Count on Arne Duncan to speak out against testing while he mandates more and more of it. If you are a teacher and your students’ scores don’t go up, you will be fired. That’s federal policy. That makes standardized testing the measure of a teachers’ worth, not a reflection of the demographics in the classroom. If the teacher teaches students with special needs, the scores may not go up as much as they do for teachers in affluent suburbs. Teachers of English language learners are at a disadvantage. All of this has been proven again and again by researchers. But the news has never reached Arne Duncan.

 

In this post, Peter Greene says that when Arne Duncan joins the chorus of voices who are criticizing standardized testing, he is just blowing smoke. As usual. Watch what he does, not what he says. Just remember: he was for it before he was against it, and he was against it before he was for it. And the only reason children with disabilities get low scores is because their teachers have low expectations and they don’t take hard enough tests. And the goal of all education is for every student to take and pass Advanced Placement examinations.

 

Greene writes:

 

 

As soon as CCSSO and CGCS announced their non-plan to provide PR coverage for the high stakes test-and-punish status quo, Arne Duncan was there to throw his tooter on the bandwagon. On top of an official word salad on the subject, Arne popped up yesterday in the Washington Post.

 

There was a time when Duncan could be counted on to at least say the right thing before he went ahead and did the wrong thing. And I cannot fault his opening for the WaPo piece.

 

“As a parent, I want to know how my children are progressing in school each year. The more I know, the more I can help them build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses. The more I know, the better I can reinforce at home each night the hard work of their teachers during the school day.”

 

He’s absolutely correct here. It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education.

 
Duncan welcomes the stated intention “to examine their assessment systems, ensure that assessments are high-quality and cut back testing that doesn’t meet that bar or is redundant.”Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.

 

He makes his case for standardized testing here:

 

“Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving and struggling.”

 

As a case for standardized testing, this is wrong on all three points.

 

1) Parents do have a right to know how much their children are learning. And standardized tests are by far the least effective instruments for informing them. They are minute snapshots, providing little or no description of how students are growing and changing. Standardized tests measure one thing– how well students do on standardized tests.

 

2) Teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are doing. And if a teacher needs a standardized test to tell her how her students are doing, that teacher is a dope, and needs to get out of teaching immediately. I measure my students dozens of times every single week, collecting wide and varied “data” that informs my view of how each student is doing. A standardized test will tell me one thing– how that student does with a standardized test. If the school or district does not know whether they can trust my word or not about how the student is doing, the school and district are a dope. Standardized tests offer no useful information for this picture.

 

3) Explain, please, exactly why policymakers need to know how my third period class is doing on paragraph construction? Why do the bureaucrats in state and federal capitols need to know where students are “excelling, improving and struggling”? Is Congress planning to pass the “Clearer Lesson Plans About the Rise of American Critical Realism Act”? Are you suggesting that there are aides in the DOE standing by to help me write curriculum? Because I cannot for the life of me figure out why the policymakers (nice term, that, since it includes both the legislators who pass policy and the unelected suits who write it for them) need to have standardized results on every single kid in htis country.

 

Duncan follows this up with a reference to another of his pet theories– that students with learning disabilities just needed to be tested harder in order to fix their difficulties.

 

Duncan goes on to admit that “in some places” testing is eating up calendars and stressing students.

 

Policymakers at every level bear responsibility here — and that includes me and my department. We will support state and district leaders in taking on this issue and provide technical assistance to those who seek it.

 

In one sense, Duncan is correct. Policymakers at the state and local level bear responsibility for not telling the federal government to take its testing mandates and shove them where the NCLB-based money threats don’t shine. Duncan’s Department of Education bears responsibility for everything else.

 

This is the worst kind of weasel wording. This is the kid who sets fire to the neighbors house and then says to the kids who just tried to talk him out of it, “So, we’re all in this together, right?”

 

It was the Duncan/Obama Education Department that twisted every state’s arm up behind its ear and said, “If you want your Get Out Of NCLB Free Card, you will make testing the cornerstone of your education system.” Duncan does not get to pretend that this testing mania, this out of control testing monster, somehow just fell from the sky. “Gosh,” Duncan says and shrugs. “I guess there was just something in the water that year that made everybody just suddenly go crazypants on the testing thing. Guess we’ll all have to try harder, boys.”

 

No. No no no no. Testing mania is the direct mandated result of NCLB and its ugly stepsister RttT. It didn’t just happen. The federal government required it. And if Duncan really though this was an actual problem and not just a PR problem, he is the one guy who could wave his magic waiver wand and say, “My bad. Your waiver no longer requires you to test everything that moves and use the test results as the basis for all educational system judgments.”