When South Dakota students posted another year of flat standardized test scores, ace student Kristi Noem said she was “not happy with those numbers” and vowed that “we will be having conversations about how to improve those numbers.” (Now that her kids are almost all grown up, Kristi can turn that momly ire on everyone else’s kids.)
Before lawmakers, among other government leaders, want to be unimpressed I would invite them to take one of the assessments. And I’m not even saying that has to be the high school assessment. This would be a solid opportunity for them to impress the public of South Dakota [Ryan Bruns, “Ramblings,” blog, October 2019].
More broadly, Bruns notes that when he participated in national meetings with the company that designs our tests, he was among a minority who contended the test was being made too hard and would only reflect poorly on teachers and schools:
As an educational leader I was humbled and forced to bite my tongue when my opinion was not the same as the majority of the group. Collectively the group had determined that it was their duty to ensure test legitimacy or integrity based on some “tenets” of mastery set forth by the company. I don’t decry their educational professionalism and noble-like approach to the process, but my comments were simple: “We are making it too hard, and schools are going to look bad.” I was met with blank stares and no one supported my opinion. I was interviewed by Keloland after the process and I wish it was still online, because I remember trying to be objective and giving the assessment a chance, but that the scores would be much lower and couldn’t be compared to scores from previous years [Bruns, Oct. 2019].
Secretary of Education Ben Jones himself made the same point when the numbers came out:
At least part of the reason scores haven’t increased is that South Dakota started using a newer, more difficult assessment test during the 2016-17 school year. Comparing results from the old test to the new test isn’t fair, state Education Secretary Ben Jones said. The biennially administered National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has used, essentially the same testing methods since 2003, shows flat scores for reading between 2015 and 2017, while math scores rose slightly between 2015 and 2017 [Nick Lowrey, “Only Half of S.D. Students Proficient in English; Less Than Half in Math and Science,” South Dakota News Watch, 2019.09.25].
I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about standardized test scores. The Smarter Balanced tests already waste too much of my daughter’s time, which could be better spent drawing, painting, writing, reading, exercising, and actually learning more grammar, math, science, and civics. (The standardized tests are not a formative learning experience, and I tell her as much, in hopes that she will spend less time on the test and more time reading a good book.)
But I would love to see Governor Noem and our other elected finger-waggers follow up on Superintendent Bruns’s request for benchmark data. Hand out copies of last year’s test and a pre-Smarter Balanced test, have the Governor, Secretary Jones, and the Legislature take both, and compare their scores across tests and with student performance. (And do it in Mellette, so Bruns can proctor!) Then let’s have a conversation about the numbers.