college ready

     Elizabeth Hanson has been a teacher, primarily teaching English Language Learners, and preparing students to take the General Education Development test (GED). She has taught teens to adults from a variety of countries and circumstances. She participated in the Washington State Bad Ass Teachers (BATS) Toxic Testing Rally in Olympia on February 16th.  
     To follow is the speech she gave (updated with links).
     -Carolyn Leith

High Stakes Testing – China and the U.S.

This is my 30th year of teaching.  I teach ESL at a community college, ESL to mostly Asian kids who come to study in the U.S. because either they weren’t able to do well on their high stakes tests, which determine whether or not they can enter university, or their parents decided they didn’t want their kids to suffer the massive amount of studying required to pass those tests. The Mainland Chinese students take the Gao Kao – a two day test given to seniors. About half the students who take the Gao Kao can pass it. In the early 1990s only about 25% could pass it. The cut score, the score determining if you pass a test or not, is set by the government.

All of the students I teach are from wealthy families, like their parents owning corporations wealthy. Funny how if you are rich you get to bypass all of the nonsense and fear associated with high stakes testing, and you have options if your children can’t pass the tests.

I myself have only taken one high stakes test, the SAT-back in 1979, and I recall not caring about my score. I honestly don’t remember if I scored high or low.  I remember thinking back then that a test score wouldn’t impact who I became or what I did with my life. I figured I was more than a score. I ended up going to Shoreline Community College, the University of Washington and Temple University.

I came to this movement opposing high stakes/unfair testing via the GED – the test we’ve given in this country since 1942 to give people a second chance at earning a high school credential. We had 13,000 students earning their GED in Washington State every year. But in January 2014, the Pearson Corporation took over the GED and 80-90% fewer students could pass the GED in 2014, fewer than 3,000 students in Washington State, a drop of over 10,000 students. Similar huge drops have occurred nationwide. The Pearson GED, like other high stakes tests –the PARCC and the SBAC claim they have to be rigorous in order to make sure our young people are “College and Career Ready” and we do that by having a set of shared standards nationwide known as the Common Core State Standards and the high stakes tests like the Gao Kao in China, have set cut scores so that most students who take these tests in the U.S. are labelled failures.

Where in the heck did we come up with the idea that we are, as a people, somehow not measuring up? The fear-mongering about not being College and Career Ready started with Ronald Reagan’s A Nation at Risk report published in 1983, which ushered in the start of high stakes testing, specialized curricula, and fear. It sure doesn’t look like Americans are dummies based on this chart:

We are going to college more than ever!


The Sandia Report

Going back to the A Nation at Risk report, several reviews over the years have pointed out that it wasn’t a fair study. The first of these was a study called the Sandia Report that was commissioned by the Bush White House in 1990, which found evidence that did not support the claims made in A Nation at Risk. The three authors stated: “To our surprise, on nearly every measure, we found steady or slightly improving trends.” Instead of American kids doing worse – they were actually doing better!

Also, the Sandia report found that high school completion rates in the US are among the highest in the world and that the reason our test scores were lower on international tests was due to the fact that more poor students took international tests in the US whereas in other countries only the wealthy and top performing students took international tests. 

To me, it looks like we are doing fine if you measure success on worker productivity, numbers of people going to college, and the number of Nobel Laureates in Science. What’s going on?

(The citation for this study is: Carson, C.C., Huelskamp, R.M., & Woodall, R.D., (1993, May/June). Perspectives on education in America. Journal of Educational Research, Volume 86, Pages 259-301. This study has been virtually blacklisted. We were not able to find any link to it on the internet. However, we, my husband and I, were able to find and read a copy of this study at the Educational Research library at the University of Washington.) 

What is going on?

What seems to be going on is this: Some billionaire-corporate types started a myth that Americans were falling behind the rest of the world, and then they stepped in with the solution: copy-written educational standards, tests, curricula and materials, and a system for data-mining to write reports to justify the whole mess. Look at Pearson Publishing, a UK company, which owns the GED and publishes high stakes tests and curricula. They earn $4 billion in sales annually in North America from solving the “problem” of our kids not being “College and Career Ready”.  What is happening to our education system is very simple and very devious… Create a problem and create a market to solve the problem.

My main point of focus is that College and Career Ready is a marketing slogan. It is based in unreality.

