In case you haven’t been following the drama surrounding USA Today’s investigative report suggesting Washington D.C. teachers and principals are cheating on kids’ standardized tests, in the last 24 hours the story has exploded into a paroxysm of vitriol and finger pointing.
The multi-part series delved into many statistical improbabilities in the rising test scores of the nation’s capital. Michele Rhee, the former chancellor who had battled the teacher’s union, upheld the validity of “value added” teacher assessments and pushed through huge raises for teachers whose students' test scores improved, suddenly came under fire. Or rather even more fire than usual – since she’s not so much an education reformer as a warlord in pumps waging jihad against the educational status quo. The rhetorical rumble is her stock in trade.
Diane Ravitch (the No Child Left Behind author turned too-much-testing-kills-learning lady in shining armor for teachers in distress and Stanford education professor) skewered Rhee in the Daily Beast, insinuating that Rhee was, if not directly to blame, then certainly responsible for policies that led to teachers and principals fixing kids' test results.
Then Tuesday Rhee lambasted the USA Today series as part of a plot by the “enemies of education reform,” a group she compared to the flat earth society. One could practically hear the derisive crowing in response to her ill-considered dismissal. Wednesday morning Rhee called Jay Matthews, the Washington Post education columnist who usually defends Rhee’s positions but just happens to be married to the USA Today editor who conceived of the series. According to Matthews, Rhee did a 180: her response to the testing scandal was “stupid,” she does believe cheating could potentially have happened, and she supports her successor’s decision to order an investigation into the allegations.
By Wednesday evening Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss was calling for everyone in the DC cheating scandal to be subpoenaed – including Michelle Rhee.
Drama! Testgate is upon us along with testing season. While our children trudge to school with their number 2 pencils to fill in those little bubbles, we’ve got ed policy wonks leaping into the proverbial mud pit… in defense of your child’s growing mind. As a journalist I’m riveted. As a parent I’m dumbfounded.
Testing is essential to make sure policymakers, educators AND parents know what kids are really taking away from all those hours in the classroom. But we have to find other indicators of success. We have to focus our national debate on something other than testing, scores, their pros and cons. Otherwise, we’ll freefall down the value-added rabbit hole, into a surreal world where nothing makes sense. Caveon Test Security, the test security company (who knew such a thing existed?) that investigated suspicious test results for DC in 2009, made recommendations offering an auger of things to come. The district should “monitor” teachers and "run specialized data-forensics analysis on suspected teachers."
While the professionals are policing each other, maybe the janitor will help my daughter learn her multiplication tables.