What if the rebellion around high stakes testing finally happens?

I can vividly remember learning in my 10th grade World History class how the Soviet Union organized schooling.  This was in the latter stages of the Cold War and movies like Rocky IV and Red Dawn were in theaters. This was the context in which Mr. Ard told us about the rigorous testing and sorting that is done in the Soviet Union.  That if you don’t score well enough on a standardized test you were sorted. One group headed to university the other maybe to Siberia!  To me, this all seemed draconian and the whole idea of simply sorting based on one test was so anti-American.  We in America valued choice, and freedom, and our ability to truly choose our path in life.

Fast forward to today….and take a look at the educational landscape in America.  In the name of so-called reform and accountability we not only sort via testing we measure teachers and schools via test. For the record, any “run of the mill” statistician will tell you the idea we can rate schools or teachers based on performance of students on a series of test is a very slippery slope. Student performance is driven by a multitude of factors including one of the biggest drivers of that performance is socio-economic status. I am not sure how we can hold schools and teachers accountable for student circumstances, but we do in this era of extreme accountability.

Let’s just consider some facts regarding the New PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers)  assessments about to be unleashed on students:

  • According to the PARCC blueprint documents on average in Grade 3 students will spend 8 hours completing the assessments!  Yes, 8 hours of testing for a 3rd grader and that is just Math and Language Arts!
  • In all other grades —  for just English Language Arts and Math it is a little under 10 hours of testing.
  • In Ohio, we also have assessments in Science and Social Studies plus a series of End of Course exams that will be used to determine if you can graduate from High School.
  • This testing time does not include all other test students may take, like Iowa Test Basic Skills or Terra Nova or DIBELS or Aimsweb or PSAT or SAT or ACT or teacher made Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s).

We use these test to make “high-stakes decisions” like whether or not they graduate from High School or get promoted to 4th grade.  Completely inappropriate usage of test results and it harms kids socially, emotionally, and financially.

All this testing is creating schools that look more like test-prep centers with instructors teaching to the test — not educating, not inspiring, not doing the kinds of things we come to expect from our nations schools.  There is little or no evidence that all this testing will improve student learning.  In fact, I argue it will harm the normal growth and intellectual development of children.

So I ask?  At what point to PARENTS revolt over the amount of over-testing of their children and inappropriate usage of the test results? When do moms and dads say enough is enough and do the truly American thing to do and “resist” “vote them out” and  “revolt?”  What needs to happen?  How much more evidence do we need?  How many more children do we harm?

It is slowly happening as this “opt-out” movement begins to grow.  We have parents around the country saying to schools enough is enough…..my kids will not be subjected to endless hours of testing!  Teachers too have joined the struggle.  Many of them penning passionate letters as they resist and push back against the imbalance of more and more testing.  Finally, some brave administrators are finally pushing back and saying publicly what they have been saying privately…that all this nonsense is beginning to erode the core mission of a truly “public” education.

I could never have imagined in 1985 while sitting in Mr. Ard’s class that the United States educational landscape in 2014 would look more like the old Soviet system.  That our kids paths may now be determined by a series of test and not by choice, grit, or work ethic.  We may need Rocky to come out of retirement and instead of taking on Drago he needs to fight Pearson and ETS the testing goliaths that make millions off our obsession with testing.

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About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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