Tag Archives: Data Quality Campaign

COVID Learning Loss Over-Hyped

15 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/15/2020

Warnings about learning losses due to the pandemic dominate education media; especially the media created and financed by billionaires. Based on a briefing by NWEA, McKinsey & Company claims “the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars) … solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.” The Hoover Institute’s CREDO warns “the findings are chilling.”

One of my favorite education bloggers, Nancy Flanagan, says it well,

“Test-data estimates, alarmist language and shady research do nothing to help us with the most critical problem we have right now: keeping kids connected to their schoolwork and their teachers. However that’s offered and as imperfect as it may be.”

The popular blogger Peter Greene goes to the essence of the issue noting:

“So why has CREDO decided to throw its weight behind this baloney? Well, the testing industry is in a bit of a stir right now. The BS Test was canceled last spring, and nobody is very excited about bringing it back this year, either. So the testing industry and their reformy friends are trying to sell the notion that students and schools and teachers are adrift right now, and the only way anyone will know how students are doing is to break out the industry’s products and start generating some revenue data.”

The Billionaire Created Echo Chamber

The first COVID-slide bang on the bell came from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) which sells MAP tests. Their computer delivered assessments of mathematics and English are given three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards.

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a paper that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be. The paper was published on May 27, 2020 by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

In the paper, NWEA stated,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns of five million students. Under these projections, students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”

“Specifically, we compared typical growth trajectories across a standard-length school year to learning projections that assume students are out of school for the last three months of the 2019-20 school year.”

In other words, NWEA used data from their computer generated testing which is noisy and only reliably measures student family economic status. They massaged this noisy data with debunked growth model algorithms which amplify noise. They assumed that no education at all occurred after March 2020 and correlated the results with disputed summer learning loss research to make their guesses.

Within four days, the famous consulting firm Mckinsey & Company produced its own report based on the NWEA paper. To the NWEA material they added some of their own economic predictions based largely on the work of Hoover Institute’s Eric Hanushek. He rose to prominence producing research showing “that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

Mckinsey’s consultants focused much of their report on the damage that is sure to visit minority communities. If the virus is not contained and school is not full time in person, they claim students will lose an average of seven months of learning. And they further state, “But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.”

Hard to comprehend how a student falls behind more than a year in one year.

On June 5, 2020, the well known neoliberal publication The Wall Street Journal weighed in. Using the NWEA report, they claimed “remote learning” did not work.

By June 9, the billionaire funded education news outlet, The 74 Media, Inc., jumped in with Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms. Their claim says, “Solid data about the specific concepts each student does or doesn’t understand will be crucial.” They are saying testing is vital.

Another billionaire funded education focused publication, EdWeek, delivered Tips for Measuring and Responding to COVID-19 Learning Loss.”

Based on the NWEA data the education publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “What Schools Can Do To Make Up For COVID-19 Learning Loss.Market Insider reported that the publishers of I-ready, Curriculum and Associates, says, “According to the findings, while ‘COVID slide’ can be significant, the effects differ markedly based on a range of variables, including age, race, and income level.”

All of these claims are based on one very faulty paper produced by NWEA in May and this is only a sample of what has been published.

The 74 Media, Inc. was founded by the former NBC and CNN news anchor Campbell Brown. It was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and others. Brown was erroneously convinced that teachers unions were protecting sexual predators and her husband Dan Senor, was on the board of Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union organization StudentsFirst. To this day, the publication adheres to its anti-teachers union foundation and promotes public school privatization.

The latest article in The 74 about the “COVID slide” along with a report from the Hoover Institute’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes  (CREDO) illustrates the billionaire financed media empire echo effect.

The 74 article says,

“Data released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided a sobering estimate of the learning loss caused by school closures: Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math. The report suggested frequent assessment going forward and said new approaches to teaching will be needed to ‘plot a recovery course.”’

This data is based on the much criticized CREDO days of learning metric. The report is saying that students can lose 232 days of math learning in 180 days. It is a specious argument; however their real agenda seems to be advocating “frequent assessment going forward.”

The 74 continues, For the report, CREDO worked with NWEA, a nonprofit assessment organization, to build on earlier estimates of the impact of school closures and the limitations of virtual instruction on student learning.”

CREDO added a projection of individual student future exam results to the NWEA data. It is not all that different than the exam score scandal in England this spring. The British government used projected computer-generated scores to replace exams that were canceled because of the COVID-19 and 40% of their students saw grades tumble. The bottom line is these projections are not that good.

The 74 reports: ‘“The takeaways from this analysis are upsetting, but needed,’ said Jim Cowen, executive director of the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, which advocates for high academic standards and holding schools accountable for student progress.” Cowen is also quoted recommending “those annual tests remain the best tool to inform accountability systems, school report cards, and continuous improvement efforts over the long-term.”

The bottom of the Collaborative for Student Success web page reveals, “The Collaborative for Student Success is a project of the New Venture Fund.” If unfamiliar with New Venture Fund, the article Organized to Disrupt details the massive billionaire pro-school privatization funding they receive.

Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign is quoted by The 74. The article states, “Kowalski stressed the importance of conducting assessments in the spring of 2021 and ‘getting at the heart of the data’ demonstrating why students might not participate, such as school buildings still being closed or parents opting out.”

The Data Quality Campaign lists as partners almost every organization in which billionaires working to privatize public education invest.

CREDO’s Conclusions

CREDO: “First, the findings are chilling – if .31 std roughly equals a full year of learning, then recovery of the 2019-2020 losses could take years.”

If the report was meaningful and learning could be measured in days the findings might be chilling. However the report is a gross use of arithmetic and learning cannot be measured in days. When days of learning related to standard deviation change is used in a study, the study is meaningless.

CREDO: “Second, the wide variation within states (and often within schools) means that conventional models of classroom-based instruction – a one-to-many, fixed pace approach — will not meet the needs of students. New approaches must be allowed to ensure high quality instruction is available in different settings, recognizing that different skills may be needed for the different channels.”

Here it appears CREDO is putting in a plug for competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers. CBE has a history of failure going back to the early 1970’s when it was known as mastery education or as teachers called it “sheets and seats.”

CREDO: “Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher.”

This is the apparent purpose of the paper; selling testing. People are starting to realize standardized testing is a complete fraud; a waste of time, resources and money. The only useful purpose ever for this kind of testing was as a fraudulent means to claim public schools were failing and must be privatized.

CREDO: “Fourth, the measures of average loss and the range around it immediately call into question the existing practice of letting communities plot their own path forward.”

Here CREDO has joined with the billionaire promoted call to end democracy and local control of schools. It is UN-American and disgusting. Even the Hoover Institute should be revolted. After all, they used to be champions of the American ideal.

This is not the first time America has faced a crisis and schooling was disrupted. There was the Spanish Flu, World War II, Segregation battles in the south, catastrophic storms, etc. Public school has been the one institution that continually rose to the occasion and taught the children.

Today, without much support from the federal government, public schools are once again stepping up to the challenge. Millions of cyber capable devices have been distributed, internet hotspots have been created and teachers are adapting to teaching on line. It is not wonderful and students are especially missing the social aspect associated with in person school, but it has value and students are learning.

The COVID-slide is about undermining public schools and is not a real phenomenon.