Here at the Voice for School Choice we have been highly supportive of replacing the PACT with a more inexpensive and diagnostic test. I dare say Jim Rex was stunned at several of his town hall meetings last year when some of our supporters testified in support of such a proposal.
After ten years of teaching for the test – rather than simply teaching – our educators will hopefully be able to refocus their efforts on the needs of individual children by removing the PACT albatross from around their collective necks.
Having said that, this new and improved Education Accountability Act (EAA) has the potential to significantly misrepresent our educational performance levels – which ultimately does nothing to further efforts to enhance education. Here’s how:
Currently, student PACT results are categorized as Below Basic, Basic, Proficient or Advanced. It’s a straightforward ranking system that is comparable to a national standardized test taken by 4th and 8th graders called NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card. Both PACT and NAEP show that less than 1/3 of our 8th grade students are proficient in math and reading. This data is further supported by the fact that – upon entering high school – only 53% of our students graduate on time and our state continually ranks at the bottom on both major college entrance tests – the SAT and ACT.
While PACT clearly has problems, the categories used to describe a student’s knowledge level is not one of them. Proficiency is the standard and is defined by the Education Oversight Committee as “a student is well prepared for work at the next grade.” That definition needs to remain in place if we are truly concerned with accountability and having a realistic view of achievement levels.
The problem with the new EAA is that it condenses the four current categories into 3: Not Met, Met and Exemplary – effectively combining the previous categories known as Basic and Proficient.
Legislators and education bureaucrats claim the change is needed in order to more fairly compare South Carolina with other states. But we already have tests from which to compare ourselves with other states – NAEP, the SAT and the ACT.
The unfortunate truth is that these particular standards are being lowered in order to make results look better than they are. Supporters like Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Walker try to convince us otherwise, stating, “Our standards are staying as high as they are now, and I’ll debate that with anyone any day.” He then contradicts himself by predicting, according to the State newspaper, “a dramatic increase in the number of schools meeting federal goals.”
His proclamation makes absolutely no sense. If you are changing the achievement categories in order to be able to meet certain goals you can’t currently meet, then you are obviously lowering the standards.
The proof will be readily apparent when all of a sudden 75% of our 8th graders meet the new standard, yet NAEP proficiency levels still hover around 30 percent and only half of our high school students have the wherewithal to complete 12th grade.
The reality is this particular change to the EAA will accomplish nothing; but it will serve as another wonderful propaganda piece for those attempting to pull the wool over taxpayers’ eyes.
Legislators should be applauded for making PACT more efficient and effective, but this particular provision does lower our standards and cannot be viewed as real reform.