Why would Dr. Wardynski continue paying (with the limited funds that the district has) for something that he could get for free?
I thought we hired him for his financial acumen. (Of course, he’s often proven that he’s willing to pay a premium for things that he wants. He’s done it with Teach for America and with The Pinnacle Schools.) He’s always willing to spend money on his pet projects or to return some money to Eli Broad, but our teachers’ salaries are after two years still frozen. Our starting teachers still make the state minimum.
Since Huntsville City Schools began using STAR testing to evaluate teachers in September 2011, Dr. Wardynski and the Board of Education have paid Renaissance Learning, Inc. (the owners of STAR Enterprise testing) $541,011.50 for formative testing software that the Alabama State Board of Education will provide to our district for free.
On July 31, 2012, Dr. Sherrill W. Parris sent a memo to every City and County Superintendent in the state telling them that the state was offering them “unlimited free access to unprecedented test management solutions” to help in “assessing students on relevant content in Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Standards in Kindergarten through Grade 12.” (You can read the memo from Dr. Parris yourself here.)
So since July 31, 2012, we’ve paid Renaissance Learning $244,773.59 for access to the STAR Enterprise test when the state was providing a similar formative testing system for free.
Which raises the most important question of all: Why?
Dr. Wardynski has said that “we do STAR. We like it best.” He’s made this claim knowing that there are other options like GlobalScholar and also knowing that GlobalScholar is free.
Why would our district spend a quarter of a million dollars on something that the state would have given them for free?
Through what process did Wardynski evaluate STAR Enterprise to determine that the district “likes it best?”
Why, exactly, does he “like it best?”
Could it be that he likes it best because he controls it? He controls the way it’s administered. He controls to whom it is administered. He controls what data points will be used for evaluations.
And he controls the scores themselves.
You see, the STAR Enterprise test is currently being used in our district to evaluate teachers rather than students. He is picking and choosing data to reward some teachers, principal and schools and to punish others. He’s used the data to require that some principals force their teachers to participate in additional professional development. And he’s using the data to terminate others. As he claimed to The Huntsville Times 47 teachers were not renewed based on “principal recommendations, student growth data, classroom observations, teacher attendance, student discipline and, for teachers in Grades 3 through 12, surveys completed by the students themselves.” (Yes, those evaluations that 8 and 9 year olds completed despite the fact that many of the questions made no sense to them, those evaluations that were wide open to the general public, were used to determine if 47 teachers were renewed or not.)
Since we’re using STAR rather than GlobalScholar, Wardynski has complete control over how the data is used, and what the data shows without any oversight from the Alabama State Board of Education. If he used GlobalScholar, the data would be subject to their review.
Then he might not be able to so easily use one single data point to claim that a teacher hasn’t shown growth. Then he might not be able to easily alter or order others to alter their data to “look better.”
If he used the state’s free test, he loses control.
And he can’t have that.
Even if it costs him a quarter of a million dollars of someone else’s money.