Despite the steady stream of bleak reports on public schools, state education officials still insist that South Carolina’s high academic standards provide real accountability to parents.
The Education Oversight Committee (EOC) is an organization charged with acting as South Carolina’s default education “watchdog.” However, late and vaguely-worded school report cards and increasingly watered-down standards have many South Carolinians wondering whether the public education establishment is more focused on eradicating failures, or covering them up. Now, with many jobs in the state’s education bureaucracy being threatened by budget cuts, there is talk of further erosion of the already limited oversight.
The latest in this trend is further evidence that the PASS test, which replaced PACT, is even more toothless than its notoriously unpopular predecessor. The Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee of EOC learned the details in mid March:
• PASS has more multiple-choice sections than PACT, which used writing and critical response
• PASS will have fewer performance levels, meaning more students will “pass” the test even if performance drops
• PASS combines reading and writing into a single measure
• The EOC will set “good enough” standards through “public engagement” and “focus groups” not through national norms or rigorous absolute performance benchmarks
All the test results and report cards in the world are meaningless if parents are powerless to act on them. What person would be content with a dentist who grudgingly alerted them to the need for a root canal, but was unable to do the procedure, and refused to allow another dentist to do the job?
It sounds ludicrous, but parents face a similar situation every year with South Carolina’s public education system. Parents may be able to find out that their child is attending a failing public school, but ultimately they have little or no power to do anything about it.
“Accountability” and “education reform” are just words if parents are unable to use report cards and test results to make choices about where their children attend school. Tax credits and scholarships, as part of a comprehensive school choice plan, will encourage parents to be engaged and involved in their child’s education. Parents of all incomes and backgrounds will finally have real power to act on the information they have about their child’s school. This freedom to choose is the key to an effective, equitable and accountable education system. When this kind of real accountability exists, the only losers are schools that keep failing children.
Editor’s note: Neil Mellen is Communications Director for South Carolinians for Responsible Government. He serves on the South Carolina Educational Broadband Service Commission and served on the State’s Taskforce for Computer Adaptive Student Assessment.