"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, August 30, 2013

No Man Can Serve Two Masters: School Grading/Accountability

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

School Grading is touted as a way for parents to find out how well their school is doing. Obviously, we pay lip-service to parents being primarily responsible for their child's education, but we have higher levels of masters who take that power away from parents. If the teachers, schools, and student are graded based on how well the student does on a test, then everything is dependent on that test. I believe all those involved in setting standards, assessments, and school grading in this state are intending to have the best outcomes available for children. However, it is important to stop and look at the principles behind these issues and what the end results most likely will be. Who is the master we will serve?

A prime case in point is the presentation we received as a Board on Aug. 13 about the new school grading and teacher evaluation programs.   (A great overview can by found online, courtesy of the Alpine Parent Society.) These programs have been put into law by the legislature, but are also requirements of the Federal Waiver from No Child Left Behind. I could go into the mathematical flaws in the system, the necessary faith in the test creators, and the fact that testing drives what is taught in the classroom. However, the biggest issue I have is who will truly have the power to determine what our children learn. If you realize teacher evaluations, school grades and student grades are all tied to the new state SAGE (Common Core) tests, you realize whoever writes and grades those tests affects every aspect of education in this state. Say what you will about standards, the practical application of it will be in the tests.
Here's an example. Some people have heard recently of the Toni Morrison book, The Bluest Eye. I have never read it, but the excerpts I've read put it, in my opinion, in the category of pornography. (You may disagree, but bear with me for the sake of the argument.) I have an acquaintance back East whose children have read this repeatedly in her private, Catholic school, not because the teachers and administrators agree with the book, but because selections from the book appear on the AP English test. In this case, the AP test determines what is taught in the classroom, even if it is completely contrary to the values and mission of a particular school.

Additionally, the federally-funded Common Core tests (SBAC and PARCC) are testing “process and communication skills over content knowledge”, according to one reviewer. Since our test-developer (AIR) is also developing the SBAC test, one wonders if our state tests will follow suit. If so, anyone who fails to teach the proper methodology, not just the facts, puts their students, their career, and their school in jeopardy. (An example of this from another state can be found here.) Testing is the way standards, curricula and teaching methods are enforced. 

Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said, “It doesn't matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Similarly, “He who makes the tests, controls the education.” The Master of our Education is the test-maker/grader. 

Parents can want certain things taught. Our laws and constitution can say how parents are primarily involved in their child's education. We can speak till we're blue in the face about how parents and local control of education are so important. But as soon as we tie everything to the grade on a test--a test parents have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over--we realize we have a different master. Instead, we must have complete faith in the test developers.  Have they created a fair, accurate system of measuring what we, as parents, want?  And if they do not, there is nothing we can do at a local level to change it. 

We think an end-of-year test will be testing fact, knowledge, and information. However, the emphasis of the SAGE (Common Core) testing is to test “higher-order thinking” over fact. Most parents want their kids to learn higher-order thinking. But what does higher-order thinking mean to the test developer? Benjamin Bloom, author of the well-respected Bloom's Taxonomy (used extensively in education) defines it this way,”...a student attains 'higher-order thinking' when he no longer believes in right or wrong.” (Major Categories in the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, p. 185) This is completely inconsistent with my motto on education: Truth vanquishes darkness. 

You cannot serve two masters. 

Education cannot serve the parents if they can't control the test.  Higher-order thinking cannot lead to the discovery of truth if it also means no right or wrong.  

In the end, who is the master of education in Utah? The state tests, brought to you by American Institutes for Research. It's not you, and it's not me.

About 50% of the time, I agree with the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) on legislation. This is one of those times. We may not agree for all the same reasons, but we agree on the end result. Last session, the legislature passed SB271 on school grading. This is an update of a school grading bill from 2011. In response to the 2011 law, the State Office of Ed developed a process for grading schools, called UCAS. UCAS is mathematically flawed and, like every accountability measure emanating from the state, will take local control away. SB271 is opposed by the USBA because, while they must have some sort of school grading to get the No Child Left Behind waiver, they prefer the UCAS grading system. I think we need to get rid of it all. However, I will be at the press conference/rally the USBA is holding in opposition to the current version of school grading, SB271, on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. at the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) office at 860 E. 9085 South (East on 90th South, just east of 700 East and the Canyons School District ATC buildings).  I'd invite everyone who is opposed to the enforcement Common Core via testing, or to centralized control over education to attend.

