From Bridging Differences:
Posted: 24 Apr 2012 06:50 AM PDT
The backlash against high-stakes standardized testing is growing into a genuine nationwide revolt. Nearly 400 school districts in Texas have passed a resolution opposing high-stakes testing, and the number increases every week. Nearly a third of the principals in New York state (some at risk of losing their jobs) have signed a petition against the state’s new and untried, high-stakes, test-based evaluation system.
Today, a group of organizations devoted to education, civil rights, and children issued a national resolution against high-stakes testing modeled on the Texas resolution. The National Testing Resolution urges citizens to join the rebellion against the testing that now has a choke-hold on children and their teachers. It calls on governors, legislatures, and state boards of education to re-examine their accountability systems, to reduce their reliance on standardized tests, and to increase their support for students and schools.
The National Testing Resolution calls on the Obama administration and Congress to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators”.
The organizations that have joined to oppose high-stakes testing include the Advancement Project; the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Fairtest; the Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.; the National Education Association; the New York Performance Standards Consortium; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago); Time Out from Testing; and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
I hope that parents and teachers everywhere endorse this important statement of principle and bring it to their local and state leaders for consideration.
By coincidence, standardized testing was exposed to national ridicule this week because of a nonsensical question about a pineapple and a hare on the New York state English language arts test for 8th graders. Complaints about the pineapple story appeared on the New York City parents’ listserv, were reported in the New York Daily News, and then went viral overnight with postings on Facebook and Twitter. The New York City parent blog has a good summary. The Wall Street Journal published a hilarious interview with the real author of the fake testing story. On Twitter, it was referred to as #pineapplegate. The pineapple story was covered by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
But the state’s high-stakes testing examinations are no joke. The principal of a high-performing school wrote a letter to the state commissioner complaining about the quality of the questions in every grade. Teachers of the deaf said their students were asked to answer questions about sounds “such as the clickety-clack of a woman’s high heels and the rustle of wind blowing on leaves.”
There is madness in tying teachers’ careers and reputations to their students’ scores on such low-quality and incoherent examinations. Our policymakers have chosen to ignore the research warning that value-added assessment is inherently fraught with error, instability, and unreliability. Children are not wheat, their growth is not utterly predictable, and the standardized tests capture only a subset of what matters most in education.
But, Deborah, as the National Testing Resolution explains, there is a far larger question at issue here than the accuracy of the test questions. Even if the tests contained no absurd questions; even if the tests were flawless, the misuse of test scores is an affront to educators and to students. There may be diagnostic value in standardized tests, but they are now being treated as scientific instruments. What Pineapplegate demonstrates is that they are not scientific instruments. They are cultural artifacts, social constructions, created by fallible people. They should be used appropriately to provide useful information to teachers, not to punish or reward them.
At present, the standardized tests are used inappropriately. There should be no stakes attached to them. Decisions about teacher evaluation should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about bonuses should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about closing schools should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about retaining students should not be tied to student scores. All of these are weighty decisions that should be made by experienced professionals, taking into consideration a variety of factors specific to the child, the teacher, and the school.
Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers. The more we rely on high-stakes standardized tests, the more we destroy students’ creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to think differently, and the more we demoralize teachers. The important decisions that each of us will face in our lives cannot be narrowed to one of four bubbles. We must prepare students to live in the world, not to comply on command.
The National Testing Resolution calls on all those who are concerned about the future of our society and the well-being of children to stop this mad obsession with test scores.
I hope the revolt grows until it consumes the terrible cult of measurement that has now so distorted the means and ends of education.
- Diane Ravitch
Archive for the ‘high-stakes tests’ Category
Thanks to Maureen for posting my piece today – and so far the comments are great! (of course I won’t hold my breath, the horribly mean and nasty people who want to destroy teachers and students in every way possible will surely log on soon!)
