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Market Forces? Really?

May 25, 2013

As usual, Thursday’s editorial about testing showed the Oklahoman’s one-sided interest in protecting the State Department of Education. It is flawed on many levels.

The opening sentence is but the first false claim: “Critics of state testing, often citing their concern for students to mask their opposition to the accountability tests create, have tried to make hay of recent glitches.” First of all, nobody says makes hay anymore. (Except farmers, and then only when they’re actually making hay.) Second, it’s pretty crass to spend any energy this week questioning the commitment of educators to students. While correctly pointing out that other vendors have had testing glitches and that this occurred under the previous state superintendent, the editorial misses the opportunity to discuss the real flaws with the testing process.

Until recently, the state tests have been used to provide insight as to specific skills that are lacking in students and to identify areas of the curriculum that need. Only in the last few years have they been a means of denying students a high school diploma. Beginning next year, they will also be a way to retain third-graders. After that, they will be a measure of teacher and principal effectiveness.

These stakes make it imperative that we get it right. Unfortunately, few in the schools have confidence in that. The gnashing of teeth over the flawed A-F Report Cards pales in comparison to the din that will result from holding back a third grader based on one data point rather than a year of experience with a child.

The Oklahoman also tries to absolve the agency and Superintendent Barresi from their role selection process. Regardless of the centralized state purchasing process, it was SDE officials who selected a testing vendor. Barresi is the agency head, and as I said before, this program is too expensive and too high-profile for her to get a pass for taking a hands-off approach. I’m as interested in the selection process as I am in the yet-to-be described penalty for CTB/McGraw-Hill. While the other testing companies have made mistakes and had data issues that have caused reporting delays, none have experienced a wide-scale systems failure such as this – in multiple states simultaneously.

Finally, the title of the editorial itself is ridiculous: Market Forces Can Resolve Testing Woes. Apparently, the Oklahoman expects us to believe that the millions of dollars we spend on testing through giant multi-national corporations will allow these problems to just sort themselves out.  When all else fails, continue with the refrain that the free market cures all.  Oh, and tell that to the other testing behemoths that didn’t win the contract.

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  1. Kate
    June 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Penalties should be included in the contract, which would make both the SDE staff (minus the agency head J. Barresi, of course) and CTB/McGraw very aware of the penalties. Again, I suggest an open records request regarding the testing contract. However, if someone has the time for a little investigating, a copy of the contract should be able to be found on the Open Books pages on the State’s Web site. I may investigate that myself–if I turn up anything I’ll let you know.

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