The Herald-Sun and N&O noted this week's decision by Durham Public Schools to use excess funds from their one-time in-house research, testing and assessment division budget to buy a licensed system from Scantron that would purportedly improve the frequency as well as quality of student testing.
(Excess funds, it seems, since department director David Sneed and several staff have left the unit, opening up outsourcing opportunities for the district... though one also wonders whether we'll ever see Sneed et alia pop up doing outside consulting for Durham and other districts. One David A. Sneed of Durham, NC is a registered agent for and member-manager of one ED DESIGNS, LLC, founded in 2007.)
Tests would move from quarterly to every few weeks, but most school board members seemed impressed by the new administration's assurances that test results would provide feedback to teachers on each students' strengths and weaknesses, not merely an assessment of their likelihood of passing end of grade tests.
Most, but not all. Natalie Beyer, who defeated Steve ("Not the Comedian or Banjo Player") Martin for a seat on the board this summer, was a dissenting voice. And she expressed her reasons why on the Durham DARE parents listserv:
After the presentation about Scantron at our subcommittee meeting last week, I recommended that DPS administrators take the Scantron product to our Teacher Council (or similar representative group of classroom teachers) so that teachers could interact with it and see if it would be helpful to them in the classroom. At that time, the contract was still being negotiated. In the meantime, as I visited schools, I asked several teachers and Principals if they had heard anything about the Scantron proposal. I couldn't find anyone that answered "yes". That concerns me.
While DPS needs to be a responsive decision-maker, we need to find ways to better include classroom teachers in the major decisions that will impact our students and teachers for years to come. If teachers are involved from the early stages we will have better fidelity and better outcomes.
Whether the Scantron system is an improvement or not over existing testing, Beyer's dissent -- and more importantly, the reason for it -- is an issue to watch in the near future as DPS works to make progress under a new superintendent and very new senior leadership team, much of which has seen turnover as Eric Becoats' team has come in the door.
Beyer's drumbeat in the email is nothing new; as the pressure to meet No Child Left Behind and other state and federal guidelines for student proficiency has risen, the district has been working feverishly for years to mandate improvements in test results and education, two hopefully-linked concepts, though a vocal group of parents and stakeholders has expressed skepticism about how much the former has to do with the latter. Yet that has long involved centralized mandates for curricular activities.
It's an issue to watch as the new administration -- and the newly constituted board, which added Beyer and Nancy Cox -- grow into their roles.