“…the Gates Foundation agrees with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition.”
— Vicki Phillips, director of the U.S. education program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
How do you know the United States is currently experiencing the largest revolt against high-stakes standardized testing in history?
Because even the alchemists responsible for concocting the horrific education policies designed to turn teaching and learning into a test score have been shaken hard enough to awaken from the nightmare scenario of fast-tracking high-stakes Common Core testing across the nation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a stunning announcement on Tuesday, saying that it supports a two-year moratorium on attaching high-stakes to teacher evaluations or student promotion on tests associated with the new Common Core State Standards.
Labor journalist Lee Sustar put it perfectly when he said of the Gates Foundation’s statement, “Dr. Frankenstein thought things got out of hand, too.”
The mad-pseudoscientists at the Gates Foundation have been the primary perpetrators of bizarre high-stakes test experiments in teacher evaluations, even as a growing body of research—including a report from the American Statistical Association—has debunked the validity of “value added method” testing models. The Gates Foundation has used its immense wealth to circumvent the democratic process to create the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with very little input from educators. As Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote of the Common Core development process,
Because federal law prohibits the federal government from creating national standards and tests, the Common Core project was ostensibly designed as a state effort led by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, a private consulting firm. The Gates Foundation provided more than $160 million in funding, without which Common Core would not exist… According to teacher educator Nancy Carlsson-Paige: “In all, there were 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core. Not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.
And thus the Gates Foundation’s unnatural methods brought to life the Common Core State Standards. As parents, students, and teachers around the nation have grown tired of being the targets of hazardous corporate experimentation and excluded from major policy decisions about education, they have built the largest revolt against the use of high-stakes standardized testing in our nations’ history. Teachers at my own Garfield High School in Seattle refused to administer the district mandated MAP test last year. This year, teachers at Saucedo Elementary were threatened with the revoking of their teaching certificates for refusing to administer a state exam, but have continued in their civil disobedience. Some 33,000 parents in New York State alone have opted their children out of tests in the current school year. Students from Portland to Rhode Island have led rallies and walkouts against the tests.
The Providence Student Union recently gathered at the Rhode Island Statehouse, dressed as rodents, to protest a state-wide standardized test recently incorporated into high school graduation requirements. Jose Serrano, a sophomore at The Met School, addressed the crowd saying, “The reason we are dressed like guinea pigs and lab rats is simple — that is how we are being treated. (The Rhode Island Department of Education) had a hypothesis — that high-stakes testing alone, without the extra resources our schools need, would solve our educational problems and radically improve our proficiency. But this was nothing more than an experiment.”
So when the Gates Foundation writes that they, “agree with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years,” I take that to mean they have sided with our movement and activists like Jia Lee of the Earth School who is refusing to administer a CCSS test. I can only assume the Gates Foundation is getting ready to sign the petition and cut a check to support the group, “Teachers of Conscience,” responsible organizing this Common Core testing boycott.
The Gates Foundation may be attempting to corral a runaway anti-high-stakes testing movement by appearing to listen to the overwhelming numbers of people who are demanding an end to the use of test and punish mysticism in education. But in calling for a two-year dousing of cold water on the high-stakes attached to CCSS tests, the Gates foundation has only poured gasoline on a fire threatening to consume the multi-billion dollar Pearson corporation’s testing products around the nation. Imagine the confidence of the next group of teachers who refuse to administer high-stakes Common Core tests when they justifiably claim the creator of the Common Core doesn’t want them to administer it.
This latest backtrack by the Gates Foundation shows they are vulnerable to pressure. But the question remains, will the Gates Foundation pursue its call for constraining the testing creature it created with the same zeal as it showed in creating the Common Core? Will the Foundation use its undue influence and wealth to pressure states to drop the use of high stakes testing attached to Common Core tests? On June 26th, public education advocates from around the country will arrive in Seattle to protest at the global headquarters of the Gates Foundation. You should join them and find out if the Gates Foundation is brave enough to answer these questions.
