This is a guest post by Raymond Ankrum, Sr., the Executive Director of Riverhead Charter School. It was originally posted here on his blog.
I work on Long Island as a school superintendent of the only K-12 charter school in Suffolk County. Given the history of our school, the power of the teacher’s union on LI, and a total lack of knowledge and/or understanding of what school choice means, there’s a great deal of animus towards our school and the work that we do. We have accepted and embraced this, and vow to impact as many students and families as we can, as we get them on a path to college and beyond.
For those of you unfamiliar with Long Island, it is the epicenter of the opt-out movement. The opt-out movement was designed for parents to allow their students to opt out of NY State standardized tests and evade the accountability that we embrace.
New York State used to have a policy that tied student outcomes on standardized tests to teacher evaluations. (Ingenious, if you ask me).
Accountability put suburbia in an uproar, thus creating one of the most successful campaigns of educational defiance of the past 10 years.
We no longer have that policy.
Exhibit A: A prominent school superintendent on Long Island writes a letter of reassurance to his principal regarding the school’s 2017-18 growth index scores. Here’s a portion of the letter, in full below:
This letter is to let you know that I DO NOT CARE what your state growth score is. Let me be clear . . . I DO NOT CARE. It does not define you. You are more than a score. I’m hoping you know by now that the children and parents you serve appreciate your talents and the ability to make a difference in their lives.
These scores tell you if a teacher is Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, & Ineffective (HEDI). To have a score of zero (HEDI) score leaves me at a lost for words. To have a superintendent that encourages this is very telling as well. The level of entitlement that’s exuded in this correspondence is something that I will never know, nor want to know.
I looked at the the level of math proficiency of students from Tremont Elementary School, referenced in the letter above. Given that the 2017-2018 NY State exams have now become the new benchmark, its unfair to compare the 2016-17 results, which are based on a longer and more comprehensive test. However, based on this data, twenty eight students took the exam in 2018. One student out of the twenty eight scored proficient. Seventeen students scored at a level one. Even though this is a minor glimpse of the overall performance of the school due to a high percentage of students opting out of the test, I don’t think principal or superintendent or teacher should be put up on a pedestal based on these results.
Here’s what we know:
- We know kindergarten students from middle class families, and upper middle class families come to the table with different skill sets than kids that are the same age, but from a lower socioeconomic status (SES).
- We know that standardized tests are written in a manner that highlights the experiences of the middle and upper class, therefore immediately putting students with the lower (SES) in catch up mode, with the constant need for remediation.
- We know “Children raised in homes with low income or low levels of parental education are at an increased risk of struggling academically in school” (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Duncan & Murnane, 2011; Magnuson, 2007).
- We know regardless of if you are for/against standardized testing, you can find reasons to substantiate your viewpoint.
Education has long been a civil rights issue, some would say its the single most important issue of our time. Whether you’re examining the quality of schools for Black and brown students before or after Brown v. Board of Ed., they were and are inadequate. New funding formulas can’t make up for a system that was never designed for the disenfranchised to be successful. But we won’t know how to improve this system — to make it work for disenfranchised children — if we don’t have reliable data to measure quality, even for the privileged and entitled.
Finally, I don’t want to make this about race, but I know very few superintendents and/or principals of the minority persuasion who would be allowed to continue their employment with these results.