State Assessment Becomes Political Spectacle--Part VII: More Players Get Into The Fourth Act (The Legislators, Governor, Superintendent, Board President)
by Mary Lee Smith, Walter Heinecke & Audrey Noble - September 13, 2000
...Continued from Part VI: Raising Standards in the Third Act
During the months after the Summit when the team members, ADE staff, and Board president were occupied with exchanging drafts and moderating their positions, the governor and key Republican legislators were also working on their own versions of assessment policy. If department insiders viewed the legislature as "out of the loop," and "relatively neutral" or "without a position" on the suspension of ASAP and revision of Essential Skills testing they were mistaken. The interplay of power and position among these actors (the alliance of Superintendent and Board President in 1995, the governor's appointments to the Board in 1995 and 1996, the behind the scenes collaboration between the governor and key legislators in 1996) had everything to do with the shape of assessment policy in 1997 and beyond.
By an informant's perspective, over the months of sending drafts of the language arts standards back and forth, Keegan learned, accommodated, evolved in her understanding of the complexities of curriculum building and reform. Moving more to the center, she toned down much of the rhetoric of the previous fall about work place skills, tracking, and test-based grade promotion. Meanwhile, what was the legislature doing? A staffer reminded us that there had been serious opposition to ASAP (the old version) for some time, and bills had twice been introduced to kill it:
"There were a number of concerns around the ASAP test. Some of them are the same kinds of concerns that have come up about what you call outcomes-based education, that it's value-driven, that you're funneling values to the kids that might be contrary to some people's family values, and so forth. We heard some of that, from very conservative people, we were hearing that from. I know that, for example, the House Speaker and a number of parents were quite upset one year when the twelfth-grade test had to do with rain forests. They claimed that the test biased the children in favor of keeping rain forests at all costs [and] they come from it from an economic perspective which is--this might be oversimplified, but-- 'don't harm people's economics just to save the environment.' I'm probably misstating that, but you've got the economy versus the environment, those two arguments, and that was the clash as I understand it.... Then there were those who hated ASAP because they thought it was outcomes-based education and others, like the Senate majority leader hated it because he mistrusts educators in general.... He wanted to go back to what we had before, which was solely the Iowa test.... The people who feel very strongly about this know that that's what they want. And they didn't ask for research. That's what they wanted.... We've got a state driven by very conservative people who think that private schools do it for a lot cheaper than public schools, so why don't we just have vouchers. Get rid of all this mess, this big ugly bureaucracy that no longer responds to its clientele."
Observers of the legislature and its staff saw the influence of the governor in legislative action during 1996. House Bill 2417 was sponsored by the Chair of the House Education committee. The bill proposed to modify the existing testing law to include Essential Skills tests in workplace skills, in addition to the existing areas of reading, writing, and math. It eliminated the requirement to do Essential Skills testing in grades 3, 8, and 12, instead permitting the Board to designate the three grades in which the tests must be administered. It broadened the existing law to include the administration of standardized norm-referenced tests to all students in grades 3-12. It required school district governing boards to administer competency tests for the graduation of students from high school. Beginning in 2002, only those students receiving a passing score could receive a diploma. There was a good bit of conflict and compromise over the bill within and between the chambers. What finally emerged was a bill that eliminated workplace skills from required Essential Skills testing. It allowed the Board to designate the grades (at least four grades) at which Essential Skills testing would be required. It eliminated the provision in the 1990 legislation that limited norm-referenced testing to the fall and required these tests to be administered in at least four grades. In its final form, passed close to the end of the session, the bill required that the Board develop and implement competency tests for graduation from high school and establish passing scores on each (reading, writing, and math). Even after the passage of the legislation, debate over assessment policy continued, however. The constituency that favored standardized testing voted to deny ADE funds to develop tests of the new Standards and amended the law to state that the Board was not obliged to test the Standards if funds were not available to do so. It also found enough money to fund standardized testing in additional grade levels.
