Why HB212 Won’t Actually Change Anything.

Yesterday, I read HB212 (if you’ve never “read” legislation, the easiest thing to do is skim for the pieces that have been added, underlined, and omitted, struck through).  It’s the bill everyone’s been talking about that gets rid of PARCC, “saves us” from the ills of the common core (read that with sarcasm, because I still like CCSS so much more than our previous standards), and moves us toward ending this crazy testing regime.

Having read it, though, I have more questions than I have answers.

Some of my tweets about the bill:

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Several initial thoughts…

  • The bill proposes the state should not be able to dictate to districts that they HAVE to adopt a set of standards.  (I am all for increased local control. I will still maintain my argument that CCSS are/have been good standards, but even with those standards, I have never felt like districts were limited in any way as far as what and how to teach.  I believe there has been local control throughout shifting to these new standards.  Local control ONLY DISAPPEARS when districts devote all of their time to chasing report card grades.  When we devolve our systems into grade chasing, we find ourselves becoming closer and closer to test-prep agencies.  Our conversations become focused on what needs to happen to raise scores, and what needs to happen tends to involve test-prepping kids and “aligning” instruction–which, in these cases, actually means teaching more and more to the test.  So, yes, I believe in increased local control, but I don’t think it’s been absent.  If it has, it’s the logical result of a consequential accountability system.)
  • It says the state has to drop PARCC testing and CCSS (specifically naming both)  (Fine, but I would argue that both have become scapegoats for general discontent with policies hell-bent on testing and punishing. I would encourage those legislators who support this legislation to think about both the potential financial consequences lost from federal grant monies–RTTT–as well as the investments of every school in Ohio when simply decrying PARCC and CCSS.  Changing from PARCC to something different doesn’t fix the brokenness…the brokenness is the system itself and how STUCK we are on measuring everything.)
  • …but, it maintains the same testing grades and subjects (3-8, HS, etc)…then it dictates these tests be at the end of the year and mandates there is to be no testing in March (or any other time outside of the end of the year).  (I will argue that this is still too much testing…too many years.  More tests don’t improve education; more tests make everyone feel more tested–that’s it.  I recently tweeted a humorous picture about kids writing “YOLO” on a test and that becoming the basis for a teacher’s evaluation.  It’s funny, and sadly true.  Because we test SO MUCH, our kids are OVER it.  They know the stakes for them are pretty low–and the tests generally mean nothing to kids; no matter how many pep assemblies we throw and catchy songs we sing…tests are just that–tests.  But, I guess, if we’re committed to continuing to test SO MANY TIMES, then after this year’s experiences, those tests absolutely should be relegated to ONE testing window at the end of the year.  Our kids, teachers, and community–to be honest–were exhausted by this testing schedule this year.)
  • It says the state can adopt standards, but they must be like Massachusetts’ standards from prior to 2010.  (What?  Why?)
  • ….but the state can’t require districts to use these standards.  (Ok, fine…but if I, as a district, choose to NOT use the state standards, how will my report card grades and accountability be measured.  Because ultimately, what is taught these days is regulated by what we are held accountable for teaching…You know why the Northwest Ordinance is arbitrarily taught in HS American History when it happened well before the scope of curriculum in that year?  Because it’s specifically stated in LAW that it will be on the American History and Government state exams.  What’s tested ultimately becomes what’s taught.)
  • Additionally, districts can choose which test they want to use for accountability, but it has to be either Iowa’s tests from prior to 2010 or Massachusetts’ tests from prior to 2010.  And this is to begin in the 2015-2016 school year with schools notifying the state annually as to which test they will choose.  (Oh, cool…we can choose our own tests….for next school year…and they have to be from Massachusetts or Iowa prior to 2010?  What?  Why?  I’m fairly certain these very legislators supporting this very legislation 1) Have no clue how those tests compare to Ohio’s previous OAA/OGTs or PARCC, which, like it or not, we have spent at least 3 years as a state making a shift toward, and 2) Have no clue how long it takes to move a district toward a new assessment that will ultimately determine the district’s report card scores.  SURELY with all this choice and the immediacy of switching to these new assessments and standards by 2015, districts and teacher value-added calculations will be safe from reporting to communities….right??)
  • The state would be charged with calculating some sort of district grades and accountability scores that are comparable between the two tests.  (HA!!! Oh wait, no they’re not!!! Right now, when I look at our district’s report card information, all I can think is–using every bit of my curriculum and accountability expertise– “Ok, what am I supposed to do with that?”  We have had nothing over the last few years except changing assessments.  First, we had OAAs/OGTs aligned to old standards, then we had the “bridge” year during which old questions were used if they were “aligned” to CCSS, and now, we’ve had PARCC and full alignment to CCSS.  Other than simply looking at what trends exist in the data despite the changing assessments, there isn’t much that makes sense to put stock into those reports.  But, they are our current reality in Ohio education.  What we never do in education is give anything TIME TO WORK before we 1) Measure the crap out of it, 2) Administer punishments for “failure,” and 3) Decry teachers for their “incompetence.”  We are so busy hurrying through to the next program/plan/reform/change evaluation, that we don’t take the time to implement initiatives with fidelity.  Even if everything else in this bill were to pass, we still fail education if we rush through a calculation system when we aren’t ready to do so.)

I guess this post is angrier than most, and for that I apologize, but so much in education makes no sense.  We are supposed to be an advanced and developed country, and yet, we result to sticks and carrots systems of balance and control rather than just letting our teachers teach.

Oh, a thought on that…I did a cursory review of some curriculum materials for one of my comprehensive examination questions.  The more materials I reviewed, the more annoyed and offended I became.  I will admit that I was one of those teachers who left the textbook on the shelf and joked with kids whenever I happened to use the book and referred to one of the “how to be a teacher” guidance questions in the margins of the teacher edition textbook.  As I reviewed curriculum materials, I saw more and more of that kind of “guidance” from companies.  I wondered how that “guidance” compared to the “guidance” provided in textbooks from decades past, and guess what….textbooks from the 90’s and 80’s featured much less “guidance.”  I think all of this testing has gotten us (as a society) to a point where we feel we have to dictate and direct teachers in their teaching (God knows they can’t possibly be “aligned” if they aren’t following the teacher margin notes).  I worry that teachers who are not fighting back against these curricular program directives are becoming the very automatons critical theorists such as Ravitch, Pinar, Apple, and Au warn us about.  After all, how long can you treat a profession like semi-skilled workers before that ultimately becomes the truth?

So long as HB212 maintains the emphasis on VA and calculating grades based on unreliable and constantly changing data, the bill does nothing to improve what is happening in Ohio’s educational systems.

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