While the Gates Foundation may be bending to the will of a popular revolt, it will take nothing short of mass civil rights movement to defeat its grotesque monster of high-stakes testing that is menacing our schools.
The Garfield High School Assessment Committee VS the Testocracy: We know how to run the schools better than billionaires
On Thursday of last week I attended a meeting of the Garfield High School Assessment Committee.
A report on one of many after school meetings may seem mundane. A committee of educators tasked with discussing assessment might appear innocuous. Yet that gathering of fifteen or so educators sharing their experience, expertise, and asking questions about alternatives to standardized testing was nothing short of sedition against a Testocracy that has attempted to silence teachers as it implements corporate education reform.
This team of dedicated educators forming the Garfield High School Assessment Committee was born out of the MAP test boycott last school year, which resulted in the Seattle School District backing away from its threat of suspending the boycotting teachers and ultimately—a year ago this month—forced the district to make the test optional at the high school level. From the very beginning of the MAP boycott, teachers at Garfield High School asserted that our strike against the test had nothing to do with shirking accountability to our students’ learning. We said that assessments are essential to teachers to help us understand where the student is in their zone of proximal development in order to scaffold their learning to advance their understanding of a given concept. And many of us simultaneously asserted that standardized testing, and the MAP test in particular, is a clumsy form of assessment that often hides more than it reveals about student knowledge–particularly the thought process and how a student arrived at particular answer. Worse, these tests primarily assess students’ ability to eliminate wrong answer choices and are too puny an instrument to measure collaboration, passion, imagination and a myriad of other qualities that are vital to the development of the whole child.
The Assessment Committee began the meeting by asking teachers why they were at the meeting and what types of assessments they were interested in learning about. As the list grew on the white board, so too did my confidence that collaboration of educators could enhance the education of our students–and that our collective action to assert the power of authentic assessment could serve as a beacon to educators around the country looking to reclaim classrooms from a Testocracy intent on grafting a business model onto education that reduces the intellectual process of teaching and learning a single score. Some of these teachers’ ideas included:
- Project-based learning coupled with performance-based assessment
- Interdisciplinary studies along with portfolios
- Student generated rubrics to assess their own work
- Students taking group assessments
- Teachers working collectively to assess student work
As my colleague Rachel Eells told the Times, “The MAP protest was really just the start of a deeper dialogue about how to we assess students in a meaningful way and how we use assessments to meaningfully inform instruction.” Garfield’s Assessment Committee has been meeting regularly all year and recently reported back to the staff at Garfield High School about a partnership our school has formed with a network of schools called the New York Performance Standards Consortium that has a waiver from the New York Regents exams and instead utilizes a sophisticated method of Performance Based Assessment. The Seattle Times recently ran an article about Garfield High School’s partnership with the New York Performance Standards Consortium,”New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model.”
I first became aware of the Consortium schools while attending a conference of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. last year. I had the pleasure of attending a panel with two teachers and a student who explained the power of their approach to performance based assessments that allowed students to do research over time, develop a thesis, and present their findings to a panel comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and community members. The student spoke movingly to how this approach to evaluation helped rescue the importance of school for him, and the teachers revealed that the Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates as compared with other demographically similar public schools in New York. After the presentation, I was delighted to meet the student and teachers, and they expressed their support for the MAP test boycott. Avram Barlowe, one of the founding teachers of the Consortium Schools asked me if Garfield teachers would be interested in attending workshops at the New York Performance Standards Consortium.
Avram then put me in touch with Phyllis Tashlik, one of the directors of the program, and over the course of the year our principal and a few of our teachers have made multiple trips to the Consortium Schools and have brought back with them invaluable insights into the learning process and assessment methods. This is what real education reform looks like: educators collaborating to share best practices to retake their profession from billionaires and their flunkies who know little about the craft of teaching.
A couple of days ago a New York area code popped up on my cell phone. I didn’t recognize the number—but when a teacher on the other end of line said that she was organizing a testing boycott at her high school, I certainly recognized the situation.
