Let Them Eat Tests

Every once in a while, someone does us a favor and says explicitly what we’ve been suspecting they believed or intended all along. Sometimes it has to be captured by a mole, like Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment. Sometimes people say it loud and proud because, apparently, they don’t understand just how awful it makes them sound.

That was the case for NYS Regent Meryl Tisch’s suggestion that “high performing” schools be exempted from the high-stakes testing regime that is currently being forced on the school children of the state.

Let’s break this down. These tests are supposedly the be all and end all of determining whether kids are “college and career ready” and teachers are “adding value” to their education (never mind that they aren’t, at all, but that’s the supposed line about them). But if a school district has been doing well so far, in terms of graduation rates and “college readiness,” she thinks they should be allowed to evaluate their teachers however they want to. In fact she even said that the new evaluation system might be preventing those schools from removing weak teachers.

So… A high performing district can come up with better ways to evaluate learning. This system might in fact prevent them form evaluating their teachers properly. Those districts feel that jumping through these bureaucratic hoops is a waste of energy and they have “reform fatigue.”

Hmmmm. And where exactly does it say that those things aren’t true for other school districts too?

You think that schools that are already working with high levels of poverty and high numbers of English language learners aren’t burnt out by this additional evaluation mandate? You think the students who struggle most with these tests don’t experience as much or more stress going through them? You think that a teacher in these districts doesn’t have as much or more of his/her talents and time devoted to crucial work that doesn’t show up immediately in a testing “growth score”?

If, as Tisch suggests, the struggling districts deserve to receive the lion’s share of state attention and resources (actually a pretty great idea! Perhaps the state should stop fighting the equitable funding lawsuit and do that!), perhaps, just maybe, those resources should not go to proving, yet again, that poverty and test scores tend to move in lock step and instead should go into allowing them to implement actual measures that can compensate for the effects of poverty and help all kids get through their education safe and sound, literate and numerate, and interested in continuing to learn?

After all, if you figure you can assume that high scores will continue if you don’t change things, then maybe you can figure low scores will too. Perhaps we could skip directly to the changing things part—for the better, rather than for the worse. There’s so much that the energy and resources that’s now flowing into test prep and Pearson’s coffers could be providing instead. Not to mention, of course, putting that much energy into reducing our unconscionably high levels of poverty in the first place.

Gov. Cuomo did not agree with Tisch’s suggestion—perhaps it was clear to him that would be admitting too much about the problems with his pet reform plan. Or it would be a little too blatant of a move to try to take the wind out of the sails of the test refusal movement, which is gaining impressive momentum and shows no signs of letting up. But nonetheless, his plan to target districts with low test scores for privatization with no accounting for the differences in socioeconomic characteristics or funding disparities (not to mention no proof that private operators can or would do better), is really cut from the same cloth.

And so, I have the same suggestion I had in my last column—every single family should refuse to allow their children to take these tests. Without the data, their plan falls apart. Visit www.nysape.org for information about what to do—they start next Tuesday, April 14th.

(This column was originally published in Metroland, the Capital Region of New York’s former alt-weekly, on April 9, 2015.)

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