I was thinking about the recent upheaval with PARCC testing, Pearson spying on students and reporting it to school districts, and the general misplaced confidence (or is it just economic investment) that American policy makers have with testing in this country. The renewed focus on testing reminded me of Linda Darling-Hammond’s words during an interview in the film, Rise Above the Mark.
Darling-Hammond is an educator and researcher. She’s not a politician like Andrew Cuomo who must to satisfy donors by throwing public money their way. She’s not a pundit like Michael Petrilli who is ideologically focused on privatization. She’s not an untrained mouthpiece like Arne Duncan who shills for testing companies and privatizers. She’s an academic who has spent her career learning and teaching about students, schools, teachers, and learning.
OUR POLICIES MAKE THINGS WORSE
What does this education professional say about what we are doing compared to countries in the world whose students are high achieving?
Compare that [what high achieving countries are doing for education] to reforms that are going on in the United States which largely are reinforcing inequality, deepening poverty, homelessness…and pretending to fix that with more standardized tests.
We have been testing without investing.
We have been testing way too much and with low quality multiple choice instruments that drive the curriculum in very narrow directions.
We’ve been deprofessionalizing teaching…allowing people to come in without adequate preparation, not supporting them in their learning and then trying to manage that with both systems of high stakes accountability and privatization, trying to put more and more funds into sectors that essentially increasingly are reducing the support for public education.
We cannot become internationally competitive from here, doing what we’re currently doing…
We’re making things worse by ignoring the effects of poverty, denying that it has an impact on education so that policy makers are relieved of their responsibility in the education of our children. Instead we blame children and teachers. Then, after making those mistakes, we are trying to fix the problem by calling for more testing under the mistaken belief that if only teachers and students would try harder, things will get better.
OUR TESTING MAKES THINGS WORSE
And what about that testing? Has the test and punish plan worked? Are the tests even valid? Has the amount that we have invested in testing been helpful?
The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways. We are the only country that tests every child, every year with these kinds of measures and then attaches all of these stakes to them — whether a kid gets promoted to the next grade, whether they graduate, whether a teacher gets a merit pay bonus, whether they even keep their job, whether schools get rewarded or sanctioned or even closed down. The tests were never designed to support these kinds of decisions. They don’t even measure the things you would need to measure to be valid for those purposes, in ways that would inform you.
…having those kinds of stakes attached to the wrong kinds of tests produces three very unfortunate outcomes.
The first of them is that we are narrowing the curriculum and dumbing down the curriculum to the subjects that are tested. We’re narrowing and reducing the capacity of our teachers to teach what’s important and our kids to learn what’s important.
The second problem with high stakes testing is that it creates incentives to prevent high need students who struggle in school from coming into your school district or your school. And in a marketplace of schools, those who have the ability to fend those students off keep them out and it creates incentives to push them out…we’ve created a situation in which it doesn’t benefit any school to keep the kids who struggle to learn because it will negatively impact their test scores…that doesn’t serve the society well.
The third thing that happens with high stakes accountability is that all of the blame is now being put on individual teachers and educators particularly in high need schools where kids are coming from more poverty, homelessness, dysfunctional community settings, getting less resources in school. If the scores don’t go up we blame the teachers or the principals and say, well, let’s fire them, and it is deflecting attention from solving those other problems which are becoming more and more acute in American Society.
We’re making things worse by 1) narrowing our curriculum, ignoring things like social studies, science, physical education and the arts, by 2) pushing out the very students who need the most help staying in school and are thereby taking away the opportunity to benefit from their contributions to our society and by 3) punishing poverty and the schools which deal with poverty.
Darling-Hammond understands the damage that our education policy is doing to our future. Policy makers, politicians, and pundits would do well to listen to her.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.