Thursday, May 17, 2007

Testing, testing, more testing

My state is reviewing the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (PACT), a set of tests used to measure students' progress and used as part of measurements for No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Everyone hates the test and schools spend a large amount of time preparing for the test. "Teach the test" is an often heard phrase. As someone who has seen this as a parent since its inception and a husband of a Special Needs teacher for 5 years, my I see two very different sides.

First as a parent, I have seen the time required to "teach the test" drop each year. The first few years, there was probably a month spent preparation. No one understood, the reasons were unclear, and everyone was frustrated. Now, the time to "teach the test" has dropped to about a week (admittedly, my youngest stopped taking the test 3 years ago - but I saw this when he was in the 8th grade).

As a husband of a Special Needs teacher, I sense frustration that all students are judged on the same level and some of these students are no where near that level.

To understand the reason for PACT and NCLB, one needs to take the way-back machine to the 90's. A time when parents and tax-payers were frustrated over schools. It was a time when business impacted everything, if we could just run the schools like a business, everything would be great (yeah, right). Business used terms like Return on Investment and the ROI for schools just wasn't there. We (collectively we) wanted a way to measure the ROI for schools. Goals 2000 came up (there were probably predecessors) to establish goals for schools. This evolved into what is now known as No Child Left Behind.

The question is, who measures the progress? Well it has to be the schools, the teachers and the school systems. Who designs the measuring stick? Well, as an investor (taxpayer), I should be the one who does, but frankly I (and collectively we) am not capable. So we leave this to school administrators and politicians (who could ask for anything more?)

So the result is we try to business-ize school, have un-qualified people set the standards and measure based on those standards.

So who is to blame for the mess? First, I have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of teachers and schools. Had we been getting results in the 90's, students who could read, write and learn, we would not have had the investor (taxpayer) push to "fix" things.

Second the blame needs to fall on politicians who took what started as a mess and made it worse. They should have realized that education can not be run like a business and let the educators decide how to "fix" things.

Third, the blame lies on local school boards for not pushing back on the federal government. Local districts can opt out of NCLB and forfeit federal funding. Instead, the push is for more federal involvement and that can only mess things up more. To my knowledge, only one district in SC has even considered opting out. The local boards need to be more agressive in setting standards and enforcing them.

Finally, the blame lies with me (and collectively us). I am the one who elects the local board, the state and federal politicians. I should spend more time understanding the requirements, the candidates and I should spend time at the school board meetings. I should not abdicate my responsibility to teach things outside the three R's. It's my job to teach honor, respect and yes even to teach sex education to my children (they will be horrified). It's my job to help my children with their homework (although once they get to Calculus, I'm outta here - I forgot that 20 years ago). By doing my job, I allow the teachers to do theirs.

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