I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

About the Scaled-Back Testing.....

The Pensacola News Journal has a piece today about Escambia County Schools scaling back the number of standardized tests administered annually district-wide.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees we were testing students way too much.

This is not a new issue, and the blame game between districts and the state as to whom it is/was that was requiring so many tests continues to this day; local administrators blame the state for all the testing, and the state blames the districts.

So last legislative session the issue was addressed via a law that limits the number of hours students can spend taking tests.  Many of us feel this law did not go far enough.

Now, the ideological perspectives bubble up, determining what tests to cut, and what tests to keep.

Establishment types, unions, liberals, and other educrats want nothing less than an end to all standardized, summative assessments that actually measure student mastery of content and that carry any real consequences.  While they won't necessarily (openly) admit this, they DO want a return to the days of no accountability, no tests that can group students by ability levels or ----wait for it----- actually prevent social promotion.  They want teachers to be the arbiters of pass/fail, not a test, and this scenario all but assures that social promotion will once again re-emerge even stronger than ever! (teachers can be, and are often, chided into passing students who should not be passed.)

Politicians and lobbyists for the testing industry are agnostic as to the value and or consequences of testing, but simply want more testing, summative, formative, and every type in between that  they can sell. (they make money-- big money--- selling tests).

But conservatives and reformers like me want a better, more balanced approach.  We want fewer tests and more classroom learning time and teacher autonomy.  We don't want the elimination of summative tests, but rather fewer of them and much less "drilling and teaching" to these summative tests.  We understand that an educational world devoid of summative tests does not prepare students for the real tests of life that carry real consequences.  And to focus on formative tests exclusively is lazy and redundant; pop quizzes, classwork, projects, assignments, and homework give teachers the information they need to inform teaching practice to their students.  Keeping only the formative assessments is akin to taking the easy way out and is, no matter what a bureaucrat tells you to the contrary, an act of dodging accountability.

In this battle, the educational establishment types have won this skirmish locally.

Is this a victory though, or is this regression?

On the current trajectory, I see the slow and plodding watering down of assessments that carry any real consequences, under the guise of saving class time and eliminating "high stakes testing".  But

 what is really going on is that we are devolving back to the pre-accountability days of educational status-quo:  Send more money, everyone is a winner, everyone must have not only equal opportunities--but equal outcomes as well, and yes, social promotion will happen with greater frequency than it does today.  Because this is more fair and it is the easier path for bureaucrats to take.

Thank God, the one thing that does still work in America ( with some minor exceptions) is our post-secondary educational system.

This system of colleges and universities nationwide remains the bulwark against a totally fre-form, everyone can do it artificially created utopia of "equal success for all" feel good and no consequences  schooling:

Our top tier colleges and universities are the finest in the world, and the product of these schools is a student population that is the cream of the crop worldwide.

Sadly (or not, depending upon one's view of the bell curve and individual ability) most students that do not possess what it takes academically to attend college will not finish college.

Even if the educrats told them they could do it and despite ACT scores that were pathetic, and even bolstered by U.S. Treasury  tuition grants and loans to go to college --students that  had no business ever even graduating from high school will never finish college, attrition will take them out.

Like the scene from "King Kong" where explorers are shaken from the log and only the strongest will survive, the American College system, by and large, separates the students and rewards the ones that do the work and have the drive to finish, leaving the others who should have never been there (the majority of whom will never re-pay the taxpayer's loans that allowed them to attend college in the first place) to find different paths for their lives. Even If they do squeek by and finish, students that had no business going to college will typically graduate from a lower-tier school that potential employers are very well aware of....

Thankfully, in America, there are many paths to success and not everyone has to go to or even finish college to be successful.

But this whole "let's abandon meaningful summative tests that have real consequences" is going to make college even  harder for some students and it will also make our nation's $1.3 Trillion in at-risk of default student loan portfolio swell even larger.  Is this "success?"  I don't think it is...

This is your brain on drugs, the iconic commercial from the 1970's, comes to mind when I see the way bureaucrats, unions, special interests, detached legislators, apathetic citizens,  and big money test companies set the agenda for education in America--leaving students, parents, taxpayers, and teachers in the back of the bus.....  This is what happens when liberal ideologues join forces with huge special interests and corporate testing entities to control educational decisions and society  and taxpayers pay the price in the long-run.

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