Tuesday, March 28, 2006
IN MY OPINION (Column)
A Failed System of Accountability
By RAY HAYNES
In 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis pushed a school accountability system through the Legislature. The system had three major components: (1) a comprehensive testing process designed to measure a school’s progress in educating children (2) An academic performance index (API), to report the results of schools to the public and (3) A high school exit exam, designed to make sure every student has a basic level of skills before they can get their high school diploma.
The system sounded good, but I voted against the bill because I believed that the system, while promising much, would deliver too little. The API included factors other than academic performance (like attendance, number of credentialed teachers, etc) that could make a school look like it was improving the delivery of education to its students, when in fact the students weren’t improving. Another problem is that the API reports test scores by school, and not by classroom, so that a few good teachers could prop up an entire school, leaving most of the students in that school behind. This week I found that even I couldn’t predict all of the things that the school establishment could do to hide its inability to do the job the taxpayers are paying them to do.
It turns out that some of the schools, or someone in the bureaucracy, is changing the schools’ API. In a press release this week from the California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE), the CBEE details the scores of a school in the Fremont School District whose 2001 base score was 773 and its 2005 “growth” score was 743. In most places, that is a drop of 30 points. But not in the new new math of our government run schools. It turns out that the “base” score of each school is changed each year, because a different set of students comes into the school, and it is impossible to compare how well the school is doing. For instance, at the Fremont school, the growth score in 2002 was 16 points higher than the base score in 2001, but in 2005, the growth score was only 4 points higher than the base score. Why?
The fact is the API does not measure how many students at that school are performing at grade level. In addition, minority students are only required to meet 80% of the growth targets of white students. Essentially this means that the educrats can slack off on teaching African-Americans and Hispanics and still look like they are doing well. If this had been occurring in pre-1960 Alabama, it would have been called racism.
Finally, using the growth targets set by the API, it could take a student 50 years to reach grade level proficiency. Even if those scores were doubled, it would still take over 20 years for the schools to improve enough to be helpful to its students’ academic performance.
For some time, we have given schools money for meeting their academic growth targets. We have directed money to those schools that are not meeting these very basic minimums (even calling them “high priority schools” so that we wouldn’t hurt their self-esteem by calling them “low-performing schools”). We are spending 30 per cent more per student than we were 10 years ago to help these students succeed.
And the state is still failing miserably. What is more, the state is doing everything in its power to obscure that failure, while pretending that it is holding teachers accountable. The adults who are making huge salaries off of this failing system continue to pat themselves on the back for the good job they are doing.
CBEE is right. We should scrap the entire system and start all over again.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company