Op-Ed: Educational accountability — Is the tide turning against testing mania?
A term we often hear from corporate education reformers and politicians is “accountability.” Test scores are now considered the way to improve teaching and public education in the country.
No longer is teaching considered a profession. From the perspective of corporate reformers, test scores determine whether teachers are successful.
Public schools throughout the nation today are up to their eyeballs in standardized high-stakes tests which are being used for closing schools and evaluating teacher effectiveness as well as determining student progress.
It appears as though the corporate education reformers want to quantify everything in education today. Unfortunately, the concept of empowering teachers cannot be found as a component of implementing the Common Core standards as they usher in yet another new wave of testing for Connecticut public schools.
We find in many school districts that parents are forming opposition groups to the testing mania as well as having their children opt-out of high-stakes tests. The Vermont State Board of Education has recently issued a statement that it will not allow the federal government to bully its children.
Little do the corporate reformers realize that there is a silent army of teachers, parents and concerned citizens waiting to be awakened. Likewise, Connecticut politicians are beginning to wake up to the power of grassroots activism throughout the state.
The new national education policy of accountability no longer allows for teacher autonomy, which appears to have become a thing of the past. The corporate reformers have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent teachers from determining what is appropriate content for their students. They are seeking a robotic kind of teaching in which teaching to the test is of primary importance.
Moreover, using test scores as the centerpiece of education progress has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum.
Diane Ravitch, author of the best selling book, “Reign of Error,” believes that “testing is taking out the joy of teaching. It is sucking the oxygen out of the nation’s classroom.”
Ravitch envisions a different kind of public education system and asks, “Imagine schools where children were tested every three or four years, at transition points, as in the world’s top performing nations. Imagine schools where teachers wrote their own tests and used their professional judgment.”
What is most insidious about the Common Core test is that many schools and classroom teachers do not receive the results until after their students have left, which is of no value to them for reteaching purposes. For example, in many school districts in New York State, the Common Core tests were given in April, scored in May and the results issued in August.
If teachers are unable to know which questions on the tests their students got right or wrong, what value is the test? This is another glaring example of how the reformers advocating for Common Core tests are really only interested in ranking students, schools, and in evaluating teachers.
There should be a requirement for all corporate reformers to take a course in testing and measurements in order to learn how standardized tests should be used to enhance the learning process of students.
But the tide may be turning for the high-stakes testing movement as evidenced by the recent election in Massachusetts where Barbara Madeloni has been elected president of the state’s teacher union, campaigning on the premise of abolishing reliance on standardized tests.
Madeloni lambasts the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards adopted by Massachusetts in 2010, as “corporate deform.” She describes the architects of Common Core as “rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.”
Similar to Connecticut, Massachusetts has not closed the achievement gap for African American and Hispanic students. According to Madeloni, what standardized tests best do is to “identify the socioeconomic status of the student who took it.”
Moreover, Madeloni, believes poor performance on tests has “left under-performing students ashamed and embarrassed and high-ranking students anxious to stay on top, creating a caste system.”
A strong advocate of teachers, Madeloni asks, “why are teachers so mistrusted? And why are teachers, with their content and pedagogical knowledge, not given a greater voice in the classroom?”
The George W.Bush administration, followed by the Obama administration, by the year of 2016 will have waged 16 years of war on teachers because it was cheaper than waging a war on poverty. The corporate education reform policies of both administrations have had an agenda for nearly two decades of accountability and testing — with dismal results.
If Hillary Clinton wins the upcoming presidential election, will we have an additional four years of corporate reform education policies. Or will she appoint an educator to the cabinet position of Secretary of Education who will be an advocate for teachers and public schools and someone who is opposed to the high-stakes testing mania?
Public school teachers can only hope and imagine.
Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D., is a retired educator from Fairfield.
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