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Jane Nylund is a parent activist and educator in Oakland.
A bit of background: we are a family of two kids through OUSD, nearly 20 years with the district. Strong foundation in math and science, and some experience with statistics. As a classified educator in a high-needs school, I have recently spent time proctoring the I-Ready diagnostic in my fourth grade class. Out of concern for my math group, who all had pained looks on their faces, I was able to view some of the math test questions.
I was appalled at what I saw. Yes, I know the test is supposed to be adaptive, but the material that they expected the kids to try and answer was 6th grade level math, possibly higher. I noted the following:
1) Multi-step unit conversions in the context of a word problem2) Definitions/examples of independent and dependent variables3) Simplification of algebraic equations with two variables.
These types of questions appeared around the 15% test completion point for one student. It’s possible that there was some kind of operator error on the teacher’s part and that’s why these types of math problems showed up on the diagnostic. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a diagnostic that is essentially designed so that the kids fail 50% of the questions is a problem.
I could go on and on about how wrong this is and why this diagnostic test is completely unnecessary for our kids to suffer through. It almost seems like none of the adults in the decision-making process bothered to take it themselves. And if they did, and still thought this was all reasonable for students who are still learning math facts and long division, they have no business working around kids.
What I’m more interested in is how our district decided that I-Ready should be a thing. Did they just read the marketing and hype and just go along with it? Did they bother to check the “studies”, most of which were commissioned by Curriculum Associates (CA)? None of which were peer-reviewed. Or was it just an off-the-shelf substitution for the SBAC, like buying a box of cereal?
Anecdotally, I heard the Rainin Foundation provided funding for the project. It also turns out that the board voted on an item on the Consent Agenda that allows the district to share our kids’ I-Ready data with Johns Hopkins for a study; only two districts are part of the study. Why? And why Oakland? I’ll get to that. The Rainin Foundation contracts out with a consulting firm calledBridgespan. They, in turn, make all kinds of ed reform-based recommendations to their clients. So, it’s possible that Bridgespan, Rainin Foundation, and OUSD were working in tandem somehow to recommend I-Ready. Rainin agrees to fund it, and Johns Hopkins is gleefully rubbing their hands together at all the data they will capture. The district is notorious for never turning down a free data lunch, even if it’s an I-Ready garbage sandwich. It’s what they do.
What’s the feedback around I-Ready? Across the board, nearly everyone despises it: teachers, students, families. Who loves it? None other than Jeb Bush of Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yeah, that guy. Is this the same path that we should be heading down with yet another ed-tech privatization tool that just makes money for Curriculum Associates? Should we really be emulating what they are doing and supporting in Florida, a hotbed of dubious ed reform, profiteering, and graft? After an entire year of screen time, should we be supporting an ed-tech industry product that makes a fortune off the very thing that we have said is bad for our kids, even more testing and screen time? In typical ed-tech fashion, what our district is allowing them to do is collect our kids’ data for free, then later sell a product back to OUSD to get our kids to “improve” their achievement. At the same time, the I-Ready team will likely find that their products/services neatly dovetail into the brand-new residual gain growth model that the SBE has just approved. Yet another golden opportunity sought after by Curriculum Associates and I-Ready. Oakland has now become the perfect market for an educational tool that serves no purpose other than to punish and demoralize our children, waste our teachers’ time, demean the teaching profession, and make big bucks for Curriculum Associates.
Here’s my favorite part. According to the literature (See one “independent” study here), which students perform better on I-Ready? The ones who are already performing at a high level. Wow, there’s a prediction. Who would have thought? Apparently, high-achieving kids are willing to stick with it longer because they don’t fail the program’s adaptive algorithm right away. So it’s not quite as miserable an experience for them. In addition, there is no longitudinal peer-reviewed data showing the effectiveness of I-Ready on achievement. The referenced study (WestEd, funded by Gates and Silicon Valley Education Foundation) had no randomized test design, just for starters and there’s no way to show causation.
What’s the end game? Are the students going to be subjected to the IAB, ELPAC, SBAC, and now I-Ready? By the way, the program is so universally despised that our smart young people have figured out how to hack into the program to add time to the lessons so they can quit the program sooner. According to one Reddit user, “finally, the suffering is over”.
Another quote from an actual user: “As a student required to use this program twice a week before the quarantine and an hour a week during, this is an issue. The program has specific and bizarre questions with very broad categories and overall fails to teach anything, as students are turned off from engaging due to the sheer amount of frustration that it is caused from the lack of sensible instruction. It absolutely fails to properly give students the right lesson. I am a 7th grader in 9th grade math, however it gives me and many students 5th and 6th grade math, some students have had basic division and multiplication despite their actual math abilities. I give my full advocation and so does my boyfriend and all of my friends to the removal of this harmful and unhelpful program.”
“FCPS (Fairfax County Public Schools, Florida) defends critique of the iReady assessment by asserting that teachers should use iReady as a screener to identify students “at risk,” not as a diagnostic assessment. I think this defense wears thin when schools begin to use iReady assessment data as a measure of growth on their School Improvement Plans. I think this defense wears thin when schools print out the reports and use them to sort and label children for intervention in data dialogue meetings. “
This author nailed it. What is supposed to be a diagnostic tool will be mislabeled and misused as a tool to “measure” achievement. News flash, we already have a flawed standardized test to “measure” achievement and we don’t need another. All this is also predicated on the usual idea that teachers have absolutely no clue how their kids are doing in class even though they are with their students for hours at a time, you know, teaching. I’ve already seen charter schools use I-Ready to boast of their superior “achievement” on social media. Charters aren’t using it as a diagnostic tool. They are using it as a marketing tool.
This author wrote an extremely well-researched piece on how I-Ready and other programs like it are all tied into privatization and profiteering. It’s a long read, but it really sums up all that is wrong with this kind of educational climate that promotes tech over experienced teachers and our willingness to be participants in its many forms, while sacrificing any real hope of authentic improvement.
Finally, Curriculum Associates will embrace all that tasty Johns Hopkins data from our kids to sell their brand of misery to other unsuspecting districts. Our children have experienced enough “rigor” in their everyday existence this past year. They don’t need another ed-tech company treating them like lab rats and preying upon them for the almighty dollar. Just stop it, I-Ready. We’ve had enough. Do the right thing and cancel the contract with Johns Hopkins. That would be a move in the right direction. Thanks for listening.