If members of a board, commission or council make inappropriate decisions based on information they receive, we can qualify that as being misguided. However, a group who continues to make inappropriate decisions on bad information from a consultant's staff can no longer come under the classification of being misguided. That would have to come under the heading of stupidity.
Trying to keep up with educational issues around the country can be a daunting task. But if you hire a Washington, D.C.,- based consulting firm and have paid in the neighborhood of $400,000, it would be nice to be informed - rather than misinformed or left without necessary information.
I've listened to information being provided about the state of education across the nation by individuals which was allowed to stand as truth by a hired consultant and I gag. In reality, I shake my head and laugh as a defense mechanism because it's so disgusting.
Information about standards and testing is just plain skewed. If you listen, there is a suggestion that 44 states have high school graduation tests. That's almost true. There are only about 44 states which have developed a test to be used for graduation. Only about 20 of those states have one actually in place. Nevada has had one for 15 years.
States are running into problems with these tests. Ninety percent of Virginia's schools are not meeting academic standards. Their Standards of Learning are now under attack. Wisconsin has dropped their proposed test. Michigan has alternatives to graduate without taking the exam. Massachusetts has lowered their passing scores before they have implemented their tests. In Arizona, 89 percent of their students failed the math section of the high school exit exam and the test is being questioned.
Texas and North Carolina are being held up as models for the rest of the country on standards and testing. While those respective states have made great gains on their state made tests, the same cannot be said about their results on national tests where their scores are stagnant or declining. Why are the Texas SAT scores stagnant or declining at a time their state made test scores are improving?
While Nevada's Council takes pride in the "one size fits all" model, other states like North Carolina, a national model, take great pride that they have adopted a one size does "not" fit all model.
George W. Bush is running for president on the strength of his educational accomplishments in Texas. If you go to the Texas homepage, you can see a copy of their high school exit exam. Believe me when I tell you their graduation test is easier than Nevada's current test. Their standards are clearly lower than Nevada's high school exit exam. In fact, don't take my word, look for yourself - www.tea.state.tx.us
Achieve, a group that tracks what is going on with standards and testing nationwide, has just completed a study of 20 states. That 20-state study described what states said they are requiring to what they are actually doing or testing as "major slippage." Sadly, in Nevada, decisions being made on standards and testing are being made using the advice of a private contractor out of Washington, D.C. using these states as models. The council members responsible for adopting academic standards are not doing their homework and relying too much on this contractor. Why wasn't the Nevada Council made aware of the Achieve study?
I've been involved in standards on a state and national level. I have served on a panel of national experts for implementing state standards sponsored by CCSSO and I was on Learning First Alliance's review panel for NCTM's standards. The information presented as Learning First's position to the council and let stand by their private contractor was just not accurate.
Yet council members did not even sense they were being misguided. Quotes from my own booklet, "Improving Student Achievement in Mathematics" were taken out of context. Learning First indicated NCTM's standards are not appropriate for "all" students, contrary to testimony that was allowed to stand. And if anyone bothered to read the NCTM standards, they would know that group has placed "diminished" emphasis on what Nevada's consulting group called information that was so important that a person's knowledge would be "incomplete" without.
The fact is, we can no longer attribute these bad decisions to being misguided. They have to be classified as just plain stupid. Studies are suggesting that the new, more rigorous standards being adopted by some states are either not being taught or result in teaching to tests. That would explain why increases on state tests are not reflected on national tests.
Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.