It would be one thing if we as a people really were failing, if we had somehow become less creative, less productive. It would be one thing if we had a real demand for workers and didn’t have enough workers to fill that demand. But those aren’t the problems. The problem is that we’ve off-shored and out sourced our jobs. We don’t have much of an economy for the bottom 60% of Americans. And public education with its budget of $750 billion a year is in the corporate sights; the kids have become commodities. The ed-refomers have created an industry. Let’s turn to the real problem: the economy which has been constructed by design.

Free Trade

Let’s take a look at this robust economy that we are preparing our kids for when they get College and Career Ready. What ever happened to Detroit and Camden and Pittsburg and other formerly great cities in the U.S?

Due to free trade, 30 million jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 1992 and with more trade agreements in the wings- the TPP and TTIP many more jobs are sure to be off-shored and out-sourced. If our government really cared about the people, would they have allowed free trade agreements to go through? Our U.S. students struggle to complete high stakes tests, with many of the questions two years above their ability, and they get Detroit. So much for college and career ready.

Do we have enough living wage jobs to go around for our kids?

What kind of jobs do we have for our people in the U.S.? Clearly we have to get college and career ready to be prepared to work in this new economy, right?

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, of the 30 jobs which will have the most demand and openings in the U.S.-  from now until 2022 – 2/3 won’t even require a college degree. The jobs we have and will have are like store clerks, food service workers, nursing assistants, day laborers… those jobs will be in high demand. (

What about STEM jobs… we should push our kids to get college and career ready for those jobs right? STEM jobs pay well, but according to the Census bureau, only 1:4 Stem graduates are working at a STEM job that requires their degree. The others are working at jobs that don’t require their degree.


Moreover, look at the low growth in STEM jobs.



Next, close to half of all recent college graduates are working at jobs that don’t require a college degree, jobs like nursing assistant, store clerk, office worker, food service, and on top of that they are on average $30,000 in debt.

If you want to read a real shocker, hedge funds are taking student debt and creating new investment opportunities called SLABS– Student Loan Asset Backed Securities. So if you want to know where your money is invested…




Our debt is someone else’s meal. Sometimes it feels like we are a snake eating our own tail!

Moreover, looking at the landscape of the U.S. economy, half of all Americans earn less than $35,000 a year, half of all students are eligible for free and reduced lunches, and more people than ever are on food stamps, approximately 1:6 Americans.


So our college and career, high stakes system is stressing out students, stressing our teachers, and stressing out parents for what?

College and career ready is a marketing slogan. A slogan like Nike has for its shoes “Just do it”, or McDonald’s “I’m loving it”, or Campbell Soup “Hmmm-hmmm good”, or Microsoft’s “Your Potential our Passion”.

Here is a brief quote by Chairman and CEO of Gallup Research, Jim Clifton

“The great American dream is to have a good job; America has failed to deliver that dream- more than it has at any time in recent memory. A good job is an individual’s primary identity, their very self-worth, their dignity — it establishes the relationship they have with their friends, community and country. When we fail to deliver a good job that fits a citizen’s talents, training and experience, we are failing the great American dream…. a good job as 30+ hours per week for an organization that provides a regular paycheck. Right now, the U.S. is delivering at a staggeringly low rate of 44%, which is the number of full-time jobs as a percent of the adult population, 18 years and older”


The only purpose of the College and Career mantra is to create a stable market for corporate earnings. That’s it. They want to close down public schools “due to their failing” and turn them into charter schools… another money stream for corporate interests. Public schools comprise $750 billion and they want it. Look at the labor participation rate in our nation. It’s disgusting! It’s at levels not seen since 1977 when the dollar had more purchasing power and there were way more living wage jobs then than now.

In closing, we each need to do research about the state of our economy. We need to respect teachers and fund schools. And above all, we need to demand an economy which has jobs for people.

The media is saying that our public schools, teachers and students are the problem-when they are not. Corporate propaganda is the problem; an off-shoring of our economy is the problem; too big to fail and deregulated banks are the problem.

I say we focus on solving the real problems, not the fake problems which serve only to demean the people and increase corporate profit and power for the billionaires. I say we elect leaders who are willing to face and solve real problems. I say we join together to turn this ship around.

 Elizabeth Hanson