How to Create A Failing School System

A zombie idea that simply doesn’t not die is that the U.S. educational system is failing, even though students are performing far better on standardized tests than their parents (and younger grandparents) ever did. Well, one way to keep this zombie shuffling along is to create a student evaluation system designed to lead to high ‘failure’ rates. From the Great State of Connecticut (boldface mine):

…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.

Using certain cutoff scores based on achievement based on a set of standards or outcomes (“college readiness”) isn’t inherently bad. But deciding on a whim to label many schools as failing–which is what this policy does–is simply an attempt to increase the apparent, albeit false, need for education ‘reform.’

As is the case with education reform, it gets worse (boldface mine):

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’.

The emphasized part demonstrates the fundamental flaw in education reform–it does not attempt to measure available resources. Instead, as the old workplace poster goes, the beatings are to continue until morale improves.

Years from now, we are going to look back on this era and wonder (assuming we’re still literate) how we could have been so foolish as to think an evaluation system is the same as providing adequate resources for all of our children.

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