High-Stakes Standardized Tests And Madison Public Schools: Do Recent Reforms Makes Sense For Us?

On Dec. 4, an advisory council will present its findings to the Madison Board of Education. All parents are strongly encouraged to attend. "The implementation of recent legislation will have a profound impact on the quality of your child


From Madison Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Scarice:

Education reforms over the past decade have made a significant impact on the educational experiences of our children, some for better, some for worse.  None has been more impactful than the increased reliance on high-stakes standardized tests within state and federal accountability systems.  Most recently, the Connecticut legislature passed a package of reforms that dictate specific teacher and principal evaluation policies.  Within this framework, districts are called on to not only use high stakes tests for district and school accountability, but also for individual teacher and principal evaluations.

In response, the administration of the Madison Public Schools formed a Superintendent's Advisory Council to review the educational research on using high stakes tests in teacher and principal evaluation.  The district sought to determine, not only if the research supported this practice, but also, the impact this practice would have on students and the quality of education.  Would such policies incentivize "teaching to the test" and a narrowing of the curriculum?  Would this legislation increase  levels of anxiety among students and teachers?  Is there sufficient research to support the efficacy of this practice? 

Forty five professional educators in the Madison Public Schools culled through volumes of research and literature to answer these questions.  On December 4, this advisory council will present its findings to the Madison Board of Education in the Brown Middle School Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.  All parents are strongly encouraged to attend.  The implementation of this legislation will have a profound impact on the quality of your child's education.  By attending the meeting on December 4 you can get accurate information to advocate for your child's education.