Emily Giles, a teacher at International High School at Prospect Heights, told me about a standardized test that was disrespecting the schools’ English Language Learner (ELL) students’ cultural and linguistic diversity. She told me about ELL students who were brought to tears during the fall pre-test administration of the exam because of the level of English used was far above the level of beginner ELLs—and thus provided very little useful feedback for the teachers. Emily told me about a test that some 50% of the parents were already set to opt out of. And she told me of the dedicated educators who were no longer willing to see their students humiliated or their profession degraded by the abuses of the NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test.
Similar conditions arose in Seattle last year when my colleagues at Garfield High School refused to administer the MAP test—and succeed in making the test optional for high schools. When I spoke to Emily, it was clear that she and her coworkers had already set in motion all the key components to a successful direct action campaign against the tests. We discussed how there are no guarantees about the outcome when you engage in civil disobedience, but that because her colleagues had built such a strong base of support among teachers and parents, if the staff truly felt that they could not administer this test in good conscience, I thought it was worth taking this stand for her students.
I checked in with her last night as she was preparing for the press conference today to see how she was holding up. I remember the fear vividly—the cold sweats and sleepless nights—I had when we prepared to announce that Garfield would refuse to administer the MAP test, and I figured she could use some support. What she told me let me know that these teachers are ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple. She said,
I’m feeling a little nervous, very excited, and completely inspired by the people I work with. I’m feeling really happy and honored to work with people who are so passionate about what they do, and care so deeply what happens in our classrooms and the lives of the young people we work with.
Today is May Day—international workers’ day. There is no better way to celebrate the struggles of workers today than by supporting these courageous educators at the first high school in New York City to boycott a standardized test by signing on to the petition in their defense.
Today is also my late Grandfather’s birthday. Happy Birthday Grandpa Chuck! Chuck was a conscientious objector during WWII. I said to him once near the end of his life, “Weren’t you afraid of how your peers and society would look at you for not going to fight in the war? That must have been a hard decision.” He paused before he spoke and I have never seen my gentle, soft-spoken grandfather look so fierce. To be honest, his look gave me a scare. Then he replied, “No it wasn’t hard at all. What would have been hard would have been to kill someone.”
That same gentle fierceness of spirit burns within the conscientious test objectors at International High School at Prospect Heights.
Don’t give up. And when you reach the end of your life, you will look back in certainty at having made the only choice you could have: Following your convictions in pursuit of justice.
The ultimate absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been visited upon my home state of Washington.
One of the many outlandish propositions of NCLB was that 100 percent of students at all schools in the United States would be fully proficient in reading and math, as registered by student test scores, by 2014—all without adding the resources needed to support our children. Because no state has been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency, nearly all of the states have already received a federal waiver from NCLB—on the condition that they implement policies that reduce teaching and learning to a test score.
Now, because our State Legislators did not move to mandate that standardized test scores be attached to teacher evaluations, Washington has become the first state in the country to lose its waiver from the many requirements of the No Child Left Behind act. The U.S. Department of Education posted a letter about the status of Washington’s waiver on Thursday April 24th. The loss of this waiver means that every parent in the state should expect a letter informing them that their child attends a failing school. It also means that school districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of the federal funding they receive—some $40 million statewide. As well, any number of schools could be forced into state takeover and made to replace most of the staff.
And so the absolute farce of federal education reform policy marches on, again without input from educators or parents, in an effort to destabilize the public schools, label them as failing, and then open up space for privatized charter schools.
This time they have gone too far.
My school is not a failure. Garfield High School, where I teach, is home to one of the best jazz bands in the country. I dare you not to shake your booty when you hear the Garfield drumline, the premiere percussionists of the Northwest. If Arne Duncan had been there to see Garfield’s drama department’s production of West Side Story this year, he would have been too busy humming “Maria” to withdraw the waiver. And I really wish Duncan could have been in my classroom to see my students research and reenact the Montgomery Bus Boycott–during the time of the schools’ MAP test boycott last year–to see how learning in the service of solving societal problems is coming alive at Garfield.
