In a stunning turn of events, President Obama announced last weekend that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time” and creating “undue stress for educators and students.” Rarely has a president so thoroughly repudiated such a defining aspect of his own public education policy. In a three-minute video announcing this reversal, Obama cracks jokes about how silly it is to over-test students, and recalls that the teachers who had the most influence on his life were not the ones who prepared him best for his standardized tests. Perhaps Obama hopes we will forget it was his own Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who radically reorganized America’s education system around the almighty test score.
Obama’s statement comes in the wake of yet another study revealing the overwhelming number of standardized tests children are forced to take: The average student today is subjected to 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation. Because it’s what we have rewarded and required, America’s education system has become completely fixated on how well students perform on tests. Further, the highest concentration of these tests are in schools serving low-income students and students of color.
To be sure, Obama isn’t the only president to menace the education system with high-stakes exams. This thoroughly bi-partisan project was enabled by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB became law in 2002 with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Obama, instead of erasing the wrong answer choice of NCLB’s test-and-punish policy, decided to press ahead. Like a student filling in her entire Scantron sheet with answer choice “D,” Duncan’s erroneous Race to the Top initiative was the incorrect solution for students. It did, however, make four corporations rich by assigning their tests as the law of the land. Desperate school districts, ravaged by the Great Recession, eagerly sought Race to the Top points by promulgating more and more tests.
The cry of the parents, students, educators and other stewards of education was loud and sorrowful as Obama moved to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score—one that would be used to close schools, fire teachers and deny students promotion or graduation. Take, for instance, this essay penned by Diane Ravitch in 2010. She countered Obama’s claim that Race to the Top was his most important accomplishment:
[RttT] will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever, and even more time and resources will be devoted to raising scores on these tests. The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test.
What Ravitch warned us about has come to pass, and Obama has now admitted as much without fully admitting to his direct role in promoting the tests. Duncan and Obama, with funding from the Gates Foundation, coupled Race to the Top with Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes tests that came shrink wrapped with them. Together these policies have orchestrated a radical seizure of power by what I call the “testocracy”—The multibillion dollar testing corporations, the billionaire philanthropists who promote their policies, and the politicians who write their policies into law.
These policies in turn have produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history. To give you just a few highlights of the size and scope of this unprecedented struggle, students have staged walkouts of the tests in Portland, Chicago, Colorado, New Mexico, and beyond. Teachers from Seattle to Toledo to New York City have refused to administer the tests. And the parent movement to opt children out of tests has exploded into a mass social movement, including some 60,000 families in Washington State and more than 200,000 families in New York State. One of the sparks that helped ignite this uprising occurred at Garfield High School, where I teach, when the entire faculty voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. The boycott spread to several other schools in Seattle and then the superintendent threatened my colleagues with a ten-day suspension without pay. Because of the unanimous vote of the student government and the PTA in support of the boycott—and the solidarity we received from around the country—the superintendent backed off his threat and canceled the MAP test altogether at the high school level. Can you imagine the vindication that my colleagues feel today—after having risked their jobs to reduce testing—from hearing the president acknowledge there is too much testing in the schools? And it should be clear that this national uprising, this Education Spring, has forced the testocracy to retreat and is the reason that the Obama administration has come to its current understanding on testing in schools.
However, the testocracy, having amassed so much power and wealth, won’t just slink quietly into the night. A Facebook video from Obama isn’t going to convince the Pearson corporation to give up its $9 billion in corporate profits from testing and textbooks. The tangle of tests promulgated by the federal government is now embedded at state and district levels.
More importantly, the President exposed just how halfhearted his change of heart was by declaring he will not reduce the current federal requirement to annually test all students in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading, with high school students still tested at least once. A reauthorization of NCLB is in the works right now, and all versions preserve these harmful testing mandates. As well, Obama’s call to reduce testing to 2% of the school year still requires students to take standardized tests for an outlandish twenty-four hours. And it isn’t even all the time directly spent taking the tests that’s the biggest problem. The real shame, which Obama never addressed, is that as long as there are high-stakes attached to the standardized tests, test prep activities will continue to dominate instructional time. As long as the testocracy continues to demand that students’ graduation and teachers’ evaluation or pay are determined by these tests, test prep will continue to crowed out all the things that educators know are vital to teaching the whole child—critical thinking, imagination, the arts, recess, collaboration, problem based learning, and more.
