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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Untitled

I'd like to elaborate on a few things that became too long for a comment on Dans post questioning the call for policy makers to take standardized tests.

On the rationale behind it: I get that people don't understand what it would accomplish. Direct action often isn't meant to accomplish anything for its own sake. Gandhi didnt just want everyone to get some free salt (Don't worry I am not comparing this situation to oppression by the British Empire. It's just an example.) Rather it's symbolic and intended to draw attention to something larger. The inappropriate use of standardized tests to punish and shame teachers and schools is a public policy crisis. Evaluating politicians on their performance on a math or literacy test would be equally inappropriate. That's the point.

On whether activism is appropriate here: Our elected and appointed decision makers have been unresponsive to professional educators, historians, and statisticians voicing our concerns calmly and politely since NCLB started failing to improve schools ten+ years ago. Most, I'd say nearly all, educators have responded by putting their heads down and doing their best despite constraints imposed by testing, and waiting for the insanity to pass. We are a practical lot, we tend to be rule-followers and respectful of authority, and are motivated by what's best for the kids in front of us right now. However for some people with more money than morals, the motive is not to help schools improve but to end public education. If you believe a sound education is a human right, this has got to piss you off. If you are like me, you try to think of ways you can do something about it, and you try to teach your kids that they have responsibilities if they want to live in a functioning democracy.

On what I hope this could accomplish if enough people pay attention: I don't think all of our politicians and policy makers are dumb or evil or need to be publicly humiliated. But I do want to try, with what limited reach I have, and suggest to the ones who can be swayed that bad-test-based accountability-mania is wrong and destructive and there is a better way, if what we really want is effective public schools and a citizenry with a sound basic education. So if any of you are listening: take a test and see how you do, and reflect on what that number says about you. Reflect on what influences that number for a variety of kids with varieties of challenges in their lives. Reflect on whether it makes sense to judge and compare schools and teachers based on that number. Reflect on how kids and teachers are spending their time in school if they are motivated by fear to maximize that number, and whether you think that is a healthy use of their time. Ask yourself if punishment is an appropriate response. And then start listening and talking to people who know how to do this better.



14 comments:

  1. You say that the motivation of some people is not to improve schools, but to destroy public education. On what authority do you say this?

    Imputing bad motives to someone you disagree with is a sign that you may just be trying to dehumanize them.

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  2. Based on reporting like the article I linked to.

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  3. You are stating how many teachers at my school are feeling (me included). These tests are demoralizing to both students and teachers and it makes both parties feel inadequate. Thank you for saying out loud how we have been feeling for "ten + years"

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  4. My state's Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for less testing earlier this year: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/gov-jerry-brown-calls-for-less-testing/2012/01/18/gIQAjVjy8P_blog.html

    We, not just teachers but parents and citizens, all need to be as passionate as you are, Kate, about this. I can do this much: start with my own students. I think the message goes home.

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  5. Dan is close but still way off target, imho.

    To create meaningful change, there needs to be a movement demanding that the children of politicians should have to take the test.

    Why? Because the private schools that politicians send their kids to are EXEMPT from having to administer the state tests. If the politicians believe in the importance of standardized tests, they should have no reason to oppose having their children take the tests.

    Would the politicians actually agree to having their children attending private school take the tests? Doubtful, but it would open up a meaningful dialogue on the type of education we want ALL of our children to have.

    Just my two cents!

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  6. Dan is close but still way off target, imho.

    To create meaningful change, there needs to be a movement demanding that the children of politicians should have to take the test.

    Why? Because the private schools that politicians send their kids to are EXEMPT from having to administer the state tests. If the politicians believe in the importance of standardized tests, they should have no reason to oppose having their children take the tests.

    Would the politicians actually agree to having their children attending private school take the tests? Doubtful, but it would open up a meaningful dialogue on the type of education we want ALL of our children to have.

    Just my two cents!

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  7. I always guide my actions with the questions, "What do I want to accomplish? Will this action help accomplish that goal?"

    I really haven't been able to get past the first question in this conversation. Seems to me we either:
    1. Disagree with the required standards and want them changed.
    2. Disagree with the way the standards are assessed and want that changed.
    3. Disagree with the way the data is used and want that changed.
    4. Are just pissed off at how under-appreciated our hard work goes and want more respect.
    5. Something I am missing?

    I guess I am a bit with Dan on this one...I don't see how making our elected officials take tests helps advance any of these goals. Maybe #4?

    Sadly, reasoning with elected officials is usually fruitless. Maybe the most effective way to advance some of these goals (if we could even agree on them as a community) is to organize around electing people who speak, vote, & make decisions in ways that don't piss us off. Or find and help "good" elected officials take more leadership on the issue.

    I know for most of us the political process is just one giant annoying time-wasting fiasco. But how else do we advance the cause (whatever it might be)? Surely not testing entrenched legislators.

    We can rattle cages all day long. But rattling the wrong cages can be frustrating and create a lot of negative energy.

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  8. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/01/us-education-vouchers-idUSL1E8H10AG20120601

    Mike here is an article in LA. They want to kill public education...

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  9. Marshall the way you break "what we want" into four separate questions is very apt. I agree with you that we are not articulating that very well but I think the "please take the test, governor" request addresses most of them.

    #4 gets around the rest because if we respected teachers and what they do and trusted them to assess students, we wouldn't be implementing wholesale federal-level testing. see also: Finland. Would that that were even a possibility. If we were debating this, I might not be getting ready to leave the country right now.

    The biggest baddest question is 3. Tests designed to provide feedback about which standards kids do and do not grok and help the teacher improve are being used to rank children and teachers and schools and serve as the basis for punishments and rewards. Bad bad bad bad bad.

    The next thing is 1 but it seems like common core is a runaway train and I don't necessarily think common core is all that bad. I desperately wish the train had an alternate track to "death march to calculus" but I don't know what to do with that.

    2 is a major problem in NY because Holy Hannah these tests are bad. I could write paragraphs about how bad they are. I have, actually. But writing better tests or developing better alternate assessments isn't all that insurmountable an issue if #1 and 3 are squared away.

    "Take the test and publish your score" rings a sweet harmonic tone with many teachers because it shines a light on all of these.
    1. the elected officials notice the tests test things most adults don't need to know
    2. the elected officials are frustrated by the ambiguity of the wording and multiple correct answers and notice that a multiple choice question doesn't really illuminate the nuances of what they understand
    3. the elected officials compare their best possible score to the score they got that day because of the way they were feeling and compare that to the issues of a homeless uncorrected-nearsighted ESL student and notice that this is no way to judge the effectiveness of a school
    4. this is hopeless our culture does not respect teachers

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  10. Yeah. Right on.

    I don't necessarily want legislators actually to take the tests and to publish their scores; I think that's unrealistic. But I think we all—especially the legislators—need to think about what it would be like to take the tests and publish the scores, and reflect, as you pointed out, about how relevant those scores are to our assessment of them.

    Direct action may indeed take the form of demanding that they actually take the tests; you don't necessarily want what you demand—you want some consequence of that demand.

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Hi! I will have to approve this before it shows up. Cuz yo those spammers are crafty like ice is cold.