Debate Magazine

Michelle Rhee’s Miracle

By Stevemiranda

The D.C. school system and former chancellor Michelle Rhee have come under fire after a USA Today report revealed suspicious data related to significant gains in recent test scores. Here’s an excerpt:

But since 2008, more than half of D.C. schools were flagged by a testing company for having unusually high rates of wrong-to-right erasures. At one school, Noyes Education Campus, the number of erasures in one class was so high that the odds of winning the Powerball grand prize were better than the erasures occurring by chance.

In her response, Rhee noted that a testing company said “there are many reasons for erasures, and the presence of erasures does not mean someone cheated. In fact, it can mean that our students are being more diligent about their work.”

[Officials offered speculation on] why erasures could be so high, including test-taking strategies where students were given as much time as they needed and “were strongly encouraged to review their work,” which could lead to changing answers. Students also might have “mis-gridded” their answer sheets and then corrected them.

Right. And maybe I’ll win the Powerball grand prize tonight.

* * *

The process of teaching and learning is really complicated. Authentic learning takes place over time, and it’s not linear. Any “miracles” related to test scores that occur in short periods of time, you can bet, have nothing to do with authentic learning.

I’ve seen what seem like miracles in education. Privacy concerns prevent me from sharing stories here, but they happen over the course of years: a child with acute challenges growing to be a powerful adult full of confidence and direction. These “miracles” weren’t accompanied by bombastic rhetoric about getting tough, holding people accountable, and raising standards. And upon further examination, they’re not miracles at all. They are reasonable outcomes that we can expect when a child is given love, support, encouragement, guidance and structure in accordance with the most recommended advice from behavioral scientists.

They are what happens when, instead of designing schools to do battle with high-stakes standardized tests, we build schools based on sound principles of human development.

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