State, not districts or students, deserves the failing grade

If Monday was a test of Oklahoma’s state mandated examination system, Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi and that system on that day received an “F.”

And their overall grade isn’t much better.

It’s a system that’s become overly dependent on regimented tests, an issue that has caused discord with educators across the state. It was also a system that was supposed to bring positive change, to make the debacle that was the federal “No Child Left Behind” simply a distant bad memory. That’s not the case.

On Monday, middle and high school students taking online exams were “kicked off” the program when it suddenly failed. For some that meant the loss of a test they had almost completed; for others, they never had a chance to take it in the first place. Both local districts and the state Department of Education scrambled to suspend testing while the company contracted with the state to perform the test – CTB/McGraw Hill – was tasked with determining the problem.

The issue wasn’t just one particular day or even the 6,000 students impacted on Monday. This was a problem that occurred almost to the day a year before. Barresi should have been aware of what she was facing when continuing with CTB/McGraw Hill. While no one knows why she chose to remain with the company after last year’s issues, everyone knows the result – a hardship on students and school districts alike.

Even parents aren’t always aware of the pressure today’s testing puts on these people. Some teachers say they can’t work with the curriculum they would like, being forced to “teach to the test.” Months are spent in preparation to get the best scores possible. It’s an embarrassment for a district to do badly – and it has financial consequences, administrators say.

“People look at these scores and it does have a determining factor on whether they’ll choose your district for their kids to attend,” El Reno School Superintendent Craig McVay said last year.

McVay took a leadership role in Monday’s debacle, openly expressing his frustration with a system that is more about numbers than it is about learning. Students should be evaluated and districts should be accountable, he says, but not for some random criteria that can’t even be implemented by the state correctly.

We agree.

It is time for a good, hard look at education in Oklahoma. We are failing – and not because we have a lack of dedicated administrators, teachers and staff. On a local level, to a huge degree, we are blessed with teachers who do the best for our kids each and every day.

What is failing them is the political cartoon that is state testing. Things aren’t better since No Child Left Behind, they are worse, and that’s unacceptable. Oklahoma’s future is riding on these children, and they are being taught that learning is simply rote memorization, that they are the tool behind a district’s failure or success. That lesson is coming from the districts – it goes far beyond that.

It is time for us to allow our local administrators and teachers to do what they do best – teach. Let these children learn, and perhaps most important, learn to love school and everything it has to offer. School shouldn’t be something suffered through so a random grade (that even state administrators have a difficult time explaining) can hurt even the best of school districts.

Here in Mustang – and, truly, throughout Canadian County – we are blessed to have educators who are caring, dedicated and smart and who want the best for our kids. Their hands are tied by politicians on the state level who don’t know our children – to them, your daughter, my son, your grandkids are a number, plain and simple.

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This system must be changed and the time is way past for that to be accomplished. Only we can do something and that begins with contacting our legislators and telling them how we feel about this broken system and what a disservice is being done not only to our children and those who educate them but also to our future.

It’s time to take action for them. Let’s not let another year go by with this kind of failure – not on their part but on the state officials who cannot seem to see the intelligence and talent that’s right in front of them.

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