Keelan: Can there be a moratorium on standardized school testing?

By Don Keelan

I am thankful that my wife and I don’t have any of our five children in elementary, middle or high school anymore. How today’s parents keep up with all of the changes in testing, grading and curriculum that keeps coming at them from the state and federal bureaucracy is perplexing — it has to be daunting.

A telling example occurred recently when Vermont’s Secretary of Education, Dan French, gave a presentation in Montpelier in mid-December. Michael Bielawski, reporter for TrueNorth, captured most of what French had to say.

Don Keelan

The secretary was not at all pleased with how Vermont’s school test scores have been trending downward. An example was Vermont’s fourth graders. In 2019, only 37% were at the acceptable reading level for their grade. This is six points below what the score was (43%) in 2017. The test was the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

French announced a new program, Lexile and Quantile Frameworks. The program is a creation by a North Carolina firm, MetaMetrics, and according to Bielawski, at a cost of $200,000 per year to the federal government, but free of charge to the Vermont’s school districts.

It was not long ago that Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was in play, preceded by the New England Common Assessment Program, and used for testing Vermont’s students.

Secretary French also noted that a strong adjunct of the new software will be to give students a boost, with the Personalized Learning Plans, a fairly new Vermont policy.

However, the biggest leap of faith was what was said by Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey: “The (new) software can also play a role in helping students figure out what they need to do for life after school.” Unless this has been tested and proven with years of experience, how in the world can a senior state official ever make such a statement?

In Arlington, as well as in several other areas, a brand-new concept for dealing with students is being introduced: Conscious Discipline. According to the ASD’s 2019 Annual Report, the concept “offers school-wide, trauma-informed assistance for transformational social emotional learning, discipline and self-regulation.”

How are teachers supposed to teach, and administrators administrate if they are being showered with acronyms — LQF, SBAC, NECAP, NAEP, and CD — representing new programs, coming at them almost annually from Montpelier and Washington?

I am aware that the classroom of 2020 is by no means comparable to the classroom of the 1950s or ’60s. There is more technology to teach, social diversity issues to cover, and student/family trauma to contend with. That notwithstanding, there is still the need to teach science, math, technology, languages, history, English, reading, the arts and civics.

And what an opportune time it is to teach civics. The country is going though an impeachment of the president, issuance of executive orders, imposition of tariffs, a presidential election and the role to be played by the Electoral College.

A similar case can made for the teaching of science and technology, especially when it is a known fact that a substantial amount of the science/technology in use today did not exist 25 years ago.

What would really help is less new acronyms and more days in school. The 180-day school year is not cutting it anymore. What is needed is something closer to 225 days and a 13th year (and college reduced to three years).

Surely, it would be welcoming news if our educators, administrators and school board members utilized the billions of dollars of plant, equipment and furnishings provided to them by the taxpayers for more than just half a year.

Do we really need a North Carolina firm to describe for us how to educate our children? Less testing and more teaching, less classification and more guidance, and more facetime between teacher and student will get the job done. It worked once before.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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5 thoughts on “Keelan: Can there be a moratorium on standardized school testing?

  1. Keep in mind that the North Carolina assessment consultant works hand-in-glove with the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder (another education consulting firm sponsored in large part by the teacher’s unions).

    And, as I reported quite a while ago, the managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder is none other than William Mathis, former superintendent of schools for the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union and long-standing Vice-chair of the Vermont State Board of Education. Mr. Mathis is also the chair of the Vermont SBOE Legislative sub-committee.

    What more do you need to know about the ‘whys and wherefores’ of this latest Vermont education establishment policy?

  2. I agree with most of this article, except expecting school boards to extend the teaching days. We do not have control of them. The number of days is dictated by the state. In fact most of what goes on day-today in schools is dictated by the state. About the only thing boards still do is control the amount of money spent on buildings and after-school activities. 80% plus of costs are controlled by unions that state officials bow to at every turn, and the unfunded mandates make up another 15%. State officials know this but refuse to document the imposed costs.

    If we want kids prepared for life after school, we need to get rid of participation trophies, do overs (the PLP plans), and the constant testing. — Kids are not really different from those who grew up in 50s, 60s, when we were No. 1 in the world for education. What has changed is the standards expected, which are now lower with every excuse ever though of as the underlying cause.

  3. Noting the statement “I am aware that the classroom of 2020 is by no means comparable to the classroom of the 1950s or ’60s. There is more technology to teach, social diversity issues to cover, and student/family trauma to contend with. That notwithstanding, there is still the need to teach science, math, technology, languages, history, English, reading, the arts and civics”.

    I graduated HS in 1957. We had the “basics” as defined by today’s standards. I had a Journeyman”s machining rating upon graduation. I went on and got a BSME degree after a stint in the Air Force. Have to keep learning and still am.

    However the basics really gave a foundation to launch off into any endeavor and survive and as my classmates have. If kids have a solid foundation regardless of future technology they will cope as we did. People still learn during their lives. It seems basic fundamentals are not being taught in the government schools and subjects as herein mentioned and “common core” are taking over. Solve a simple math problem using common core for example. Gone are civics, history and R-R and ‘Rith-matic. Need more “hands-on skill developing courses.

    Not all kids need or want college (for what that’s become).

  4. The issue of getting successful students is teaching according to scientifically proven methods and using nationally normed tests. When we know where a child is failing–decoding words, short-term memory–there are proven solutions: Orton-Gillingham, Lindemood-Bell. In this sense, the classroom is very much the same classroom as the 1950’s: the same solutions work.

    What AOE has traditionally done is used tests that are designed to show “all our children are above average.”

    Vermont has had leaders in reading education such as Louisa Moats http://www.louisamoats.com/ and Reid Lyon https://www.reidlyon.com/edpolicy/4-WHY-READING-IS-NOT-A-NATURAL-PROCESS.pdf. We in Vermont are so lucky to have such scholars. All we need to do is follow their lead. Instead, we apply palliative testing solutions to pretend that we are doing well. They are palliative to the institution but not to the student. What responsible school administrator would ever give a test that shows that the students are doing poorly?

    Finding specific reading issues early and addressing them EARLY is the solution. Failing to address reading issues early leads to denial, expense and frequent failure, and to a lifetime learning disability. According to Louisa Moats, 40% of students benefit from specific phonemic instruction, while 20% cannot learn to read without it.

    Let’s use science not rhetoric, for the science is clear. The science has been clear for thirty or more years, augmented now with the evidence of brain scans (Sally Shaywitz, http://dyslexia.yale.edu/research-science/overcoming-dyslexia/ ). Address specific reading failures early and often with scientifically proven solutions not some new-fangled thing from North Carolina.

    Generalized testing does not provide a solution, but it does provide a measure. Be suspicious of new tests.

  5. Mr. Keelan writes the truth. There are solutions to this mess that don’t involve any state or federal involvement. For immediate relief for parents and students, if you can find a way to home school your children it is an investment not wasted.

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