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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Carol Burris Urges Civil Disobedience to End High Stakes Testing

from Valerie's place at WaPo:
It has become increasingly clear that Congress does not have the will to move away from annual high-stakes testing. The bizarre notion that subjecting 9-year-olds to hours of high-stakes tests is a “civil right,” is embedded in the thinking of both parties. Conservatives no longer believe in the local, democratic control of our schools. Progressives refuse to address the effects of poverty, segregation and the destruction of the middle class on student learning. The unimaginative strategy to improve achievement is to make standardized tests longer and harder.

And then there are the Common Core State Standards. Legislators talk a good game to appease parents, but for all their bluff and bluster, they are quite content to use code names, like the West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards,  to trick their constituents into believing their state standards are unique, even though most are word for word from the Common Core.

The only remedy left to parents is to refuse to have their children take the tests. Testing is the rock on which the policies that are destroying our local public schools are built. If our politicians do not have the courage to reverse high-stakes testing, then those who care must step in. As professor of Language and Composition, Ira Shor, bluntly stated:

 Because our kids cannot defend themselves, we have to defend them. We parents must step in to stop it. We should put our foot down and say, “Do it to your own kids first before you experiment on ours!”
Read the rest here.


  1. Jim I'm as against these private minded Ed reforms as anyone. That includes opposing high stakes tests and testing.
    Having said that, every civil rights organization across the country supports at least one test before graduation for students. Perhaps this is because they feel the alternative -no high stake tests at all- will usher in a system where students of color and in impoverished schools will simply be left at the side of the road by districts all across the U.S. This seems to be their position and, to be honest, I very clearly see the absolute legitimacy of both the concern and the position.

    Carol Burris' district serves some of the most well to do students there are -students who don't need a test in order to get a leg up in this world as adults. So her call for civil disobedience against tests, toward parents who may never need to see the value of leveling a very unfair playing field, doesn't concern me and probably won't concerned most seriously minded people who are genuinely upset with the unfairness of BOTH this terrible testing AND schools that can't do their part (note: their part) in leveling the playing field of our society.

    What does concern me is that she, as a leader, hasn't called for anything specific with which this testing regime should be replaced. In fact, no one has. Nothing. The grandstanding is nice and the sentiments are shared by many (myself included) but the plan to actually do something without a whole regime of tests is simply not there. This makes this call of hers sort of fluffy in nature and about as nourishing to a soul hungry for a fair and just system and society as a marshmallow is to a starving man (I'll eat it but it won't help).

    Isnt it tme to promote a better way? It's time to show that an alternative to what we are all enduring does exist? Time to stop thinking of creative ways of complaining in social media and time to start leading us into a system that both relieves us from all of these terrible tests AND ensures that every student (every single student) is exposed to high quality in the classroom (and is prepared for a job or college when it's all done)? Jim Horn, I love your pieces and love this blog and all look up to every one of its contributors, but isn't it time to stop standing against something and start finding something to stand for?
    Just a thought. Thanks so much for the share.

    1. Since you apparently have no memory of what happened before high stakes testing replaced sanity and learning in schools, let me offer a couple of things you need to read up about. First and foremost, the U. S. went from apartheid systems of education in 17 states to the most racially-integrated national system in the world without the benefit of high stakes tests. We vastly increased women's access to educational opportunity without requiring high stakes tests to do so. Thirdly, we closed the test score gaps between black and white children to an all time low in 1990 without the help of any high stakes tests.

      That is when the resegregation of American schools began and when the testing gaps began to open up once more.

      Not without some irony, that is when the test based accountability entered its second phase, with higher stakes, more tests, and more punitive measures.

      Then came the third phase, promising that no child would left behind, even as children lost their schools, teachers, and childhoods to corporate charter operators with their own sweet promises and their cruel realities.

      We knew in 1960 which students were not learning, and it did not take a test to prove it. We knew in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, and still we know: they are the students disabled by poverty that no one is being held accountable for, even as our schools are turned into corporate revenue streams by profiteers who mutter empty rhetoric that once meant something beside cynical semantics.

      I have been steadfast in pursuing an agenda to bring sanity back to public education in the U. S., and that agenda has not changed: 1) end high stakes testing as the first step to the restoration of schools where learning and teaching can happen. Nothing is possible without that. The Allies at the end of WW II did not need a Marshall Plan to justify the end of Nazi genocide. Nor do we.

      Just as we don't need a test to determine which children are getting the help they need. These kids will never get the help they need until we end childhood poverty. Which brings me to point 2) end school and classroom segregation of any kind, whether based on ability, economics, or ethnicity. When black children and poor children go to school with middle class children, all children will get the same opportunities to learn. And the third leg of the school renewal stool: 3) end corporate meddling and profiteering in public education by putting the public back in charge of public schools. We don't need high stakes tests to do any of these important things, and all the tests in the world will never increase the likelihood that any of them will happen.

      I suggest that you and those who claim the mantle of civil rights should find another strategy to bring about equality than the continued use of racist and classist tests that have always been used to justify sorting, segregation, and second class citizenship. If you can't appreciate the sad irony in your proposition, I am, indeed, sorry. Now stop wasting my time with your bullshit and your not-so-subtle accusations.