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JEFF MEADORS: Time to stop linking teacher performance to test scores

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of columns on Common Core State Standards.

The Georgia Department of Education has stopped using the terminology “Common Core” in-house. I have that on good authority.

Embers broil over Common Core, a curriculum one education lawyer characterized to me last week as a floor of standards rather than a ceiling.

Erick Erickson recently claimed Florida won’t use the terminology either — choosing to refer to Common Core under “Sunshine” standards nomenclature.

But divisive new standards by any other name are divisive new standards, and as coffers run dry on federal Race to the Top (RT3) cash many in this reformation wonder will the teachers still love them when the money’s gone.

Probably not.

Thanks to wild assumptions that teacher performance and pay can meaningfully be tied to student test scores, especially given the disastrous operations of testing giant Pearson Inc. — a major player profiting big in the Common Core rollout, the love affair with teaching ended long ago for many.

The Georgia Senate passed SB 167 34-16 and we should soon learn if the Georgia House follows suit in an aim to retreat from and diminish Common Core and to protect Georgia student privacy data from testing monsters. Legislators who oppose it may face T-SPLOST danger ahead.

Valerie Strauss chronicled Pearson’s tribulations with testing gaffes, delays, inflammatory content, flawed answer keys, programming errors, retakes, erroneous scoring, and a contract default in a 2013 Washington Post missive. Among the debacles are 45,739 wrongly graded graduation tests in Minnesota in 2000 which led to an $11 million lawsuit and millions of dollars in fines against Pearson littered across New York, Texas, Mississippi, California, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida and Wyoming as recently as 2013.

These are the test scores some argue should be tied to teacher performance and merit pay? There’s a fool born every minute in the merit pay debate.

New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman exacted a $7 million fine from Pearson Inc. for using its charitable foundation to advance the for-profit Pearson Inc. That’s a grade of F in ethics. Taxpayers, whose dollars fund thousands annually in school system dues to the Georgia School Boards Association, should demand to know why GSBA supports this.

While nonprofits Gates and Achieve Inc. spearheaded Common Core, critics oppose for-profit vendors like Pearson Inc. charged with the critical assessment component and known for mishandling student tests. New York state officials amended contract language with Pearson to levy more fines on the testing company if more than 10 percent of future test questions are problematic.

Seldom self-deprecating, Pearson calls itself “the world’s leading education company.”

It is the same world that SB 167 seeks to bring back to Earth — protecting student information, minimizing the impact of Common Core locally, and challenging GSBA whose vitriol lost a similarly heated HR 1162 fight a few short years ago.

The smartest people in this room may be those New York eighth-graders whose vengeance on the talking pineapple illustrated more eloquently than any of us can why those seeking to tie test scores to teacher pay and performance should be barred from the room.

Columnist Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.