The New York Times has an excellent article by Lizette Alvarez about the growing outrage among parents against the standardized testing of their children. The article focuses on parents in Florida–whose children are being intellectually suffocated by the Jeb Bush model of punitive testing and accountability–but in fact the same complaints are increasingly heard in every state. The idea that children learn more if they are tested more has been the dogma of the ruling politicians of both parties since at least 2001, when huge majorities in Congress passed President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Now, along comes President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan with their Race to the Top program, and the stakes attached to testing go higher still. Now, it is not only students who are subjected to tests that label and rank them, but the jobs of principals and teachers are on the line if test scores do not go up.
This is the best article I have read about the current testing mania in the New York Times. It is heartening that the revolt against the testing madness has attracted national attention in the nation’s most important newspaper. Many broadcast media use the Times as their guide to the important issues of the day.
ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium here not long ago.
Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.
“My third grader loves school, but I can’t get her out of the car this year,” Dawn LaBorde, who has three children in Palm Beach County schools, told the gathering, through tears. Her son, a junior, is so shaken, she said, “I have had to take him to his doctor.” She added: “He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.”
One father broke down as he said he planned to pull his second grader from school. “Teaching to a test is destroying our society,” he said.
Later in the story, she adds:
In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.
The furor in Florida, which cuts across ideological, party and racial lines, is particularly striking for a state that helped pioneer accountability through former Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Bush, a possible presidential contender, was one of the first governors to introduce high-stakes testing and an A-to-F grading system for schools. He continues to advocate test-based accountability through his education foundation. Former President George W. Bush, his brother, introduced similar measures as governor of Texas and, as president, embraced No Child Left Behind, the law that required states to develop tests to measure progress.
The concerns reach well beyond first-year jitters over Florida’s version of Common Core, which is making standards tougher and tests harder. Frustrations also center on the increase this year in the number of tests ordered by the state to fulfill federal grant obligations on teacher evaluations and by districts to keep pace with the new standards. The state mandate that students use computers for standardized tests has made the situation worse because computers are scarce and easily crash.
“This is a spinning-plates act like the old ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ ” said David Samore, the longtime principal at Okeeheelee Community Middle School in Palm Beach County. “What you are seeing now are the plates are starting to fall. Principals, superintendents, kids and teachers can only do so much. They never get to put any plates down.”
Imagine that: Many schools will dedicate 60-80 days this year to standardized testing! This is a bonanza for the testing industry, and a bonanza for the tech industry, which gets to sell so many millions of computers and tablets for test-taking, but it is a disaster for students. Think of it: students are losing 33-40% of the school year to testing. This is time that should be spent on instruction, on reading, on creating projects, on debating ideas, on physical exercise, on singing, dancing, painting, and drawing.
The testing madness is out of control. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Principals know it. Superintendents know it. The only ones who don’t know it are sitting in the Governor’s mansion and in the State Legislature, in the U.S. Department of Education, the White House and Congress. If they had to spend 33-40% of their time taking standardized tests to measure their effectiveness, they would join with the angry parents of Florida and say “enough is enough.”