"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Boycotting the March Testing Madness

Here is a chunck from a treatise by Rich Gibson and Wayne Ross at counterpunch:

Here is what we think is a reasonable litany of objections to the NCLB, its national curriculum, and the attached noose, high stakes exams.

High-stakes standardized tests, an international phenomenon, represent a powerful intrusion into classrooms, often taking up as much as 40% of classroom time in preparation, practice testing, and administration;

The tests are flawed in technical adequacy. They invoke a fallible single standard and a single measure, a practice specifically condemned by the Standards on Educational and Psychological Testing;

The tests are implemented and used to make high stakes decisions before sufficient validation evidence is obtained and before defensible technical documentation is issued for public scrutiny;

The tests are employed without credible independent meta-evaluation;

The tests are flawed in accuracy of scoring and reporting, for example in New York in 2000 when thousands of students were unnecessarily ordered to summer school on the grounds of incorrect test results;

The tests pretend that one standard fits all, when one standard does not fit all;

These tests measure, for the most part, parental income and race, and are therefore instruments that build racism and anti-working class sentiment against the interest of most teachers and their students;

These tests deepen the segregation of children within and between school systems, a move that is not in the interests of most people throughout the world;

Inner-city families and poor families are promised tests as an avenue to escape the ghetto and poverty, when the tests are designed to fail their children, boosting dropouts, leaving more children trapped in the ghetto and poverty, deepening inequality and all forms of injustice;

The tests set up a false employer-employees relationship between teachers and students which damages honest exchanges in the classroom;

The tests create an atmosphere that pits students against students and teachers against teachers and school systems against school systems in a mad scramble for financial rewards, and to avoid financial retribution;

The tests have been used to unjustly fire and discipline educators throughout the country;

The exams represent an assault on academic freedom by forcing their way into the classroom in an attempt to regulate knowledge, what is known and how people come to know it;

The tests foment an atmosphere of greed, fear, and hysteria, none of which contributes to learning;

The tests destroy inclusion and inquiry-based education;

The high-stakes test pretend to neutrality but are deeply partisan in content, reflecting the needs of elites in a world becoming more inequitable, less democratic, promising the youth of the world perpetual war;

The tests become commodities for opportunists whose interests are profits, not the best interests of children.

We support the rising tide of education worker resistance to the high-stakes exams, as well as student and educator boycotts. We are sharply opposed to those false-flag reformers who seek to do anything but abolish the NCLB, its tests, and its developing national curriculum.

Liberal reformers on this bent simply lend credence to a government that stands fully exposed as a weapon of violence for the rich, they disconnect the clear class and race domination in not-so public schooling from the empire's wars, and they mislead people into believing the dishonest motives of prime NCLB proponents. Above all, through their clear opposition to direct action versus the big tests, as in NEA's attack on Ohanian, they simultaneously seek to destroy the leadership of a movement that could actually succeed, and they once again try to teach people that others, usually elites, will solve our problems, a vile diversion from the fact that no one is going to save us but the united action of us.

Parents and students have a legal right to opt out of the exams, which are little more than child abuse made respectable. That the school worker force is aware of the abusive nature of this testing, seeing second-graders in tears as a matter of routine, cleaning vomit off test booklets, etc., speaks to the levels of opportunism, fear, and racism in the work force.

Nevertheless, many courageous school workers continue to speak out, to call for action, and in some cases to play a leadership role.

Practice suggests that boycotts initiate first in wealthy areas, then when people in poor and working class neighborhoods see that succeed, they follow suit. The wealthy, after all, have the power and outlook to shut down the tests from the outset, and they know regimented curricula simply makes their kids stupid, wastes their time. Peers in private schools never have to take a silly MEAP. Test boycotts in wealthy areas of Michigan and California, for example, have been going on for years.

Poor and working class parents and students, however, need to learn, probably from teachers, that the tests are not designed to make education equitable, but to track them into meaningless jobs, or the military ­fighting and dying against what they are never taught are truly the enemies of their enemies. In addition, they need to learn that their power supersedes boycotts in rich areas, in that it can truly bring the testing to an end and even serve as a foundation for much broader social change for equality and democracy.

Ending imperialism is a pedagogical project, involving a mass change of mind that overcomes most, if not all, of the defects built into every birthright of capital. The linkage of education and social action that could come from anti-test boycotts could be part of that change of consciousness so urgently needed now.

We are not barbarians seeking to bring down education itself. We recognize the need to link freedom schooling with test boycotts. Freedom schooling could, for example, be conducted in homes, community centers, or churches, for older students addressing the question of why things are as they are, through community power analyses, while youngsters could be treated to the forbidden delights of recess, free play, storytelling, and playmaking.

We hope to contribute to the movement to take direct action against the Big Tests. Some beacons of education publications, like Substance News in Chicago, and organizations like the Rouge Forum, leading a March 1 2007 conference in Detroit, deserve support.

Rich Gibson is a professor emeritus at San Diego State University. E. Wayne Ross is professor at University of British Columbia. They are co-editors of Neoliberalism and Education Reform to be published by Hampton Press in 2007.

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