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Our schools are in the midst of a mass panic not seen since the swine flu epidemic–standardized testing. We are swept up in a wave of “the tests are important,” “parents demand accountability,” and “they make us do it.” This uncritical groupthink will destroy public education unless we wake up, form alliances and tell the public the truth.
Democrats and Republicans alike caught a bad case of testing fever and voted overwhelmingly for No Child Left Behind, perhaps the greatest intrusion of the federal government into local education in history. NCLB will compel states to test their students every year from grades 2-12 in order to rank schools and shut many of them down. Our Proctor-in-Chief, George W. Bush, is extending the joys of standardized testing into Head Start.
Since many administrators and school board members have no idea how many standardized tests they need to administer, NCLB will undoubtedly add additional tests and draconian consequences to a school year already diminished by weeks of testing and test preparation.
Without so much as a public debate on what we would want for our schools, testing mania has been allowed to spread like a plague on our educational process. If some testing is good, more is better. If the youngest students can’t yet hold a pencil or read, of course they can bubble-in answers to math problems for several hours at a time. Head Start should be a reading program. You got a problem with three-year-olds reading? Why then, you must suffer from “the bigotry of low expectations.” The end of recess does not affect obesity. Replacing art and music with scripted curricula won’t lead to increased school violence or discipline problems. Down is up, black is white.
Education Week’s annual report “Technology Counts,” states an alarming trend–schools are not spending enough money on using computers for the purposes of standardized testing! Apparently, the years I’ve spent helping schools use computers to enhance learning have been wasted. It never occurred to me that computers should be used to replace #2 pencils and scan sheets. Tech-based testing reminds me of the old Gaines Burger commercial that asked, “Is your dog getting enough cheese?”
The Education Week “research” is replete with charts and graphs designed to whip child-centered educators into line. EdWeek loves winners and losers nearly as much as the testing industry. Coincidentally, a giant publisher of standardized tests, textbooks and test preparation systems, funded their “study.”
In such a climate of confusion and hysteria, educators feel powerless. Parents trust that you will do the right thing. Misconceptions about high-stakes testing are amplified by an unwillingness to engage the community in conversation.
Inspired by Juanita Doyon’s terrific new book, Not With Our Kids You Don’t: Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools, and a desire to show my kids that you can make a difference, I decided to try my hand at activism.
I designed a flier answering some of the myths about standardized testing and telling parents that California state law allows them to exempt their child from the STAR tests. Two days before testing was to begin I stood in front of my daughter’s high school and passed out 150 fliers in about 10 minutes. I felt a bit creepy, but the kids told me that I was cool (a first).
I have since learned that 46 students opted out of the tests. That’s a one-third hit-rate. Not since the Pet Rock has a marketing effort been so successful with so little effort Think about it–a kid had to take a piece of paper from a stranger, bring it home, convince his parents to write a letter disobeying the wishes of the school and bring the letter back to school the next day. Perhaps the public isn’t as hungry for increased accountability as we have been led to believe?
One parent said she didn’t know her tax money was spent on standardized testing. Can you imagine the public being less engaged in a matter so important?
It is incumbent upon each of us to tell parents what we know and engage the community in serious discussions about schooling. We may find that we have many more allies than there are politicians telling us what’s best for kids.
- Here is the handout I used to encourage parents to opt their children out of testing in California
- The Constructivist Consortium’s collection of recommended books for fighting standardized testing
- Alfie Kohn’s web site
- Susan Ohanian’s web site
Originally published in District Administration Magazine – July 2003
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.
2 thoughts on “Halt the Testing Madness (2003)”
Not sure who wrote this but thanks. Kudos to my good friends Juanita Doyon and Susan Ohanian for their efforts.
The testing madness has put more children behind than ever in our history of education. Why you may ask? Educaton was developed by Thomas Jefferson who called its purpose “raking a few geniuses from the rubbage”. And it was developed during slavery. Does this describe a system designed for all children?
When NCLB focused stromgly on the standardized test several things happened. First this artificial test forced kids to not only learn but demonstrate learning in a singular way. The reality is that kids learn and demonstrate learning in different ways. Having already left a good number of kids behind, they proceeded to use this artificial means to rank kids. The 1st went to college and the last group were pushed out of school into a subclass for the rest of their lives. Didn’t anyone understand that when someone is first, it is mathematically impossible not to have someone last?
As the test gained power it also forced teachers to abandon their profession and teach to the test. Education is about learning. Teaching to the test is about winning, doing whatever is necessary to get a good test score. And the result is “book learned” kids without a lick of common sense.
The biggest fundamental problem in education and the most difficult to overcome is to recognize and accept that kids learn at different rates. Under NCLB students have to be at the same place at the same time or they fail. The reality is that many of those who are considered failures are much more intelligent than those book learned geniuses. Obstacles in their way simply slow them down or stop them from achieving as fast as others. Just like the faster students who are held back, the “slower” but often smarter students are held to a singular inflexible standard while expected to be the “Stepford Kids”
The solution to the problem is too lengthy to discuss here because when the dominoes star to fall, change becomes complex. Details are in my book “Saving Students From A Shattered System”. (thanks Juanita for your comments included in the book) . Suffice it to stay that we have to take every student “from where they are” on their pathway to success. They may learn in different ways, they may learn at different rates. But I have never met a student who did not want to learn.
IInstead of pushing kids out of school while holding others back, the time has come to put emphasis on individual needs interests and aptitudes of all and truly leave no one behind.
The first step is for teachers to take back their profession. Let’s begin now!
I completely agree in your “Halt the Testing Madness” because it seems like all through the school year we are getting tests shoved down our throat (theoretically); there’s always something we got to take that’s kind of irrelevant to learning the material. Standardized testing is spreading, rapidly flawing the education system. Forcing students to test is unjust. As an American citizen, I have freedom and should not be forced to do anything; however standardized testing being forced upon us is infringing on my rights. Also, these tests to do not prove anything “If the youngest students can’t yet hold a pencil or read, of course they can bubble-in answers to math problems for several hours at a time. Head Start should be a reading program.” Anyone can hold a pencil and fill in a test when all you got to do is bubble in the answer, what’s that proving? It involves just guessing at random with no effort. Next, computers should not be replacing pencil and paper for these tests “Education Week’s annual report “Technology Counts,” states an alarming trend–schools are not spending enough money on using computers for the purposes of standardized testing! ” Computers can be used for a much greater purpose than just at a school for tests. Educators of today need to really look at what they are teaching; they need to slow down the process of cramming technology in to every subject. It seems to me like everything I do for school revolves around using some form of technology. It may make things simpler but its plaguing society. In conclusion, standardized testing needs to stop “If some testing is good, more is better”- that’s not how it works, “This uncritical group think will destroy public education unless we wake up, form alliances and tell the public the truth.” Look where education has brought this generation, to revolve and depend upon technology and to become increasingly lazy. Education has many pros and cons, however standardized testing is definitely a flaw. In conclusion standardized testing is a pointless waste of energy and resources that’s why the testing madness should be put to a abrupt stop.
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