Another Step Down the Wrong Path

Children graduating from high school these days have known nothing but test-based accountability for their entire schooling. We have repeatedly reminded them that their primary value as students in a public school is to do well on the annual, all-important, big standardized (BS) test.

Granted, we also tell them it’s nice if they can sing pretty OR play an instrument OR draw nice pictures OR write a computer program OR play a sport OR exhibit curiosity OR write poetry OR think critically OR learn a second language OR show kindness OR create things OR give a speech OR solve problems OR show compassion OR perform on stage OR fix mechanical things OR get along with others OR have an original thought OR be honest OR show responsibility OR be courageous OR do nice things for others OR avoid run-on sentences when writing OR a whole host of other things, but, really … not much of that matters if they don’t pass the BS test.

Fifteen years ago, at the beginning of this delusive, chase-our-tail exercise, policymakers told the country that a more intense focus on standardized testing and accountability measures would lift children out of poverty by providing them a quality education; ameliorate achievement gaps between affluent white children and poor minority ones; make our students the envy of the world on international tests, and create a generation of young adults ready to seize the rungs of the corporate ladder.

Talk about a classic case of over promising and under delivering. 

Seriously, is there any credible and substantial evidence that education in America is significantly better than it was 15 years ago because we invested in a test-centrist accountability model? What do we have to show for the billions of dollars and untold hours spent chasing new standards, “better” assessments, and more accurate metrics?

pearson-caricatureWell, other than making a few corporations very profitable.

In short, we have cracked a whole bunch of eggs over the years, but we’re still waiting for our omelet.

Here in Oklahoma, our schools are now using the 2016 version of our new and improved, super-duper rigorous, world-class, grade A, best academic standards EVER. They are SO much better that those old crappy ones we used to use: new PASS, old PASS, CCSS, OAS, whatever.

We are also developing beautiful, state-of-the-art new assessments to align to these fantastic standards. Parents and schools will finally have an instrument to measure their children’s academic growth and their readiness for college, careers, and life. Schools will soon be fully accountable and transparent and high-achieving. Yippee.

How have we been hoodwinked into believing that a child’s performance on a multiple choice test on one day each year could actually serve as an accurate or reliable proxy for later life outcomes we care about — like graduating from high school, going to college, getting a job, earning a good living, being a good community member, raising a family, staying out of jail, etc.?

Because, you know, they’re not.

In fact, several research studies have finally pointed out the disconnect between test scores and life success. If you have some time, I encourage you to dive into Jay Greene’s assessment of this mishmash of data at his recent EducationNext article.

But, I digress.

Even after passage of ESSA last December, current state and federal law still require the use of test scores in specific grades and that we track results by specific student subgroups. None of this has changed. 

Along these lines, our state has just completed a comprehensive retooling of our school A-F grading system. This initiative was in response to new accountability legislation passed in Oklahoma last spring (House Bill 3218) as well as new rules set forth by ESSA.

The final product represents the collective efforts of 95 stakeholders over a four-month period. It is scheduled to be submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education this Thursday, as mandated by HB3218.

I echo Rick Cobb’s positive comments about the leadership of Superintendent Hofmeister and her staff. This was hard and thankless work. Like Rick, I agree that the new proposal represents a big improvement over the system we currently have.

Creating an accountability system that is accurate and meaningful for all school districts; that the SBOE will approve; that the State Chamber of Commerce will support; and that the Governor and legislative leaders will endorse is an IMPOSSIBLE task.

Superintendent Hofmeister is between a rock and a boulder. State leaders, including Governor Fallin, have made it clear that the use of a single summative school grade must continue (accuracy, be damned) and that we call it “A to F.”

Some education leaders have commented that the new changes to A-F represent a “step in the right direction.” However, this statement suggests that the perpetual pursuit of higher test scores is the right direction we should be moving as public schools.

I disagree.

Anything we do that further encodes this stale thinking into our collective mindset is just taking us another step down the wrong path.

For this reason, I will ALWAYS and forever oppose ANY system that attempts to narrow the definition of a quality school and its teachers into a single, summative grade – particularly when the primary component is student performance on standardized tests.

In my opinion, the new A-F is akin to putting a new set of tires on a beat up car. It might ride a little better, but it’s still a clunker.

We are just applying band-aids to cover up a system that belongs in the junkyard.

bad-car-repair

Despite my rant, I do get it. The annual BS tests are not going away. An A-F school accountability system, in one form or another, will likely be around for the rest of my education career.

