The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Businesswoman shouting through the megaphone in the open air.

 

Everybody wants to fight the good fight.

 

Until the battle begins.

 

Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before.

 

To paraphrase Thomas Paine:

 

 

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman.

 

I see this almost every day in our schools.

 

Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face.

 

They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore.

 

The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy.

 

To which I say – Amen, Sister!

 

Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest.

 

Two conflicts of interest, actually.

 

First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell.

 

Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools.

 

So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks.

 

But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.

 

What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today.

 

Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests.

 

We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment.

 

I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight.

 

But I find myself standing there alone.

 

“You can’t do that,” I say.

 

“It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.

 

(Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.)

 

Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote:

 

If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…”

 

Or how about subsection (d) (3):

 

“School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians [have]… (3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.” (Emphasis mine)

 

In other words, parents have a right to excuse their children from the tests and/or instruction such as test look-a-likes.

 

If we go forward with requiring students who are opted out to take tests that are just like the ones their parents instructed us NOT to give, we will be violating parents’ rights under state law.”

 

That seems pretty airtight to me.

 

But the administrator disagrees.

 

And I look around at the assembled mass of workaday teachers for support.

 

Not a peep.

 

Instead I get this:

 

-We’re being evaluated on these standardized tests, we have to make sure kids take them seriously.

 

-I see where you’re coming from but we have to do something about these kids who are opting out just to get out of doing the work. They don’t have any real intellectual objection. They’re just lazy.

 

-We’ve got to do something about grade inflation.

 

Oh. Em. Gee.

 

Yet after the meeting, some of them cautiously walk up to me asking my opinion of what went down.

 

YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR MY OPINION RIGHT NOW!

 

Take my word for it.

 

Tomorrow or the next day or the next week, they’ll be complaining again.

 

I’ve seen some of these people reduced to tears by administrators unfairly manipulating them based on their students’ test scores.

 

Yet none of them have the guts to stand up and be counted when the moment comes.

 

I say again – everyone wants to fight. But no one wants to do the fighting.

 

They want someone else to do it for them.

 

Does that make you angry?

 

It makes me furious.

 

But if you feel that way, you’ve got to do something about it.

 

You think teachers are too cowardly? What have YOU done to fight corporate education reform today?

 

You think too many administrators are quislings. You think the lawmakers are bought and sold. You think the public schools are under attack.

 

Well, get off your ass and do something.

 

I am tired of being the lone voice of dissent here.

 

All across the country there are people like me – people willing to stand up and fight.

 

But it’s a big country, and we’re usually spread pretty thin.

 

We need people willing to put their money where their mouths are – right here, in our hometowns.

 

Put up or shut up, America.

 

Do you want a school system that serves the needs of children?

 

You’ve got to make it happen.

 

I can’t do this all by myself.

27 thoughts on “The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

  1. “My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.”

    This might help explain why. There are 16.5 million wartime military veterans alive today that have fought in one or more of the many US wars and that includes World War II (1.02 million left) There is another 9.6 million that served in peacetime when we were not at war.

    About 5.15 percent of the population had the courage to join the military during wartime

    But to be fair, even during the Revolutionary War against the British Empire the Continental Army’s size was about 100,000 out of 2.5 million colonists. That was 4 percent of the total.

    Does that mean 5 percent or less of a total population are wolves and the rest are sheep that might have a loud bark but fall mute when a boss can hear them? Do those sheep fear their own shadows?

    I’m sure that all of the 95 percent are not sheep. There must be a few warriors among them who, for whatever reason, never joined up and marched off to war but who still have the courage and heart of a warrior.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh for pity’s sake. Maybe joining the military is not about courage. Maybe most of us just don’t want to get our backsides blown off for a meaningless war to protect corporate interests.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are missing a vital point. Many of the recruits that joined were not aware of these corporate wars and who profits from the wars. Many actually joined out of high school thinking they were going to be defending their country against its enemies while others, just as oblivious of the reality of the profit-generating corporate war machine, joined for other reasons but not to fight for a corporation so some CEO and its top shareholders could increase their profits.

        It is a fact that many Americans are not aware of all the facts because many of them do not pay much attention to politics and what is going on, and that is worse today than when I joined the Marines out of high school in 1965.

        “The Making of an American Soldier: Why Young People Join the Military George Bush likes to say it’s because they’re patriots, but the truth may have more to do with financial need and recruiters targeting those with limited economic options.”

        https://www.alternet.org/story/52233/the_making_of_an_american_soldier%3A_why_young_people_join_the_military

        That is the reason I joined the Marines out of high school because of those “limited ecnomic options” and it didn’t take long to discover that most of the other recruits out of high school joined for the same reason.