More than this, none of our schools are failures. The failure is on the part of politicians and their corporate sponsors who have slashed education budgets across the country, and then overused test scores to blame educators for the nation’s problems.
Labeling us all as failures will only create solidarity among all the teachers, parents, and students across the state in a struggle to stop Arne Duncan’s mad testing machine. We at Garfield High School learned the power solidarity in our victorious MAP test boycott last year. If you think the struggle to “scrap the MAP” was impressive, imagine the size and scope of a struggle that unites every school in the state to honor our hardworking educators and students, rather than testing and punishing.
I am running for the president of the Seattle Education Association in part to help organize our educators in this struggle (you can donate and support my campaign here). Now is the time to build the largest grassroots civil rights movement to defend our schools that our state has ever seen. Who will join me?
Last spring I was invited to the Earth School in the East Village of New York City to speak at a forum about the lessons of the MAP test boycott that I helped to organize in Seattle. Earth School 4th and 5th grade teacher Jia Lee, along with insurgent teacher union activists in MORE and parents in Change The Stakes, helped organize the event and a powerful conversation about organizing test resistance ensued.
Now, a year later, you can imagine my elation when I received an email from Jia announcing that three teachers at the Earth School declared to their administration and public schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña that they will not proctor Common Core state standardized tests this year — or ever — saying in a letter that they “can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.”
They go on to write, “As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.”
They are joining a wave of boycotts and opting out of standardized tests from parents, students and teachers—including the teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Elementary School in Chicago who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
Teachers at the Earth School have helped form the organization Teachers of Conscience, a group of public school teachers in New York City concerned about market-based reforms and the future of public education. Teachers of Conscience has authored a remarkable letter and position paper that powerfully unravels the lies behind the standardized testing craze, explains the authentic assessment alternative, and demonstrates exactly why educators should be the people consulted about education policy before billionaires.
Read the letter below. Sign the petition in support of these teachers. Then join the movement.
Teachers of Conscience
“The ongoing wars, the distortions of truth we have witnessed, the widening gaps between rich and poor disturb us more than we can say; but we have had so many reminders of powerlessness that we have retreated before the challenge of bringing such issues into our classrooms. At once, we cannot but realize that one of our primary obligations is to try to provide equal opportunities for the young. And we realize full that this cannot happen if our students are not equipped with what are thought to be survival skills, not to speak of a more or less equal range of literacies. And yet the tendency to describe the young as “human resources,” with the implication that they are mainly grist for the mills of globalized business is offensive not merely to educators, but to anyone committed to resist dehumanization of any kind.”
- Maxine Greene, In Search of a Pedagogy
Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,
We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.
As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.
The policies of Common Core have been misguided, unworkable, and a serious failure of implementation. At no time in the history of education reform have we witnessed the ideological ambitions of policymakers result in such a profound disconnect with the experiences of parents, teachers, and children. There is a growing movement of dissatisfied parents who are refusing high-stakes Common Core testing for their children and we are acting in solidarity with those parents. Reformers in the State Department of Education are now making gestures to slow down implementation and reform their reforms. Their efforts represent a failure of imagination — an inability to envision an education system based on human development and democratic ideals rather than an allegiance to standardization, ranking, and sorting. State policies have placed haphazard and burdensome mandates on schools that are profoundly out of touch with what we know to be inspired teaching and learning. Although the case against market-based education reform has been thoroughly written about, we feel obliged to outline our position at length to address critics who may see our choice of action as overstepping or unwarranted. You will find a position paper attached to this letter. We are urging you, Chancellor Fariña, to articulate your own position in this critical and defining moment in the history of public education. What will you stand for? What public school legacy will we forge together?
Colin Schumacher, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School
Emmy Matias, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School
Jia Lee, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School