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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Declaration of Independence from High Stakes Testing

The Declaration of Independence from High-Stakes Testing

The Declaration of Independence of Students, Parents, Teachers, Educators
The Unanimous Declaration of all those affected by High-Stakes Testing

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any law of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new laws, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that laws established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute educational malfeasance , it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such laws, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these students, parents, teachers and educators; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Obedience. The history of the present governmental supporters of High-Stakes Testing is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over all those affected by our educational system. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  • Government has refused to validate multiple imbedded assessment strategies for students, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  • Government has prevented educators from passing laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless they pretend to employ quantifiable measurements.
  • The Government has taken a stance of mean spirited accountability which uses coercive measures--incentives and sanctions--to ensure that educators teach and students master specific content, namely by:
    -Forcing upon schools arbitrary rating and scoring standards developed by politicians and business co-operatives rather than parents and professional educators.
    -Not establishing accountability for standards of accountability. So, schools are being held accountable to standards that themselves meet no standard of accountability. The standards in the law are arbitrary and punitive.
    -Penalizing schools with children from diverse backgrounds. Schools with children of both lower socioeconomic status and second language learners will be at a disadvantage in almost any rigid standard of accountability.
    -Penalizing schools with children having diverse learning skills. Schools having many children with learning disabilities or other diverse learning needs.-Encouraging schools to promote dropping out. In this way, those students’ test scores will not reduce scores for the school. Student dropouts among low scorers actually have been increasing, arguably as a direct result of the legislation. -Operating on the assumption that what matters are factoids that students should know rather than having to explain how they use it. As a result, the emphasis in schools regresses to that of the drill-and-kill education instead of meaningful understanding and use of the knowledge students learn.
    -Creating a system where children, more and more, are being deprived of learning in art, music, history and social sciences, physical education, special programs for the gifted, and the like. In general, anything that might enrich children’s education in a way that would make the children knowledgeable as well as wise and ready to make complex decisions in today’s complex world is largely gone. -Specifying that educational practice be guided by good, rigorous science without adhering to the tenets of real scientific investigation. The results of their definition of rigorous educational research does not meet the criteria of validity and reproducibility as standardization is impossible.-Turning our schools into test-preparation centers.
    -Deluding students and parents into believing that classroom instruction that is focused on test score results is preparing them for the real world.-Dividing rather than unifying the world of education. Forcing upon students and their schools standards dreamed up by politicians never has been, and never will be, the right way to create the best education for our children.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A law whose character is thus marked by every act which may define as tyrannical, is unfit to be the guide of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our politician brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our teaching and learning here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Parents, Students, Teachers and Educators of the United States of America, in General Agreement, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of America , solemnly publish and declare, That WE are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of these Laws; that WE are Absolved from all Allegiance to These Laws, and that all political connection between them and the US, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent Citizens, WE have full Power to ignore those elements of the law which operate under coercion and threat, use educational strategies which are not in the best interest of our students and to the detriment of our country which Independent Citizens may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The signers of this Declaration of Independence from High-Stakes Testing are as follows:
( Feel free to sign just for yourself, to give to school/district officials, join with others to distribute)


  • At 11:31 AM, Blogger cyee said…

    High stakes testing really does not indicate the effective school or the successfully educated students; in fact, I, through my education, believe that high stakes testing really does not consider any social factors that prevent poverty-level students from succeeding on these tests. Also, I believe these tests pressure the teachers so much that they must surrender their curriculum to the testing just so their students can pass it. In many cases, I believe that the teachers are really not able to teach, and therefore the tests scores really cannot reflect the “effective schools.”

    Most of these tests hurt the impoverished schools the most because many of the upper middle class school to the executive elite schools, though they may dread taking them and they may make the students nervous, may think of these tests as a waste of time for their students who are beyond the knowledge on the tests. I believe that an effective school will enable a student to develop their cognitive skills: teaching them to think for themselves, defend their ideas, be able to create their own ideas, process knowledge, and make sense and learn from personal experiences. However, these days, a test proves whether or not you are a good student. All of this though, heavily depends on the social class backgrounds that these students live in.

    According to Anyon, “students of different social class backgrounds are still likely to be exposed to qualitatively different types of educational knowledge.” Comparing an impoverished schools’ scores to an executive elite school’s scores is utterly ridiculous. This makes sense because students that are imprisoned in the lowest rungs of the social ladder are subject to the lowest forms of education and given the least opportunities with the least necessary tools to succeed anywhere close to the wealthier schools that have anything and everything they need to teach these students. Poor schools make it so that the teachers must scrounge for anything.

