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Checkbook Reform Creates Tough Choices for Teachers

Ohanian Comment: Teachers should forget the "seat at the table." Anthony Cody asks the right question: What if our colleagues and the children are on the menu? Instead, teachers need to learn how to say, "No!"

Ain't gonna bow and scrape no more.

Ain't gonna give your tests no more.

We must not cooperate. The Standardistos and the test makers are so far ahead of us, we need to forget the table. We need a revolution. And here is how we can start: Follow the lead of the Coalition for Better Education in Colorado. Every year they put up billboards urging parents to opt their kids out of the abusive state test. We should make this national:

  • Keep the Kids Home on Test Day

  • Just Say "NO!" to Standardized Tests

  • Standardized tests are stealing your children's education. Keep them home on test day.

  • Probably someone can come up with a better slogan. If we could convince just 10% of parents to opt out of the state tests, we'd bring down the abusive system.

    The New Tests

    Linda Darling-Hammond, 2009 recipient of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, is advising the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, which is being managed by San Francisco-based WestEd and its senior program director, Stanley Rabinowitz. Thirty-one states have signed on to SMARTER-Balanced, including my own Vermont.

    Developing an internationally comparable
    balanced assessment system that supports high-quality learning
    by Darling-Hammond and R. Pecheone. Presented at the National Conference on Next Generation Kâ12 Assessment Systems, Center for Kâ12 Assessment & Performance Management with the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), Washington, DC. [If you have the stomach for it, you can read about the conference here. Flathead Thomas Friedman was the keynote speaker. Last year when there was flak over his $75,000 speaking fee, he returned it.]

    The tests were undoubtedly in the works long before the standards committees had their first meeting.

    In anticipation of the release of the first draft of the Common Core State Standards, conference attendees were presented with four powerful design models of next generation Kâ12 assessment systems and a presentation on lessons learned from the best international systems. The content for this conference was organized by the new Center for Kâ12 Assessment & Performance Management (Kâ12 Center) at the Educational Testing Service.

    No one has explained why they capitalize "smarter." But clearly test writers are salivating. Other test promoters at the conference were:

  • Marc Tucker, National Center on Education and the Economy: An Assessment System for the United States: Why not Build the Best? (PDF)

  • Stephen Lazer, Educational Testing Service:
    A High Level Model for an Assessment of Common Standards (PDF)

  • Larry Berger, Wireless Generation, and Lauren Resnick, University of Pittsburgh:
    An American Examination System (PDF)

  • Don't say you weren't warned.

    by Anthony Cody

    Many teachers have long clamored for that precious "seat at the
    table" where decisions about education policy are made. Once there, we
    often find the experience less than satisfying, as Teacher of the Year
    Anthony Mullen related recently.

    But we have entered the era of checkbook reform, and the Department
    of Education is spending our money left and right to buy as many
    educational leaders as possible for its dubious ventures.

    Last month Stephen Sawchuk reported on
    several state consortia who are applying for $350 million in federal
    funding to develop new assessments aligned to the Common Core Standards.
    These are the projects that Secretary Duncan has assured us will move
    us away from dependence on end-of-year standardized tests.

    What are we looking at?

    "...both consortia would combine results from
    performance-based tasks administered throughout the course of the school
    year with a more traditional end-of-the year measure for school
    accountability purposes."

    There may be opportunities for teachers to participate in the
    development of such assessments. We may be invited to take a seat at
    this table. But should we?

    I have serious reservations about the trajectory of this project.
    It seems to promote the idea that the answer to over-dependence on
    year-end tests is to introduce additional tests spread through the year,
    to make sure instruction is aligned to the desired outcomes. I can
    easily imagine monthly tests, dubbed "formative" in utter defiance of
    the true meaning of this term, which are used to coerce teachers to
    teach according to rigid timelines and scripted curricula.

    Teachers may also be offered jobs as "data coaches," responsible for
    reviewing interim data, monitoring instruction and "supporting" teachers
    in more effective teaching to the test. Given other "reform"
    initiatives, I can also imagine that interim "formative" assessment data
    could even be used in evaluating and compensating teachers.

    This is the brave new world of education reform, where the objective
    seems to be to make sure all students are learning the same thing at the
    same rate, and all teachers are using federally approved methods to get
    them there.

    If this is what teacher leadership means today, I want no part of it.

    As these opportunities proliferate, often with money attached, we
    need a real discussion among educators about the ethics of cashing in on
    phony reform efforts. What is the cost when teachers lend their names
    and expertise to such projects? Are we actually empowered enough to make
    a valuable difference in the assessments that are produced? Or are
    these projects doomed by the test-driven philosophy of their sponsor?

    Is a seat at the table an end in itself? What if our students and colleagues are on the menu?

    What do you think? Should we accept whatever opportunities are offered
    and hope we can make a difference? Or should we refrain from
    participating in projects where the results may be destructive?

    — Anthony Cody, with comment by Susan Ohanian
    Living in Dialogue blog





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