An Op-Ed by Guest Contributor Jesse Hagopian:
There is a lot of talk in well-financed education reform circles about “closing the achievement gap” – the difference in academic performance between more affluent white children and underprivileged kids of color. Plagiarizing phrases from the Civil Rights movement, these politically-connected reformers talk of a “revolution” in education accountability and claim to be building a high-stakes testing “movement” to measure the needs of students who have traditionally been left behind. Education Secretary Arne Duncan even referred to the opening of the film Waiting for “Superman”– which advocates charter schools and demonizes teachers’ unions in part for opposing the accountability of testing–as a “Rosa Parks moment.”
Cribbing from these reformers, The Seattle School District, in its most recent contract negotiations with the teacher’s union, the Seattle Education Association, pushed through a provision mandating the rating of teachers based on their students’ test scores.
But can these tests improve learning and teaching?
While there can be no doubt our schools need important changes in order to meet the needs of all children, the truth about standardized tests is that they are a better indicator of a student’s zip code than a student’s aptitude. That’s because the wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts score better on tests. This is not a reflection of the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students verses that of lower-income students of color, but of the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read to them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, coming to school healthy, well-fed and more focused, to name a few.
For these reasons, the achievement gap is better described as an opportunity gap.
As University of Washington education professor Wayne Au has written, “Looking back to its origins in the eugenics moment, standardized testing provided…ideological cover for the social, economic and education inequalities the test themselves help maintain.”
Standardized testing has from the very beginning been a tool to rank people, not to remove the barriers needed to achieve equality; testing cannot cure education anymore than a thermometer can cure a fever.
Moreover, the recent experience of high-stakes testing in New York City—long considered the national model for improving student achievement by making test scores the cornerstone of school accountability—demonstrates just how broken a thermometer such test scores really are. With the late July release of the state test results for 2010, New York’s claims of making “historic gains” for children came crashing down. Results from the newly adjusted test showed the proficiency rate in English fell from 69 percent last year down to 42 percent, while only 54 percent reached grade level in math, down from 82 percent. These wild fluctuations in scores reveal standardized testing as a profoundly inaccurate measure of student learning.
Still worse is the example of the public schools in Washington, D.C. Under Michele Rhee’s tenure as superintendent school reformers often bragged that her hard-line approach to fighting the teachers’ union, her emphasis on charter schools, and her devotion to standardized testing had raised achievement for the district. That is until USA Today broke the story that a campaign of cheating had taken place where someone–under intense pressure to show Rhee’s tactics were working–erased wrong answers and changed them to correct answers on the Districts standardized test.
Ignoring what today is vast research showing the invalidity of standardized testing as an accurate measure of student learning, the Seattle School District is quickly moving to remake our schools in the image of a production line where simple input-values are used to measure the workers’ (teachers) efficiency at producing commodities (students). Under the former Seattle Schools superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, the District adopted a test called the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP). After the District’s adoption of the test—with a $4.3 million price tag—it was revealed that Goodloe-Johnson sat on the board of the company that produced the test, a conflict of interest that should disqualify the use of the test in Seattle. Taking a bold step against the MAP test, the Seattle Education Association recently passed the following resolution:
Whereas testing is not the primary purpose of education…Whereas the MAP was brought into Seattle Schools under suspicious circumstances and conflicts of interest…Whereas the SEA has always had the position of calling for funding to go to classroom and student needs first…Be it Resolved that…the MAP test should be scrapped and/or phased out and the resources saved be returned to the classroom.
Teachers, parents, and students know a holistic education includes teaching children creativity, civic courage, leadership, teamwork and social responsibility—skills that can’t be neatly quantified by standardized tests and will cease to be taught if educators’ jobs are tied to high-stakes tests. Moreover, in this era of economic recession and ongoing war, it would seem all the more urgent to develop students who can think beyond filling-in-the-bubble to come up with innovative ideas to big societal problems.
As teachers, union members, parents and civil rights advocates we offer an opposing plan to provide a quality education for all and to close the opportunity gap: fully fund and equalize school resources, reinstate the recently abolished “Department of Race and Equity” to help ensure culturally relevant pedagogy and assessment, lower class size to provide the individualized attention that students deserve, and support the most effective form of assessment that has yet to be devised—one that can adjust to every child, evaluate results quickly, and make appropriate changes in instruction—the human educator.
The mantle of the Civil Rights movement does not belong to those who propose relegating students and teachers to the back of the education system with unscientific, curriculum narrowing tests, but rather to those who refuse to give up their position at the front of the struggle to eliminate the inequities that result in achievement disparities.
– Jesse Hagopian teaches at Garfield High School and is a founding member of the Social Equality Educators, a group of progressive union teachers in the Seattle Public School district. Hagopian will be joining a panel of social justice education advocates for the forum:
“Achievement Gap or Opportunity Gap: Fighting Racism in the Public Schools”
Thursday, May, 19th, 2011—7:00 pm
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
1634 19th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122
Featuring: James Bible, president of the King Co. NAACP
Wayne Au, editor of Rethinking Schools
Olga Addae, President of the Seattle Education Association
Dora Taylor, Parents Across America, Founding Member
Check out the Facebook page, Acheivement Gap or Opportunity Gap? Fighting Racism in Public Schools.
