By May 23, 2015 Uncategorized 6 Comments

About 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous Period of geologic time, the Earth’s landscape was dominated by behemoth creatures weighing hundreds of tons. These dinosaurs thundered across the world and were virtually indestructible.

Yet, as modern science seems to indicate, the dinosaurs’ reign of more than 160 million years ended in just a few days or weeks.

I don’t expect the ruling reptiles made it easy—Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and company didn’t stand in one place, stoically smoking cigarettes, waiting for the inevitable.

Contrary to Gary Larson’s theory, the dinosaurs just didn’t see it coming.

Therefore, when the six-mile-wide chunk of extraterrestrial rock struck the Earth with such force that it sparked a global firestorm, the dinosaurs were not equipped to survive. The initial shock was followed by a thick dust shroud that slowly choked whatever dinosaurs persisted through the first onslaught. A sudden impact caught dinosaurs off-guard, and the sweeping changes happened too fast for the giant reptiles to adapt.

This, in turn, left behind a charred world open to exploitation by our shrewd mammalian forebears.

I dream that a couple hundred years from now, educational anthropologists will uncover the fractured fossils of a different type of indomitable beast that terrorized our nation and preyed unmercifully on our children and schools.

The beast I speak of is the Tyranno Experior, or Tyrant Test (from the translation tyrannos, “tyrant,” and experior “test”).

As the future scientists will discover, the Tyrant Tests were an angry and relentless family of dinosaurs that evolved in the mid-20th century of modern time. With the help of malevolent mammalian accomplices, the creatures crushed the spirits of millions of human beings during their short yet tumultuous reign on Earth.

The dinosaurs varied in size and ferocity. Some early species from the Testocene Epoch (Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Tests) seemed relatively harmless and were able to coexist in a symbiotic relationship with schools, often providing useful resources to the educational ecosystem. Because these more passive creatures sought to live in harmony with schools rather than as predators, the humans allowed them to grow and flourish.

However, in the early 21st century, fed by selfish masters and billions in corporate greenery, these beasts grew to previously unimaginable dimensions. Their hunger for dominance became insatiable and they demanded unwavering worship.

These monsters attacked schools with furious abandon and smashed them apart with their whip-like tails, indiscriminately destroying all in their paths. They fed voraciously upon the teaching profession and threatened to consume entire school systems to force compliance and servitude. Sadly, their menacing growls caused many good teachers to scatter to the hills, never to be seen again.

For many, it seemed hopeless.

Yet, just as it happened 65 million years ago, I do believe that dinosaurs can die. Or, more accurately, that dinosaurs can be killed.

Not everyone agrees with me. At nearly every meeting or education forum I have attended where the topic of high stakes testing is discussed, someone has repeated this common refrain: “Like it or not, standardized testing is here to stay.

They may be right.

Based on the most recent lethargic efforts of the Oklahoma State Legislature, it is obvious that we still have too many lawmakers enthralled with the Tyrant Test and the alluring, yet failed idea that student “learning” can be adequately measured with once-a-year multiple choice tests. Moreover, that these results can be used to accurately and reliably evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

Therefore, our current test-based accountability systems (e.g. A-F, TLE)–whether grounded in the Common Core State Standards or Oklahoma’s new “Incredible, Super Duper Rigorous, World Class, Grade A, Best Standards EVER–” will likely continue to wreak havoc on our educational landscape for years to come.

By now, we have come to realize that the Tyrant Tests are the instruments needed by school reformers to sustain the narrative that public schools are failing. Billions of government and corporate dollars have been invested in this effort, with the hope that the long-term changes to our nation’s education system will pay back with even larger dividends in the form of power, influence, and money.

The more shady and malicious characters in this saga (and I am firmly convinced they exist) also hope for the restoration of a “Plessy-style,” separate but equal, system of public schools. The Tyrant Test is the monster they are using to dismantle urban schools and make way for vouchers and charter schools with “selective” enrollment policies.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Across our nation we have seen a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo of education reform. But what we’ve not seen is a widespread, deeper rethinking of school improvement or an embrace of an alternative – and there’s the rub. It’s highly unlikely that the nation will move away from this status quo until we have a different pathway forward.

In short, if we continue to do what we are doing, the Tyrant Test will continue to rule.

This is not to say that alternative approaches are not available—plenty of research-based best practices could be implemented and could provide a smart way forward. For that to happen, those of us crying out for less testing must also articulate a desire and a concrete agenda for more engaging learning. (Scott Haselwood posted a good example earlier today.)

We must also accept the reality that real reform requires much more than we as a society have been willing to do. It requires demanding more of students and teachers but also of lawmakers and taxpayers. It requires a sustained commitment to ensuring rich opportunities to learn, particularly for students with fewer resources and opportunities outside of the school.

At the same time and in contrast to top-down dictated reform, we have many local schools looking at things like problem-based learning, technology infused curriculum, mastery-based learning, the elimination of traditional grades, and new STEM initiatives.  I believe these small mammals of innovation will continue to evolve, improve, and succeed while Tyranno Experior collapses of its untenable weight.

Ultimately, the dinosaurs of 65 million years ago met their demise because they were unable to evolve in a rapidly changing world. They were too big and required too many resources to sustain themselves. It is time to formulate a plan for the mass extinction of Tyranno Experior in our lifetimes.

To make this happen, parents and educators need to strike down on the Tyranno Experior with such force that it sparks a national firestorm, one that the testing giants are not equipped to survive. As has already begun in states like New York, New Jersey, Washington, and Colorado, a sudden and massive impact of parent and student opt outs in every state can catch the Tyrant Tests off-guard.

We must do it quickly before they see it coming. The dinosaurs of tyrannical testing need to be starved out of existence and given no chance to adapt. Nothing short of extinction will suffice.

Once the dinosaurs are gone, the shrewd and clever among us will finally have a safe landscape to implement the type of school reform the students of the 21st century need and deserve.

Until then, we will just continue to run scared and hide in our respective caves.

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