Today, New York City released test scores for elementary and middle schools' performance during the 2011-2012 school year. In the past, this wouldn't be anything to write home about, much less write on this blog. But after ten years of No Child Left Behind, and people like Michelle Rhee concern-trolling over our top-dog status, test scores have become the determining factor in whether teachers keep their jobs, whether schools receive funding, and drive far too much education policy.
Just look at how today's release has been reported by the New York Times:
Continuing a trend from last year, this year’s numbers are a stark falloff from the high achievements recorded in 2009, when the Bloomberg administration trumpeted proficiency levels approaching 100 percent as proof that its ambitious education reforms were bearing fruit.
Three years ago, 82 percent of students were proficient in math and 69 percent in English, and Mayor Bloomberg touted those scores as he ran for re-election to a third term.
The weight given to those test results should raise eyebrows, particularly since the New York City students were tested on a ridiculous question about pineapples and hares racing.
Children were asked, for example, “Which animal spoke the wisest words?” To most people, it might seem that the hare’s reaction—that the pineapple was merely a talking fruit and therefore not a credible competitor—was the most relevant and sensible. But to the test designers, the correct answer was the owl, on account of his brilliant insight that pineapples didn’t have sleeves. Pearson strenuously defended this answer, in terms that suggested that its own officials lacked basic literacy skills. In a letter to the New York State education deputy commissioner, obtained by Time magazine, Pearson’s Chief Measurement Officer, Jon S. Twing, insisted that the owl was indeed the wisest animal in the story, because his observation turns out to be the “moral of the story,” and that the answer could not be the hare, who is “presented as incredulous that a pineapple would challenge him to a race, but overconfidently agrees to race a pineapple.”
Evidently no one at Pearson Testing thought children might see the hare as thinking that a race against a piece of fruit wasn't overconfidence, but simple fact.
Yet even in the face of such an absurd test question, weight is given to these results. It boggles the mind almost as much as the notion of a hare racing a pineapple might.
Teachers are fed up. They're expected to take a diverse group of kids with different skills and learning abilities and somehow prepare them for a test where stupid questions like that one are considered some form of evaluation of their performance. How can any teacher prepare students for a question like that one, and what kind of education would they actually be delivering if they spent even five minutes teaching kids how to answer ridiculous questions about fruit and rabbits racing?
Yet that is what these tests will be used to do. They will be used to evaluate teachers and they will be used to fire teachers. Earlier this month, the National Teacher of the Year declared war on testing.
"We have got to stop talking about testing and start talking more about developing, supporting and celebrating teachers," she said. "Teachers are the architects of the change we've been waiting for. We've forgotten what a teacher can do that a standardized test can't."
Standing before the delegates as “one teacher, symbolizing millions,” Mieliwocki told the assembly: “We may have forgotten how important our teachers were in restoring America's public education system but it's not too late to shift our focus to what really matters.
"If we want real change, lasting change, if we want back the power, the pride, the soaring achievement that is an exceptional public education, then the revolution begins with us."
You can watch the video on C-SPAN here.
The AFT agrees. Going into their convention at the end of the month, they are mobilizing to push back on high-stakes testing as the be-all and end-all of public education and teacher evaluation. Randi Weingarten has been speaking out about the pitfalls of standardized tests and their impact on education for awhile. Huffington Post:
My students were most engaged during project-based learning, when they worked in teams and wrestled with complex topics, such as the decision to drop the atomic bomb during World War II. My proudest moment as an educator was watching my students compete in the We the People civics competition and observing--after all their preparation--the confidence with which our teams debated constitutional issues.
Look at the difference between private and public schools in our country. Most private schools do not administer high-stakes tests, and that is reflected in their curriculum and culture. Freedom from test fixation allows them to provide enriching experiences and in-depth instruction in an array of subjects.
Public schools, in contrast, are required by federal and state laws to administer what numerous experts consider to be too many low-quality standardized assessments, which have significant consequences. This, in turn, drives an excessive focus on the tests, test preparation and tested subjects.
Of course, this was, and is, the goal of school "reformers" like Michelle Rhee. The whole idea is to bury public schools in unreasonable expectations and requirements while leaving private schools to their own devices. We're watching that unfold in Louisiana right now.
The AFT is sponsoring a petition to push back against these high-stakes tests. You can sign it here as a way of supporting teachers who deserve to actually teach, rather than feed Pearson's profit margins.