Last week, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy appeared on The Delaware Way with host Larry Mendte. I posted the video the other day. Now you can read the full transcript of the whole conversation.
Larry Mendte: Welcome back to The Delaware Way. I’m Larry Mendte. We’re pleased to be joined by the Delaware Department of Education, Secretary Mark Murphy. Thank you so much for being here today. I think it’s fair to say that there is controversy across the country on standardized testing, new standardized testing connected to Core and that you have been, your Department, has been trying to head off that type of controversy in Delaware by trying to get out in front of it. Are you doing that because you’ve seen what’s happened in other states?
Mark Murphy: No, we’re doing that because it’s important to make sure our students and our educators and our parents understand the value of this assessment.
Mendte: So it’s the Smarter Balanced Assessment. That’s the official title for the test. Explain what that test is.
Murphy: It is an academic checkup. I think that’s incredibly important for our parents to remember is that at the end of the day we want to make sure as parents that our children are making adequate progress. That progress that they need to make so that they are ready after high school to be successful. And the Smarter Balanced Assessment that we will administer once a year provides an academic checkup for parents, for kids, for educators. Is that child on track? It’s nothing more than that.
Mendte: Are parents allowed to opt out of it?
Murphy: No, parents are not allowed to opt out of it. Testing is a part of school. Assessments are a part of school. It’s a part of life, it’s what we do here in public school. And it’s incredibly important. It provides information, #1, #2, it highlights the challenges that our students may have as individuals, and as a State it provides us with great information about how to shape our funding decisions, how to shape our policy decisions.
Mendte: Why wouldn’t parents be allowed to opt out of it. I know there is a movement, there’s some legislation asking for parents to be able to opt out of it. And there are also some parental organizations asking for that. Why wouldn’t you allow that? Does it have to do with funding?
Murphy: No, it does not have to do with funding. It has to do with the importance of information.
Mendte: Let me back up for a second. Federal government says you have to have 95% involved, and that is linked to funding, right?
Murphy: That is absolutely the case, yes. But that aside, the information is powerful. It provides all of us with an understanding about how our children are doing. First and foremost, the kids themselves, but right on through us policy makers. And if we do not have the ability to measure the progress our kids are making, then we do not have the ability to make great educational decisions, from the classrooms right through to the Legislature.
Mendte: Let me go through some pushback on it and you can answer the questions. Some parents are concerned that the tests are too hard, that it’s much too difficult than any of the tests they’ve had in the past, and they don’t want their kids to be the lab rats for this new test. What about the fear that the children will be taught just for the test, they ‘ll be taught just to take a test and not necessarily what they need to know in life?
Murphy: In schools that have done a poor job in the past decade, they have done all this test prep work. I agree that is a common fear that we hear and is often perpetuated. But it is not the case in our high quality schools and in the hearts of our educators. What our educators are doing is teaching to a set of standards. What do our students need to know and be able to do to be successful later and the test is a measuring stick, it’s an academic checkup on those standards.
Mendte: You can assure me that a teacher who realizes that they may be measured by a test wouldn’t teach for the test?
Murphy: So if they, there is a couple ways to think about this. The first is that you’re not teaching for the test, you’re teaching for a set of standards. But the test measures those standards and the teachers measuring those standards every day and every week and trying to see “Are the students making progress?” And in some ways they are teaching for the test because the test is a measurement tool against the standards. But let’s not overdo it here, cause some of this nonsensical test prep work that has gone on over recent decades does not help kids. What we need to do is make sure that kids have great, real, authentic problems to solve in school and that they are demonstrating their knowledge in real life kind of ways.
Mendte: Well, as we move along, you pointed out “Why didn’t I have you in yet, because education is such a big issue,” and I agree with you and I’d really love for you to come back.
Murphy: My pleasure.
Mendte: Thank you so much. The Department of Education Secretary Mark Murphy. That wraps it up for The Delaware Way.