A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

A Dubious Distinction

The high school at which I worked for over thirty years has been named by the state as a Reward School. This perceived distinction is granted to schools scoring in the top 20 percent on the state’s English and math exams, having made score gains in the previous year and not having significant achievement gaps among segments of the school population. Board of education members have been publically praising the superintendent for this achievement. While I have always believed the school to be one of the best in our area, being a Reward School is a distinction based on a metrics that have very little to do with its quality education. To me, our high school is a superior place of learning despite the attempts of a board and administration who have very consciously tried to boost high stakes test scores to the exclusion of more purposeful instruction.

Rating a school on the scores on one English exam and several math tests, exams of highly questionable validity, is absurd. Awards like this are the end product of a high stakes testing regimes that delude the public into believing that serious work is being done to raise the academic bar. It is also a foolhardy way to evaluate the effectiveness of a superintendent, the school administrators and the teaching staff. There are numbers of schools in our area that achieve very respectable test scores but which fail to prepare students for serious college academic work.

Some years ago, we had a superintendent whose mantra was, “We’re number one.” At every public meeting, he would find some way to reinforce the notion that somehow we were in a competition and we were going to come out on top. When I asked him once how we would know we were the best, he looked at me with a broad smile. His gambit was all about boosting his salary. Reward School is a very similar concept.

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