Let’s cut to the chase.
Tennessee’s online standardized test administered last April is cloaked in controversy due to widespread technical issues at test time. Educators expressed anger. Lawmakers listened, then uncharacteristically leaped into action resulting in a test that carries no weight unless outcomes can add value. Test results are currently available for public consumption and the conversation, what little of it there is, is clouded by words like reliability and validity. However, an independent organization found that the tech screw-ups had little impact on test outcomes.
But these scores.
Allow me to begin with how deeply I believe in the good people who have taken up the mantle to secure our future by educating today’s youth. Teaching, particular in low-resourced public school settings, is probably the most ridiculously challenging role in American society where one person must deliver instruction to scores of kids of varying skill levels, backgrounds, and experiences within a rigid framework of rules, standards, and expectations. The difficulty is not lost on me.
And while I’m keenly aware of the challenges, I unequivocally believe every single child has the capacity to meet our greatest expectations. So I just won’t apologize for my obsessive anticipation of standardized test results, specifically and especially ELA (reading). Even though our lawmakers rendered the test results barren, parents and educators should still find them valuable.
Hey look, increases! There is something to be said about moving in the right direction. But if you are among the more than 60 percent of parents whose children are either “approaching” or “below average” in reading, you might be saying something different right now. You’ve probably heard by now that it takes time to right a sinking ship, but you can bet those using time as a defense are secure in the knowledge that their own kids are posted up reading complex texts seaside.
We’re riding a disconcerting wave in Tennessee, where testing outcomes are everything to be desired, yet we’re seeing great things happening as a result of innovative postsecondary efforts. We finally have a tool that is comparable to NAEP, the national report card, but its execution is continually disappointing. Nevertheless, Tennessee is no stranger to self-assessment, identifying the right track, and yielding positive results. As David Mansouri of SCORE so eloquently penned:
Tennessee knows how to improve student achievement from year to year because we have done it in the past. Set high standards in the classroom, measure progress with an aligned assessment every year, and support great teaching. Our student achievement reports are indicating that our implementation of this winning formula is not as strong as it should be, and we must bear down as a state. This includes challenging ourselves to identify existing gaps in our work – from improving our instructional materials and curriculum to strengthening principal preparation, for example.
Metro Schools Literacy
It appears Nashville followed the state’s lead in posting gains in reading. Moving in the right direction is a good thing. So many students left behind – not good.
Still, I’m hopeful – which is easy for me to say because I no longer have kids in the system. Dr. Joseph understands the critical importance of literacy and spends a solid amount of energy and resources focused on getting it right. Some are still seething about his eradicating the once politically protected seven million dollar Reading Recovery program (see the recommendation at 1:02:00). If he disbanded it to piss off its lead cheerleader – one of his bosses – it remains to be proven. All I know is what I heard and the public position taken during the presentation resonates with me. Dr. Joseph proposed “restructuring” the Reading Recovery system in two ways: place the highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers in the twenty-one priority schools because as he so plainly stated, “priority schools have to be a priority” and instead of focusing on Tier 3 (greatest need) students, the former Reading Recovery teachers will focus on Tier 1 – whole group instruction. Nothing about this says restructuring, but I like it.
Last year’s shockingly deplorable literacy scores sent me into an apoplectic rage. I simply could not grasp that more than 80 percent of children of color and 85 percent economically disadvantaged were not reading at grade level. Sadly, here we are one year later, still, more than 80 percent of Black, Brown, and children in poverty are not reading at grade level. A group of students in Detroit recently sued the state of Michigan for this very reason. Reading is the key that unlocks every other aspect of the educational experience. Without it, what else?
Back to the chase: we have test scores. We must use them.