Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Stupid Is as Stupid Does, Legalized Extortion

Last night's Board meeting was a barnburner. The results of last year's Connecticut Aptitude (CAPT) test took one center stage. Doug Melody presented the Board with stacks of statistical comparisons of schools, scores, and number crunches. And there was absolutely nothing in the test results that isn't obvious by examining the community. Yet another well-educated, middle-class, suburban community providing honest public education comfortably, predictably, and uneventfully passes the CAPT test overall.

The cost of this Norman Rockwell moment is approximately 5 weeks of exhaustive and comprehensive preparation and test involvement. In our school district this translates into between $500,000 and $1,000,000 of education entangled resources expended, a curriculum distortion to pander to the testing, and a major fraction of the school year dedicated to looking in the mirror and seeing the same educational profile that this community has been for twenty or more years.

CAPT testing is the equivalent exercise of counting our fingers and toes every year while burning $1500 of taxpayer money on the front lawn of the school. Yep, ten fingers and ten toes.

As Board members we dutifully pore over every percentile difference between this competing school and that but after furrowing our brows, rubbing our chins, and uncrossing our eyes there is not a single worthwhile statistic to truly care about. Nothing that isn't obvious and well-known already except for some ever-so-useful school rankings. "Hey, we beat out... so and so. Woo-hoo!" If the test disappeared tomorrow our teachers would still have as much insight into the needs of our kids as they have today. If honesty is our measure, CAPT has no value add to the equation - the esoteric merits are not worth talking about.

Our Board chairman, Fran Archambault, started by questioning whether or not the teaching process is affected from one year to the next considering the different populations, class sizes and other factors involved.

Insert sound effect: crickets chirping.

I followed up by asking what the teaching staff interprets these numbers to mean since they are a measure of how well the teachers are doing.

Somebody quickly corrected that assertion. "Oh no. CAPT doesn't measure the effectiveness of teachers, it measures how well PARENTS ARE DOING!"

Oh wah! As a parent this is the first time I've heard this news. I always thought the premise of this absurd nonsense was to hold the schools accountable. My how bullshit rolls downhill.

I don't think they were kidding either. I really have a hard time wrapping my head around that but maybe it's just me.

Shortly, Bob Kremer, followed up, "What exactly, do we get out of these numbers?", and so on.

"Well, um, ah, eh... what do you mean "get", ah, ..." Nobody had a good answer. Apparently, the teachers were as taken aback by the idea that these numbers had meaning as everyone else. It was like the scene from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where a group of scientists, teachers, and guests are staring out into space at this thing that lands that has all kinds of flashing lights... looks expensive... you don't want it in your living room... and everyone wonders, "What the hell is this all about?"

It became comically clear that the CAPT exercise is a dance we do because the state extorts the school districts into participating at the threat of losing State and Federal tax dollars. The test merely quantifies without a shadow of a doubt that the State is still maintaining a clearly defined class society much to the relief of the real estate market.

The State Department of Education can rest easy. Are those ghettos still there? Yessir! Are those ghetto kids still failing? Yessir! Do we have proof? Yessir! Good work, stay the course!

Schools are failing because America never learns from its mistakes. The sign of a fool is someone who after learning that they've made a mistake keeps repeating the very same mistake with the very same results. CAPT testing is a perfect example. In fact the State and Federal Departments of Education are perfect examples of stupid ideas that have failed but won't go away and who refuse to learn.

Our kids aren't dumb. They look at what the schools practice which is willful institutionalized ignorance, stone-walling and petty nonsense, and wonder how important the platitudes about learning and passing tests can possibly be. If the people in the Departments of Education can keep their jobs then being professionally learning disabled has rich career rewards.

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