This is my 53rd year of living in South Carolina, the totality of my life.
This is my 31st year as an educator in SC—18 years as a high school English teacher and 13 years now in higher education.
My teaching career, coincidentally, began the exact year SC officially stepped into the accountability/standards/testing arms race that grew out of the early 1980s.
Over the past 30 years, SC has created, implemented, revised, and changed a nearly mind-boggling array of standards and tests:
- SC Frameworks
- SC state standards (revised multiple times)
- BSAP and exit exams
- HSAP and EOC (end-of-course) tests
- Common Core and high-stakes tests TBD
- Two concurrent and competing sets of school report cards (the long-standing state version and the federal letter-grade based version)
Before I move on, let me add that SC is a high-poverty state (in the bottom quartile of poverty in the U.S.) that is historically and increasingly racially diverse, a right-to-work state that picks fights with unions that have no power, and a challenging environment for children of color (in the bottom third of the U.S. for African American and Latino/a children).
So now let’s return to the Accountability Hunger Games: SC Edition:
That’s right, before SC schools, teachers, and students can actually make the transition from the repeatedly revised (and obviously failed) standards-and-tests Merry-Go-Round of state-based accountability to the all-mighty Common Core gravy train of world-class and college-ready standards and next-generation high-stakes tests [insert trumpet]:
The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that replaces Common Core education standards with those developed in South Carolina by the 2015-16 school year.
The bill, which passed 42-0, is a compromise of legislation that initially sought to repeal the math and reading standards that have been rolled out in classrooms statewide since their adoption by two state boards in 2010. Testing aligned to those standards must start next year, using new tests that assess college and career readiness, or the state will lose its waiver from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
But the state won’t be able to use tests South Carolina officials helped create with 21 other states. A bid must go out by September for their replacement.
As ridiculous and muddled as that all is (and I think “heaping stumbling-bumbling mess of ineptitude” may be understating the level of ridiculousness), Seanna Adcox’s coverage of this likely next-move for SC is chock-full of even more ineptitude so let me counts the ways:
- “‘We’re back on track,’ said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville.” Fair has built a political career on his yearly efforts to dismantle SC’s science standards by inserting an endless series of not-so-clever Creationism edits to the evolution elements of those standards. [HINT: He may not be the best authority on SC's decisions about standards.]
- “Democrats say the bill forces the Legislature to spend money on technology in classrooms….” Ironically and sadly, SC is an equal-opportunity state in terms of political party ineptitude. SC is notorious for our Corridor of Shame, a swipe of high-poverty communities that roughly follows I-95 across the state. I will simply ask that you return to the Kids Count report on childhood opportunity and consider where tax dollars may be better spent than on technology investments for computer-based high-stakes testing that will further stigmatize the growing number of poor children of color in SC. [HINT: It ain't on more technology that will fail and become obsolete.]
- “Computer testing allows for a better assessment of both students’ abilities and teachers’ effectiveness….” And nothing like baseless and inaccurate claims to help! [HINT: Nope.]
- “‘This is about maintaining control,’ said Campsen, R-Isle of Palms. ‘We shouldn’t cede our authority over children’s education to an outside process.'” See above and consider the smashing good job SC has done on its own for three decades. [HINT: That last sentence is sarcasm.]
- “Both the House and Senate budget proposals would spend about $30 million on technology next school year, focusing on rural districts.” $30 million on technology. [HINT: $30 million on technology.]
Unless that technology plan includes a provision for turning the iPads purchased into food trays once they are obsolete in a few months, I would posit that this entire farce is beyond ineptitude.
And I must add: SC is not some looney example of ineptitude in the world of education reform (although we do tend to be on the outer edges of looney in many things); in fact, the series of fits and starts that constitute SC’s heaping stumbling-bumbling mess of ineptitude are being replicated all across the U.S. as political manipulation of education collides with Tea Party lunacy.
If we may pause, then, and consider the real problems and the likely solutions: SC has an equity problem in our state and thus in our schools, and accountability/standards/testing do not address those essential equity problems.
SC must step off the accountability Merry-Go-Round, but this latest effort suggests we are enjoying the circus too much to make any reasonable decisions.