by Allen Koshewa
Education is under attack again. The state has ensured that some schools will once again be labeled failures, thanks to the new categories it has created, its distorted definitions of success, and its continued use of tests to punish rather than to inform instruction.
It will come as no surprise to most people that the state is using students’ scores on the OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) in reading and math as the sole determinant of educational growth. Under the new system, implemented last fall, some schools have been labeled as “model” schools, “focus” schools, or “priority” schools while other schools have not been labeled at all. Since the new labels only apply to Title I schools (in which the majority of students come from poverty), schools in higher-income areas are immune to the scrutiny and sanctions of schools labeled focus and priority.
State number crunchers have come up with a new formula to establish what they are calling a “growth model,” which will determine the label a school gets (or doesn’t get). In a travesty of equity, students who scored the lowest scores last year are expected to improve the most. For example, students with low scores must demonstrate up to three years of growth (according to how OAKS scores are analyzed) to meet the “growth target” the state has established for them, whereas some students with higher 2012 scores only need to demonstrate half a year’s growth after one year. This disparity of expectations will probably increase the achievement gap, rather than close it.
As a fourth/fifth grade teacher, I have several students who began the year stumbling through simple picture books who now can read chapter books with confidence. On the OAKS test, they showed what is deemed the equivalent of two to three years of improvement, yet they were demoralized when they saw their scores and realized they had not quite met the benchmark, still required as one component of the state’s expectations for focus and priority school.
Highly capable students are also getting the short end of the stick. Those who attained a designation of “exceed” in 2012 can make a higher score and maintain their “exceed” status, yet still not meet “target growth.”
Another problem is the way the state is comparing students’ scores with those of other students across the state. Students who live in poverty are being compared to students from high socioeconomic backgrounds. English language learners are being compared to native English speakers. In short, this is NOT an individual growth model. Although there is no common agreement about what constitutes a good growth model, the state has implemented an inequitable one and has failed to logically articulate its rationale.
To make matters worse, exactly fifteen percent of schools will continue to be labeled “focus” and “priority.” This means that no matter how much all students in the state improve, fifteen percent of our schools will be construed as failing schools.
It is clear that the standardized tests, along with the ludicrously unfair “growth model” the state has invented, will continue to ensure that students and schools are framed as failures.
Until a large number of students and parents opt out of these tests, the tests will continue to demonize children and schools.