from New York, overdosed on Klein bullshit, which, they know all very well, destroys the learning spirit of the curriculum in the interests of data-gathering – just for the sake of data-gathering.  Principal’s associations know that. APPA was blatantly ‘Stockholmed’, replaced by AGPPA and then  ‘Eichmannised’ .  They should have known that NAPLAN, under the pretence of being diagnostic and motivational, would destroy our system;  a system that once had the potential to be great. Sloppily, near tearfully,  I must say : They broke my heart by their desertion from reality.

When Julia Gillard introduced this crazy New York system of schooling based on the deliberate creation of anxiety and fear, they had a chance to say to her : “We don’t do that sort of thing to school children.” They didn’t.

I now know what disappointment is.

Then, in January 2010, the Australian Education Union that represents the chalkface operators, unanimously supported a motion at its Sydney Conference that NAPLAN be banned!   I was over the moon. I was so proud of my association with some of the attenders. Amazed that such a thing had happened and so proud that Aussie teachers collectively, it seemed, recognised the implications of naplanising school children ….that they had assured the welfare of little Aussie learners to progress in a child-centred environment, that I did something that I had never done before. It seemed to me like it was the wonder of the age….that our classroom teachers could be so wonderful, so glorious, so up-front.  I could see Cloud 9 way down below me; so I went to Mass on the following day to say thanks. [I’m a Mick. ] I am usually asking for a favour, but here I was doing something that I have reflected upon, often, since:  Going to church just to say ‘Thanks’!!  That’s not normal. Maybe I’ll get the chance to do it again sometime…maybe when politicians  start thinking about what they are doing to children  and ban the stupid thing.  You see…ouch….The motion was at the AEU Conference was withdrawn on the same day and the notion of freedom abandoned.  Never learned why.   Very little mention of NAPLAN by the AEU since. Did the big boys capture Him, or was it the AEU? The big end of town seems to believe that it is  dominant enough  to do either. I may never learn what happened to the original motion.

{By the way, did you listen to all that Budget Yak-Yak in the Federal Parliament?  “We will spend billions and billions on schools and our kids will be the best in the world! We will improve education standards by giving more money to this, that and whatever” The baloney from both sides of the house was vomitous.  NAPLAN, the extreme destroyer of schooling, introduced by Labor  and maliciously ‘fiddled’ by Liberals and Nationals, now supported by their common neo-liberal viewpoints, did not get a mention, even though it wastes billions per year.. the worst ‘bad debt’ in on the landscape……and it was budget time!}

Those who know me, know that, back in the eighties I held super-normous hope for the future of primary schooling in Australia. I could see super-dooper schooling happening and, for some reason, I always thought that by about 2010 [no good reason for picking that year], Australia would enjoy an enormous network of public schools, to which children would burst a boiler to get to each and every day BECAUSE OF THE LEARNING HAPPINESS THERE….for no other reason. Enjoying a thoroughly holistic tailor-made curriculum, each would find real joy in extending their own abilities as far as they could and enjoy every moment of learning at their local community school.  They would not need any sexy inexperienced measurement sciolist from outside the school gate to judge their capacity,  and brand them with a number. Schooling would be real schooling, real learning. School leavers would not need an HSC score or NAPLAN score. Hirers would ask the school about their applicants and be given the full picture.

Garn. No matter what you might like to say, a progressive exam-free system is possible.

Well, things didn’t live up to expectations. Once managerialism and the restructuring fad hit the fan in the eighties, one could see what was happening. We were destined to follow the path ‘back to drastics’.  The last paragraph in my “Back to Drastics” [USQ Faculty of Education, 2006. P.87] was prophetic : “Hope persists. There are some great schools around and classroom teachers still have the real power. Once the teacher and the pupils move into their room together, the educational processes begin. Nobody in any self-important holy of holies has yet thought of starting from such a premise. Structural changes are usually imposed from the politicial apex, downwards. We keep starting at the wrong end. Education 3000?   At all times, the large and dangerous changes have been initiated by sciolistic ne’er-do-wells, who have had their decisions confirmed by the kinds of political party decision-making, for whom absurdity is not a handicap.

