Sunday, March 3, 2013

Standardized Testing

According to the Annual Yearly Progress clause of No Child Left
Behind, by the 2013-2014 school year 100% of the children in our
nation's schools will score academically proficient as measured by
standardized testing. What's up with that? We all know it's an
impossibility. Even if some unlikely messianic or apocalyptic event
boosted scores that much, the standardized test, designed to replicate
a bell curve, would be invalidated by such results. Geez!
Of course that was not my first or only aggravation about the
ascendency of standardized testing in our nation's public schools. As
a parent, I was alarmed by the amount of time my kids spent taking and
being prepped for an alphabet soup of acronymed exams. I was not
happy with them developing jump through the hoop skills and memorizing
facts when they could be developing the higher order thinking they
need in today's world.
Given the high-stakes nature of standardized tests, I was not in
the least bit surprised by shall we say less than ethical practices on
the part of some teachers and admin. Playing fast and loose with
kids' work is only the tip of the iceberg. Making sure students who
would make their schools look bad aren't around on the big day can be
far more insidious. Can you say, for example, school to jail pipeline?
Getting back to the first paragraph, the people who designed
stuff like No Child Left Behind aren't stupid. I wish that it was
that simple. In my mind they are setting all schools up for failure.
Why? Possibly to allow folks who think educational outcomes can be
produced the same as sneakers or cars to take over through
The reason for this longer than usual lead in? It's to show the
depths of anger I was feeling at the legalized hijacking of American
education. That was before I became familiar with Wayne Au's books.
I was a mere babe in the woods in regard to the true insidiousness of
"reform" by standardized testing. I'd just glimpsed the tip of the
iceberg. Au revealed to me the whole sordid, ugly structure. I think
you should see it too.
We are continuously told that No Child Left Behind and Race To
The Top are ways to not only raise students achievement, but to lessen
the gaps between white and black, rich and poor. The discourse is
framed thus way to the extent that if you're critical of their
hallmark standardized tests you're an elitist, uncaring about our most
vulnerable children. As if! In his numerous writings Au shows that
high stakes testing is actually covertly designed to perpetuate the
very inequities it's supposed to alleviate. I have chosen in this
review to discuss two of his books.
Pencils Down: RETHINKING high-stakes testing and accountability
in public schools is a great introduction to the topic. It's a highly
lucid and readable compilation of short pieces by a goodly number of
people in the trenches: teachers, professors, activists. An educator
retired after 34 years answers standardized test FAQs. A father
expresses concern that his 4-year-old prekindergarten daughter is so
enmeshed in academics she has no time to play in school. At the age
of four! A standardized test scorer gives us an up close and personal
look at some of the industry's dirty little secrets. In my favorite
article an activist describes how a community came together to develop
an alternative to CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam that large
numbers of low income students, many for whom English is a second
language, are flunking)... I highly recommend this book to parents,
older students, teachers, admin, and anyone who cares about kids.
If you want to kick it up a notch, if you have a pretty good
background and are comfortable with a more scholarly, jargon filled,
research based discourse you'll go for Unequal By Design: High Stakes
Testing and the Standardization of Inequity. This multidisciolinary
approach starts out with history (Did you know that today's
standardized tests originated in the eugenics movement over 100 years
ago?) and adds perspectives from economics, education, politics, and
other fields. The strands weave together seamlessly to support Au's
conclusion. "Inequality is literally built into our systems of
testing, as the tests operate as a mechanism for the (re) production
of socioeconomic and educational inequality. High-stakes standardized
tests are simply unequal by design. This, I would argue, is the
hidden curriculum of high-stakes testing."
Angry yet?
On a personal note, a couple of days after I wrote this review I read
that the Walton family (of WalMart fame) is giving big bucks to
candidates who push for standardized testing, teacher union busting,
and privatization of schools. Why am I not surprised?
A great big shout out goes out to all who are working to get our
children the rich, multi faceted education that can't be measured by
standardized tests.
Julia Emily Hathaway

Sent from my iPod

1 comment:

  1. Hi Julie,
    Thanks so much for your kind words! It means a great deal to me that my work is influencing folks like you. I've been hearing similar things here in Seattle where the teachers are boycotting the MAP test. Thanks again! - Wayne Au