Letter To Legislators

Below is the letter I sent to our Legislative Delegation concerning the accountability proposal from the Education Oversight Committee that is now in front of the General Assembly.  While the proposal certainly has some very positive aspects, it also has some significant flaws.  I am sincerely hopeful that legislators will give this proposal serious scrutiny.  If you would like to comment to our Legislative Delegation, it consists of Senator Vincent Sheheen, Senator Thomas McElveen, Speaker Jay Lucas, Representative Laurie Funderburk, Representative Jimmy Bales, and Representative William Wheeler.  They can be contacted through the Legislative Liaison, Daniel Roberts, at delegation@kershaw.sc.gov.  I am concerned that this proposal will be characterized to legislators as a consensus, and it’s not.

February 23, 2017

Dear Legislative Delegation,

As you are aware, the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) has developed a proposed accountability system for public schools in response to the General Assembly’s direction from the 2016 Session. The Assembly’s direction was to develop a combined accountability system that would meet both state and federal mandates. Consolidating these systems is a good idea. Having a state and federal report card was both confusing and inefficient. The system proposed by the EOC is now to be acted on by the General Assembly. The purpose of this letter is to communicate what I see are some significant flaws in the proposal.

First and foremost, the new system does not really decrease the amount of testing in any meaningful way. It actually requires more testing than is required by the federal government. At a recent meeting of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, staff presented the Board a yearly calendar of required state tests that reflected some kind of testing potentially being done during 140 out of 180 school days. While I certainly understand and support accountability, this would seem excessive to anyone. It is no surprise that good and conscientious teachers are being driven from the profession because of this ever-increasing obsession with standardized tests.   It’s also not surprising that parents want public money for their children to attend private schools because private schools are not subject to these requirements. This over-emphasis on test results also causes schools not to take instructional time for enriching activities like field trips, artists-in-residence, assemblies, etc. This is an unfortunate reality in public education in our state.

The proposal relies heavily, much too heavily I believe, on the ACT as an indicator of college readiness. Cut scores in the elementary and middle grades are geared to a hypothetical statistical projection of whether or not a student will ultimately score a 22 on the ACT English and a 19 on the ACT Math. In my view, there are two problems with this approach. First, while the ACT is certainly a legitimate predictor of success in college, the research strongly indicates that class rank (grades) is still the best predictor. The EOC has chosen to completely ignore this research. Second, as an educator with 42 years of experience doing about every job there is in a school district, I can tell you that trying to project where an elementary or middle school student will be in the eleventh grade is dicey at best. Certainly, we want students to be performing at grade level and growing academically each year. If they are, success in high school will take care of itself. However, I cannot understand or justify to a teacher or anyone else why the EOC has tied itself so exclusively to the ACT.

I would further point out that the cut scores for the various South Carolina high-stakes tests are among the highest in the country. While I have no issue with high standards and rigor, the level of these cut scores will have the unintended consequence of faulty comparisons between South Carolina and other states. For example, it might appear that fewer students in South Carolina are reading on grade level than in other states, when in reality, the comparison would be skewed because of lower standards and cut scores in other states. Actually, this already happens and the EOC proposal will make it worse.

Finally, I have deep concern about the fact that only a four-year graduation rate will be considered for report card ratings. What is so magical about 4 years? Especially given the difficult environments in which many of our students live, graduating in 4.5 or 5 years is a noteworthy accomplishment. I also don’t understand why a student who earns a GED during normal high school years is not counted as a graduate for the purposes of accountability. If you think a GED is a cakewalk, I invite you to go to your community’s Adult Education Center and take the TABE, which is a test used to determine a student’s readiness for the GED. I simply don’t understand why a student who graduates within five years or earns a GED is not considered a legitimate graduate for accountability purposes.

I apologize for the length of this letter. I would end by saying that the flaws in this proposal clearly point to a major structural problem in terms of educational governance in our state. The makeup of the EOC guarantees that politicians and the business community will drive EOC proposals. While I believe that individuals from these areas have important perspective to offer, they do not have a “hands-on” understanding of the complexities of schools in the year 2017. Education seems to be the only professional endeavor I can think of where mandates are driven by folks who generally have never worked in a classroom or a school.

My perception is that educators by and large do not fully support this proposal, but it was the best deal that could be cut with the EOC. This proposal needs close scrutiny by legislators

I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can be of service in any way. Thank you for your sincere dedication to our state.

Sincerely,

Frank E. Morgan, Ed.D.

Superintendent

 

cc: The Honorable Molly M. Spearman, Superintendent of Education

Ms. Melanie Barton, Executive Director, Education Oversight Committee

 

 

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