stephanie jones

Last Ditch Effort to Force Compliance with High-Stakes Tests is Madness

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2015 at 10:42 am

Read the op-ed on AJC here:

A Last Ditch Effort to Keep High-Stakes Testing in K-12 Schools – And a Plea to Call it Quits

Stephanie Jones

Professor, Educational Theory and Practice

University of Georgia

Picture this: a physician takes a position in a doctor’s office within an economically struggling community because she believes that everyone should have access to high quality healthcare and a physician who can provide it. For this decision, she accepts a lower salary and more challenging working conditions. Years go by and she has created a strong rapport with her patients, working with them to find medications for the lowest price possible and doing a lot of work out of her own pocket. It’s work that is both heartbreaking and rewarding: she changes lives, makes them more livable, and probably even extends them.

The doctor’s patients, however, die earlier in their lives than those who have more money and more resources, and the government has decided that mortality rates will be used to evaluate her performance as a doctor, her salary, and whether or not her office will remain open. This is devastating news, and while she knows it is unethical, the doctor considers leaving the practice and providing care for patients who are more likely to live longer simply because they have more economic resources to devote to healthcare – and her evaluations will look better.

After remaining in the community and receiving poor evaluations from the government for several years, the doctor gets a phone call from one of her favorite professors in medical school. Has she considered practicing medicine in a different town or state where the life expectancy of her patients would be higher? They ask. Why? She responds. Because the poor performance of your patients is putting our Medical School at risk of having poor evaluations and the negative consequences will influence our school’s autonomy, funding, and reputation.

Yes, the Medical School would be evaluated based on the health performance of the patients of their former graduates who are now doctors.

This is what will happen to our education system if the latest proposal for teacher preparation regulations from the federal government ( ) is accepted. And the entire House of Cards is balancing precariously upon one fulcrum: the testing regime. In a last-ditch effort to force us (parents, K-12 educators, teacher educators, students, and citizens) to quietly comply with standardized testing that has turned into U.S. 21st century child labor ( ), as well as ruining childhood and real learning, they are pinning Colleges of Education against the wall: Make your graduates’ future students’ test scores improve, or else.

The American Statistical Association has conducted research and insists ( ) that the impact of teachers on their students’ standardized test scores is a mere 1% – 14% of the total score. That means 86% – 99% of the variables impacting students’ standardized test scores include things beyond a teachers control: the income level of parents, the education level of parents, access to regular and healthy food, access to stable housing, etc. Indeed, standardized tests have long been criticized for their biases and non-objectivity ( ), the “value-added” economic model does not work for measuring teachers’ effectiveness relative to standardized tests, and unchanged SAT scores indicates that the militant testing agenda and implementation has not improved “college readiness” one iota ( ).

Even though an individual teacher impacts only 1% – 14% of a child’s standardized test score, under these new regulations the College of Education where that teacher earned her degree will be held accountable for the child’s standardized test score ( ).

Stop the madness. Everyone knows the testing regime is a farce.

The era of testing has failed miserably, but we can only begin undoing the damage and rebuilding our K-12 students’ and families’ trust in and value from public education when we call it quits on high-stakes testing.

If teachers don’t impact standardized test scores very much, what do they impact? Lives, motivation, understanding of content and concepts, non-standardized tests, grades, students’ willingness to learn, creativity, critical thinking, crucial skills for communication in the 21st century, and the ability for children and young people to see themselves as powerful actors in the world around them.

So why would policymakers want to keep high-stakes testing in place – and furthermore – to embed it in the very fabric of the entire education system from Kindergarten through university teacher education? Perhaps pride is getting in the way. It must be terribly difficult to admit that billions of dollars have been given to corporations, millions of children have been retained and put at further risk of dropping out of high school, high school students have been denied diplomas, teachers have been punished, schools have been taken over, others have been closed, communities have been ripped apart, education has narrowed to test preparation, and parents and children have been absolutely tormented because a small group of people insist – against all evidence – that high-stakes testing is valuable.

Please, policymakers, don’t make the mistake of pinning Colleges of Education against the wall with test scores, and release the pressure from K-12 schools so they can implement the learning-focused instructional approaches they have learned in their teacher preparation programs.

Just take a deep breath and whisper “mea culpa” so we can join together as allies in the disaster relief effort.

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