The war on testing –

I don’t care for use of the term, “war on…” but I don’t write the headers for my column. We should honor the sacrifice of the men and women killed, maimed and injured in real wars.  In today’s OpEd column, I try to unmask the continuing efforts to undermine student testing and teacher

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week comes amid a daily drumbeat of
criticism of the recent grades 3-8 English-language-arts and math state
tests — and of standardized testing in general.

Adults in the anti-testing movement have seized on student complaints
to bash the tests, the state Education Department, the Board of Regents
and exam-maker Pearson.

The anti-testing spin machine knows how to feed headline-hungry
reporters to fill the blogosphere, airwaves and newspapers with daily
reports of errors in the tests.

But is the sky falling? The Education Department notes the error rate
is actually tiny — those (gasp!) 20 translation errors on the
foreign-language version of the math exam came among 3,863 test items,
for an error rate of 0.005. The flaws in the regular math and English
tests were even less consequential.

Plenty of government agencies would be lucky to get their error rates
so low — with the city Board of Elections heading the list.

Again, with the mistakes pointed out, those questions won’t count. (The
same process takes place every year, just with a lot less publicity.)

Of course, when you have a $32 million multiyear contract, as Pearson
does, errors are embarrassing. But the hype surrounding the reported
errors is inexcusable. (I say “reported” errors because at least some,
in the now-infamous “pineapple” section, weren’t genuine mistakes. As I
see it, state officials simply opted not to fight the politically
motivated attack on those test items.)

This is all part of the broader assault on the No Child Left Behind law
and on the Obama administration’s mandate tying teacher evaluations to
achievement tests. It’s not student-driven, it’s union-driven.

Yes, “parent” groups oppose “high-stakes” testing, claiming that the
tests are useless and only serve to stress out students. But these are
mostly fronts for the United Federation of Teachers or other unions —
which are really out to stop student-test data from being used to
expose some teachers as unfit.

They can’t admit publicly that they oppose any serious measure of
teacher competence, so they work to undermine each measure that comes
along. They’ll blame poverty, race and now “error-plagued” tests to
explain why students don’t perform well on state and federal

For themselves, many teachers and administrators truly worry that test
results will unfairly make them look bad. Intentionally or not, some
project those fears onto students, feeding student anxiety and parental

Lacking confidence in their ability to educate has led them to
sacrifice instruction time for test prep, to exhort students
incessantly, to denigrate the tests and, in a few cases, to cheat.

But students and the public are told that “high-stakes” testing is at

Young learners must be challenged. They don’t need selfish,
condescending adults coddling them and assailing tests as useless. Nor
do they need endless test prep; they need educators who will build
their core skills.

Once mastered, basic math and language skills are transferable from
subject to subject. Whether it’s social studies or earth science,
students need to learn how to reason abstractly, make sense of
problems, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of

All of which standardized tests measure.

If educators ease up on the pressure and teach key basic concepts in
conjunction with critical-thinking skills, they’ll see success.

Teachers and administrators need to appreciate the special role they
play in the lives of young learners. It’s the job of educators to reach
all children and enable them to actualize their potential.

Read more: The War On Testing

What’s your view? Leave a comment below.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email FOMB08@GMAIL.COM.
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4 Responses to The war on testing –

  1. Dale Benjamin Drakeford says:

    Again Michael, my friend, you are in disconnect form. It is not about one question or one test or one ridiculous insider trading for a high priced undeserved contract, or parents that are overwhelmed with the resposibility of preparing children for school, or teachers that are asked to do more than what is fair or other service providers in education being asked to do more just because the system lies about resources, or how the powers that be misuse resources, or how children in our inner-city are asked to do math, English, writing, science when the pressing issue is how to do hygiene, sleep, diet, free time, safety and survival, or charter school make money schemes–it is all of this multiplied many times in a world where people from top to bottom outside the system just don’t get it, but find an easy target to speak on and criticize as if they do. The people that get it are the underpaid, overworked, sometimes abused, often ignored, rarely appreciated, always depended on teachers of the NYC Department of Education who never stop learning, trying, adapting and tolerating the rants, challenges and disrespect of the ignorant, mean, self-serving and disconnected. For the majority of teachers (and we recognize that there are sad exceptions to everything) education is a chosen profession and an embraced passion. For those that rage against them, follow the dollar and the politics, and you will discover that for them education is a footnote and a step stone to personal gain, ego, and some agenda that lacks integrity. At times, we may come to critics with good intentions (and I am ready to put Michael Benjamin and Mayor Bloomberg in that category) and genuine purpose for improving a highly complicated institution, but they lack the stamina, insight and skill of the teacher to fully grasp the daily routine, expectations and demands to appreciate why their plans and thinking fail. Each of these would be do-gooders will likely do better after they put in a real year in a classroom. That not being done, we must respect their disconnect and indeed declare “War on!” Such a declaration has nothing to do with real soldiers or their service, no more so than the card game “I Declare War!” (even though many of us prefer “I Declare Peace!). Such a declaration in education is about us being smart enough to know that out-of-touch critics are not going away, education for profit is not going away, failed politicos and policies are not going away, blaming the horse forced onto a muddy race track of potholes, tacks and nails is not going away, and so the horse must ready itself for battle as much as it does friendly pursuit of healthy competition. Michael, it is teaching to the test, test prep, large classrooms (all of which you have heard about in the press) but also so much more harmful stress, as in (many times) the whole process. Reducing teachers to baby-sitters, punching bags, political footballs, nuts and bolts in a machine and business gophers is part of the mess (but you cannot grasp this and nor can Mr. Bloomberg) because you are both in disconnect. Good intentions can be victim to mean agenda. Try to be careful that your good intentions as a critical thinker do not fall victim to the mean spirit of the Murdoch industry. Bloomberg (who I voted for three times even forgoing my personal-political support for term limits) did not make sure that his good intentions did not fall victim to his pride and ego hurt from recognition that his school reform policies missed the mark (from Chancellor hiring, to principal training and too much principal power, to in-sourcing for talent, to turning his back on the UFT, to embracing rigged vouchers and money hungry charter school executives that return the most challenging lottery winners back to the regular school, to district reform, to closing school criteria, to skipping proper training for new initiatives (such as online reporting for service providers that take ridiculous time and energy) to posit note demands on bullettin boards, to disrespecting the basic middle class-working class hard won victory of collective bargaining and grievance.


    • Interesting to say the least. One day, We’ll need to examine your grievances one at a time. Unlike you, I can’t say that I ever cast a ballot for Michael Bloomberg.


      • Dale Benjamin Drakeford says:

        Yes, those three votes I do not regret, but many wonder about that fact. I may disagree with the mayor on some issues, but not all. Actually I agree far more than not. My disagreements however are intense at times. Peace Mike and please find a jury that will do the right thing with the likes of our local politicians of disgrace. Write something about our jury peers that are in far more disconnect than you are. Peace and good deeds.


      • Far more disconnect? Disagreement does not mean disconnect. And I am preparing just such a piece. Thanks for the feedback.


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