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Montgomery County Superintendent: “Stop the Insanity”

December 11, 2012

Thanks to Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog for this story:

I have been writing over and over again about the stress and harm that high-stakes testing is causing to not only our students, but to all members of the public school community: Teachers, Parents, PTA Staff, Principals, Nurses, Clerical Staff…all the people who are critical to the successful running of a complicated place…your local public school.

People who think that kids just show up to learn, and teachers just show up to teach don’t realize just how MUCH goes into running a successful public school.  There are myriad ways in which the school and the community become intertwined and co-dependent on one another, in really good ways, such as becoming partners who help when help is needed.

When testing becomes overwhelming, it puts a strain on the ENTIRE system.  That strain is palpable in today’s classrooms all across this nation.  Below is the story of one Maverick (IMO) Superintendent from Montgomery County, MD.  My hat is off to Joshua Starr for having the balls to point out the obvious.  THE TESTING JUGGERNAUT (INSANITY) NEEDS TO END!  Maybe Mr. Starr’s brave words will be taken up by other Sups…I can only hope it will.  What is really needed is a gigantic outpouring of PARENTAL activism to put an end to this particular brand of craziness in our schools.

Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr said Monday that the country needs a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and needs to “stop the insanity” of  evaluating teachers according to student test scores because it is based on “bad science.” He also said that the best education reform the country has had is actually health-care reform.

Starr, who heads the  largest school system in Maryland and the 17th largest in the country, solidified his role as a prominent and thoughtful critic of federal education policy as he challenged major initiatives launched by the administration and the reform community. Speaking on a panel at a Washington Post Live education event, Starr said that the country’s education establishment is trying to do many things at once, specifically:

* Implement Race to the Top reforms that states promised to put in place in exchange for federal education dollars that the Obama administration gave out through a contest. Those reforms include expanding charter schools and evaluating teachers by using students standardized test scores to determine a teacher’s “value.”

* Implement waivers that the Obama administration gave to those states that agreed to implement Education Department-supported reforms in exchange for an exemption from onerous No Child Left Behind mandates.

* Implement Common Core State Standards and create new standardized assessments that align with them.

Starr said that states and school systems can’t do all of these things at once, and concluded, “We need a three-year moratorium on all standardized tests.” 

He also said it was wrong to evaluate teachers based on the scores their students get on standardized tests because the method that is is based on “bad science.” He noted that he had previously worked in the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school system, where was director of school performance and accountability. It became clear, he said, that the formulas used to assess a teacher’s value with the use of test scores had huge margins of error, as much as 55 points. While he said he is sure that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have the best of intentions, they are wrong to embrace this assessment method. In Montgomery County, standardized test scores have no percentage weight in teacher evaluations.

In fact, he said that a good way to create assessments for Common Core-aligned curriculum would be to crowd-source the development and let teachers design them rather than have corporations do it. He criticized policies that help make public education 
“a private commodity.”

Asked what he would do if he had the power to make one change to improve teaching, he said he would find more time for teachers to collaborate with each other. And he said that all of the emphasis on innovation in the classroom is well and good, but it doesn’t address the fact that 22 percent of the country’s children live in poverty and that the effects of that affect student achievement.

“Health care reform is the best education reform we’ve had in this country,” he said.

From Starr’s lips to President Obama’s ears.

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