Op-ed: Berkeley, testing, testing, 1-2-3… is this thing on?

BUSD is preparing for standardized testing next week. Meanwhile, across the rest of the country, there’s a strong, vocal tide that’s swelled into what has become the largest revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history.

I have been surprised by the silence in Berkeley.

Public school advocates throughout the US are voicing opposition to modern school “reform” practices that civil rights icon, James Meredith calls “catastrophically misguided and ineffective”.

It’s time to break the silence.

This community has a responsibility to support our teachers and children by taking the time to understand and talk about the real issues facing our public schools. As sociologist Edmund Gordon says of the current high-stakes testing culture, “for us to keep going down this road is not only ineffective, I think it is immoral because we know better and can do better.”

Here are 4 reasons why we can do better:

1) High-stakes testing has been a waste of time and resources

Since the introduction of No Child Left Behind in 2001, teachers have been forced to comply with countless misguided “reforms” that have been created and implemented by people who have NO experience in education. These “reforms” have repeatedly failed; have not been in the best interest of students and have interfered with the real work that needs to be done in classrooms throughout the US. The most egregious example of this is the over-use of high-stakes testing. As shown on the John Oliver Show, The Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford reports that the focus on high-stakes testing has actually slowed our nation’s progress towards closing achievement gaps.

2) The standardized test is a flawed instrument of measurement

Volumes of research continue to accumulate confirming that standardized tests are not an accurate indicator of student learning or teacher effectiveness. If you can take an SAT prep class multiple times to improve your scores on a standardized test, then, standardized tests don’t accurately measure how smart someone is. And, they certainly don’t measure someone’s capacity.

3) The data collected from standardized tests is not useful in supporting our students

The origin of standardized testing is in the (racist) Eugenics movement, which aimed to categorize people (races) as either inferior or superior. They were NOT designed for purposes of social justice or civil rights. The high-stakes testing we use today are still designed to rank and punish and yet, they don’t provide any valuable information to schools about how to better serve our students. When standardized test scores are returned to teachers at the end of the school year and they don’t provide information about the mistakes that the student made, then how is this helpful to a teacher? And, how will this benefit students? Test scores are a convenient way to compare schools, districts and states to one another. These numbers are very useful in selling homes, making political speeches and closing schools, but how is this information actually helpful in supporting students? (And, when you try to answer this, remember the information from #1 and #2.)

4) Testing interferes with providing valuable support that students need

Parents worry that schools will suffer if students opt-out. But, the federal government has never cut funds to a school district for high opt out numbers. And, according to teacher and writer, Jesse Hagopian:“The opt out movement holds the potential to actually increase the amount of school funding. The many millions of dollars wasted on ranking and sorting our children with standardized tests every year could be spent on tutoring programs, counseling services, art teachers, nurses, librarians, music programs, ethnic studies classes, and many services our children deserve.”

It is a well-known fact that the testing juggernaut has been particularly destructive to communities of color, and our schools here in Berkeley are fairly well-integrated. So far, Berkeley hasn’t had to deal with the obvious, destructive consequences associated with high-stakes testing that countless communities have had to deal with.

But, Berkeley schools ARE very similar to Brooklyn New School where 95% of students opted out of testing this year. This school, in addition to 670,000 students throughout the US, opted out of testing last year because they understand that high-stakes testing takes a toll on ANY school that places value on it.

This movement against high-stakes testing is about so much more than opting out of tests. It’s really about opting IN to a new and better way of doing things…one where parents are informed and school communities are talking, in a constructive way, about how we can support each other and better serve ALL of our children’s needs.

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Shannon Puckett is a former teacher. She is now mom to two BUSD elementary school kids, supervisor of student teachers at Mills College, and the director of the documentary film, 'Defies Measurement.'