Archive for March 2014
A friend who is a teacher told me his story after I shared my last post, and I asked if he minded if I shared it. He agreed, so here it is. As I said before, testing is only part of all this. It’s important to understand it in light of the issues discussed in my earlier post.
I teach elementary school in a socioeconomically diverse district in Northern California. Like many states, California is preparing to unveil new online state tests to assess the mastery of the new Common Core State Standards. In the upcoming months, California students will take part in the new online testing. In a wise decision, California has decided to use the 2013-2014 school year as a trial run for the new tests. Individual scores will not be reported to students or their families. Instead, the state will use the massive amount of collected data to assess the new assessments by weeding out poorly designed questions, examining technological difficulties, and by discovering areas of learning that teachers will need to focus on in the coming years. California chose to make this a trial year for the new testing despite threats of reduced federal education dollars made by the US Department of Education. Unfortunately, my district did not make nearly as sensible decisions this year.
Kindergartner students in the deep blue state of Massachusetts are being shamed by publicly posting their test scores. Here’s Sarah Jaffe reporting on “data walls”:
Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.
Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”
“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”
Morales isn’t alone in opposing the data walls. They’re widely seen as just the latest front in a war being fought by educators, parents and students nationwide against what teacher educator Barbara Madeloni calls “predatory education reform.”
Earlier, Jaffe wrote about the difficulties of kindergartners given standardized tests in New York , which “pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers.” And indeed, like the data wall and the shaming it facilities, “This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime.”
These sort of stories should not be dismissed as outliers. They are part of the same drive to relentlessly rate the relative merits of students, teachers, and schools, to place them in competition with one another, to address education problems by mass firings of teachers or mass closure of schools, to devalue the contributions of experienced teachers as well as traditional (or more accurately, real) public schools.