The dominant values of efficiency and accountability of the Arizona political culture reasserted themselves in the 1996 legislation and refuted the values of professionalism and progressivism that the ASAP reform agenda had briefly introduced. This is perhaps not surprising. The character of the process must also be noted, however. The versions of the bill passed privately among the political actors with virtually no public scrutiny or commentary. When the bill passed both the education committees and the full legislative bodies, it happened without a public hearing.
SYMINGTON Contra KEEGAN.
When you look at the final legislation, (April, 1996) you can see the influence of Governor Symington as he aligned with the most conservative of the legislators to frame the bill and preempt the standards-setting process. Indeed, the bill ignored the standards when it named the Essential Skills rather than the new standards as the content to be measured in state assessment. The political divisions and their influence on assessment policy cannot be appreciated unless you know the structure of government in Arizona.
By state constitution, the Arizona Department of Education does not report to the governor, as some other state departments do, and therefore he has no control over its budget and operations. The state superintendent, who heads ADE, is elected rather than appointed and thus is not part of the governor's cabinet. However, the governor appoints members of the Board of Education, which has statutory authority for educational policy. The Superintendent both serves as a member of the Board and holds primary responsibility for carrying out Board policy through the Department. The tussle between Superintendent Keegan and Governor Symington, which reached a dramatic climax (but hardly its culmination) in the March 16, 1996 incident, seems particularly political in form and tactic. No less than the governorship was at stake.
Fife Symington was first elected governor in 1990, campaigning on his record as a successful businessman and real estate developer and on his moderate position on social issues and fiscal conservatism. By 1995, he had moved far to the right in the political spectrum on every issue from the environment to education. Before the sixty-seventh Arizona town hall, he referred to the 1994 Supreme Court ruling that the state's method of financing public schools was inequitable and must be revised as tantamount to "state socialism." He went on to comment on assessment policy: "public schools last year took $1.7 billion in state appropriations but failed to halt a 22-year slide in SAT scores.(1)
In a September 29, 1995 press release of a speech before the Phoenix 100 Rotary Club, he called for radical restructuring of the state school system, doing away with districts altogether and allowing site councils at individual schools to hire principals, who would in turn "negotiate individual contracts with teachers. No collective bargaining or master contracts would be allowed." He announced his plan to eliminate certification of teachers and administrators, free existing public schools from all laws and regulations, institute parental choice grants to enable parents to send their children to the school of their choice, and create a mechanism to place into receivership those schools that consistently fail to educate their students. In addition, Symington proposed to abolish the ADE (Keegan's department), stating that since it was created by statute in 1970 it had grown from a half million in operating budget to $9 million, with a staff of 350 and its own building:
Today the ADE has grown into a burgeoning bureaucracy. This unconscionable growth is stifling the creativity of our public schools. The growth of our education bureaucracy has coincided remarkably with the decline of public education.
This is not a criticism of Superintendent [Keegan]. In the short time she has been in office she has shown herself to be an innovator, a revolutionary, and a visionary leader. She just has the misfortune to be the head of an agency which has outlived its usefulness, if indeed it ever had any.
The public education system spends over $3.5 billion taxpayer dollars annually, with absolutely no accountability for results. We have a school report card that is virtually toothless because we have no independent, uniform testing system in place to evaluate our students' progress. We must restore the ITBS achievement testing of every student, every year in grades 3-12 immediately; we cannot wait two or more years for the Department of education to revise the state testing program. We must set high graduation standards for all students. Amazingly enough, when the state Board of Education proposed to institute competency based graduation last year, the education lobby opposed the move on the grounds it hurt the feelings of those who didn't pass. This insults not only parents and taxpayers but kids themselves. No, not all students will shine in class, but all should graduate only after demonstrating a grasp of basic things like reading, writing, mathematics, and history.
A week before this speech, Symington had declared personal bankruptcy. The Arizona Republic, the state's largest newspaper, editorialized ("Symington's shifting priorities", 10/3/95, p B4), "If Gov. Fife Symington had set out deliberately to divert public attention from his personal financial travails, he couldn't have picked a better strategy than getting his critics, and others, focused on something else."
