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Test explanation makes no sense

Many op-ed columns and letters to the editor by teachers, parents and community members, have expressed frustration and lack of confidence in what is being demanded of students and educators. This is not “defense of the status quo,” or fear of evaluation. These are valid expressions of concern.

Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera responds to criticism with dismissive platitudes about caring for children, as if teachers don’t. But, not caring about teachers’ concerns is also not caring about students. When teachers are shut out of the process of reform and are denigrated and devalued, their students are, as well.

Skandera claims in a column in Tuesday’s Albuquerque Journal that she has reduced the number of hours of testing required by the state. However, as secretary of education, she bears responsibility for the total amount of testing to which students are subjected. Educators are right to be concerned about excessive testing, since every hour spent testing, no matter who requires it, is an hour lost from instructional time.

This lost time would be bad enough, if the same tests were used consistently, every year, but they’re not. Each year brings a different test. Asked about the difficulty of comparing results from last year’s “apples,” to this year’s “oranges,” to next year’s “watermelons,” her dismissive response was, “It will be a non-issue.”

The spokesman for PARCC Inc., creator of the new test, disagrees. “It’s hard. It’s complex. But it’s possible.”

“Possible?” Really? With Skandera’s track record on school grades, teacher evaluations and many other failures, it’s no wonder those concerned with teaching and learning in our public schools have little confidence in her ability to get this right.

In addition, the Journal reporter, Jon Swedien, who actually talked to a teacher, reported on the difficulties of using our current tests on the new “Common Core” curriculum. Because “Common Core” covers fewer topics in greater depth, students will be tested on topics not covered in class.

Skandera said, “While those questions won’t count toward test scores, they will give teachers and students an idea of what next year’s test will be like.” She seems unaware that teachers are not allowed to look at test questions. Unless something changes, teachers will have no way of knowing what next year’s test will be like without adding to their already staggering workload. Students will not be taking this year’s test next year. Knowledge of this year’s test questions does them no good.

We need reform! However, Skandera’s “reform” with no understanding of the consequences of her misguided edicts is not the “reform” we need. That is the reason she faces so much opposition.

If Skandera actually sat down with educators, listened to them, trusted them, gave them a voice in reform, we could have the public education we deserve.

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