Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

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This post is long overdue and it is a call to action.

Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

In 2002 when I became a teacher, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became the new name of public education in the United States. This law had a huge effect on how teachers and students would teach and learn together, and how the federal government would recognize, reward and punish individual states, school districts, individual schools, teachers and students for achieving and failing to achieve state assessment standards.

NCLB was a powerful reauthorization of an older federal educational act called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, signed into law under Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. The underlying goal of both ESEA and NCLB was to ensure a quality education for all children regardless of zip code and demographics.

Unfortunately, after 2002, it soon became clear to most teachers working in the public school system, particularly to those who worked with poor kids in poor neighborhoods that NCLB was set up to fail all children rather than to set them up for success. In accordance with NCLB, all students in grades 3 through 8 would now take yearly standardized tests in English and Math, their scores would be noted alongside their demographic information, their schools would be ranked, and their teachers and schools would be held “accountable”. The accountability provision had a serious goal: all students were to be proficient in English and Math by 2014.

Last year, 2014, 100% proficient. All students. Everywhere.

Let that sink in.

When students, teachers, schools, school districts and states did not meet their target, there would be repercussions.

And no school would be able to meet that target. And eventually all schools would be marked failures. School shutdowns, transfers of students to privatized charter schools, fired teachers and administrators, school takeovers, loss of federal funding, etc., etc., etc. The failures of reaching English and Math standardized test targets began first in poor areas and spread to richer suburban schools.

Knowing that we would eventually never reach that target of 100% proficiency, special ed teachers continued teaching their students, teachers in wealthy school districts continued teaching, teachers in poor rural districts continued teaching, teachers in urban districts continued teaching, many of us continued teaching while some of us exited the profession early.

In some places, the school district would be held accountable, in some places, the school administration and the teachers would be ranked according to the test scores of their students, and in more than a few places, the teachers would be held accountable for how students that they never taught did on tests. In Florida, a student on his deathbed, along with his teachers and parents, was held accountable for his failing to take his standardized tests.

In short, students were held the most accountable of all and they lost. Teaching students to the test became paramount to education – first in poor schools, then circling out to wealthier schools. Recesses eliminated, lunches shortened, social studies and science in elementary school scaled back, art, music and P.E. eliminated, and brought to life only in districts or schools with wealthier parent populations. Play, the means by which young people learn, became a luxury allowed only in wealthier schools in which the children would inevitably do well on standardized tests anyway.

Because we know that standardized tests are really good at predicting one thing – family demographics.

And this new abuse, misuse and overuse of testing that ranked and sorted students was called equity. This was called opportunity. This was sanctioned from the top. The message became that disadvantaged kids suffer from one thing in life – low test scores on standardized tests due to bad teachers.

My entrance into the nightmarish repercussions of this top down system happened when my child was about to enter kindergarten. I merely had to google a potential public school, and there I could see the demographics and the standardized test scores disaggregated for each subgroup of students: White kid test scores, Asian kid test scores, Latino kid test scores, African American kid test scores, American Indian test scores, Filipino kid test scores, Free and Reduced Lunch kid test scores. It was all there for me and every other computer savvy educated parent to see: the worth of a school depended on the test scores and strata of their students.

In the old days we called it “white flight”; in the new days we call it, um, hmm, still, well, “white flight”. Instead of white people saying, “I don’t want my kid to go to a school with black/brown/colored kids”, educated and upwardly mobile parents could now say without fear of being called a racist, “I don’t want my kid to go to a school full of kids with low test scores”. Pretty slick.

Thank you, yearly testing, for all your marketing, ranking and sorting. You have squeezed the joy out of learning and teaching; you have squeezed out art, P.E., social studies, science, music, recess and maybe even lunch; thank you for teaching my first grader how to bubble with a number two wide grip pencil; thank you for making students think that they are behind on the first day of elementary school, thank you for increasing the profits for the makers of Ritalin and diagnosing a whole generation of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder; thank you for making fieldtrips obsolete, thank you for diminishing each and every kid’s individual worth outside of the bubble.

And as a teacher, I can thank yearly testing for completely upending lesson planning, student projects, research papers, and instructional time so that my entire school can devote itself to the task of chaperoning students as they take tests full of computer glitches, poorly written questions, and write essays that are graded by temporary workers at $11 an hour.

Twelve years ago I became a public school teacher in California and ten years ago I became a parent to a public school student in California.

Enough already.

Write to your Congressperson now.

Here are some crucial links:

Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

Revising NCLB: Let your voice be heard

Tell Congress to vote no on HR #5 Student Success Act NCLB Reauthorization

Message to Congress: Don’t forget about standardized testing

Joyless kindergarten?

There comes a time when rules must be broken . . .that time is now

Why the NY Times is wrong about annual testing

Georgia school chief to feds: Stop the ”measure, pressure, and punish” approach

Is that all that matters to grown-ups?

Principal to Congress: I was wrong when I supported NCLB Here’s how to fix it

US Schools aren’t being outpaced by international competition

And a very intriguing article for all you parents and teachers who love math and wonder about the Common Core:

The man behind Common Core math

Integration, please

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This last week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.

In this speech, Martin Luther King talked about an integrated society in which black and white children would go to school together.  I listened to parts of this speech over 15 times when I was a freshman in Clara Luper’s American History class at John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City.  I don’t remember King’s rendition of the speech.  I remember the amazing oratory powers of one senior at my high school.  He had memorized the speech.  In 1983, Clara Luper had a vision – she wanted her black and white students to experience the amazing Civil Rights movement, to realize what a profound achievement it was that we were all sitting side by side learning next to each other, learning with each other, black and white children. She assigned us a class project to reenact the March on Washington, and she chose the perfect young man to act as MLK.  I borrowed my friend’s mother’s black dress from the 60’s and several of us met at a park and marched around while Clara Luper’s seniors took video footage of us.  Then we marched around on the stage, and he gave his speech to the students at our high school.  Everytime I heard him speak the dream, my eyes watered.  I was 14.

Clara Luper was the first African-American woman to attend the University of Oklahoma.  She told us that she had to sit in a separate section in lecture halls.  As a leader in the Civil Rights movement, she organized the restaurant sit-ins in Oklahoma.  She taught us American history.  The first black Americans arrived in 1619 in Jamestown on a Dutch trading ship.  Lyndon Johnson was her favorite president.  Clara Luper was ancient when I had her as my teacher, but she was the first teacher I had that made all of her students do history projects, not just the GATE kids.  She was the first teacher that I had that made a point to honor her black students, and give them important roles in the classroom, such as Chief Justice, President, Vice-President, and Senator.

When I moved to Oklahoma in 5th grade, I learned what “white flight” was.  My parents and I met white people who used racist words to describe black people.  I went to the schools that richer white folk fled.  I had black teachers and black friends for the first time since preschool in Los Angeles.  My public schools in Oklahoma City were around 40% black, with other minority groups sprinkled in.  In a state with white flight and in your face racial epithets, I was integrated, and I learned how to speak respectfully to my black teachers.  When I go back to OKC, I still see integration.  I see black women dating white men, I see ethnically and racially blended children everywhere.

When I started substitute teaching in San Francisco, I was shocked to find out that most schools here serve almost all African American or Latino or Asian students.  And there are almost no teachers of color.  Where did they all go, I wondered over and over again.  I assumed that integration was on a positive upward trajectory ever since the 1980s when I was in an integrated high school, ever since 1954 when schools were desegregated in the south, ever since 1963 when MLK gave his “I have a dream speech”.  I could not have been more mistaken.  Black students are more likely to go to school with only black students; Latino students are more likely to go to school with only Latino students.  Integration is dying.

And it’s not good for any of us.  And it’s particularly not good for black kids, Latino kids and poor kids.  Here is an article that explains this phenomenon.  Thank you, Mr. Rothstein.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Social science research for a half century has documented the benefits of racial integration for black student achievement, with no corresponding harm to whites. When low income black students attend integrated schools that are mostly populated by middle class white students, achievement improves and the test score gap narrows.”

Maestra Malinche

With tongue in cheek, I include a quote by Thomas Jefferson, a slaveowner, father of black and white children, and lover of liberty.  I wrote a biography report on TJ as a student in Clara Luper’s class, and drew a life-size replica of the man.  

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”-Thomas Jefferson