Shannon Sevier, vice-president for advocacy of the National PTA, took to the Huffinmgton Post this week to shill for the testing industry. It was not a particularly artful defense, with Sevier parroting most of the talking points put forth by test manufacturers and their hired government guns.
Sevier starts out by reminiscing about when her children took their Big Standardized Tests, and while there was fear and trepidation, she also claims to remembers "the importance of the assessments in helping my children's teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making."
I'm a little fuzzy on what time frame we'd be talking about, because Sevier's LinkedIN profile seems to indicate that she was working in Europe from 2009-2014. Pre-2009 tests would be a different animal than the current crop. But even if she was commuting, or her children were here in the states, that line is a load of bull.
"Support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making" is fancy talk for "helped design more targeted test prep in order to make sure that test scores went up." No BS Tests help teachers teach. Not one of them. There is no useful educational feedback. There is no detailed educational breakdown of educational goals provided to teachers on a timely basis, and, in fact, in most cases no such feedback is possible because teachers are forbidden to know what questions and answers are on the test.
So, no, Ms. Sevier. That never happened anywhere except in the feverishly excited PR materials of test manufacturers.
Mass opt-out comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity and individual student achievement while leaving the question of assessment quality unanswered.
Like most of Sevier's piece, this is fuzzier than a year-old gumball from under the bed. Exactly what are the costs to equity and individual student achievement? In what universe can we expect to find sad, unemployed men and women sitting in their van down by the river saying ruefully, "If only I had taken that big standardized test in school. Then my life would have turned out differently."
The consequences of non-participation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Non-participation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and decreased interventions for students. Such ramifications would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.
Did I mention that Sevier is a lawyer? This is some mighty fine word salad, but its Croutons of Truth are sad, soggy and sucky. While it is true that theoretically, the capacity to withhold some funding from schools is there in the law, it has never happened, ever (though Sevier does point out that some schools in New York got a letter. A letter! Possibly even a strongly worded letter! Horrors!! Did it go on their permanent record??) The number of schools punished for low participation rates is zero, which is roughly the same number as the number of politicians willing to tell parents that their school is going to lose funding because they exercised their legal rights.
And when we talk about the "achievement gap," always remember that this is reformster-speak for "difference in test scores" and nobody has tied test scores to anything except test scores.
More to the point, while test advocates repeatedly insist that test results are an important way of getting needed assistance and support to struggling students in struggling schools, it has never worked that way. Low test scores don't target students for assistance-- they target schools for takeover, turnaround, or termination.
The Sevier segues into the National PTA's position, which is exactly like the administration's position-- that maybe there are too many tests, and we should totally get rid of redundant and unnecessary tests and look at keeping other tests out of the classroom as well, by which they mean every test other than the BS Tests. They agree that we should get rid of bad tests, "while protecting the vital role that good assessments play in measuring
student progress so parents and educators have the best information to
support teaching and learning, improve outcomes and ensure equity for
But BS Tests don't provide "the best information." The best information is provided by teacher-created, day-to-day, formal and informal classroom assessments. Tests such as PARCC, SBA, etc do not provide any useful information except to measure how well students do on the PARCC, SBA, etc-- and there is not a lick of evidence that good performance on the BS Tests is indicative of anything at all.
I'll give Sevier credit for stopping just sort of the usual assertion that teachers and parents are all thick headed ninnimuggins who cannot tell how students are doing unless they have access to revelatory standardized test scores. But PTA's stalwart and unwavering support seems to be for some imaginary set of tests that don't exist. Their policy statement on testing, says Sevier, advocates for tests that (1) ensure appropriate development; (2) guarantee reliability and
implementation of high quality assessments; (3) clearly articulate to
parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their
child's school and (4) bring schools and families together to use the
data to support student growth and learning.
BS Tests like the PARCC don't actually do any of these things. What's even more notable about the PTA policies is that in its full version, it's pretty much a cut and paste of the Obama administrations dreadful Test Action Plan which is in turn basically a marketing reboot for test manufacturers.
Did the PTA cave because they get a boatload of money from Bill Gates? Who knows. But what is clear is that when Sevier writes "National PTA strongly advocates for and continues to support increased
inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all
levels," what she means is that parents should play nice, follow the government's rules, and count on policy makers to Do The Right Thing.
That's a foolish plan. Over a decade of reformy policy shows us that what reformsters want from parents, teachers and students is compliance, and that as long as they get that, they are happy to stay the course. The Opt Out movement arguably forced what little accommodation is marked by the Test Action Plan and ESSA's assertion of a parent's legal right to opt out. Cheerful obedience in hopes of a Seat at the Table has not accomplished jack, and the National PTA should be ashamed of itself for insisting that parents should stay home, submit their children to the tyranny of time-wasting testing, and just hope that Important People will spontaneously improve the tests. Instead, the National PTA should be joining the chorus of voices demanding that the whole premise of BS Testing should be questioned, challenged, and ultimately rejected so that students can get back to learning and teachers can get back to teaching.
Sevier and the PTA have failed on two levels. First, they have failed in insisting that quiet compliance is the way to get policymakers to tweak and improve test-driven education policies. Second, they have failed in refusing to challenge the very notion of re-organizing America's schools around standardized testing.