Boycott High-Stakes Standardized Tests

by Rich Gibson

California citizens now confront a critical decision. Will we allow school children to be subjected to the child abuse that is disguised as high-stakes standardized tests? If we do, what will happen? I say we should not, because if we do we set ourselves up as tools of our own oppression.

High stakes standardized tests represent a powerful intrusion into classrooms, often taking up as much as 40% of teacher time. Those who wrote the tests are clear on this; it's their desire. They want to replace the mind of the teacher with the mind of the test-writers. The tests are meant to rupture the key relationship in educationa particular teacher meeting a unique student in a singular community. The tests set up a false employer-employees relationship between teachers and students which damages honest exchanges in the classroom Instead, the tests pretend that one standard fits all, when one standard does not fit all.

The tests measure, for the most part, parental income and race, and are therefore instruments which build racism and anti-working class sentiment--against the interest of most teachers, parents, and their students. 

Two hidden gatekeepers guard the teststhe literacy of the test-taker and the environment of the exam itself. If a child's literacy background does not match the test-writer's upper-middle-class background, the child loses. If the child does not feel good about the surroundings (as in Compton), the child loses. The tests are rigged from the start, but students and teachers who seek to creatively overcome them are set up as cheats. The exams represent an assault on academic freedom by forcing their way into the classroom in an attempt to regulate knowledge, what is known and how people come to know it. The high-stakes tests pretend to neutrality but are deeply partisan in content.

The tests deepen the segregation of children within and between school systems, and destroy efforts to include students of varying abilities and backgrounds.

We have seen repeatedly that the exams are unprofessionally scored, for example in New York in 2000 when thousands of students were unnecessarily ordered to summer school on the grounds of incorrect test results, yet this year in San Diego alone administrators project that about 10% of the children in first and sixth grade will be grade-retained, a maneuver we know boosts drop-out rates. 

The tests create an atmosphere that pits students against students and teachers against teachers and school systems against school systems in a mad scramble for financial rewards, and to avoid financial retribution. But the rewards will likely disappear as the state financial crisis deepens, What will remain will be retribution. 

The tests foment an environment of greed, fear, and hysteria, none of which contributes to learning. The tests become commodities for opportunists whose interests are profits, not the best interests of children. Real estate agents, churning property values, gain more from the tests than children do. 

Around the US, similar tests have been used to unjustly fire and discipline teachers, to supply excuses to dismantle entire school boards, as in Detroit, and to promote the privatization of schools.

The tests are not an authentic assessment of a student's progress. Such testing is like judging Tony Gwynn's baseball year on one day's at-bats. Genuine assessment takes place over time, considers the entirety of a child's skills and abilities, and seeks to build on strengths, while recognizing weaknesses. The tests invert that, only attacking weaknesses, which the tests cannot begin to explain. 

Key national organizations, like the Faculty association of the National Council of the Social Studies and the International Reading Association, local education unions, activist groups like the Whole Schooling Consortium and the Rouge Forum, all have called for nation-wide boycotts against test mania. We should join them. 

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