Friday, July 15, 2011

LA Officials Vote Against Two Charter Schools

The LA Times reports that two charter schools may close because a principal accused of cheating was working for an organization hired by the schools, despite an order that no such individuals be permitted to work for Crescendo or Celebrity charter.

In March, there were allegations that the executive director and founder of Crescendo, John Allen, ordered teachers and principals to use actual test questions to prep students.  Two teachers claim they were suspended after bringing the incident to light.

Incidents like these demonstrate the high pressure on schools to increase test scores.  Instead of teaching effectively and trusting that students will learn enough from their teachers to show growth on exams, schools try to wring every possible test point out of students - and then some.  Test taking is an important skill - in my old district, students who wanted to enter our district's college prep high school or enter a local scholarship program that offered generous financial aid for college had to take a certain test.  In helping students through the process of demonstrating their knowledge on those tests, I made sure their test results accurately reflected their knowledge.  But increasing test scores isn't, and shouldn't be, the sole goal of any teacher's class.  The goal should be to promote learning and critical thinking skills; the score increases will be incidental.

Schools often make decisions about which students should get remediation or be placed in certain groups based on test scores.  Depriving a student the right of a fair assessment of their abilities can prevent them from getting the services they need to be successful.  It also makes it impossible to accurately gauge the effectiveness of subsequent teachers, because there is little basis for honest comparison.  And finally, these practices reflect a lack of faith in the teachers at a given school.  If a principal (or other administrator, or other teacher) feels that they need to engage in these practices to demonstrate learning in their school, I wouldn't want to work there as a teacher or send my child there as a parent.

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