The supporters of high stakes testing are pushing back.
Peter Cunningham, at the Website Which Shall Not Be Linked, takes a swipe at John Oliver's piece (which he describes as "tedious") and suggests that teachers unions and middle-class white folks are involved in a clear conspiracy to keep poor minority folks trapped and beaten down (I'm not sure how his rhetoric fits into the quest for "better conversations")
Meanwhile, a coalition of civil rights groups has released a statement of support for the testing regimen, ending with this line:
But we cannot fix what we cannot measure. And abolishing the tests or
sabotaging the validity of their results only makes it harder to
identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools.
There's much to discuss, but I want to ask just one question.
Who has been saved?
We have had this regimen of testing, this revenue-generating stream of dis-aggregated data collection for over a decade. For over ten years we have been collecting test scores so that, having measured, we can then fix. So again I ask.
Who has been saved?
Where is the urban school system where the state has said, "Damn-- this school is in trouble. Get some resources and help and support in there stat. Divert tax dollars and raise more. Hire the best educational experts to help." And then, having sent the educational marines, the state could then watch their efforts pay off and declare, "Thank God for the test results. We have saved this school system."
Where is that school? Who has been saved?
Now, we've identified plenty of "failing systems." But from New Orleans to Newark, from Detroit to Little Rock to Holyoke, the response has not been to help the school or community. The response has been to cancel democracy, shut down the duly-elected school board, and effectively silence the parents, students and taxpayers of the community. Then, once governance of the school system has been stripped from the community and handed over to other interests, the schools have not been repaired, but replaced. Charter operators have been handed the keys to the candy store and allowed to reap profits while "rescuing" some small percentage of the students while leaving the rest to stew in public schools that now have-- well, not MORE resources than before their problems were "discovered," but LESS.
The community members are disenfranchised. The public schools are stripped of resources, not assisted. And some students (only those found worthy) are allowed to "escape" to charters that may not be in their community, may not be doing anything different than the public school except carefully skimming students, may be rolling back the clock on segregation, may not even be getting results any better than the public school.
Who has been saved? What has been fixed?
Cunningham's piece also runs the litany of problems in failing schools. Low graduation rates. Achievement (aka test score) gaps. Low-income students with low college completion rates. These are just a few of the absolutely true, absolutely critical issues that we need to be addressing. Cunningham does not explain how taking a standardized test will help.
Here's a suggestion. Speak honestly.
If your argument for the tests is, "We need to find and label the schools that must be closed. We must find the communities that are not fit to have a voice in their own governance so that we can take democracy away from them because their test scores suck and that is why they can't have nice things--" Even if what you should really be saying is, "Look, we're not going to try to save all the kids; some just aren't worth it. We'll save a select few and dump the rest like ballast on an over-burdened balloon--" If that's the true purpose of the Big Standardized Test, then just say so. Let's have an honest conversation about that. Let's talk about what the BS Test can actually tell us. Let's talk about what the "data" from the test can tell us, and what we can do about it.
Because this story about how the tests are like a big diagnostic medical test and the doctors are just waiting to whisk the worst patients to an operating room where they will receive the best care that modern science and top dollar can buy-- well, that story is getting old. We have been doing this for over a decade, and we keep watching patients get whisked away to that magical operating room, and yet not one of them has emerged alive and healthy. Most have not emerged at all. And in the meantime, more patients keep showing up, suffering from diseases spawned by inequity and injustice.
Maybe test results could be used to fix education. I tend to doubt it, but let's say it's possible. That's not how the data has been used for the past decade-plus.
If you are going to insist on this story of how we need the data in order to save students or schools or communities, then, please, answer just one question.
Who has been saved?
Read the NPE statement on testing, test-resistance, and inequity.