End Teach to the Test: Bad for Students and Their Teachers — the Latest Condemnation from the American Federation of Teachers

Is there a light at the end of the teach-to-the-test tunnel? A quirky pineapple that grabbed news headlines in the spring of 2012 may have marked a turning point in how much stock is given to a standardized test’s ability to accurately measure what children know.

First, flickering sparks of discontent flashed up from parents of special ed children having to do with the tests themselves. This has been a longstanding issue in this community even when tests were low-stakes. When No Child Left Behind was first implemented in 2003, special education parents grew sensitive to the inability of many public schools to accommodate a child’s need for more time given the structure of standardized tests, or otherwise ease the challenges of a special ed child’s ability to take several days’ worth of tests, whether the disability is cognitive or physical.

Fast forward to 2012, and almost a decade of damage later. In the past year, parents and educators around the country have raised their voices and kept their children from participating in standardized tests. Several grassroots groups, such as UnitedOptOutNational, FairTest’s National Resolution on Fair Testing, and The Bartleby Project, actively urge parents to exercise their legal right to prevent their children from taking standardized tests.

Teachers themselves swallowed a lot of rage as they saw their names and professional reputations ranked in the Los Angeles Times starting in 2010 based on statistical tweaking of student standardized test scores for the previous year. “Value-added measurement” — or more accurately, “stack ranking” — pits teachers against each other in a hierarchy using student test scores. As this failed method of evaluating workers borrowed from corporate culture spread around the country to more states, more teachers endured the pressure of being measured by a child’s work on a single test.

In NY state, school principals began to push back on shallow measures of teachers’ work that fails to account for how teachers actually work: collaboratively and in teams, with constant feedback from colleagues. Soon, over 1400 public school principals in the state signed a letter stating that up to 40% of a teacher’s evaluation should NOT rely on a student’s standardized test score when there are errors in the tests or answers, the material has not been taught yet, multiple correct answers existed when only one was offered, and no accommodation for the varying levels of ability or access was made for special ed children. These principals are education professionals charged with running a school who are also the main arbiter of excellent teaching at the schools they lead. They’re saying that student test scores used to sort teachers does not actually tell you about the quality of their teaching, nor does it carry the authority of a principal’s day-to-day observation of and interaction with a teacher about her work.

Over 400 school districts in the state of Texas have now passed resolutions against standardized testing, citing inaccurate/low quality tests, tests that involve more than 45 days of school out of 180 to prepare for, and tests that narrow the curriculum as assessments that diminish quality education and yield reams of “data” but no useful information that helps students improve. An indication of what’s in a sample letter:

And now school districts, one by one, are passing a resolution that says an “over reliance” on standardized high stakes testing is “strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage.”

From a civil rights/liberties standpoint, the ACLU has previously initiated lawsuits in Rhode Island and California to oppose the use of standardized tests when used to deny children graduation or advancement to the next grade level.  They argue that standardized high-stakes tests are in effect ways that English language learners, low-income, learning disabled or special education students are disproportionately denied graduation or their diplomas. Moreover, in Rhode Island, the ACLU supported legislation that, if passed, would end the use of high-stakes tests to fail or deny children their educations, and guarantee that state tests

would only be used for their original intended purpose: to identify schools, school districts and individual students who are struggling in order to provide them with the supports and interventions necessary for high achievement.

The Association of Federated Teachers (AFT) has also come out strongly with a petition open to all signers taking an official stand against high-stakes testing.

At the AFT’s annual convention this weekend, the entire membership unanimously adopted the executive council’s resolution to end high-stakes tests whose results are used to label kids and their teachers “failures” based on manipulative statistics, thus distorting the true picture of student learning. President of AFT Randi Weingarten said: “We need to re-balance this so that teaching is the center of education, not testing.”

This broad-based movement only grows; after the 2012 elections expect it to gain even more momentum regardless of who occupies the White House.

I'm Cynthia Liu, Owner/Founder of K12 News Network. I'm the proud product of public schools through post-grad, the mom of a child in public schools, and the daughter of two teachers. Connect with me professionally on LinkedIn.

1 Comment

  1. Jeanette Toomer - August 1, 2012, 8:09 am

    This is a well-documented article with evidence-based arguments against a wholesale acceptance of high stakes standardized testing.

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