The “data” and the research are widely known and has been published and discussed about the damaging effects of standardized testing to curriculum and learning. It hasn’t changed policy makers’ views on requiring these tests one iota because they are getting big money from the companies who are profiting off of this garbage. In fact, look around you, it is increasing and the stakes are higher because in many states like mine, teacher pay is tied to those scores. For ten years everyone, including teachers, has sat back and done nothing… as the big testing machine has taken over. It’s time for parents, because obviously teachers are afraid of losing their jobs… Third week of school here in Florida and already the kids were taking practice BATS tests for four days! What are they? Predictors of how they will do on FCAT… At some point you must fight back.
(Teacher B cited in Huffington Post blog by Tim Slekar)
What would we think if a medical center like Johns Hopkins were required by a pharmaceutical company (backed by legislation paired with a corporate agenda) to dispense a drug which the doctors of that medical facility knew, based on research, proved detrimental to the health of their patients? What would we think if they remained silent, if their refusal to comply meant they would risk losing sorely needed funding (provided by that pharmaceutical company) and possibly their medical license to practice? There is an oath that all doctors must take in order to receive their license: First Do No Harm. But what if, in order to keep their practice they were forced to break that oath?
We, in higher education, dedicated to the profession of teacher education, have a similar oath: First to do no harm to the population we have been dedicated to serving-children. Many of us contend that Race to the Top (RtTT) is equally backed by legislation promoted by a corporate agenda. Why? Because among other reasons and evidence, the research and experience of even our most esteemed internationally recognized colleagues (Jonothan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Deborah Meier, and Pedro Noguera just to name a few) has been disregarded in favor of policies designed by politicians and corporations. If we are seeking a model based on “hard” data why do we disregard the data that has been out there for decades now that proves: that poverty has the greatest impact on school performance, that smaller class sizes improve learning, and that high stakes testing leads to inordinate amounts of anxiety and illnesses, while coercing teachers into discarding developmentally appropriate activities in favor of test preparation?
Yet none of these factors is given the due consideration they demand in a genuine effort to improve learning for all children.
We realize that our universities are now between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We realize that choices we make may have dire consequences. But that fact right there should be the first sign that something is terribly wrong. If the RtTT policies literally being forced upon us were in fact morally, ethically or pedagogically sound, why would have to be forced into compliance? Wouldn’t we all be lining up at the door to be actively involved? Instead we moan, sigh, grumble, and shake our heads. Because we know, consciously or not, that these efforts at policy reform are wrong. They are wrong for children and they are wrong for our professional field. “What else can we do?” cannot be the ethical or professional codes by which we engage in our chosen field. Among the many other deleterious effects of high stakes (the corner stone of RtTT) I will outline the two areas which affect us most directly.
First- the damage to our professional field. Taking a broader look at the potential effects of this policy we anticipate with informed vision that the following events will happen:
We know that poverty plays a huge role in student achievement. As RtTT policy that is soon going to require our interns/student teachers in many states to demonstrate student achievement in order to graduate takes effect we will have even fewer interns willing to intern in low performing schools and areas of high need. The schools were our students need the most experience, and the classrooms that demand the most attention will become more vacant. Our Professional Development School placements (schools sites for student teachers) will follow suit with the profession itself. Highly qualified and good teachers who avoid these classrooms (for fear of losing their jobs because they are now tied to at least 50% of their students performance on a test) being replaced by Teach for America graduates will also soon replace our interns.
As online state department professional development classes take hold, opportunities for university faculty to provide quality and meaningful professional development will languish.
As we become increasingly required to teach to the Common Core for all our classes, any other creative or diverse knowledge(s) about pedagogy will be eliminated in favor of a one-size –fits-all model for teaching. The message is that the folks at state departments alone (with help from Michelle Rhee’s brain child The New Teacher Project whose framework is being used a model for state policies) know more about “good teaching” than the volume of knowledgeable professors with PhD’s, solid research, and decades of classroom experience. We too will become obsolete. We only need to be delivery boys to pass along state mandated and scripted instruction-not thoughtful and critically minded people with doctorates.
