Pork Chops, Electric Shock and PSSA

Let’s just say that I am developing a simple experiment. I want to find out which one of my kids that my dog likes best. Here’s the experiment: both of my girls stand 20 feet away from the Fletcher, the dog. They aren’t aloud to call him, they are just aloud to stand there and see which one he comes first. Pretty simple and probably unscientific but it will work to prove my point. Would anyone out there say that my experiment was flawed if I put a pork chop in one of the girl’s pocket? Adding an unrelated incentive would make my entire experiment invalid. Is that what your saying?

OK, then, let me change my experiment. This time, both girls standing 20 feet away only in front of one of the girls is standing outside of my invisible fence – you know, the kind that shocks the dog when he tries to run through it. What? You don’t think I’m validly determining which girl the dog likes best. I can’t believe that!

They do it on the PSSA! Rewarding schools for improving performance as well as punishing school districts who aren’t successful is the same experiment. If the test is to determine what students know and are able to do, don’t positive and negative incentives based on scores invalidate the results? If I’m handing out five dollar bills to every student who scores proficient or if I ‘m closing schools that don’t meet minimum standards am I not putting pork chops in some pockets and using electric shock on the others?

What happens is that the most important thing becomes the test. It doesn’t matter how we got there as long as the scores are there. All actions then are determined and justified by the test. The ends justify the means. And the means usually include cutting time on other academic subjects and can extend all the way to removing administrators.

Not much of a valid test environment.

The Low Hanging Fruit of Education

This year the elementary school that I lead made adequate yearly progress in every category. I’m not bragging; just stating a fact. In fact, our school has made adequate yearly progress every year. That sounds like great news, headline grabbing stuff in a small town. Unfortunately, the way the system works, that is not necessarily great news.

Next year we will have to be 89% proficient in Math and 91% proficient in Reading. We are a very small school. In the grade span that we are responsible for, 3-5, we will test approximately 180 students. That means that no more than 18 students can be basic or below basic in Math and 16 in Reading (The state doesn’t round up)

Unfortunately the low hanging fruit has been picked. All of those things that don’t cost money but suck all of the knowledge out of students. You know them because your school has done them: increase instructional time, align to standards, eliminate the “unnecessary” subjects, teach to the test. Done!

In order to harvest the higher fruit everyone needs more resources. Even a picker needs a ladder. To really get to those five or six students that are on the fringe we need to extend the day, offer after school resources to the economically disadvantaged, and engage more parents in the educational lives of their children. Luckily we’re tall and we probably only need a step stool. But even a step stool costs money. If you read the papers you know there ain’t none of that.

Throw in a complete retooling of the standards that will be instituted next testing cycle; which by the way have not been approved by PA yet; and you have an equation that can’t possibly balance. Keep in mind that while the common core standards are indeed a step in the right direction, somehow it will be necessary to increase the rigor in third grade to the extent that one year can replace the change in rigor designed to be achieved in four years. Never mind the impact on the sixth grade curriculum that needs to make up for 7 years of changes in rigor in less than 180 days.

The projections are that over 80% of the schools in Pennsylvania will not make adequate yearly progress in 2013. Those were the projections before schools lost funding and the final transition to common core was approved. If the projection for 2013 is 80% the projection for 2014 must be close to 90%.

Let me run this idea past you. In Pennsylvania is education the low hanging fruit of the commonwealth? Is it just simple to set up schools to fail under the guise of keeping taxes low? Is their a benefit to the citizenry in the privatization of K-12 schools? No ladder needed! Just hanging out there like Tom Corbett’s personal piñata.

But, that’s another blog post all together. Just let me say this though, those guys from Commonwealth Connections Academy with their matching backpacks and polo shirts (paid for with your tax dollars) seemed to be sleeping significantly better than most administrators that I know!