Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently wrote to tell state education departments not to use test data punitively after the pandemic. He doesn’t seem to understand the history of high-stakes testing and its use to privatize public schools.
The purpose of this letter is to remind all who report and interpret student outcomes this year that assessment data has always been meant to be used constructively—to help inform parents and families about their students’ schools and to ensure schools receive the necessary resources to help support students. Further, this letter is intended to support our communities in countering efforts to misuse these results by applying them punitively.
High-stakes standardized tests have been punitive for years casting teachers as failing, closing public schools, opening charters, and pushing vouchers.
Tests, done right, can be a professional tool for teachers to understand students better. But corporate reformers stole that process years ago to make teachers look bad to close schools.
High-stakes standardized tests have unrealistically raised expectations even for the youngest learners. See Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? Children bear the pressure of high-stakes standardized testing, which can last a lifetime.
Public schools have been scrutinized, while charters and private schools are given free rein. See The New York Times’s recent report, In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money, where gender-segregated schools funded with $1 billion from the government agreed to subject students to standardized tests, with dismal results.
And if test results were to ensure [public] schools would receive the resources they need, why are teachers resorting to charity, begging for materials, and using Donors Choose?
Tests punish teachers and students so much that in 2013 parents organized the United Opt Out Movement (UOO), which opposed the misuse and overuse of testing in children. Savvy parents recognized how their children were being used to villanize teachers and bring down public education. They would have none of it.
But as time passed, students were still bombarded with assessments, and UOO has become less of a force to fight high-stakes standardized tests. Younger parents may not know the history behind high-stakes testing.
Instead of lifting the country’s public education system, bringing American students, teachers, and public schools down with tests has been the norm for years.
In his 2003 book, What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools, the late research psychologist Gerald Bracey wrote about how in 1992, an international test comparison in math and science found America’s students ranked low. The U.S. Department of Education presented comprehensive coverage with a press conference. Newsweek reported, An ‘F’ in World Competition (p.60).
However, months later, an international study of reading skills revealed American student scores among the best in the world! The USDOE held no press conference. Few praised the students’ success. Richard Rothman wrote U.S. Ranks High In International Study of Reading for Education Week, which began:
In a rare piece of good news from an international comparison of student achievement, students in the United States outperformed those from nearly every other country in a 32-nation study of reading literacy.
Anita Manning from USA Today wrote U.S. Kids Near Top of Class in Reading. Still, Bracey noted that curiously it contained a quote from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Francie Alexander dismissing the study as irrelevant.
Cardona justifies why the United States Department of Education (USDOE) refused to waive testing during the pandemic. But common knowledge told us students would be behind. This rationale is similar to repeatedly testing poor students from poor schools lacking resources, whose test results are often lower than students in wealthier schools with better resources and facilities.
Today’s pandemic learning loss talk is like the NCLB learning gap chatter. NCLB cast teachers as failures, closed public schools, and opened punitive “no excuses” charter schools (now it will be cyber charters), pushing poor children to follow online scripted instruction. It’s a downward spiral to end public education.
If the USDOE cared about students’ mental health and their hard-working teachers, they would have waived the tests during the pandemic while providing teachers with the needed resources and bolstering their progress during the pandemic instead of catering to special interests.
Many Americans have bought into the testing obsession. Sadly, United Opt Out is a shell of what it used to be.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is disingenuous when he asks states not to use tests punitively. Or he is misinformed and doesn’t understand the history and ulterior goals behind high-stakes standardized tests. Either way, assessment continues to bring down America’s democratic public school system. It’s a sad day for students and America.
Shapiro, E. & Rosenthal, B.M. (2022, September 11). In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money. The New York Times, Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/11/nyregion/hasidic-yeshivas-schools-new-york.
Bracey, G.W. (2003). What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Rothman, R. (1992, September 30). U.S. Ranks High In International Study of Reading. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/u-s-ranks-high-in-international-study-of-reading/1992/09.
Christine Langhoff says
The hollowing out of UOO is a reflection of the reality that most parents are engaged with public schools, both the ones their own children attend as well as in general, only while their kids are in attendance. We teachers (not the edu-tourists from TFA and the like) have a far wider horizon and longer memories. If the reformistas are successful in making teaching a gig instead of a career, that knowledge will continue to be diminished and then evaporate.
Secretary Cardona has been an educator nearly all his life. He has enough experience to know better.
Nancy Bailey says
I sadly agree, Christine. And the pushdown of inappropriate standards will continue to be harmful to children.
I heard about those Hasidic school receiving public money from a news article about a decade ago I am sad to learn this is still an issue. There is a similar issue in Israel in which low tier fundamentalist Jewish schools receive so much public funds a related issueswhich makes US taxpayers on the hook indirectly for that Israeli state funding considering that country’s generous US Aid package. It is wrong when private secular non profit school receive no funds to bring down tuition yet a parochial receives those funds
I hate standardized test the liberals are fond of these unreliable assessments as much as conservatives.
Nancy Bailey says
Charter, private, and parochial schools should show accountability to receive public funds. And then there’s the issue of the Separation of Church and State. Thank you for commenting, Will.