According to the alternative weekly, New Times (Lisa Davis, "The High Cost of Education Reform,")
...Symington...pushed long and hard for Arizona to be the first state to use a system of public-money vouchers to pay for private-school tuition. But Symington lost a vicious, three-year legislative battle over vouchers. He blamed the public teachers' union for the loss and has made a habit of nearly demonizing teachers ever since. When the state gave public schools a minor budget increase for inflation, it came with a caveat: None of the money could be used to pay teachers' salaries.
Symington's 9/29/95 proposal followed shortly after Keegan's own restructuring proposal, which the Republic reported on 9/8/95 (Hal Mattern, "Schools chief: Scrap the districts", p. 1 and 23). Each school would become its own district, governed by site councils and funded by a pupil-based system to equalize school funding. Her department, the ADE, would remain, but in a reduced role and streamlined size. She proposed a computerized system so that individual schools would input student performance data as well as expenditures.
The Republic reported afterwards that Keegan tried to downplay the rift, but disagreed with Symington's proposal to eliminate ADE: "'I was surprised...I had not heard about it.' Because Graham and Symington are both Republicans, and have been allies on education issues, his failure to consult her about his proposal was viewed as a snub by many political observers. Graham reportedly was angry after hearing about the plan." The governor also downplayed the rift although pointing out that they disagree on standards and testing.
The March 25, 1996 Incident.
The spectacle depicted in Vignette Two displayed a rift between the two that clearly encompassed both policy (both assessment and finance) and raw politics. The year was a difficult one for Symington, who was engaged in a court battle over disputed claims in this bankruptcy and a criminal indictment. A press release from the governor's office preserved his remarks at the State Board meeting.
I have been following the effort by the board and Lisa Graham Keegan to develop curriculum standards for Arizona's public schools. I support the concept, but I am concerned about the direction the board may be taking.... The only known relationship between increasing government spending and student performance is an inverse relationship. No amount of money would ever satisfy the endless demands for more. Even more important, no amount of money could ever ensure a quality education...In my travels around the state and discussions with concerned parents, the most pressing question they have is this: What are you teaching my children? This exercise of developing standards gives us a chance to consider that question. From age to age, there is very little difference in what a child must learn to become a literate, competent and rounded individual. In education, we have been making the same mistake humanity always makes again and again. We have casually cast aside the settled and true in favor of the trendy and allegedly exciting. [Other than technology,] there is almost nothing new about a high-quality primary education, and very little new in secondary education. Most of the social and academic 'innovations' the so-called professional educators have brought to our classrooms are wasteful at best and insidious at worst. I stopped by today because some of this reckless drift toward fads and foolishness is evident in the standards currently under consideration. The reading standards, for instance, mention nothing about phonics for primary school students, nor, say, great works of literature for those in high school. They do, however, insist that our students learn to "use consumer information for making decisions," and to "interpret visual clues in cartoons." The mathematics standards state that students should be able to "explore, model, and describe patterns and functions involving numbers, shapes, data, and graphs, and use simulations to estimate probabilities." Educational concepts more familiar to most of us, such as multiplication and division, are unmentioned.
In recent years, American schoolchildren have been found to suffer a world-class deficiency of geographical knowledge. You would never know it from reading the proposed geography standards -- or perhaps you would. These standards ask students to "understand the nature, distribution, and migration of human population on Earth's surface' which causes me to wonder what other planet's surface human populations might be migrating on. The geography standards require nothing by way [of] identifying the nations of the world on a map, their capitals, or their core exports.
There are only so many hours in a school day and so many days in a school year. The claim of government schools on the time of young people is necessarily limited. When that time is spent on "dance styles," or for another example, "participation in multicultural physical activities," it is not spent memorizing rules of grammar, diagramming sentences or learning to use mathematics in a way that teaches reasoning skills. It is not spent learning the geographical history of the world or the development of Western Civilization. It is not spent studying an essential work of literature that adds to a child's understanding of human nature or moral precepts.
