What? No standardized tests in high schools? Only in Seattle’s Garfield High School where Quincy Jones and Jimmi Hendrix got their starts.
In January some brave teachers began a boycott of standardized testing, the simplistic and time-consuming attempt to evaluate students. Long the darling of right-wing ideologues who use the test results to club teachers, break unions and shame both teachers and students, the tests have long been a huge neuralgic issue in the teaching community. Many have seen it as an attempt to privatize education and open up the billion dollar market to test providers and text book writers. The major criticism of course was that wholesale use of testing was far too simplistic as well as leaching precious time from the humanities, always the first to be scuttled. Washington state a leader in these high stake tests spends $100 million a year on these tests.The teachers argued for tutoring programs instead.
On Monday the Seattle school district backed down and invited teachers to find alternative ways to gauge student performance
Daniel Horan a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province of New York recently wrote an article in America magazine (May 13) detailing the depression teachers almost universally feel about using such short-sighted metrics for evaluating students. He wrote about a teacher friend “a paragon of what a committed, intelligent, creative and motivated young teacher should be”. This marvelous woman has seen her vision “built on the best resources and pedagogical foundations available” sacrificed to evaluations imposed by external education department and paid consultants. As a result she felt that her” professional and spiritual vocation has been sold from beneath her feet. “ This is not an unusual experience of those professionals closest to their students.Bear in mind teachers do not dispute the need for periodic testing but these massive, tension-packed tests should simply be one part of a more comprehensive program.
The best person to read on this is a former true believer in high stakes testing Diane Ravitch. Her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010) is a devastating critique of this assault.
She writes, “Testing should be used for help—to diagnose learning problems—not as a basis for rewards and punishments.”
Creative teachers under great pressure from superintendents are forced to “teach to the test” but this does little to enhance critical thinking, imagination, creativity, curiosity, compassion or moral courage.This huge industry, corporate driven has little interest in the induplicable ikons of God, our children. They have become numbers sacrificed on the altar of fuzzy thinking and the greed of the free market privatizers. Schools are the last bastion of sacred protection for vulnerable children.
It is more than ironic that such obsessive and narrow testing are virtually absent from the practices of high-performing nations. They seem to know better. They are less receptive to the incessant and deleterious demands of “the free market” system which has little or no respect for the weak, the marginal or the average.
The push back has begun in Seattle.Time will tell whether the system which openly proclaims the dignity and uniqueness of all of God’s children will wake from their slumber and begin to advocate for children. So far the leadership has been lacking, the imagination sclerotic and the understanding of the Catholic imagination has been anemic and inadequate.