continued San Diego school-board member John de Beck also defends the beloved teacher. "I don't think that Mark is that kind of person," he says. "I've said it before, and I'll continue to say it, Mark is welcome at any school in my district. I think it was unfair when he was transferred." Mr. de Beck adds that the penalty "looks to be more punitive than it needed to be."
Scott Chipman, who has sent three kids to Pacific Beach Middle School and sits on its PTA, is also incredulous. "The risk versus the reward is unbelievable," he argues. "What could have been his motivation? It's ridiculous to think that Mr. Heinze thought that the manipulation of a few vocabulary words would make or break his school. It's totally out of character for someone we've known for 15 years. Having had two children go through his classroom, and having known other parents who've had children go through his classroom, the vast majority of parents say he's extremely fair and extremely capable and has always acted in the best interest of his students. He attended ball games and has been identified by many students as being the main motivational force in their educational experience. He has been identified as being the force that turned on a light for a lot of kids."
Chipman, who's concerned about a number of problems facing Pacific Beach schools, sees the incident as another burden placed on the students. "There has been an innocence lost with the kids," he says. "They saw someone loved and respected by them treated unfairly. They have expressed that they are more suspicious of the system. That's a rude awakening for an 11- or 12-year-old."
One hopes it becomes a rude awakening for the state as well. While the incident's impact is mostly local -- Mr. Heinze has been forced from a school he loved, his students have lost a rare teacher, and San Diego educators are playing a juvenile game of tag -- it also exposes deep fissures in the foundation of California's accountability program.
"The concept of rewards and punishments is so popular because the whole mentality of America is to find out who's guilty," de Beck says. "Who's responsible totally for underachieving kids? The answer is nobody, and nowhere in this country have they mastered that. They've touched on it here and there, but across-the-nation testing is not leading to any improvements."
Moreover, de Beck says, the state's program is backward. As it's set up now, the API simply rewards schools that already perform well and punishes those that need more resources. "If one school is doing better than another, and they have the same demographics, then let's deal with it and don't go into penalties and rewards. To say that this school that is doing better deserves financial rewards and the school that is doing worse deserves to be penalized -- that doesn't work." Especially peculiar is that the state bases this system of rewards on a single standardized test. As the testing program manager for San Diego City Schools, Bob Raines was responsible for investigating the alleged security breaches in the giving of the Stanford 9 last spring. In the Heinze case, Raines did report some irregularities, but he makes it clear that he had no idea that the school would be penalized by not getting an API. Raines sees two problems with the current system.
"First of all," he says, "the state board should never have taken an off-the-shelf standardized test, because the Stanford 9 does not align well with the state standards. That's why you need multiple indicators. If you're going to give a school money for improved achievement, you better be darn sure you're seeing improved achievement and not improved test scores. Give them a writing assessment, a portfolio analysis, give them enough indicators so if that school comes out on top, you can find out why and apply its techniques."
Raines touches on another key problem with the accountability program. While the state demands that its students take a single standardized test, it gives no instruction on how schools should prepare students to take the test. In fact, it remains up to the districts to advise teachers how to properly prepare kids. The districts are also responsible for reporting any infractions to the state. San Diego has developed a reputation for policing itself more closely than other areas, which means that it may be depriving itself of more money than other cities. So the state enjoys the public's fondness for accountability, while the districts are stuck with figuring out how to administer the shortsighted program.
"We have not had any state guidelines as to what is and what is not appropriate test preparation," Raines says. "I get calls from people all the time asking about whether it's okay to use this or that, so I've become the gatekeeper for test preparation.
"Test-wiseness needs to be an integrated part of the curriculum," he adds. "It shouldn't be separate. Test preparation levels the playing field. What I mean by that is that if every youngster had access to the same preparation, if they all learned the same techniques as to how to do well on tests, and all had access to the same information, it makes the scores more valid."
The word from the California Department of Education is that if districts run decent schools and teachers act responsibly, then there shouldn't be a problem. When asked if the state could help teachers prepare their students for the Stanford 9 without violating test security, Linda Lownes, a consultant with the state Department of Education's standards and assessments division, responded, "There is a state law that prohibits preparation for this particular test." In an op-ed that ran in the Union-Tribune in July, Julian R. Betts, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, exposed the state accountability program's most egregious lapse. "The state testing program has a dark little secret," Betts explained. "Amazingly, the state has given exactly the same version of the Stanford 9 test to students in each of the last three years." How can teachers be expected not to prepare their students for the test under these circumstances?