I love when teachers share publicly how they ignore their curriculum and pacing guides to do some really cool stuff with kids. Of course they know they might suffer in the end because of lower test results because they’re not rushing through the many unrelated facts that will be on the test – but they do it anyway because they want their students to have something bigger to hold onto.
Of course teacher morale is lower than it has been in two decades – no surprise there.
Maybe this recent study will provide lots of educators to jump up, yell, scream, write, speak out, organize, and figure out a way to be powerful once again!
A HUGE kudos goes out to Anabel Fender – one of my former students who wrote about her experiences during an independent study we had together last fall – now she has an editorial on the AJC blog Get Schooled (Maureen Downey) and it’s comin’ out in print too!
For your reading pleasure:
Future teachers – failures before we even start
4:37 am March 7, 2012, by Maureen Downey
Are new teachers undermined before they even step into the classroom? (AP Images)
Anabel Fender is a graduate student in education at the University of Georgia. This is her first essay on the Get Schooled blog.
I think it is terrific and an ideal follow-up to the survey results I posted earlier today. Read them both and you will get a sense of what teachers are experiencing right now.
By Anabel Fender
I am an idealist. A dreamer.
And I am made out to be a failure before I even start.
I am battered and bruised from the war against teachers and I haven’t even started teaching yet.
Scripted curricula tell me that the “higher ups” have no faith in my words. My Words! An integral part of what makes me a teacher is not trusted, so I will be given a script telling me exactly what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. In what other profession do we not trust the words of the professional? Before I start, they make me question my words.
Merit pay initiatives imply that the teachers of America are not working as hard as they can already. In theory this initiative reflects the business world, but in the business world workers design their own goods and services. Teachers no longer have the freedom to design their goods and services – those are ready-made and required from above. It makes more sense to hold those creating the standards, curriculum guides, and scripted curriculum accountable for test scores – they are the ones making the “goods” and “services.” Before I start, they make me question my power.
In an effort to “improve” the teacher with scripted curriculum and merit pay, governors, federal government, and educational “reformers” favor alternative routes to certify teachers. Colleges of education are accused of using students as cash cows for funding research. Flyers for Teach for America hang on bulletin boards in the same universities. I am completely invested and have worked hard for my undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. I have made personal and financial sacrifices for a profession that will not give me great returns monetarily.
And policy makers have the audacity to think that a 22-year old business major spending six weeks of summer training to be a teacher is better equipped for teaching than I am. They help pay her loans, find a job, and offer funding for further education. But me? I graduate with education degrees when no one is hiring, teachers have no job security, and my student loans equal a teacher’s annual salary. Before I start, everyone is questioning my capabilities.
Teachers want what is best for students, but the current war against teachers is enough to wear anyone down. Teachers are constantly being told they are not good enough and then considered a threat when they speak out against injustices in schools.
Teachers’ tenure has been all but eliminated, furlough days are required, salaries are stagnant, and policies are written to fire teachers for being tardy but not to compensate them for their long evening and weekend hours. And since Georgia is a right-to-work state with no union to protect its teachers, teachers do what they must to keep their jobs. Teachers are afraid to speak out as intellectuals. Before I start I am questioning whether I am “allowed” to be an intellectual as a teacher.
I am battered and bruised but I am not going to question my words, my power, and my ability to be an intellectual. I will not let others define me, but I need teacher allies – former, current, and future teachers who will stand up with me and for me against this war on teachers. This is not about competition or jobs or our future. This is about improving our quality of life in schools so we can make schools powerful places for idealists to make their dreams a reality.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog
What’s all the crying about? Education policy that requires teachers to engage in malpractice – that’s what.
The secret is out, teachers, and you are not the only one crying over the soul-crushing policies in schools.
The first murmurs I heard about teachers in crisis came from a principal several years ago. Teachers were streaming into his office seeking counseling services. Many were taking anti-depressants. Some couldn’t sleep at night, and some were so anxious and stressed they were worried their families would suffer irreparable damage.
