Fighting the Tests
Review by Jonathan Pollard
Learning to live with it. Even more disturbing than someone defending the tough standards movement is someone who agrees that standardized tests are unnecessary and damaging, but refuses to do anything about it. Standardized tests aren't an inherent part of our educational system. People decided to incorporate them into our school curriculum, and likewise, people can decide to remove them. This is not another educational fad that will simply run its course. People need to fight back, and can do so in a number of ways.
Short ways for teachers to fight the standardized testing movement:
• You can prepare your students for the tests, but then get back to concentrating on real learning. Keep it clear in your mind that these are two different objectives. Whenever possible, help others to see the difference (in letters to parents, for example).
• Don't devote all of your classroom time to test prep. A basic introduction to the test format and a review of test content is good enough. Some teachers spend most of the year doing exciting classroom activities that focus on real learning followed by a two week 'cram-session' that focuses on the tests. Studies have shown that these students do just as well as the kids who have had an entire year of test preparation.
• As far as possible, make preparing for the test fun. Use the test questions in some type of stimulating game or puzzle that the whole class can have fun playing or solving.
But the course of action listed above is hardly a solution. It is more like a way of damage control. Rather than just working around the tests, or attempting to accommodate them, we must do something to fight back. We must do something that will make our views heard by the public and move our schools in the direction of eliminating standardized tests. We need to organize. Find people in our own areas who share our beliefs, and work together so that we can collectively have a more powerful impact. Find friends, coworkers, and neighbors who share similar beliefs, and form an organization. Give yourselves a name, for example, [name of your area] Educators Opposing Excessive Testing. You'll instantly gain some credibility, and be able to recruit more members. Whether you work alone or as part of a group, you should begin by learning all that you can about the tests that are used in your area. Once you taken these steps, the real action begins:
• Discuss the situation with your acquaintances at every possible opportunity. In the grocery store, at the doctors office, or whenever the chance to do so arises.
• Attend your local school board meetings and other local events that deal with education. Voice your concerns.
• Write to school administrators, public officials, and newspapers.
• Form a delegation of concerned citizens, and visit your state legislators or other elected public officials. Politicians will be much more likely to take your concerns seriously if you speak to them in person.
• Sponsor a forum on testing. Invite the media. Sign up new members for your organization.
• Make bumper stickers with slogans like "STANDARDIZED TESTING IS DUMBING DOWN OUR SCHOOLS!"
• Protest. Organize, participate in, and ensure press coverage for some form of protest. This can include marches, demonstrations, and other activities.
• Invite researchers in your area to commission a survey. Questions could include: Do the tests improve students motivation? Do teachers think that tests measure the curriculum fairly? How much money is spent on assessment and related services? How do administrators use the test results?
• Challenge politicians, corporate executives, public officials, and other advocates of the 'tough standards' movement to take the tests themselves. Do this especially if your district uses high stakes exit exams, which are increasingly being used to deny diplomas to students. You can go about issuing the challenge in two ways. First, you can describe it as a private invitation for these individuals to learn more about the tests. The second approach is a bit less thinly veiled: set forth an outright challenge. In one such instance, several top elected officials in Florida were challenged to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test along with 735,000 students. All of these officials declined the invitation. If using the second approach, you might want to consider holding a press conference to publicly issue the challenge. Imagine the public's response if top elected officials won't agree to take the tests that they advocate!
• Consider filing a lawsuit against the tests on the grounds that they are inherently discriminatory or statistically invalid measuring instruments.
• Opt out. Some states have a clause that allows parents to exempt their children from testing just by notifying the authorities. Not many people are even aware that these clauses exist, so do some investigating. If you find out that such a clause does exist in your state, do your best to make this information public knowledge. Though this may sound extreme, in the case of their being no opt-out provision, boycott the tests altogether.
Desperate times call for drastic measures. Not only does Alfie Kohn tell us why standardized tests are harmful to children, he also describes a concrete approach that we can take to help fight this detrimental system. The author makes it clear that it is not enough to simply read this book, and consider yourself 'well-informed' on the dangers of schools' excessive use of exams. He advocates taking a proactive approach to the problem, and making yourself a part of the fight against standardized testing.
Learn more by visiting http://www.alfiekohn.org/