Testing (our patience)
I once had a boss who was fond of saying, “If you give people enough rope, they’ll eventually hang themselves.” That is to say that when some people talk long enough they tend to just keep going until their true feelings are revealed. Such was the case yesterday when two of our state’s most bizarre orators took to the defense of state testing.
Below are several tweets about the statements of Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City and Teri Brecheen, the SDE’s executive director of literacy. The context was yesterday’s House Education Committee’s discussion of SB 1654, which would eliminate all state testing that is not federally mandated.
Let’s start with Kern. Yesterday, Ed Tech Principal blogged about a response he received from her about testing. I tweeted that it was one of the most important blog posts of 2014 (keeping in mind that testing actually starts later this week).
Thank you for your email concerning SB 1654.
While I support less testing for our students, I do not think eliminating social studies tests is the way to accomplish that. It is in social studies classes that our students learn about citizenship, our nation’s history, our Constitution and our democratic republic system. As you well know, what you test, you teach. If we don’t test on social studies we will not be teaching our students the principles that they need to be good productive citizens of our nation. There are other and better ways to reduce testing than by getting rid of social studies tests.
Again, thank you for your email.
If you’ve followed Kern through the years, one thing is abundantly clear: she is adamant about schools teaching history the way she thinks it should be taught. I’m not going to get into what that is right now. The key is that she has strong feelings about what constitutes quality history and government instruction and believes the only way to keep teachers on that script is to test them.
Let me rephrase that: The only way to ensure that US history and government teachers stay on the blueprint is to test their creativity into oblivion.
I just wrote and deleted a paragraph discussing different sides of a few key moments since the revolution: the 3/5 Compromise; the Emancipation Proclamation; the New Deal; Iran-Contra. For one, this post isn’t about the ways students can explore those issues in depth and think critically. More importantly, the better teachers among us already have their students reading and discussing history beyond the dates, kings, and boundaries.
While Kern doesn’t trust history teachers to instruct the way she prefers, Brecheen clearly doesn’t trust reading teachers to teach reading at all. What she said in committee yesterday is really no different than what I’ve heard her say at various SDE-hosted events. It’s really no different than what Janet Barresi says when she’s talking out of the side of her mouth that bashes our profession (followed quickly by faint praise from the other side).
Brecheen also tries overlaying testing norms over the state tests, which are actually criterion-referenced. This shows not only disrespect for our teachers, but a complete lack of understanding of testing. You can’t apply norms to criterion-referenced tests because the establishing of a criterion, by practice, is subjective to interpretation. Scoring a 50 on a criterion-referenced test is not a good thing. It means you missed half the questions. Scoring in the 50th percentile on a norm-referenced test is average (technically median). When the state went to CRTs in the 1990s, it was an attempt to ascertain how many students had met a standard rather than how many were above average. I’d expect the Executive Director of Literacy for the SDE to understand this.
I’d also expect Brecheen, a former K-8 superintendent to understand something about teachers. At this point in her career, I would hope that she’s seen teachers work their asses off helping students not only improve their reading skills, but improve their love of reading. She should also understand that the love is more important; in fact, skill is more often a byproduct of passion than of drill.
In case you’re wondering, SB 1654 already passed the Senate by a vote of 44-0. It passed the House committee by a vote of 11-8. It still has two hurdles to clear: vote of the full House, and governor’s signature.
Doubling down on insults to the profession, Barresi today again questioned the competence of educators by claiming pervasive over-identification of special education students in our schools.
The interesting thing about this to me is that last in November, she claimed we were wrong on 75% of our special education identifications. I guess this means we’ve improved during the last five months. Way to go, Oklahoma!
As schools throughout Oklahoma begin testing in two days, I’m thankful for the clarity that comes from these conversations. Many of our so-called leaders don’t believe in our teachers. Many more do. Hopefully, as we begin this yearly dance between bubbles and graphite, most of our classrooms will be full of teachers and students who believe in each other. Hopefully many will take a moment to say as much. I suspect a few parents and principals will also take the time to express such confidence.
2 months, 15 days, y’all!