Thursday, September 07, 2006

A listserve response on curriculum, standards, and tests

Deb hits the issue on the mark. Unless the political climate of the past hundred years or so reverses overnight, we will see little or no real change resulting from a government-run, top-down system. Whether its aegis is with the feds or the states, top-down, government-run systems do not work; though we at least have a chance at the statehouses.

Take NCLB, or its Ohio predecessor, as the example. My district, one of the wealthiest in Ohio, has been improving on state-mandated tests since they were inaugurated almost a decade ago. Not just improving in the number of students scoring proficient, but also in the number scoring accelerated or advanced proficient. The state report card scores imply that we are improving, but improving based on what?

Typically, 35% of our graduates still require remedial coursework at state universities, and the ACT College Readiness Report shows that only 36% of our recent graduates were prepared for college-level classes in the four subjects analyzed.

So, my district is now ranked excellent by the state, yet the colleges and universities are saying that our product is poor. How can that be reconciled?

Let's assume that the feds push through a national curriculum. What will we have? We will have a system similar to that already in place. My district aligns itself to the state curriculum, as well as those offered by entities such as the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics. Per Ohio law, the local board approves its curriculum.

During the approval process, I always ask questions such as, "What is the standard or rubric to evaluate a studen'ts understanding of the content item, 'Student will be able to explain the causes of the Civil War?'" You see, the response to such a content item could be either a simple paragraph or a research task that could easily become someone's life work. The response from the administration is always the anemic, "Our teachers know what it means to attain that standard." If they really know, why can't they convey it to the board member who religiously asks that very same question?

But, you say, the standards are set be the state and are evaluated by the tests. As a member of the Ohio Department of Education's Grade 4 Writing Content Advisory Committee, I have been involved in the creation of state test items. I know firsthand that the tests do not reveal what they claim to show. These committees are stacked by teachers and administrators who reduce state-level tests of curriculum standards to a farce.

The tests are a farce so the supposed improvement is also a farce; just ask the colleges and universities if they are seeing the improvements implied by district scores of state tests.

Anyone who thinks that the feds can and will form a committee that defines a curriculum, standards, and test items, free of educationist bias hasn't paid attention to who actually runs state committees and bureaucracies. The unions and the other pro Progressive Education organizations - such as your own state's school boards association - are always given the biggest stake in any supposed stakeholders meeting.

Legislatures will stand up to these groups the day Ohio ends de facto teacher right-to-work laws. That said, our legislature has been willing to move forward on charters and vouchers since these are outside the public education system - untouched by the committees and bureaucracies, at least initially. Anything that comes out of education committee/bureaucracy system has educationist fingerprints all over it.

Don't expect the feds to have any more will to drive those evils out of the system. If anything, the educationist will be able to gain more power since the goings-on that occur in DC, far from the sights of most of us, stay in DC.

Deb, Your are indeed correct.

Jim Fedako
Member, Olentangy Board of Education

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