Teachers enter the profession to do what is best for the students in front of them and for society at large. They earn degrees, immersed in rigorous study of how and why humans learn, how to individualize instruction, and how to inspire lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.
But individualization, inspiration, and engagement aren’t in current policies, and neither is teachers’ professional knowledge. Instead teachers must follow pacing guides and move on with assignments regardless of whether students are beyond or behind. Anyone can walk into a teacher’s classroom at any moment and evaluate whether the teacher is following the one-size-fits-all program with “fidelity” and “full compliance.”
The choices are soul-crushing: 1) Slow down, teach creatively and get students excited about a topic, but fall behind the pacing guide and receive a poor evaluation and possible humiliation and job loss; or 2) Move on with the pacing guide and ignore students’ pleas for help or their yearning to learn more, and evaluations might be fine, but students suffer.
Most teachers do a little of both, but their no-win situation is devastating.
And when students’ needs aren’t met because teachers are following mandates, they also cry or cry out in other ways.
I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, crocodile tears streaking cheeks. Their bodies rejecting the relentless mistreatment they receive from impersonal curriculum, strict limitations on socializing and movement, and harsh punishments for child-like behavior. Students reject dehumanization.
When children hold it together at school they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.
Some parents seek therapy for their children. More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity, and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they have never considered: homeschooling, co-op schooling, or when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.
And I cry.
When I spend a lot of time in schools I often cry. Each day when I would leave a particular school in New York, I would find a park bench and have a good cry before heading home on the train. I cried for the children because they were so young and vibrant and constrained to desks for seven hours at a time and they were unable to talk during lunch and they were only allowed outside for ten minutes – if at all – and those ten minutes could quickly evaporate into no minutes if the line to the outside door wasn’t straight enough or quiet enough or fast enough. I cried because I witnessed their crocodile tears streaking their cheeks as they sat silently into space.
I also cried for teachers. They were often threatened by administrators and humiliated in front of their students, they were told at the last minute that no, they wouldn’t be teaching fifth grade like they have in the past two years – they will be teaching kindergarten and they better damn well be happy they at least have a job. They were told to collect data, look at data, analyze data – and any mention of an individual child’s struggle would be interrupted with some line about “data.”
And I cried for myself and every other parent out there who would never want her or his child treated like a number, a digit on a data sheet, a potential deficit to the school’s reputation. I have hugged and consoled countless parents who were crying and suffering in silence when their children weren’t around to see them. Parents who try to support the school’s wishes and tell their children to do what teachers say, but then fall apart in private because they know their children are miserable, sad, depressed, and crying too much over school.
Some people might say that crying is an expression of emotion and that it ought to be kept private. Some might even say crying is a sign of irrationality, of over-sensitivity, of hysteria – all insults used to pathologize women (most teachers and all mothers) for at least a hundred years.
However, teachers, students, and parents are not the only emotional players in the unbearable game of school.
Policy makers are emotional. Punitive policies forcing the impossible combination of rigidity and test-based accountability are produced out of fear, anger, distrust, and arrogance. They are written in an irrational effort to control the bodies that fill schools every day.
But policy makers don’t have to endure the physical and psychological effects of their policies – those of us in schools do.
It’s time to stand in solidarity against mandated dehumanization in one-size-fits-all schooling and against over-emotional policy makers who have a reckless stranglehold on schools. Demand that humanity be returned to teachers, students, and parents who know how to make schools dynamic, inspirational places where everyone can thrive.
Does jotting down a checkmark every 2 minutes all day long every single day for the school year constitute teaching/learning?In Education Policy, high-stakes tests, kindergarten, NCLB, politics, Standing up for Kids, teacher education, Teaching Work on October 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm
This is a terrific piece written by a kindergarten teacher in Michigan, a state that did not receive Race to the Top funds but is implementing all the “assessments” RttT districts would.
I would surely be fired if I was required to do all these things with children. This is, as the teacher-author writes, lunacy.
