Rogan: Teach One Thing, Test Another: A Recipe For Disaster In Education

by Joseph Rogan, Ed. D. – Misericordia University

March Madness is here again. Pennsylvania’s students will soon be spending long days taking the state’s required tests after spending many hours in test preparation. For the next few weeks, testing will replace teaching.

Joseph Rogan, Ed.D.

This year’s tests match the new Pennsylvania Core Standards, which were put into place in the fall. The state’s standards, based on the Common Core State Standards suggested by the National Governors’ Association, are more rigorous than we have previously seen. They have a stronger focus on writing and complex thinking skills. If implemented properly, they could make an enormously positive difference in how we prepare students for their futures.

Given the work involved, some districts tried to get a jump start after the state board adopted the standards in 2010. After they spent precious resources and time, the state changed the language of the standards – leaving districts confused as to what to do next. Other districts, including many hurt by the state’s massive funding cuts, never got started. Districts simply have not had enough resources or time to update their curricula or to provide the necessary professional development that their teachers need. As a result, classroom teachers this year have not been prepared to adapt what or how they teach, especially since they are still using textbooks tied to the state’s old standards. Effectively, they have been teaching the old standards even though this spring the state’s test will measure their students against its new standards.

As was the case in other states, such as New York, where tests were rushed into place before curriculum and teaching could be adjusted, we can expect our students’ scores to plummet. When they do, we should blame our leaders, not our teachers.

In the Empire State, officials did blame that state’s teachers last year for its lower scores. Intense pushback, however, from administrators, teachers, and parents, including many who refused to allow their children to participate in the testing, was fast and furious. As a result, New York’s state board decided to delay the implementation of the standards and their testing requirements for five years. Its districts now do not have to use the tests to make placement decisions; do not have to use the tests with students who are disabled; do not have to require students to pass the tests to graduate, and do not have to use students’ scores to evaluate teachers. It will be interesting to see whether Pennsylvania’s leaders find a need to call a similar retreat.

No teachers I know are opposed to high standards, but they want a fair shot at meeting them. If we are going to get it right, educators, parents, and students need resources and time – years, not months – to understand the new standards and to collaboratively plan to put them into place. Even Fox News has cautioned that resources are critical. It estimates that states will have to spend up to $10 billion up front and $800 million per year for the first seven years to provide the necessary professional development, textbooks and resources, technology upgrades, and improved tests.

Some states have tried to provide the necessary resources. New York’s Board of Regents advised its legislature to increase school aid by $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 school year. California allocated $1.25 billion, estimating that new curriculum frameworks and instructional materials would cost about $800 million and professional development would cost as much as $765 million ($2,500 per teacher). Maryland officials estimated that it will take $100 million just to upgrade computers needed for the tests. Georgia would need $35 million per year, or about $39 per student just to pay for the tests. Florida spent more than $404 million. Last year, Tennessee trained more than 40,000 teachers. Delaware funded the Common Ground for the Common Core to help districts bring the new standards into classrooms. Accountability Works, a nonprofit education advocacy group, estimated that schools nationwide will need $6.87 billion for technology, $5.26 billion for professional development, $2.47 billion for textbooks, and $1.24 billion for assessment testing over the first seven years that Common Core is in effect.

Clearly, to properly install the new standards is expensive and time consuming. It is simply not possible to make the needed changes without resources.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett’s budget proposes to provide “more money than ever” for public education. Much of it, however, partially makes up for his previous cuts. The proposed budget provides no increase for funding for basic education and provides no increase for professional development. It does provide additional money through the Ready to Learn Block Grant to support curriculum alignment in the early grades and training to support early literacy. That should help. It provides much needed funds to supplement instruction in biology, English language arts and Algebra; to provide instructional coaches; to fund programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to implement the State’s Literacy Plan.

It does not seem to provide enough to get the state’s 501 school districts ready to implement the new standards.

This is a critical moment for public education. We need to get the move to the new standards right. There is time to make changes in the proposed budget. If, like teachers, our elected leaders want the new standards to work, they should carefully estimate what it will cost to implement the new standards and then budget enough money. To do otherwise will result in failure.

Joseph Rogan, Ed.D., is a professor of teacher education at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.,  the first four-year college in Luzerne County, Pa.