The Rebellion Against High-Stakes Testing
Resistance is growing, and with good reasonĂ˘€”test mania delivers few benefits and often harms the students itĂ˘€™s meant to help.
Ohanian Comment: "Hardy band" seems like odd descriptor for people fighting NCLB. I pretty much object to the whole first paragraph.
Then, Kirp naively poses the American Federation of Teachers as Bill Gates' "old nemesis." Oh, please. We should all be so rewarded by enemies. All the way to the bank.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grants to American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation
- 2012: $4,400,000
Purpose:to support the AFT Innovation Fund and work on teacher development and Common Core State Standards
- 2012: $75,000
Purpose: to provide AFT conference support
- 2011: $1,000,000
Purpose: to assist teachers in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards
- 2011: $230,000
Purpose: to provide conference support for the conference on teacher development and evaluation systems
- 2010: $4,021,725
Purpose: to support the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund and the union's teacher development and evaluation programs
- 2010: $217,200
Purpose: for conference support
Purpose: to support the work of a teacher evaluation task force
- 2009: $1,000,000
Purpose: to support teacher-and union-led reform efforts to improve public education and raise student achievement
If all this weren't bad enough, Kirp then comes very close to endorsing the Common Core. This misinformed, hot air piece is better suited to Time Magazine than The Nation.
by David L. Kirp
A hardy band of educators and parents have been complaining for years about the test-driven mentality of No Child Left Behind, which makes students' prospects and teachers' futures hinge on the outcome of high-stakes exams. Until now, decision-makers haven't been listening, but the cheating scandal in Atlanta--where thirty-five teachers and administrators, including the former superintendent, have been implicated in a scheme to change student'Ă˘€™ test scores--has emboldened the rebels to turn their complaints into action.
Signs of this rebellion are visible nationwide. In Texas, the birthplace of the testing movement, lawmakers passed legislation in April that reduced, from fifteen to five, the number of tests required for graduation. University of Texas professor Carolyn Heinrich concludes that "the reason that proponents of the current flawed system do not cite any credible research that supports a causal link between this type of aggressive, test-based accountability system and student improvement is that it does not exist."
Meanwhile in New York, the rollout of the latest big tests, based on new national standards, has generated a flurry of complaints. Parents have resisted by instructing their children not to take the exams.
A new report from Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a national advocacy group, dissects achievement data in three cities--New York, Washington and Chicago--that have adopted what the report calls "market-oriented education reforms" that make test scores the do-or-die standard. The report shows that such reforms "deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment."
In an April Washington Post op-ed, Bill Gates added his voice to this chorus. Achievement scores, he argues, should not be the primary basis for determining which teachers get fired and which get rewarded. "I'm all for accountability," Gates wrote, "but I understand teachers' concerns and frustrations. . . . If we aren't careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted."
Gates held up for special ridicule a "Physical Education Evaluation Instrument," used by the Ohio Department of Education, to assess gym teachers on (among other measures) how fluidly students can skip and how accurately they can throw a ball underhand. While this looks like a perfect shooting-fish-in-a-barrel example of test mania, his criticism is more than a little hypocritical, since Gates himself has been a driving force in promoting such metrics in every dimension of teaching.
In 2009, Gates announced a $290 million donation to the Tampa, Memphis and Pittsburgh school systems, along with a charter consortium in Los Angeles, to implement a system that relies heavily on test scores in rewarding and punishing teachers. These districts were expected to devise quantitative measures for every subject--including phys ed. What's more, Gates has poured millions into organizations like the Data Quality Campaign, the National Council on Teacher Quality and groups like Teach Plus, which advocate such hyper-accountability. The educators Gates lambasts were doing precisely what he was demanding.
As Ed Week blogger and veteran teacher Anthony Cody tartly observes, the op-ed "dances around the disaster his advocacy has created." A more candid Bill Gates would have acknowledged his conversion [sic], much as Diane Ravitch did in her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, when she abandoned the market-driven approach to education she had previously favored.
Still, Gates has it right this time. His piece sends a powerful signal to the "no excuses" crowd: back off. And Gates is doing more than writing op-eds. He has joined forces with an old nemesis, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to promote a less test-driven approach to teacher evaluation.
There's a place for testing, but testing must be kept in that place. The new Common Core national standards, now coming into effect, offer an opportunity to recognize the mistakes of the No Child Left Behind era and get that balance right. Although there has been considerable grumbling over the new standards, their emphasis on hard thinking and creativity instead of memorization, and their attention to science and history, not just reading and math, make considerable sense. But measuring students' performance is another, more vexing, matter.
The New York protests were powered by the fact that tests based on the Common Core standards were administered despite the teachers not having been adequately briefed and students not having covered much of the new content. This inept use of testing shows the potential for mischief, which is why AFT president Randi Weingarten, a supporter of the Common Core standards, is seeking a moratorium on testing.
Weingarten argues that such high-stakes decisions should be "held in check until states and districts developĂ˘€”and carry outĂ˘€”implementation plans that include the time and resources necessary for professional development, curriculum, and instruction to fully reflect the standards." Unless there's effective pushback against New YorkĂ˘€“style exam mania, the new regime, intended to encourage independent and critical thinking, may backfire, spawning even more high-stakes tests and, consequently, more teaching only to those tests. Stopping that from happening must be the rebels' next battle.
In The Nation's recent New York issue, Lionie Haimson and Diane Ravitch took an in-depth look at Mayor BloombergĂ˘€™s education record over his three terms.
David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics.
May 27, 2013
Index of Common Core [sic] Standards