California Bracing for Disappointment?

California is set to release their Smarter Balanced scores for this year. It’s the third year the state has administered the Common Core-aligned assessments. The spin machine seems to be in full effect before the release evidenced by an article in EdSource cautioning reading to use California’s test scores “with caution.”

State Board of Education member Sue Burr, a close advisor to Gov. Brown and who was involved in drawing up the new accountability system, noted at the board’s recent meeting that under California’s old system “test results were the be-all and end-all” as to assessing whether the state’s students were making sufficient progress.

She said that in the future it may make more sense for California to release results on performance on all measures simultaneously, not just test scores. That way, Californians would have a better idea of “what the whole picture looks like,” instead of making “a big whoop-de-do about test results.”

It is also the case that in a state with close to 1,000 school districts and 10,000 schools, test scores are a blunt instrument in telling us what is going on. The statewide averages are just that— averages. They mask how well individual schools and students are doing, and similarly, how poorly others are doing.

“There is a risk that people will pay too much attention to the magic numbers, because they are easy to understand and to compare across the system” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates, a public interest law firm that has been heavily involved in promoting better education outcomes in California’s schools. “It is incumbent on policy makers and educators to communicate that California education is about a lot more than the numbers of students who score at a certain level on a test.”

There is also a danger that parents, advocates and others who are understandably impatient to see rapid improvements will be tempted to declare the current reforms a failure if the tests scores don’t improve over last year’s scores.

It is like they’re expecting people to be disappointed with the test scores. Spin…spin…spin…