Stand for a Real Education, Not a Standardized Test StandardizedTest

Sharon Maeda October 2, 2013 0
Stand for a Real Education, Not a Standardized Test StandardizedTest

Public education is a chief cornerstone of American democracy. Yet our education system is on a steep decline as a result of inadequate funding, politically motivated policies like “No Child Left Behind” and the move toward privatization.

One major problem and byproduct of public school decline is the increasing emphasis on standardized testing — a sure way to deemphasize enriched learning and give scarce education dollars to testing companies.

Among other issues with standardized testing, we’ve known for decades that these tests are culturally biased. I can still remember a word I didn’t know on a standardized test in high school: “colander,” a 14th century Middle English word for a kitchen strainer.

Wayne Au, an associate professor of education at the University of Washington, Bothell says standardized tests also compromise and devalue cultural diversity and even widen the achievement gap for students of color and immigrants.

“Students have to study for the tests at the expense of a diverse curriculum, and testing pulls away resources that could be used to enrich the curriculum,” he says.

Think of how much money might be available for diverse and relevant curricula if schools were not paying standardized testing companies so much. Imagine what teachers could impart if they didn’t have to teach to the test. Imagine a new generation of national leaders with a profound level of cultural competency, compassion and critical thinking skills. Perhaps we wouldn’t see Congressional filibusters or denial of citizenship to immigrants who pay taxes and do everything right, but don’t have a single piece of paper.

Indeed, Dr. Au confirms that educational policy is being set in a political, and not an educational, arena.

He also mentioned a growing body of evidence showing that high-stakes high school exit exams increase likelihood of youth incarceration. Not too surprising if you consider the realities of students. If you do poorly on tests, you become embarrassed and discouraged, lose ambition and forget thoughts of college. If the students are also people of color, Muslim, immigrant, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender or Queer (LGBTQ), differently abled or just low-income, add low test scores to all the stereotypes, bullying and slights they’ve experienced, and you’ve got yourself a formula for failure.

It’s no wonder that these “low achievers” might find themselves in situations that lead to trouble on the job — if they can even secure one — and lead them to discover too late that they are easy targets for racial profiling.

Public schools must not become the ghetto of American education. Whether we have children or grandchildren in public schools, we have a responsibility to do what we can to support changes that truly prepare the next generation of leaders with the tools they need to run a just and equitable society.

Earlier this year, some courageous teachers in Seattle recognized this, took action and spearheaded a national movement, starting with the boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test required for all 10th graders. They knew that MAP scores said little about student success — except on the ability to take standardized tests. Seattle Public Schools’ motion to evaluate teachers on the basis of their students’ test scores was also a misguided measure of success — and demoralizing. In Atlanta, Georgia and elsewhere, this kind of emphasis has even led to falsification of test results by school administrators. Seattle teachers have a one-year moratorium to use other measurements of student success.

But how do you create a standardized test to measure students’ abilities to connect to local issues, think and analyze them, develop their own perspectives and apply their own understanding of how democracy works?

You can’t.

Teachers have put their jobs on the line because they know what’s right for their students and are willing stand up for it. They need our support. With everything at stake for our children, and all that disproportionately affects a rising population of students of color, we must convince Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda and other administrators that there’s more to achievement than what gets marked on a standardized test, and there’s more valuable learning to see off the bubblesheet.