The central purposes and elements of a quality education are unchanging. We jeopardize our future and that of our children by substituting fads and jargon for bedrock educational concepts. Second, the people who are most central to quality education are also unchanging. It is not academic professionals, not Ph.D. types from our education colleges, and not even teachers, although they are clearly a strong second place. It is parents who always have and always will be most important to children's education. As I read these proposed standards, I wonder how we can keep parents involved in the education of their children. If education is re-defined in a lot of pointy-headed jargon that only an elitist core of "professionals" could ever understand, we will freeze parents out of the process. I believe we must move in the opposite direction. In fact, I would urge this board to adopt this simple standard for its own work: If the proposed standards you consider are not clearly understandable to the average parent in Arizona, throw them out.
Informants present at the board meeting reported that Symington had brought Bishop with him, but she said nothing. Keegan appeared taken aback by their appearance and his pointed criticism of her standard-setting program. She offered a weak defense, pointing out that math facts and operations were indeed mentioned in the standards and that more basic forms of literacy were also addressed. Insiders on the design teams were angered and befuddled. Some time later, one informant explained the event as Symington's attempt to weaken Keegan's political position and strengthen the conservative Board members' resolve to renounce any progressivism remaining in the standards.
Answering questions from the floor of the board meeting, Symington held up the Benjamin Franklin Traditional Schools in Mesa as an example of the kind of school that all Arizona students should have. That school is famous for its teaching of the "three R's," homework policy, its required uniforms, strict discipline, and a code of conduct. Reporting on the above event the Republic (3/26/96, Hal Mattern, p. 1 &3.) wrote:
Symington's comments at the board meeting caused a stir among audience members, with debates spilling into the hallways after his speech. The meeting was packed with people supporting the governor's comments, including many parents from Ben Franklin. Many of them expressed concern not only with the proposed Arizona standards, but also with the federal Goals 2000 program, which they said is an attempt to impose national standards. 'We want to have a choice, not be told what our children will be taught,' said Syd Curtis, who has a child at Ben Franklin. But critics of Symington's comments said the governor is the one who is taking away parental choice by insisting that all public schools adopt traditional programs. "A lot of parents don't want just the basics," said Sue Braga, legislative chairwoman for the Arizona Parent-Teacher Association. "Yes, students need to learn basic skills. But we want to go beyond that. (Symington's) proposal is setting the stage to put all children into the same mold. He is talking about a mandate that would put us back into the 19th century." Symington, however, said that the current system isn't producing the desired results and that establishing new standards isn't the answer. "We should just start over and go back to the basics," he said.
In a political analysis, Arizona Republic 5/5/96 (1-13), headlined, "Symington moves to right seeking votes," Michael Murphy wrote:
Symington, who once cast himself as a moderate Republican, is laying the groundwork for a re-election bid by courting the most extreme elements in the conservative coalition..... [P]olitical observers in Arizona agree that Symington, whose popularity ratings have spiraled downward because of his personal bankruptcy and the indictment of two close associates, has adopted a strategy of fiery neo-populism. The idea is to build a core of supporters among the state's hard-liners who would be the backbone of a 1998 re-election campaign.... [O]ne close political ally indicated that Symington has developed a political playbook focused on picking hot-button issues that resonate among the GOP's most conservative elements. [Although he hasn't announced whether he will seek a third term...he] has formed a 1998 exploratory committee and authorized supporters to schedule campaign fund-raising events.
Symington's interest [in the standard setting process] was spurred by Dinah Monahan, a Snowflake [Arizona] mother of five and a leader in the Eagle Forum, a conservative lobbying group founded by Phyllis Schafly. She is mobilizing other Christian Right groups, including the Christian Coalition and the Concerned Women for America, to fight what she calls the "humanist, globalist, New Age indoctrination" of Arizona schoolchildren.
Under the umbrella of "Citizens for Education Excellence," the groups warn of secret conspiracies at the Department of Education, including one to establish computer files like those used in China to collect data on each pupil's thoughts and feelings.
