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2/27/14

Your Kid Is Being Bullied - But Not in the Way You Think

    Are you defined by a test?  If you were born before 1985, chances are the answer is no.  If, on the other hand, you were born after that date you and your public education experience are data points on an administrator’s school or district or state data wall responding to the policies enacted by the No Child Left Untested law.  Notice I said public education.  In spite of the inanity in the name of accountability imposed upon students in public education, no such laws or requirements have been extended to the 7% of students, give or take a percentage point, in private or religious schools.  
    Let’s pause for a moment to listen for the outcry from the teachers, parents and politicians over the omission of that 7%  from the mandates and benefits of standardized testing and accountability…oh my...I can’t hear their poor, weak untested voices, can you?
    Right now your child in public education, from kindergarten through their senior year, is being bullied.  Bullied by accountabullies that will tell you the only way public schools and public school teachers can be held accountable is through more and more standardized testing and data driven instruction and data points and data walls and data analyzation and more and more data until they finally prove that testing your kid is necessary and required but testing their kid in a private school is not really important.  What?
    Almost all of the tests I took during my educational career were teacher -made tests.  You remember; those tests that individual teachers constructed designed particularly for the students in their classes that covered a well defined content area or subject.  That was back when teachers were trusted and allowed to teach without legislative and Federal over the shoulder intrusiveness.  The scores we made on those tests, believe it or not, ended up being a significant part of our grade at the end of each grading period.  There were few, if any, abortive legislative attempts at legislating excellence and teachers, for the most part, were not only allowed but encouraged to actually teach.  Make up work was allowed only if illness or legitimate mitigational circumstances interfered with a student’s attendance.  Make -up  work was expected to be inconvenient, and certainly not required.  If the work wasn’t done, the appropriate grade was recorded.  Sometimes students did not succeed.  Sounds difficult to believe, doesn’t it?  I assure you it actually happened, and that in spite of the lack of mandatory attendance laws and legislative micro-management students, in imitation of real life, were not only allowed to succeed, but sometimes allowed to fail.  I know, right?
    Students in the pre-No Teacher Left Unblamed era generally took one or two standardized tests during their educational careers.  The Iowa Test of Basic Skills was widely used, but the scores did not define the student or the teacher, and parents may have privately done the happy dance when their kids were in a top percentile but did not hang their heads in shame when their  progeny were scored on the wrong end of the bell curve because - this is hard to believe - the information was private and not open for public discussion.  No attempts were made to shame students or teachers into higher levels of performance.  Unbelievably, the information was sent home to parents, but, more importantly, used by teachers to denote where improvements in instructional focus might occur.  There is little chance of that happening today with our post-mortem assessment mentality where the tests are given at the end of the school year and results returned far too late for teachers to affect any sort of learning focus from those results.  There were no “gotcha” moments when scores were announced because, well, scores weren’t announced.  If we were going to attend college or junior college, many of us took the ACT or the SAT.  Our scores were our own, and no aggregate results were used to label our school or geographic area or racial or socioeconomic strata.  It would seem, in fact, that our teachers, parents, administrators and - hold on to your hat - even our politicians believed what the College Board said about not using SAT scores to compare schools or districts or geographic regions.  Can you believe it?
    The cries of “schools must be accountable” is now translated into a dystopian vision where standardized testing assumes the role of arbiter of all things educational; where the test drives instruction and not the other way around.  Rather than instruction being the rationale for testing the opposite is more often the case.  Accountability has become accountabilism administered by accountabullies whose primary goal is the destruction of public education, and through that destruction the privatization of that system which will allow public money to be spent on privatization efforts.  Rather than a system dedicated to the education of the majority the focus has quickly become the education of the privileged few at taxpayer expense and damn the collateral damage.  Test prep and testing pep rallies and administrative pressure to raise test scores, along with the unbelievable public acceptance of standardized tests as accurate measures of educational progress and attainment, as measures of individual achievement through a one size fits all method, are all aberrations of true education.  Teachers are judged by the test scores of students assigned to their class with no consideration given to pre-existing conditions.  Can you imagine a lawyer or doctor not being allowed to take pre-existing conditions or past performance into account?  Me neither. Parents demand individualization in their child’s education, yet succumb readily to the belief that tests designed for every student can be an accurate measure of their student’s individual achievement and progress.  Go figure.
     In 1889 only the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.   The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed.  In 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War.  In 1955 “Why Johnny Can’t Read” became a national bestseller.  In 1953 Admiral Rickover published “American Education: A National Failure,”  and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”  In 1969 the Chancellor of NY Schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”  The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of forty or so multiple choice questions, and in 1983 “A Nation at Risk” told us of the apparent failure of our system of public education.  In 1996 E. D. Hirsch called for a traditional approach to public education in “The Schools we Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.”  In 2002 George Bush shifted the blame of educational attainment from the student and his parents directly onto teachers with his “soft bigotry of low expectations” and, much to the delight of testing companies, began the onslaught of measurement of the unmeasurable with the No Principal Left Employed act.  In spite of the predictions of doom due to a “failed system of public education” and despite the fact that United States students have never measured in the top 25% of any international measure of educational success, our country continues to set the standard for the world in scientific and economic achievement by any measure, and the standard of entrepreneurship and creativity fostered by our system of public education is unmatched in any other part of the world.  In lieu of that continued standard of achievement - or the persistent lack of it -  perhaps the question of the reliability and validity of those tests - not to mention the veracity of those in other countries administering the test - should come into question.  Perhaps a more pertinent question is how our national creativity can be adequately measured, quantified and replicated rather than how public education can be replaced by privatization efforts intent upon access to tax money rather than real educational efforts.
    The “failure of public education” is an invention of its enemies based on the same principles as “the big lie.”  Saying something often enough does not make it true.  Because every child does not succeed does not mean that the system is a failure.  Because every student does not succeed at high levels, because every expectation is not met does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean the entire system has failed.  Success in education, as in excellence and in life, cannot be legislated and because not everyone achieves the American dream does not mean the dream itself is a failure.  Motivation, whether from an inner source or family expectations, is a deciding factor.  Not all children will succeed, but that does not mean we should not expect them to or quit because they don’t.  Failure is as much a part of life as success, and in public education there are far more successes than dropouts.  Deal with it.
    The Georgia DOE budget includes over $25 million for testing and test development.  That money, multiplied over time, could have an enormous positive impact in lowering class sizes, eliminating furlough days and providing positive staff development experiences developed and implement by teachers.  While DOE representatives might deplore the extent and degree of standardized testing they and the Federal government currently require, they can offer but little in the way of lessening the depth and degree of testing as it currently stands.  The answer?  Parents and Grandparents.
    Many parents don’t understand how easy it is for them to have their students opt out of standardized testing of any type.  Schools, school administrators and Arne Duncan will not advertise that course of action, and parents may hear from beleaguered school officials how opting out will “hurt the testing percentage requirements for your school.”  We can only hope.
It’s as simple as writing a note to your school’s principal or your system’s superintendent saying that your child (children) are not to take standardized tests without your written permission and that alternative activities be found for your students during testing windows.
    Your kids may not be immune to test prep, they may have to suffer through testing pep rallies and they may not yet be free from the Federally mandated curriculum, but they don’t have to sit through interminable tests that measure nothing of their inherent worth, what they know, their creativity, their imagination, their ability to think and reason new ways to solve problems or who they are as people.  Do it now.  Do it for your kids. Start a community conversation.  Opt of of this national testing silliness and help restore the only educational process that really matters - an individualized personal education from teachers that care about your kid and see them as a human being and not a data point.  


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