No, Really…I Am Happy!

By May 23, 2016 Uncategorized 3 Comments

Mark Twain said that it’s easier to fool people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled.

Over the past decade, having been just a small part of a large state and national effort to convince policy makers of the folly of high stakes testing as the foundation for meaningful school reform, I tend to agree with Mr. Twain.

I have long given up on figuring out whether these education “reformers” and lawmakers are well-intentioned, misinformed, ignorant, or arrogant. In my mind, it simply doesn’t matter much if someone is a pawn or a knave; the results of their actions or inactions are the same.

For too many years, people in control of public education policy have turned a deaf ear to the accumulated wisdom of thousands of professional educators and researchers.

On nearly every account, this government hubris and lack of trust in educators has negatively impacted the quality of teaching and learning in America and in our state.

As a result, a generation of students has been forced to wander in a wasteland of test-based accountability, a system that aims to funnel all children into a narrow pipeline. A pipeline where there’s always just one correct answer, one correct path, one correct interpretation . . . and school is about showing that you know it.

This is why, today, I am happily relieved that our state House members, through passage of HB 3218, have finally capitulated on the flawed notion that all Oklahoma graduates prove their worthiness for a diploma by passing a series of end-of-instruction tests in selected subjects.

It was a bad idea when it was enacted a decade ago and it remains so today.

I recall speaking to state legislators and our former state superintendent at a state Board meeting in March 2012 urging them to reconsider and grant exceptions to our most needy students.

I was certainly not alone that year as scores of superintendents, school teachers, parents, and students gave speeches, wrote letters and shared compelling stories of young adults who would not earn their high school diploma as a result of this requirement.

Those in charge chose not to listen.

As a result, the lives of thousands of young Oklahomans were irreparably altered. I will always be bothered by that.

With today’s action in Oklahoma, along with similar movements across our nation, I hope we are starting to recognize that education and success in life is more than doing well on a bubble test. And how a young child performs on any standardized assessment given on any one day of their life will NEVER be an accurate measure of their potential value to our world.

Human beings are not standardized and no set of standards, no curriculum, and no assessment will ever capture the true essence of what it means to be an educated person, or a person of efficacy.

For example, does someone with a photographic memory of historical facts or mathematical algorithms contribute more to our society than another possessing a heart full of empathy and altruism?

Is a love for music or art or theater less valuable than the capacity to memorize facts and figures?

Would you rather share your life with someone of superior content knowledge or impeccable character?

Regrettably, for the past 15 years, we have become lost in a morass of test scores and meaningless measures. Consequently, we have lost sight of the richness and variety of human experience and individuality that many testing proponents simply do not recognize or allow for.

While I have written and spoken extensively on the topic of testing, I have never claimed to be an expert in the area of assessments. There are many people who can speak more intelligently about the science of testing, the creation of valid and reliable assessments, and the statistical analysis of data.

I just happen to believe standardized testing — testing that operates outside the local level — is generally meaningless, especially in the early grades.

Does anyone really need a state or national assessment to inform them whether or not their eight-year-old child can read well? Isn’t the teacher’s perspective infinitely more accurate and valuable than a score on a multiple choice reading test?

Instead of wasting incalculable time and effort in preparing students for tests (which destroys a love for reading and learning), wouldn’t it be better to spend this time just letting kids read?

And if a parent wants to know if their child is reading on grade level, can’t they just ask?

A significant problem with state assessments from the beginning was that many students recognized that there was no reason to take them seriously.

So, back in 2001, national and state lawmakers began implementing a host of punitive reasons for schools, educators, and students to get serious about these tests.

Make the tests high stakes. Use the results to rank, sort and punish schools, teachers, and kids. Make passage of the tests a requirement for passing a grade, earning a driver’s license, or graduating from high school. Withhold federal funding, fire teachers, and close schools.

What our experience with NCLB, RttT, and Oklahoma EOI testing has shown us is that when you have to force somebody to take you seriously, when you have to threaten or bully people into treating something as if it’s important, you’ve already acknowledged that there is no good reason for them to take you seriously. And that is why standardized testing and high school end-of-instruction testing stinks.

I am not opposed to data collection and assessment. I just believe that the best measures of learning are generally created by those people closest to the children doing the learning—their teachers.

Standardized testing is inauthentic assessment, and students know that. Young children may blame themselves, but students of all ages see that there is no connection between the testing and their education, their lives, anything or anyone at all in their real existence.

As blogger Peter Greene said so well:

Standardized test are like driving down a highway on vacation where every five miles you have to stop, get out of the car, and make three basketball shot attempts from the free throw line– annoying, intrusive, and completely unrelated to the journey you’re on. If someone stands at the free throw line and threatens you with a beating if you miss, it still won’t make you conclude that the requirement is not stupid and pointless.

Yet, since 2001, we have tried to build an entire structure for teaching and learning on this paper-thin foundation of college- and career-ready standards, scripted curriculum and instruction, nationalized assessments, test-based teacher evaluation and an oppressive and pervasive system of carrots and sticks to force compliance.

It has been an abject failure.

Today’s action by the Oklahoma House reflects a tacit acknowledgement of that fact and a positive step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, there are still many in our country who promote the value of current annual testing. Passage of ESSA simply cemented that reality for the foreseeable future. Sadly, federally-mandated testing is not going away.

At the same time, there is NO reason for Oklahoma to do more than the feds demand.

Of course, I may be putting the cart before the horse. HB 3218 must also pass the Senate before the end of the week and then get signed by the Governor. If those things happen (and I’m cautiously hopeful), HB3218 will remove most of the testing requirements (except US History) not mandated by federal law.

Based on the premise that standardized testing is a waste of time, the fact we will now be doing less testing means we will now be wasting less time.

And this is a good thing for teachers and children.

And that makes me happy. Really, it does!

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