I have been writing a lot about education lately and, yes, it does have a connection to Class Warfare, the topic of this blog, as the current efforts to corporatize our public schools is yet another effort of the monied interests to exert their control over the “proles.” To them, an education has one and only one purpose: to prepare youth for a job in one of their corporations. They care little about citizenship, personal happiness and growth, leading a well-adapted life, etc.
One aspect of their attempted takeovers of public education is the demand that tests be used to not only rate schools, but also to rate teachers. This sounds not all that unreasonable, but consider the reality of this. As just an example, consider an urban or suburban school almost anywhere in the U.S. In many of these schools, students come and go at quite high rates. We are blessed in this country with the freedom to travel and live wherever we can afford to and people avail themselves of this over and over. It used to be military kids that ended up hopping from school to school as their parent got transferred, but now it happens to greater numbers of parents scrambling to find decent work.
So, you test all of the students in a school district and, this year, “good news!” Scores are up 3.4% in reading and 2.8% in math! But 24% of those students weren’t part of the district last year to be part of that comparison. So what does those score improvements mean? They mean absolutely nothing as they are a comparison of apples to oranges, as the cliché goes. You tested two quite different groups of students and their scores came out different; no surprise there.
I used to hammer away at my chemistry students that numbers are fine and good but don’t mean anything until you can interpret them, that is make sense of them in context. Apparently that is not the case for educational “reformers” pushing high stakes testing.
With computers we have the capability to track the performances for those students who were in the district last year and compare their scores to those that are still here this year, but do we? I haven’t seen this done. And if we were to know those numbers what would those mean? I suspect they would mean very little, as you would be comparing fourth graders to third graders, for example. But, we must then set up standards for what a fourth graders and third graders know and can do, no? Ah hah, these have been set up, but are they accurate? If the third grade standards are just a little bit high, the scores for third graders would be artificially low and if the standards for fourth graders are a little bit low, the scores would be artificially high. And any measure of how fourth graders have “progressed” from the third grade would show an increase that has nothing to do with reality.
So, what about comparing the third graders to the fourth grades and tracking that improvement over time? Now we are starting to see approaches that might characterize whether students are getting better or not. But what if there is a Great Recession and student’s parents are out of work and can’t support them as well as they did before? What happens to their performance then? Do the comparisons and standards take “externalities” into account? I think not.
I am not opposed to measurement in our schools. In fact I am an advocate of measurement. But I strongly oppose stupidity in all of its forms and I more strongly oppose the pushing of high stakes testing by groups which have motives that are very, very suspect. And isn’t it interesting that many of the reform efforts are fueled by funding from corporations who sell tests and testing equipment, and who manage “charter” schools, and . . . I think you can see where this is coming from, no?