Listening to the protests

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

Across America, teachers are protesting the Common Core, PARCC, and the onslaught of standardized testing that has been sucking educational hours from our schools, while channeling curricula into smaller and smaller boxes. People outside education are sometimes persuaded to ignore these protests when bureaucrats throw the magic words “data” and “comparison” into the equation. We need to be able to compare our students, we are told, and raise the scores of those who are disadvantaged. That score argument can sound persuasive on the surface.

If we look closely, though, flaws in the standardized testing rationale stand out almost immediately. For one thing, many districts are now spending more than two weeks testing students to get those comparisons. That’s an irrational amount of testing, especially when we consider that testing hours directly replace instructional hours. Much of that testing is duplicative, documenting academic performance issues that have been repeatedly documented in the past. For another thing, ample evidence now exists that struggling school districts are eliminating classes that don’t directly contribute to test score improvements. Our strongest districts continue to offer pottery and studio art classes, while our weakest eliminate woodworking, cooking and even music classes. The kids who most need an anchor to keep them in school often receive the least interesting classes, as the push for higher scores drives out fun classes in favor of extra math and English instruction.

Eduhonesty: PLEASE, LISTEN to our teachers. We have been teaching test strategies for years now when we ought to have been fostering learning. Evaluations make this more necessary by the year. The problem is not data; we need data. The problem is that the data train seems to have run off the rails, and it’s falling down into an abyss of numbers that people often have no time to evaluate, while taking some very good kids down with it.