Sunday, March 6, 2011

SMARTER is Orwellian

This is a bit of a windy post mostly so I can find the links I need when I have the time to dig deeper into this.
I recently realized that few teachers know what's coming down the pike, and I want to bone up on the nonsense so I can share it.

We just finished the HSPA's this week, our form of state testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act. I continued to teach during the week, but my lambs' brains were fried by the time they got to class each day, and I doubt a whole lot of neurons got remodeled.

We get to do this again in May for a couple of days, during the NJ Biology EOC exam NJ Biology Competency Test.

New Jersey has joined the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), along with 30 other states in a nationalized testing mechanism that proctors "required summative exams (offered twice each school year)" and "optional formative, or benchmark, exams" before the summatives. The federal gummint has already given the consortium (a word I am developing a real distaste for) over $175 million.

New Jersey has agreed to start using the SBAC tests for "federal accountability assessments" by the 2014-2015 school year, now less than 4 years away.

I figured the Orwellian 1984 world eventually come, but I thought we'd get a chance to squawk for a moment before it arrived. We now have in place a nationalized curriculum with a federalized testing mechanism that will use artificial intelligence to routinely assess your child's ability to fit into the "real" corporate world that awaits her, propped up by obscene amounts of money made by the same corporate world.

Every family in Bloomfield pays a lot--thousands of dollars--to support our schools. They are local, and they are public. They are designed to help our town raise knowledgeable and decent human beings live reasonably happy lives, and we do a pretty good job doing that.


The Science Goddess said...

Some thoughts to throw in which will probably not be good for calming fears, but might flesh out the picture.

The head of the SBAC used to be my boss. If we're going to have to have federally mandated testing, then there is no one better than he to manage the project. Not only is he brilliant, he is incredibly compassionate for teachers and puts kids at the center of his decision-making. A former middle school math teacher with a passion for the arts, he really does have a good head on his shoulders about educating the whole child. He is bringing other good people on board with him. I keep reminding people that the tests themselves aren't the problem---it's how the results get used that makes us unhappy. Fulfilling a federal mandate doesn't make him a bad guy. It's the mandate that we need to focus on amending (or rescinding).

Secondly, there is talk of cutting funds for this project as part of the fed budget package currently making its way through congress. SBAC might not make it out of the gate.

And, interestingly enough, my friends who work for ETS and other testing companies who stand to lose a lot of business aren't nervous about SBAC. They're not convinced it can deliver on the promises it's made.

Personally, if there's going to be large-scale testing, then I prefer the idea of state control. But I also know that $1M - $1.5M per test per year (most of which is not reimbursed by the feds), that money could be going into classrooms for other purposes. A "canned" test from the feds would make state budgets a whole lot brighter. As long as testing is required via ESEA, this might be the least of the Orwellian evils.

doyle said...

Dear TSG,

That is a bit assuring, as is the presence of Linda Darling-Hammond and others on the advisory board.

I agree that this beats ETS--at least there's some accountability and openness that might otherwise be missing.

But here we are, developing a national test for national standards, a top-down imposition of values that crushes any concept of public school as anything other than a program to create workers for the new economy (or the "real world" as the CCSS consortium calls it, about as Orwellian as you can get).

So either your boss believes in what he is doing (and many do, though I think they're confused, which is easy when careers depend on accepting it), or he is acting cynically.

And the tests are a problem so long as the folks designing them accept carte blanche the mission statement of the CCSS.

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

I don't know how we get over this conundrum, good people doing their best to develop good things while we head straight for the abyss.

Tests themselves are not the problem, true, but the tests being developed now, to be used to assure that kids are being trained appropriately for the global workforce, are, indeed, a problem.

SBAC already has $360 million, and just got another $15+ million in January.

I'm frustrated by the lack of public--as in local parents, shopkeepers, homeowners, tenants, children--input into a massive cultural shift in education that is moving quickly without reall discussion.

Tom Hoffman said...

One thing that is reassuring is that these kind of initiatives tend to die shortly after they're rolled out. So the development money is down the drain, and it is a lot of wasted time, but it is not like historically once an unpopular reform is actually deployed we're stuck with it.

I also think there is a lot of "we need a seat at the table" thinking going on here. Gates paid off everyone on every side of the argument and made Common Core and new tests look like an inevitability, so even people who shouldn't be that excited are following on. For example, the Core Knowledge people. The Common Core standards are nothing at all like what they want, but they're playing along, hoping to pull something out later in the process, maybe just by having the toughest butts to stay in all the committee meetings until everyone else gives in.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

My more experienced peers remind me of this all the time. I hope (and trust) that you and they are right.

New Jersey has again postponed passing the science test as a requirement for graduation. Given the SBAC creeping up, and the tight fiscal straits were in, wouldn't surprise me if we get another postponement or two. This is my 5th year teaching, and every year I get all fretty, and every year fretting was wasted energy.

The sad thing, though, is that the threat of these tests does change classroom behaviors. Which I guess is the point.