And here’s a response from Deborah Meier:
Posted: 20 Oct 2011 07:25 AM PDT
I loved Nancy Creech’s piece from Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog last summer. Thanks, Diane, for sending it along. It’s a vital reminder as the nation faces a new federal Race to the Top demand: Start testing at age 3. Or else.
Creech’s detailed minute-by-minute counting of what it means to pursue the latest early-childhood “Reform Agenda” is mind-boggling! Thanks, Nancy, for writing it. I’ve done something similar to show the absurdity of most homework policies. Designing, assigning, reading, thinking about, and responding to 20 to 30 students’ homework accounts for a staggering amount of teacher time—if it’s taken seriously and conscientiously. Not to mention that one cannot observe how homework is actually “getting done,” nor who is doing it!
For these reasons we decided, at Central Park East and Mission Hill, on a different approach—certainly for 3- to 7-year-olds. We made an agreement with our children’s families: You don’t tell us what to do during the hours a child is with us, and we won’t tell you what to do during the hours the children are with you. But we can both make suggestions! We promise to take your advice seriously, and we hope you will accept ours in the same spirit. Taking children’s parents seriously as their child’s first teacher requires collaboration not mandates.
Nancy Creech quotes a distinguished educator who says that teaching what one already “knows” is a waste of time. I disagree. We’re constantly re-learning; it’s how things that we have “learned” get consolidated, and sometimes revised. It’s why I found teaching 4- and 5-year-olds so intellectually fascinating—because I was rethinking facts and concepts I thought I “knew,” but had barely scratched the surface of, or had—in fact—misunderstood. My (frequently retold) story about 5-year-old Darryl convincing his peers that rocks were actually alive neatly captures this idea for me. In looking at the concept of living vs. nonliving he naively he picked up on “the wrong” clues. My scientist neighbor noted that he was therefore actually “on the cutting edge of modern science.”
In fact, of course, as with a lot of instruction, just re-teaching something may only entrench the confusion rather than expand understanding. Watching children “in action,” one learns the most about what they “know” (and don’t know). It’s in organizing the environment so that children are driven by curiosity to make sense of the world that they learn to drive themselves. It’s in organizing the environment and then carefully observing each of those 20 children’s response to it and to each other that we learn the vital stuff—the stuff to “teach.”
If we carefully observe children at play we realize how enlightening their ignorance is if viewed respectfully and nonjudgmentally. They grow dumb (silent) when we fail to acknowledge it because it’s our job to correct mistakes.
Jean Piaget had a big influence for a time on American educators. But mostly by giving labels to stages of development. I found, especially after reading Eleanor Duckworth’s The Having of Wonderful Ideas, something more fascinating. She reminded me that we, as adults, all get stuck at an early stage with respect to ideas that either don’t interest us much or where simplistic theories serve our purposes well enough. My amazement, over and over, at the light rays that came directly to me—and only me—across the lake is perfectly natural and obvious and only rarely requires realizing that it’s an “illusion.” That the ray of light is also coming straight across the water to you—standing 100 feet to my right—is absurd. Who cares? But, once you do ….
Teachers have never figured out how to teach more than 10 new words a week—some of which are soon forgotten, but meanwhile children between birth and adolescence actually are learning more than 10 words a day. Some more and some less, but no normal child doesn’t do better teaching themselves, so to speak, than their teachers do. To turn the education of 3- to 7-year-olds into planned, deliberate, step-by-step “instruction” is to retard their intellectual growth.
The whole idea of prepping for standardized tests as a model of teaching/learning goes against not only what is most amazing about human learning, but especially the part that engages us in the work essential to our modern world. To accept, as young children do, the fact of uncertainty, and to tolerate this state of mind, grows increasingly rare as we “grow up.” Asked constantly to choose: a,b,c, or d—Which is the one right answer?—is bound to retard growth even further.
I’m stuck on the form of accountability that says “throw the rascals out.” Democracy in its many forms is the answer to accountability, if practiced close to where we all live, work, and think about the world.