I don’t have to pretend to like it.

Give the tests if we must, share the results with the world, and use them as a diagnostic tool to improve teaching and learning. If they help teachers and schools better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their academic programs and help kids experience greater success, fine, use them.

But can we agree to stop worshiping the damn things?

As long as we continue to grovel at the altar of the all-mighty BS test, we take our eye off of the true meaning and purpose of schools – to develop well-rounded, smart, curious, independent, self-confident, caring, responsible, and productive young adults.

If we are forced to worship this false deity, at least let’s do it right.

Let’s get rid of all the nonsense in schools that “doesn’t count” – the arts and drama, music and technology, PE and athletics, character education, recess and service projects – all of it.

Picture an elementary school day with three hours of reading and writing, three hours of math, and a sprinkle of science once in a while – just for variety.

To minimize disruptions, we can have lunch delivered directly to the classroom so students can work quietly at their desks while they eat.

We could add more hours and days to the school calendar. In fact, let’s just copy the Chinese and have our kids in school 10-12 hours a day, 220 days a year.

Let’s make our students take online formative assessments so we can track their progress on each academic standard DAILY.

You want transparency? Let’s give parents smart phone access so they can monitor their child’s academic growth 24/7.

Armed with daily updates, parents will be able to conduct nightly “bedtime” conferences with their kids to discuss their academic strengths and weaknesses. Kids can then have sweet dreams of being smarter.

To further shame students into working harder, we can post a “loser” board at the entrance of each school with a list of students who are under-performing and require that they attend after-school and Saturday morning remediation programs.

Instead of after-school sports, cheer, gymnastics, dance, music classes, unstructured play and other such “wasteful activities,” we should ask parents to have their kids read more books, conduct home-based science labs, and practice math flash cards.

With these efforts, test scores would skyrocket and the problems of American public education would evaporate. American education would truly be great again!

What a wonderful world that would be, right?

testing

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4 thoughts on “Another Step Down the Wrong Path

  1. A problem with testing shows how very low the low scores are. Oklahoma Watch did a great job revealing how the lowest 25% did not improve as hoped. The teaching is good. The curriculum just does not work for these students. That is what the tests tell us every year. We grade students every year. We get the same results every year. If the label we assigned to a school site was how many students scored in the lowest 25% state wide, that would be worse than what we are doing. It is so ugly it is unthinkable. Assigning A -F is similar, but more civilized. Is our states testing civilized?

  2. I don’t know Rob. I agree the test scores are only one measurement tool and they should not be the entire focus. My students last year were on the same level as the year before(same math levels if you know what I mean) and I had a significant increase in test scores from the year before. I did try some new things, and I will continue to do those this year with the hope that it will continue to help. But only one person has asked me what I did differently in the classroom to cause that kind of increase. It is just water under the bridge now and yet I am reflecting on the differences because something clicked with that group. Yes, it is only one test but it is a measuring stick. Of course, my subject area will no longer be state tested. I have shed no tears. But there are some things I did, like L to J because I saw it work, but that is no longer being encouraged—at least not in the way I did it. I mean, it produced better results but we don’t want to do it the same way. I don’t understand that either. I will say the 7th grade students I taught 31 years ago could handle a lot more in the classroom which left a lot of time for creative activities, etc. My question is why after 31 years am I getting a student that cannot do the things they did when I first started teaching? Why is a grammatical sentence such a rarity at the grade level I am teaching? To me the only place to look is in lower grade levels to see what is and what is not being taught. It is quite complicated. But my team leader and I are going to try something new next semester to help those struggling students. You also have to ask yourself what have schools and society and parents contributed to children to cause them to not be able to cope with the results of an election? Why does TCC have to offer stress release rooms with therapy dogs and yoga classes, etc. for their students to make it through the end of the semester?????? I heard that on the news tonight. So many questions—-it is time to think outside of the box—–really outside of the box. I miss our chats. Hope you are well.

    • Thanks for posting a thought-provoking comment, Pam. You’re right that tests can have value, when used diagnostically and not punitively. But, I also know you well enough to say your focus on having your students truly understand the meaning of historical event and make relevant connections to current events. Content knowledge is essential to formulate accurate and credible arguments. So, how do we create better thinkers and problem solvers when schools are told test scores are 80% of their grade?

      Anyhow, great thoughts! That’s why I occasionally write a post like this – to get people stirred up and thinking 🙂

      And, yes, we will need to get together sometime soon to catch up on gossip!

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