Standardized Testing

Up the Down Staircase

Up The Down Stair Case - July 27, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

Sylvia Barrett, an idealistic first year English teacher at inner city Calvin Coolidge High School set out to instill in her students an appreciation of Chaucer and all things classic until in her classroom she found broken windows, no chalk and nothing but promises that books will arrive…late.

Ms. Barrett, is the main character in Bel Kaufman’s bestselling 1965 book, Up The Down Staircase using memos, notes, letters and scraps of paper to expose the trials of a teacher. Student indifference, rules, lack of parental involvement, more rules, poor building maintenance and rules as far as the eye can see are some of the issues that jeopardize the future of career teachers.

Bel Kaufman was born in 1911 in Berlin, emigrated to the United States in 1923 and wrote Up The Down Staircase in 1965.  Forty-nine years later, Bel Kaufman is still living in New York and continues to write. Unfortunately, many of the issues that the 103 year old author exposed a half century ago still exist and still impede our educational system.

What made her book a bestseller and the 1967 film of the same name so popular was another issue that still exists.  Bel Kaufman gave us insight into the hearts of millions of teachers and why they continue to do what they do in the face of constant battering and adversity.  They are special people who defy reason and accept low pay, long hours and a lack of respect.

The common thread is that teachers accept this challenge because they were once touched by a teacher. In Kaufman’s book, Sylvia considers quitting, but realizes in the end that she is indeed touching and bettering the lives of her students.  Sylvia encountered what society threw at her and because she was a teacher she remained faithful.  We are to be thankful for thousands of teachers across Oklahoma who have the heart of Sylvia Barrett.

Answers are not simple.  Today, Oklahoma’s attempt to establish a meaningful curriculum is at a crossroads. How we got here is often misunderstood.  By its very nature, education has two components, instruction and assessment.

While we rail about the federal government’s intrusion into curriculum (instruction) we should be more concerned about the role it plays in assessment (testing).  Until 2001, the federal government’s funding stream was pretty well limited to schools serving impoverished children pursuant to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Everything changed in 2001 when President George W. Bush signed the well-intentioned “No Child Left Behind” and pronounced that “The fundamental principle of this bill is that every child can learn, we expect every child to learn, and you must show us whether or not every child is learning.”

NCLB provided that if schools didn’t improve, they faced significant consequences and could be shut down with teachers and administrators replaced. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said it was harmful and “led to a dummying down of standards, led to too much of a focus just on a single test score.”

Unfortunately, NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND IS STILL THE LAW and it will likely remain so as long as partisan gridlock in Washington cannot agree upon the color of the sky.

So rather than replace NCLB, the Department of Education issues waivers and awards funding based on incentivizing the same principles of NCLB.  One form of incentive is called “Race To The Top” and funds those states that establish and maintain high academic standards while states that do not simply…did not.

“Priority Academic Student Skills” (PASS skills) used in Oklahoma and other states were universally considered insufficient to compete for Race to the Top funding.  In response, the National Governors Association used private foundation money to develop Common Core as adopted by Oklahoma and 44 other states.

Oklahoma therefore enjoyed a NCLB waiver and Race To The Top funds. Lost in the concept is that while the Common Core curriculum was not federally developed, the federal government did spend about $350 million developing the test that is to be used to evaluate performance.

Therein lies the problem. Oklahoma’s children need to know that two buffalo plus two buffalo equals four buffalo and young Texans better reach the same numerical conclusion even though they may choose to count longhorns in the Lone Star State while Arkansans may count razorbacks and our neighbors to the north may use Sunflowers as the object of their math problems. Such goes curriculum.

But when high stakes test scores are the basis for advancement, salary adjustment and all things important, it really doesn’t matter what the curriculum says. Teaching to the test becomes the means to success and that problem will continue so long as NCLB remains the law.

It is Up The Down Staircase all over again.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, please call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

C.O.N.T.R.O.L. over K.A.O.S.

C.O.N.T.R.O.L. over K.A.O.S. -- For the Common Good - April 20, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

During the height of the Cold War and in the shadow of the Space Race a new cinematic genre of counter-espionage came to the silver screen. In 1962 with the theatrical release of Ian Fleming’s Dr. No starring Sean Connery as 007, we were introduced to a suave, intelligent and always successful secret agent who perpetually had just the right technology to escape certain death, save western civilization from those behind the Iron Curtain and woo beautiful women.

