Monday, February 3, 2014

Groundhog grade

Not-to-far-fetched news item: Emerging from his burrow on Sunday, Sen. Phil Berger saw his shadow, predicted that there would be six more weeks of third-grade for tens of thousands of North Carolina school children, and immediately crawled back into his burrow.

While above "news item" is fake, the prospect of a "Groundhog Grade" for NC third-graders and their families is all too real--and very much due to the ill-conceived meddling of Sen. Phil ("Punxsutawney Phil") Berger.

A while back, Punxsutawney Phil and his tea-party colleagues muscled through an education "reform" plan that requires third-graders to pass new reading proficiency tests. To give students the best chance of passing, most school districts are adopting a "portfolio" approach that subjects the students to 36 assessments.

Students who don't pass will be required to attend reading "camps" over the summer.

Those who don't attend the camps or fail the tests after the camps will get to do third grade over--and possibly over again.

Testing for the students is beginning and will continue for 12 weeks. It's hard to imagine much learning going on in the classrooms with students having to sit for the assessments and teachers having to conduct them.

It is estimated that somewhere between 37,000 and 75,000 students will fall short of the mark and be sent to the camps.

An analysis by the NC Department of Public Instruction  estimated that at least $18.3 million would be needed to fund the camps if 37,000 students failed the tests. However, in their wisdom, Punxsutawney Phil and his colleagues (who appear to have failed third-grade math) only allocated $15.5 million, leaving local school districts to pick up the rest of their tab.

It also looks like 37,000 is an optimistic figure--last year, more than 50,000 students (about half of all third graders) were short of proficiency.

Under-funded schools during the regular year; a long, drawn-out testing regime that interferes with learning; and woefully under-funded remedial programs are all a recipe for disaster.

If you inflicted this on NC families, you'd be crawling back into your burrow too.