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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Don’t Worry About Your Test Scores

By Peter DeWitt — August 08, 2013 4 min read
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We were cautioned our test scores would go down. We were told not to worry. We were told not to take these lower scores on our 2013 state assessments...personally. You’ll have to excuse me, but I do. It’s a bit personal when I work with students who cry because they’re worried about their score on state assessments or teachers...good teachers...who worry day and night that the state assessments will make them look as if they are poor teachers.

In education circles, we often hear the word, “performing.”

I don’t want to sound arrogant but most school leaders know more than the state education department does...where teachers and students are concerned. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find professional development and learning opportunities for myself and for the teachers I am honored to work with every day.

Unlike state education commissioners who lack real educational experience, I have spent eighteen years in public education as both a teacher and a principal. On top of that I taught graduate education courses and do a lot of professional writing, but to the state education department I will probably be seen as ineffective or developing.

You know what?

I’m honored to take the title. If ineffective or developing means that I focus on the whole child and don’t push test prep, than I would rather be where my scores take me. I will stand beside my teachers who get low scores based on assessments that were flawed long before they were ever given. Better yet, I’ll make a wager that my teachers are better educators than any state education commissioner ever was. Why? Because I believe in their ability.

Better than that...

I observe their ability every day. When we see things go wrong we discuss how we can change it. When we have an issue we work through how to solve it. Unfortunately, state assessments are no longer able to help us in the process because state education leaders don’t provide us with the true results.

Former state education commissioners had the strength to give us the results so we could do item analysis. We had the opportunity to see where we could improve. Perhaps some teachers could improve how they taught reading comprehension to students or getting their students to find the main details. We don’t know that information any longer, because we aren’t allowed to see where we went wrong...or fathom that we could possibly have gone right somewhere.

And why the wait for these results? Our students took the test in April. They weren’t given a break between ELA and math. They weren’t afforded the same lapse in time that the state education took to deliver the results. Apparently the state education department can take a break. They can take four months to correct the tests and release the results...all during the summer when teachers aren’t working. They wait for school districts to make a plan so that they can completely turn schools on their heads and make them come up with a new plan. They release the results just before the new school year to negatively affect the school climate.

Why the wait? Because they want us to look like we fail.

Commissioner John King wrote,

There are those who will use the change in students' proficiency rates to attack teachers and principals. That's just plain wrong. I've said over and over again: the change in proficiency rates does not mean teachers are teaching less or that students are learning less than last year. That's why we've made sure the scores will not negatively impact teacher, principal or school accountability."

And yet, they happen to do it the first year parents have access to the results. Results...that come with no explanation.

Why? What’s the point?

If you were going to change the tests to make them more difficult, why do it the first year you tied them to teacher and administrator evaluation? Please tell me you don’t think that in the back of a parent’s mind that they won’t think that these test scores are the end all to be all. Please tell me that you are not so naïve to think that this won’t create more issues for schools?

I just want to know...how will this help us?

We Saw This Coming
In a recent, excellently written Answer Sheet blog, Carol Burris wrote,

Their failure, of course, was preordained. This drop was predicted by Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz in March before any bubble was filled and by Commissioner John King who declared that scores would "likely drop by 30 points" before the last test was sealed in its packet. If a teacher in my school told me that he designed a test that was so hard that the passing rate would drop by 30 points and the majority of his students would fail, I would walk him to the door."

In a speech that John King gave at a Network Team Training he stated that he grew up not trusting adults. Apparently that feeling never went away, and now I am in agreement with him. There is no trust between the state education department and the public school system. What’s worse is that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan felt the need to back John King in anticipation of these scores.

According to this report Arne Duncan supported King by stating that, “The tests that New York students took last spring will establish “a new baseline measurement of student learning.”

Let me ask you...as a human being would you ever force children to take a test that is much too difficult for them? It’s over 80 minutes long...three days one week and three days the next, and then have the gull to make the excuse that this was just merely a new baseline? A new baseline that also happened to be tied to teacher and administrator evaluation for the first time?

In the End
I’m angry. I’m angry that we can work hard to innovate by flipping our classrooms, faculty meetings and parent communication and none of that matters. I’m angry that I continue to have teachers step outside of the box...very brave teachers, and get pummeled because their children did not do well on state tests...that they were never supposed to do well on in the first place.

I’m angry that we share professional articles and buy into what the most brilliant minds in education tell us to do and our professions and the education of our children have been undermined for someone’s political gain.

I am tired of people who expose our students to accountability and mandates that they would never expose their own children to all because they are out to prove that somehow we are failing. It’s not our public education system that failed us this week...it’s our state education department that failed us.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.