        “The conservative (and other idiots) claim that most youth enlist due to patriotism and the desire to “serve one’s country” is misleading. The Pentagon’s own surveys show that something vague and abstract called “duty to country” motivates only a portion of enlistees.

        “The vast majority of young people wind up in the military for different reasons, ranging from economic pressure to the desire to escape a dead-end situation at home to the promise of citizenship.”

        The more education one has while young, the less chance that individual will join especially when they come from a more affluent family and enviornment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, Lloyd, I’m not missing anything. You’re the one who said, and I quote, “About 5.15 percent of the population had the **courage** to join the military during wartime.” [Emphasis added] All I’m doing is pointing out how offensive it is to assume that joining the military during wartime has anything to do with courage, considering the stupid, evil, senseless wars the U.S. has gotten involved in in the last 50+ years.

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      • I stand by that number and my comment that it takes courage to join the military, especially during a war. While socioeconomics is a factor, the courage it takes to risk your life for your country no matter what the facts are behind why the U.S. is at war more than it is at peace is a larger factor.

        The U.S. has been at war for so long and there have been so many films and books about the damage caused by war, few if any of those recruits are joining blind. And the more educated an American is, the higher the odds that they will not join, because they don’t want to risk being killed, losing body parts and ending up with PTSD that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

        And how many people that never servicd do all they can to avoid joining and are as cowardly as Donald Trump and G. W. Bush?

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  2. I hear you. I find it difficult to sit in endless meetings with colleagues pretending that the data generated by the standardized test mean anything. It is so strange to be forced to make so many decisions and build curriculum based on data that is in no way valid. I always speak up; am shut down and spend the time looking around trying to figure out how to generate enough cognitive dissonance to continue to do my job.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How do teachers, who may not have the social power and privilege equal of higher class individuals/systems or to a white teacher still fight?

    Sent from Outlook for iOS ________________________________

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    • I hear you, ffsf. Everyone has a different situation, but teachers with a union and tenure are pretty much protected as much as any teacher can be. I do see how this could still be more precarious for teachers of color, but unfortunately my district has very few of them. It comes to a point where no matter who you are, not fighting is worse than going along.

      Like

    • I was a veteran teacher, but no one listened. I had proof about the ills of Common Core and standardized testing. Was it $$$ from the government that convinced administration to believe in this ridiculous idea of education? NCLB started it, let’s finish it with the end of Common Core! Let’s get back to real education.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “or to a white teacher” (and a male one at that)–That privilege did nothing for me as I fought against these malpractices since before the turn of the century. Race has nothing to do with any “privilege” for those of us who have challenged the standards and testing regime.

      Like

  4. Once again I blame my colleagues. Sorry, but truth hurts. No one wants to speak out, nor do they support one who does. I have been there, done that…yet I will continue to use my voice against standardized testing. So the test prepping begins. Students begin and end their days with workbooks or worksheets full of testing. Ambiguous questions trying to stump our children and cause much frustration. Easy Math questions they must show all work instead of using their mental abilities to solve. I continue after how many years…is it seven, to wonder why? Why do we continue to succumb students to this kind of teaching? I blame my colleagues. Sorry, no wait, I am not sorry. I realize THEY are the ones who can stand up to administration and say this is wrong. I am tired of hearing, “We took tests and we turned out fine.” End this saying. Tests are not the same. We had terrific writing tests. We had DBQ’s with REAL history. We had MATH where you could not sit and bubble in tests, but actually figured out for yourself an answer. More than that, we did NOT use computer testing where kids just pick any key or write without concern of indenting a paragraph, or using powerful words. So I ask my colleagues…do you love to teach…or do you like the paycheck and high evaluations? Yes, they meant something to me, but not anywhere near what I have been able to share with the love of learning with my students. BTW, how many students do you think you reached today? Or did you just fill their brains with nonsensical material?

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    • THANK YOU!!! I wish my children had a teacher like you. I REFUSE the tests, the SEL exercises, the CBL etc. Parents treat me like I wear a tin foil hat and teachers just brush me off. A few teachers give me the old song and dance of “Well….I need a job to put food on the table”. To do wrong and know it and go along like sheep to slaughter is just wrong. I’m tired of it. Next year my 2nd child will be going to private HS with no CC, no BS testing, no AP for all and with an emphasis on being a good citizen upon graduation. We will pay for this, but it will be so worth it. I would be willing to stand arm in arm with teachers if they decided to fight this madness, but this just isn’t going to happen in my children’s school years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some private schools are using Common Core, so be careful. Your child has the right to public education. A public education gives children diversity which is so badly needed to live in our world as well as a well rounded education. Sometimes the “hidden curriculum” needs to be guided through parents connecting with the schools and their child. Keep speaking out for your child’s education. Be his/her voice. Speak out and get others involved with your action.

