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.