“A system that labels children as failures” was first published in the Stanford Advocate on Friday, December 19, 2014.
Wendy Lecker: A system that labels children as failures
A widely acknowledged flaw of the No Child Left Behind Law is that its accountability system based on inaccurate and narrow standardized test scores unfairly, even if unintentionally, labels schools and students as failures.
So it is unconscionable that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s outgoing Education Commissioner,Stefan Pryor, would agree to a new testing program that intentionally deems Connecticut’s children failures. But that is exactly what Pryor and other leaders from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC) did in a closed-door meeting in November, where they established passing rates for Connecticut’s new Common Core tests.
Pryor and the others voted to set the SBAC cut scores so that only 41 percent of 11th graders will pass in English and 33 percent will pass in math. In elementary and middle school, only 38-44 percent of students will pass in English and only 32-39 percent will pass in math.
Standardized test passing rates are based on arbitrary and political decisions about how many students decision-makers want to fail. SBAC admits it cannot validate whether its tests measure college readiness until it has data on how current test takers do in college. In fact, SBAC declares that the achievement levels “do not equate directly to expectations for `on-grade’ performance” and test scores should only be used with multiple other sources of information about schools and students.
Since the vast majority of factors affecting test scores occur outside school, test scores are poor measures of school quality, teacher quality and student performance.
Yet, with his November vote, Pryor guaranteed that many successful Connecticut students and schools will now arbitrarily be declared failures.
High-stakes testing has proven to be ineffective and damaging to learning. The only way to reduce their effect is to lower the stakes. Vermont’s educational leaders recognize this and advocate abandoning unnecessary yearly testing.
Commissioner Pryor has just done the opposite and raised the stakes to a ridiculously high level.
So it is stunningly hypocritical that Pryor would claim at the Dec. 3 State Board of Educationmeeting that he seeks a less heavy focus on testing. His SBAC vote proves that claim false.
Moreover, his proposal for a “next generation accountability system,” unveiled at the meeting, is even more reliant on test scores.
In addition to the guaranteed-failure SBAC scores, he plans to judge schools using “growth” scores. As I explained in a 2012 column (http://bit.ly/1sOOxFc), so-called growth scores are rough estimates of what someone approximates as achievement. They are wholly inappropriate to judge schools. Moreover, testing expert W. James Popham told me that these scores have “essentially no diagnostic value whatever to teachers, parents or students.”
To show children are receiving a well-rounded education — including art and physical education — Pryor proposes tests in these subjects.
There are more accurate ways to determine whether children receive adequate physical activity, such as reporting the hours of gym and recess each week and the extent of physical education facilities. The same is true with the arts.
If schools cannot afford art, music, or gym teachers or equipment, that resource deficit is likely the state’s fault, not the schools’.
In high school, Pryor plans to count even more tests: IB, AP, SAT and ACT scores.
Another measure in Pyror’s new school-rating system is attendance. Beyond threatening consequences or referrals to Family Services, schools have little control over absences. Moreover, if a school has inadequate resources to employ staff to help ensure attendance, should the school be accountable or the state?
Schools will also be rated by their graduates’ college attendance and persistence. Will the state now be blaming public schools for the unaffordability of college?
Pryor claims this new plan is not a punitive “gotcha” system. However, these scores will be the basis to intervene in school districts.
Pryor’s interventions have done more harm than good, as exemplified by the disasters at Milner and Dunbar after he handed them over to FUSE/Jumoke charter school.
This accountability proposal is part of Pryor’s application for a new federal NCLB waiver. Since NCLB’s performance target deadline, 2014, has passed, it is unclear what will happen with the law in 2015. So why apply for a waiver now?
The State Department of Education says it seeks public comment on this plan. Connecticut parents and teachers must tell Pryor that we aren’t fooled by his hypocrisy. We do not need another NCLB waiver or more inaccurate ways to punish schools. It is time to hold policy makers accountable for the damage they are inflicting on our children.
For the original commentary piece go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-system-that-labels-children-as-5969574.php