Interesting article, but I feel the need to clarify regarding MAP. It is a tool that can and should be used for formative evaluation: to increase student achievement by giving teachers immediate (within 48 hours) feedback regarding where the child is (across many areas of the subject). It is an “adaptive” test, so it is not the same test for any one child, rather, it adapts to whether the child gets the question right or wrong, continually doing this to get a complete picture of where they are at that point in time. I strongly believe it should not be used as a high stakes test, but am saddened to hear that Seattle schools pulled back on it due to a conflict of interest. Using MAP in schools allows teachers to offer a “well-rounded, creative, FUN, and MEANINGFUL education that all students deserve” (words from the commenter above). (Note: I do not work for the NWEA, but teach in an international school with a very diverse population (socioeconomic, culture, language, previous educational experiences, and abilities) that uses MAP as a successful means to increase student achievement.
I agree with the notion that MAP tests should not be used for high stakes. However I would like to comment on the formative assessment value of the math portion of the MAP. I subjected my ninth grade math students to MAP tests and it was clear from the few questions I looked at that there were questions on the tests that were not very clear, even I was confused. In addition the score results for an individual student would bounce around and were not consistent. I spoke with other teachers in our school and they agreed the assessment was not any good.
The tests were sold as a way to assess student growth in a particular area. From my experience I don’t feel they give a good formative evaluation, at least not in math. The MAP Math Test does not do what we were told it would and instead is being used for the high stakes purpose of placing a teacher on probation. This is the classic sales gimmick of “Bate and Switch,” Something learned in the ethic-less business schools not the education schools.
In my opinion, the test is bleeding resources, money, time, effort, and emotional stability from the classroom. In fact I do not see any value in it at all other than “negative minus.”
I don’t need a million-dollar-plus computer program to tell me where a student is lacking in skills. I have, classroom tests, homework assignments, verbal quizzes, observations, family contacts, professional intuition, and personal interaction with the students. I don’t really need an expensive MAP test.
Retired but not inactive
Unfortunately, MAP testing is alive and well in Seattle.
It takes up valuable teaching time and library time. The library of each school in Seattle is closed at least 4-6 weeks per school year so that the students can use the library computers to take the test. Because no funding was allocated for proctoring the test, librarians are used as staff along with parent volunteers.
The entire process has not been thought out or completely subsidized.
I also teach and was a student in public schools in the US. My teachers gave me quizzes as they felt necessary to see where we were in terms of the information that they were providing us. That was quite adequate to determine how we were progressing. In my classes, I know exactly where my students are. I have a smaller class size than most public school teachers have to deal with and after speaking to my students and asking questions, it’s quite clear if they are understanding the information that I am providing. Smaller class sizes is something that is necessary to demand at this time in our schools and would cost about as much as it does to pay for and administer the MAP test in terms of time and money.
Several teachers have told me about the volumes of information that they receive regarding each student’s test scores. Multiply that times 30 and for some multiply that again by 2 to 5 times and that’s how much “data” some teachers have to deal with two to three times each year along with their regular teaching load. The “data” includes not only the score but also suggested plans for each student. This is overwhelming not only for the student but also the teacher and completely unnecessary.
The MAP test is administered twice in Seattle and the students can take it a third time. The third time is simply for the testing company to acquire additional data for their own use. On top of that, the teachers still give their quizzes and there is a state test that is administered twice each school year.
Enough is enough in terms of these expensive and unnecessary tests.
what a wonderful article — basically states what i ‘ve been stating since the movement towards standardized-testing & NCLB!! i hope we can get back to providing the well-rounded, creative, FUN, and MEANINGFUL education that all students deserve. i couldn’t imagine being a student in this high-stakes, stressful, boring, MEANINGLESS atmospheres that exist in our classrooms today!! the scary thing is what are we producing in our classrooms — how are they ready for life after high school — how are they competitive in the world-market?? we educators must STAND-UP and be heard!! we must fight for what we know is the best not only for education — but what’s best for ‘our’ children/students/youth!!
This well written article goes a long way toward delineating the fraudulent methods used by the international financial fraternity to take over public education. It’s clear that they are destroying the opportunities of our youth under the false guise of leading a new civil rights movement. This effort is best described as a “counter-civil rights movement.”
I have referenced a web site that has a video of the late Asa Hilliard before he died rather suddenly. He is presenting a lecture on the “Attack on Africans writing their own history.” This attack is coming from the same corporate foundations and groups who are behind the corporate ed reform movement.
The original groups that mobilized to takeover public schools are also behind the attack on African writers. A short list includes; Clarence Thomas, Arthur Schlesinger, The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Institute, The Olin foundation, The Bradley Foundation, The Center For Education Reform, The Education Leadership Council, David Horowitz and The Center For The Study Of Popular Culture, Steve Forbes, Chester Finn, Diane Ratovitch (now against corporate ed reform), The Educational Excellence Network, National Endowment of the Arts Corporation For Public Broadcasting, The Scaiff Foundation, and Ed Hersh, and Al Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers, a national public teachers union. You’ll notice that there is representation from both right and left ideologies, neo-liberal and neo-conservative.
This group is attempting to discredit African scholars, eliminate multi-cultural education, and privatize public schools.