Other voices: Give state an F for testing fetish
An editorial from the Greensboro News & Record:
What a wasted opportunity.
It’s been nearly two years since the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act was passed, and for almost that long, North Carolina’s education leaders have talked about taking advantage of the welcome new flexibility to reduce over-emphasis on high-stakes testing.
This was a chance, they said, to come up with fresh ideas and find alternatives to more and more standardized testing, and all that means for how teachers teach and students learn.
When he was running for election last fall, Mark Johnson, now the state superintendent, made “too much testing” a campaign issue and said the state should take advantage of this opportunity to scale back and try something else.
But when the time came for the State Board of Education to come up with its plan for evaluating public schools to comply with ESSA, innovation was absent without an excuse.
How students do on standardized tests will still be the main way North Carolina evaluates its schools. Bill Cobey, the state board chairman, has said the board had little choice.
The problem, it seems is that state legislators are in love with a system under which schools get letter grades of A through F based mostly on how many of their students pass the state exams.
They are so enamored of the system that they overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto to pass a law dictating what should be in the state’s ESSA plan.
The lawmakers wanted to keep that A-F grading system, so, instead of coming up with a more innovative approach themselves, or allowing the state board to do so, they tweaked the grading system to comply with ESSA standards.
The over-emphasis on testing dates to the No Child Left Behind Act, which preceded ESSA. No Child Left Behind, had punishments for schools that didn’t manage to raise test scores. In extreme cases, schools could be closed.
ESSA wisely gets rid of the punishments.
ESSA still requires standardized tests, but it says that states also can use other factors to evaluate schools and individual students. That’s a sensible approach.
Used in moderation, standardized testing is one good way to see how a student is doing and determine areas where she might need extra help. When too much depends only on test scores, however, testing can become an obstacle to learning.
Time that could be used for creative teaching and opportunities that might make children love learning is eaten up by teaching to the test, practice tests and retests. Sometimes, children who need the most individual attention instead are subjected to the most standardized pressure.
And while it can be useful in assessing individuals, standardized testing is less effective in evaluating individual teachers or entire schools. Advocates argue that grading schools based on test scores lets parents know which schools are good or bad, but it also can make sure that schools that are struggling will not improve.
Too often, schools with low grades enroll high proportions of students who live in poverty and face the additional challenges and complications that come with it. Branding them as failing schools penalizes and stigmatizes, even if teachers and administrators are making their very best efforts.
Parents with the means to do so might send their children elsewhere. The type of experienced and effective teachers those schools need most might avoid working there.
And those schools could end up with even fewer resources.
But that may be exactly what legislators who push for more charter schools and private-school vouchers want. It’s a way of sacrificing the futures of our most disadvantaged children to push a political agenda.
The new federal law gave the state’s leaders an opportunity to be innovative in devising ways to evaluate and improve public schools.
Too bad they didn’t take advantage of it.