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From the Kitchen Table


Anything But the Truth

by Peg Luksik
 

Courtrooms across the country require that witnesses swear to tell "nothing but the truth". But in the debate raging over Common Core, state education bureaucracies often appear to have sworn to tell citizens seeking information exactly the opposite of the truth.

Let's illustrate the point with the following example, this one from the state of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education passed the regulations surrounding Common Core in 2013. The language was part of Chapter 4 of the state's school code. On page 42 of those regulations, it states:

(G) the department and other commonwealth entities are prohibited from collecting individual student test scores and may collect only aggregate test scores by school and district.

So, according to Pennsylvania regulation, the Department of Education is legally prohibited from collecting results of the state assessments at the individual student level. When parents ask about data collection, they are referred to this section of the school code. No data collected here, they are told.

Except…

In May 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) submitted its Race to the Top grant application to the U.S. Department of Education. The three signers, who were the Governor, the Secretary of Education, and the President of the State Board of Education, stipulated that "all of the information and data in this application are true and correct."

Section C of that application was titled, "Data Systems to Support Instruction." Pennsylvania had to describe the extent to which it had a statewide longitudinal data system that included all of the elements mandated by the federal America COMPETES Act by...

documenting exactly what the state had included in its data system.

Required element #6 was defined as: "Yearly test records of individual students with respect to assessments under section 111 1(b) of the ESEA Act of 1965."

Pennsylvania's grant application described how the state met that requirement by stating: "Pennsylvania currently collects student level data on all state assessments within PIMS."

PIMS is the Pennsylvania Information Management System, or the state's data system.

On January 3, 2011, PDE filed its Amended Application for Funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program. The application was filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The PDE contact person on the application was Michael Walsh.

Page 3 of the application was a page of legal assurances from the state, promising that Pennsylvania was in compliance with federal law. Assurance #2 says: "the State will establish a longitudinal data system that includes the elements described in section 6401(e)(2)(D) of the America COMPETES Act."

The application required the state to separately list each federally mandated element of the data system and give the U.S. Department a status report on how close the State was to fully implementing it. On page 4, element 6 was "yearly test records of individual students". Pennsylvania told the federal government that this element was "completed."

And then there is the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit organization whose funding includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The group surveys states to monitor how well they are complying with the elements of the America COMPETES Act and using the data they collect.

The Data Quality Campaign's web site first addresses how the Campaign gathers information: "states are now reporting the status of their ability to collect this information to the U.S. Department of Education, and DQC will use those reports as its primary source of information about states' progress building state longitudinal data systems."

The web site then defines state assessment data as: "The ability to match individual students' test records from year to year in a statewide database of individual student performance and the ability to disaggregate the results by individual test item and objective."

Pennsylvania reported, in 2011, that it had fulfilled this element, and had this information in the state database.

So which is it?

Either the state IS collecting this information, in which case PDE is in direct violation of our current school code and all statements it makes assuring concerned citizens that school code language is being followed are untrue…

OR

…the Department is NOT collecting this information and all statements it has made to the federal government about the collection of state assessment data in documents signed by state officials and used to receive federal funding are untrue.

The existence of falsehood is indisputable. The only question that remains is who is being lied to.


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