    I will defend this with data from Johnson and Johnson’s, High Stakes Testing: Children, Testing, and Failure in American Schools. To begin with I will look at how the scores foretell the destiny of the school. Schools that score extremely low are in danger of being denied funding, but the only thing this does it to make the polarizing gap between the impoverished schools and the wealthy schools (and their students) even worse. What this high stakes testing does is to neglect family accountability. The scores tend to place the teachers at blame of a student’s low score, thus making a low scoring school stigmatized as an “un-effective” school. However, what these scores do not do is to make the family, not just the teachers, accountable for these scores. Students living in extreme poverty live all the side effects of hopelessness: suicide, depression, drugs, violence, alcoholism, and more. Motivation is socially constructed for a child – and motivation, and I believe, it is probably the most vital thing a child can have to succeed in school. If a family is dysfunctional and the family is where the best support can come from, then no motivation will be present to drive the child to set himself or herself free from the shackles of their social status.

    As an example, I want to cite Johnson and Johnson about the Louisiana LEAP tests. A school called Redbud Elementary, was so deeply under funded that there was no playground, no library, no hot water, no art classes, one bathroom, no constantly working air conditioning, and some of the students lived without electricity, running water, or floors. The teachers of this extremely under funded school were sometimes not even certified. And even so, the teachers had only one prerogative in their classrooms as given to them by the superintendents: get their students to pass the LEAP test. Teachers were given no freedom to teach the curriculum they wanted to, they were treated like children: told exactly what to teach, which they had to record every detail of their days, were basically “threatened” that an administrator would check up on their classrooms to make sure that the teacher was following correct preparation curriculums. They had to focus only on the LEAP test, allowing little free time to help the children with their individual needs (as the preparation was the curriculum). Workshops and meetings busied their afternoons (little time for one-on-one tutoring) and during class, there was only enough time to teach whatever the administration had given them to prepare for the LEAP test.

    These students were unable to do exceptionally well because of the lifestyles they lived. They would come to school sick, cold, underfed, dirty, poorly clothed, and without the adequate supplies for the school (which the teachers would have to purchase out of their own pockets because they are only given a $200per year for supplies). If the students do not pass the LEAP test starting in fourth grade, they will not pass their grade.

    With these living conditions, there is no reason to see why the scores reflect the effectiveness of the school. However, the teachers are eager and willing to help these students, but the LEAP test shapes everyday planning and they are really unable to teach. The most important thing to me is that the low scores result in losing government funding. However, the government should be the one to specifically help these types of schools because they are the schools that have no art supplies (unless graciously donated); their most current dictionary is copyright 1952; they have no stable internet connections; no more than two bathrooms; no playground; not many maps or globes; and not much time for individual attention with their teachers because the high stakes testing administration consumes all of a teacher's time. They DO NOT have the necessary tools and supplies to make their school effective. A teacher is not a miracle worker –they need some type of supplies as a base to aid in their pedagogical methods.

    True, these students are at a lower educational level than many other children in America, but if one just looks at what they are stuck with in their schools and the curriculum defined by high stakes testing, I would not be able to understand why someone could question why the scores are as they are. It’s not that these schools are not effective – it’s that their teachers are not given the opportunity to teach and the social circumstances that these children live in are not permitting the education to fully take place. It is not that these children do not want to learn, but they do not encompass the materials, the tools (i.e. dictionaries, maps, art, internet, computers, free thinking time, etc) to expand their knowledge base. They must memorize only what is going to be on these high stakes standards tests to that they may pass their grade year. They are encouraged by their teachers, but the teachers are not equipped with what they need to fully help these children develop into the students they have the potential to be. I have written a poem that sums up the severity of the high stakes testing in Johnson and Johnson’s data:

    From a University and College where money is present
    To Shreveport in Redburd where the kids live in torment,
    They come from a higher class of professors of education
    To a parish where elementary teachers cry out desperation.
    The schools are dilapidated, and their rusty roof tops dangle,
    LEAP tests governs education, and you can’t teach through any other angle.
    Only $200 are spent per year on teaching supplies,
    For everything else, in the hands and pockets of the teachers expenditures lie.
    Jimmy is sick and coughing, but his parents can’t be reached,
    While teachers resort to the paddle when their rules have been breached.
    The LEAP test hovers over their shoulders and the teachers can’t really teach;
    Anything off the test has to wait, no time for fluff, like learning to listen or speech. definitely stakes testing often fails to adequately measure what students know and are able to do
    The school scorches to over one hundred degrees,
    No air conditioning helps the children, so they wrestle outside and scratch their knees.
    Victavius has an earache, but his mom lays home drunk and won’t come.
    Now Kanzah cries from a toothache, his teeth are broken and he has black gums.
    Kids tell their teacher to go to Wal-Mart, their eyes light up as if it’s Disneyland.
    That’s where they want to work when the grow up– that is their future planned.
    Wendice has sores covering her poor little feet, are they cigarette burns?
    The nurse already came her one time a week; Wendice has to wait ‘til she returns.
    But even if they were it’s most likely that none of the kids have medical insurance,
    Parents living in poverty can’t afford that type of assurance.
    The kids marvel at the new $28.88 red rug,
    They treat it like gold, they’ll keep it clean and brush off the dirt and pick out the bugs.
    The biggest fear in their school is the LEAP test; if they fail, they repeat their grade;
    A 15 year old girl attempted suicide. After failing the LEAP test –it was the decision she made.
    The kids have no money, the school practically gets none,
    There is nothing in their school to teach them manners or fun.
    The teachers can’t teach, and the students just test.
    The glory of education is left for the wealthier rest.

