Should Test Scores Determine School Funding?
Recently, Mike O’Neil from KTAR’s “Think Tank” sat down with educators Raquel Mamani and Beth Lewis to discuss the challenges teachers are facing as they work through the third school year impacted by the Covid pandemic.
The educators agreed that teaching in Arizona is more difficult than ever and that problems are exacerbated by increased demands, standardized testing, and mandates passed by lawmakers and other leaders who don’t have experience in the classroom. We hope you will listen to the full episode here or read our blog below.
Phoenix area educators Raquel Mamani and Beth Lewis discussed the immense pressure for educators and students around standardized test scores. As Lewis states, “A third-grader should not feel pressure about a math test that the funding for their school is contingent upon.” Yet in Arizona, these test scores determine resources. One of the primary reasons for this is Governor Ducey’s “results based funding” mechanism which funnels more resources to high-performing, high-income schools. This backwards model means schools in high-poverty areas often lose out on basics, like counselors, field trips, art teachers, and more.
Students Lose with Standardized Tests
“When we say we’re $4 billion behind the national average every single year, what is the impact on kids? They don’t have art teachers, they don’t have counselors, they have huge class sizes, they don’t have new textbooks. And they also have buses that are falling apart and roofs that are caving in. That takes real money to fix. So the people that say ‘you can’t throw money at the problem’ are frankly uneducated and they are wrong,” Lewis said.
According to Mamani, school boards receive inadequate funding and allocating scarce resources is an impossible task: “I started as a PTO mom going down to the legislature to figure out why do I have to keep selling all this cookie dough? I can tell you the piece of the pie that they keep talking about, they keep shrinking and shrinking. It’s a false narrative so they think the schools are getting the money and it’s all these administrative costs. Wrong, we have some of the lowest administrative costs in the nation.”
Losing the Love of Teaching
Both Mamani and Lewis bemoaned the emphasis placed on end-of-year standardized testing like the AZ Merit exam. As Mamani points out, “Putting students through these standardized tests not only takes the joy out of teaching, but you have to watch as this takes the joy [from kids] and you’re watching them lose the love of learning. That’s painful to watch day in and day out.”
Lewis said, “AZMerit one day in April is not an accurate snapshot of what a child learned. It’s not useful data. My district does a better job of having benchmarks throughout the year that show a child’s growth. We actually use that data. But as the system currently stands the standardized testing does promote emphasis on test scores, on rote learning, not higher order thinking… It takes away a lot of the in-depth love of learning that most teachers are really in it for, which can be really exhausting.”
How Can We Fix These Wrongs?
Concluding the interview, Mike O’Neil asked both educators, “If you were to do one thing right now, what would it be?”
Mamani said, “I would make sure that more funds were going to our public schools. 90% of Arizona students use our schools so I would get some very smart people to rework the formula and make sure that the funding majority is going to our public schools.”
Lewis didn’t hold back: “I would elect a pro-public education governor and legislature which is exactly what we plan to do in 2022.”