Obama’s main accomplice in proliferating costly testing, Arne Duncan, said, “It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves. At the federal, state, and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation.”
Yes, let’s all be honest with ourselves. Honesty would require acknowledgement that standardized test scores primarily demonstrate a student’s family income level, not how well a teacher has coached how to fill in bubbles. Honesty would dictate that we recognize that the biggest obstacle to the success of our students is that politicians are not being held accountable for the fact that nearly half children in the public schools now live in poverty. As Congress debates the new iteration of federal education policy, they should focus on supporting programs to uplift disadvantaged children and leave the assessment policy to local educators. They have proven they don’t understand how to best assess our students and now they have admitted as much. It’s time to listen to those of us who have advocated for an end to the practice endlessly ranking and sorting our youth with high-stakes tests. It’s time Congress repeal the requirement of standardized tests at every grade level. It’s time to end the reign of the testocracy and allow parents, students, and educators to implement authentic assessments designed to help support student learning and nurture the whole child.
Jesse Hagopian is an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine and teaches history at Garfield High School. Jesse is the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
Jesse Hagopian and Pedro Noguera Take on the Testocracy in Nationally Televised Debate: “Is public education in the U.S. broken beyond repair?”
Last Thursday I flew to New York City to take on Peter Cunningham, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education (under Secretary Arne Duncan, during President Obama’s first term), in a debate hosted by Al Jazeera America’s program The Third Rail. We debated the question, “Is public education in the U.S. broken beyond repair?”
I have to say, those 45 minutes in the green room before we went on to do the show seemed like they would never pass. First I had to settle my nerves. I knew my years of experience teaching and seeing the misery of high-stakes testing was causing in our schools was going to be hard to dispute. But this was the former Assistant Secretary of Education and surely he would have slick responses and cherry picked data to try to mask the truth? But it wasn’t the coming debate that was troubling me most. Try to imagine just how awkward a situation it was. Mr. Cunningham now runs a website devoted to shutting down the “education spring” uprising against corporate education reform; I’m a teacher trying my best to help that movement bloom. I am used to challenging the rich and powerful, but here I was sharing coffee and chitchat with one of the primary spokespeople for the privatization of our schools and the reduction of education to merely a “testucation.”
When we finally entered the TV studio, I was relieved for the conversation to turn from the weather to the mighty storm of resistance that parents, students, and teachers are building in opposition to the “testocracy.” We tussled over many major questions relating to the corporate model of education reform. Mr. Cunningham argued in favor of charter schools. I pointed out that of course he supported charters because he received $12 million from Billionaires Eli Broad and the Walton’s (the Wal-Mart family) who support the privatization of education. I went on to explain, “My problem with charter schools is that they’re anti-democratic. They’re not under the control of a democratically elected school board…[and the charter system] siphons off public funds to private schools…[Creating] a profit model from public education.”
Mr. Cunningham argued in favor of the use of high-stakes testing in education. I argued, “High-stakes testing has pushed out everything that matters in education.” I cited how recess and the arts are vanishing in schools as they become test-prep centers, rather than incubators of creativity. And I noted that while they push these standards and tests on our children, “It’s amazing that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, the President himself, send their kids to schools that don’t use the common core.”
At one point Mr. Cunningham inexplicably defended Arne Duncan’s comments that the opt out movement is just white suburban moms—a comment that Duncan himself had to apologize for. I explained the reality that every family has the right to protect their child from being reduced to a test score and that this opt out movement is actually growing rapidly in communities of color—including the many hundreds of Latino students who walked out of the PARCC test in New Mexico last year, the Black students in Baltimore who occupied the school board meeting in opposition to the labeling of their schools failing so as to close them down, and the Seattle NAACP chapter calling for opt out as part of the Black Lives Matter struggle.
One of the overriding themes that I tired to express (in the limited format of a few minuet debate program) was the idea that the superrich have horded the wealth at the expense of our children. Today, over half of the students who attend public school live in poverty. Then these billionaires—such as Mr. Cunningham’s sponsors—claim that the reason why youngsters don’t have a better quality of life is due to unaccountable teachers.
The best part of this The Third Rail debate was when they brought in the great Pedro Noguera, Professor of education at New York University, who powerfully and succinctly and expressed the primary issue with education reform today:
The problem I see is the we’ve developed an accountability system that holds those with the most power the least accountable.
