Monday, August 14, 2006

For The Children?

I had a few spare hours today, so I attended a Racine School Board meeting. This meeting was held in a very small room at the Dekoven Center, at 1 pm today. The participants were Superintendent Hicks and the school board, minus Brian Dey. The meeting was led by Linda Dawson and Randy Quinn from The Aspen Group, a consultant firm hired to help implement school board policies.

There was a very interesting discussion about the wording used to set goals regarding student achievement. Presently, the goals are for children to achieve at or above grade level. This goal was found to be insufficient, as it does not adequately address the issues facing children for whom grade level achievement is impossible or for the brightest children who should be performing well beyond grade level. Instead, they agreed on the following goal:

Students will achieve acedemic results commensurate with yearly personalized learning goals.

The initial change in wording that was rejected included the phrase "individual learning goals." It was thought that this might sound too much like the IEP (individual education plan) used for special education children. Thus Armin Clobes suggested "call it a new name, not an IEP" and consultant Linda Dawson suggested exchanging the word "individual" with "personalized." Yet there was no discussion or suggestion that "personalized learning goals" differed from an IEP. Only the words are different.

School Board member Don Nielsen indicated that the Department of Public Instruction "wants to move in this direction," meaning a direction wherin students are measured according to their individual results relative to their "personalized learning goals", rather than measuring the aggregate scores of children in their school or district. There was a bit of emphasis on the unfairness of measuring schoolwide test results because of the constant turnover of students, coupled with the high truancy rates. Russ Carlsen suggested pulling out the test results of the chronically truant students.

So what does all this technical education jargon mean? I can't be sure, but I smell a rat. If the school district wishes to shift focus from their abysmal aggregate test results to an undefined method of measuring the results of 21,000 individuals, this could be a great public relations move by RUSD. I could easily envision a scenario where poor results are masked by glowing "improvement", as 95% of students exceeded their "personalized learning goals."

The dreaded No Child Left Behind Act was mentioned once, and I suspect that this emphasis on individual results might be intended to circumvent the intent of that law, which allows students to change schools if their school is achieving poor test results. You can avoid that problem by redefining success. Johnny can't read, but not to worry. He has met all of his "personalized learning goals."

In a nutshell, here is what I suspect is happening. RUSD is worried about the poor test results of their students, as they should be. Rather than address this problem directly, and attempt to improve the education and subsequent test scores, they are instead seeking to redefine success, which will be measured by a meaningless new standard. And yes, it is for the children.


Brenda said...

So if little Johnny is a 4th grade student, tests at a 2.1 (2 grade, 1st semester) level in the fall NWEA-MAP test and then tests at the 2.2 level in the spring, this is an improvement?

Give me a break, can you imagine the spin the new marketing/public affairs person will do with this?

Kathy said...

This is all well and good, but where does this false sense of improvement leave these children in the future? Graduation? College? The real world? I can't believe that they are even having this conversation!!!Let's not actually fix something...let's just say that we're going to and then waste our time manipulating words to skew the information so that everything seems O.K.. I guess it really is all about perception. How sad.

angie said...

The Board of Education can call it what they want, but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, well... at the end of the day, it's still a duck.
It's sad that administration & a select few board members think that the public is stupid!

watching said...

Unfortunately marketing techniques like this DO work. Advertisers and politicians use them all of the time. So in a sense, the public is stupid. Hopefully we will continue to have people like you all out there to bring this stuff into the light so we can see it for what it really is. Thanks Denis for attending.

Denis Navratil said...

Thank you all for your comments. I should emphasize that my comments are based to a large degree in my justifiable distrust of RUSD. My guess is that many of the powers-that-be would describe this situation quite differently. Rather than doing an end run around the No Child Left Behind Act, or manipulating language or watering down objective measurements, they will likely say that they are simply trying to reach all of our students, including the high achievers, all of need to have individual, er, personalized education goals. Time will tell.

Peter said...

This is called dumbing the standards downward. As the title of the old Jerry Lewis movie said: "Don't raise the bridge, Lower the river"