Subtitle: You can put lipstick on a pig, but that doesn’t mean it ceases to be a pig.
For those clamoring to declare isolated successes amongst the political wranglings going on in Congress over ESEA/ECAA, I think it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, whatever the Senate votes to approve, with whatever amendments are tacked on to the legislation, we still don’t know what the legislation will look like when it emerges from the conference committee established by the House and Senate. Amendments get removed, House and Senate legislation is merged and — well, it’s sort of like making sausage. So, as I’ve said before, it’s a little disconcerting when organizations endorse legislation before it’s been finalized. It’s okay to point out the strengths of proposed legislation or the weaknesses, but an endorsement, qualified or not, of half-baked legislation is troubling.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, I think we should remember, as Gertrude Stein was fond of asserting, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” It’s an existential concept. There isn’t a point in which the rose ceases to be a rose — even after your memory of a rose fades or it has been described countless times and in different ways. Many years ago now, in the years leading up to our current state of education reform, we were cautioned about the rise in standardized testing of our nation’s school children and the detrimental impact it would have on education (and our children). Too few listened. And the steady creep of standardized tests continued until it has now become the zeitgeist driving our curriculum and test prep dominates our daily lives in school.
So — as we’re on the eve of an ESEA reauthorization, we find policymakers parsing the language of tests. We talk about grade span testing versus annual testing and standardized tests vs. “high stakes” standardized tests. And the big “win” is presented as the federal government sending the responsibility for governance over of education policy back to the states and local districts.
It may sound good on the surface. But all the parsing of the language associated with ECAA/ESEA and killing the beast of NCLB doesn’t change the reality that we, as a nation, have waved the white flag of defeat when it comes to standardized tests. Instead of saying, “Please, sir, I want some more,” while plaintively holding forth an empty bowl, we say, “Please, sir, I want a little less.”
Our current iteration of ESEA holds no promise of breaking the stranglehold that standardized testing has over education in the U.S. To say that it is needed to equalize educational opportunity and educational outcomes is simply not the case. To say limiting the number of hours children are required to sit for standardized tests will end the amount of energy expended on test prep is a simplistic notion. And merely giving this authority back to states will not stop the abuses associated with standardized tests.
It’s time to say no. Measuring is not teaching. Standardized tests have no real purpose in education except to sort and label children. They are constructed purposefully to create a system in which half of our children are deemed below average. We do not live in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon, “where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average.” That place doesn’t exist.
Test is a test is a test is a test. How is it that we simply accept the assumption that we need standardized testing in order to educate our children?
I cannot support legislation that continues to make standardized testing the law of the land.