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For the Love of Learning: New York's New Tests

With the recent release of standardized tests results in New York, Carol Burris wrote a post about what these latest standardized test results really mean:

The bottom line is that there are tremendous financial interests driving the agenda about our schools — from test makers, to publishers, to data management corporations — all making tremendous profits from the chaotic change. When the scores drop, they prosper. When the tests change, they prosper. When schools scramble to buy materials to raise scores, they prosper. There are curriculum developers earning millions to created scripted lessons to turn teachers into deliverers of modules in alignment with the Common Core (or to replace teachers with computer software carefully designed for such alignment). This is all to be enforced by their principals, who must attend “calibration events” run by “network teams.”

Burris isn't alone. Other education leaders are voicing their concerns over how public education is being highjacked by profiteers -- check out this open letter from Superintendent Joseph Rella:

We've all heard the expression: "If it sounds too good to be true -- IT IS!" I believe the converse is also correct: "If it sounds too BAD to be true -- IT'S NOT!" And so it is with the test scores. They are not true. They are not connected to student learning in any way.

So what's going on here? Why are standardized test scores being used to discredit teachers and schools? Anthony Cody's post From School Grades to Common Core: Debunking the Accountability Scam is a must read:

Here is the bitter truth. Standardized tests are a political weapon and can be used to tell whatever story you want. The campaign to hold schools and teachers "accountable" for test scores is a political project designed to deflect responsibility away from people who have gotten obscenely wealthy over the past few decades. The concept of "failing schools" is a bogus one. Schools are being shut down not in the interest of the children who attend them, but in order to create opportunities for new players in the education marketplace. 

Teachers have been beaten down by the drive for "accountability" and most of our leaders have been so intimidated they will not directly take on this scam. Instead they nibble around the edges, complaining that we are "testing too much," or that tests and standards are "misaligned," as if getting everything perfectly lined up would make the system work. It won't. If we are going to reclaim our schools from those attempting to privatize them, we must confront and refute the false indictment that is used to condemn the schools and the educators who work in them.

For a closer look at the corporate interests behind the Common Core, check out this video:

The Common Core is not a grass roots movement made by teachers. In fact, it's not even a curriculum -- it's a massive data acquisition program that will place certain corporations in line to profit off of children and tax payers.

After a decade of failures with No Child Left Behind and it's standards based, test driven school reform it would appear that the United States is prepared to double down on their failures by merely making the standards and the tests tougher with the Common Core and "next generation tests":

The same heavy-handed, top-down policies that forced adoption of the standards require use of the Common Core tests to evaluate educators. This inaccurate and unreliable practice will distort the assessments before they're even in place and make Common Core implementation part of the assault on the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it. The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces throughout the year plus the computer platforms needed to administer and score them, will be enormous and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor communities of color. If, as proposed, the Common Core's “college and career ready” performance level becomes the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will prepare for college. 

This is not just cynical speculation. It is a reasonable projection based on the history of the NCLB decade, the dismantling of public education in the nation's urban centers, and the appalling growth of the inequality and concentrated poverty that remains the central problem in public education.

Learning is not like instant mashed potatoes; kids have not been through an industrial process of cooking, mashing and dehydrating to yield packaged convenience learning that can be reconstituted in the classroom in seconds by simply adding curriculum, standards or testing.

How does this all end? Who knows, but I would wager a bet that nothing good will come until the real professionals empower themselves to be leaders among their colleagues in a bid to finally refuse their cooperation with distant authorities and foreign bureaucrats because public education, like democracy, only exists for those who demand it exist.

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Joe Bower

Joe Bower teaches in Alberta, Canada.