Clearly, the managerialism era was the start of Australia’s demise as a world power and of the standards of schooling that were once on the up and up. They are related; so, when Managerialsim and Restructurism made an easy path for the rabid Standardised Blanket Testing routine called NAPLAN because the wrong decision-makers were in the wrong positions, our system went haywire and has been that way for a decade. We cannot claim any growth in world stature in financial, industrial or political terms nor is there any indication of improvement in overall intellectual performance of any kind. We are waiting for the big boys to sort things out.  We maintain a mediocre ranking in world affairs, even though we have the ability [now being crushed] of fighting above our weight.

The forces that keep us in this mid-to-low-level position are powerful, extremely powerful. WE NEED THEM TO GET OFF OUR BACKS. We need them to talk with Rupert and tell their mates, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten that they are allowed to discuss schooling  openly, and not deliberately hide the mention of NAPLAN. Bring it out in the open! Schooling is not about money. The 37 kids from my railway-fettlers’ one-teacher school at Baking Board have contributed significantly to Australia’s welfare as has every other school. Schooling is about the promotion of learning and that banking corporation called UBS, needs to let go of the hooks on our institutions that they use to control our schooling system, our politicians and our media. The cone of controlled silence is too thick, as well.

NAPLAN is now discussed as a generality, a part of schooling, a thing that happens at school, a thing to be feared or wondered about. Rupert and UBS have had their way.  UBS, controlling our top end of town might care to think more seriously about the real meaning of the word SCHOOL.  What is it? What is it supposed to do? Is it doing it? Do kids like learning? Do they do  well at all parts of the curriculum? Why blanket test them when they progress faster and better when teachers share the evaluation of their efforts with them at the time of learning?  If you want to know how well they are doing, why not have a system of mentoring and reporting by highly qualified, experienced experts with a yen for excellence and with pollen on their wings? Why not just give the profession back to teachers?

The Australian education system, without any fear or doubt, is controlled by UBS and Rupert Murdoch [the schooling industry, in testucation mode, is worth $300 billion per year to him…at his last count].  UBS [this  banking corporation that paid the fares of bull-shipper Joel Klein down-under to show us what to do] seems motivated by a lack of appreciation for the ethics of the education profession. Big Bankers don’t like us teachers. [We shouldn’t have given up doing  school banking for them] It does not seem to understand that  a profession can be based on altruistic principles.  UBS, a respected organisation within thee money-making professions, could do so much good for children if it was able to adopt a moralistic view of the treatment of children and a responsible view of the work of the caring professions.

In any case, I’ve tried for quite a few years with the help of little Treehorn and a remarkable Kiwi educator, Allan Alach, to try to help restore normal conditions for Aussie school children through the columns of The Treehorn Express. We didn’t do any good. Treehorn is still that vivid green colour, because no one with any wit, has noticed him.

The two superordinate forces [UBS, Murdoch] are just so enormously powerful and our decision-makers are so very easily persuaded and so very well controlled……

They do not allow ANY political party to discuss NAPLAN.  The party doors are closed to reasoned discourse.

The mainstream press and the ABC aren’t brave enough to investigate the history or worthiness of NAPLAN.  [Kids. You can rely on shock-jock Alan Jones for support, however. He’s just got going.]

Shaky state governments [e.g NSW] believe that, by adding to the ferocity of the NAPLAN notion by screwing around with a relationship to the HSC, something or other will be improve.  Fat chance.

OMG. The place has really gone crazy and the standard of the whole gamut of learnings at school is fading – not just the naplan subjects. Kids just don’t like school much…..for good reasons.

We could end all the anguish in our schooling system if primary and secondary principals’ associations flexed their ethical muscles and told the feds that their members will return to their professional code OR if ACSSO (Australian Council of State School Organsations)  suggested to their members that they say NO to ‘NAPLAN’ OR  more mums and dads at home, thinking seriously about their child’s future, would  refuse to allow their children to participate……. like the parents of those 337 out of 343 pupils at Kimberley College, Brisbane have done OR some political party members would just sit down and talk about the meaning of school.

