Education is grounded in telling the truth. The Rhode Island Commissioner for Education is lying to us about the NECAPs. In a recent op-ed piece (read it here) she asked and answered a slew of questions with misinformation, sleight of hand and outright deception.
Following these questions that she asked herself are my answers, which are the direct opposite of hers…
Q. Is it true that Rhode Island students can fail to graduate on the basis of a single, standardized test?
A. Yes. Absolutely. Despite what Deborah Gist says, if a student gets a 1 on the NECAP and then fails to improve on the subsequent two retakes, he or she fails to graduate. Feel free to quibble about which one of those three tests the student “failed.”
Q. Is it true that students have to pass the NECAP in order to graduate?
A. Yes. See above. Oh… Except that “waivers are available for students for whom — for any reason — tests of any kind are not a good measure of their abilities.” So I guess the tests don’t really count in those cases.
Q. Is it true that the NECAP assessments are not appropriate for use as a graduation requirement?
A. Yes. This horse has been beaten to death so many times in RI Future and the Providence Journal that to list the links would crash the system. Short version? The NECAPs curve is designed to identify failing schools, and therefore does not provide accurate assessment of any given individual within a school that is performing poorly.
Never mind the fact that testing JUNIORS on materials for a graduation SENIOR year seems to be just plain dumb.
Q. Is it true that the NECAP requirement penalizes students who haven’t received an adequate education?
A. Yes. If, as Commissioner Gist maintains, the NECAP won’t actually fail anyone, then why is this even a question? Because students who fail NECAP have to beat their heads against the wall until they finally learn how to take the test (or file the waiver).
Q. Is it true that, because Rhode Island will introduce a new assessment in 2015, we should wait until then to include assessments in the diploma system?
I’m going to punt this one. If you thought NECAPs were challenging, take a look at the forthcoming PARCC sample test questions. (Click here and be prepared to spend an hour or two going,”HUH?”) The PARCC test is wicked hard. It’s also wicked convoluted, and will require hours of teaching time devoted to teaching students how to take the test, rather than teaching them “content”.
Q. Is it true that the NECAP encourages test preparation and “teaching to the test”?
A. Yes. Yes. Yes! In her article, Commissioner Gist suggested that schools that perform well on these tests don’t teach to the tests. That’s because those schools are already successful! The NECAPs are designed to find schools that are unsuccessful. Furthermore, any school that maintains that they have not shifted to “teaching to the test” is just plain fibbing. When a teacher’s job and salary depends on the test. When a school’s rating and funding depends on the test, it influences the teaching. If you want some examples:
- Every time NECAPs come around we get phone calls from schools telling us to put our kids to bed early and make sure that they’re well fed.
- Classical High School shifts its entire schedule so that Juniors can take NECAPS without pesky Freshman, Sophomores and Seniors are around making noise.
- Students who fail NECAPS spend their time on test prep courses.
No matter what Commissioner Gist says, her assertions are misguided. The NECAPs don’t improve learning. A friend’s child explained it best. It’s like testing someone for diabetes, and when you find their blood sugar is off, testing them again rather than giving them food.
What can we do to improve our children’s education?
- Make school a wonderful experience that teaches children the love of learning for its own sake.
- Restructure schools so that students can learn at different rates, rather than assuming that all children will learn everything at the same pace.
- Bring back recess, play, experimentation, sports, arts, theater, and technical trade training programs.
- Stop selling the idea that going to college is going to solve everyone’s problem. Set aside the fact that Gates and Jobs both dropped out. (Never mind the fact that the Gates Foundation is funding much of the “research”) Today there are many in-debt college grads out there who aren’t “succeeding”.
- Insert your ideas here.