Tuesday, October 13, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Making kids look good

Appearances are everything, right? So, if your kids don’t pass the test, just lower the scale to show that they passed. Everyone is happy — the kids, their parents, the teachers, school administrators and state officials, who can proclaim, after all, that their schools are preparing children for college and good careers.

This is the latest step that Governor Hutchinson and his Education Department have taken to address the controversy over the Common Core, the national proficiency standards established a decade ago by governors and state education officials so that all the states could be measured by the same standards.

Arkansas adopted it several years ago when the idea was still popular. Mike Huckabee claimed to be one of its fathers. (Now he condemns it as a socialist plot.) People in Arkansas could know how well prepared their kids were compared with those in, say, Montana, Vermont, Texas or Alaska. The Common Core would measure students’ critical thinking skills, not just rote memorization. They put together a test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), that would serve as the comparison each year.

But, as always, the Common Core became political. Extreme right-wing groups said it was a United Nations effort to undermine America and make it soft for socialism. They had attacked the original national testing effort under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act on the same grounds, although it left every state to come up with their own tests, making national comparisons really impossible. Then when the PARCC test began to be administered—this was Arkansas’ second year—many communities realized their kids did not fare so well. Lots of teachers were unhappy with the results and the preparations.

So early this year, Gov. Hutchinson capitulated to the pressures from the right and appointed a committee headed by the lieutenant governor to see if something should replace the Common Core and the PARCC test. They, of course, said yes.

So the PARCC test will be replaced next year by another test used by only a couple of other states. Real comparisons will be impossible, but everyone in Arkansas can be reasonably happy that their schools and their kids are doing very well, thank you.

Meantime, what to do with the second PARCC test? Ohio, which was unhappy with the results of the PARCC tests, too, showed the way.

Under the PARCC standards, only 28 percent of Arkansas kids scored at level 4 of 5 levels in Algebra I, which meant that they were proficient in the skills needed for college or careers. So the state just changed the floor from 4 to 3. Presto!

That simple trick meant that 60 percent, rather than 28 percent, were proficient. In case any parent gets picky, the Education Department is preparing a follow-up explanation that the new passing grade, level 3, means that those 60 percent were only “approaching” proficiency.

Next year, with an entirely new test and no need to make many comparisons, the state can return to a system where we can always look as smart as we would like to be. We’re Number One! Now that’s good government.