Education “Reform” provides lessons for voting integrity

? What is more important to you? Democracy or the Education of our children?

Answer: This is a trick question. Without an educated populace, we cannot have Democracy. Without Democracy we won’t have true, objective education.

Connecticut is engaged in “High Stakes Education Reform” at risk is a bit of our treasury and the entire future of our children and our Democracy. At the heart of choosing and succeeding is “High Stakes Testing”. At a minimum, if we cannot trust the tests, cannot trust the new or traditional educators, then all is lost.

A significant analogy for Elections and Education 

  • If we cannot trust election results or cannot trust election officials then all is lost.
  • In Connecticut election integrity is based on Paper Ballots
  • And Education Integrity is based on Paper Tests
  • Change the paper and you have changed the result
  • Both are dependent on the chain-of-custody

Yet,

  • Elections are a safer in Connecticut because of optical scanners – because the voted ballots are scanned in the view of officials from at least two parties, before they are stored.
  • Trust in Elections and Education will not be improved by computer voting or testing

A lesson for Elections from Education

Connecticut is in the midst of an eduction and education testing scandal, as summarized by the Hartford Courant <read>

Things appeared to be looking up at Betances. In 2011, only 19 percent of third-graders at the pre-K-to-3 school achieved the state’s reading goal, but in 2012, the number shot up to 74 percent, by far the most dramatic improvement by any Hartford school. Bonuses of up to $2,500 were awarded to teachers; school Principal Immacula Didier received a $10,000 bonus from the district, The Courant reported.

It wasn’t the jump in the scores that attracted the attention of state officials to this year’s reading test, it was a safeguard put into place because of a test-tampering incident at a Waterbury school in 2011. After that, the State Department of Education began checking the frequency and type of erasures on tests. This year’s survey flagged Betances with an abnormally high number of rubbed out and changed answers on the third-grade reading mastery test. Twenty-seven of 42 test booklets were over the norm for erasures, or about 64 percent. The next highest number in Hartford was 15 percent.

Further analysis found a disproportionately high number of erased answers changed from wrong to right. Investigators from the law firm of Siegel, O’Connor, O’Donnell & Beck, who also investigated the Waterbury case, followed up with interviews with teacher and students. Teachers were “very surprised” to see that certain struggling students were able to change two dozen or more answers, all or nearly all from wrong to right. One test had 31 erasures, nearly half the 64 bubble-answer questions. Some students interviewed said they didn’t believe they had made the changes they were shown in their test booklets.

A sad story for our children. Yet, the somewhat mitigating good news is that there is an effective Audit which detected the problem! We can only hope that the PBS NewsHour will run a prominent retraction of their story touting the miracle of Betances reading program.

Yet, in the additional bad news, are lessos for voting integrity:

The report says that Ms. Didier, Linda Liss-Bronstein, the school’s literacy coach and dean of professional development, and a custodian were the only school employees with keys to the secure storage closet where CMT materials were kept. The janitor said he never went into the closet. Ms. Didier and Ms. Liss-Bronstein had custody of the completed booklets and reviewed them for such things as stray lines or double answers before forwarding them to the central office, the report says. The report does not accuse them of changing answers.

What can we learn? (What will we learn?)

  • The chain-of-custody matters for all critical paper records
  • Perhaps we should guard our childrens’ tests and ballots like we guard our records in a safe deposit box or like a bank guards money
  • At least two people should be required to access critical paper records
  • All accesses should be logged and verified by a third party
  • Let us not rely on trust, let us verify and secure in order to trust
  • Keep valuable records under dual lock and key, in the custody of independent authorities
  • Consider vaults, guards, and 24×7 video surveillance

When it comes to elections we have a long way to go in protecting our ballots as demonstrated by this costly lesson.

What the Courant has not learned (or has forgotten)

On the plus side, schools around the state will be moving to computer-based testing over the next two years as the new Common Core curriculum is adopted. That will eliminate at least this kind of malfeasance.

Is this the same newspaper and Editorial Board that:

For more information and tales from Connecticut and around the country on the chain-of-custody, see: <Chain-of-custody index>

? How are ballots secured in your town, after the election? How are tests protected, before and after grading?

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