Column: Is there anything more convoluted?

Is there anything more convoluted and nonsensical than the state school report card and its accompanying array of ever changing tests, rules, procedures, and seemingly make-it-up-as-you-go scoring system?

The closest thing to it may be the dreaded and reviled Internal Revenue Service with its twisted tax codes that indecipherably change every year…and we all know how beloved the IRS is, don’t we?

The state’s school rating system and tests, along with the burdensome federal rules, are bureaucratic torture at its worst. From the sea of Orwellian acronyms and titles associated with it to the ominous sounding “No Child Left Behind,” teachers, administrators, students, and most of all, taxpaying parents and citizens, are left pondering what this mish mash of numbers means. Why must we all be put through this statistical meat grinder each school year? In the bigger scheme of things, the state report card is a meaningless measuring stick of arbitrarily imposed artificial numbers created by politicians and career bureaucrats far removed from the classroom setting.

This is a system that sets public schools up to fail because no matter how well a school performs, it can still get a low rating, as happened last year to some schools. One could have an excellent school district and not be rated as such merely because one or two statistical slots don’t meet bureaucratic muster. A swing of a handful of student scores in some categories can result in a devastating and undeserved ranking that unfairly tarnishes a school district.

Why must this rating process be so complicated? Why do we have it at all? For decades, centuries even, the public school system under local control produced educated students without Big Brother watching over them. Good teachers and good administrators can tell if a student is not learning. Now, in our so called modern world, state and federal government “educrats,” who never see students, think a teacher, who works with a student every day for 180 days and knows the child’s strengths and weaknesses, cannot take the necessary steps to help this kid learn.

Isn’t it better to measure a student’s growth and knowledge based on a full school year’s worth of work rather than a student’s performance on one day taking a standardized test?

Teachers have to spend an inordinate amount of time “teaching to the test” for the students. Instead of teachers spending their time thinking about courses of study that will expand a child’s mind, they are forced to plan how to make a student fit into a rigid standardized test oriented curriculum.

I can’t help but think something is being lost in the educational process. Time spent drilling for the state tests could be spent on reading more great literature. It could be time spent on exploring the common sense beauty of mathematics.

It could be time spent learning more foreign languages and cultures to realize one’s place on the planet. It could be time spent on more field trips to give students a sense of the real world that awaits them.

This whole mystical system makes me wonder. Are kids being taught to think and reason, or are they being trained in this process to be good little drones and follow procedures by regurgitating the information the tests feed on?

Learning is a broad process that need not be subjected to the narrow machinations of the bureaucratic mind.

Remove this state report card yoke from around public schools. Let teachers teach. Let students learn.

Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger and managing editor of the Columbus Messenger Newspapers.

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