School & District Management

Advocacy Group Slams States for Overtesting, Other Policies

By Daarel Burnette II — February 09, 2016 3 min read
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Many states rely too heavily on standardized testing, open their doors too easily to charters and other school choice options, and fall short in adequately paying and supporting their professional teaching force, according to a stinging new report from the Network for Public Education, a group led by the education historian and policy activist Diane Ravitch.

The report, titled “Valuing Public Education: A 50-State Report Card,” rates the states and the nation on an A-to-F scale in a half-dozen categories and overall, based on the group’s policy positions in areas such as teacher evaluation and compensation, testing, and the financial support of traditional public schools.

“The current policy framework that pushes for more testing and privatization has failed,” Ravitch, the co-founder and president of the group, said at a press conference at the National Press Club last week. “It’s insanity. Let’s try some common sense for a change.”

In its report card, the organization gave the nation as a whole a grade of D in every category except for the one on resistance to high-stakes testing, where it was awarded a C. Thirty-seven states, in addition to the District of Columbia, scored an overall grade of a D or F, and 13 received a C, the highest overall grade awarded. (Some states received higher grades—including some A’s—in particular categories.)

Among the specific factors that figured into those scores:

  • A rejection of high-stakes testing for student graduation, promotion, and teacher evaluations;
  • The degree of “resistance to privatization,” including tighter restrictions on charter schools and rejection of parent-trigger laws and vouchers;
  • Measures aimed at gauging equity in school funding, as well as household income and employment, and school integration;
  • A wide range of teacher-related factors, including salary measures, a commitment to teacher experience, and rejection of merit pay; and
  • How well taxpayer money is used, as measured by markers such as lower class sizes, pre-K and full-day kindergarten, and rejection of virtual schools.

Serving as a Counterweight

The Network for Public Education was launched in 2013 as a counterweight to what its members saw as a barrage of attacks on teachers and regular public schools after the release of the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” in 2010.

Among other things, the NPE opposes high-stakes testing, what it terms the privatization of public education, for-profit management of schools, and policies that it sees as contributing to a lack of support and respect for teachers.

Instead, the group advocates for racially integrated schools, funding of social services, and replacing annual bell-curve tests with periodic sample tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Accountability systems should target those at the top, such as administrators, rather than those at the bottom, such as teachers, Ravitch said at the report’s rollout event.

The organization concedes in its report that it set a high bar in rating the states on its policy priorities. It gives an overall failing grade to eight states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas. But the report also notes what it called some “bright spots.” It specifically cited Alabama, Montana, and Nebraska for rejecting high-stakes testing and what it calls privatization. And Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia all received A’s in the “resistance to privatization” category.

“There are no silver bullets in education,” Carol Burris, the executive director of the organization, said at the news conference. “Turning schools around takes hard work, and it happens incrementally over time.”

The NPE report card was modeled after national report cards issued by groups such as StudentsFirst and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which advocate for more charter schools and student choice, among other priorities.

Inez Feltscher, the director of the ALEC task force on education and workforce development, said charters and other school choice programs have proved to be effective.

“Giving parents the flexibility to place their children in the learning environment that works best without undue regulatory interference from state bureaucrats is a win for students, not a reason to give a state a lower grade,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2016 edition of Education Week as Advocates’ Report Hits States for Overtesting, Other Policies

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