Friday, March 17, 2006

CMTs are not essential

In today's Courant, Rick Green argues that Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs) are essential measures. I disagree. Here's why.

Rick Green argues that Andy Dousis, an Essex BOE member, a Marine Corps veteran, and championship high school football coach sets a bad example by refusing to have his daughter take the CMTs.

But Dousis, 42, isn't merely a parent. He's a member of the East Lyme Board of Education and sworn to uphold the law. Mastery tests are required by law.

"The message I want sent is everybody should think on their own," said Dousis, a former third-grade teacher now working as an education consultant. "Join our democracy and educate yourself about the test and make the decision that is best for your family."

Green even calls one of Bush's supporters.

But because Dousis is a guy who made me think, I called one of the architects behind Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative to ask him whether things have spun out of control.

"I don't think there is any data that assessments at the third grade harms anyone," said G. Reid Lyon, now working for Whitney University in Texas. Public officials such as Dousis are sending a dangerous message, he said.

Lyon has spent a career helping schools do a better job teaching children to read. Part of the answer lies in testing at a young age, as well as providing the training for teachers so they can do a better job.

"If a test is assessing reading and math and other content areas, it is assessing what kids have to know," Lyon said. "You have to be able to measure individuals against standards."

Dousis told me he's not against all testing, just what the CMTs have become.

I like Dousis' spunky willingness to take on the system. I can think of plenty of flaws with all this testing. But if his viewpoint prevailed, would we ever know that 66 percent of fourth graders reached reading goals in East Lyme - and less than 15 percent in Hartford did?

IMO, Dousis is doing the right thing for his daughter. The taking of high-stress, inappropriately used, government dictated tests does the child no good. Tests more suited to the child's school and educational progress make more sense. If she's tested here, let's get her to there. And there may not be where a bureaucrat wants her to be - yea, pursuit of happiness - following one's bliss - character - individuality!

NCLB is second only to the Iraq War as a fraudulently promoted bill of -cough- "goods".

Dr. Lyon has made a career of asserting that kids can't read because they are mistaught in the time between pre-schoool and third or fourth grade. This nicely folds into the Bush administration's anti-teacher union policy that dominates educational policy everywhere. As a dispassionate observer of Dr. Lyon's claims, I suspect the data indicating continued failing readers from fourth grade up is being used as a sufficiently credible scientific prop to add credibility that his reading theories are oh, so much better than others'.

Dr. Lyon's selling points are that Learning Disabled (LD) students are little more than poor readers who teachers and parents are conspiring to get special education services for. This costs money that could be better spent giving billionaires tax breaks. In fact, Dr. Lyon's duplicitous proponents contend that his reading program will cure the ills of the racial achievement gaps.

Dr. Lyon now works for the Best corporation (Whitney International University System) who see this education *industry* as "huge, with the U.S. spending more than $700 billion annually." You need not ask what schools will be buying.

So what's so dangerous about Mr. Dousis's message? Maybe that CMT's are harmful to kids, schools, parents, and tax-payers. Dr. Lyons own writings clearly show that older, poor readers make very little progress in later grades. Yet CMTs brutally punish these students.

Can Children With Reading Problems Overcome Their Difficulties?

Yes, the majority of children who enter kindergarten and elementary school at-risk for reading failure can learn to read at average or above levels, but only if they are identified early and provided with systematic, explicit, and intensive instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies. Substantial research supported by NICHD and OERI shows clearly that without systematic, focused, and intensive interventions, the majority of children rarely "catch up".

Oh, and let's not forget the corruption of the education system. Read about Virginia's cheating here. Minorities are being duped by these testing schemes.

To answer Green's question, we have always known inner city schools are a challenge. Do you really think a CMT will fix it?

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