By Sheila Resseger, M.A.
I wrote the following words almost exactly four years ago. Since then, many parents did choose to inform themselves, and refused to allow their children to participate in the PARCC/SBAC assessments; the problem with the underlying standards, however, was not addressed. And the situation we have today is even more concerning. The Common Core standards are even more entrenched, and much of students’ learning has been shifted to depersonalized digital platforms.
Even if children are not taking the end of the year standardized test, they are still subjected to continual computerized testing, with content based on those flawed Common Core standards. I am not arguing against the use of technology in schools; nor am I arguing against assessment. Teachers are trained professionals who should be diagnostically assessing their students as they plan their lessons.
What I am arguing for is a realistic re-assessment by experienced classroom teachers, and experienced teacher educators, of the negative impact that these standards and accompanying tests have had on our students for the past decade, particularly on our most vulnerable students.
We need to do better, and in order to do better we need to address the full humanity of our students and provide them with engaging, culturally responsive, empowering curricula, not scripted/digital curricula that are designed to prepare them for invalid tests, with a narrow focus on ELA and math.
Some thoughts on teaching and learning in the age of the technocrats:
In order for learning to be worthwhile and internalized, it must be embedded in an accessible context and it must resonate with the learner. Otherwise, it is just going through the motions for the sake of jumping through hoops. This jumping through hoops does a tragic disservice both to those who do well and to those who struggle.
What we have seen happening over the past few decades is an agenda heedless of the psycho-social damage it causes to the elite, who consider themselves infallible and with an inherent right to decide for others, and to the rest of us, who either resign ourselves to our diminished role or rebel in either harmful or constructive ways.
We who have informed ourselves deeply and broadly and who understand the dire implications of the top-down, technocratic, joyless, corporate-driven approach of the standardization and marginalization of our children have the obligation to speak truth to power and to resist. Opting Out of the testing is one powerful step toward bringing the entire malicious enterprise to light for the general public, while at the same time protecting our children from the egregious experience of test participation.
A parallel can be drawn here between two disparate constructs that each negatively affect students’ self-image. One is the constant portrayal in the media of ideal physical characteristics for women and men, even using images that have been photo-shopped because they are not possible in reality. The other is the obsessive focus on measuring academic “achievement” by standardized tests such as the PARCC.
Though the Common Core standards and curricula that are aligned with the PARCC claim to foster critical thinking, the type of neuro-cognitive processing that is required for performing well on this type of assessment is a caricature of critical thinking, and ignores the valuable human proficiencies of perceptiveness in human interaction, aesthetic sensibility, compassion, empathy, and authentic voice. Students who excel at these types of tests consider themselves a cut above, while those who struggle consider themselves stupid.
Aside from being tragic for the students and their families, this is an unconscionable discarding of the human potential that our divided and compromised world desperately needs. The cost in physical and mental/emotional health from both of these areas—body image ideal and cognitive image ideal—is immeasurable. The shame of this is that the profit to the large corporations benefitting from these deceitful images is exponential. This must stop!
Sheila Resseger, M.A., is a retired ELA teacher who taught at the RI School for the Deaf.