Standardized Tests Show Testing Gains NOT Learning Gains

This morning is my first morning of winter break. I was relaxed, sitting down with a cup of coffee, going through my emails, and then I saw it—Alfie Kohn's new article called, What 'No Child Left Behind' Left Behind. Alfie has been an educational inspiration to me for years and years. (I can't help it, I always call him Alfie, like he is a personal friend. That is how long it feels like I have known him through his work.) He gets the big picture, says it like it is, and keeps me questioning. This article made we want to text and email my friends and fellow activists, but on the day of Christmas Eve, I knew better. So I am blogging the letter I would have written to them.

Hey my friends,

You have got to read Alfie Kohn's article on what NCLB left behind. I love this:

"Standardized testing — especially when it’s done to every child every year, and when bribes and threats are employed to coerce better results — was never necessary to tell us which schools were failing. Heck, you could just drive by them and make a reasonable guess. (The eminent educator Nel Noddings once called that “the windshield test.”) For years, I’ve been challenging NCLB’s defenders to name a single school anywhere in the country whose inadequacy was a secret until students were subjected to yet another wave of standardized tests."

That is so true, right?! Can anyone name a single school in the country where the standardized test scores revealed something we couldn't have guessed? Love the term, "Windshield Test."

I am worried about our schools losing our most creative, innovative, experienced, and child-centered teachers. Before NCLB and now ESEA, I rarely heard teachers talk about retirement if they were more than a few years away. I hear it all the time now, and it saddens me. If we want to keep the kind of teachers who make kids love learning, we need to stop the push for lock-step teaching and assessment. Alfie knew this 15 years ago. And he was right.

"But testing isn’t just superfluous; it was, and remains, immensely damaging — to low-income students most of all. As I argued 15 years ago, standardized exams measure what matters least about learning and serve mostly to make dreadful forms of teaching appear successful. Pressure to raise scores has driven out many of our best teachers and many of our most vulnerable students. It has taken second-rate schools and turned them into third-rate test-prep factories."

To my teacher friends here in the burbs and even more so in our cities: Please, don't leave. Don't let the demoralizing things they are making us do and say and write on our boards kick us out of our classrooms. Stay. The kids need you.

As you know, I care a lot about racial equality and the lack thereof in our country and in our schools. I have learned over the years to question the policies made in the name of the achievement gap. An expert on this topic is another education hero of mine, Jonathan Kozol. Click on the hyperlink. We should all know who he is and what he stands for. As a civil rights activist, author and teacher, Kozol knows that standardized tests are a civil rights issue and he wants them to end.

"What’s true of testing is, not surprisingly, true of the law that should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act. Tests constitute not only its enforcement apparatus but its very definition of success and failure. As no less a champion of marginalized children than Jonathan Kozol concluded, 'NCLB widens the gap between the races more than any piece of educational legislation I’ve seen in 40 years. . . . [Its] gains aren’t learning gains, they’re testing gains.'"

And that, my friends, is important for all of us to know. That quote should go viral. Memes should be made, posted, and shared. Don't be proud when our kids do well on these tests. They are not indicators of learning gains, they are testing gains.

The federal government is so scared of us—of parents—that they wrote a 95% participation demand into the Every Child Succeeds Act. They are telling us their Achilles heel. We are the parents. The government does not own our kids and they cannot and will not be able to stop American parents from parenting. 

We never had a vote on this, so we will vote with our feet. We will vote with each and every opt out. We love our local public schools and want them to focus on what matters. With each opt out we are telling our state and federal government that we don't want what they are pushing on us. WE ARE THE PARENTS. THESE CHILDREN ARE OURS. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM UNTIL THEY CRY. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM ON BUBBLE SHEETS. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM ON COMPUTERS. WE ARE PROTECTING OUR KIDS AND OUR SCHOOLS. WE ARE OPTING OUT.

Thanks for reading this note and hey, have a happy, healthy, and joyful new year!


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