Bureaucracy Can Make Us Crazy!

A few months back I wrote my manifesto about National Testing, if you haven’t read the paper you can get it here.  At the time of writing that paper I was focused on the impact that national tests have on students and how we might be measuring only a little bit of student ability or school quality. My highest priority wasn’t the impact on the staff.  But today I read this article on the New York Times website about Joyce Irvine.

Joyce Irvine was the Principal at Wheeler Elementary School in Vermont.  I don’t know Joyce Irvine, I hadn’t heard about Wheeler Elementary before I read about it in the NY times today and I don’t profess to be an expert on the school now.  I use the example to illustrate my point about the need to measure more than IQ in standardized tests.  We need to measure the EQ and SQ components as well if people insist on using large high stakes testing.

But Today I am deeply saddened for the entire Wheeler Elementary School community.

You see Ms Irvine was removed as Principal of Wheeler Elementary not because she was doing a poor job, not because the community had issues with her school management, not because the students at the school had poor relationships with her. In fact the district Superintendent gave her great performance reviews and praise.

She was removed because the school wanted a $3 million grant.

You see the US Federal Government has a few programs to help schools with additional funding fix their low test results.  Schools where the national test results don’t meet the growth targets expected or the baselines predicted by some academic.  Basically, grants to help schools that aren’t progressing on some performance scale that I don’t really understand or want to go into. The point is this – to qualify for this particular grant the school, or the district I guess, must impose some conditions on the school.  This district choose to remove Ms Irvine as Principal and thus qualify for the grant.

You see Wheeler Elementary is a school that apparently has very low national or standardized tests results.  But when you dig under the surface even just a little bit you find that apparently many of the Wheeler Elementary students are from refugee or special-ed backgrounds – the example sited in the article is 37 out of 39 5th graders.  Surely this factor alone would make it harder for the school to meet some state or national benchmark.

So the question has to be asked – why was Ms Irvine removed?

The only answer I can come up with is – because $3 million of funding to improve the IQ domain test results of students was viewed as far more important than the detrimental impact on their EQ or SQ stability.

I personally am aware of another school that had their funding cut for the same reason and the student body was devastated. Most of the students were from different countries and couldn’t manage the language as well as the students born in the US.  Most of the students were trying so hard to have the school keep their funding that when the funding fell through, they took it personally; after all, they had given their personal best to the endeavor!

I have to believe that someone somewhere in a remote office in a far away place is receiving feedback about their grant qualification process.  I also need to believe that someone in the office next door is assessing the results on a lot of standardized tests of students from international backgrounds and briefing a Government official about the inherent unfairness built into the test analysis regime.

You see the problem is not in the actual test, but in the interpretation of the data and what the results actually mean.

Anyway back to Ms Joyce Irvine – I am deeply saddened for you and the community for which you worked with over the past 6 years.  I am sorry that you personally have been caught up in the terrible regime of narrowly interpreting national and standardized tests results.

I have gone through life with this mantra in the front of my mind.  Remember To Remember Who You Are

My thoughts go to Ms Joyce Irvine the Wheeler Elementary School community and to all the communities that may be negatively impacted by this process.

I hope that someday we can find a better way to balance the societal imbalances that lead to these kinds of outcomes.

We have, after all, sent men to the moon, expanded our research into the secrets of the human brain, found vaccines to stop horrific diseases and on we go in our expansion of knowledge.  May we now bring wisdom to bear on the educational needs of a population that comes from varying backgrounds and different demographics.  Every one of these students has something to offer if we can just open the way.

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