The focus on test scores made the superintendent “a favorite of the national education reform movement.”
“Principals and teachers were frequently told by [the superintendent] and subordinates that excuses for not meeting [testing] targets would not be tolerated.”
“She said teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets set by the superintendent.”
“[The superintendent] was known to rule by fear.”
During the superintendent’s tenure, “90 percent of the principals” were replaced.
One teacher explained a reason she had kept silent so long was that, “she could not afford to lose her job.”
The superintendent “was a fearsome presence who would accept no excuses . . . rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front . . . while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.”
“At public meetings, questions had to be submitted beforehand for screening.”
A teacher said, “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, my kids want to talk to me, I ignore them. . . . I don’t have the mental energy.”
All of these quotes were taken from the New York Times article “Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta Is Indicted in Testing Scandal” published yesterday concerning the indictment of Dr. Beverly L. Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools during the testing scandal that erupted in September of 2011. According to the article, she was charged on March 29, 2013 with “racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.” She could face 45 years in prison for her actions.
As horrible as the scandal in Atlanta was and still is (the effects on the students who’s scores were adjusted will be felt for the rest of their educational career, at least), enough has been written about that terrible situation. But not enough has been written about the actions of our Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski, superintendent of Huntsville City Schools.
As you can see from the links above, nearly everything that was written yesterday about Dr. Hall in Atlanta could also be written about Dr. Wardynski here in Huntsville. About the only thing missing is the amount of time Dr. Hall was in charge of APS and the sheer size of that district as compared to Huntsville.
A Cautionary Tale
Dr. Hall created a culture in Atlanta where principals and teachers were under constant pressure to demonstrate the growth of their students as measured by a standardized test (in their case it was the “Criterion-Referenced Competency Test,” which appears to be similar to the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test–ARMT.) Dr. Wardynski uses the STAR Enterprise test as his primary vehicle to evaluate teachers and their performance.
Dr. Hall created a culture of fear in Atlanta. From nearly the month of his tenure, Dr. Wardynski has striven to create this same culture of fear.
Dr. Hall developed a system that rewarded teachers financially if their students scored well on the CRCT. Dr. Wardynski has developed a system that rewards teachers financially if their students score well on the STAR. At Westlawn alone, Wardynski has budgeted $355,392.00 this year alone in incentives for good test results.
Dr. Hall punished, threatened, and fired teachers who’s students did not meet her expectations. Dr. Wardynski has punished, threatened, fired teachers, and closed entire schools that did not meet his expectations.
Dr. Hall stood aloof from parents and spent ridiculous amounts on security for herself. Dr. Wardynski stands aloof from parents, refuses to answer questions, increases his own personal security while ignoring the safety of our students.
In short, the environment that led to one of the worst cheating scandals in public school history, is exactly the same environment that Dr. Wardynski has created here in Huntsville.
The culture and environment of Huntsville City Schools is just as ripe for a cheating scandal as Atlanta.
Cheating Is Easy
There have been documented cases of cheating in 37 states as well as the District of Columbia, including Alabama. This number does not include incidents of “suspicious test scores” that have been documented by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This report doesn’t include the amazing turn-around that Dr. Cathy McNeil exclaimed over last month by saying, “I’ve never seen growth like this. It’s phenomenal.”
As I point out last month, when test scores are too good to be true, they quite simply aren’t.
In addition FairTest documents 52 ways that teachers, principals and superintendents have cheated on standardized testing in the past. The list covers pre-test, during the test, and post-test cheating. In short, it is ridiculously easy to cheat on a test if a teacher, administrator, or superintendent is sufficiently motivated to do so.
And we have created an environment where at least two of those three groups are sufficiently motivated.
Teachers and principals are financially rewarded for good test scores. They are punished for bad test scores, including termination. In a city that is living in constant fear of layoffs from sequestration, losing even a $37,000 a year position can be devastating to a family’s finances.
This is what Dr. Wardynski and our inept board of education has brought to our city. While we’ll never be the news story that Atlanta has become, what happened there, I assure you, has already happened here or will soon. (The amazing turn around, and the fudging of the numbers at the district level at Westlawn would be the best place to start looking, but it clearly isn’t the only place where cheating is possible or likely.)
Opt-Out of the STAR Test
So what can we do?
It’s simple: Opt-out of the STAR Test.
The STAR test is not a state mandated test. It is not a federally mandated test. Your child’s scores on that test will not help them get into a better college. And frankly, colleges are beginning to discount testing performance more and more anyway. As a teacher at the post-secondary level, I can tell you first hand that having a student who can perform well on the ACT or the COMPASS test (an entrance exam produced by ACT) does not ensure that a student will perform well in college. My department, for just one example, has found that the students who did well enough on the COMPASS test to place directly into college-level courses like English Composition I were less likely to do well in ENG101 than students who didn’t pass the COMPASS and took ENG093 Developmental English before taking ENG101.
It seems that other colleges are seeing similar results as nearly 850 of them are beginning to discount test scores during the admissions process.
But even if your child is considering attending a college that does require ACT/SAT test scores as a part of the admissions process, there is still no reason for them to be taking the STAR test. Performing well on the STAR test has no impact whatsoever on your child’s grades or on your child’s scores on the ACT/SAT.
In short, there is no reason whatsoever for your child to be taking this test.
It might make you feel good to know that your 3rd grader is reading on a 6th grade level, you should know that statement is totally misleading. Understanding some of the vocabulary that an 6th grader understands does not mean that your 3rd grader has the ability to comprehend at the same level as a 6th grader.
There is no educational benefit to your child to spend up to a day a week, every week preparing to take the STAR test.
That time would be much better spent reading, writing, examining mathematical theorems, or researching the latest advances in rocket science that our neighbors at NASA are developing to take us to Mars.
The STAR test means absolutely nothing to your child. The only reason it is being administered three, four, five, or how many ever times Dr. Wardynski is going to require it to be administered this year is to rank and punish your child’s teacher.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for your child to have spent that time, oh I don’t know, learning something?
If you agree, tell your child’s teacher and principal that you opt-out, and that you instead want your child to spend more time learning rather than testing.
Heck, we might even manage to keep Dr. Wardynski out of jail as a result.
See, I don’t hate the man.