We all know our test-crazed system  stinks, but who am I [with some aligned colleagues and friends ] to test the might of UBS, Rupert and Co. and tolerate sloppy politicising. We don’t make the slightest impression,  it seems. They’re too powerful. Little Treehorn looks like staying a vivid green colour for a long, long time. We live in an era when there is a serious disinterest in childhood.

I can’t stand it any more. I quit. Thanks Allan and friends. Bye.

Phil Cullen

https://treehornexpress.wordpress.com

http://primaryschooling.net

Finally to those who don’t mind or don’t care how much NAPLAN is used to bash young children : “May the fleas of a thousand camels……”

6 out of 643

I had thought that my Treehorn article called ‘It’s NAPLAN time. Bring out the law book’ and a couple of quickies since, would be my swansong.  I am flattered, of course, that Professor Diane Ravitch of the University of New York [home-town of our founder Joel Klein] repeated my article in her blog which has an extensive distribution in the USA.  Professor Ravitch is the former Deputy Director of Education for the USA. She’s an icon.

https://dianeravitch.net/2017/05/08/naplan-and-the-ruination-of-education-in-australia/
https://dianeravitch.net/2017/05/08/australia-a-brief-history-of-how-americas-bad-ideas-undermined-education-down-under/
But then, 9 May was the first day of NAPLAN testing and  the Kimberley College episode hit the fan.

What happened yesterday, the first day of NAPLAN 2017, at Kimberley College?

6

Only SIX out of 343

sat the NAPLAN test.

That means that the parents of six pupils at Kimberley College have been misguided by the ramblings of testucators who reside beyond the school gate. Shame.

Kimberley College  [https://www.kimberleycollege.org/] is a private school established by a group of parents just to the south of Brisbane  in 2000.  Back then, they wanted to have their children move into secondary schooling with the enthusiasm for learning and for achievement that they had developed at Kimberley Park State Primary School.  Principal Paul Thomson was using the regular curriculum to establish THINKING as the most useful educational outcome, using multi-aged settings through to Year 10 to maximise the learning effort.  It’s a place where deep thought is given by parents to the learning habits of their children, to the richness of their happily stimulated minds and what the future holds for them. De Bono’s spirit is in the air. Creative, conceptual thinking pervades the curriculum.

There is really no place in a serious, fair-dinkum learning institution like Kimberley College for killer tests like NAPLAN.   Standardised blanket testing of the NAPLAN kind, products of testucators’ compulsive adoration of data, are anathema to the parents of this school. They want their children to learn and to achieve at higher than normal levels.  NAPLAN’s focus on mediocrity doesn’t suit them, and NAPLAN’s DNA contains that measurement virus that disposes children to hate Maths, Science, Reading Literature.  The testing regime is clearly based on fear and anxiousness. It is a repressive, stress ridden threat to each child’s mental health. It has run-on effects. It has no place on school premises.

Kimberley College would be popular at this time with Treasurer Scott Morrison.  NAPLAN itself is a really ‘bad debt’, costing Australia billions each year to administer; and it ensures the loss of an industrial and intellectual future.  Inestimable. The parents at Kimberley College have just contributed a few thousand dollars to the national welfare. I figure that $5000 is a reasonable estimate for over 300 papers, supervision, delivery,  measurement of desks from each other by visiting officials….and the million other nuisances that schools musty tolerate because of NAPLAN.

It’s such a pity that our testucators do not know what happens in schools and in classrooms, minute by minute, day by day….the things that seriously detract from the learning enterprise.  It’s a pity that they are so inexperienced at what really happens in the classroom.

NAPLAN is surely the biggest threat to learning that this country has even seen.

Sincerely. May God bless the parents of Kimberley College for showing us the way.  The rest of Australia just might learn something.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Phil Cullen  http:primaryschooling.net    http://treehornexress.wordpress.com