Knowing what we do not know and the achievement gap

Growing up, my father gave me a lot of advice, perhaps one of the most important nuggets was that a wise person knows what he does not know. Knowing how much more there is to learn has led my unquenchable thirst for understanding human behavior, specifically child psychology. This drives me in my studies of education, relationships, and justice.

Thanks, Dad.
A book that has taught me a lot is Dr. Maura Cullen's, 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say. It is not the 35 dumb things that fascinate me, but what Dr. Cullen calls, The 10 Core Concepts. I love the acknowledgement that good people, really caring, kind, and well-intended folks can mean well, but make mistakes when it comes to issues of diversity (or any issues, really).

This leads me to the struggle that so many communities have when they are battling against the ripple effects of standardized testing. When schools start to degrade education to teach to the test (out of fear and good intentions, no doubt), community members who care and try to help may find themselves in the "Good Intentions" hot seat.

When good people try to come up with ideas to save their schools from cutting the arts, narrowing content, or too much test prep, sometimes they get a bit close to that hot seat.

One thing I care deeply about is the academic success of all students. There is no sub group of kids who deserve different treatment from anyone else. In a well-intentioned world, sometimes we think it is a good idea to treat different groups of students differently, based on their standardized test scores. It sounds fine, but really, it isn't. Let me explain why.

In the outstanding collection of essays, Pencils Down, By the Publishers of Re-Thinking Schools, supporters of urban, suburban, and rural public schools can learn the real deal behind standardized testing and its effects.

It is so important that we do not allow any different scheduling, curriculum, or philosophies in the name of test scores for any group of children.

          "...If you rely on standardized tests to close the achievement gap, that's terribly misleading in terms of who will get a quality education. Students in more privileged groups will not only get the material on the standardized tests, but may also receive (other beneficial material & subjects). It is essential to  understand that relying on standardized tests has been shown to dumb down the curriculum." p. 15

If we allow, or even suggest that children who score high on standardized tests get enrichment work, and students who score below proficient get test prep to "close the achievement gap," we are perpetuating a kind of institutional inequality.

              "...Researchers have found that narrowing learning environments to focus solely on reading, writing, and math, as well as the test-induced increase in high school drop outs - have had a disproportionately negative impact on low income students and students of color....the construction and grading of standardized, high stakes tests contain high levels of inaccuracy. The results, more often than not, are misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misused by policy makers and the general public..." p. 3

I love well-intentioned people, I am one of them. If I end up in the hot seat by accident one day, I hope you will teach me what I did wrong and what I can do differently next time. We need to keep trying to stop the insidious ripple effects of high stakes standardized testing and watch each other's backs while doing so. Let's learn more together about how to survive this tidal wave of testing and make sure that we don't leave any of our kids treading water until they can tread no more.


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