So does Oklahoma get it, and Kansas doesn’t?

by Steve Wyckoff on November 17, 2010

I received an email from a superintendent/friend regarding my blog post Oklahoma Gets It, Kansas Doesn’t, and I’d like to respond here so that others with the same questions/thoughts might see my response also.

Your recent article “Oklahoma gets it, Kansas doesn’t” has raised some conversation within our district. One of the comments was “That’s interesting because I was at one of the Kansas conferences he was at last week, and we didn’t have any sessions that covered raising test scores.

I’m assuming you could pick presentations to attend that would avoid the topic of assessments. And while I didn’t hear the keynotes, typically KSDE has brought in speakers who present the bigger picture of the world. So I’m not doubting the validity of the above statement. But, the conference title used to be, “The Fall Assessment Conference.” It has been combined with the annual conference but with a major emphasis still on NCLB, AYP, and standardized tests.

I did a little further digging in the breakout session descriptions and the  topic of assessment, and the variations on the word assessment, was mentioned 71 times; tests was mentioned 58 times. Inspire, and its variations, were mentioned 2 times; and innovation, and its variations, were mentioned 4 times. Creativity, passion, and remarkable  weren’t mentioned in any of the descriptions.

So again I don’t doubt the validity of the statement, but there is no doubt that the focus of this conference was on standardized tests and not on our kids and their futures.

The next comment in the e-mail was;

In fact, we had some speakers from Kansas talking about some of the things these national/international speakers were talking about…”

Again, I don’t doubt the validity of this statement. In fact I had many conversations with individuals about the things that we should be doing in education. And I’m sure that these ideas were talked about in breakout sessions. It is my experience in talking one-on-one with educators that there are some broad areas that we have a high agreement on. Unfortunately policymakers and higher-level administrators aren’t moving the system in that direction. And the reality is, like it or not, our standardized test scores in reading and math are what we are measured by. And a preponderance of the breakout sessions were focused on standardized test scores.

I think the focus at the national level, regardless of the rhetoric, is solely focused on standardized test scores. And regardless of what our policy makers and state-level administrators wish we were doing, they are being forced to comply with the feds desires.

Other comments have to do with what the direction of education should be. We keep hearing that we need to change and there is never an answer about what needs to change. I know the long range vision would be to do something different with our educational system but my question is what?

This discussion is worth an entire blog post, so click this link to read what I believe are the most important changes that need to be made.

I think we do some things very well and there are some areas that frankly we have not been able to change for whatever reason. We as a nation have been accused of not preparing our students for the future and to some extent I would agree with that.

I agree completely. In fact I repeatedly say, and it almost never gets heard, we are doing the best job that we have ever done at what we’ve always done. There’s no doubt that we have optimized the current system. The problem is policymakers and state and federal administrators keep forcing us down the old path.

When policymakers and state and federal administrators told us we needed to raise test scores, we raised test scores. And that’s just the latest mandate that we’ve endured. Unfortunately, higher test scores are not an indicator of a student’s readiness for their future.

I know we have not kept up with the test comparisons around the world but I also know that we include a totally different group of students in the results than most nations.

In my mind comparisons of test scores with other countries are useless. So is the conversation about national standards. The United States has never led the world in standardized test scores since the comparisons began in the 1950s. What we have led the world at is innovation and creativity, both of which are being sacrificed today to achieve higher test scores.

And the advocates for national standards all point to the fact that all of the countries who score better than us on standardized test scores all have national standards. What they fail to mention is the bottom 12 countries and those comparisons also have national standards.

I would caution you to get on the bandwagon of anything that standardizes. We are in an era of customization and individualization. In the education our children receive should be as customizable as any good or service today.

I hope that I have addressed the concerns completely and adequately. I truly appreciate any opportunity to have dialogue on the topic of school change. So please, if you have a comment let me know and let’s talk about it. – Steve Wyckoff

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