Well, it has not been a quiet week in school “reform.” Here is just some of what has happened:
- The Smarter Balanced Consortium’s Common Core test had to be stopped in Nevada, Montana, and North Dakota because, according to the Las Vegas Sun, “a spike in students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment… exceeded the data capacity of Measured Progress, a third party vendor contracted by the states to provide the test.” And according to Education Week, “Following technical problems with its administration of the Smarter Balanced tests, the Montana education department has announced that Smarter Balanced testing will be optional for districts this spring.”
- Colorado’s standardized tests had to be partially shut down for the same reason. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that “‘Technical difficulties’ caused computerized testing in Colorado to ‘not operate optimally’ for several hours Tuesday… The malfunction… was believed to be a server issue on the part of Pearson State Assessment Services, the for-profit test administrator for Colorado.”
- In New York, partly motivated by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new policy that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will depend on the Common Core tests, thousands of parents protested by opting their children and adolescents out of testing—a number big enough in some schools and school districts to invalidate the tests. Juan Gonzalez reported for the New York Daily News: “The entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled Tuesday, as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled against Albany’s fixation with standardized tests and refused to allow their children to take the annual English Language Arts state exam… ‘We’re very concerned about the impact a new testing proposal will have on our teachers,’ Smith-Thompson (a parent) said. She was referring to Gov. Cuomo getting the Legislature to approve a new evaluation system that will base 50% of a teacher’s performance on student test scores.”
- And in Atlanta, eight public school educators were sentenced to jail sentences and stiff fines for participating in a test-cheating scheme in which they had been threatened with termination if they had refused to help establish a “quick turnaround” reputation for their schools and the school district—at a time when federal policy demands impossible quick fixes by educators for problems most researchers have concluded are instead the result of concentrated poverty, segregation, and inequality. This blog has covered the Atlanta convictions and sentences here, here, here, and here.
- Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. this week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has been considering a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize the federal testing law, No Child Left Behind, a proposal that somewhat softens the punitive arm of the federal government by reducing some sanctions but still leaves the edifice of federal testing requirements in place. The bill was passed out of the Senate HELP Committee yesterday, although it is unclear when it might be considered on the Senate floor.
How to weave together the threads to expose the pattern that runs through all this? For there is a pattern running through it all. I was struggling to figure out how to do it when I happened upon an extraordinary analysis by Stacey Patton, a reporter for the Chronicle for Higher Education. Patton’s piece on school reform appears at Dame Magazine, a feminist publication. It is a very angry piece with language not typically included in my blog, but it is one of the most insightful analyses I’ve seen about what’s been happening to our public schools and our children. Please read Dear White People, Your Kids Are Getting Screwed, Too!, and please force yourself to consider what I believe is the justified anger Patton explores.
Patton begins: “From Black teachers being imprisoned for forging answers on tests and Black parents being jailed for ‘stealing’ a better education for their kids, to White middle class parents organizing a nationwide revolt against standardized testing, we are seeing a repudiation of our failed educational policies. Many might see these as totally separate issues, reflecting the power of race and class, but each represent varied responses to an immoral national strategy that had its major impact on inner-city communities more than a decade ago and has now targeted suburban schools.”
Patton turns her critique in all directions and condemns civil rights organizations for supporting testing: “So desperate to have some policies to promote equity when the country was turning conservative, civil rights leaders forgot their historic opposition to high stakes testing, with tragic results… At the end of the day, the rhetoric of civil rights set the stage for the educational holocaust in communities of color and for the Atlanta scandal.”
“The testing industrial complex,” Patton writes, “is not improving outcomes for Black children, teachers, schools, neighborhoods, communities or our nation. It is NOT making the U.S. more globally competitive. And it definitely will NOT prepare tomorrow’s workforce to thrive, unless of course the point is to train students to become compliant low-wage workers.” “As with so many policies, the rise of America’s testing regime has been felt, albeit differently, across different racial and classed communities. To maintain the illusion of post-raciality and equity, the reach of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the grips of assessment and standards have crept into every community, from New Orleans to Manhattan, from Beverly Hills to the West Side of Chicago.”
For Patton, the Atlanta convictions and long jail sentences demonstrate one side of the testing madness: “The system has set up these teachers and students to fail, and then blames them when the results are not met. From NCLB to Teach for America, from a racist testing culture to funding disparities, the history of American education has been one where Black and Latino kids have been cheated over and over again… These teachers in Atlanta are scapegoats for a punitive approach to education in poor neighborhoods and communities of color. It all has to do with the stakes attached to testing. What were they supposed to do? The tests embody racial inequities and biases, yet don’t account for the disparities within the nation. You can’t raise test scores with kids who are homeless and hungry, sleeping with three in a bed, the lights cut off, who fear going to and from school in unsafe neighborhoods. Teachers and administrators are being told to raise these kids’ scores or else.”
Patton has not much sympathy with privileged parents in the suburbs who have done little to lift up the needs of the schools in the cities but now are angrily trying to opt their children out of testing: “Enraged White parents, who moved to the suburbs to avoid anything from the inner city, are now forced to confront these very policies… Part of me—most of me—has no sympathy. Stop your crying. Welcome to our world!… How does it feel to have your children stressed by testing, enslaved to damning statistics, and told that they’re not the natural-born geniuses the world has always assured them that they deserve to be? How does it feel to see your kids being turned into commodities, monetized, and sacrificed to the corporate gods?”
Despite her anger, Patton is hopeful that, “the White Revolt against testing might actually change the entire landscape. White outrage might contribute to de-emphasis of testing across the board, an abandonment of a culture of assessment, benchmarks, and standardization.”
It is unusual and, to me, refreshing to read an honest, racially framed analysis of a set of education policies that have rolled across America with racialized implications we don’t talk about because we are trying to be “nice.” Let’s consider how all this feels from many points of view. An honest conversation can help us understand one another.