Seattle Union Fights Standardized Test: Will The Results Reveal Their Failings As Educators?

For the student, life is pretty much a round of reading, lectures, homework and testing. Students accept testing as part of the educational process to determine whether or not they have learned the subject matter being taught. However, for teachers, testing represents a clear and present danger of revealing that some of their fellow educators are not getting the job done and that the test results might be used for disciplinary measures. So the unions are running scared. Worried that poor achievement scores will result in fewer union members and less money with which to threaten politicians.

High school teachers in Seattle are saying no to the spread of high-stakes standardized tests. On January 10, the staff of Garfield High School voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to their ninth-grade students. For two weeks they've held firm, even as the superintendent of schools has threatened them with a 10-day unpaid suspension, and teachers at other schools have joined their boycott.

Jean Anyon, professor of social and educational policy at the City University of New York Graduate Center and a supporter of the boycott, called what the Seattle teachers are doing “amazing.” “There have been very few groups that have decided to defy these tests,” she pointed out. “In terms of an outright boycott by a school, if it's not the first it's close to it.” The tests, Anyon noted, are notoriously unreliable, with results varying from year to year and nearly impossible to replicate.

Ira Shor, professor of rhetoric and composition at CUNY Graduate Center, who writes on composition theory and urban education, commented, “The tests themselves are known as 'junk science' because of their pseudo-scientific basis in metrics while they notoriously produce unreliable, unreproducible, and even faked results. Yet these tests are used to judge what students know and how well teachers are doing their job.”

What is going on here?

One might assume that the tests themselves were created by educators and standardized by comparing several generations of test scores with academic performance. Or that the tests themselves have some statistical validity.

So why are they being demonized as “junk science” at this point in time?

  • Because teachers have done an abysmal job of educating our students in spite of the increasing amounts of money thrown at education?
  • Because it is more about the big money being siphoned out of the classroom by teachers unions that administer those billion dollar pension funds.
  • Or is it because teachers and their unions are afraid of the parent revolt when they find that educators have produced another generation of functional illiterates, trained more in political correctness and touchy-feely subjects than learning real-world skills that can be applied in today’s competitive marketplace?

More corruption between educators, politicians and the special interests who “service” the educational marketplace?

The MAP test is a particularly egregious example of the problems with standardized testing. It was acquired by the former Seattle Schools superintendent while she was on the board of the company that sells it; a state audit in 2011 found that she committed a serious ethics violation by not disclosing this fact when the school district spent about $4 million on the test. Ninth- and tenth-graders in Seattle already take five additional tests, required by the state, and 11th- and 12th-graders take three.

OK, we can see the corrupt influence in the acquisition of the test. The same type of corruption we find in the purchase of hyper-expensive textbooks which simply rearrange knowledge known for centuries in a different format. The same type of corruption that results in multi-million dollars contracts that end in an unproductive shambles.

But the real reason now emerges …

The MAP is not required by the state and doesn't affect students' grades, but it is used to evaluate teachers, who point out that students are unlikely to take the test seriously, so educational time is being diverted for tests used simply to punish educators.

Teacher evaluation! According to the unions, teachers, administrators, we cannot allow the performance of students to influence the money flowing to education … even if the largest portion is consumed in infrastructure and maintenance and the requisite personnel salaries, benefits, perks and pensions. Heaven forbid we find that teachers cannot teach or that they are not knowledgeable in their own subject matter areas. 

In one case, a coach assigned to teach a high school math class … simply handing out prepared materials and referring students to the Kahn Academy lectures. I found the handouts incomprehensible and useless. Working a few hours with a frustrated student to explain how she could complete her homework – only to find out the next day that nobody completed the homework and the teacher simply ignored the assignment, suggesting another set of handouts. Not only did the teacher not connect with the class, fail to teach the lesson, but disadvantaged students into thinking a simple math assignment represented an insurmountable obstacle. Frustration and anger – not at the teacher – but at “math.” This is not how it should be done.

Bottom line …

Teachers should not be given tenure. Public employee unions should be kicked out of education. Teachers should return to teaching the basics to students without computers and calculators. We need to concentrate our resources on the best and the brightest, not dumb down classes of lesser students so that teachers look like they are doing the job. If a student lacks the language skills to compete, don’t teach in their native language, make them learn English and then teach them what they need to know.

By all means, test students and test teachers. Why should teachers be exempt from the practices that work in the private sector? Where raises come from merit and increased productivity – not simply from seniority.

Time to throw the whole language reading and new math under the bus. Bring back the basics and advance from there. And before any person shouts racism – consider that immigrant Asians outperform other immigrant groups. And, rise above their initial socio-economic scale rather quickly while other cultures revel in poverty; and seeking government handouts and affirmative action programs.

Toss the democrats and their unions out of office and watch America take off, or at least return to its position on the top of the leader board.

-- steve

Reference Links …

What You Need to Know About the Seattle Teachers' Rebellion and the Deeply Flawed Test That Inspired It

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