Monday, July 20, 2015

So Close...



It certainly has been an interesting few weeks in the education policy world.  After a lengthy debate and many amendments, Congress has gone through with a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act replacing No Child Left Behind with the Every Child Achieves Act.   In my home area of Central Florida, one school district attempted to convince the Commissioner of Education to abandon the statewide standardized assessment for a less expensive alternative.  

The discussion surrounding these two developments has been entertaining and frustrating at the same time.  The entertainment lies in hearing all the great arguments people have against the high stakes testing environment of education policy.  It's been exciting to hear and read more people become vocal about how children are being sacrificed in the mess of "rigor", "accountability", and "standards" as our nation and states struggle to find education policy that works.   It's exciting to hear advocates speak up for educators and give us more authority and a sense that maybe we are valued.

The frustrating part has been the underlying reason to address what has happened.  The arguments to replace what is here are the same arguments that brought us here.  It's mind-numbingly frustrating.  I'm only going to specifically address what happened locally because I thought it was going to be an amazing example of actual change, but it turned out to be disappointing.

On July 13, the Seminole County superintendent sent a letter to the Florida Commissioner of Education appealing to discontinue the Florida Standards Assessment.  I was extremely excited to hear about this development because I'm normally interested in begging my own district to raise a stink with Tallahassee when other districts attempt it.  But not this time.  I respect the Seminole County School Board and the superintendent, but when I read the actual letter I was deflated when I saw:   

"In supporting the Governor's initiative to produce college and career ready graduates, assessment tools need to be aligned to the  Florida Standards and the skills sought by businesses."
When the Orlando Sentinel posted an opinion piece supporting the "Seminole Solution", I again was ready to get my hopes up.  But then I read this gem: 
"Tests are an essential tool to hold schools, teachers and students accountable for results."
I was simply deflated.  These are the same arguments underlying the passage of the ECAA and have been the same arguments framing the national discourse on education.  We have to challenge this notion.  I previously wrote how I disagree with the entire discussion of education, so seeing this argument come so close to a great movement in my own state was quite disheartening. We have to understand that there is no testing solution.

I hear a lot of push for nationally normed tests, or accepted norm referenced tests.  Before we push for these, we'd better fully understand what norm referenced means.  It means that there will always be children who lose.  In norm referenced tests, there is no need to outswim the shark or outrun the bear; only a need to outswim or outrun your friend.  We cannot argue to replace one set of high stakes tests with another set of high stakes tests.  There is no testing solution.

Until we abandon the notion that children are data points we will continue this frenzy of testing, over-testing, accountability, and opting out. Our children are not numbers. We forget that children are people, and people are complex beings. The entire premise of education policy is built upon ignoring this obvious fact.  But we allow the argument without challenge.  Attacking a statewide standardized assessment to replace it with another test dodges the true issue that is hurting children: assuming they are simple.  Children, teachers, and schools cannot be measured simply or quickly. Our blind acceptance that they can be is what will keep harming our children, so we must argue this every time it comes up (even if it's part of a great fight).

I can only guess at how we know if education policy "is working".  Do we look at median household income?  Teacher retention?  Crime rates?  Childhood poverty rates?  Graduation rates?  Youth unemployment rates? Small business development?  Student loan debt? Number of issued patents?  National debt?  Voter turnout?  If we used these "metrics" it would be clear to see that we Left A Lot of Children Behind in our Race to the Bottom.

If we want Every Child to Achieve, we are going about it all wrong.  There is no testing solution.  Children are complex.  Teaching is complicated.  Schools serve a variety of functions that are sometimes difficult to measure.  If we want a solution, we need to let go of our notion of accountability and begin to embrace the notion of true leadership from teachers, parents, educators, and students.

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