Sunday, August 11, 2013

Take a Closer Look

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a lot of our NYS Education Commissioner King and Deputy Commissioner Slentz.  Their message has effectively prepared us for the devastating outcomes associated with the 2012-13 state assessments in ELA and mathematics.  As the date for the release of the scores approached, we received many “talking points” to inform our boards, communities, and teachers about the outcomes with explanations of new baselines and how these exams should not be viewed as a reflection on the efforts of students and teachers this year.  Their message, while well-intentioned considering their perspective, seems self-serving and insulting.

The highly trained educators, caring and thoughtful parents, and diligent board of education members across our state are intuitive enough to call this message to question.  How were we really supposed to prepare our students for a newly designed exam – based on a new curriculum – which hadn’t been fully developed in NYS?  To date, NYS has still not disseminated all the curricular documents that our students were tested on last April.  These scores do not represent a new baseline.  They represent the bottom-line.  In the coming months and years, as the state catches up with their own schedule to assist teachers with the necessary curricular items, we will begin to implement a new and robust curriculum. 

In quoting the blog of respected Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder of the Voorheesville Central School District, “If you establish a baseline this low, the subsequent growth over the next few years will indicate that your plans for elevating the outcomes were necessary.  However, it must be recognized that the test developers control the scaled scores—indeed they have developed a draconian statistical formula that is elaborate, if indecipherable, to determine scaled scores.  I would bet my house on the fact that over the next few years, scores will “improve”—not necessarily student learning, but scores.  They must, because the State accepted millions and millions of dollars to increase student scores and increase graduation rates.  If scores do not improve from this baseline, then those ‘powers that be’ will have a lot of explaining to do to justify having accepted those millions.”  This fa├žade was created by designing and executing exams based on a curriculum which hasn't been implemented.  Of course the student scores will increase when the teachers have an adequate opportunity to teach. 

The recently released “talking points” were a necessity to cover the unsuccessful attempt to properly implement new curriculum, not to mention the premature expectation of DDI and APPR requirements based on this curriculum.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to finish the curriculum, allow teachers and students ample time to familiarize themselves with that curriculum and then hold them accountable for the content (Common Core…then DDI based on CCLS’s…then APPR)?  Considering this barrage of new initiatives, not one of them has a chance of being implemented as effectively as it could have been, had NYSED slowed itself down to realistically consider the perspectives of those who would be directly affected.  In doing so, our educational leaders in NY would have gained tremendous support and respect from the professionals they are entrusted to guide.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.  NYSED’s ultimate goal of improving student preparedness for successfully navigating this ever-changing world is, indeed, commendable; and I fully support the preparation of students who are college and career ready.  However, their implementation tactics are questionable.

As described in Dr. Snyder’s blog, when we examine the distribution of student scores, there will be a distinct gap between the scores of children of poverty vs. children who live above the poverty line.  While all have been relegated to a point 30 to 40 percent lower than previous years, the exact curve is absolutely connected to socioeconomic status – which has been historically true in such testing from recent memory.  I would suggest the state should have taken the money used to give these recent exams and place it in programs which assist our neediest families with resources to connect them to the school community.  This cost would not have been slight, considering the price NYS paid to Pearson to create, print, ship (2 ways), analyze, and ultimately – shred, the math and ELA exams, which were unreasonably given to students in grades 3-8.  The programs which we could have implemented to assist in developing positive relationships with our families would have paid NYS back ten-fold and narrowed the performance gap previously demonstrated by students in poverty.

The part of this story which remains mostly untold is the effect on our children.  In a previous Blog post I reflect on the effects which are felt by all.  We will now need to talk with parents and children who previously scored 4’s, only now to be told that they are not considered as good as they thought they were – all because of a manipulation of the scaling of their scores.  We will build up our at-risk and underperforming children who were just told by NYS that they aren’t simply below proficiency, but rather, essentially non-learners.  Children are the unwitting pawns in a massive scheme to prove how these “high standards” are improving outcomes over time. 

As we analyze the information and designate resources to improve instruction, please be assured Norwood-Norfolk Central School remains committed to our Mission Statement, which is to prepare all students to be successful in the 21st Century by engaging them in challenging learning environments that meet the highest academic, social and ethical standards. Students will be empowered to achieve their full potential as creative, purposeful lifelong learners, who strive for academic success, responsible citizenship and well-being in a collaborative, diverse and dynamic learning community.