It’s a part of American sports lore, the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which the Chicago baseball team deliberately lost the World Series as eight key players, the renowned Shoeless Joe Jackson among them, took money from professional gamblers to throw the games.
According to legend and later movie re-enactments, a boy confronted Shoeless Joe as he left the courtroom with the plaintive demand, “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.”
According to the legend, Shoeless Joe replied, “I’m afraid it is, kid.”
Consternation erupted in the education world this week as Ian Rosenblum, Acting Poobah of Whatever in the U.S. Department of Education, issued a letter announcing that the Biden administration would not grant blanket waivers of the ESEA, known as ESSA in its current version, requirements for states to administer standardized tests and report the results to the U.S. Department of Education.
Forgive Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) for what seems like snark, but Mr. Rosenblum is only filling in while the President’s education nominees wait their turn in the Coliseum, a/k/a Senate committee hearings, to prove their gladiatorial worth and a vote on the Senate floor in order to take up their posts. Thus, we can add confusion to the consternation as we are left to wonder if the president was aware of this decision (he has had other priorities to focus on such as the pandemic, border and immigration issues, defense issues, and economic recovery) and approved of it.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.
After all, you did promise teachers during the campaign that you would end standardized testing. You used your wife as a prop that a real teacher would be living in the White House. You promised that an educator, a public school-experienced educator, would be your Secretary of Education.
Two out of three ain’t bad? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
When your people get in, will this decision change? The details are laughable in that Mr. Rosenblum, on behalf of your administration, says that states and school systems will have the flexibility to adapt the tests as needed: delay them into summer or fall, shorten the tests, allow tests to be taken online, etc. Teachers far wiser than GOT have pointed out that, under these guidelines, the tests are not standardized. Comparisons will not be valid.
Tests are still needed? Say it ain’t so, Joe. They are nothing but a distraction from what teachers and schools need to be doing during the pandemic. Some say parents need to know how their children are doing. GOT agrees, but disagrees that the state test which judges children and assigns them a scarlet number, a/k/a achievement level, tells them anything in the gobbledygook that fills the usual report card stuffer that is mailed midsummer.
This math teacher can tell you that he knows within a week of school beginning what the students know and can do. He already picks up on the exact struggles of students who lack an ability to work with numbers and solve simple algebraic equations. He knows, he knows, but not from the test, the one he is not allowed to look at, the one shrouded in secrecy that not even a state law that an exam must be released to public view every three years is a law that his state’s Department of Education will follow.
Accountability is needed, but it does not come from flawed tests that cannot pass muster if independent psychometricians (a fancy word for test experts) review them. They have grave concerns about the validity of the tests (they don’t measure what they claim to) and the reliability (they don’t give the same results when administered at different times and under different conditions.)
Broader measures of school effectiveness, efficiency, and efficacy in providing all the services that we demand of them are needed.
Continuing and encouraging the narrow judgment of schools based solely upon a test given once a year for only two subjects, reading and math, is misleading. Worse than useless, the results mislead the public, politicians, and policy makers into bad decisions.
Is that what you want, Joe? Say it ain’t so.
We teachers, we had hope. We always knew we would be disappointed somewhere down the road, but we hoped to get past the first month, the first 100 days that you are focused on.
Joe, you let us down. Say it ain’t so.
“I’m afraid it is, kid.”