Friday, May 06, 2005

Arkansas Bombs NCLB School Testing

By Debbie Pelley (click "comments" below for article).


Blogger Debbie Pelley said...

Arkansas Bombs NCLB Accountability

Bad Means Good, and Good Means Bad Is Excuse Given by ADE

“ Arkansas has some of the highest percentages in the nation of public schools categorized as academically troubled on the basis of student test results, according to a new report compiled for the Education Commission of the States."

"Twenty percent, or 233, of Arkansas’ 1,159 public schools are classified this year as being in Year 1 of the School Improvement program mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. That puts Arkansas in a tie with Nevada as the fourth worst-performing state in that category."

"Similarly, 6 percent of Arkansas schools — 69 — are categorized as being in Year 2 of School Improvement, putting the Natural State in a tie with California for the third-worst ranking in the nation."

" But officials at the Education Commission of the States headquarters in Denver and the Arkansas Department of Education said Monday that the state’s low rankings may be more a reflection of differences in how states carry out the federal law than the relative degree of student achievement” (Quotes from Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “State’s School Rank Poorly In National Report”, March 29, 05.

So what are Arkansans to think about where we stand on education and/or educational improvements after all the money that has been put into the system? Our legislation was supposed to produce accountability and transparency. How can we have accountability when even the experts can’t tell us what the scores mean? ADE Director of School Improvement & Professional Development Janine Riggs suggested when she was quoted in the article referred to above, "When I look at some of the numbers from the other states, I am stunned. I thought we would be in the mix. I didn’t think some [states] would be so low. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I just found it very interesting." Janine Riggs has about the same degree of perception and reality when she works with Arkansas schools in staff development as she did in this instance. This was supposed to be her specialty, and she is stunned - yet bad is good!

The newspaper article above went on to report that Mary Fulton, a policy analyst for the commission, said, “There are a lot of reasons why you might be on that high end — completely legitimate ones. The reasons could include differences in the tests given to students in each state, differences in the minimum achievement levels the schools must reach each year and differences in how a state counts schools that don’t receive federal Title I funding", she said.

So why are we spending all this money on accountability if these failing schools mean nothing? There surely is a lot of anguish and loss of morale among the teachers and students in these failing schools. Why is that if the ratings and standing of the schools mean nothing according to the experts? Is it all just sound and fury?

It is obvious that the Arkansas Department of Education has failed miserably again. (1) They either have failed in their efforts to improve student education, or (2) They set the standards in Arkansas higher than necessary and thereby made the teachers and students in Arkansas look extremely bad, or (3) They purposely set the standards too high so the state could take over more and more schools. The major players at the ADE have been in place for a number of years now. Despite this, all the "accountablity" talk has been directed at the hapless teachers, and not the educrats who administer these programs.

My prediction is that this is controlled confusion so we can move into the next step of having one federal test for all states in order to eliminate all this ambiguity. Of course, once you have government accountability, there will be no accountability. They will just manipulate the scores for political expediency like they did in Arkansas just before Governor Huckabee was elected the last time> They can manipulate the difficulty of the test, or hide the scores like they did the last 20 years in Arkansas despite the accountability law passed back in 1983. There were actual headlines saying our scores were improving when they were in reality going down.

I don't recall seeing any outrage over the recent NCLB status of our schools in the media in Arkansas anywhere despite education being the major issue in Arkansas for the past few years. That is another form of hiding the scores. Most of the media seems to want to print only positive news that has to do with those in power rather than looking out for the interest of the people.

For real transparency, see the test scores below that resulted from more and more government control in Arkansas. When I put these scores in a table so they could be easily compared and then showed these scores to legislators and other leaders, none of them had ever seen them in a form where they could compare them like this. None of them knew how our scores had dropped for several years in a row. Since the ADE could not manipulate the nationally normed tests to their satisfaction, they changed the accountability laws to use only the Arkansas benchmark tests for NCLB accountability purposes.

So our Arkansas Department of Education has failed us miserably again by making Arkansas teachers and students, as well as the entire state of Arkansas, look terrible on the NCLB accountability records. Government micromanagement fails again.

This is true transparency!

Nationally Normed Test Scores From Beginning of Accountability Law 1979 in Table Form

A fact that no one in this entire educational debate has noted is that the tests scores the first years the Arkansas accountability system was implemented are higher than they are now. The scores for 1984-85 on the nationally normed tests were 61% in 4th grade; 57% in 7th Grade and 51% in 10th Grade. After the largest tax increase in state history in 1983 and increased funding from 1.4 billion in 1995 to 2.8 billion in 2001, the scores had decreased significantly to 51% in 5th grade, 51% in 7th grade, and 49% in 10th grade on the nationally normed tests. The averages for tests from 1995-2003 indicate a consistent pattern with 2001 scores: 51% in 5th grade; 50% in 7th grade; and 48% in 10th grade.

It is unbelievable that Arkansas set up an accountability system, and these scores have never been posted in a full picture or printed in a newspaper in full.

Debbie Pelley
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8:23 PM, May 06, 2005  

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