Daria Novak November 28, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Did you know CT law says public schools will test to identify a gifted child, but if confirmed, not teach the kid! There are no funded programs! AP isn't gifted education. An honors history student sits in the same class as non-honors kids. What makes it an honors course? Kids sign up in class the 1st week of school & then get graded harder? It doesn't work. CT schools are not required to teach gifted kids despite that they learn differently & at a different pace, socialize differently, & mature differently in a different time frame. Gifted children in CT are not taught to the level of their ability despite megastudies (a study combining others) indicating 100% of the time a child who is mature will succeed in an "in grade" OR "out of grade" acceleration program and do better throughout life. "Core curriculums" force our teachers to dumb down & teach to the lowest common denominator which hurts our children. We should provide ALL children with an equal opportunity to learn at the highest level they can achieve. WE forget only one end of the bell curve in CT! All children are special, but not all kids are educationally gifted. Learning at the wrong pace, in the wrong way, kills curiosity & creativity. In CT our brightest minds are forgotten even though gifted education can be very cost effective. We can do better than this in CT. For any parent wondering about good gifted edux, go to www.ditd.org You deserve to know and to learn how to advocate for your child.
Bill Bixbee November 28, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I agree with Daria. We should increase our education budget to fund such a program. We could pay for it by raising everyone's taxes.
Daria Novak November 28, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Bill, I'm glad you agree, but you are mistaken on the cost issue. There is no need to raise taxes to achieve the goal. Gifted programs are cost effective in both the short-and long-run. On the other hand, losing 20% of our brightest who drop out of high school because school fails their needs is too great a cost for our society to bear. We dropped to #25 in the world in science and math. We need these bright children to secure our economic future. They deserve to be challenged to the level they can achieve just as those on the low end of the scale deserve to be educated, too. Otherwise, we tell our brightest they are second-class citizens who don't, like other kids, get the help they need to be fully productive. Imagine someone working on a factory line putting bolts on tires 5 days a week every week when he/she could be discovering a cure for Cancer. A gifted child I know says education is like eating stale white bread for breakfast all year long. We're losing too many of these kids & the cost to society's high. UConn has a leading center on gifted education. Yet CT ranks close to the bottom of the US in gifted education! We don't have to spend more, we need to spend wisely. If I went into a CT school and said my child learns at a different pace from the norm, in a different way, socializes differently, and understands concepts differently, etc. The school would put the child in Special Ed. Only the "different" at that end of the bell curve get served.
SGA November 29, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Daria, I couldn't agree more. We moved to Madison specifically for the schools, and yet I was very disappointed in the grade school teachers and principal (I won't say which) for the level of difficulty I encountered when trying to work with them concerning my oldest child. I had to fight to have her tested, had the principal tell me things that were the opposite of all literature on giftedness, and then was basically told, "Why does it matter to you? There's no gifted program anyway." Each year was a new challenge with a new teacher and I never felt that any of them were interested in anything other than trying to make all the kids in the class fit into the same mold. Fortunately, the transition to middle school made a huge difference and my child finally has had a few teachers over the past couple of years who have allowed her to be herself in her learning style. I'm sure there will be people who read this and think, "Oh, she just wants her kid to get away with being a brat," but she was never a problem child. For my other children, both of whom have more typical learning styles, the schools have been fine. It is sad, however, to think how many kids are stifled because of the lack of resources for the teachers. It's up to parents to make up for this lack at home and by taking advantage of programs outside school.
Daria Novak November 29, 2012 at 02:56 PM
SGA - I understand what your family has experienced and I will address it. First, I would like to add that Madison has a LOT of very good teachers and a decent school system from what I have experienced. The problem is our state government doesn't support ALL our students. Administrators hands are tied. They are NOT ALLOWED by law to serve these children AND they are PROHIBITED FROM TEACHING them to the level of their ability when beyond the standard curriculum. I've personal experience teaching & with public, private & home-schooling. Most Madison teachers want to help but are forbidden by rules. Private schooling, if a parent can afford it, is successful with very bright kids because they don't have government bureaucrats forcing a core curriculum that dumbs down education. Once a child is tested as gifted, either by the school or privately, a parent needs to be their child's educational advocate. I'm not suggesting the "helicopter parent" model. If a child doesn't fit into a mainstream program due to a low score, they are eligible to receive help. Wealthy CT parents can afford to enrich their children's education. Not all families are wealthy. All children deserve to be educated at both ends of the bell curve. We lose too many, a full 20% in the US, who give up trying to fit in. Parents of profoundly gifted kids need to speak up and educate the educators in the newest work in the field. It's cost effective to run gifted programs plus society & the kids benefit.
SGA November 29, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Believe me, we aren't wealthy and can't afford to pay for enrichment programs. Instead, we just let our kids follow their interests, take them to plenty of museums, read, read, read, and basically let them learn things at home they can't learn at school. I know there are great Madison teachers, but I also know it's easier to be a great teacher to a "normal" kid than to a gifted one.
Cathy Marsh November 29, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I would love to see the students have the opportunity to formally review their teachers. Done in triplicate with one copy to the teacher, Principal and District. This used to be done at DHHS many moons ago.
Janet December 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM
When I was in the NYC school system, we had honors, regular and remedial classes for each subject. Kids were placed in the classes according to their test results. As we got to 11th and 12th grade, Advanced Placement classes offered college credit. I feel that it worked well, because you cannot realistically customize curriculum for every student.. the honors classes (when implemented properly) did have a higher level of discussion and work. Perhaps that is what should be looked at first... if it is not working in Madison, why not?
SGA December 01, 2012 at 05:24 PM
It's not working in Madison because there are too many parents here who wouldn't accept the fact that they couldn't buy their child's way into those programs.
