Friday, March 07, 2003


The utter lack of accountability in the statewide assessment program came at an enormous price. Aren't you proud? And documents on file illustrate how the Nebraska State Department of Education views local control. It's not control by local citizens. It's local citizens dutifully implementing what policies and procedures the state wants in place, after plenty of money has been spread around.

This week's Appropriations Committee hearing on the department's budget had the spectacle of the bureaucrats going on record against cutting their budget or any district's budget or state aid or anything that had anything to do with anything, any wee bit, despite the fact that we have a statewide budget shortfall approaching $700 million.

Furthermore, they were attempting to obtain buy-in from the committee to recommend another $457,000 in ESU technology infrastructure funding and $1,273,000 in "core services" for the ESU's instead of making what should have been a no-brainer, $1.7 million cut. The money would be earmarked for a process that has been defined by former State Board of Education member Kathy Wilmot as "much of the 'hanky panky' involved with training and preparation for the Commissioner's 'locally developed, multiple assessment.'"

He can claim these are "locally developed," but they're not. Remember how each state's learning "standards" are all basically from the same place and were sprinkled around from state to state by various means, including the regional education laboratories and certain consultants? Well, it's the same thing with the assessments designed to measure how well the kids learned what was in those boilerplated standards. Naturally, the assessments have been boilerplated, too . . . although it was done in a perplexing, expensive way to try to conceal that from us.

Each district's attempt at crafting an acceptable assessment has been bent, spindled, folded and mutilated through the mega-powerful Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Search on a search engine for "Buros" and "assessment," and you'll see for yourself how "trickle-down" assessments trick the people by trickling state-controlled, nonacademic assessments down to the kids via a long, expensive chain of educrats paid to distort and degrade the process of education.

How Nebraska got this house-of-mirrors assessment system is interesting reading. Take the math assessments. Go to the Buros report on the math assessment development process to read more for yourself, but consider that the Nebraska Department of Education hired an arm of the UNL office, the Buros Institute for Assessment Consultation and Outreach, staffed up the whazoo with Ph.D.'s who piled higher and deeper all that they knew about assessment models, and then some.

Then they hired 15 evaluators to "help" the districts work the 24 state-mandated assessment strategies into their so-called "locally developed" assessments. These 15 evaluators formed the District Assessment Evaluation Team -- DAET -- though no local educator would ever want a date with DAET.

But that wasn't the end of it. Then there was a final review by the National Advisory Center for Assessment, with four nationally-known and therefore maximum-paid experts in assessment reviewing all the folderol.

The report contains interesting and almost comical tangents such as the fact that the Westside Community Schools had their assessment writers trained in avoiding bias in the questions they were developing. Keep in mind, this is math. But these writers spent days in meetings learning how to avoid bias in race/ethnicity, gender, religion and who knows what all else in their questions. But even that wasn't enough: then District 66 paid its ESU to conduct an "independent bias review" of the questions after they were written, and so another 13 people representing six ethnic groups went over the questions . . . and if there was ANY math left in them after all of this, it would be a miracle.

What does all this suggest?

Repeal those Goals 2000 "standards," quit trying to do a statewide assessment, let districts devise their own system of off-the-shelf tests and locally-managed assessment techniques, save a canyon full of money, and most of all, sharply reduce the numbers, funding and assignments of the ESU's.

They have no accountability to the State Board of Education or anybody else besides the State Department of Education. They are mushrooming in size and scope because of these silly statewide assessments. They perpetuate the lack of accountability to the public for what Nebraska's public schools are teaching, and they are storing the kids' local, personal data in their databanks and that ain't good.

The State Ed Department dearly wants to pump more and more money and power into the ESU's since they avoid oversight by the State Ed Board, and their own elected boards are such rubber stamps. They're an "accountability avoidance" dream. Now is the perfect time and the budget crisis the perfect excuse to kill several birds with one stone, and sharply reduce their impact and funding.

If the ESU's could be taken out of the assessment business, there wouldn't be a structure for either the State Department of Ed or the local districts to hide behind. As it is now, there is no way for us to track exactly how much this fiasco involving standards, assessment and lack of accountability is costing taxpayers.

Listen, all educators are trained in assessment. That's one of the most important classes they take in teachers' college. Why on earth wouldn't we let them choose how best to measure learning and be accountable to their locally-elected school boards and taxpaying patrons? Why on earth must the state get into what should be a pure, simple process and muck it all up with all this bureaucracy? Why on earth did we ever let them stray from local control?

Despite the millions that have been spent and the tears that have been shed, Nebraskans STILL don't know beans about how well our children are learning through this wacky assessment debacle. It's time to put a stop to it.

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