Durham, Raleigh racial segregation by the dots
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 27, 2010

More on Natalie Beyer's Scantron dissent: whither site-based feedback?

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.



Natalie is right. Who would know better what is needed in the classroom than the teachers? Its about time that our school board members start asking the right questions.


Any good teacher knows where their students are academically. Every day of testing equals one less day of instructional time. Testing every few weeks is excessive and demoralizing. After the Reading Street fiasco is anyone surprised that teachers aren't included in decisions that impact their classroom practice?

Julie Maxwell

My son is new to Rogers Herr this year. Not sure if the school already owns a Scantron or is testing a loaner but one of the teachers has sent home test results via a Scantron "ticket" I will call it.

For all other classes we see traditional, teacher-graded unit assessments with comments and feedback. This is very useful.

The Scantron answer "tickets" come home and we see that there were 25 questions each with a choice of 5 bubbles to fill that correspond with possible answers.
The automatic Scantron machine makes a faint red line beside the bubbles that are incorrect and it tallies how many answers are correct and prints a faint tiny red number at the top. We do not know what the questions were. We do not know what the right answers are. All we know is that for #2 "b" was the wrong answer.

I suppose that having a district-wide networked Scantron system would be a fast and easy way to generate aggregate data so that an administrator downtown could create uniform, timely, spreadsheets and reports.

Not so sure how this is actually going to benefit learning as I believe that teacher feedback is crucial.

Rodrigo "El Justiciero" Dorfman

Regarding David Sneed and his future as a DPS contractor: I had a talk with Steve Martin on election day - when he was still a member of the Board - and I raised my concerns that David Sneed was should not be a able to just simply quit DPS - takes employees and knowledge and then turn around and get a fat juicy contract. I said that it would appear like corruption. I asked Steve if there was a provision that forbade former employees (like at Duke) to immediately quit and get a contract. Steve told me that there wasn't BUT that he has pressed for a provision that would not allow David Sneed to get a contract with DPS in the near future. He told me that all the other members of the Board had agreed that for David Sneed to get a contract would be unethical.

So, we shall see. The majority of the Board that apparently believes it would be unethical for David Sneed to get a contract from DPS is still sitting.

We shall see if what Steve Martin told me was the truth.

Meanwhile - it's obviously business as usual at DPS - this new testing system sounds very similar to Reading Street: another top down imposition without any regards to what teachers think. I thought Dr. Becoats said that teachers were our number one specialists! I guess the Board is not listening.

Business as usual = mediocrity, failure and more children exploited for the benefit of accountants and computer software millionaires.

It's sucks.

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