We all cordially shook hands at the conclusion of the debate and conversed on the finer points that we hadn’t had time to cover while on stage. The lingering education disputes soon turned back to small talk, but this time I no longer felt awkward because I had a great image in my mind: The Walton’s huddled around the TV scowling as they decided whether to cancel Mr. Cunningham’s funding for his inability to defeat the logic and experience of lowly educators.
Watch these clips from the debate and decide for yourself: Do we need more testocrats or more educators helping to transform the schools?
Common Core Testing Meltdown in Seattle: Teachers speak out on technological breakdowns, loss of class time, & civil rights violations
Before the testing season began, educators in Seattle knew that because of the lack of proper preparations, IT support, technological upgrades, and training – and due to the outlandish number of tests administered this year – testing pandemonium would ensue. Last week the Social Equality Educators (SEE) put a call out for teachers to share their stories of this first year of Common Core, “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC), testing in the schools. The numerous responses from teachers and parents around the school district describe standardized testing chaos. We heard many stories about SBAC testing that are common to high-stakes, standardized tests: the tests dramatically disrupted the educational process, deprived students of hours of instructional time, reduced stressed out students to tears, and monopolized the computer labs and libraries in service of test administration for weeks at a time. As one teacher from a North Seattle school reported,
Teachers in rooms with computers have been forced out of their rooms for a week for SBAC. Our computer labs have been unavailable due to SBAC testing of sophomores. This week we have 2 hour late arrivals Mon-Thurs so juniors can take SBAC. All other classes loose 8 hours of instruction.
And there were many more stories of complete testing meltdown that have made the SBAC testing particularly outrageous. Most egregious, teachers from multiple schools reported that the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBAC test is not translated into all the languages our students speak. As a teacher from the World School–the school that takes in recent immigrants to Seattle who don’t yet speak English–reported:
The one thing noted already at our staff meeting is that there are no translations of directions, for example, in any of the African languages. Yet, there are some in other languages. There’s no French either and some of our African students speak French.
The fact that there are no glossaries translated into any African language is a clear violation of students rights and a stark example of institutional racism in the schools.
Moreover, educators have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. At several schools students lost two days of class time, futilely attempting to log on to the exam—only to find out that the state had forgotten to upload the test on time! As one teacher from a South Seattle school wrote to me,
We have encountered a few problems with the SBAC site. We were unable to test the 11th grade students this morning (in math). We have also had computers that got frozen. We decided to give them the interim performance task and CAT as practice. Many of them rushed through it and didn’t take it seriously. The ones that did take it seriously finished both the Performance task and the CAT in about 3 hours.
But perhaps the most upsetting loss of class time due to Common Core SBAC testing is described in the letter below. This teacher asked that her name and school be omitted from this report because of the hostile environment that the Seattle School district has created in issuing threats to teachers who oppose high-stakes testing.
Students spent a total of 6 hours completing the first half of the [Common Core] testing they are required to do. Students are being asked to navigate confusing split screens; drag, drop, and highlight; and type extended responses. They are being asked to demonstrate their learning in a completely different way than how they have acquired it. The district has said that the amount students are expected to type is not overwhelming. However, students are being asked to type an entire essay, several paragraphs long, on the computer. Our school does not have a technology teacher and not all students have computer access at home, so many students have not learned computer or keyboarding skills. I watched more than one student hitting the space bar over and over because they did not know how to go down to the next line to start a new paragraph.
I was so proud of my students for working through the test and trying their hardest, despite the challenges. We were all glad when a long week of testing was over and we could get back to learning. We later learned that the directions we received from the district about how to access the test and what the test was called were incorrect. This meant that an entire grade took the wrong test and were then required to retake it. We were told that this was not an isolated incident but had occurred at several schools. The look on my students’ faces when I told them we had to do the test again was heart-breaking.
Due to the challenges students have had navigating the testing interface, I question the developmental appropriateness and the equity of this test. Due to the many issues we’ve seen with the rollout this year, I question the validity of this test to evaluate our schools, our teachers, and our students.
This story of students losing a two weeks of school because they were given the wrong test—reportedly in at least several Seattle schools—is nothing short of scandalous. The inequality built into a test that favors students with computing skills developed at home is unfair.
It should be no wonder why Seattle is currently experiencing the largest number of opt outs in the city’s history. High-stakes testing is degrading education in countless ways. The billionaires have had their turn with the schools. It’s time to return assessment back to educators—and the joy back to learning.
