The Constitutional Abuse Of High Stakes Testing Part I

Jul 23, 2011 by

I do not believe that the Constitution of the United States or the constitutions of the various states require public education systems to produce equality of results among the races.

Nor do these same constitutions permit public education systems to conspire with the political class, corrupt and dishonest vendors, and grant-munching sycophants and institutions to create the illusion of ‘equal opportunity’ through the creation and ‘validation’ of academically dishonest testing standards and procedures.

Having worked diligently, successfully and prosperously to protect the right of the nation’s women to have bigger and safer breasts, it is now time for America’s trial lawyers to protect America’s children from the savagery of what has become of high-stakes testing…

The factual and analytical foundation that supports the premises of this column is included in my previous 25 columns. The intent of my next columns is to outline some very basic principles of what I believe is an appropriate use of criterion testing in public education.

THE PURPOSE OF CRITERION TESTING:

There are three legitimate purposes for criterion testing of students in public education:

Monitor school district and state compliance with the constitutional burden to close the academic equity gap among races through educational practices that meet legitimate parameters of providing “equal educational opportunity.”
Evaluate individual student academic skills for the purpose of targeting effective, skills-appropriate instructional programs rather than ‘back-loading’ curriculum to meet arbitrary standards.
Provide parents and guardians of students with independent academic data that empowers them to make informed choices on behalf of their children.

Monitor school district and state compliance with constitutional burden to close the academic equity gap among races through educational practices that meet legitimate parameters of providing “equal educational opportunity.”

In an earlier column, I described the high-stakes testing movement in terms of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  States devising criterion tests for public education accountability struggle with similar questions that confronted Goldilocks.  Is this porridge too hot, too cold or just right?

The brutal truth is that academic integrity and inherent fairness to students who have advanced through the public school system have not been integral components of the decision-making process.

States such as Texas that spent a decade cooking cold porridge lied to state and federal courts about compliance with equity gap mandates.  With deliberate intent and knowledge, Texas created a criterion-testing scheme that produced a picture of dramatic academic progress by Black and Hispanic students.  With even a modest move to a ‘hotter’ or lukewarm test, scores plummeted and equity gaps of magnitude returned thus exposing the underlying flaws of why “cold porridge” ravages minority students’ futures.

In this context, one should recall the January 2000 ruling of The United States District Court in the Western District of Texas validating the TAAS test as non-discriminatory when it wrote:

“…The Court finds that all Texas students have an equal opportunity to learn the items presented on the TAAS test, which is the issue before the Court…”

The federal court ruled (translated literally) that Texas achieved Constitutional compliance if every 10th grade student had an equal opportunity to answer 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th grade questions.

The Court’s hands were tied because the plaintiffs in the case never pursued the legal theory that equal educational opportunity must be grounded in the notion that the equity gap must be defined in the context of academic integrity.

Minority leadership should think seriously about the ramifications of this federal court decision that literally permits a state to scheme to define the equity gap at such a low academic level that the reality of the magnitude of the equity gap need never be addressed in terms of equal opportunity.

The fundamental flaw of “cold-porridge” testing is that the true equity gap need never be closed – even in theory.

Worse yet, “cold-porridge” testing is a state-government scheme that insulates public school systems from an objective evaluation of specific educational strategies in the context of providing legitimate equal educational opportunity.

This is a basic fact that extrapolates through very important decisions involving allocation of financial and instructional resources, purchase and allocation of instructional materials and programs, and fiduciary and accountability standards for evaluating the effectiveness of privatization that is ‘mushrooming’ throughout the United States.

We will also explore these matters in more detail in these next columns.

With the blessing of a federal court in Texas, the State never has to define the true magnitude of the equity gap. So, how can the State be held accountable for closing it?

The simple truth of this basic premise is dramatically demonstrated in those handfuls of states that have opted (albeit temporarily) for “hot porridge” testing.

This testing produces dramatic failure rates among a broad range of students while hitting at-risk minorities particular hard.

The enormous graduation attrition rate among at-risk minority students that is common throughout the land is dramatic evidence of the roadblock that has been constructed when high-stakes testing becomes punitive towards student-victims.

Many self-labeled conservatives tend to look at such statistics with a cavalier sense of superiority:  if the students can’t hack it, “screw-em.”  That may not be what they verbalize; however, it is the impact.

Many educational ‘privateers’ such as those in Texas look at such results and realize there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to be made by participation in a scheme that produces the appearance of success or steady “progress” towards a diminished standard.

Many minority leaders look at the results and recognize the magnitude of the human tragedy.  Yet, too often, their solution is to try to destroy the evidence that truthfully defines the magnitude of the equity gap in urban environments.

Rather than use the evidence to assault the system’s persistent consumer fraud and malpractice that have eviscerated any notion of a legitimate attempt to provide equal educational opportunity to at-risk minority students, minority leaders too often acquiesce in a flawed search for kinder, gentler conclusions.

If the equity gap is to ever be closed at any meaningful standard, criterion testing that measures true grade level skills in reading and math must be embraced and demanded by minority leadership.

Such criterion testing must focus upon holding government accountable rather than punishing students.  Academic integrity in any testing that defines the scope of the equity gap is minority leadership’s key in forcing the public education system to adopt allocation of resources and program evaluation that is a constitutional manifestation of equal opportunity.

However, despite years of educational ‘reform’, the United States remains decades away from being able to legitimately use the type of testing that I advocate above as the basis for denying any student the opportunity to graduate from high school.  There are many reasons for this.

First, let’s define what should be a principle for the use of this kind of testing for which there should be no compromise:  a student should be a beneficiary of such testing – not a victim.

·        A student who has the courage and determination to stay enrolled in public education through the senior year while successfully completing the graduation requirements of a district should be rewarded with a high school diploma – not butt-kicked to the street.

·        A school district or campus that consistently produces academically inferior graduates should be allowed to go out of business and their administrators should be butt-kicked to the street.

The noble purpose of any such testing should be to identify the academic skills (and gaps in skills) of students so that teachers can do their jobs effectively.

Rather, the testing movement is corrupting instruction by forcing teachers to pretend they can “differentiate” the curriculum among students with vastly disparate abilities that cut across two, three or even four grade-levels.

NEXT:

The Constitutional Abuse Of High-Stakes Testing: Part II

THE PURPOSE OF CRITERION TESTING

*   Evaluate individual student academic skills for the purpose of targeting effective, skills-appropriate instructional programs rather than ‘back-loading’ curriculum to meet arbitrary standards.

*   Provide parents and guardians of students with independent academic data that empowers them to make informed choices on behalf of their children.

*   Accountability and fiduciary oversight of the public education system and its privatization policies.

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