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Testing Tipping Point?

February 8, 2013

OVer the past several days I have read several articles suggesting we have reached a tipping point in testing. A Smartblog post by Sam Chaltain had links to several articles describing nascent grassroots anti-testing sentiments that are emanating from atypical sources, including:

  • Washington Post article describing Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr’s movement to declare a three year test moratorium. That article concluded with this quote: 

Asked what he would do if he had the power to make one change to improve teaching, he said he would find more time for teachers to collaborate with each other. And he said that all of the emphasis on innovation in the classroom is well and good, but it doesn’t address the fact that 22 percent of the country’s children live in poverty and that the effects of that affect student achievement.

“Health care reform is the best education reform we’ve had in this country,” he said.

  • A blogpost describing the movement in Seattle, Washington to sit out this year’s mandated tests, an issue covered in earlier blog posts.
  • And… the most astonishing development… a news account from Texas where a Republican legislator introduced legislation to reduce the number of tests a student must pass in order to graduate. The reason for this proposed new law? The momentum for reform comes as more than 800 Texas school boards in the state have passed resolutions condemning the role of high stakes tests in public education amid outcry from parents and confusion from school districts as the state transitioned to a new assessment system this spring.

The Texas story is the biggest… because Texas is where the testing madness started and, after two decades of testing that has yielded no improvements whatsoever, the pro-testing Commissioner has decided high stakes testing is not the way to go. As reported in an article in My San Antonio that was reached through Diane Ravitch’s blog:

(The outgoing Commissioner stated): “The assessment and accountability regime has become not only a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex.”

He got that right. Texas’s current 5-year contract with testing giant Pearson to develop and analyze our tests is worth nearly half a billion dollars. They have six lobbyists in Austin to keep the funds flowing.

Yet when the Legislature a few years ago said it wanted the tests to tell us not only how students were doing, but how much they improved from the previous year, Pearson was unable to do so. Instead, they came up with a scheme, called the Texas Projection Measure, that was so convoluted that students could get zero on some tests and still be counted as passing.

The Projection Measure was so silly that it was killed — after some school districts awarded bonuses based on its badly flawed projections.

So… you have a number of county school districts in Maryland, a number of large high schools in Washington State, and 800 school boards in Texas decrying the test mania that is sweeping the country. But, as Chaltain points out in his blog post:

To convert their opponents from hostility to acceptance, educators will need to clarify more than what they’re against; they’ll also need to propose specific and realistic alternatives. Josh Starr is off to a good start: he proposes creating assessments for Common Core-aligned curriculum by crowdsourcing their development and letting teachers design them — rather than the private companies. And the good news is there are other big ideas out there, and other places where effective alternatives to standardized testing already exist.

Have we reached the Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell described in his book of the same name? If not…. we are getting very close… and if a few more states, county boards, local boards, and schools get on board… and if more parents opt out of the tests this year… and a group of educators come up with a better method of measuring schools, students, and teachers… MAYBE, just MAYBE minds can be changed in Washington… because THAT’S where the problem began in 2001 and that’s where it can end in 2013.


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