In the debate over testing in schools, under attack from both left and right of the political spectrum these days, the underlying question is too often missed: How do taxpayers, who fund the public schools, know the quality of the product?
We believe that taxpayers — only a minority of whom have children in schools — deserve data that shows what they’re getting for the money.
And despite the naysayers of the left, who say that testing is “killing the joy of learning,” or of the right where Common Core standards are under fire, there is good news on the educational front in Louisiana.
In 2015, our state set a record. High school seniors earned ACT scores that will allow them to enter community colleges or four-year institutions at higher levels than ever before.
John White, state superintendent of education, said that in spring 2015, 24,619 students earned an ACT score of 18 or higher — an increase of almost 1,000 students from 2014 and an increase of 6,300 students from 2012.
A host of positive consequences follow from this data point. More students earn the TOPS scholarships for college, including for technical educations that prepare many students for either four-year college later or lucrative careers with two-year degrees. The state, which despite cutbacks in the past seven years still pays significant amounts to colleges and universities, is not on the hook for so many remedial courses in basics like math.
Yes, it’s a data point, but that’s what tests provide, and the anecdotal nature of the criticisms should not weigh as heavily as the real results among real students. “All of this paints an extraordinary, positive picture for the future of our state,” White said. “It means more kids going to college ... and going on to be productive members of our society and productive employees in the workplace.”
There is particularly praiseworthy progress among African-American seniors. This year, White said, about 40 percent more black students earned a score of 18 or higher than did three years ago, growing from 5,202 in 2012 to 7,287 in 2015.
Louisiana is hardly a paradise of public education, as the long-term drag of poverty is difficult to overcome. Many states don’t test all students on the ACT, but Louisiana provides the funding for all students to take it — and as it is the key to admissions at colleges and technical schools, that’s a practical way to encourage education after high school. “We did it as an issue of equity to ensure that no young man or young woman is overlooked and to ensure that historically disenfranchised populations of students would be given every opportunity to attend college to get a job in the workplace,” White said.
It is never going to easy to make changes on the broad scale of public education, but it is one of the most important investments a state, or a local community, can make with its tax dollars. That kind of investment, though, mandates an objective measurement such as the ACT or what were the LEAP tests, although a new set of measurements is under development.
Testing is not the same as learning, perhaps, but it is not at all an obstacle to good teaching. And it is the basis for accountability, something that Louisiana taxpayers need to validate their investment.
So far, so good, we think.