Test Mania: A School Is Not a Spreadsheet

teacher studentLAUSD has issued more than 9,500 Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to UTLA bargaining unit members, denying educational opportunities to our communities, and shuttering Arts Programs, Adult Education, and Early Childhood Education.

The LAUSD school board majority says they they don’t have a choice, even though they’re spending $2 million to $4 million (the equivalent of 25 to 50 employees) on citywide implementation of the Early Start Calendar; they’re keeping $200 million locked away in a drawer, accounting for it as money they’ll spend later; and over the next four years the District intends to increase the number of administrators by 27% (according to the four-year budget LAUSD submitted to the county).

There’s at least one other area they’ve prioritized over saving jobs and programs:  high-priced periodic assessments, created by outside companies.

The LAUSD budget receives little attention, in part because the public is given a very small window to scrutinize the few numbers that are available. Additionally, the available information is scant on substance, despite the misnomer at the top of the website:  “LAUSD Budget Realities: Budget Transparency”.

Given this lack of transparency, it isn’t even clear how much LAUSD spends on periodic assessments. We do know that in 2010 LAUSD signed a five-year, $24 million contract with Core K12.

In an effort to solve the mystery of how much periodic assessments are costing, I posed the following questions in an email to Core Education and Consulting Services (which owns Core K12), Core K12, and the LAUSD Communications Office:

How much is LAUSD spending on periodic assessments? How much has LAUSD expended in contractual agreements with Core K12 and/or its parent company Core Education and Consulting Solutions? Are there proposed contracts with Core K 12 and/or its parent company that have not been signed yet? If so, in what dollar amounts, please? Is there any discernible proof whatsoever that any of the results produced from these non-mandated testing agreements has led to even the slighest increase in academic achievement, literacy, and/or graduation rates? Are there any plans to scrap any of the existing contracts in light of proposed lay-offs of over 5,000 Certificated Employees, class size increases in K-3 from 24 to 30, and 3 students per class in grades 4 and 5, and the elimination of the following programs:  Adult Education, Arts Education, and Early Childhood Education?

I gave each of the above parties more than five business days to reply. None responded.

No Child Left Behind, and its step-child, Race to the Top, both incorporate the use of student test data in teacher evaluations, despite that, according to a study conducted by the US Department of Education itself, the best of these models is inaccurate as much as 25% of the time.

In New York late last year, at least 658 principals from around the state signed a letter protesting the use of student test scores to evaluate principals and teachers. (To support their efforts, please sign on to their position paper here.)

Ignoring these voices, the New York City Education Department released test score data, and, predictably, the information is wildly inaccurate as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

California Governor Brown has repeatedly called for a reduction in testing, even doing so during his State of the State speech in January (just over 11 minutes into speech). California has the ninth largest economy, not in the nation, but in the world, yet we’re near the bottom of all states when it comes to per pupil funding.

david lyellThe path to improving education starts with giving teachers the tools we need to serve our communities: Small class sizes, clean campuses, responsible supervision, enforcement of existing discipline policies, access to books, libraries, nurses, counselors, arts education, early childhood education, and adult education.

If a school excels by the limited measure of one standardized test score, but is not an environment that nurtures growth and learning, how much growth and learning is really taking place?

The current LAUSD school board majority needs to remember that the immeasurable elements of nurturing, protecting, and fostering growth and development in every single child are qualities that simply can not be quantified in a score. A school is not a spreadsheet.

David Lyell

Published by the LA Progressive on March 17, 2012
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About David Lyell

David Lyell is a 13-year veteran LAUSD teacher, and secretary of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).
David was one of six activists to march the entire 352-miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento from March 5 to April 21, 2010 as part of The March For California's Future, a diverse coalition of labor, faith, parents, educators and children calling for tax fairness and adequate funding for public education and essential public services in California.
David has blogged for the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism's Intersections SouthLA, as a free-lance reporter and photographer for a defunct cycling publication in Southern California, Southwest Cycling, and also wrote for another shuttered newspaper, The Peninsula Times Tribune.