Wednesday, April 09, 2008

One K-12 Test: Better Late Than Never

The Nebraska Legislature set in motion the adoption of a single statewide test of K-12 students in reading, math, and science. Out goes the current system of districts devising their own tests. One wonders why it took so long.

The dodge of accountability by schools and the incredible demands on educators to develop and administer such tests were apparent long ago. Indeed, the column below by former State Board of Education Member Kathryn Piller (a national K-12 education consultant) was published in the Omaha World-Herald SIX YEARS AGO, but a prophet is without honor in her own land. Kathryn will join us on Check with Chip this Saturday to talk about the state of K-12 education in Nebraska.

Here's what Kathryn wrote in 2002:


Alleges system is wasteful, frustrating to teachers and administrators.

by Kathryn Piller

March 24, 2002

Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen's idea for testing students is costing local school districts millions of dollars, money which could be utilized to save jobs and improve instruction.

It is time for elected officials, taxpayers, teachers and administrators to stop this stupidity and demand one test designed by a credible company.

The current multiple assessment plan was approved by the majority of the State Board of Education, forcing school administrators to take money from their budget in order to comply with the demands of this approach to testing. As board member Fred Meyer of St. Paul commented, (justifying his vote for multiple assessment spending), "it does not matter what it costs as long as it is for the kids."

Five members of the state board, Bev Petersen, Kim Petersen, Fred Meyer, Ann Mactier and Stephen Sherr, have consistently voted in favor of spending millions for the multiple assessment approach to testing. The cost to school districts is staggering and it is time for state senators to demand an accounting of the price for testing in our state.

Many rural and urban superintendents are deeply concerned about the cost of multiple assessments, and they want to have a single test; yet the Commissioner and majority of the board ignore them.

As one superintendent stated, "Assessment, the calculations and mounds of paperwork, now being asked of our teachers is beyond comprehension and is leading quite literally toward mutiny;" or, as a 16-year veteran teacher puts it, "the state officials are taking the classroom teachers further and further away from our classrooms and trying to put us in the position of becoming statistical geniuses by focusing our energies on very detailed and specific assessment calculations. I feel this does an injustice to all schools who do not have the resources to hire a curriculum advisor with a PhD in statistics."

The cost of multiple assessments is not a simple budget item. In fact, state senators need to ask for an accounting of many items in the price tag such as data collection, employee time, substitutes, paper, summer training, time for developing and writing assessments, scoring assessments, practicing assessments, travel, state consultants, national consultants, external scoring consultants, cost for Buros Institute employees, costs for the Commissioner to travel for speaking engagement to talk our plan and sell our plan to politicians, and more.

The price to students and teachers is unbelievable in relation to lost instructional time as well. As one superintendent put it, "While well-meaning, the present structure has increasingly appeared to be careening out of control, witness the pages of nearly indecipherable equations provided by Buros Institute that our teachers are told they must somehow use to 'prove' their tests to Buros or whomever."

In numerous conversations with superintendents, principals and teachers, I find many are leaving the profession due to the "unique" Nebraska Assessment Plan (though already used in some other states for years). In fact, a fourth grade Buffet Teacher Award Winner said, "I will leave the teaching profession next year because I can no longer teach as I am forced to spend my entire year doing one assessment after another." In another conversation with teachers, I was told, "we decided to retire early rather than continue to be pulled out of our classrooms to write assessments, score assessments, compile data, and train for assessments."

In my opinion, and through conversations with numerous superintendents, there is no question we are unable to afford the expense of multiple assessments. In fact, it appears the only people who have gained from the multiple assessment spending are the Buros Institute employees, numerous consultants and added employees at the Nebraska Department of Education.

I am calling for our Nebraska state senators and Gov. Mike Johanns to demand an immediate accounting while stopping this expensive, out of control, multiple assessment plan.

1 comment:

OmaSteak said...

All it took was someone convincing Doug Christensen to retire after a long career of failing to improve the quality of K-12 education in Nebraska. Wonder when the OPS Board will file suit to stop it? They have to be terrified of any standardized testing since it will make it much harder for them to avoid a real assessment of their performance...or amazing lack thereof.