Janet December 01, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Perhaps the terminology needs to be changed... Maybe "standard, advanced, and extra help" are more palatable than " honors". Kids should be evaluated for advanced not only by test scores but also performance in the classroom... Not by parental influence.
Daria Novak December 01, 2012 at 11:11 PM
When I was young I attended Catholic high school in CT. If a student did well they could advance faster. It didn't cost more and it kept those of us who were ready to handle much more from simply biding time in a class where we weren't learning anything new. If a child has the inner drive and the natural intelligence to excel we shouldn't hold them down -- which is exactly what public schools do. I believe we rank #38 or so in handling gifted students. The worst part is that it is not necessary and there are cost-saving measures that make gifted education doable.
Janet December 02, 2012 at 12:45 AM
I think you have to be careful how quickly you label a child. In elementary school we were all mixed up, but my teachers would give some of us more challenging assignments. It is a teacher who should recognize the differences in learning ability and act on it... Not necessarily by separating students into different classes. In Jr High, I remember how kids would say " oh, he's in the dumb class"... The last year of Jr High, we were all allowed to take the test to go to one of the two elite high schools... Bronx Science or Stuyvesant. These were public schools set aside by NYC to teach advanced kids. It could work if CT had a couple of regional high schools like that
Matt December 02, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Nah. The first incredibly stupid student to fail the smart test, his/her parents would sue the town for being mean.
Daria Novak December 02, 2012 at 02:54 PM
All children need stimulating environments to thrive. Why should these bright children be an under-served, isolated community? I agree there's prejudice, but that doesn't make it right or permit us to make them the new disappeared. When my child was going to her 24-month-old checkup her 3-year-old brother was talking loudly in the car. She said: "Mommy, tell Chris to be quiet. I can't stand all the cacophony." Due to her environment by age 4 she understood fluently (at an age appropriate level) French, Chinese & Arabic. By 2nd grade she was using words like ichthyology. Although she had a really great teacher that year, her classmates were not in the same place academically. She was bored & learned little. Work she already knew before entering school was given daily & she viewed it as a punishment. I met with our head of the public schools whose answer was "keep your kids home for 2 years to allow the others to catch up!" It shocked me! I was told if my kids were on the low end of spectrum with the EXACT ISSUES they would be served. If a plant isn't watered it will wither & fail to grow to its full height or produce fruit. We are letting the best minds in this nation waste on the vine. This price is too great. I'm not an advocate for throwing money at schools, piling on administrators, or spending w/o justification. Attempts to level the playing field by dumbing down education to fit a core student body are unjust & bad for America.
Alison W. December 04, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Don't fool yourself into thinking that the children on "the other end" of that spectrum you are talking about get all kinds of amazing services that are not available to the "brightest minds". In many cases parents of kids getting special education services need to advocate and fight for those services just as you are doing here. To compare special education services that students receive because they have a disability to gifted programs, is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. In many cases we are talking about kids who need extra support just to make it through the day socially, academically etc. There is a big difference between that and honors courses and enrichment programs. I'm not saying those programs aren't needed or shouldn't exist, or that those students don't deserve to have the best education they can. I would just be very careful about comparing them to the services that special education students receive. Not apples to apples.
Daria Novak December 04, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Alison, gifted children often, as you say of those on other end of the spectrum, "need extra support just to make it through the day socially, academically etc." Talk with school guidance counselors in Madison. They deal with gifted kids who have trouble handling the school day. There is a reason 20% of gifted children in America drop out. Twenty percent is a huge number to refuse to serve! The falsehood is some people think that if a child is gifted intellectually, the kid will simply get school and survive. This is NOT the case. There are NO funds in CT for those who can't make it through the day without help if they are on the high end of the scale. BOTH ends of the bell curve deserve to be educated to the level of their ability and to be helped in learning how to deal with a world that operates at a different speed and in a different way than most understand it. Americans need to stop worrying about political correctness and start educating all children. That is apples to apples education. By losing 20% of our best minds we lose scientific discoveries, great musicians, writers, and those who could one day cure diseases. We need educators to examine the data and address this issue. That is what is most cost effective for our country.
Amanda Kaplan December 05, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Repeating over and over again that 20% of gifted children drop out does not make it true. http://giftedexchange.blogspot.com/2008/09/are-20-of-high-school-drop-outs-gifted.html?m=1 The real issue with high stakes testing is that the results are used as justification for privatization of school management. This probably would not happen in Madison but it is a constant threat to urban schools. Education 'experts' (charlatans) line their pockets with our tax dollars and actually worsen our educational system. Charter schools syphon money out of town budgets and essentially starve the public schools to educate a carefully selected population for show. The entire situation sickens me.
Daria Novak December 05, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Amanda, look at research from respectable organizations such as the Davidson Institute for Talent & Development or Linda Silverstein's work, which back up my statements. Whether or not I used that percentage more than once has nothing to do with the veracity of the information. I agree with you that we throw way too much money at our schools & often use it in the wrong places within the system. Administrators have their hands tied through over-regulation, state law, union deals, & other methods that leave little room for improvement. We've dropped to #25 in the world for science & math. We must fight for our kids & make positive changes to the system where it is not working. Teacher unions are both good & bad. They end up protecting incompetent teachers. I've seen it happen. We also have teachers who take an incredible amount of leave annually sticking our kids with multiple substitutes who may or may not be equipped to handle the lessons of the day. There also are great teachers who love their vocation and do it well. Urban schools qualify for grant money and extra funding from the state that suburban areas don't receive. When compared to many suburban schools, urban ones often spend more per pupil than we do. We don't need to throw more money at the situation, we need to be doing the right things with our tax dollars AND also hold families accountable for sending children to school prepared to listen and learn so our teachers can do their job.


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