ROCKPORT – Recently Maine’s Legislature passed L.D. 1799 with language allowing student test results to be used in teacher and principal evaluations to compete for Race to the Top funding.

The federal rules dictate that states with laws banning the use of student achievement data in their evaluations cannot apply for Race to the Top funds.

A few days ago, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida vetoed a law that would have made student test scores the single largest determinant of teacher assessment. And Maine’s Legislature may wish to revisit passage of L.D. 1799, for good reason.

Over a week ago I heard Diane Ravitch, author of “The Death and Life of the American School System,” speak at the National School Board Association conference. She was assistant secretary of education in George H.W. Bush’s administration. At that time she was a proponent of student test data and charter schools.

She has changed her mind, because the facts changed.

Now, she says, “The problem is that a data driven obsession is undermining public education. Public schools are being privatized by charter schools and vouchers, it’s become a measure-and-punish system that isn’t fostering students’ critical thinking or communication skills.”

When did a Maine Educational Assessment test or SAT score become an adequate unit of measure to assess the value of Maine’s teachers, principals and schools?

What if the federal Department of Education considered a student standards-based assessment that included work ethic, critical thinking and communication skills? Teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on a student’s ability to fill in bubbles on a test.

Worse, schools in San Diego and New York that use student test data to assess teacher and principal achievement are “discharging” students that under-perform.

“Discharge” is another way to hide a dropout student in bureaucratic paperwork. And what happens to these “discharges” and dropouts?

The 2009 national Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen, knows what happens to them they usually end up in prison.

Mullen was another speaker at the NSBA conference. He’s a former police officer now teaching in the Greenwich, Conn., alternative high school. As the national dropout rate approaches a million a year, he’s concerned that dropouts don’t have the skills to survive in today’s economy and resort to crime, ending up in prison.

He offered a startling statistic: More than 2,000 high schools will graduate less than 50 percent of their freshman class. Is the future of our nation’s educational system going to be “discharging” underperforming students to secure federal Race to the Top money?

Doesn’t sound like much of a Race to the Top — more like a drop from the bottom.

The challenge of creating a globally competitive school system depends on good teachers, who need support and encouragement. “What makes a great teacher?” It’s the question everyone is asking. Certainly punitive accountability is not the answer.

What about collective responsibility? It’s where community stakeholders, parents, students, teachers and business leaders, buy in to building effective schools that instill lifelong values, such as work ethic, critical thinking and communication. Moving away from data obsession and toward personal accountability with a standards-based learning system might be a more prudent path in a Race to the Top, no?

A strong presentation at the NSBA conference on standards-based learning by 21st Century Learning Skills’ Executive Director Ken Kay was intriguing because it proposed creating personal learning plans for students.

After Googling the 21st Century Learning Skills, I learned Maine is already a partner. The report states “Maine is exploring different forms of formative assessments “

Where are they? Ever since Race to the Top funds were at stake, the debate about student and teacher assessment appears to be determined by David Silvernail’s May 2007 report, “The Identification of Higher and Lower Performing Schools,” which used 2002-05 MEA and SAT scores to identify higher and lower performing schools.

Indeed, $75 million is a lot of money to leave on the table, but what is the greater cost of accepting the money? The chase for it has refocused Maine’s method of student achievement and teacher assessment.

Is the federal student and teacher assessment model an appropriate fit with Maine’s rural schools?

Silvernail stated that his report’s data “should be used as a conversation starter, not as a summary of judgments about any particular school.”

Somewhere that information was lost to win Race to the Top money.


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