Valerie Strauss ran this great article by Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky. Jim Arnold recently retired from the superintendent’s position of the Pelham City Schools in Georgia. Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia.
Arnold and Smagorinsky describe the many millions spent on testing, with no end in sight, and ask how that money might be better spent.
“Last fall journalists exposed the wretched conditions at Trenton High School in New Jersey. Brown water oozed from drinking fountains, rodents roamed freely, teachers and students became physically ill from being in the building, mold covered the walls, roofs were leaking, ceilings were crumbling onto the students and teachers below, streams of water ran down hallways, and morale throughout the building was, not surprisingly, well below sea level. Conditions reached the point where they met the state criterion of being “so potentially hazardous that it causes an imminent peril to the health and safety of students or staff.”
“Governor Chris Christie, however, issued a stop work order that ended an initiative to make essential repairs on this school and over 50 others that were dangerously unsanitary and just plain dangerous, not because of the menace of free ranging, gun-toting ruffians and thugs but because the decrepit buildings themselves required so much maintenance.
“While halting repairs on schools, what the state did invest in was accountability for teachers. No one was accountable for the conditions of the schools until a citizen uprising and news coverage forced a building initiative that fortunately will provide the people of Trenton with a modern facility. But while dodging chunks of falling ceilings, treading cautiously around scurrying rats, and attempting to teach through building-induced illnesses, teachers remained accountable to the standards that Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes can determine their fitness for the classroom.
“We live in Georgia, another state in which schools are grossly underfunded yet consultants and testing corporations are living large off the investment of state funds in holding teachers accountable, regardless of their work conditions or the life conditions of their students. Most schools cannot afford to run a full year, with roughly two-third cancelling 10-30 days every year and requiring teachers to take “furlough” days to make budget. Further, schools in our state have 20th century connectivity infrastructures and technology affordances, limiting the degree to which kids can learn what they’ll need to know to navigate and thrive in our emerging, digitally driven society.
“What we need, however, according to the people making educational policy these days, is not money dedicated to provide a full school year—and many people, evidently unaware that most Georgia schools cannot afford 180 days of school, are pushing for longer school days and years—but a more rigorous curriculum and more tests, preferably more rigorous tests. We use the term “rigorous” ironically given that the rigor of curriculum and assessment are claimed again and again but never established in any clear or responsible way.
“Last year the state of Georgia Department of Education spent a little over $18 million on End of Course Tests in high school and Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in lower grades. Plans to replace the CRCT with yet a newer testing regime, Georgia Milestones, are underway to the tune of $108 million. Georgia BOE minutes for the May 2014 meeting report that “the State School Superintendent [has been authorized] to enter into a contract with TBD at a cost not to exceed TBD in State/Federal funds for development, administration, scoring and reporting of a new student assessment system.” TBD seems guaranteed to add significantly to the millions already spent on standardized testing in Georgia….Just assuming that Georgia will spend a nearly $140 million on testing and test development next year—and we are only including End of Course, CRCT, and GMAP expenditures, which are only a few of the tests administered in Georgia—what else might the Georgia education department do with that money?”
Read on to learn their ideas about how those millions might be better spent.