    In short, I really disagree that the high stakes testing shows any effectiveness of a school. Actually, I think that high stakes testing prohibits the schools from showing or being how effective they have the potential to be. Surely, they may be able to show whether or not a student is “up to par,” so to speak, with other students panned across America, but the situation in which a student lives has far more bearing over the scores and is perhaps the biggest explanation as to why those scores were achieved – and in the same sense, these conditions should be a target for the need to be better funded (i.e. more classrooms, more buildings, better equipped libraries, smaller class sizes, meaning more certified teachers, etc.) – to give these students an opportunity.

    Another thing I believe the high stakes testing does is to create stigmas for the students who fail them. Those who fail the tests are immediately stigmatized as not adequate in the eyes of high stakes testing administrators and even our government. The schools if a vast majority of the students fail them, are not even worthy of being funded by the government as the government, if the schools score low, terminate funding. And where would that leave the students? In an even wider gap away from the opportunities and educational level of the wealthy schools. This would also make more schools overcrowded as those students would have to get into another – the logic here is still a bit unbelievable to me.

    The most important part of what you said was that the test fails to bring about meaningful advances in the acquisition of knowledge and skills that make a difference -particularly those students whose schools and communities are challenged and under-resourced. I will react to that.

    I will use Jonathan Kozol’s Still Separate, Still Unequal article to justify my ideas. To hold a teacher, or better yet, a student, solely responsible for the failure of high stakes testing is a bit ridiculous. Under-resourced. That is, by itself, a term that can be responsible for the failure of these tests. And many of these under-resourced schools are those that house the students living in poverty. These students tend to be mostly of minority decent, though some are white. Just as an example, I will focus on poor minority students to demonstrate these opinions. In Kozol’s research he states,
    “Equality itself – equality alone is now, it seems, the article of faith in which most of the principals of inner-city public schools subscribe. And some who are perhaps the most realistic do not even dare to ask for, or expect, complete equality, which seems beyond the realm of probability for many years to come, but look instead for only sufficiency of means ‘adequacy’… High standards, higher expectations, are repeatedly demanded of these urban principals, and of the teachers and of the students in their schools, but far lower standards – certainly in ethical respects – appear to be expected of the dominant society that isolates these children in unequal institutions” (Kozol, 44)

    This is so powerful because it utters truth. These administrators expect that every student has the capacity to have the same knowledge as the next. Though this is absolutely true, the means to fulfill this capacity is void in many lives of under-resourced students, so they cannot develop to the potential student they can be. One school that Kozol visited was “one makeshift elementary school housed in a former skating rink next to a funeral establishment…thirty-four and more; four kindergarten classes and a sixth grade class were packed into a single room that had no windows.” How in the world could anyone expect any student to excel in this circumstance? They are treated with the dignity of animals, all penned into one room. And worse, militarism was being considered as was Skinnerian approaches to these students. The voice of these students was “if you do what I tell you what to do, how I tell you to do it, when I tell you to do it, you’ll get it right. If you don’t, you’ll get it wrong” (Kozol, 47). Theses students were being trained, not taught, to be like robots: to obey, and be silent. This type of learning, the Skinnerian approach, retards a student from critical reflection. Students should not be accountable to pass a high stakes test when the all they are taught is to write down information their teachers tell them is correct (void of any discussion) and to accept all that their teachers say as right, then they are learning nothing. They are merely learning how to take notes, rather, record what someone is saying. There is no reason to believe that this type of schooling – the result of an under-resourced school, will teach the students to transfer knowledge from copying notes to cognitive knowledge on a test. All this does for these students is to give them a stigma- they already live in an impoverished family- they already live with hopelessness and when they are only taught to the test, they are not expanding their knowledge; instead they are just reproducing their social status in their society.


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