Good teaching models like differentiation and Universal Design for Learning will be reduced to sound bites. Legislation passed in states like Ohio require that 50% of a teachers performance be evaluated on a “value added” test score, while a mere 20% be weighed by “other learning measures, such as progress toward Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals, district-wide or teacher-generated assessments, and end-of-course tests. The creative and diverse approaches needed to reach ALL children will be replaced by models and methods which teach those students with the greatest needs how to take the test. If students can’t show it on the test it does not matter, so teachers will make sure they can complete tasks using the uniform exact method of question and answer format by which the test will be administered. According to NCTM president Henry (Hank) Kepner (2008-10) during his term (in a guest editorial for the 4/26/2010 NSTA Reports, A Math Perspective on the Common Core Standards Initiative) states:
“The Common State Standards Initiative builds on a current public acceptance of a lockstep standards/curriculum at each grade level. While compelling politically, the result will minimize curricular innovations and sequencing that have been a positive influence in building varied curricula in this country. If this set of standards is widely adopted, it is likely each grade, K–8, will have the same content focus and outcomes. This national approach does not address the responsibilities of dealing with student diversity.”
And what about the clients we are dedicated to serving?
Current NCTE PresidentYvonne Siu-Runyan has said (March 25, 2011)
“There is simply too much testing. Money spent on testing, testing, testing can be diverted to what truly supports learning. How about a moratorium on testing? Has anyone considered this? And follow the money. Guess who are getting rich from all this testing craze?”
As RtTT and its parallel policy to require the National Core Curriculum continue to emphasize testing instead of quality teaching and learning we must concede that were complicit in perpetuating the following destructive outcomes on the same population we are committing to helping. High stakes testing has been proven (in volumes of research) to:
Affect the social-emotional well-being of children- Our system of constant testing seems designed to produce anxiety and depression.
Kill curiosity and love of learning- High stakes testing actually limits and reduces the amount of QUALITY learning experiences. Rather than focusing on a child’s natural curiosity, HST emphasizes (and drills in) isolated facts limiting teacher’s ability to create environments that stimulate a child’s imagination. According to Gopnik:
“Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? … While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.”
Actually reduce a child’s capacity for attaining new knowledge- If children cannot actively make connections between different topics of study, they don’t remember what they learn from day to day. Most standardized tests are still based on the recall of isolated facts and narrow skills.
Replace higher order thinking with skill/drill/and kill approaches–Most tests include many topics that are not important, while many important areas are not included on standardized tests because they cannot be measured by such tests. Teaching to the test does not produce real and sustained gains on independent learning measures.
While teachers and now even university professors are becoming fearful about speaking out against this top down legislation that now has everyone in its stranglehold, and universities and public schools alike are held hostage by funding and certification, we must remember the most fundamental principal of our profession: First, do no harm …to children. As Herb Hough (in an email correspondence) so aptly put it:
In regard to “Fewer, Clearer, and Higher Standards,” how about just this one for chief state schoolofficers: Do not engage in any action that will tend to adversely affect a student’s love of learning. I see this as at least as important as all the standards directed at students.”
As a field of study and colleges of education across the nation we are faced with two inconceivable choices. The message everywhere from state boards of education and legislators is “Get on board the train or get left behind.” So, either we resist now and refuse to comply or we comply and cast our moral compass aside for our own survival. Even if we comply, make no mistake-these policies, in addition to doing damage to an entire generation of children, and destroying public education, will make our profession obsolete as well . I envision a train destined for some metaphorical labor camp. While this analogy may seem extreme and perhaps (understandably) offensive, and I acknowledge that education reform policy, no matter how bad, can possibly be the equivalent to the history of genocide committed across the world in labor camps now or in the past, the parallel is still clear: Get on board to perform forced labor under the threat of punishment. And when you’re done we will eliminate you. And the work we are required to do is to commit harm to the democratic rights and meaningful educational experiences of public school children. We will do the dirty work for them.
Me? I think I will miss this train.
But don’t worry-I will still be waiting here to clean up the mess with millions of other educators dedicated to real democratic and socially just educational change, when it’s all over. So I ask of teacher’s educators everywhere: Don’t get on the crazy train. This is going to end badly.