"Arizona's education is being hijacked and our children will be held hostage," Monahan wrote in the group's newsletter. While some dismiss Monahan as a fringe activist, she boasts of a close working relationship with the governor.... "He's committed to the death," Monahan said.
Keegan, a conservative by most standards, believes Symington's real interest in the issue may be in making headlines.
The report went on to describe Symington's other far-right moves, such as opposing gay marriage, pushing tough legislation that would treat juveniles in the adult courts, revoking the state income tax, and joining ranks with the Wise Use organization (an anti environmental pro-rancher group), offering at a Town Hall meeting to "shoot a spotted owl" if necessary to help their cause.
Events in March were not the last in the contest between Keegan and Symington. In October 1996, Keegan called for the governor to resign (Arizona Republic, 10/18/96, p. A1 and 18, Marin Van Der Werf and Kris Mayes, "Keegan: Symington should quit." ) The newspaper reported that Keegan had participated in a group that had been meeting to discuss his situation. Alone among the Republicans and putative gubernatorial nominees, she called for his resignation, saying he was no longer a productive or effective leader. At that point Symington was facing a bankruptcy proceeding that his creditors had challenged, a 23-count criminal indictment concerning alleged campaign disclosures and improprieties, a recall effort (since failed), and a public approval rating of 19%. Keegan once enjoyed a close relationship with Symington. They basically ran as a team in the 1994 election, but their relationship has since soured. "I think Lisa is just having a bad-hair day," the reporter quoted House speaker Mark Killian as saying. "I think this is a time when cooler heads ought to prevail." Recent survey results were reported in which 71% of AZ residents polled think Symington should resign.
But neither the legal and financial problems nor opposition from fellow Republicans could slow Symington's pursuit of his policy agenda. The appointments he made to the State Board during 1996 and his working behind the scenes with the legislature further reinforced his conservative stance.
APPROVAL OF THE STANDARDS --Hooked on Phonetics
The original Summit plan forecast that the Board of Education would receive the standards in time for approval at its January, 1996 meeting. Events intervened. The teams asked for extra time. The social studies team disintegrated after one draft. There were several iterations of review between the teams, the consultants, and the ADE. The Board appointed a review team to speed things up. The Board had business that assumed a higher priority, including removing teacher certification requirements and hearing problems with various charter schools. Months dragged on. The standards were first on the Board's agenda at its January meeting. The draft standards in math and language arts (primarily the latter) were discussed at every meeting during the spring. Although the Board does not normally meet in the summer months, members decided to make exception and met three times. Standards in reading were approved in July and writing and math in August. By summer, the composition of the Board had shifted, and the alliance between the Board and the Superintendent had weakened. Redefinition and reduction of language arts as reading and writing (but not listening/speaking and visual representing) was complete(2). Seven other drafts of standards (e.g., foreign language, health, science) remained out of sight.
Other significant shifts occurred during these months. The Board approved ADE's recommendation of the Stanford-9 achievement test as the state-mandated standardized test and determined that it would be administered in every grade 3-12 (exceeding even the grade coverage the legislation mandated). The Stanford-9 replaced ITBS and TAP, the previous form of mandated norm-referenced testing. The reasons for the change were never articulated for the public. Neither were the criteria for selection of the replacement. An ad hoc committee had looked at the design specifications of the two batteries and decided that Stanford-9 was the better match with the state content frameworks.
As several observers and informants related to us, the Board interpreted its task of approving standards quite broadly. Indeed, they minutely inspected each standard, bullet, and level. A point by point comparison of the approved standards and the final draft (Draft 4) submitted by the review team shows that modifications were few, except for the addition of standards related to phonetic skills at the foundations and essentials levels (e.g., R-F1, "Use phonetic skills to decode words," and "Use structural analysis skills such as identifying root words, prefixes, suffixes and word origins to decode words unfamiliar in print," R-E1).
