Oklahoma, like Texas, has overreached in its testing and the legislature is responding with rollbacks after getting an earful from parents, teachers and other voters. What kinds of legislation is being appealed?
- “…the mandatory retention of third-graders who fail the state’s reading assessment administered under the Reading Sufficiency Act” which was repealed by overwhelming majorities in both the house and senate
- The common core
- A battery of tests in social studies and geography in the 8th grade, which, when coupled with previously passed legislation eliminates all testing of history in the K-12 continuum
- A-F ratings for schools based on assessments
The reasons for abandoning “reform” are mostly political.
“I think their constituents are getting engaged and involved. They are paying attention to the issues, and they will look at their options when it’s time to vote,” said Meredith Exline, president of Oklahoma Central Parent Legislative Action Committee.
Oh… and one other issue came to light after the legislature passed all of these “reforms”: changes require money!
Amber England, government affairs director for Stand for Children Oklahoma, which advocates for school reforms, said repealing mandatory retention could be seen as a sign the government has failed to properly fund reading programs that were supposed to make the Reading Sufficiency Act successful. She pointed to Oklahoma’s ranking as 49th in the nation in per-pupil funding.
“Schools are being asked to do a whole lot of new things, but they are not getting any money to do them,” England said. “These measures are in jeopardy because the Legislature hasn’t provided the money to do them properly.
So this development in OK, hardly the most progressive state in the nation, is heartening on some counts. They demonstrate that voters who are opposed to the top-down imposition of unproven practices can raise their collective voices and effect change— a sign that democracy may still be alive. They provide evidence that legislatures will need to either raise additional funds for “reforms” or pay the price at the polls. And, they indicate that parents are mad as hell about the testing straightjackets and will either unite to repeal legislation or withdraw from the testing regimen.
The development is disheartening, though, because given the choice between providing more funding to make OK’s public school spending competitive with other states or backing down on changes… it decided to avoid increased spending. It is also disheartening because other articles on the Common Core indicate the withdrawal of support for it was based as much on the content of the new standards (i.e. the inclusion of evolution as settled science) was as much a provocation as the common core’s link to testing. Finally, it is disheartening because the children who lived through the poorly conceived testing regimen, the poorly conceived efforts to address their learning deficiencies through the elimination of “social promotion”, and the narrow interaction that resulted from these “reforms” can never recover the time they lost preparing for tests that turned out to be immaterial.
Yesterday’s NYTmes featured an article by Alan Schwarz on an emerging new form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) called “sluggish cognitive tempo” (SCT) which is “…characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing.” Schwarz writes:
Experts pushing for more research into sluggish cognitive tempo say it is gaining momentum toward recognition as a legitimate disorder — and, as such, a candidate for pharmacological treatment. Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how its flagship A.D.H.D. drug might treat it.
It isn’t hard to imagine that Big Pharma and Big Data might be joined at the hip: Big Data tests kids based on their “academic growth” as compared to students in the same age cohort and Big Pharma comes up with a “flagship drug” to treat students whose growth fails to match that of their peers.
Fortunately, at this juncture, the existence of SCT is still in dispute. The article quotes some academics and medical practitioners who are cautious about defining SCT as a medical condition:
“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”
A public health experiment whose patients are too often identified because of our obsession with test scores. Later another skeptical academic was quoted:
Steve S. Lee, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, said in an interview that he was conflicted over the journal’s emphasis on sluggish cognitive tempo. He expressed concern that A.D.H.D. had already grown to encompass too many children with common youthful behavior, or whose problems are derived not from a neurological disorder but from inadequate sleep, a different learning disability or other sources.
The article eventually links the pharmaceutical industry with the medical practitioners who are advocating the identification of SCT as a medical condition, reporting that Eli Lilly underwrote the study that determined that Strattera, their leading ADHD drug, benefited children with this diagnosis. Later in the article, it noted that the physician who identified SCT as a medical condition “…received $118,000 from 2009 to 2012 for consulting and speaking engagements” underwritten by Eli Lilly. The same physician declined to comment on “…his financial interests in the condition’s acceptance.“
Having recently watched The Dallas Buyers Club and had too many instances of cancer diagnoses among family members and friends, I can appreciate where someone suffering from a disease might be annoyed that a drug that might help them is unavailable… But my experience tells me that in too many cases parents, doctors, and teachers often look for a quick and simple way to solve a complicated problem… and Big Pharma is only too happy to provide what the “patient” needs. Before we go any further with this “public health experiment” we might want to take a look at what is leading to the diagnosis of this disorder: our unrealistic expectation that all children will develop at the same rate intellectually and that all children must conform to an education system that defines “daydreaming” as a condition requiring medication.
Jessica Lahey’s post in today’s Motherlode section of the NYTimes purports to provide an overview of standardized testing for parents. From my perspective it implicitly supported the mandates incorporated in Race To The Top, the way NYS implemented it’s testing program, and the value of standardized testing in general. It concluded with this platitudinous paragraph:
As states struggle to align curriculum and No Child Left Behind Act testing to the Common Core State Standards, and decide what role, if any, testing will play in teacher and school evaluation, parents are left to define their role in state and federal government’s efforts to shape the future of education for our children. While parents may choose to opt out of their state’s standardized tests, we can’t choose to opt out of the debate over education and our nation’s effort to assure rigor and higher standards for all children.
Anyone who reads this blog realizes that STATES had no opportunity to “decide what role, if any, testing will play in teacher and school evaluation”. As Superintendent in New Hampshire in 2010 and 2011 I urged my colleagues and the Commissioner to say no to the Race To The Top because it required the use of Value Added Measures (see my white papers elsewhere on this blog for details on this). Furthermore, parent have NEVER been encouraged to enter into the debate over education…. indeed there has been NO debate at the national level over education since 2001 when NCLB was adopted. All of this led me to enter the following comment:
Here are some points readers should also know. First, the Common Core State Standards (CSSS) was a de facto mandate included in Race To The Top (RTTT), the Obama administration’s workaround to the fact that NCLB was not re-authorized. In order to get RTTT funding states HAD to agree that test results would play a role in teacher and school evaluation. There was no public debate on the national level about CCSS, RTTT, the new tests, or the way tests would be used to measure teacher, student and teacher performance. For better or worse our legislators have opted out over the debate over education, ceding the direction we are headed in public education to the US Department of Education. At this juncture, for-profit charter operators, testing companies, and technology magnates are engaged in the “debate over education” while parents, teachers, school boards, and the public are on the sidelines. This marginalization is fueling the opt out movement.
As a reader of Orwell, I know that one way to control the future is to control history… and unless parents are clear about how the CCSS, RTTT, and the testing regimen we have now was put in place they will have no way to fix the problems that are in place.