Thursday, February 9, 2012

PASS tests may be replaced with SBAC tests

Tests themselves aren't evil; they're tools that can be useful in diagnosing learning gaps and guiding the work of instructors. But that's not how our punitive command-and-control lawmakers have chosen to use them.

The reading and math tests South Carolina third- through 12th-graders take this spring likely won't exist in three years.

The state Board of Education signed off 10-3 Wednesday on a plan to adopt new tests for the 2014-15 school year that are being developed by the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, a collection of educators, researchers, policymakers and community groups from states nationwide.

The new reading and math exams will replace what students know now as the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, exit exam and end-of-course tests.

The state is making the change because it agreed in 2010 to adopt the Common Core Standards, which are new requirements for what students must learn at every grade in reading and math. The state's existing tests aren't aligned to the new requirements, which will be implemented in full by 2014-15, so the state had to figure out a new testing system. Students still would take existing tests for science and social studies unless the General Assembly changes that.

The Common Core Standards for reading and math have been benchmarked against the world's top-performing countries, so the goal in using them is to better prepare U.S. students to compete in a global economy. The new tests also will allow South Carolina students' scores to be compared with those in other states, which isn't possible with the state's existing tests.

Although the state board gave its go-ahead to move forward with the new tests, it's not a done deal yet. Three South Carolina officials -- the Board of Education chairman, the superintendent of education, and governor -- must agree to join the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.

There's always a catch. For Haley, Zais and the state board chair to agree, what additional pain will public schoolchildren and their educators have to suffer?

Superintendent Mick Zais opposed the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, but Jay W. Ragley, the department's deputy superintendent for legislative and public affairs, said Zais would sign the agreement.

Zais opposed the standards because they limit the state's ability to determine academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics, and that same concern was echoed among state board members Wednesday.

Larry Kobrovsky, a Charleston attorney who serves on the state board, said public education always has been a local and state function, and the U.S. Constitution doesn't call for federal involvement in that. Adopting the new tests is the final step in ceding South Carolina's educational decision-making, responsibility and statutory duties, he said.

"What we're doing today, make no mistake about it, is completing the nationalization of public education," he said during the meeting. "This is the day we're giving our sovereignty away."

What is it with South Carolina and sovereignty? From the beginning, we've been so worried that we might be considered equal to other colonies and states if we agree to participate with them and abide by a set of shared laws and social norms.

What has "sovereignty" gotten us thus far?

David Blackmon, the board's chairman-elect, voiced his disagreement with that philosophy during the meeting, saying if the board didn't want to implement the Common Core Standards, it should've made that decision 18 months ago. Hundreds of the state's teachers support joining the SMARTER consortium, and this will allow the state's students to compete with their peers nationally and internationally, he said.

The state board also agreed Wednesday to become a governing member of the consortium, which means its input will be considered in the tests' development. Right now, South Carolina is a participating state and can't make decisions that affect the tests.

There it is. We don't want to play ball unless we control the game and call the shots.

Eight-year-olds on the playground understand this kind of behavior.

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