In a staff meeting last week my colleagues and I were informed of the procedures and test security requirements for our upcoming standardized tests. District leaders, principals, teachers and students must all sign documents assuring ethical test administration. Classroom walls must be cleared of any potentially educational material. Do not discuss any test questions or answers for any purposes. Specify and document check-in and check-out procedures for test materials… I wanted to scream out, “What is wrong with us? How can we sit here and calmly agree to carry out these cruelties when every single one of us knows the absurdity? Why don’t we revolt? Why don’t we refuse to subject our children to this sort-and-rank game?”
According to our training documents, the purpose of the assessment is an annual summative measure of student achievement used to evaluate student learning and skills, and a measure of how Iowa students are performing on the Iowa Core. Our district has scheduled these “summative” tests with almost 1/3 of the school year remaining. Assuming that the Iowa Core could be measured via standardized test (higher-level skills cannot), is it fair to test students on what they haven’t learned yet and aren’t even expected to know until the end of the year?
In what 21st century job will the skills needed for standardized test-taking be applicable? I have never in my adult life had to solve any problem by going into a room, using no resources, or consulting no one. On the contrary, real life requires that one use tools and resources, as well as communication and collaboration with others. Additionally, when I read, I can quickly access the meaning, even synonyms and antonyms, of words or phrases with which I am not familiar via simply right-clicking or asking Google. Nothing in my world today requires me to have all information in my head.
If my student knows 50 idioms, but is not familiar with one she encounters on the standardized test, does that mean she doesn’t understand figurative language? If two answers make sense, but “the best” answer my student chooses does not align with that of the test creator’s “best” answer, is my student’s answer less correct? If my student isn’t conditioned to sit for 60 or 120 minutes to take the test, is he less smart? If my student chooses to fill in bubble designs rather than engage in the test, should my job security or wage be impacted? Should my school be identified as a poor performing school because many of the students refuse to take seriously tests they rightly deem irrelevant? The answer to all these questions, of course, is no, but these are the realities.
A quick call to the Iowa Department of Education informed me that our state legislature allocated $2.7 million to the University of Iowa and Pearson to develop and distribute tests to Iowa public schools for the 2018 – 2019 school year. I don’t know about you, but this would be my preferred budget cut. I wonder how much money the testing company spends on legislative lobbying and contributions.
Returning to my first series of questions, the reason most teachers don’t yell out, protest, or refuse to administer standardized tests is matter of financial security. Most teachers need their job. Most have bills to pay and families to support. We have been told, through policy, by legislators and decision makers at the Department of Education what we can and can’t do in our classrooms. People far removed from our students make many of the decisions that dehumanize our children. I am reminded of the Milgram Experiment (1963) which researched how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram’s interest in this topic stemmed from a desire to know how easily ordinary people could be influenced in committing atrocities like those of Germans in WWII. It turns out, people easily shift personal responsibility to another in authority. In his article The Milgram Shock Experiment, Saul McLeod summarizes the conclusions found in the experiments as follows.
Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace.
What I find disturbing is that in our current educational system, the people in “authority” are not teachers, administrators, or even parents of the children we serve. These “experts” are politicians, philanthropists, and business leaders who, through the very act of having attended school and “turning out pretty well” claim to have the answers to solve educational woes. Their answers tend to simplify and reduce problems to what can be easily measured and quantified yet fail to include social and economic factors which serve as root causes.
In conclusion, I offer a quote by Martin Niemöller as a wake-up call for teachers, parents and students.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Our children deserve better. How can you speak out? How can you help to derail this inhumane and expensive practice? Please share ideas and comments below.