Accountability Race to the Top Testing

Paul McKimmy: Why Did Noah Fail?

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Paul McKimmy, a professor at the University of Hawaii, tells the story of his two children, one of whom was a very successful student, the other–Noah– fared poorly.

What to do? According to reformers, Noah’s teacher was a failure; she should get a low evaluation, en route to being fired. The education college she attended should be downgraded for Noah’s failure.

McKimmy shows how absurd this approach is. In fact, both children had excellent teachers. One, his daughter, had been raised with every advantage. Noah, a foster child, had been raised in squalor.

“Noah’s lack of progress in school is easy to pin on the “failure” of his teacher, his school and the education system — until you look at him as a person and not a test score. Every dollar we spend to increase his academic success by testing him, evaluating his school, and making a show of holding the public education system accountable is a joke. Noah doesn’t need a standardized test. He doesn’t need a more highly effective teacher, and he doesn’t need us to spend another billion dollars tracking his test scores with the goal of holding the teaching profession accountable for his success.

“Noah needed preschool. Now he needs a bed with a roof over it. His parents need employment skills. His school may be the only public institution that has done right by him, and as far as I’m concerned his teachers are heroes. He needs you and me to prioritize our social service systems while investing in education. It is an absolute embarrassment, that instead, we continue defunding, attacking and blaming our public schools for his lack of success.

“You may believe that Noah represents just one case, but he’s not alone. Just drive by our Kakaako medical college and witness the tent city nearby — there are many, many kids living on the edge right next to our luxury condos.

“Nearly every study that examines the factors contributing to student success acknowledges that poverty has the greatest impact, and that teacher effectiveness is elsewhere down the list. So why do we continually gloss over this obvious point and rush to find new ways to try holding teachers and schools accountable for results? Because it’s easier than fixing the real problem, and because it suits political agendas to paint our education system as “broken” so that some group or company can sell us their program (quick-fix circumvention of quality teacher preparation), product (textbooks and software) or service (test preparation).”

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