LA Times, Nov. 11, 2004 [see also letter from State Superintendant Jack O'Connell, below)
The state's 5-year-old standardized testing program was supposed to be part of an Academic Performance Index that would measure school achievement in several areas, including attendance and graduation rates. Teachers and schools that did well were to receive bonuses; schools that didn't got intervention. But the bonuses stopped when the money dried up, the intervention felt like punishment, and the index never evolved to include anything other than test scores — which tend to be low in schools with low-income students and higher in schools with middle-class kids. All schools are expected to show yearly gains, but low-ranking schools must make up more ground at a faster pace.
This year, fewer than half of the state's 6,500 public schools met their improvement goals, down from 78% last year. Los Angeles Unified schools did slightly better — 52% made acceptable improvement, compared with 85% last year. Testing experts say the slowdown follows a familiar pattern in assessment programs, in which initial dramatic gains tend to slow as time goes on.
That's why it was disingenuous for state Supt. Jack O'Connell to launch a finger-pointing campaign, blaming teachers and parents for losing focus and suggesting that scores will rise if we simply "redouble our efforts." His obsession with toughening academic standards and sending every student off to college must seem frustratingly myopic at schools where half the kids have dropped out by 12th grade.
State Education Secretary Richard Riordan is no better. He has been conspicuously silent for most of his tenure. Both O'Connell and Riordan spend plenty of time visiting schools; they ought to use those trips as more than photo ops.
It's clear even from this year's stagnant test scores that some schools are succeeding against long odds. Here's what works:
Officials ought to study successful schools and spread their stories, bringing light, not heat, to the test score debate.
Note: the above editorial corresponds to an article of which I only have a scan:
Los Angeles Times, Oct 29, 2004, pg. B1 & 9 (back to top)
Pace of School Gains Is Slowed (scan
Word Count 783
LA Times, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 (back to top)