Garfield High School educators thank Nathan Hale High School for their resistance to Common Core testing
Below is the thank you letter that educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School wrote to Nathan Hale High School for their courage in taking the lead in the movement to oppose the new “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Common Core Tests. Their example helped inspire Garfield to win a major victory against the SBA test, and has helped ignite the opt out movement around Seattle. Seattle’s opt out movement is now the largest in the city’s history. Thank you Nathan Hale!
Garfield High School’s open thank you letter to Nathan Hale on the Smarter Balanced Assessment
We are writing to congratulate you for taking a bold stand against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing. Your school Senate’s vote to oppose the SBA has helped many all across Seattle find the courage to join this growing movement for authentic assessments. We educators at Garfield High School also find great objection to the SBA, including:
- Loss of instructional time
Projections estimate that the SBA will take students some 9 hours to complete. However, our colleagues at schools around Seattle have reported that the SBA is taking much longer. This is an unacceptable loss of class and learning time.
- Failure and demoralization by design
The SBAC and our state’s politicians agreed on a “cut score”—meaning the score that indicates if a student has not passed the exam—which they project will fail at least 60% of students in math and reading. Educators and our professional organization were not consulted about the cut scores, revealing that their determination was a political decision rather than an educational one. We believe in high expectations and supporting our students to reach ambitious goals. We do not believe in rushing to implement an exam—one that has not even yet been shown to be reliable by the test maker’s own admission—that will result in mass failure and demoralization of children.
- Loss of library and computer labs
In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are monopolized for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for educational purposes. Because we have a computer lab in the library, the library is shuttered for learning and research while the SBA is administered. This disproportionately impacts students from lower income families who are more likely not to have computers or Internet at home. We object to our educational resources being squandered in this way.
- Technological breakdowns
The needed technology and IT support was not implemented and schools have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. We know of several Seattle schools where students have lost hours futilely attempting to log on to the exam. At other schools the wrong codes were given to administrators of the test and students wasted an entire week administering what turned out to only be the practice exam and they are now required to spend another week taking the actual SBA. The failure to properly equip the Seattle schools with the training, technological upgrades, and the IT support needed to administer the SBA is evidence that our district is not ready for the exam.
- SBA is not a valid test
The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has confirmed that the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not yet been shown to be a valid test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium acknowledged this in a recent memo where they wrote that they have not yet determined the “external validity” of the exam.
- Special Needs Students negatively impacted
Students receiving extra support—our English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students in math support—are especially negatively impacted by the over testing that the SBA is contributing to. These students are in need of MORE instructional time and will lose more precious class time hours to the SBA. As well, the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBA is not translated into all the languages our students speak, most notably none of the African languages—a clear violation of the students’ rights and further indication of the invalidity of the exam.
As a result of the above considerations, Garfield’s staff takes the following positions on assessment and the SBA:
- Authentic assessment
While we oppose the SBA, we want to be clear that we in no way oppose assessment. We believe that assessing student learning is a vital component of an effective classroom and a high preforming school system. This is why Garfield teachers joined a city-wide teacher created organization (along with representatives from Nathan Hale) in 2013 called, “The Teacher Work Group on Assessment” which created guidelines called “Markers of Quality Assessment” that defined authentic assessments as those that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class, and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow students opportunities to go back and improve; and undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators. Since then Garfield educators have begun to research, develop, and implement authentic forms of assessment in order to scaffold student learning and advance the understanding of a given concept (as reported in the Seattle Times and documented in the forthcoming film, “Beyond Measure”).
- Educators have a professional responsibility to oppose flawed testing
Creating an education system that supports students to reach their potential will require educators asserting their professional expertise about flawed exams. We are fortunate that at Garfield there is a high level of consciousness about limitations of high-stakes testing and the SBA. In fact, the students who are being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade.
At Garfield students already take the state HSPE exam, the ELA, the EOCs, the AP test, the PSAT, the SAT, and others. The over use of standardized testing was one of the things that led the staff at Garfield High School, and several other schools, to refuse to administer the MAP test. When we took our stand against the MAP test, Nathan Hale educators sent us a statement of support that meant a lot to us–and it was collective action and the power of solidarity that was finally able to scrap the MAP test. Can you imagine the conditions we would be facing if educators, parents and students hadn’t boycotted the MAP test and the Superintendent hadn’t rescinded the MAP testing requirement? If the MAP was still mandated for high schools it would require an additional two to three standardized tests per year, resulting in hours more of lost instructional time.
- Parents have the right to decide what is best for their children
This year we have had so many parents flood the school with opt out forms that teachers don’t have to decide whether we should administer the exam or not because there aren’t enough students who have been given permission from their parents to take the test to warrant taking whole classes to the computer lab to administer the exam. Parents exercising their right to opt out have allowed us to retain valuable instructional time. This mass opt out strategy of parents is a victory for student learning because it will allow teachers to keep teaching.
Nathan Hale, thank you for taking the first step in demanding the very best in assessment for all students. The thoughtful process and the through research you conducted around the SBA raised awareness for everyone in the city about the pitfalls of the SBA. By raising this issue you have helped speed up that day when all of our students are evaluated with assessments designed to understand their thought process, nurture a love of learning, and promote critical thinking, rather than simply to punish.
Staff members at Garfield High School
New Seattle Test Boycott Erupts: Nathan Hale High School votes to refuse to administer a Common Core test
This afternoon the Nathan Hale Senate (functions as Building Leadership Team) voted nearly unanimously not to administer the SBAC tests to 11th graders this year.
The Senate also recently voted not to administer the PSAT test to 10th graders at all in the future.Reasons for refusing the SBAC for 11th graders included (summary):1. Not required for graduation2. Colleges will not use them this year3. Since NCLB requires all students pass the tests by 2014, and since few if any schools will be able to do that, all schools will therefore be considered failing by that standard. There is thus no reason to participate in erroneous and misapplied self-labeling.4. It is neither valid nor reliable nor equitable assessment. We will use classroom based assessments to guide next instructional steps.5. Cut scores of the SBAC reflect poor assessment strategy and will produce invalid and unreliable outcomes.6. Student made this point: “Why waste time taking a test that is meaningless and that most of us will fail?”7. The SBAC will tie up computer lab time for weeks.8. The SBAC will take up time students need to work on classroom curriculum.This is an important step. Nathan Hale is asserting its commitment to valid, reliable, equitable assessment. This decision is the result of community and parent meetings, careful study of research literature, knowledge of our students’ needs, commitment to excellence in their education, and adherence to the values and ideas of best-practice instruction.This resolution does not mean NHHS will refuse the 10th grade SBAC assessments, sorry to say. But the way the school went about the decision is a powerful model for other schools, and means that anything is still possible in that regard.Yay.Doug Edelstein
“…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.
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
What Valerie Strauss’ “Best and worst education news of 2013” means for the state of education:
Valerie Strauss, who runs the Washington Post blog, “The Answer sheet”, has complied an insightful list of the “Best and worst education news of 2013.” Strauss’ list is a must read to understand the current political moment in the struggle for the public schools–both the great potential and the bitter struggles to come.
The “Best Education News” included the Seattle MAP test boycott and the decision by several states to delay their use of Common Core high-stakes, standardized tests–revealing the growing influence of organized students, parents, and teachers who have been building a national grassroots movement to oppose the abuses of standardized testing. I am incredibility proud of my colleagues at Garfield High School who launched the MAP test boycott and helped inspire an uprising around the country to reclaim our classrooms from testing companies.
The “Worst Education News” included the mass school closures in Chicago and Philadelphia, as well as dramatically low teacher morale across the country. These stories demonstrate that, even in the face of a growing movement to defend public education, the corporate education reformers are as determined as ever to reduce the intellectual process of teaching and learning to a single score for the purpose of closing schools, demoralizing teachers, and weakening their unions.
Which side will win–the corporate reformers or the masses of families and educators–remains to be seen. But at least now there are two sides to this national struggle.
As a new school year begins, let me be the first to wish you parents, students, and teachers a year full of intellectual curiosity, problem solving, empowerment, and struggle to make education about more than the ability to eliminate wrong answer choices and shade the box corresponding to the single best answer choice.
As a history teacher I am excited for this year as we are poised to see the largest rebellion against standardized testing this nation has ever experienced. With the new Common Core State Standards coming on-line in many school districts across the country, many of the current exams that are being used are not aligned to the standards being taught in the classroom–which will only serve to fuel an already growing resistance to high stakes standardized testing.
“While his eighth-grade classmates took state standardized tests this spring, Tucker Richardson woke up late and played basketball in his Delaware Township driveway…”
Here’s to building a mass civil rights movement to defend public education! Boycott, Opt-Out, Walkout!