The celluloid on that first “Bond, James Bond” movie had hardly been rewound when, in 1963, the marquee on movie houses across the country advertised the appearance of Peter Sellers and his portrayal of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in The Pink Panther and the good guys continued to win.

Bond and Clouseau were the biggest things out of Tinsel town and it only took a few months for the general storyline to migrate to television and living rooms across the country.  Get Smart, a creation of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry premiered in 1965 on NBC.

With KAOS (an “international organization of evil” formed in Budapest, Hungary in 1904, but later incorporated in Delaware for tax purposes) looming, our government had no choice but to establish CONTROL, a secret intelligence organization whose most dependable agents were Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), played by Don Adams, and his beautiful sidekick, Agent 99, played by Barbara Feldon.

Each episode began with Maxwell Smart entering a normal looking building then proceeding through an abnormal series of secured doors, each slamming behind him until he ultimately arrived at a basement phone booth that dropped him into the top secret and super secure environs of the headquarters of CONTROL so that he could receive his next assignment from the Chief of the agency.

Of course Agent 86’s arsenal of gadgets rivaled that of 007’s.  In an era where telephonic communication was conventionally tied to a landline, Max’s telephones were concealed in a number of objects including neckties, combs, belts, wallets, watches and clocks and even garden hoses.  However no concealment was more memorable than the original “Smart Phone” concealed in a shoe that he had to remove from his foot to answer and exposed a dial when the sole was pulled away.

While the fictional Brooks and Henry scripts always allowed CONTROL to prevail over KAOS, the chaos in Oklahoma’s educational system is for real and the solutions do not lay in gadgets, gimmicks or excessive testing.

The goal is clear. Children need to learn to read early so that they can read to learn through school.  Unfortunately, the demographics are difficult. For hundreds of various reasons, many children get NO encouragement toward literacy at home and despite the untiring efforts of overwhelmed and understaffed grade school teachers, many students are not reaching the reading proficiency that is needed.

Tragically, the State Department of Education has poured millions of dollars of Oklahoma’s education funds into testing third graders rather than directing those funds toward tutoring and remediating learning readers in the first and second grades.  The State Department of Education seems to be more interested in dropping a hammer than educating children.

The goal is clear. Children need to receive an education to enable them to compete globally. Unfortunately, text books are outdated.  During a recent discussion that I had with over a hundred fifth graders in my District, they raised this issue and wanted to know why their science and history texts were 10 years or more out of date.

Tragically, the State Department of Education would rather distribute Oklahoma’s scarce educational budget to testing companies than purchasing new textbooks.

The goal is clear. High School students need to be prepared for college. Unfortunately, disruptive batteries of tests that do nothing but appease the State Department of Education (and line the pockets of testing companies) displace valuable and irreplaceable instruction time.

Tragically, intensive testing began in school districts this last week. As an example, one school in my legislative district has four computer labs.  All four labs will be occupied solidly for the next six weeks by students taking state mandated tests.  During that entire period, the computer science classes will be idle since every computer that the school has will be occupied.

The problems do not stop there.  Schools are not told what a passing score is until after the tests are completed and a school that achieves a pass rate of 98 percent will be marked down the next year if it does not attain a pass rate of 99 percent.

 Another problem is the special education student that is required to be given modified classroom tests throughout the year ­until the last six weeks of school when the state mandates that all students, including special education students be given the same test with no accommodation.

Teachers are not the problem in today’s educational system.  Tell them what they need to teach and they will do their dead level best to reach that goal. 

There is a lack of understanding on the need for state mandated testing.  The State Department of Education believes that testing causes learning. Running a calf across a scale every day does not make it gain weight any more than pulling up young plants to check the length of their roots makes their roots grow.

If we must have a state mandated test, let’s use the ACT test which is proven, does not disrupt classroom time and eliminates the waste of 85 to 90 percent of the money going into the pockets of testing companies.

In Get Smart, there was a character named Agent 13 who was always stationed in unlikely places such as a locker, a trash can or even a cigarette machine or washing machine. He was there to readjust the mission or provide assistance to Maxwell Smart when things were going badly.

Educators and their students do not have an Agent 13 unless you and I take that role.  That is why they need you to get engaged, become involved, learn about the issues and vote intelligently.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.