Testing 1, 2, 3 …

The way things are going, it’s only a matter of time before Georgia’s public schoolteachers storm the barricades and start taking names. At least that’s what any reasonable person would expect given the games being played within our public education system.

No one disputes the need to make the occasional improvement to the student achievement tests and assessments required by Georgia’s K-12 public schools.

But when such changes occur as often as the players in a playground game of four-square, the ability to judge the progress or decline of a school becomes impossible. Yet the Georgia Department of Education incessantly muddies the waters with constant tweaking.

Why? Who is the marionettist? Why are they pulling the strings? Who ultimately benefits when one can’t tell if a school is improving or falling behind? It certainly isn’t the teachers or their students, parents or the communities they serve.

Another example came Monday. Georgia’s Department of Education released its College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores — a report card on student and school performance. But they did so while waving a huge caution flag.

To paraphrase Claude Rains’ line in “Casablanca,” we’re shocked, shocked to hear education officials say the results can’t be used as a measuring stick against previous years. They can’t, the education mandarins say, because the method of grade calculation changed. The new metric is based on a scale of 100 points, not last year’s 110, and the number of factors used to determine the scores was reduced.

It’s no longer apples to apples.

“With the redesign, the CCRPI scores can’t be compared to last year — so they’re essentially useless,” remarked Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators.

Got that, Georgia? Essentially useless.

How proud the Georgia Department of Education must be.

“The frustrating part for us is that the target is constantly moving,” Jackson said. “You can’t really achieve excellence if you move the goal every year.”

Jackson is right to be frustrated. The games need to end, but in order for them to stop, we must first determine the culprits.

In the lineup of suspects?

* Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods, who very much wants voters to return him to his cushy job on Tuesday. Woods’ recent proposal to eliminate the traditional A through F grading system would create yet another interruption in the assessment of student progress from year to year.

* The billion-dollar testing industry has its own agenda — one that doesn’t always align with the best interests of students. We needn’t remind anyone that changing a test requires new study guides and workbooks for those prepping for the latest edition. The testing industry bears watching because the ultimate aim is to make money, and what better way to do so than force-feeding our education systems with new products every couple of years?

* Finally, well-funded lobbyists want to see vouchers, private schools and for-profit charter schools rolled out across the state at the expense of our public education system. Confusion over the progress of our public schools provides them a better argument.

Georgians were able to peek behind the curtain and see how this ugly sausage was made when Republican primary gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins released a recording of a private conversation he had with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. In that recording, Cagle freely admits to supporting education legislation, despite it being bad in “a 1,000 different ways,” because of promised campaign contributions coming from the school-choice set.

The more lobbyists are able to paint our public schools as failures, the more support they gain for school vouchers and tax dollars going to private schools.

The test used in the CCRPI is called the Georgia Milestones, an exam that has four performance levels: beginning learner (level 1), developing learner (level 2), proficient learner (level 3) and distinguished learner (level 4).

Every year when the test results come in, statisticians review the performance across the state. “Standard setting” is where they set a cut score on the number of questions that have to be answered correctly in order to fall into one of the four levels. This is done, according to those involved in the process, so that a majority of students fall into the middle.

They then apply those scores to a “scatter plot” with the goal of plots forming a bell-shaped curve. In other words, the majority of kids should fall into the middle. You’re not going to have too many that are distinguished and you’re not going to have too many that are failing. If you do, something’s wrong with the system.

Georgia is not unique in setting cut scores. Other states do it, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Setting cut scores so low that they cause students to artificially pass the test is not a legitimate measuring system. It fails as a clear measure of performance.

With such practices occurring, one can only assume that the rules are whatever the state educrats say they are. Move a cut score from here to there or a percentage from higher to lower, as the state did this year on a number of categories, and it changes everything across the board, making it impossible to determine if actual improvement is being made.

Hardworking teachers are frustrated because they can’t have real conversations about what their students really know. Students and their parents are frustrated because they can’t determine whether their school did better or worse over the previous year.

The Georgia Department of Education needs to commit. It needs to commit to its teachers and students. It needs to commit to its stakeholders. And it needs to commit to an assessment/evaluation process that provides a clear, enduring diagnosis of how our schools are doing.

Constant changes make the system unaccountable, and the time has come for the public to say enough is enough.

Stop gaming the education system.


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