Since we are talking about standardized testing related to the teacher letter in an earlier blog today, I want to share a good AJC piece by my colleague Nancy Badertscher.
I recommended some experts for the story and am glad to see two of them in the piece.
My only caveat to the views expressed by State School Superintendent John Barge about an over reliance on testing: While Georgia may be de-emphasizing test scores in its assessments of schools, it is about to start emphasizing those same scores in its assessment of teachers.
So, I am not sure we have changed the game plan in any meaningful way.
John Barge was working in Bartow County Schools when a high school student had a panic attack trying to pass the graduation test and a fourth-grader became so stressed taking the CRCT he drew blood stabbing his arm with a pencil.
“I believed well before the Atlanta cheating issue that we place far too much importance on high-stakes tests to determine a student’s abilities, as well as a school’s quality,” said Barge, Georgia’s state school superintendent since 2011.
Some education leaders and researchers — including Barge — say it is time — if not past time — for a national debate on whether high-stakes tests are having the uplifting effects that were promised.
High-stakes tests, such as Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), are expected to play a central role in the criminal investigation of cheating in Atlanta Public Schools. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall received more than $580,000 in pay bonuses above her annual pay in the 12 years she worked for the district, based on academic goals laid out in her contract, and she is suspected of creating a culture of cheating, using threats and bonuses.
According to the nonprofit advocacy group Fair Test: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, cheating involving high-stakes testing has been confirmed in Texas, Ohio, 35 other states and the District of Columbia.
Standardized tests are nothing new in public education. But they took on added significance with the passage of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, determining, for instance, whether a student moves up a grade or graduates from high school. Proponents argue that the tests can improve student achievement and narrow the achievement gap between racial groups. They say that students, knowing the potential consequences, take the tests more seriously and work harder, and that the results allow teachers to more quickly assess when students and schools are struggling and need extra help.
Critics argue that high-stakes testing creates a pressure-filled “teaching to the test” climate that puts aside real learning and increases the dropout rate, largely among low-income minority students.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and former state school board chairman, said, “You’ve got to have a measurement system.” Still, in light of the cheating scandal, Isakson said he believes high-stakes testing is “certainly something we should take a look at. But if you are going to take that away, you’ve got to tell me what the substitute is.”
Alfie Kohn, author of “Feel-Bad Education” and other books, said “we’re at least 20 years overdue for a serious national conversation about the damage that corporate-style, test-driven school ‘reform’ has done to our children and our public schools.. Unfortunately, those who know the least about how kids learn have the most power. And they want to continue the test-based status quo regardless of whether they’re Democrats or Republicans.”
Many educators feel “they must boost scores by hook or by crook,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for Fair Test. “As with any profession, the more the pressure to produce unrealistic results ratchets up, the more people feel compelled to cross the ethical line,” Schaeffer said.
Georgia’s focus on high-stakes test is evolving — somewhat. On one hand, the state is phasing out the make-or-break high school graduation test in favor of a series of tests taken throughout high school. On the other, it’s rolling out a new teacher-evaluation system that factors in how a teacher’s students show growth through standardized tests.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog