Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
I must admit that I have been a bit preoccupied these last few days as I have been reading article after article about the activity in Congress on the ESEA. Every time I read an article my first thought (usually after calming down with some deep breaths) was that "this would make a great FtM post." In the interest of time (both mine and yours) and the need to do some of my own actual research and writing, I decided it would be best to share each of the articles as part of a broader discussion about the ESEA and standardized testing.
Standardized testing is, for me at least, the main issue that the ESEA boils down to. As I have previously posted, it is my firm belief that the federal government should provide resources to states and districts to help ensure all students have an equitable educational opportunity/experience. That's it - no testing requirements or other pseudo-accountability nonsense foisted by the corporate reformer movement. It was heartening to read that at least a few other folks agree with me. As Professor Ravitch points out (and reminds me) the feds should also ensure that the civil rights of students and teachers are protected. But alas, even if others in the education community agree with this limited view of the federal government's role in public K-12 education it is clear the Congress does not.
This means we're left with an ESEA, now (in a master stroke that one can assume George Orwell himself would have thought genius) is titled the Every Child Achieves Act, that continues to rely on standardized testing as the sole assessment of effectiveness (Note: I'm careful not to call it learning). The Senate version allows for more state flexibility and less of an emphasis on testing - but testing remains a key component of the ESEA. Even supposed progressive efforts to reduce testing redundancy miss the boat, in that they continue to rely on norm-referenced test scores as the primary measure of learning. As I have posted numerous times before, we know that standardized testing tells us very little about learning and even less about teacher and school effectiveness. Yet, our Congress is poised to continue this nonsensical policy and any efforts that might lessen the grip of testing on our schools are roundly rejected. Mike Lee a Republican from Utah, that is safe to assume I rarely agree with, offered an amendment to the ESEA that would have allowed for parental opt-out of testing - it failed. Senator Jon Tester a Democrat from Montana, and probably the only former elementary school teacher in the US Senate, long-ago offered an amendment to eliminate annual testing and test only three times over a child's K-12 years - it failed. At least Senator Chris Murphy's (D-CT) effort to expand testing requirements failed (see Education Week article linked above) but almost every Democrat in the Senate - save Jon Tester, Jean Shaheen (NH), and Angus King (ME) - voted for the amendment.
In reading these articles I found it deeply disheartening that so many Democrats and civil rights organizations are so wrong on standardized testing. It seems they have bought hook, line, and sinker into the corporate reform argument that the only way to get equitable results and close the achievement gap is to standardized test schools to death. This approach will result in the exact opposite of it's intended purpose - and we know this. As Professor Berliner points out, poverty and inequality are the driving force in the achievement gap - to address educational equity we must address economic inequality. In the meantime, scapegoating teachers and schools while forcing policies which will have an adverse effect (while cloaked in lofty rhetoric and simple explanations not supported by research) does little but tear down the foundations of egalitarian public education. If you have the time, I would highly suggest reading Professor Berliner's 1996 book collaboration with Professor Bruce Biddle: The Manufactured Crisis. It's just as relevant and informative today as it was 19 years ago. I do take solace in the moving words and leadership of Rev. William Barber, founder of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, and this open letter to the US Congress from the Journey for Justice Alliance. It's good to see that a lot of folks do get it - they just don't get all that much press coverage (gee, I wonder why that is?).
It is clear that there is much work to do as the ESEA will be headed to conference committee soon. We must raise our voices (and social media) in opposition to this continued reliance on standardized testing. It's bad policy that yields bad results (unless of course you can profit from it) and is all the more troubling when we know what works and we don't do it (see the Journey for Justice Alliance's letter for a great snapshot of what real learning assessment looks like). But as one of my favorite thinkers Alfie Kohn pointed out in April - evidence and research are of little concern to most people.
In hope of encouraging positive action on the side of egalitarian public education and real learning, I want to leave you with two positive stories on the fight against the testing industrial complex. The first is an international effort to push back against the profit mongers at Pearson. And here's a quick blurb about yet another university that is recognizing what Bill Sedlacek told us long ago - there's much more to admissions and access than test scores. Drake is joining a growing number of postsecondary institutions that have dropped admissions testing requirements and take a more holistic view of the student and their potential for success in college. It's refreshing to see my sector bucking the testing mania trend, at least in a few instances.