I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is, as a public school employee and practicing school psychologist, to have federal legislation written that continues to allow our students to be assessed by an unproven and invalid standardized test process and also enables the charter school industry to take funds allocated for public school students and divert them to their own private business interests.
I object to the testing mandate on many levels.
I can assure you that our elementary school students are tested three times a year on standardized measures in both reading and math as mandated by state legislation; in addition, they are also required in grades 3 through 8 and again in 11th to sit through 7-to-10 hours of further redundant testing in the same subject areas.
At least the testing that takes place three times a year — at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the school year — informs and drives instruction. The 7-to-10 hours of high-stakes Common Core-aligned testing has no other purpose than to serve as a town-by-town scorecard. It neither informs instruction of a student nor assists in planning educational interventions.
Unfortunately, the battle over Common Core-aligned testing has taken on a life of its own. It is strongly advocated by so-called reformers and the business interests that they support. At the same time, it remains highly controversial to professional teachers and educators who fully understand the dangers inherent in “teaching to a test” and also understand that there are multiple ways to evaluate what students are learning and that students are more than a test score.
When Connecticut first adopted the CMT/CAPT as standardized means for monitoring student progress, it was administered to students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 and special education students with individual education plans could be opted out by decision of the school’s planning and placement team. This saved these vulnerable learners from the frustration and torment of a test beyond their already carefully-monitored skill levels.
Of course, this more reasoned approach ended with No Child Left Behind. Since NCLB, the pressure for test results has affected learning for students in all communities. Middle-to-high-performing school districts could absorb the intrusion caused by testing more readily than low-performing districts.
These low-performing districts then proceeded to narrow the curriculum and over-emphasize “teach-to-the-test” methodologies in order to prove their effectiveness, even though such strategies were unlikely to motivate their students to learn for the joy of learning.
As a result, more students in low-performing districts were driven away from learning and sadly many discontinued their education well before graduation. As Thomas Scarice, the out-spoken superintendent of the Madison (CT) Public Schools, has repeatedly stated: “We’ve wed ourselves to a high-stakes testing model for well over a decade, and it’s shown to corrode education rather than improve it.”
I also strongly object to the federal government’s continued willingness to provide private businesses access to scarce tax-dollars to fund charter schools that are then allowed to flaunt the rules and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow.
The track record of charter schools in our state and across the nation reflects a highly contentious image that borders on, at worst, criminality and at best questionable practices, many of which would never be allowed in traditional public schools. The supporters of charter schools have been allowed to prey on parents who are seeking clean, safe, well-supplied facilities and are willing to accept strict disciplinary practices that emphasize military-style punishments while blindly putting their trust in an unsubstantiated promise of future results.
It is unconscionable that states, like ours, are allowed to underfund their local school districts annually while somehow investing significant financial resources into the coffers of private enterprise that will suspend students for numerous, sometimes quite minor, behavioral infractions and may shut their doors suddenly on students when no longer profitable.
I understand that wealthy benefactors and major donors to all political campaigns have supported a “cottage” industry of think tanks, lobbyists, and high-profile media figures posing as experts, but it is the obligation of our U.S. senators to see through this self-serving charade and work to amend and pass federal legislation that will support the majority of public school children and their families.
Many of my colleagues and I have written to alert our two senators of the continued dangers embedded in this re-authorization bill. I also understand that the art of passing legislation involves compromise, but simply replacing one flawed law with one that is similarly flawed is UNACCEPTABLE.
In the current legislative climate, it is too risky to pass laws that fail to address the “core” issues impacting the inequitable distribution of educational opportunities across our state and nation. Having thought considerably about the trade-offs involved in the Every Child Achieves Act as recently passed through the Senate HELP subcommittee, the cons continue to out-weigh the pros enabling edu-profiteers unfettered access to a market that should remain within the public trust.
I can only hope that our Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy will hear the voices of teachers who work directly with children in our classrooms and to those who advocate for our public school students.
Please consider carefully, the insidious role that reform lobbyists, misguided philanthropists, and self-serving business interests have had in shaping and destroying one of our most revered bedrock institutions: the American public school system.
John R. Bestor, a longtime school psychologist, is a Sandy Hook resident.