Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lynne Varner says Seattle teacher protests against testing are focused on the wrong problem

You would think that smarter kids would do better in school, right?

Wrong--and least not for poor black kids.

The fact is that any child of average intelligence can succeed in school--as long as he/she has a rich environment of verbal interactions, a wide variety of experiences, a safe home, preparation for kindergarten and full support for emotional, physical and educational success. Of course, all these things also contribute to a higher IQ.

If your parent or parents are away working at two jobs, or, in a worst-case scenario, abusing drugs and hanging out with gangs, you aren't likely to develop anything approaching your full potential.

A brilliant child with a bad home situation and intellectually impoverished environment will not do anywhere near as well in school as a child with a plodding, low-average intellect who is raised to be a success.

This is true of all races, but the statistics show that a much higher percentage of white and Asian kids are groomed for success. The situation among poor blacks is so bad that the benefits of high intelligence are completely wiped out, statistically speaking. A lot of good brains are being wasted.

The high cost of wasted educational opportunity — now that’s worth a teacher protest
Boycotting a Seattle Schools standardized test is small potatoes. But don’t worry. There’s plenty in education to get riled up over.
By Lynne K. Varner
Seattle Times
February 7, 2013

I remain unconvinced the Garfield High School teachers’ boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress test is anything more than adult hubris.

For one, nearly all Seattle Public Schools have begun administering the required test, despite differing views about its value. For another, the test is unlikely to survive as a ninth-grade requirement. The case to keep it is stronger for middle and elementary grades, but even there pilots of new tests by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium may yield better options.

The push for more sophisticated tests has good intent. But the boycott and its attendant protest rallies — designed to pressure Superintendent José Banda into making a decision a mere three months before he plans to anyway — is overkill.

I’ll give boycotters something to protest.

Let’s start with dismal news that African-American, Latino and Native American elementary students still lag white students in core subjects, such as math and reading. We know this from results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test given to fourth- and eighth-graders across the nation.

Sure, Washington state as a whole posts test scores above the national average on the NAEP, but that’s far from the case for brown children and those from low-income families. Here’s a chant: “Education, not academic stagnation!”

I’m a parent and I’ve also written about education long enough to become as frustrated as the Garfield teachers and parents. I’m frustrated that despite the $13 billion spent every two years on the K-12 system, students still graduate from high school who don’t read well or understand basic math.

Who’s going to take to the streets about that?

Seattle is a city that prides itself on progressive values but I see a regressive bent in some corners, particularly the obsession over education reforms.

I remember the outrage in 2011 when a Seattle high-school principal was fired from a school that had only 5 percent of African-American students, 16 percent of Latino students and 3 percent of bilingual students passing the district’s standardized math test.

The principal was reinstated and the furor died down. But I’ve wondered what happened to the students with the abysmal scores. Our attention waned because the school’s overall test scores are quite good.

How are those students surviving without basic math skills? Is their future what we would want for our own children?

Schools, teachers and parents are working harder than ever. I see it when I’m out reporting but I also see the efforts reflected in data. Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of college degrees going to blacks, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders went up. That’s progress.

But I worry about high-school students and young adults because they are most likely to get caught on the wrong side of the growing mismatch between skills required for available jobs and the skills they actually have.

If the skills gap is not addressed, attention toward picket lines will soon be directed toward growing unemployment lines.

Critics of the MAP and other standardized tests point out their cost. They aren’t cheap. But neither is a poor education.

My next point puts this into context: Eliminating the achievement gap would have boosted by $240 million the earnings of currently working African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, according to the Washington state Policy and Budget Center.

Protesting standardized tests is not so much wrong as it is misdirected.

The high cost of wasted educational opportunity is the bigger problem and far worthier of a rally or two.

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