Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo decided last week that a key element of the state’s long-running school reform experiment should be scrapped. The Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) was supposed to demonstrate that 10th graders had mastered a certain degree of knowledge from their first ten years of schooling. It was earned by taking tests in basic subjects and completing classroom work samples. The 12th grade Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM) was never even implemented.
Cascade Policy Institute and others have opposed what critics called “The CIM-CAM Flim Flam” from the beginning, arguing that unproven tests that carry no consequences for the school system when students fail to learn are not worthwhile.
Because the CIM was never made mandatory, and because it was not considered by colleges as an entrance criteria, only about a third of Oregon 10th graders even bothered to attain it. Many teachers objected that preparing students for the CIM took them away from more important classroom instruction.
What will replace CIM and CAM is up in the air. Castillo apparently wants new tests that are somehow “less political.” That will be hard to do since virtually everything about today’s public school system, from funding to instruction, is steeped in politics.
Adopting nationally recognized standardized tests might help, but only if there are real consequences when the system fails to teach students. Two other reforms are even more important: let funding follow the student, and break up school district monopolies so that multiple education providers can operate in a region. Together, these reforms will do more than any new test ever could.
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