Off The Record: Teachers being buried by reports

November 17, 2003|HERB BROCK

Today the Kentucky Department of Education will release one of the following:

A. The No Child Left Behind report.

B. Paper airplane material.

C. Spit wad material.

D. Note-making material.

E. Scratch paper.

If you'd answered "A," you'd have been correct, according to the Department of Education. If you'd answered "B," "C," "D" or "E," you'd have been correct, according to me.

The No Child Left Behind report that you'll be reading about today supposedly evaluates the progress each school and each school district are making toward a bunch of accountability goals. A federal program, NCLB is the latest report card on our schools, the newest accountability yardstick used by the department in measuring our schools. There are several other yardsticks, including the Commonwealth Accountability and Testing System (CATS) and the Comprehensive Testing of Basic Skills (CTBS).


The state and federal government education bureaucracies have more yardsticks than a carpenter - but much less skill and experience in measuring and assembling what they are making. In the case of the two bureaucracies, numbers crunchers are supposed to be building a new educational system but they're also constructing a lot of confusion.

And these yardsticks are thick - about 10 feet thick. Another forest has been sacrificed for the production of another voluminous bureaucratic report that is full of more eye-blearying data and confusing conclusions and offers another evaluation of how our are schools are performing.

Don't get me wrong. A reform of our state's education system with an emphasis on accountability was badly needed, as was the Kentucky Education Reform Act enacted in 1990 that triggered the massive changes we've witnessed since then. Since then, KERA and the numerous accountability tests and report cards that have mushroomed around it represent efforts to improve our schools, and these effort appear to have been noble and far-reaching and productive. I say appear because what we - the lay public - have to go by are a series of complex, confusing and conflicting results that purportedly give us a quantifying idea as to how our students, teachers, schools and districts are performing.

According to whatever yardstick program you're looking at, our school is doing better than it had been doing but not as good as it should be doing but not nearly as good as other schools in our district are doing but better than the schools in neighboring districts are doing but not as good as the national average but better than the state average. Our school has progressed, regressed and every "gress" in between.

Case in point No. 1: The Burgin district and its high and elementary school programs were among the top performers in the state on the most recent CTBS and also did pretty well on CATS but the district and the two schools were deemed as failures in the eyes of the NCLB program, overall and in reading and math.

Case in point No. 2: Seven of the nine schools in the Lincoln County district made 100 percent progress toward their NCLB goals, overall and in reading and math, but the district as a whole was listed as a failure, overall and in reading and math.

NCLB parlance, districts and schools receive a "yes" or "no" as to whether they made sufficient progress. Why not add "maybe" as a third category, as maybe this NCLB stuff is misleading, if not totally messed up?

In CATS parlance, our schools are above or below baselines. What happened to good or bad? Our students are novices or distinguished. What happened to dunces and eggheads?

A new era of reform - along with the thick bureaucratic reports and the thick-headed bureaucratic language in them - is what has happened. And while all this measuring presumably keeps students, teachers, principals and superintendents on their intellectual toes, it's hard to say if it really is working because it is hard for common folk to comprehend all the percentile numbers and the acronym-laced jargon used in interpreting CATS, CTBS and NCLB. Compounding the confusion is that several of the tests' formulas for assessing them are constantly being changed.

But while we dunces attempt to make sense of all the numbers and jargon - and we, with the help of the media, often do it by funneling all the information through a sports sieve to come up with score comparisons that lead to intellectual comments such as "We beat Boyle's butt in social studies" and "We blew away Danville in language arts" - we don't have the pressure to perform on the field, that is, in the classroom. That belongs to the most important person in all of this reforming, reporting and measuring. The teacher.

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