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Tests, Not Schools, Are Failures
- To: ARN State <ARNemail@example.com>, ARN Main List <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Tests, Not Schools, Are Failures
- From: Bob Schaeffer <email@example.com>
- Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 15:55:21 -0400
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IT LOOKS LIKE TESTS, NOT SCHOOLS ARE REAL FAILURES
St. Petersburg Times -- June 18, 2004
by Mary Jo Melone
Lynn Rattray, principal of Bellamy Elementary School in Town 'N Country,
moves through her day with that classic piece of wisdom in her head: She
tries to control what she can and lets go of the rest.
At the moment, Rattray is trying to do her best not to tie herself in
knots over the rating her school earned under the federal No Child Left
Mind you, this is a school that has, for three years straight, earned an
A from the state based on its FCAT results.
Yet when it came time for the federal rankings, which are based on a
separate analysis of the FCAT results, a politically induced case of
cognitive dissonance resulted. Bellamy flunked.
Lynn Rattray is a veteran school administrator. She picks her words
carefully. So she won't say bluntly what she thinks of the federal test
Bellamy failed because its fourth-graders didn't do well enough on the
FCAT writing test.
That sounds a legitimate concern. Look more closely, and you are
reminded of just how much figures in black and white can mislead.
This year, 89 percent of Rattray's fourth-graders met or exceeded the
state standards on the writing portion of the FCAT.
Under the rules, Bellamy would have passed under the No Child Left
Behind Act if 90 percent of its fourth-graders hit the FCAT mark. Just 1
percent more. A breath of a difference.
All 128 fourth-graders took the writing test at Bellamy. One percent of
that is 1.28 students. I'll round that up to 2.
In other words, if just two more Bellamy fourth-graders had met or
exceeded the FCAT writing standards, Lynn Rattray would be grinning from
ear to ear. Bellamy would have gotten a passing grade under the No Child
Left Behind Act.
There's another problem with the federal rating system. It is supposed
to measure the progress of students. According to Rattray, it doesn't.
Again, take the example of the fourth-graders' writing results. Bellamy
was deemed a failure because its writing results dropped this year from
last. But last year's fourth-graders were fifth-graders this year. The
writing skills of the fifth-graders were not tested this year - the
writing skills of a new batch of fourth-graders were. The comparison was
not apples to apples.
Lynn Rattray describes herself as disappointed and frustrated over this
bureaucratic mish-mash brought on by the No Child Left Behind Act. I
don't know how she puts up with strangers from Tallahassee and
Washington breathing down her neck.
The bad federal rating at Bellamy is particularly insulting because this
school has achieved so much against the odds. It earns top state FCAT
rankings even though most of its students are poor. While black children
often don't do as well as white children in school, there is little
performance gap at Bellamy. Clearly, this is a school that breaks the mold.
And clearly, Lynn Rattray does her best to take the long view. Whether
we ever get control over the rush to measure school performance every
which way depends on the politicians we elect. In the meantime, the two
Bushes can promulgate confusing rule after rule. That won't change how
Rattray leads her school. As she put it, "It doesn't drive our curriculum."
The other day, when the gap between the FCAT and No Child Left Behind
was on the news, a casual glance would have had you believing that there
was some big story here, but along the old plot line: Florida schools,
once again, are declared a joke.
The experience at Bellamy - and there are other schools like it -
indicates that is simply not true.
It's hard to miss the irony. The people who want so much for the schools
to improve are the very people creating an impression that they can't.
This surely isn't what we mean when we talk about school reform. Reform
overkill is more like it.