Good reasons not to trust RAISE bill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2016


As the years roll along, those of us who qualify as “seniors” have the benefit of viewing things through a lens that includes far more life experiences than those who are our junior. Some call it wisdom. I prefer to call it common sense.

And one of the things this common sense has taught me is that the most dangerous people in the world are those who don’t know what they don’t know. It is no sin to not know something. However, it is a sin to try and bluff your way through a situation when you clearly are in way over your head.

If I’ve ever seen a case where this is applicable, it’s the next major piece of education policy legislation in the pipeline for the February legislative session known as the Rewarding Advancement in Instruction and Student Excellence (RAISE) Act of 2016. This bill has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese. Time after time it defies logic and ignores good research.

The bill emphasizes using standardized testing and evaluating teachers on their students’ test scores. At long last educators have gotten out from the tentacles of No Child Left Behind which had us worship at the altar of testing. Now Alabama’s super majority leadership wants to make sure we go right back there.

The professional education society, Phi Delta Kappa, and the Gallup polling organization have been surveying the American public for 47 years as to how they look at public education and what is meaningful to them. The most recent poll was released last September and sampled more than 4,500 people.

Guess what? The public puts very little stock in using tests as a benchmark of education quality.

In fact, testing came in last as a measure of effectiveness with just 14 percent of parents rating test scores as very important, behind how engaged students are with their class work; the percentage students who feel hopeful about their future; percent of students who graduate from high school; percent of high school graduates who go to college or community college; and the percent of graduates who get jobs immediately after completing high school.

When asked what is the most important way to improve public schools, 95 percent said teachers were the most important factor. Using tests to measure what students have learned again came in last, with only 19 percent saying it is important.

What provides the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress? No. 1 is example of student work, No. 2 is written observations by the teacher, No. 3 is grades awarded by the teacher and No. 4 is scores on standardized tests.

Some 55 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. But this is what RAISE wants to do.

Pollsters wanted to know the three most important factors considered when a parent is choosing a local public school for their child. The top three were quality of teachers, curriculum and student discipline. The three least important were proximity of the school to the workplace, success of athletic programs and student achievement as measured by standardized tests.

It is also noteworthy that 57 percent oppose allowing parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense. Which of course is what the Alabama Accountability Act does.

But considering that the same folks pushing RAISE are the same folks who passed the accountability act, our lawmakers’ insistence on swimming upstream is understandable. After all, if you don’t know what you don’t know…………


Larry Lee led the study Lessons Learned from Rural Schools and is a longtime advocate for public education.