The primary bone of contention was the extent to which basic skills should be made explicit in the standards. The newly appointed conservatives insisted on explicit inclusion of rote memorization of math facts, direct instruction of spelling and phonic skills, and exclusion of anything they deemed unmeasureable or in some way progressive. Keegan, as a member of the Board, defended the drafts as submitted, not only because they were the products of extensive work and long and painful negotiation, but because she wanted to distinguish content standards (what students know) from teaching processes. The latter should be more up to the discretion of schools, according to her. But the conservatives wanted more control, more uniformity. An informant describes the climactic moment in the July Board meeting:
All along Lisa hadn't wanted phonics mentioned as a standard because it was a process, and she didn't want instructional techniques in the standards. But Felicia, who is a teacher at Franklin Traditional school and is about as far right as you can get -- she was unbelievable. She was relentless. She had been wearing people down all day. All day long they had been going back and forth, back and forth about whether to put the phonics in as a standard. Finally it came down to 5 o'clock in the afternoon and everyone on the Board had left but five people and you need all those five votes to pass anything. And Keegan and the Board president caved in. And I had quotes from her earlier in the day that said she wouldn't go for it, but she did. Because Felicia said in so many words that she would not approve the standards unless phonics were not only part of K-3, but also part of K-8. So now we have phonics all the way to eighth grade. I think they caved in just to get something passed. Anything. All these months had gone by, and still nothing had been approved. They had already given up standards in listening and visually representing; that was gone, and I think they were desperate to get something officially approved. So what they did, they agreed to a change in wording. Instead of calling it phonics, they called it phonetics. And the vote was 5-0.
The Board appointed three subcommittees, and assigned them limited responsibility. They appointed 120 teachers and district content specialists to the content committee and asked them and translate each of the approved standards into performance objectives. The technical committee, 20 people from district assessment offices and local university researchers, was charged with the task of advising the content committee on whether each of the performance objectives they had written was measurable. The special populations subcommittee had the task of alerting the content advisory subcommittee to any potential problems related to special education or language minority pupils. Like the technical committee, however, the special populations committee had a limited scope of work.
As they had during the revision of draft standards, members of the Board also participated in the subcommittees. Referring to the role of a Board member, a committee informant had this to say:
He agreed to certain things in the subcommittee but when it went before the Board, he spoke up again as if he was not a member of the subcommittee and had not already had a chance to state his case. So he got to state his case twice, and guess what. In the board meeting when the decision was made, he went the other way. So you can imagine the anguish of having gone through all these different steps -- compromising here, giving in there, wording things in certain ways so that it won't be over construed or overly tested and then when it finally gets to the Board, you have a lay board making curriculum decisions based on politics, based on the kind of feedback they get from home.
Another subcommittee member put his finger on the distinction between the substance of curriculum development (what he thought he had been working on) and the politics (what had been working on him):
The same people who are committed to more accountability are equally committed to local control-- that is the control by individual parents. It's a paradox. But that's what I learned from this process, that local control turned out to be the most dominant factor in the equation. I underestimated the power of that. We knew those groups were out there, whose blood pressure goes up at the mention of Goals 2000. But we underplayed it because we didn't know the degree to which individual board members would be willing to go to bat for those voices. We'd like to think that democracy works, and representative government, but in this structure, a small number of people can be in touch with a small number of board members and get the job done.
THE NEW SHAPE OF ASSESSMENT POLICY --Final Curtain or Another Act?
The political salience of assessment policy has cooled considerably since the conviction and removal from office of Governor Symington and the fall of Superintendent Keegan from the list of gubernatorial replacements. The State Board vs. the Legislature became the hotter political arena in 1998. ASAP has been replaced by AIMS, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards. No official talks about problem-solving, integrated, thematic teaching, or reading-writing connections or testing the way teachers teach and learners learn. Discourse about progressive reform no longer occupies the wings, let alone the center stage. Talk about performance assessment as a way of authentically representing the way teachers teach and help learners learn has given way to concerns about efficient testing of basic skills, isolated by subject matter. While the constituency for progressive reform left the field, its members having lost their bureaucratic positions, the constituency for standardized testing remained uniform, consistent, vocal, relentless. The test burden on Arizona school children is higher than it was before ASAP, with standardized testing (the Stanford-9 was the test package selected) of every pupil in all grades 3-12 and the testing of phonics skills extending even into junior high. The new AIMS (reading, writing, and math) is administered in four grades as well, and these consist mostly of multiple choice items, a few short-answer items, and one essay. In addition, the state mandates that districts develop and implement local assessments at the grades AIMS does not cover and in the other content areas. Student mastery will be reported to the Arizona Department of Education, which will make all these data available on the Internet. High stakes accountability is also greater than it had been before, with high school graduation soon to be determined by test results. State assessment policy has moved further to the right both politically and pedagogically. Teacher organizations and progressive educators have little voice.
