Friday, May 23, 2014

Tyranny of the Test

When Michelle Obama spoke up in support of the arts this week, I was not moved. In fact, I was bummed. Because her "defense" of the arts was simply one more sign that we live under the Tyranny of the Test.

The bottom line here is very clear: Arts education isn't something we add on after we've achieved other priorities, like raising test scores and getting kids into college. It's actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place.

So there you have it. The arts are not in and of themselves important. They're important because they help us with what really matters, and that's raising test scores. So....what? Art and music have no value out in the world outside of school? They are just a tool, a trick to get students "in the seats" so that we can do the real work? If we didn't have the test scores to raise, cutting the arts from education would totally make sense?

Apparently that would make sense in Boston, where the public school system has announced that the History and Social Studies Departments are being eliminated. The school district has been quick to clarify that these departments and areas of study aren't being done away with--  they are "attempting to embed History and Social Studies education" into the "bigger picture."

What that appears to mean is that the departments will be folded into the English Language Arts department, the better to develop laser-like focus on the Test.

Or to put it another way, Boston Schools are taking a step to align the very organization of their instruction to the organization of the Test. Boston is boldly institutionalizing its devotion to Test Prep (you know-- the test prep that is totally not happening any more since we've moved on to Common Core).

This is the tyranny of high stakes testing. This is using a testing instrument to warp and distort the very idea of what it means to be a well-educated person. A well-educated person, it turns out, is one who gets good math and ELA scores on the Test-- nothing else matters. The longer we let this foolishness continue, the more we are going to suffer as a society from our small, cramped narrow vision of what it means to be human. Surely we can aspire to greater things for ourselves and for our children than simply to make good numbers on a bad standardized test.

Boston schools have either clarified (or backtracked, depending on your level of paranoia) that no combining, deleting or otherwise screwing with the departments will be happening. You can read all about it here. They apologize for communicating poorly and assure us all that The Worst is not happening. So, good news.


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  2. It appears that the info on the links you included were misleading...or they are nuancing their position....

    1. There has been a lot of scrambling on this. I think they have been nuancing like crazy since the story first broke and are working their way quickly around to "that is not what I meant at all." I guess the new year will tell exactly how much nuance they manege to bring to it.