Why is agency pushing students into bubble tests they can't pass?

By Frank E. Morgan
Posted 1/30/18

Editor's note: This column originally ran in the Monday edition of The State.

COLUMBIA - A few months ago, the S.C. Education Oversight Committee approved an accountability system that to call flawed would be generous. The new system is highly …

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Why is agency pushing students into bubble tests they can't pass?

Posted

Editor's note: This column originally ran in the Monday edition of The State.

COLUMBIA - A few months ago, the S.C. Education Oversight Committee approved an accountability system that to call flawed would be generous. The new system is highly dependent on one-shot standardized bubble tests and guarantees that 30 percent of the state's schools will be deemed below average or unsatisfactory, regardless of measurable performance or improvement.

Making matters worse is the fact that the passing cut scores to meet or exceed expectations on the tests that will drive this system are set above legitimate grade level achievement expectations and are among the highest in the country.

Because of this, our students will continue to look like they lag badly behind the rest of the country, even though what counts as a passing score in the rest of the country is a lot lower.

The whole thing is a stacked deck, on purpose I believe.

What is most disappointing about this system is that it does little or nothing to measure the attributes listed on the "Profile of the South Carolina Graduate," a document that was actually adopted by the EOC, in addition to the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, the State Chamber of Commerce and other groups. This forward-thinking document provides a comprehensive picture of the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that graduates need to be successful in adult life.

Unfortunately, there is very little in the new accountability structure that measures areas included in the profile: creativity and innovation, collaboration and teamwork, problem-solving, the arts, perseverance, work ethic. These are attributes that low-bid bubble tests will never touch.

The EOC made a very big deal about how much stakeholder feedback it received in developing the new accountability system. I can tell you that stakeholders advocated very strongly for a balanced system that measures more than what is measured by bubble tests. The EOC largely ignored both the feedback received and the spirit of the profile. The question is why.

I hate to be a conspiracy theorist. But I firmly believe the EOC's agenda is to put public education in a no-win situation in order to set the stage for vouchers. A few years of this stacked system will give the EOC and its political cronies ammunition for public funding of private schools through vouchers or some similar scheme. That way, the EOC can help subsidize parents who will never use public schools anyway and defund public schools that are now funded at more than $500 per student less than state law requires.

I wouldn't have that big a problem with vouchers if private schools benefiting from public money had fully open admission and were held accountable for the same tests as public schools. But voucher proponents fight such provisions tooth and nail. Open access and transparent accountability are only for public schools.

I had a voucher proponent tell me recently that accountability for private schools is based on parent satisfaction. I wish public schools could get that kind of deal. Most if not all survey data from the past 20 years indicate that an overwhelming majority of public school parents are quite satisfied with their schools. A big point of any dissatisfaction, however, is with the incessant bubble testing mandated by agenda-driven bodies such as the EOC.

The General Assembly needs to send the EOC back to the drawing board to fix its horrendous accountability plan. I would also suggest that the General Assembly ask why this bureaucracy exists in the first place. Most states seem to do quite well with just a State Board of Education, which is what we had in South Carolina long before the EOC came into being.

The money spent on the EOC would be much better spent on school buses, or teachers, or programs cut during the downturn, or library books, or pens, pencils and paper for that matter.

One more thing: I would challenge the non-educator members of the EOC to substitute for a week in a real school and talk to real teachers, principals and students. This might open their eyes.

Dr. Frank Morgan is Kershaw County School superintendent; contact him at frank.morgan @kcsdschools.net.