By Jim Allen, Editor, Nu Vote Reach and DC Politics Examiner.com
The Virginia State Board of Education is doing its level best to deal with some of the unrealistic mandates of the President George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ACT of 2001; intended to improve the educational achievement metrics of students and teachers in K-12 US public school systems. NCLB pushes states to compete for Department of Education funding, rather than automatically receiving it based on a formula; and the controversial “teach-to-the-test” model highlighted by NCLB has not resulted in a marked improvement across all demographics in test scores and many stakeholders are unsettled over the whole matter.
Teaching to the test essentially evaluates so-called “value-added” (VA) teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores. In a study by Harvard and Columbia University scholars, published in January 2012, “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Students’ Outcomes in Adulthood,” the researchers track one million children from a large urban school district from 4th grade through to adulthood.
The study asks, ‘does VA accurately measure teachers’ impacts on scores or does it wrongly penalize teachers who may routinely work with lower achieving students?’ They also analyzed VA teachers’ impacts on students’ long-term outcomes.
“We find that when a high VA teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade taught by that teacher; when a high VA teacher leaves, test scores fall,” wrote the researchers.
Moreover, “students assigned to higher VA teachers are more successful in many dimensions. They are more likely to higher salaries, live in better neighborhoods, and save more for retirement,” the study continues.
The study concludes that great teachers create great value and that test-score metrics are helpful in recognizing such teachers. However, they say the jury is still out in determining how best to use VA to structure education policy.
Because the US Congress failed to update the NCLB Law, President Barack Obama in September 2012 introduced a plan to allow states to opt out of the requirement that all children be proficient in reading and math, as measured by standardized testing, by 2014, if states meet conditions such as setting standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting performance-review standards for teachers and principals.
In order to meet President Obama’s NCLB opt-out requirements, the Virginia State Board of Education, after looking at the passing rates of students by ethnic group, drafted a controversial new set of education goals that are higher for white and Asian kids than for Afro-Americans, Latinos and students with disabilities.
For example, in math, the passing rate is 82 percent for Asian students, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Latinos, 45 percent for Afro-Americans and 33 percent for kids with disabilities.
At a September meeting of the state board of education, Patricia Wright, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, defended the policy.
“Rest assured, all of us hold all students to the same academic standards, but when it comes to measuring progress, we have to consider that students start at different points,” Wright said.
“The concept here is that if indeed within six years we can close the achievement gap between the lowest- and highest-performing schools — at least cut it in half — that would be acceptable progress,” Wright later told NPR.
Afro-Americans and Latinos do not do as well as white and Asian children on standardized tests, and that achievement gap is “what the new policy is meant to address by setting more modest goals for struggling minority children and giving them more time to catch up,” NPR reports.
“So why do we have these different subgroups? Because we’re starting with black children where they are,” said Winsome Sears, one of three Afro-American board members at a meeting last month.
“We can’t start them at the 82 percentile because they’re not there. The Asian students are there. And so the real question is why aren’t black students starting at the 82 percentile? Why? Why are they not there?” Sears said.
Thirty-three states have received such waivers of NCLB pipe dreaming performance mandates that all children perform at grade level by 2014.
This columnist, yours truly, was born an Afro-American male in Virginia (my January 1956-vintage birth certificate actually designates me as “colored”). Before the 9th grade, I attended 5 different segregated elementary and/or middle schools in Portsmouth and/or Norfolk, Virginia Public Schools – a few were crumbling – until forced busing was implemented in Norfolk (1970). I was then bused to a white junior high school for one year; and then bused to a black high school, because we moved to a white neighborhood – that whole zip code thing.
My SAT scores ranked high, state-wide and nationally – and I was not alone and was no genius.
What has changed?
I need to sleep on this.
End of Part One