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OPINION: The API game -- what if we win and still lose?

By Betty King Buginas

Here is a frightening thought. What if we replace or repair every school in our district, reorganize our administration so that it is 100 percent efficient, raise our test scores and get fat checks from the state -- and our schools aren’t any better? What if they are worse?

How could this happen? It could happen if we base all we do on a false premise, the premise that learning is about acquiring a certain set of discrete facts. It could happen if we forget about instilling a love of learning, forget you can never know everything but you can know how to find out, forget that most important of all is caring about and working with others.

The high-stakes testing going on in our schools and schools across this country is a twisted version of the emperor's new clothes. We know what we see isn’t right, but we know if we are good servants of the government and play along that we might get a few more dollars than the next guy.

We know it is unfair to some -- that we haven’t yet given all students the same opportunity to learn, that further labeling them as failures will only cause additional damage including an increase in drop out rates.

We know it disrespects students, their families and teachers. Yet we are hesitant to say anything. As Americans we place great faith in numbers. We are embarrassed to question these for fear we will appear weak and unworthy.

But what if we play along and the numbers get better? What if we win only to find the game is a farce, that we’ve wasted years of effort and millions of dollars, and the children who were in the school system all that time are worse off, and don’t get a second chance?

Let’s ignore SAT 9 and API for a moment and go back and look at what we should be doing. What should a school teach? What are successful schools doing? How do you know when a school is doing a good job?

We can study research and successful schools to find out what works. We can then provide our own teachers and administrators the time and support needed to find the best way to implement these ideas in our own schools. We can develop our own standards and system for monitoring school quality based on observation of students as they work, and review of examples of what they can do.

If a school isn’t thriving, assessing it over and over won’t improve it. The current system serves only the test publishers, and politicians who’ve been able to work it to their advantage. Let’s put those resources back where they should have gone in the first place, toward improving our schools.

Run dates: 2001-06-10 - 2001-06-30

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