Friday, February 22, 2013

We Can Not Test Our Way to a Better Future!



If you follow the current educational trend, you will clearly see the National Standards Movement motoring along. That locomotive alone does not keep me up at night - the freight car attached, aka "High Stakes Assessment" does. I believe agreeing on a national set of standards of what we believe kids should 'know and be able to demonstrate  is a good place to start. The high stakes assessments used to measure progress is what is potentially frightening. Again, measuring progress is a good thing. Each district and board should review the data of their students. They should determine if the results align with their expectations. Instead, these high stakes assessments are used by the State as the only real factor that determines the performance of the district, school and now teacher. These assessments are not designed to be used that way. In order for us to become a future global leader and give our children a fighting chance, we must change this. Create a national set of standards, and then let the districts loose to pave their own path to excellence.

Diane Ravitch writes, "Over the past four years, I have learned what we need to do. First, we must end the pressure on teachers to teach to the test. I have said it before and I will say it again: We want teachers to teach with creativity and passion. I call on states not to pay bonuses to teachers to produce higher test scores and to stop evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students. We now realize that this causes teaching to the test. That must stop now. Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but they should be evaluated by other professionals, not by their students’ test scores".

I could not agree with her more. Assessments are designed to be narrow in scope and only tell a partial story, therefore, they should not be used to determine the evaluation of a teacher - school - or district. Too much testing crushes creativity and innovation. Sir Kenneth Robinson shared in his now legendary Ted talk that students creativity declines steadily as students progress through schools. Sir Kenneth Robinson Why don't we assess students on creativity and innovation? Because it would simply cost our state's too much money to do so. It is much cheaper to ask a series of multiple choice questions that can be scored easily. I have seen some improvement in this area lately in NJ - but not enough.

Diane Ravitch writes, "We must strengthen and improve our public schools. We must end all efforts to privatize them. I am firmly opposed to vouchers. I will cancel federal subsidies to any charter school that does not seek out and enroll students with disabilities and students who have dropped out. I call on the states to prohibit for-profit schools and for-profit management of schools. Every dollar taken from taxpayers must go to classrooms, not to investors".

Personally, I am not opposed to choices for parents - which may include charter schools, there are some great examples of well run charters - but what I am against, is condemning public schools and having a privatization agenda. Those with such agendas use and manipulate the assessments in order to label and condem schools that are educating some of the most challenging populations - populations chalked full of poverty - some invested with violence and drug abuse. These schools should be celebrated for their efforts.

I also want to demand that a Charter School be held to the same measuring stick as its public school counterparts. Same enrollment policies, same set of standards - if you study Charter Schools you will see a pattern of low special education enrollment in most. Public Schools are our best hope, if we can work with our policy makers in changing how we evaluate and determine a schools' value. Each local board and district are best equipped to determine their destiny.

We will improve education by improving the lives of children. The United States leads the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. This nasty statistic must be center stage in the education debate. We must dedicate ourselves to reducing it. I feel that one of the biggest 'learning disabilities' holding children back is poverty. By learning disability, I mean that if a child is born into poverty they are automatically behind those who were not. We must invest in early childhood programs in order to give them a fighting chance. We are #24 in the world in providing early childhood education. We must extend early childhood education to all children, especially those who are poorest.

Diane Ravitch writes, "A study last year by the March of Dimes said we are #131 out of 184 nations in assuring prenatal care for pregnant women. Women who don’t get prenatal care are at risk of having children with developmental deficiencies. That is unacceptable."

When all our children start school healthy and ready to learn, we will be a better society with better schools. Let’s start now. Remember, more narrow assessments and labels will not pave the way to a better future for our students. By 2020, the number of college educated people will grow by 19 million while the number of predicted new jobs requiring a college education will grow by only 7 million. This calls for creativity and innovation - not more standardized tests.