Official assessment policy continues to ignore problems of social justice, language diversity, and ethnicity. Although Spanish and Navajo-speaking children can takes the AIMS in their native tongue, the high school graduation test must be taken in English, even for recent immigrants who might be literate in Spanish. The unresolved second language issues remain unresolved and have become the substance of legal action against the state. The official line on equity for ethnic and language minority and disadvantaged pupils is that the state must set the bar high and equally for everyone, and that it is racist to think that all children cannot vault it successfully with the available pole. In an interview, the state superintendent said this in response to concern that minorities may suffer adverse impact because of test bias:
It is one of the reasons that you set the even bar for everybody well. And I'm a particular-I think that is a pernicious and quite frankly sort of a racist view that particular students don't deserve a high expectation, and that's what I read that as. I mean I've listened to that for years about school choice; you can't give poor parents or minority parents a choice because they don't know how to use it; the parents won't profit from it. I don't believe it. And I've seen too many things about students, just in general, coming into a good education system. Where there is high expectation of that student, they rise to the level of expectation. And I just don't believe that the problem with our minority kids is capacity; I think it's expectation. And so everything from my philosophy, if I won out, it's going to be-what it will look like is a clear expectation for all students, and then we're going to have to figure out ways to expect better things of all students. I don't think there's any question if you've looked very hard at public education that we have a lower expectation for certain groups of students than others. That's not news to anybody. And our problem is how to get over our expectation problems, not how to lower the bar. So I've read the same stuff, and it makes me angry, because it's failing to do well by the kids and then excusing ourselves for that. So I don't buy it.
No one debates that the main fallacy of ASAP was the absence of provision for professional development. Yet the new assessment policy also fails to provide for it. ADE policy actors give lip service to teacher training, although they lack the power or budget to do anything more. The legislature that has the power is disinclined, because of their higher priority on tax-saving and general anti-professional sentiment. Once again, the districts and individual teachers are left to their own devices about retraining, curriculum development, and adjusting to the demands of the new tests.
Nor has there been any concern expressed for opportunity-to-learn or delivery standards. The graduation competency requirements will kick in before any official attention to curricular offerings has been paid. This will be most serious in the consequences of the math standards, some of which mirror the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards. No one knows how widespread these standards have permeated math classrooms in Arizona, but the math curriculum experts believe that the dissemination is uneven and slow overall. In those districts with sub-standard math programs, it will be students who suffer the high stakes consequences when the tests test what they have not been taught. In interviews, the policy actors pooh-poohed OTL issues, and refused to see them as anything but a bid by the district establishment for more money. Again, Keegan begged the question: "I don't believe the opportunity to learn stuff. There's nothing in any literature that suggests that amount of money makes the difference..."
Finally, what is missing from 1997 assessment policy is respect for the psychometric demands of creating, piloting, and revising the new tests. Like the ASAP performance tests before them, the new assessments will have to be developed in a matter of weeks rather than years, because the Board and Legislature demands accountability. In this decision in as most others, technological and professional considerations, as well as open, democratic discussion, have given way to politics.
(1)Data show that the SAT scores in Arizona were above the national average and had been level for four years.
(2) An informant remarked, "There is a feeling at the department that Diane is advising Fife on who to appoint to the board, because of animosity toward Lisa. Lisa had this whole plan ready to go, and then the membership of the Board changed and she has been stymied in everything she has tried since then."