I am more than a test score. Those were the words on my pin that I wore on the day of the SATs back in high school. Sadly, the political landscape hasn’t changed much since then. Any rational person could come to the conclusion that a student’s real-world success cannot be measured via filling in bubbles on a standardized test, yet this administration seems to think this can be the basis for grading schools.
What I find rather humorous is the fact that the education commissioner asked the federal government for a waiver in the national No Child Left Behind standards and even going as far to say that Maine needed to establish measurement standards that better reflect individual students’ intellectual growth. Moreover, this administration has made alternative educational opportunities a primary talking point – including hands-on experiences, service learning and support for charter schools. On top of all of that are the new Maine graduation standards that will be in place in 2017 that are supposed to institute multiple pathways for students to learn and be evaluated on more specialized tracks. So why does this administration want to arbitrarily grade schools on a system that fundamentally contradicts not only the public statements and actions of this administration, but also the new graduation standards we are in the process of converting to? How can we measure student achievement through such a narrow prism? Both are great questions that I needed answers to, so I asked the education commissioner.
What I gathered was a wall of excuses. The commissioner conceded to the fact that this new grading system is a work in progress and that it would have to change to take into consideration the new graduation standards. Why not wait then until those standards will be in place to institute a grading system that best reflects those standards? One word is all that is needed to answer this question: politics.
I keep hearing comparisons to Florida when these education reforms are introduced. Having spent a few years of my life in the sunshine state, let me enlighten you to its “model” education system. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Schools were/are graded and it created an unhealthy competition. Schools that did well got rewarded while schools failed received little to no help. The socio-economic factors permeated to the surface, as more well-off school districts were able to better assist their student population in scoring higher on tests, while poorer school districts couldn’t. This is not what we need for Maine.
With that said, I see a value in being able to take raw data of what we are doing in our schools and translating that into simple and easily understood terms that parents and taxpayers can disseminate. We should be able to critique our educational system, but we need to do it in a productive and constructive way; not in a way that demonizes and demoralizes our educators and students. We definitely shouldn’t sugar coat the issues either. There are a lot of issues that need solving in our education system as a whole. Oftentimes it’s the system that gets in the way of the educators in the classroom who want nothing more than to see their students succeed. Standardized testing and the subsequent learning results box teachers into preparing students for a test, rather than being allowed creative freedom in the classroom to truly get our kids competitive for the global marketplace. That’s the conversation we should be having, not debating why certain schools have a particular grade.
If I was to grade this new system, I would stamp a big fat F on the commissioner’s scorecard. Students are so much more than a test score; one visit to Thornton Academy and you can see why.
On another note, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Thank a teacher.
Justin Chenette is the state representative for district 134 in Saco. You can get legislative updates about the work out of the 126th Legislature at www.justinchenette.com, Facebook.com/justinforsaco, and Twitter.com/justinchenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco