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

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Best Things about the Anti-Testing Backlash in Texas and Elsewhere

What is the greatest recent victory in the backlash against standardized testing that has terrified “reformers” as it has reached a "crescendo?"

A)     The Garfield High School teachers’ boycott of the administration of standardized tests.
B)      The 120 Massachusetts professors’ protest against standardized testing.
C)      The Chicago, Georgia, and New York protests that inspired the Massachusetts stand.
D)     The 818 Texas school districts that have joined the protest against bubble-in excesses and the thousands who joined the Save Texas Schools rally in Austin?

I am too biased to answer such a question.  For decades, top Oklahoma teachers and students fled to the better schools in Texas. However, many became trapped in the Texas testing mania and returned with horror stories. But, recently, Oklahoma has been forced to adopt much of the worst of the Texas system, even though we do not have nearly as much money to mitigate the damage. And, two years ago the Texas legislature cut public schools by $5.4 billion, even as they are sending $1.2 billion to the Pearson testing company. This means that Texas also faces the worst of both worlds.

So, I will simply try to draft some multiple choice questions regarding the Texas rally.

1.  The rally’s best metaphors to describe the Texas testing situation was:

A)    Funding Pearson and testing at such a time is not like the tail wagging the dog, but as former Education Commissioner Robert Scott said, “the flea at the end of the tail of the dog trying to wag the dog."
B)    Senator Kirk Watson’s explanation that “the Legislature is sitting around like a litigious deadbeat dad waiting from a ruling from a higher court."
C)   Superintendent John Kuhn's affirmation that the 2011 cutbacks and continued testing were "our Alamo," but "this year is our San Jacinto."
D)   Robert Scott’s explanation of why he had to reject test-driven reform, "I had to turn in my reformer card because I looked at it as a flea circus," he said. "They are selling two ideas and two ideas only: No. 1, your schools are failing, and No. 2, if you give us billions of dollars, we can convince you [of] the first thing we just told you.

2.  The best points made by speakers at the rally were:

A)    Joe Arnold, Chair of the Workforce Committee for the Texas Manufacturing Association, observed that if testing was working so well, why would Texas need to recruit outside talent for 21st century jobs?
B)    Explanations by former State Comptroller Carol Keegan Strayhorn and others about colleges not wanting high school graduates to only be trained to take tests and write according to the test's formula.
C)  Superintendent Mary Whittaker’s observation that it is shameful for schools to put up banners and pass out stars to exhort students to try harder on tests as schools cut the arts.
D)  John Kuhn said, "Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden."

3.  The very best part of the day was:

A) Affirmations that teachers may have been slow to anger, but that they are tired of the narrowing of the curriculum and the pushing out of students who might lower test scores, and now that they are joined by parents and administrators, a change is bound to come.
B) The articulate and professional quality of student speakers who described the pain of their teachers in narrowing the curriculum and pushing students out, their critiques of vouchers and other ill-conceived market-driven reforms, and the demonstration of the excellence that our kids produce when treated with respect.
C) Seventeen year-old Luz Zamora's thoughts on testing and her moving rendition of "Amazing Grace." followed by the students from Kashmere H.S leading the closing performance of the "Harlem Shake."
D) The way that these students gathered around Diane Ravitch at the end of the rally and the inspiring exchange of wisdom across the generations.

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