Thursday, June 08, 2006

Are high test scores really worth it?

Sorry for the lengthy post, but these subject bugs me.

I had a talk with a person that shall remain nameless and we got to talking about the educational system here in the OC. Actually, some was based in the OC, but the main subject I'm going to be talking about applies to the entire state of Kentucky and not just here.

It wasn't all that long ago that I saw on the nightly world news that the state of Kentucky was leading the way in educational reform in this country. I don't know if that is still the case, but if it is, I'm worried.

Elementary schools in this state plan most of their year working toward the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) test. They do this because when this system was implemented each year every elementary school must reach a certain goal or score. If a school does well, they are rewarded and if they don't reach their goal or do poorly they can be sanctioned. Over $20 million have been distributed to high scoring schools in Kentucky.

I was having a discussion about this testing system and mentioned that one elementary school in the OC has astronomical scores in comparison to most of the other schools. They consistently score well above what their goal is set at every year. I asked a question about what would happen should their scores drop 10 points. They could still be well above a provided goal, but with a significant drop, how would that be perceived by the powers that be?

Test scores are going up in most every school I believe, but this school in particular has been outstanding from the beginning. One of the highest in the state.

When we were all in elementary school we remember coloring pictures and putting them on the wall for everyone to see and we remember the teacher making little things to put on the wall to help us learn our ABCs or our multiplication tables.

Here is what is interesting. There are regulations that must be followed when administering the CATS test. And one of those regulations, specifically 703 KAR 5:080 around page six, is that any posters or educational things that are decorating the walls of a classroom must not be taken down when the CATS test is taking place. The Kentucky Department of Education feels that stripping the walls of these posters would make the room feel "empty" and shock the students resulting in poor test results.

Are you reading between the lines? There is a neat little loop hole here. What this regulation is saying is that as long as the teacher plasters every inch of wall space with posters displaying core content information, the kids have it at their disposal when they are taking the CATS test.

Sound crazy? The good folks that came up with this loop hole knew what they were doing because they threw in a regulation that the students weren't allowed to leave their seats during the test meaning they can't walk around and get an up close look at the posters.

That means that the posters need to be big for those of you keep score at home.

So, the school I was talking about that has had astronomical test scores right from the beginning seems to have been the first school in the OC to take advantage of this loop hole, but trust me, the word is spreading and if you live in Kentucky, it's happening where you live too.

Here is what I found on the official board of education website for Ashland, KY. in the "Testing Tips for Teachers" section. Here is an abbreviated version of Tip #10 on that website so I can shorten this post a little bit.
Q: Why can posters stay on the walls during the state-required assessment... ?

A: ...KDE has made the conscious decision not to force teachers to remove things from walls and sterilize their rooms because of the time involved and the possible negative impact on students. Student's may be upset by a suddenly "empty" and blank room and not be able to perform to the best of their ability. The Administration Code for Kentucky's Educational Assessment Program 703 KAR 5:080 addresses this on page six of the regulation:

"Materials may be placed on classroom walls and bulletin boards for instructional purposes anytime during the year. Lesson plans shall contain documentation of the relationship between posted materials and instruction..."

I can appreciate showing the kids how to figure things about by using the posters over the course of the year, but providing them information that they could be tested on to be on the walls so that they can simply reference it instead of know it, bothers me. And I don't even have any kids.

The only reason these schools are putting these posters on the walls is so they can get high test scores, not because they feel that it is helping their students. They just want the rewards that come with the high scores so they can keep their jobs even if it means sacrificing the students quality of education. And don't believe that the students aren't being told to use those posters during the test and that teachers aren't encouraged to create the posters.

Another interesting aspect to this issue is that you can't display posters in a room unless that subject was taught in that specific room throughout the year sometime. Some schools have teachers that teach one subject to an entire grade whereas other schools have one teacher teach all subjects to a specific group of kids.

That being said, I asked the question, "How can the kids that go to different teachers for different subjects do well on the tests if they are moving from room to room like junior high and high school students do?" Because only a single subject would be taught in a teacher's room and who knows what room they'll end up in during testing.

The trick is that the students don't move around. They stay in one room and the teachers come to them so the posters are displayed in one specific room for those students.

This is just screwed up. But I'm very interested to see how kids will fair in junior high school after six years of:

Step 1: Read the question.
Step 2: Find the poster.
Step 3: Answer the question.


my_merlin77 said...

I could go on for hours about my problem with the way education is done in KY. I am in a unique deboggle, in that having gotten out of the state when I finish my training where do I move. Jobs will play a huge role but assuming that is equal, then we have to think about our child (or children potentially)and the education system in Ky makes me hesitate to move back into that. I can go on for hours about the pros and cons of what content should be taught and what role standardized tests should play. But, I will simply say that i agree with your complaints and this testing situation is absolutely hideous.

Piccu said...

WTF? Deboggle? Is that some kind of psychobabble?

I am not so sure that education in any state is that great. You can always find a good school here and there. Why do you think they have private schools? You could move back to the OC and send your kids to the BD Baptist School. Their teachers do not even have to be accredited.