When scores for the first round of Common Core-aligned state tests were released this summer, it wasn’t surprising that the results were lower than in years past. What did come as a surprise, however, was how well students at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools had fared: At one SA charter in the Bronx, 97 percent of students scored proficient in English and 77 percent were proficient in math.
What’s their secret? (If there can be a “secret” to high scores on standardized tests, that is.) A new blog post by education writer Diane Ravitch, in which she quotes an anonymous Success Academy teacher, suggests that the disappointing truth may be old-fashioned test prep, and lots of it, otherwise known as “drill and kill.”
ELA test prep starts in November for two periods a week, the teacher wrote to Ravitch. After winter break, we have daily hourlong ELA test prep. Then we add math. By late February, we spend several hours a day on it. The last few weeks are almost all-day test prep.
So much for the Success Academy mission statement that proclaims, “Our schools are fueled by wonder.”
The same teacher notes that “we have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to Common Core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. The teacher adds, “Thousands of dollars [is] spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard.”
Custom test prep packets and bribery — is this the way to close the achievement gap?
The anonymous teacher, who says a typical Success Academy work day lasts 11 hours, describes “literally pour[ing] 100 percent of yourself into [test prep] day in and day out.” And just in case teachers are not feeling enough pressure, they receive “daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for ‘getting kids over the finish line’.”
And while Success Academy’s test scores were high, so was another statistic: its teacher turnover rate, which at one point approached 40 percent. Could experiences like the one above be the cause?
Read Ravitch’s entire entry here.