Friday, March 23, 2012

Testing the watchdogs

News item:

State Education Commissioner John King recently announced that he was naming Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Sciocchetti to the new position of executive director of test security and educator integrity. King and the Board of Regents previously announced a Test Security Unit in the Department of Education. It will be staffed with investigators and lawyers with law-enforcement experience. Their duties will include establishing an ethics code and policies for test-taking and grading, reviewing and tracking all allegations and investigations of impropriety in testing.

“We’re developing the investigative and deterrence capacity to protect our teachers, administrators and, most importantly, our students from the kinds of testing scandals that have occurred in other states. Tina Sciocchetti has the expertise, experience and skills to build the strongest test integrity safeguards in the nation,” King said.

Ok, now. When the normal person reads this, he or she probably thinks something to the effect of: “OK, I guess that’s a good idea. We don’t want cheating on tests. That wouldn’t be good.”

But when I read this I say: “WTF?”

Set aside concerns on education policy. Some people believe we’re becoming a nation obsessed with standardized tests. They say the obsession is “bottom lining” kids like we bottom line products in a corporation.

But never mind trivial stuff like the next generation. What burns my behind is this: How is it that Ms. Sciocchetti, who happens to be a first rate attorney, gets set up with a new office with maybe a dozen or more investigators and attorneys that she can offer positions to in the six figure range, while Ellen Biben and JCOPE scrape along with a fraction of the investigatory capability and the inability to pay top talent what they would need?  And don’t misunderstand I still think Ellen is making a mistake by structuring JCOPE as a prosecutorial body, but the only thing worse than that is to try to do it without the resources necessary to do it properly.  If you want to see what staffing JCOPE with a group of lawyers and investigators that are third string benchwarmers looks like, just review how COPI was staffed.

And what does that say about our priorities? I know what it says: It says that we think cheating on the SAT is a far bigger problem than ethics in Albany.

I’m in a unique position here in being a parent of students preparing for the SAT and, of course, being a former state ethics official. And in my shy and humble opinion, I don’t believe there is any comparison at all. One is about an individual young person’s sense of honor and the other is about corruption in government.

It blows my mind that we (our state) can make such a big deal out of school testing and care so little about government testing.

But wait a minute maybe I have moved too quickly here to the wrong conclusion.  If we (our state) want to focus our resources on student’s ethics we might just get a head start on improving government ethics.  After all the vast majority of people in state government went to school and had to take tests.  Maybe if we catch the cheaters early we can weed them out of government.

Remember those SAT questions:  If you were a highly trained competent employee would you work for Biben at 70% of the pay that you could make with Sciocchetti?

Now this might be considered cheating but let me help you with the answer:  I’m sending resumes of those I think are good to both, but at the end of the day I doubt, given a choice, they work for JCOPE.

While Ellen’s had a head start on this test, let’s check back in a couple of months and see who built the better organization.

I’ve always enjoyed grading things.

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