Community will resist culture of testing, with or without the School Committee
From Rose Levine, teacher of fifth-graders at the Graham & Parks School, Dec. 15, 2015: Tonight, the School Committee met to decide which standardized test our city’s school children will take this spring: MCAS, the state test, or PARCC, a competing national exam. I came home from this meeting feeling angry and disappointed, not by the results of the decision, but by the scope of the conversations we have about testing. Rather than taking a step back to consider the outsized role that testing and data have come to play in our educational system, our representatives narrow their focus to consider only the two bad options on the table.
Dozens of teachers, parents and other supporters of our children attended the meeting tonight, not to recommend one test over the other, but simply to continue sending the same message we have now been communicating for years: Standardized testing is not helpful to inform instruction, and it is not educationally meaningful. Our country’s increasing focus on testing and data has narrowed the curriculum and created enormous social and emotional problems for our most vulnerable children.
The number of tests we administer and the high stakes associated with test results are not inevitable, natural parts of a functioning educational system. To suggest, as many have, that students need to begin taking tests early and often to prepare them for taking more tests is a dangerous argument. Many districts have found themselves drowning in pretests, posttests and data analysis to prepare for their annual high-takes tests to the point where everything else has been pushed out of the curriculum. Tonight, a Cambridge parent and Boston Public Schools teacher spoke passionately about the deleterious effects such practices have had in BPS. In Cambridge, where we purportedly value social justice, community building, project-based learning and the arts and sciences, we would hate to continue down that same path.
In May, a beautiful month ripe with opportunities for exploring the natural world, and an important time to synthesize and reflect upon the work of the school year, my fifth-graders will instead be sitting through nine days of standardized tests. That is nearly two weeks of the school year. These tests will be administered in addition to countless other district-mandated assessments. Unlike the formative data I collect daily to give me immediate feedback on next steps to take in the classroom, none of the data that emerges from these test sessions will inform my teaching practice. My students and I will never look at their tests after the testing window. We will never get to ask, “What went wrong here?” or “What strategy could I use next time?” We won’t get to use those weeks to experiment with an engineering project, or host a poetry slam or compose the fantasy novels they’ve been begging to write. Those weeks – and many days before those weeks, which we will spend preparing them to take an unfamiliar test in a new format – will be lost.
In many ways, the decision made by the Committee tonight (they voted 4-3 for PARCC) was irrelevant. PARCC, or MCAS-with-PARCC-questions, or MCAS 2.0 … it’s all part of the same, failed attempt to measure what cannot be measured using tools that are inaccurate and crude. Schools have not always been this way. Schools need not continue to be this way. We as a community need to stand up to the testing regime and say no more. When presented with a set of terrible choices, we need to pick none of the above. And whether the School Committee stands with us or lets this historical moment pass them by, we will be taking action to resist, and to advocate for the education our children deserve.