Recently, the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released the Achievement Index for the 2014-2015 school year. This index uses test scores from the grossly unfair and unreliable SBAC test - a test that is so difficult that almost no one in the state legislature can pass it - to rank our kids and our schools. In this article, I will explain why this (de)grading system is harmful to students, teachers, schools and communities - which is why I will immediately end both the toxic SBAC test and the equally harmful Achievement Index if am elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Here is a link to the revolting Washington OSPI ranking system: https://eds.ospi.k12.wa.us/WAI/IndexReport/dropdown
Here is what this grotesque ranking system looks like for Garfield High School, in the Seattle School District:
Garfield was given a Index Rating of 5.67 which is a "D" under the OSPI rating system. What is disgusting about this rating system is that it ignores the poverty in the school district and it ignores huge class sizes and lack of state funding. When compared to other urban high schools with high poverty and high class sizes, Garfield is one of the the highest achieving urban high schools in the nation in terms of the percentage of high school graduates and the percentage of students who go on to succeed in college and careers! But you would never know that from the disgustingly inaccurate rating system used by the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
But the problems with this ranking system go far beyond the fact that it is not accurate. The real problem is that it places how students achieve on a grossly unfair bubble test called the SBAC test to rate kids, teachers, schools and entire communities.
The SBAC test is a variable question test in which different students actually are asked completely different questions. Not only does it make it impossible to accurately compare one student to the next, but neither teachers or parents have any idea what questions were asked of their students or whether the question had any relationship to what the student was actually taught in their classroom.
What we do know about the SBAC test is that the questions are often "age inappropriate" using language and skills that are often many grade levels about the grade level of the student. This is because the SBAC test is based on the "Common Core Standards" - standards which have been reviewed and rejected by hundreds of child development specialists from across the nation. For example, a question from the nation's most popular Common Core Second Grade Math book (meaning it could appear on the 3rd Grade SBAC test) asks students to determine the number of paper clips in a pile of paper clips when given three equations with three unknowns. Many members of the State legislature would be unable to answer this question. Yet 3rd Graders with no ability to engage in abstract reasoning are being forced to deal with questions that so impossible that they are in fact a form of child abuse.
To add insult to injury, teachers and schools fear that parents and voters will judge the school based on student test scores on these ridiculous bubble tests. So the entire year is spent preparing students to take these grossly unfair tests - meaning subjects that the students are interested in, including art, music and history, are sacrificed to spend the entire year on drill and kill prepping for these toxic high stakes bubble tests. Even time for recess and lunch have been cut back to spend more time on test prep - destroying not only the child's interest in learning but destroying their physical well being.
What our kids need is not more toxic tests but more teachers so we can lower class sizes so that struggling students get the help they need to succeed in school and succeed in life. Currently, our state legislature spends about $9 billion per year on education for one million students. This comes to $9,000 per year per student or about $4.50 per day per student. This is the lowest school funding in the nation which is why our kids are subjected to the highest class sizes in the nation.
At the same time, our legislature gives away about $36 billion per year in tax breaks for wealthy multinational corporations. Put another way, for every dollar the legislature spends on our kids, it gives away $4 in corporate tax breaks. My plan is to double school funding by asking our Supreme Court to repeal about one third of the corporate tax breaks. This will allow us to build hundreds of urgently needed schools, hire tens of thousands of teachers, raise teacher pay 30 to 50% and cut class sizes in half. This will not harm these corporations as they can deduct their state taxes from their federal taxes. But it will make a huge difference for our kids, our teachers and our schools.
How Cutting Class Sizes in Half Helps Students
The largest experiment on the effect of small class sizes was conducted in the state of Tennessee more than 30 years ago. Called the STAR experiment, about 12,000 students in 80 schools were randomly assigned with 6,000 given small class sizes of 16 students and the other 6,000 given regular class sizes of 25 students in grades K through 3. In the 4th grade, all students were returned to regular size classes. There was both an immediate benefit and a long term benefit to small class sizes. Students in smaller classes had fewer attendance problems, fewer discipline problems, and much higher test scores. The effect was most noticeable among lower income and minority students. In addition, lower class sizes reduces the teacher attrition rate.
But the most important benefit was discovered 8 years later. Small class sizes increased student self confidence which led to a dramatically higher graduation rate and a dramatically lower drop out rate. Thisbenefit was also most noticeable among lower income and minority students The drop out rate 8 years later among low income students was cut from 30% to only 12%. Equally important, the so-called "achievement gap" or difference in achievement between students from higher income families and lower income families was completely eliminated by giving all students 4 years in small class sizes.
Here is a link to the study in case you want to read it yourself or share it with friends:
Source: Finn & Gerber, 2005 Small Class Sizes and Graduating from High School, Journal of Educational Psychology, 97 (2), 214-223. (Data from Tennessee STAR Study) https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-972214.pdf
High Class Sizes and High Stakes Bubble Tests are both Harmful to Students
This is why as Superintendent, I will use my authority under Article III, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution to immediately end the unfair SBAC test and why I will use my authority under Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution to immediately file a motion with our Supreme Court asking them to declare $12 billion of the $36 billion in tax breaks to be unconstitutional so that we can immediately start rising teacher pay, hiring more teachers and building more schools.
We cannot solve the school funding problem by using inaccurate bubble tests to unfairly rate half of our schools and half of our kids as failures. We cannot solve the school funding problem by constantly re-electing the same corrupt people who created the problem. While everyone in the legislature and everyone running for State Superintendent claims that they are "advocates for school funding" the fact is that there was only one bill introduced in the legislature in the past 6 years that would actually provided the billions of dollars needed to significantly lower class sizes. This was Senate Bill 6093 - a bill that I wrote to repeal tax breaks for the rich.
We as parents and voters need to look beyond what politicians say when they are running for office and look more closely at what they did or did not do while they were in office. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. It is a fact that I am the only candidate who has a real plan to restore school funding. I am also the only candidate who has pledged to end the toxic SBAC test and the grotesque Achievement Index during my first week in office.
To end these toxic tests, I need your help. Please share this article with other parents and teachers. Go to our campaign website, Spring for Better Schools.org and make a donation to our campaign. Join our group of volunteers and start organizing parents and teachers in your community. Together we can restore sanity to our public schools and provide all of our students with the quality education they need and deserve to succeed in school and succeed in life.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.
David Spring M. Ed.
Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction