Let's Talk Assessments
Peter Shumlin is the Governor of Vermont. His career in public service began more than 30 years ago when at the age of 24 he was elected to serve on the town’s select board. Peter is the father of two daughters, Olivia and Rebecca. In his free time he enjoys running, hiking and cross country skiing. He likes to fish, hunt and garden and can sometimes be found spreading manure and cutting hay at his farm. Peter is the 81st Governor of Vermont
When I a kid, my mom sometimes worried that I might struggle to find a job when I grew up. Schoolwork was not easy for me. I learned differently than many of my classmates. When I was in the second grade, my principal called my parents and me to the office and told us what I already suspected: that despite all their good efforts, my teachers could not teach me how to read. The prospects of my being a successful student and going to college were dim, they were told. That was not a great day.
I was lucky. I had a teacher named Claire Ogelsby who refused to accept my apparent inability to read. After school, Claire and her husband, also a teacher, loaded me into their Willys Jeep and took me to their log cabin on Windmill Hill Road in Westminster West. In warm weather, we sat on her lawn; in cold weather, we huddled around the woodstove. No matter how difficult the challenge, no matter how innovative she had to be or how hard she had to work, Claire Ogelsby never gave up on me. Therefore, neither did I.
As we move to a new standardized test, the SBAC assessment, I hope Vermonters will keep my own experience in mind. When I was a kid, federal policy did not encourage states to grade teachers based on their students’ test scores, so that teachers who taught lots of kids like me would end up being labeled as ineffective. Federal policy back then did not require that we test every child in every grade 3-8 and in High School and label them “not proficient” or “proficient.” If that had happened to me, it might have discouraged me from reaching high and pursuing ambitious goals. I still don’t test well, and I suspect I never will. Schools need good test data so they can assess whether their efforts to be more effective are paying off, but I suspect there are many kids in our schools today who don’t test well but who will still grow up to be Governor or entrepreneurs or tech designers or farmers who harness technology to make their farms thrive in the 21st century.
As a state, let’s focus on using all the tools we have to help all children learn better, but let’s not get sidetracked with labeling and ranking. In my case, I think my experience suggests that while test scores are useful for overall snapshots of how kids and schools are doing, they don’t always tell the whole story, and this is particularly true in individual cases. Most importantly, Claire Ogelsby wasn’t interested in just judging how well I could read. Instead, she was deeply invested in helping me learn to read better. If she was a young teacher being evaluated based on my test scores, I wonder if she would have kept her job long enough to teach me to read. But she did teach me to read, and I am forever grateful to her for it.
Page Last Updated on December 4, 2014