In a series of guest posts last week on
Rick Hess’ Education Week blog, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia attacked standardized testing and standards-based accountability with “
exaggeration and misinformation.” Look, we can disagree on policy points, but over-the-top and misleading rhetoric (“No Child Left Untested,” “Testing Industrial Complex,” “high test scores are the purpose of education”) should not go unchecked—especially when it comes from the leader of the nation’s largest teachers union. We’ve red-penned just a few examples below. On
Monday, she started by applying a revisionist history to No Child Left Behind (NCLB):
We’ve suffered under the factory model of school reform for the past dozen years under No Child Left Untested. The pillars are simple enough.
Privatize (vouchers, franchise charters);
De-professionalize (fast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor designed to churn in and out with paychecks low and no pension to worry about);
Standardize (scripted texts, homogenized lessons, pacing guides to require each teacher to be on the same page on the same day);
and above all else: Hit your number. Motivate staff, students, and systems with carrots and sticks, with the goal wrapped around a quota of kids hitting a cut score.
Standardized tests are the measure of basic progress.
Standardized tests decide if a child is succeeding. Standardized tests decide if a teacher is effective. Standardized tests decide if a school should be closed down.
It is a classic industrial model.
Tuesday, she followed up with an attack on standardized testing:
I always find it ironic if not a little silly when
someone (especially someone who's never taught actual children) suggests that the answer to every question regarding improving American education is to offer prizes or punishments based onstandardizedtest scores.
The rationale behind such misguided "motivators" is often a panicked "Our kids aren't prepared for their global competition!" Put aside for a moment the fact that this statement may or may not be true;
the premise is that (1) prizes and punishments will produce higher test scores, (2) higher test scores will prepare U.S. students to compete globally, and (3) high test scores are the purpose of education.
Wednesday, she stopped short of fully endorsing opt-out, instead continuing her call for an end to annual standardized testing:
On the federal level and in many states, there are
inappropriate tests required of children with special needs, disabilities, and language issues.
There are perfectly appropriate tests that are used for absolutely inappropriate measures, like judging whether a school can be determined to have made "adequate yearly progress." Progress toward what is usually left unsaid, but it is, by law, adequate yearly progress toward having 100% of the students in the school hit an
arbitrary cut score that someone in some level of bureaucratic authority determined is "proficient" in reading and in math.
If one student misses that cut score by one point on either test in any grade level, the
school has officially failed, which is, of course, absurd.
The pressure placed on students can be enormous.… In Oklahoma, without any help from the federal government, the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if he or she missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point. They
tooktheprofessionaljudgmentaway from third grade teachers who knew the names of their students and whether they could read or were prepared to succeed in fourth grade.
Let’s take a moment on that last point. It’s unclear if Eskelsen-Garcia is misinformed or is intentionally misconstruing facts with her tear-jerking illustration of out-of-control punitive testing. Fortunately, Oklahoma’s State Department of Education has the
applicable laws and rules for the 2014-15 school year posted on its website, and it turns out the state’s third-grade teachers can keep their professional judgment intact. Student promotion can actually be determined by a number of factors, including the use of a student portfolio or a “good-cause” exemption. On
Thursday, she wrapped up her series by shining a light on a Montana Title I school that isn’t “driven by standardized testing.” Except that they do take standardized tests. And their scores are good.
Ok, before you ask,
the test scores of these children are actually pretty good. But not because the district is obsessed with test and punish regimens, and not because the teachers are forced to use scripted commercial programs. When you focus on the whole child, all kinds of indicators go up! These amazing professionals know that you don't sacrifice the child to hit the cut score.
An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include “Cage-Busting Leadership,” “Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age,” “The Same Thing Over and Over,” “Education Unbound,” “Common Sense School Reform,” “Revolution at the Margins,” and “Spinning Wheels.” He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog,