If test-based accountability were going to be a great boon to public education, wouldn't we know it by now?
We've been doing this federally-mandated get-good-scores-or-else thing for over a decade now. If it were working, wouldn't we know about it?
I mean, we're teachers. When things work, we pass them around. I can remember the spread of process writing and the six traits approach to writing, both of which entered my corner of the world because somebody tried them, found them useful, recommended them to colleagues. Yes, they eventually they turned up in textbooks-- but that was because the publishing companies had heard from teachers that this was the hot new thing, not because the federal government told them that if they wanted to sell books, they'd have to include these new processes. Or else.
Every classroom is an education laboratory, and every teacher is a scientist, forming hypotheses, experimenting, evaluating and then adopting, adapting or rejecting techniques. And when things work well, our excited and helpful nature means we'll be telling folks. "Wait till you hear about this thing I tried today! It was cool. We were rock stars!"
So where are the breathless tales of standardized test success?
Where are the tales from North Codswallop School District about how they used standardized tests to completely turn the district around?
I don't mean tales of how they used the standardized tests to get better scores on the standardized tests. Those tales are out there, but they're not so much "Wow, I really reached children and had an awesome teachable moment." They're more like "Well, we bought ourselves another year free from one sort of government punishment or another.
I mean, we're graduating students who have never known anything but high-stakes testing, from NCLB through RttT. Shouldn't we be hearing the great groundswell of noise about how this new tested generation is faster, smarter, stronger, happier, better?
Shouldn't we be hearing tales of large urban areas where the achievement gap has been closed and educational equity is an exciting real thing?
Heck, we've even had time to try out Plan B-- when testing doesn't transform a public system, at least it can be used to declare failure and bring in turnaround specialists and charters. Plenty of charter chains have had ample time to build a reputation as educational miracle workers, and yet when we listen not to the ad copy, but the real grapevine where real praises would really spread like wildfire if they actually existed-- crickets. Really sad crickets.
Where's the transformation? Where's the revitalization? The future promised back in 2002 is now here, and yet none of us have to wear shades.
Federally mandated standardized testing has had its chance. Its supporters have had every opportunity to try things their way. They have no successes to point to. Tautological success does not count-- I can say, "I will prove my students are great by counting the number of capital letters they use and then teach them to use capital letters which will prove they've become great" but that doesn't prove a damn thing.
No, if federally-mandated standardized tests were really helping teachers, really fixing schools, really helping students find success and fulfillment in numbers previously unheard of, we'd all know about it.
Tests had their chance. They failed. Time to move on.