Friday, April 17, 2015

Annual Testing Is For Taxpayers, Not For Students Or Teachers

I've noticed a new and interesting kind of honesty in recent debates about testing and accountability. As lawmakers and education leaders try to sell the merits of the current testing regime and respond to the testing revolution that is sweeping the nation, a very telling narrative has emerged. 

Here are three instances that have jumped out at me in 2015.

Example 1:

This was an exchange on January 21st between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference, at the first Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the reauthorization of NCLB. The title of the hearing was Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.

You can watch the exchange here starting at the 1:37:30 mark. (I have truncated questions and responses to emphasize my point.)

Warren to Henderson: Do you see anything in this proposal that would make sure that the states that take this money actually end up helping the kids who need it the most? 

Henderson: Interestingly enough, your point about taxpayer accountability was just reinforced in the last several days by the George W. Bush Institute which issued a report under the authorship of Margaret Spellings that talks about the importance of annual accountability for purposes of ensuring that dollars and tax dollars indeed are well spent. 

Warren: I understand the need for flexibility but if the only principal here is that states can do whatever they want then they should raise their own taxes to pay for it. Throwing billions of dollars at the states with no accountability for the states for how they spend the taxpayer money is not what we were sent here to do. 

(emphasis mine)

So, what does that Bush Institute report say?

Responsible Taxpayer Policy: We believe in accountability for results for taxpayer dollars. The federal government’s role should be discrete and judicious, allowing state and local policymakers to make day to day classroom decisions about the education students are receiving.  However, in exchange for the nearly $15 billion in federal education funding that states and districts receive (and the over $1.3 billion that Texas alone receives) to improve education for poor and minority students, it is right and reasonable to expect states to test annually in order to know how every school and every student is performing every year. (emphasis mine)

Example 2:

This past Tuesday Diane Ravitch was on All In with Chris Hayes. She was the counterpoint to Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents. The topic was the testing revolt currently happening across New York state where refusal rates in some districts are approaching 90%.

You can watch the video here, the relevant exchange between Ravitch and Tisch starts at the 5:20 mark.

The face Tisch made when Ravitch says the
tests provide no instructional gain.
Ravitch: Now, when we talk about the results of the tests, they come back 4-6 months later, the kids already have a different teacher, and all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can't see an item analysis, they can't see what the kids got wrong, they're getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids because there is no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value. If you go to the doctor and you say, "I have a pain" and the doctor says, "I'll get back to you in six months" and then he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state but he doesn't have any medicine for you.

Hayes to Tisch: How do you respond to that?

The face Ravitch made when Tisch started talking
about the $54 billion taxpayers spend on schools 
Tisch: Well, I would say the tests are really a diagnostic tool that are used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state. New York State spends $54 billion a year on educating 3.2 million school children. For $54 billion a year I think New Yorkers deserve a snapshot of how our kids are doing, how our schools are doing, how our systems are doingThere's a really important data point...

Hayes has a hard time jumping in to make his point
Hayes: Wait, let me just say this though, I just want to point out something. That was interestingly non responsive to what she said, right? She's saying this doesn't work as a diagnostic tool for the child or the teacher, you're saying this is a diagnostic tool for the taxpayer who's funding the system to see if the system is working(emphasis mine)

Example 3: 

At a Town Hall meeting yesterday another NJ citizen confronted Governor Christie about PARCC. Here's what happened.

Later, Marlene Burton, 77, of Ridgewood, called the Common Core educational standards "shoddy" and the new standardized tests known as PARCC "a waste of time." What, she asked, was Christie going to do about that?

Christie, who once declared that he and other governors were "leading the way" on Common Core, said he had "concerns" about how the standards had been implemented and was awaiting a report he commissioned to study them.

The report, he suggested, would provide guidance as to how to "amend or abandon" Common Core, Christie said.
Conservatives have denounced the standards as federal encroachment on the classroom, though they were developed by the National Governors Association and education experts.

Christie said he wasn't wedded to the PARCC exam specifically but was committed to testing, saying, "Every taxpayer has the right to know: Are those children getting what they're paying for?" 
(emphasis mine)
To me, the "aha moment" Chris Hayes had in the interview with Ravitch and Tisch perfectly exemplifies the awakening parents across the country are experiencing. There is a dawning awareness that these tests are not for the benefit of our kids, their teachers or their schools. The true purpose of these tests is finally being revealed - they are a measure used to hold the public school system accountable for the tax dollars they receive.

I find the honesty of these statements refreshing. Let's be direct and open about this. 

The tests are not for the benefit of students or teachers, they're for the benefit of taxpayers. 

Lawmakers and education leaders like Tisch need to be direct and honest about this. Let them try to explain to parents that the test has no value for children, but they will lose arts programing, recess, librarians, guidance counselors and nurses so that tax payers can be sure their tax dollars are being well spent. Let them explain to parents that their kids won't get any anything out of it, but at 8 years old they will to be subjected to 8 hours of high stakes standardized testing and countless hours of test prep so adults can justify spending tax dollars to foot the bill for public education for all kids. 

Those are pretty hard messages to deliver - no wonder they've been trying to convince parents the tests are good for kids. 

Problem is, every year less and less parents buy it.


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