I probably would have ignored a recent smug opinion piece by Beth Kassab in the Orlando Sentinel, who scoffs at parents who choose opting their children out of the tests. But another snotty write-up in a similar vein by Mike Thomas, from Jeb Bush’s Foundation of Excellence, followed quickly on its heels. I’ll start with Thomas.
Thomas likens test-taking to having a colonoscopy or his teeth cleaned and a bunch of other unpleasant but necessary tasks. He tries to teach the rest of us that he would like to opt out of this stuff, but these procedures are good for keeping him healthy. So, in his mind, the tests facing children in Florida are good for them. He seems to believe parents fighting the tests are not doing right by their children.
I get what he’s saying. The trouble is he doesn’t go far enough in his comparison. Let’s put it this way. How would he like to have 100 colonoscopies per year, and in-between those procedures, be prepping every day for the tests! Forget eating at a favorite restaurant. There won’t be any dinners to enjoy with the family either. Prep. Prep. Prep. And will he get real doctors to perform the procedures? Nah. The colonoscopies will be designed by a variety of people who have no medical licenses—maybe David Coleman, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, et cetera.
I am no longer teaching, but I taught in special education. I am not against testing. Far from it. I always welcomed student assessment. I have administered a variety of tests—including the standardized kind where I assisted students with accommodations. I plowed through valuable courses in undergraduate and graduate school to learn how to, not only administer tests, but to derive meaning from them. I have made my own tests.
So I take tests seriously, although I have always known that no test is perfect, and no test should define a child. I, myself, am not always a good test taker, so I understand what it feels like not to do well on a test.
For two years I worked with students with developmental disabilities, and we used observational tests–different tests, but no less important. They were geared toward understanding how we could make life better for our students. That should always be the true purpose of any test.
The difference between yesterday and today is that I always had time to teach. Testing did not dominate my or my students’ time. My job was never on the line, and while schools and school districts cared about test results, they were not as maniacally obsessed with the tests like they are today. The people who cared most about tests were the parents. I always felt I was accountable first to the student, and second to the parents.
I believe many of the Opt Out parents and educators are not against tests either. A few might not like any tests. That’s their right. But most want to understand and hear how their children are doing in school.
The problem is, they realize the current tests are bad tests. High-stakes tests are being used to privatize public schools. Teachers are being unfairly fired. Tests are also not always good at what they claim they measure. So, if a majority of parents don’t want the tests today, so much so that a good number of them refuse to let their children take the tests, shouldn’t those in charge reconsider the tests? Who are our public schools supposed to serve?
The tests and all that surrounds them are harmful to students and teachers. Or, the tests are the new wave of money-makers, like the PARCC and Smarter Balance, connected to the unproven Common Core State Standards. Many believe these tests are seriously flawed and do not appropriately consider the age development of the child. I have seen no field-testing of such tests. Students are Guinea pigs.
But the most terrible part of today’s testing is how the students themselves are treated throughout the school year. Test prep all the time. In many places there is no recess. Some schools do little, if any, instruction in valuable classes like the arts.
Which brings me to the other opinion piece by Beth Kassab. When I saw her headline, I thought I would agree with what she wrote. “We’ve Officially Lost Our Minds over School Testing.” Certainly I think that’s true! But not for the reasons she states. Kassab is worried about children being used by parents to opt out.
To be honest, it bothers me too to see young children caught up in the testing debate. But I don’t blame the parents. I blame the politicians and so-called education leaders like Florida’s Education Commissioner Pam Stewart who continue to ignore parental concerns about testing. HERE and HERE. She reminds me of a dictator instead of a guardian for the children.
Parents are backed-up against the wall as they fight to have their concerns heard. They believe, and I have to agree, that they are protecting their children from harm. Parents who recognize that high-stakes tests are wrong for their children should have every right to ask that their children not be tested. That it is taking so long for parents to be heard is what is most troubling and what I see as the larger real crisis.
I might add, when I hear of teachers who are torn between speaking out against the test, in what many see as malpractice in their profession, and with getting a much needed paycheck, I have to ask myself, what kind of country are we living in? Why are professional teachers being ignored?
I also disagree with Kassab that Florida’s education program was falling apart before Gov. Jeb Bush arrived. That is a falsehood. But if she wants to play that testing game, she should read the 2012 StateImpact NPR report “13thGrade: How Florida Schools Are Failing to Prepare Students for College,”–following Jeb’s “improvements”– which claims Florida has some of the lowest graduation rates in the country, and graduates who go to college need remedial classes.
These test-obsessed writers are smaller fish in a larger pond of columnists and reporters who hail the tests and diss those who don’t. Thomas also mentions Amanda Ripley’s Twitter comment, “Let’s all play! What would you like to opt your kid out of? It’s a brave new world!” Ripley is a well-known author who writes about education issues. She may do research and she may get her work promoted in the top media outlets, but she is no child expert. And what is her point about play? I take it she is being smug too.
I would ask all three of them what they think about the cruel and unusual testing of students like Ethan Rediske. What do they say to Ethan’s mother, Andrea, who courageously spoke out against the tests while she was mourning the loss of Ethan? Let’s revisit that right now. HERE. We really should not forget Ethan, just because he was Ethan, but many of us highly resent the bad use of bad testing in that situation.
It’s like this. If the administrators and policy makers don’t change the rules when it comes to bad testing, the parents and courageous educators will eventually do it for them.
These columnists need to refresh themselves as to what is happening in schools, or they need to find another topic to write about.