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      • @ddermady…..No common core at this school and it has a somewhat diverse population. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much for a catholic school….and we are not catholic or even practicing christians. My child will have to take religion and I don’t mind that at all and he will have to do real community service (he plays ice hockey so it will likely be “hockey in the hood”). I believe in the idea of public education, but what we have now, and for the past 15-20 years is not what I would consider good public education. It’s a shame that we have to pay for something that we should be getting for our tax dollars. What we get in public school is teaching to the test all the time….sorry, but that’s not education….it’s curriculum in a can that the county mandates. I’m tired of the fight and I just want an easier 4 years of schooling.

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  5. Indeed that is usually true, and it is so in other things and situations in life also. Perhaps that is the way it has to be. For one reason or the other a small few will speak out, and they will sometimes take the brunt of the administrator’s displeasure if he or she gets angry. These people, though, the ones who speak out, are the soul of change and without them people would live with unlivable circumstances. Whether it is a Susan B. Anthony, Mandela, Rosa Parks, their voices speak for others who do not find the flint in their souls to speak out.
    Without them the society would be left to the control of the more selfish, greed driven and unprogressive type. While it must surely be challenging at times, for those who speak out, their not so outspoken brothers and sisters are watching, and taking note of where leadership is. They watch to see if the person is steadfast, caring and if they can put their trust in them.
    So, continue doing what your soul tells you. It is difficult, yes, but the others seem unable to vocalize what is in their hearts, and very likely appreciate that there is someone who does.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is what I hear, time and time again, from “yes” men and women: “Well . . . it is what it is.”

    I want to scream.

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  7. Steven,

    First things first: “Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics. . .”

    Well, no they don’t “accurately measure” anything. There is no measurement whatsoever involved at all in the standards and standardized testing regime. Are there correlations between SES and test scores? No doubt but a correlation is not a “measure”. In order to measure anything, one must use a standard unit of measurement for whatever characteristic one is measuring whether for length/height, weight or mass or volume.

    Please let me know when the edudeformer gods on high have declared their “standard unit of learning” as I certainly have not come across any in almost a quarter of a century of looking.

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  8. You are not alone, Steven. But you are correct to point out that the vast majority of teachers and almost all adminimals will not say a damn thing about the injustices that are occurring to the children in our care. I call them GAGA (Go Along to Get Along) Good Germans.

    No, I’m not calling them Nazis. Quite the contrary. For it was the everyday Good German who did his job (as they were trained to do through their schooling) who allowed the atrocities of the Nazi regime to flourish. Only about 12% of all Germans could have been considered Nazi or SS so the burden of guilt for that regime was on the backs of the rest of the Germans.

    The same now. How many hard-core edudeformers are there? TFA, Broadies, bought off by Gates and Walton, etc. . . . I can’t believe it’s much more than 10%. So where does the problem lie? On the backs of the everyday classroom teachers who don’t have the cojones to stand up to the standards and testing regime proponents. Cowardly twits all of them. And that’s being nice.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Am I alone in thinking that the single most important reason to oppose standardized testing is the fact that they corrupt schooling?

    Schooling’s overarching aim is improving learner ability to think clearly and productively. Thinking “clearly and productively” requires the use of myriad thought processes and combinations of thought processes too complicated to understand:

    abstracting
    analyzing
    applying
    categorizing
    classifying
    comparing
    computing
    contrasting
    correlating
    empathizing
    envisioning
    extrapolating
    generalizing
    hypothesizing
    inferring
    imagining
    integrating
    interpreting
    intuiting,..

    …just to start a list.

    Quantifiable (therefore measurable) thought processes:

    recalling
    applying

    Does this not go directly to the heart of the matter? Standardized testing corrupts the institution.

    Could we not agree on some version of this, put it in simple language, sign it, and figure out some way to put it out there so publicly it had impact?

    Like

  10. We had a little better situation here, in NY. Many teachers and administrators opted out their kids and became vocal in their living quarters (while remaining quiet in their work places due to a gag order).
    For that reason, I can’t stress enough how important for parents it is to be the advocates for their children. They can’t expect admins or teachers will advocate instead of them.

    Liked by 1 person

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