Thursday, October 11, 2012

Join Me in Doing Something to Make High Stakes Test More Transparent

 Last night, when going over my daughter's homework, one of her worksheets advertised at the bottom of the page a website where we could locate an "animated glossary and tools".  So, we tried to visit and were thwarted by the lack of an access code.  I was a bit disappointed, and I considered writing the teacher for the code, but then, as a teacher myself, I kind of dread when parents write me letters.  It always means extra work on my part, and teachers are busy enough without getting new jobs from parents.  So, I didn't write the letter, and instead decided to wait until parent teacher conferences or open school night to ask for it.  I don't want to be the stereotypical Gifted and Talented Pain in the Ass Parent.  You know, the one that is involved in their childrens' education to the point of smothering and being a total nuisance.  But, that got me to thinking about making a nuisance about another part of education.

Some of my best ideas come to me in the morning, when it is just me, no radio, no television, no email, my husband is already at work and my daughter is still sleeping.  This morning, my epiphany was when I thought to myself "it is time to do something about high stakes testing".  My daughter will be partaking in this insanity in three years, and as an involved parent, I want to address anything in which she needs improving.  Every night, I am involved and truly interested in her homework and classwork.  We discuss the topics she is learning, and we look for things online, such as virtual manipulatives, or videos about making maple syrup (she's studying geometry and trees right now) to reinforce the concepts.  So, imagine that in three years time, that I learn that my daughter is "approaching standards" or "below standards", and that is all the information that I am given.  What will I do then?  I need to know much, much more than this to help her improve.  What good is a diagnosis with no possibility of a cure?

Not every child can be at the top of their class.  Not that
that will keep them from becoming president and enacting
stupid, impossible legislation with an even dumber name.
So, this morning, in the relative calm of my morning routine, I decided to do something about this.  I'm going to protest, lobby and entreat people to fight the insanity of opaque testing.  It seems like it would be an easy sell to parents: wouldn't you like to know exactly what problems or questions your child answered incorrectly?  If these tests are diagnostic, we should be able to use the scores to improve.  If they are not diagnostic, then why are the children spending most of their educational careers preparing for and taking them?  There will be pushback, of course, because the testing company does all kinds of machinations to ensure an even distribution of "far below", "approaching", "on" and "exceeding" grade levels.  Their scoring is inconsistent, since it is done "holistically", which by definition involves interpretation, and that cannot be "standardized".  They don't want parents to take notice of these things.  But, if high stakes tests are going to become an all-important, integral part of education, then we need to know the details.  Transparency is demanded in government, so why not in scores?  A teaching intern sees high stakes tests as a vicious cycle of blame: teachers blame parents, administrators blame teachers, and parents and children are largely forgotten.  As the intern wisely claims, "Since fear is the root cause of all problems, transparency, and therefore honesty, is the cure."

No proof it will improve schools, scores, or
anything else besides business's pockets.
So, in my preliminary investigation, there exists already many organizations devoted in some manner or other in this cause.  FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, is aimed mostly at college admissions tests.  There is a recent high school graduate looking to interview people who have had negative testing experiences for his documentary.  There is a resolution that is being passed by school boards that we can endorseChange the stakes posted a link so that parents who want to view the results of the state tests can do so.  There needs to be a serious uptick in the number of parents who do so.  And Parents Voices NY, another anti-test promotes opting out of the Field Tests, at the very least.  Together, we can make it more difficult to use our children and our children's education pawns in the struggle to break the union and privatize education.


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