Just remember, we can't serve two masters. Until we reassert our rightful position, as masters of our children's education, education in Utah will continue to be subject to a master set up by those who are willing to fill the void we have left.


  1. Tests are NOT the true evaluation tool of a human's ability to be productive, nor his knowledge of anything at any time. I am sick of hearing the emphasis on testing, PERIOD. Only teachers can protect the validity of a child and his talents by daily observation, careful notes on behavioral nuances. While one child might be brilliant on paper, he can be most inactive in practice. Being smart is not necessarily being productive in society. Why are we giving up our rights to evaluating a child to just a paper or computerized test? Don't we do this with animals for their value, in weight? Does this have ANYTHING to do with the production of milk in females? How many facets can you think of that determine the worth of something, and are we really willing to put humans on the block as a product we might sell in a market?
    Not me - I taught special education students and on the one hand the government started intervening in their behalf. While it seemed the IDEA 504 law was a good thing, it set forth a multitude of stresses and interferences on helping Special Education children. While it set up a system of paperwork, it also had to come back and protect their privacy for what a whole TEAM of people wrote on those forms. One analyst said the Special Education laws were more complicated than the IRS. Is this what we want for all students now? Monitoring to the point that there is no longer freedom in teaching, and that so much documentation is needed that the teacher (with no help from their districts anymore..) become filing clerks for papers so overwhelming they leave no time for LESSON PLANNING? THe real world of teaching has taken the teacher OUT of the classroom and put government IN - already. And how do these new testing procedures have anything to do with Special Education kids? What accommodations do they have for people doing jobs that will NEVER go to college? How far down the spectrum of "contribution to society" are these kids when the value of a human being has been put on a piece of paper - computerized, no less - instead of watching how good he is with others, how well he wipes a table, mops a floor, and all the jobs humans all need done for them that don't have much to do with testing on paper. Most of these kids can't and won't EVER read well enough to TAKE a test valid enough for them. But are they valuable in the jobs they do in society? You bet...none of the high testers want to do these menial jobs. LEAVE TEACHERS ALONE AND LET THEM TEACH. If you want paperwork, hire clerks. If you want testing, hire TESTERS, and do not put this on the backs of teachers, who are looking for simple, easy to grade evaluations of short term knowledge dispersment. Quick and easy, after all is said and done, the fancy tests are REALLY not that much more valid than a teacher's POP QUIZ. We don't need to know anything about a child except academic retention on a simple test. The rest is private and the parent's business. Not schools, not the public, and certainly not the goverment's business.

  2. Grading and accountability. The system doesn't care about better education. As a teacher it is incredible how many administrators sat me down, after having voiced serious concerns, and gave it to me straight. "The bottom line is the money. And parents vote with their legs." If we make no waves, we stand to fall. This is not just for us but for the future of America. We must send a clear message to the Federal government that says we are capable of educating our own children as we see fit.  Our communities and our states have the right to self sovereignty and must never be mandated by a system that would set itself as a dominating force. There is still time to stop the mandates of the socialist regulatory system known as the Common Core.  There is still time to realize what has happened, and educate as many people so their voices can unite.  But the window of opportunity is closing, and if we shut our eyes and pretend nothing is happening, then our chance to stop this government's rape on education will be gone.
    I also wrote the book exposing the entire collapse of NCLB and Birth of Common Core. IF you want to see it go to my website at http://www.repealthecommoncore.com to get the whole story.
    Sinhue Noriega teacher and author of “If It’s Broken Don’t Fix it” A Candid Look at Our Complacent Education System. Find out what they don’t want you to know. The truth about the Common Core, and the education system, from the inside by a teacher.

  3. THANK YOU for all you do. From my personal viewpoint I am glad I don't have any children over which I have direct impact. When folks mess with my kids I am not a nice person. As much as I am displeased with CC I am more worried about the UN and their Convention on the Rights of the Child and having the treaty ratified by our Senate. We MUST not let that Happen.

  4. Thank you! That made such a great point.

  5. Great article, Wendy.