A waste of $6.1 million

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 29, 2014 09:55 am

Government’s ability to obscure simple matters in the impenetrable foliage of jargon is infamous, yet even our cynical eyes can still be surprised.

This would be an amusing trait if it weren’t also so often an expensive one, with tax dollars footing the bill.

As reported in a story in Monday’s issue of the Herald, Oregon is among nine states that have received $6.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to.....

Well, here’s where that jargon jungle gets in the way.

So far as we can tell the money will help teachers, from kindergarten through third grade, recognize which of their students are excelling and which are struggling.

This is a fundamental skill for teachers, and one which we believe the vast majority of teachers already possess.

Apparently the Department of Education — both the federal version, and Oregon’s — disagrees.

According to the story, the nine states, led by North Carolina, will create a “formative assessment, a term used to describe a set of formal and informal evaluations meant to gauge a student’s development and steer instruction to the student’s level.”

Brett Walker, who is the early learning initiatives coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education, tried to translate.

“It’s a way to check in and make sure students are learning at the right pace,” Walker said.

Most schools already have such a system.

It’s called the parent-teacher conference.

And it doesn’t cost extra.

Oregon already does statewide assessments for kindergarteners and third-graders. And no student gets through first and second grade without taking a test or two.

Walker and Jada Rupley, early learning system director for the Oregon Department of Education, co-wrote a message that attempts to explain why this new assessment tool is so vital.

“We know that reading on grade level by the end of third grade is an important predictor of future academic success,” they wrote. “A comprehensive formative assessment system will allow schools to measure student learning, progress and development over time.”

Again, this seems to us quite an expenditure of syllables to explain a concise document that everyone has heard of, and seen: the report card.

We’re not questioning the motivation of the federal education officials who awarded the $6.1 million. We’re convinced that both they and their counterparts from Oregon and the eight other states who will spend the money are committed to improving public schools.

But we see no legitimate reason to lay out $6.1 million — more than one-third of the Baker School District’s annual general fund  budget — on this project.

Our schools have faults and problems, to be sure.

But we don’t believe that teachers are so ignorant of their students’ progress, or lack of progress, that they need $6.1 million in remedial aid to understand what’s happening in their own classrooms.