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The toll for more assessments

School bells ring next Monday, ushering in the start of the 2011-2012 school year for Archuleta School District 50 Jt.

As youngsters return to the classrooms, the district continues to deal with problems that plague public school systems in Colorado. The budget crunch remains a key concern; it is a problem no district can escape — and one that many people falsely claim school districts can solve. The battle for increased funding, in particular equalization funding, must be fought by elected representatives in the state House and Senate, and by the Governor’s office.

In response to the budget squeeze, districts are forced to implement programs tied to funding.

This takes a toll on the quality of education we provide our young people.

Part of the burden of these programs is the amount of “assessment” required by law. The kids will be greeted by a new version of an old song: testing — mandated assessment requiring considerable time for preparation and execution. Last year, as many as 21 days were given over to testing of students in select grades, and who knows how much time and energy was spent in the classroom working to prepare students for the task — one that had to be heeded, for without success, come penalties.

This takes a toll.

Assessment drains resources; it requires paperwork on the part of teachers, requires administrators to analyze data, create spreadsheets, work up power-point presentations. The results are reported to other administrators, who then work their magic on the material before passing it on to other administrators, with a final stop at a Legislature that, as a rule, should have little to do with the details of education.

This takes a toll.

Tuesday, local teachers received instruction on a new assessment model. What used to be CSAP is now TCAP. It, of course, is going to be better. It will also probably require as many lost classroom days and hours as its predecessor and will, in the end, probably produce the same result: a test-wise but test-weary group of students whose meaningful education has been diminished by the process. Need evidence a test-based education doesn’t work? Check out the schools in Finland — ranked at the top of the world’s systems. Any guess how many days Finnish students spend being assessed with standardized tests? Any guess where test-burdened U.S. schools sit in the rankings?

At their meeting, local teachers were presented with a thick bundle of papers — information concerning the assessment and the fact the district is the rural model for the state in terms of implementation of the new program.

Why do trees have to die for this?

Why is classroom time given over to this?

Why are administrators hired to deal with this, when money could be spent on quality classroom teachers?

All this takes a toll.

We need assessments in our schools, all right. We need frank and truthful assessments of teacher performance — conducted by skilled peers, not administrators who have moved “up” in the food chain.

We need frank and truthful assessments of administrators, by faculty and staff.

We also need an assessment that determines what is valuable to us as a community, as a society. What value do we place on the education of our children? What incentive do we give the best and brightest in our colleges and universities to become teachers? (Check out Finland). How much are we willing to spend on these things, rather than on mandated testing programs that gratify legislators?

Finally, we need an assessment of our lawmakers and the law. It is time we take the shackles off local control of education and it is time voters take the Constitutional shackles off school funding in Colorado.

Karl Isberg

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