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Opt Out Movement Getting Traction

March 30, 2014

Friday’s NYTimes featured an article that acknowledged that parents were starting to send up to the standardized test regimen… and not just parents in “...the world of affluent white parents and celebrated schools, where children are largely destined to succeed.” As the article accurately notes, we have a two class system in public education: one that prepares students for test and one that embodies the principles of progressive education, and

… progressive education — with its excited learners immersed for months in astronomy or medievalism or Picasso — (is only in) the province of those able to send their children to some of the best private schools, or with the means to live in places with leading public schools.

Progressive minded educators who value equitable opportunities for all learners find it appalling that children raised in poverty are herded into schools where test-preparation is the sole emphasis. Children raised in poverty attend underfunded schools have often eliminated programs like art, music, and PE and de-emphasized untested areas like social studies and science. Moreover, the parents of children raised in poverty are often not as engaged as parents “with the means to live in places with leading public schools”, NOT because they care less about their children’s education, but because they are working hard to eke out a living. or, in some cases, coping with stressful health problems like addiction and mental health issues. The profiteers look at the “marketplace” of public education and see that imposing change is easiest in an environment where pushback will be limited… and so they have aggressively introduced for-profit schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where they know parents are relatively disengaged in the life of the school. MAYBE the over testing imposed by NYS and RTTT will make it clear to these parents that their children are being denied the same opportunities as children in affluent “leading public schools”.

The article concluded with a paragraph describing State Commissioner John King’s thoughts about the testing issue:

Even the tests’ vocal advocates cannot entirely embrace the kind of instructional sentiment the exams have unleashed. In a recent letter to school superintendents, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, discouraged administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on the tests. Speaking by telephone last week, Dr. King told me, “I worry that there’s a pedagogical mistake made in believing that if there’s more test prep, students will do better on the test.” In those fears, he hardly stands alone.

This paragraph prompted me to enter the following comment:

Sorry… but Dr. King’s letter discouraging “…administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on tests” flies in the face of his assertion (and Duncan and Obama’s assertions) that teacher’s performance evaluations MUST be based on standardized tests. if Dr. King wanted NYS teachers to avoid teaching to the test he should firmly oppose the federal mandate that standardized test results be used to measure teacher performance… and if he believes teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching test prep he should compare notes with Common Core author and ETS Chair David Coleman who is changing the SAT because of concerns he had that the test prep industry was improving student performance by prepping students for the test. “Reformers” like Dr. King and David Coleman advocate standardized tests to lend credence to the bogus charge that US schools are failing which, in turn, provides cover for the privatization of public schools.

Put another way: what teacher WOULDN’T try to teach-to-the-test if their public evaluation was based on how their students did on the test? You can’t administer “high stakes” tests and then complain that teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching to that test. The best way to handle this is to give formative and summative testing back to the teachers and give more support to the children raised in poverty whose performance-as-measured-by-whatever-test will persistently be lower than children whose parents “have the means to live in places with leading public schools.”

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