The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing
Everybody wants to fight the good fight.
Until the battle begins.
Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before.
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman.
I see this almost every day in our schools.
Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face.
They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore.
The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy.
To which I say – Amen, Sister!
Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest.
Two conflicts of interest, actually.
First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell.
Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools.
So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks.
But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.
What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today.
Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests.
We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment.
I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight.
But I find myself standing there alone.
“You can’t do that,” I say.
“It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.”
(Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.)
Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote:
“If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…”
Or how about subsection (d) (3):
“School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians [have]… (3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.” (Emphasis mine)
In other words, parents have a right to excuse their children from the tests and/or instruction such as test look-a-likes.
If we go forward with requiring students who are opted out to take tests that are just like the ones their parents instructed us NOT to give, we will be violating parents’ rights under state law.”
That seems pretty airtight to me.
But the administrator disagrees.
And I look around at the assembled mass of workaday teachers for support.
Not a peep.
Instead I get this:
-We’re being evaluated on these standardized tests, we have to make sure kids take them seriously.
-I see where you’re coming from but we have to do something about these kids who are opting out just to get out of doing the work. They don’t have any real intellectual objection. They’re just lazy.
-We’ve got to do something about grade inflation.
Oh. Em. Gee.
Yet after the meeting, some of them cautiously walk up to me asking my opinion of what went down.
YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR MY OPINION RIGHT NOW!
Take my word for it.
Tomorrow or the next day or the next week, they’ll be complaining again.
I’ve seen some of these people reduced to tears by administrators unfairly manipulating them based on their students’ test scores.
Yet none of them have the guts to stand up and be counted when the moment comes.
I say again – everyone wants to fight. But no one wants to do the fighting.
They want someone else to do it for them.
Does that make you angry?
It makes me furious.
But if you feel that way, you’ve got to do something about it.
You think teachers are too cowardly? What have YOU done to fight corporate education reform today?
You think too many administrators are quislings. You think the lawmakers are bought and sold. You think the public schools are under attack.
Well, get off your ass and do something.
I am tired of being the lone voice of dissent here.
All across the country there are people like me – people willing to stand up and fight.
But it’s a big country, and we’re usually spread pretty thin.
We need people willing to put their money where their mouths are – right here, in our hometowns.
Put up or shut up, America.
Do you want a school system that serves the needs of children?
You’ve got to make it happen.
I can’t do this all by myself.