Lawmakers are debating how, and when to replace the controversial PACT test. Rather than merely changing the test, Jim Rex is using the transition as a bait-and-switch attempt to also re-tool and weaken state accountability laws. While the current bill is less damaging than the initial proposal, the transition alone will cost taxpayers more than $24 million over the next three years.
One aspect to this story that has been lost on the main stream media is that under Rex, the Department of Education tried to outmaneuver the Legislature, the State Board, and the Education Oversight Committee last year by issuing contract bids for both tests and test items without approval.
If South Carolina is serious about K-12 assessment, lawmakers need to look to the successfully model of private schools across the state. These schools employ commercially developed, off-the-shelf standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford 10 test. Such tests cost a fraction of the PACT and allow for speedy, specific, and diagnostic results for each child. They are also being used by public schools in other states to meet NCLB requirements.
But that makes too much sense. More likely, politically connected companies like Data Recognition Corp (who administers the PACT and was hired to suggest plans for its replacement) will continue to rake in hundreds of millions in long term state contracts.
Assessment is a great tool for accountability. It can help keep parents and teachers informed of student and school progress. But assessment can also hide problems. Everyone knows that South Carolina is the nation’s shame with a high school graduation rate below fifty percent. But through the use of poorly-crafted tests and selective testing state officials are able to claim that over 71 percent of students passed a high school “exit exam” last year.
Contact your lawmaker. Let them know that teachers and parents need accurate data. Explain to them how states, like private schools, can buy standardized tests that assess student performance against absolute benchmarks, not muddled South Carolina specific “standards.”