Standardized Testing Divides Us, Let’s Unite by Sean Matthews is a teacher and represents the 10th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, which includes the communities of Claymont and Talleyville.
How did we get here? In the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008, the federal Department of Education approached cash-strapped states with a proposition: We’ll offer you federal money to keep your education budgets solvent, but only if you agree to the conditions set forth in our newest federal program, Race to the Top (RTTT).
After Delaware “won” a substantial RTTT grant, local districts immediately raised concerns about the strings attached to the money when it came to achievement standards, evaluation of teachers, and local control over schools. In the years since Delaware implemented its RTTT policies statewide, we have seen these concerns deepen and multiply, with standardized testing at the heart of them all.
Rep Matthews, DSEA, all the local unions and all the school boards (not all individual board members) voted yes for Race to The Top. The language was in the RTTT MOU and the deal was cut with Markell. As for Red Clay, Merv was part of Markell’s Race to The Top dream team that went to Washington. However, I was there when DOE Dan told Red Clay’s school board, either you vote for the RTTT MOU and get the money or else don’t and you’ll still be held to the new state education regulations that are aligned with RTTT goals with no additional. Former board president Becnel came a bit unglued and pretty much told DOE Dan to kiss his ass and voted no! The only board member to do so! But yes, Markell boxed the district in the corner and pretty much said if he didn’t get the support for RTTT MOU he’ll cut local state discretionary education funding to the district. Then there was the limo deal and the Judas deal!
Unless we choose to believe that the hundreds of teachers who work in city schools care less about their students than their colleagues in the suburbs, we must acknowledge that poverty, not personnel, is creating the divide in these school systems.
Standardized tests widen this divide, labeling poor students and their schools as “failing” without offering a real solution to the underlying problem that causes the division.
Well here is where you are on to something! Though poverty is no excuse for not learning or not teaching it does impede one’s ability to learn and teach. It is my belief and based on public record the intent of ESEA aka NCLB was meant to address the achievement gap between white and black students. This goes back to 1965 long before surge in illegal immigrants who are not to be denied K-12 education in Delaware. ELL needs have added to the funding drain re: underfunded federal mandate. Now we move into college / career readiness for all students which further strains funding meant to close the achievement gap. Title 1 funding has be used to pay SAT testing fees for all students whereas Title 1 funding was meant to serve the children of poverty. The targeted assistant methodology was push aside for school-wide Title 1 serving schools via school-wide with the high percentage of poverty. Targeted assistant was viewed as a racially identifiable program. However, with the Neighborhood Schools Act many mostly city schools have become racially identifiable and with a minority rate high than prior to the desegregation order. Now it’s referred to as de facto segregation.
It’s easy to label a school “failing” based solely on test scores. It’s easy to create new schools that use enrollment preferences and “counseling out” techniques to weed out at-risk students. But it’s difficult to fix endemic poverty and lagging parental involvement. We need to do the hard work.
You’re on to something rookie! The data that fueled ESEA aka NCLB was clear, minority African-American students particularly African-American male performed well below that of their white peers. Prior to the lifting of court order busing and the passage of the Neighborhood Schools Act the minority population was not as concentrated in any given school whereas now it is and these schools are the lowest performing. It was all predictable! There has been gains in closing the achievement gap and graduation rate for minorities. Something was working and funding to add additional teachers to effectively lower class sizes never materialized. Even with passage of Delaware Class Size law funding wasn’t sufficient. The Class Size Waivers were place by default because the state legislators knew they didn’t legislate funding and created another unfunded mandate.
As far as testing to collect data to better meet objective, how long is long enough? We know the needs and the characteristic of student entering public education at the kindergartner years. Poverty is an indicator. We know what services are need to meet these needs and we know smaller class sizes is “effective”. If we were to take all the funding used for test, the development of testing and the technical hardware and software specifically need for testing and take it and apply it to boots on the ground aka more teachers and paraprofessional we would have better outcomes for high-risk students. Also, all the money being used for consultant could add to serving those needs. The fact is, we know what works and what doesn’t and we know the children likely and via first round of “local” assessments that will most likely track towards high-risk. So test scores are meaningless if we don’t inject intervention with added teachers / paraprofessionals on the front end!
Many of these teachers will tell you that the path we are on is wrong for kids. We want our teachers to teach and our students to learn, free from the threat of being branded as failures, losing their jobs or losing their schools.
And yet Markell and the Rodels of the world feel teacher observations don’t merit real value. Yet, they are in the battle field calling for medics (more teachers and paraprofessionals) and the generals like Markell say hold on we’re working on a new battle plan! The time for planning is long over and the time for action in the trenches (classrooms) is now.
Rep Matthews, you and other newbies represent tomorrow and will be stuck with the fallout of yet another save all education agenda! The house of cards (Markell’s) is shaking and are about to fall and Markell is running around sell telling lies so that the cards won’t fall while he is in office.