P.S. I have spent some time observing Zucotti Park, and watching it with my kindergarten teacher eyes and ears helps me see how they have hit upon some very novel but powerful educational tools. Spending time there was fascinating. More on that next week—maybe.
Fabulous letter from a superintendent in Georgia about his insights and regrets regarding NCLB and the high-stakes testing mania that has been and continues to ruin children’s sense of what is possible for them through education:
(From Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog at AJC)
10:11 am August 31, 2011, by Maureen Downey
A while back, I ran a piece from Jim Arnold, superintendent of Pelham City Schools in Mitchell County. Several of you commented that you wished you worked for such a straight-talking school chief.
I think that sentiment is going to be even stronger after this piece, which I plan to run on the Monday education page that I assemble for the AJC. But I can’t fit all of it in the newspaper, so here is the full version.
By Jim Arnold
We’ve done it now. Eleven years we had to educate the public, to register our protests and do everything in our power to warn people what was coming, and we blew it. We knew the moment would eventually come and we hem-hawed, looked at the ground, kicked at the dirt with our shoes and failed to look the opposition in the eye and face them down. All of us saw this coming, but very few took a stand and now we – and our students – are paying the price. We could have been prophets but failed the test.
We allowed the proponents of NCLB to control the discussion from the beginning. They wrote the language, sent out the media notices and explanations, wrote the definitions of AYP, Highly Qualified and leaned heavily on the fact that none of us would dare protest anything to do with a name that implies we would be providing a high quality education for every single child in America. They were right. We chose not to speak out, not to fight against a system we knew from the beginning would set us all up for failure, and instead, in our best Dudley DoRight impersonations we set about to change the way we taught and measured and tested and graded and thought.
We knew from the outset that NCLB and its goal of 100 percent – every child proficient in every area as determined by a single test on a single day each year – was patently, blatantly and insidiously absurd, but we took no concerted action. We knew Adequate Yearly Progress was a sham, and we literally and figuratively rolled over and tried our best to meet whatever impossible goals they set for us and our students. We knew that Federal law in NCLB was a violation of Federal law in IDEA but we went along with the insanity of testing Students with Disabilities based on chronological age rather than by IEP.
We learned very quickly and much to our chagrin that some student scores – usually the lowest ones – were counted not once, not twice, but often as many as three times, but we went along to get along. All of us were aware that Highly Qualified, for all the high rhetoric that went along with it, only served to make certification as much of a barrier as humanly possible for Special Education teachers regardless of degree or experience. It seems the teachers we needed most were subjected to the greatest roadblocks to reaching the nirvana of HiQ certification.
We tried our best to play the game but the game was rigged from the start. When the AMO’s were low it was pretty easy for most schools. When the AMO’s went up and more and more schools were labeled “failing” we looked around in a panic for help. Surely nobody believed a school deserved the failing label because two or three kids in a subgroup didn’t pass a test? Yes they did. Yes they still do. We let them make the definitions and apply the labels, even when we realized the absurdity of it all.
We actually pretended to believe that it was important for us to make sure that every child was tested on those all important test days so none could escape the trauma we inflicted upon them. We even learned in some places to game the system and hold back those kids we feared might not pass the test or might raise those student numbers to create a subgroup in areas we really didn’t want to see a subgroup or, God help us, to cheat or to make sure that we could hold out two or three or four of “those kids” on test days so their poor scores wouldn’t have a negative effect.
Oh sure, some of you stuck your necks out and said something to the effect of “NCLB forced us to take a closer look at ourselves, and we are better off for that” in spite of the fact that it was our students that were suffering the consequences. What balderdash. What hubris. Our kids were the ones whose education was stilted by our submission to the belief that one test could effectively distill and determine the depth and extent of an entire year of a child’s education. They are the ones whose time was wasted by “academic pep rallies” and “test prep” and by the subtle and insidious ways we told them the test was “important” and put pressure on them to “do their best because our school is counting on you.”
