Sunday, September 25, 2011

NCLB and Student Accountability

State test scores are out, and education reformers and critics need to take a good look at discrepancies in the state testing model. Basically, these tests are completely unreliable, and it comes down to one simple fact that no one is willing to talk about.

Students don't try on these tests. Period.

Like many schools, I know, state test scores for my high school are less than impressive. These disappointing results conflict the reality that my school is one of the highest performing schools in the country. The Washington Post and others regularly rank it in the top 2% in the country. Some researchers have concluded it is one of the top 30 schools in the nation for preparing students for college. My school regularly has between 25 and 35 National Merit scholars. It's schoolwide pass rate for AP exams is above 90%. Students rack up more than $20 million in scholarship money to some of the top schools in the country. Our ACT scores - especially in English - are through the stratosphere.

Yet, on state tests 40% of students are below proficient in writing. That reading numbers are almost that abysmal.

Students simply don't put much effort into these tests. Some skip the tests - or ironically go on college visits - resulting in zeroes on the tests. The students know these score don't matter - and the scores are worst for sophomores. That's a year before they absolutely rock the ACT, SAT, and AP scores. That's two years before 95+% graduate and go on to top schools and universities. The top students actually showed that smallest gains, and had actually dropped the most from past years. And, yet, state rankings are now counting these scores for as much as 25% of the overall ranking. And, these scores are to be used - according to new laws - as 50% of a teachers evaluation.

This discrepancy is absolutely outrageous. And, while I am not a union member, this lack of student accountability could be the one thing that could put me on the front lines of labor negotiations ... with a bull horn.

Students are no longer putting adequate effort into state tests that have no accountability for them. This situation must be the primary focus of school reform.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Student accountability? Not right... not while children are forced to go to school and/or be "educated" to any state standard whatsoever.

But we're in closer agreement than you might think.

I also would object to using test scores alone to somehow keep teachers "accountable." If anything, principals and school boards should have total control over who stays and who goes and why... not some fill-in-the-oval test. Really I don't get why teachers' unions aren't more riled about that whole idea. Wouldn't that be a very LARGE problem due process-wise? Maybe there is something I'm missing here, but I am not a public schoolteacher.

mrelliott said...

Completely agree with what you are saying. My former high school was a non-performing school with the tests. Unfortunately, the school was non-performing in other ways as well, i.e. scholarships, college acceptance. The amount of changes, stress, pressure the teachers went through all for the sake of test scores was the hardest thing I've ever been through in my years of education. What made it twice as hard were the student comments, "Why are we doing all this stuff for the tests? Don't they know we don't care?"

In the end, three years later, we achieved the necessary test scores, however, having gone through it, I can tell you there were some questionable things done by the administration, if you know what I mean. And, I question whether the test scores are a true measure of student ability, or administration manipulation.

I never agreed that testing students would make teachers more accountable. There are too many factors that render the results as invalid, such as lack of accountability of the students, apathy, absenteeism. Achievement levels will continue to stagnate or drop until the youth in our country begin to take their education seriously, and THIS begins in the home.

mmazenko said...

Student accountability not right ... because they are required to go to school? What?

For all intents and purposes kids are not forced. Unless they're getting in trouble, no one is looking for them.

My sister home schools her six children. Dozens of parents do the same in around her. No one from the schools or state has ever inquired about them. Ever.

But if they are in school ... if they enroll ... then you're darn right they ought to be accountable.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

No, Mr. Mazenko, they shouldn't be "accountable" unless the entire education system is completely voluntary... as in, one never needs to learn to read or write, attend school or whathaveyou. I wasn't particularly bringing homeschool into it... but no matter where/how my children are educated, compulsory education laws still apply. I just think people should be free. That's all.

At least teachers choose the profession knowing what the deal is testing-wise, but even students who are homeschooled, whose parents opt them out of the "system" in any way possible legally, don't really have the choice to avoid this testing in many states.

This is not how we treat free people and I don't care if a majority voted for it and think it's for the kids' own good. There are some things that are just plain wrong and violate the civil rights of American citizens, is how I see it.

So, we disagree there but not on the fact that the tests are pish-posh. :)

PS If your sister homeschools in Colorado, she still is subject to giving "annual notice" (!) and testing as well:

Anonymous said...

Many, many kids who go on to college can't write. The fact that many got good AP scores doesn't indicate that they can write.

On one hand, you're right -- why should any student put forth effort on these tests. On the other hand, why should they NOT at least kill the hours trying to do well and figure things out. If the tests are easy, and the students aren't into meditation, what else are they going to do with the time?

mmazenko said...

If the score came from AP Lang/Lit it definitely means they can write. And my school's pass rate is 92%. My rate of 4s and 5s is 80%.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that if they have done OK with AP lit/comp or similar, they certainly should be proficient from the state's perspective. I was speaking more generally with regard to AP tests, and I stand by the basic statement that many students who go to college can't write well.