Thursday, November 8, 2012

Conscientious objectors to the testing regime

This post comes from guest blogger, Carolyn Browder, a masters degree candidate at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University:

I recently read an article in The New York Time which profiles a movement of Brooklyn parents who are boycotting the standardized testing at their children's schools. Their complaint is not with the content or style of the tests--they concede that the tests may be worth while for measuring content knowledge as their children progress through school. They are instructing their children to sit out the tests out of fear that standardized tests are being overvalued in teacher evaluation. Many school districts are evaluating teacher performance based primarily on student test scores, and these parents fear that this will produce unhappy, unsuccessful teachers. First, placing such a tremendous value on the tests strips teaching of any artfulness or creativity. Second, teachers who believe they are successful because they train their students to perform well on a multiple-choice test might have an inaccurate perception of what successful teaching really looks like. For both of these reasons, Brooklyn parents and other around the country are showing concern that not only are standardized tests potentially disenfranchising students but they may also be causing harm to good teachers and reinforcing undesirable attitudes in bad teachers.

The parents say they are not staging the boycott for a specific political purpose or targeting any administrators. Rather, they are trying to advocate for parent involvement in the local schools. Many of the parents participating in the Brooklyn boycott are considered low-income, and advocates say this is an excellent way for low-income parents to be more active decision makers in their children's education. Parents are observing the negative effect the testing environment can often have on a child, and they are seizing the opportunity to not only improve conditions for their children but for teachers as well.

Here's the problem: many school districts cannot send children into the next grade without standardized testing evidence supporting the child's academic proficiency at grade level. One parent quoted in the article recalls that when her son abstained from standardized testing, his teacher gave her endorsement to have the child moved into the next grade, but it was not until they received approval from the superintendent that the child was allowed to proceed in his education without test scores in his portfolio. It takes a brave parent to create these hurdles for their child in a system that is perpetually too bogged down to individually approve every student at the superintendent's level. What if, however, testing abstinence becomes a trend? If enough parents swamp the system with appeals for grade progression will the teacher's consent to allow the child to more forward become substantial approval?

I struggle to imagine myself placing my child in a situation where he or she could be disadvantaged on the day to day as a result of my own ideological pursuits, but it seems as though real change cannot be made until someone throws a wrench in the system. If these parents are correct in their assumption that more low-income parents in these areas combating standardized testing will take on greater responsibility as advocates against the system, perhaps adjustments will be made and students and teacher evaluation reform will result. Now advocates for evaluation reform must cross their fingers and hope more parents will be willing to take the risk.

1 comment:

David I. Waddington said...

Interesting post.

My parents were early objectors to standardized testing. They took some flak for this (especially because my Dad was a teacher at the school), but they pulled it off nonetheless.