They were the ones that did without art and music and chorus and drama because we increased the amount of time they spent in ELA and Math. They were the ones that had time in their Social Studies and Science classes cut back more and more so schools could focus on the “really important areas” of ELA and Math. They were the ELL’s that couldn’t speak English but still had to take the test. Their teachers were the ones that were told “your grading of the children in your classes doesn’t count any more because standardization is more important to us that the individual grades you provide.” This told them in effect that their efforts at teaching were important but only if they taught using “this” methodology or “this” curriculum, then, when things started to go badly, they were the first to be blamed for the failure of public education. They were told to teach every child the same way with the same material but make sure to individualize while you’re at it. Hogwash.
After a couple of years of this insanity, the “NI” status began to take its toll. Someone somewhere invented the term “failing schools” and, unsurprisingly, the label stuck. Students were given the opportunity to transfer to more test-successful schools, but at a price. Schools that did not meet AYP standards, oddly enough, were often those with high minority populations and high poverty. Nobody seemed to notice the zip code effect that left predominantly white schools meeting AYP standards and minority schools caught by the “failing” label. Oh surely, we reasoned, our government would not want to put public education in a situation it could not win………..or would they?
I struggled with the rest of you as to why NCLB would go to such great lengths to make public education appear to be such a failure, to set up a system that would guarantee failure for practically every public school as we advanced toward that magical 100 percent level and provide no tangible rewards for success and such punitive actions for not meeting arbitrary goals. On top of all of that, I failed to recognize why our nation’s legislators so nimbly avoided even the discussion of reauthorization to change what everyone knew was a failed policy. One day it finally hit me.
They didn’t want to change the policy, because the policy was designed in theory and in fact not to aid education but to create an image of a failed public school system in order to further the implementation of vouchers and the diversion of public education funds to private schools.
I am not usually a conspiracy theory guy, but this was no theory. These were cold hard facts slapping me in the face. We failed in our obligations to protect our students from one of the most destructive educational policies since “separate but equal.” We did not educate the public on the myth and misdirection of Adequate Yearly Progress, and we allowed closet segregationists to direct the implementation of policies that we knew would result in our being the guys in the black hats responsible for “the failure of public education.”
Now we are paying the price. AYP is here to stay in one form or another, and the vast majority of our parents and public really believe the propaganda that it actually measures a school’s educational progress. If we try to convince them otherwise we are “making excuses.”
Vouchers – especially for private and charter schools exempt from the same restrictive, destructive policies we are forced to endure – are a part of every legislative session in almost every state. High stakes testing for all public education students is considered a necessary reality and teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Student test scores will soon determine teacher pay in some places even with no data to support the correlation. Students that do not graduate high school in four years are labeled as dropouts, even if they graduate in nine or 10 semesters.
Only first-time test takers are considered in the grading system for schools regardless of how many students ultimately pass the test. It will take years to undo the damage done to science, social studies, fine arts, foreign languages and other academic electives. Generations will not be enough to rid ourselves and our students of the testing mania neuroses created by our attempts to quantify the unquantifiable.
I hope the generation of teachers and administrators that follows has learned something from the failure of our generation to ward off those determined to destroy public education. We didn’t stand up to be counted, we didn’t stand in the schoolhouse door and tell them they couldn’t do that to our kids, and we didn’t educate the public about what a gigantic failure another one size fits all education policy would be. In the words of that great educator and philosopher Jimmy Buffet: “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”
We have all been left behind.
– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog
This is a truly amazing letter written by three teachers in Georgia about what they want for the kids they teach. Thank goodness hundreds of thousands of teachers will show up to schools this fall with exactly these things in mind instead of being chased away and beaten down by poor policies and know-it-all politicians.
Thanks to Maureen Downey for posting this – and thanks to a friend for passing it onto me;)
Thanks to a friend for passing this along – I had heard it and should have posted it before now: