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?
Given my intense relationship with this specific standardized test–an exam that has forever altered the course of my life–this was a particularly unsettling moment for me. As an authentic assessment activist, I had helped organize a boycott of this test at Seattle’s Garfield High School, I edited the book More Than a Score to tell the story of this movement against the MAP and the subsequent uprising against high-stakes testing, and I speak regularly around the country to share the lessons of the movement to “Scrap the MAP.”
I had long been committed to a fight for public education, but now it just got personal. Now they were trying confine my own boundlessly vibrant son into a test score bubble.
I had felt a great sense of accomplishment in our 2013 MAP test boycott, which resulted in a decisive victory when the superintendent ended the school year by announcing an end to the MAP test requirement for the high schools. Now, however, the announcement that it was MAP test week for my son felt a cruel irony. It was hard to have to face the fact that, despite how powerful our movement had become, we hadn’t defeated the test altogether and elementary school students were still being subjected to it.
The idea that our school system implements standardized testing in the early grades to make students “career and college ready” (in the language of the Common Core standards) is an utter absurdity–especially when you consider that one of the most popular career choices for a 5-year-old is being Spider Man. And yet high-stakes are attached to the the MAP test–already in kindergarten!–using it as an arbitrator of who will be placed on the advanced track. In schools around the nation, there is an astonishing proliferation of the use of standardized testing in the early grades, which is having a frightening impact our our children. Children are increasingly experiencing severe stress from these tests, to the point where administrators now have a protocol for what to do when a child throws up on a test booklet–something that comedian John Oliver highlighted on his program Last Week Tonight when he said, “Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit.” As a recent report from Defending the Early Years points out kindergarten literacy standard will simply crush the spirits of the late bloomers, linking school with “feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and confusion.”
The new Common Core standards, and the tests meant to measure student’s progress toward them of them, are dramatically developmentally inappropriate and punish the students for developing in different ways and at different rates. As Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emeritus of early-childhood education at Lesley University and a senior adviser for Defending the Early Years, wrote in the book, More Than a Score,
When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) came out, many of us in early childhood were alarmed. There had not been one K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional on the committees that wrote and reviewed the CCSS. We could see that the standards conflicted with the research in cognitive science, neuroscience and child development that tell us what and how young children learn and how best to teach them. The pressure on young children to learn specific facts or skills increased, even though these expectations are unrealistic, inappropriate, and not based in research or principles of child development.
Moreover, young kids often struggle with the basic mechanics of answering questions on the new computer administered tests. As one Seattle elementary teacher wrote about Common Core testing this year,
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.
These tests have led to drastic cuts in recess, arts, music, physical education, and other critical components to a robust education of the whole child–and this is especially true in schools the serve predominantly low income and students of color, as our education system has become singularly obsessed with “raising achievement.” Again, Professor Carlsson-Paige:
Young children learn actively through hands-on experiences in the real world. They need to engage in active, playful learning, to explore and question and solve real problems. As children do this, they build concepts that create the foundation for later academic success. And perhaps even more importantly, through active, play-based, experiential learning, children develop a whole range of capabilities that will contribute to success in school and life: problem solving skills, thinking for themselves, using imagination, inventing new ideas, learning social, emotional, and self regulation skills. None of these capabilities can be tested but they are life-shaping attributes that are ready to develop in the early years.
And as the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner pointed out in a Boston Globe Globe article titled, “Is the Common Core Killing Kindergarten”, “Overuse of didactic instruction and testing cuts off children’s initiative, curiosity, and imagination, limiting their engagement in school.”
For these reasons, and due to the bitter struggle we waged during the 2013 boycott, the MAP test is practically a cuss word in my household. So when I asked my son if he wanted to take the MAP, it should be no surprise that he told me he was against taking it. He had obviously been paying close attention to this mass uprising against standardized testing, because he replied, “I take the tests my teachers makes, but not one that someone who doesn’t know me makes.”
With that, we wrote him an opt out letter, and my son joined the movement. Several other families opted their kids out of the test as well, and the parents took turns helping to provide alternative activities for the kids during the the test.
My son was especially thrilled to go to school the day he was going to help teach a lesson to his fellow five and six-year-old dissidents during the opt out period. His idea for the lesson was for a parent to read a book to the students about Satchel Paige, the legendary Negro League pitcher, and then they would make baseball cards of their own, complete with the stats on the back. Miles brought the sports page in, as well, to help them with the stats and to show them how to read a box score. My son opened the lesson by telling everyone about the Negro Leagues, a league started by Black people when the Major Leagues wouldn’t let them play, and then the parent read the book. However, before they could get to the baseball card activity, the rest of the class returned from MAP testing early, unable to actually take the test because of a glitch in the computer program. His class had lost the morning of instruction.
On the day the test was rescheduled, the students who opted out helped to make hats for the end of the year promotion ceremony to mark their passage to first grade. I asked my son what he thought of his experience opting out of the test. He said, “It was fun. I got to teach my friends about something, and we got to make our graduation hats…I didn’t have to worry if I was going to fail.”
I can tell you kindergarteners never looked better in mortarboard caps then when they wore them at their joyous promotion ceremony this week. Maybe next time they will decorate them with the slogan, “Scrap the MAP!”?
10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test for Your Child: Maryland parent on opting out of high-stakes testing
TakePart.com ran an article by Joseph Williams this week titled, “Boycotters Might Be Winning the Battle Over Standardized Testing.” In that article he writes:
“In districts across the nation, from Florida to Alaska, the grassroots push for a rollback in high-stakes testing has gained momentum, and a broad coalition of parents, teachers, and advocates are poised to take advantage, even if it means an end to federal grants in tight fiscal times.”
He can now add Maryland to his list.
My good friend Michele Bollinger just sent me a copy of a statement to publish (see below) of her intention to respect her daughter’s wishes not to take the new Common Core high-stakes test—and why other parents should join this opt-out movement. Michele is a teacher in Washington, D.C. and was my mentor to becoming a social justice educator when I first began my teaching career in that city. Michele is also the editor of the young adult textbook, 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History.
Here now is Michele’s statement and ten reasons parents should join this growing opt-out movement:
As a parent and educator, I cannot stay silent as PARCC testing begins around the country. After much discussion within our family, our 5th grader has decided to decline the PARCC exam. We agree with her and have expressed our refusal to consent to testing to her school. Here are some of the reasons why.
It is easy to feel alone in this, but people are standing up to high stakes testing all around the country right now. If any Maryland residents, especially those in Montgomery County, Maryland are interested in declining the PARCC exam, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test
for Your Child in Maryland
1. High-stakes standardized testing takes an emotional toll on students.
- The PARCC is unlike any test you took as a child. It is unprecedented in its level of standardization and in the punitive measures attached to testing performance
- The PARCC is a timed exam and unfamiliar to students in form and content
- The stress of high-stakes test taking produces anxiety and is even more challenging for students who already experience anxiety
- The testing environment can be oppressive, as students movements and behavior are heavily monitored
2. The PARCC test drives the standardization of learning.
- The Common Core State Standards, which support the PARCC, have narrowed state curriculum to fit the demands of the test
- Untested subjects are deprioritized or dropped altogether
- This unprecedented level of standardization cannot accommodate student differences in need, ability and interests
3. Test prep means less quality instructional time in schools.
- PARCC is longer than previously administered tests
- PARCC means more testing beginning at younger ages
- Schools now commonly refer to a “testing season” that lasts from March until June
4. The PARCC test is a fundamentally flawed assessment.
- There is no evidence that PARCC prepares students for college or careers
- PARCC is developmentally inappropriate for students at all grade levels
- Not enough sample tests, practice tests, or exemplars have been released
- The expectation that many or most students will perform poorly on the test is public knowledge
- Because Maryland students are already tested and assessed throughout the school year, the PARCC is unnecessary
5. Schools around the state of Maryland are unprepared to take a high stakes exam.
- Never before have so many students taken an online exam simultaneously
- Districts have continually reported schools’ IT infrastructure cannot support PARCC administration
- The rush to implement the PARCC does not make sense for our schools
6. PARCC is a cash cow for testing companies such as Pearson, Inc.
- Technology and testing companies – not educators – have funded and organized the rush to develop and implement the Common Core and PARCC
- States have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Common Core and PARCC
- In Maryland, combined costs for Math & English/Language Arts tests are as high as $61.24 per student
- Pearson is a private company which will have access to student data with very little oversight. Pearson may sell personal data related to individual children who have taken the PARCC
7. School districts have been bullied into accepting PARCC and the Common Core – and residents have been failed by their elected leaders who signed on to it.
- When Chicago Public Schools announced they could not and would not administer PARCC this year, they were threatened with losing up to $1 billion in funding
- Schools and school districts across the country have been forced to comply with federal and state mandates around PARCC or risk lose millions of dollars in funding
- Maryland policy makers have endorsed Common Core and PARCC without diligently investigating what is at stake and without asking the right questions
- We will call their bluff – we will not allow our children’s schools to be held hostage to bad educational policy
8. PARCC test scores will be used to justify punitive measures.
- Per “No Child Left Behind” and other school reform measures, test scores are used to fire teachers, hold students back and close down schools
- These actions are disruptive and are unsettling to the communities that have to endure them
- These measures disproportionately impact under-resourced communities and students of color
9. There is no legal way for school administrators to force your child to take a test she or he does not want to take.
- The official position of the state Department of Education is that there is no “opt out” provision for testing in Maryland
- There is no legal precedent for forcing a student to take a standardized test
- Maryland students and parents can opt-out, refuse, or decline to take the test just as families can in other states
- National “messaging” around the Common Core and PARCC has been carefully crafted to conceal problems and to appeal to parents and teachers
- Schools present a favorable view of the PARCC and their ability to carry out testing because of a lack of political leadership from the state
- All parents should be informed of the detriments of standardized testing
- Your child cannot be punished, failed, or held back for refusing this test
10. Now is the time!
- More people are questioning PARCC than ever before – teachers, students and parents around the country have begun to speak out against high stakes testing
- Boycotts and other actions against high stakes testing have galvanized communities to fight for justice in education
- Given the large number of problems with the test, many schools will not be held accountable based on test results this year. This is a lower-stakes opportunity to boycott the test and to build momentum for bigger boycotts to stop the damaging “accountability” provisions in the years to come
- If your child is “fine” taking tests and you can supplement your child’s test-driven curriculum with enriching experiences outside of school, the same cannot be said for everyone
- Even if your school tends to meet AYP or other defined goals, the same cannot be said for all schools – especially those in under-resourced areas and disproportionately those populated by students of color
We need to stand up for all children who are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of the learning experience via the expansion of high stakes testing.
PLEASE check out:
“…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.
To Test or Not to Test: Standardized Testing in Our Public Schools.
Tuesday evening, September 17
The discussion happens upstairs in the Great Hall beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The panelists include:
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!