Dr. Mark Naison is involved in a movement he hopes will change the American education system.
A professor of African-American studies and history at New York’s Fordham University, Naison wants to see less standardized tests in the classroom.
“You should organize the school experience around what excites and energizes children—the arts, music, physical activity, hands-on science, collaborative learning—and do project-based assessment by teachers and school administrators, with standardized tests on a state or national level reduced to a minimum,” Naison told TakePart.
He isn’t alone. Students, parents and teachers around the country are saying enough to standardized testing.
At Seattle’s Garfield High School, for example, teachers took the bold step of voting unanimously in January to boycott a series of district-mandated tests. Academic watchers say the last time such a significant protest occurred against testing was in Los Angeles schools in 2009.
But it’s not just Seattle where protests are occurring. Across the country, there are pockets of teachers, students, and parents taking the issue to school boards and even governors.
In Rhode Island, high school students dressed like zombies delivered a letter to Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee that criticized the use of an assessment exam as a requirement for graduation. In Massachusetts, more than 130 professors and researchers want the state board of education to stop using standardized test scores as a way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, school quality and students’ eligibility for high school graduation.
“This is a movement that will force a re-examination of the basic assumptions of what politicians called ‘school reform,’ a movement which has swept through the country with little research backing up its guiding principles, while providing huge profits for test companies,” Naison says.
Naison compares the protests around the country to a significant event in U.S. history—the Vietnam War.
But proponents of standardized testing say that if students refuse to take the tests for college entrance, and many are, they will suffer.
“Boycotting such tests as the ACT and SAT only would limit one’s options,” Craig Meister, president of Tactical College Consulting in Baltimore, told TakePart. “I encourage my students and their parents to learn as much as they can about standardized tests before taking them so that they may be as painless as possible. The more one understands what such tests are assessing, the more likely one will meet his or her potential on the tests.”
Other supporters point to “myths” against standardized testing, such as letting teachers “just teach,” as is the case in Norway, which has one of the best education systems in the world.
Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, recently wrote that standardized tests help to focus on “achievement gaps that need to be closed, students who need extra help, schools that are struggling” and “drive critical conversations about the curriculum, pedagogy, and state and district policies that we need to catch kids up and get them back on the path to success.”
Despite what we hear from proponents of standardized testing, there was even a report by the federal Equity and Excellence Commission released earlier this month stating that teacher morale could be adversely affected by too much emphasis on standardized test scores.
Monty Neill of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing says there is finally an awakening in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, that testing simply may not work as it should.
“They can see the lost learning time, the disengagement from schooling, and the wasted money,” Neill says. “They know education can and should be much better.”
Although protests may build, a positive end result may be challenging.
“There is a growing gap between policy elites (national and state officials, business and foundation groups, major media editorial positions) and the general public which increasingly understands that testing has gone too far,” Neill says. “The evidence is that NCLB and its ilk has not worked, but evidence does not matter to the policy elites. Only serious public pressure can change things, and we think there is a reasonable chance that democracy will in this instance prevail.”
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com