This is a guest post by Peter DeWitt on a topic that should concern us all.
We lack the infrastructure to be testing factories, and that shouldn’t be our job in the first place.
If the nightly news really wanted to look into the Fleecing of America, they need not look further than the serious fleecing that companies are doing to American schools. At a time when school budgets are being severely cut, many companies are offering to “help” schools and making multi-millions while doing it.
Whether it’s creating products to help in the adoption of the Common Core State Standards or selling schools textbooks that are aligned to high stakes testing, companies are there to meet every possible need of the school system and they are not doing it for free.
As with anything there are pros and cons to the Common Core State Standards. I think the six shifts will be helpful to our thinking as educators and it offers a base to build on. However, what is the most difficult aspect is the fact that schools will be required to buy new textbooks, software and offer professional development at a time when they lack the money to do so. Schools are in a bind because they no longer feel as though they can use products that are not aligned to the core.
We have had the perfect storm of implementing the Common Core and not having the ability to do it properly. Of course, all schools have to do it at a time when they also have to implement the new APPR which includes teacher/administrator evaluation being tied to high stakes testing.
The bigger issue for schools presently is the idea that next year or the year after that many states will be obligated to have their students complete high stakes testing on-line. For those schools that will dive into on-line assessments next year and those who will be required to hold on-line field tests, they have a lot of preparation to do.
If you have ever taken a comp exam in college or in post graduate degrees you probably remember going to a testing center to take the exam. We all had to empty out our pockets to make sure we did not bring any accoutrements for cheating purposes. We had to sit at one computer with headphones where we could not talk with anyone and had to raise our hands if we needed a break.
The computers we took the tests on were not ones where you could Google something, and you certainly could not take anything in to the exam room with you. It came close to feeling like you needed a brain scan before you were allowed to take the exam to make sure it was really you. It sounds very adult-oriented or something from a sci-fi movie but that level of security may be coming to a school near you next year.
How will schools do it? We lack the infrastructure to be testing factories, and that shouldn’t be our job in the first place. Many schools gave up computer labs in order to use netbooks or get more desktops in classrooms to use for center-based learning. They have cut teachers and administrators so there are less people to police kids when they are taking the exam. Make no mistake, we have been given the task of policing kids. If you do not think that is part of the job of the teacher, you have not been paying attention.
Open up the first page of any NY State high stakes test, not that you were allowed to keep any because that would be cheating, and you will notice that the first page has a warning for anyone who may cheat. Apparently, many state education departments have such low expectations of us that they need to tell us what will happen if we cheat on the very first page of a test. How will teachers check each and every computer? How will they ensure that kids are not Googling answers? Remember, the stakes are high and students feel the pressures of testing.
Schools presently lack the bandwidth needed to support the number of students who will be taking these exams at the same time. In the future this will be beneficial for schools that want to go BYOD. However, right now there will have to be software updates to make sure students cannot multi-task on other sites at the same time they are taking the on-line assessments. Teachers and administrators need to make sure the computers are “secure.”
We all know that there are many very intelligent people out there waiting to “help” schools meet this need, which will be another cost accrued by districts. Schools are seen by many organizations and companies as the something to invest in but remember that invest has two meanings. As educators we invest our time into students so they can be contributing members of a democratic society. Companies are investing in what we do so they can make money.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about the fact that state education departments want us to teach kids 21st century skills at the same time they make students take 90 minute paper and pencil exams. I guess I need to be careful what I ask for.
Peter Dewitt is an elementary principal in upstate, NY and he writes the Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week. Find him on Twitter at @PeterMDeWitt and http://www.petermdewitt.com.