Testing Abuse

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Returning Sanity to the Classroom-Eliminating the Testing Mania' is published



            It seems like education is on a never ending quest to be ‘reformed’. The current trend began with the successful USSR’s orbiting of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 and reached a crescendo in 1983 with the publication of ‘A Nation at Risk.’ This flawed report spoke of a ‘rising level of mediocrity’ in our schools when in fact the evidence it cited was greatly skewed towards that desired outcome. (http://www.edutopia.org/landmark-education-report-nation-risk )

False conclusion

            Engendering public fear, the message continues today: ‘American students are behind those of many countries. Our dominance of military and economic strength is on the decline. We are losing our competitiveness.’ The root cause of this false conclusion was laid at the feet of our schools by the U.S. corporate world. But when viewed from an international perspective our perceived ‘plight’ was due in fact not to schools but to American social, business, and political failings.

No correlation
            The World Economic Forum researchers have concluded that the U.S. economic competitiveness has weaknesses. The report reads that the “weaknesses include the business communities' criticism of the public and private institutions, that there is a great lack of trust in politicians, and a lack of a strong relationship between government and business. And the U.S. debt continues to grow.”
The relationship is moot

            According to the World Economic Forum, student test scores on international tests in reading, mathematics and science were not even mentioned as connected to the weakening of the U.S.'s ability to compete. The relationship is moot. (World Economic Forum Report, 2011/12  http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GCR_Report_2011-12.pdf  ).
Claim not supported
            Further, from renowned researcher Christopher H. Tienken in Rankings of International Achievement Test Performance and Economic Strength: Correlation or Conjecture? he states, “In the case of the United States, the data does not support the claim that a correlation exists between performance on international tests of mathematics and science and economic strength as measured by the Global Competitive Index.” (http://journals.sfu.ca/ijepl/index.php/ijepl/article/view/110/44 )
            With many studies demonstrating that 80 to 90 percent of student achievement is due to factors outside of school, how can we consider changes in our schooling as the solution to our economic problems?  Based on the principle that schools were the culprit, over the last thirteen years Congress and the 2001 administration charged ahead with a ‘plan’ that was thought to fix all of this: No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The plan
            The plan’s fundamental paradigm was for each state to create a set of educational standards, ask educators to teach to those standards, test students on those standards, report their results back to the U.S. Department of Education, and determine if each state is progressing at a predetermined rate that would culminate in 2014 with all students being proficient in mathematics and English language arts.
High-stakes testing culture

            This ‘plan’ was the genesis of today’s high-stakes testing culture. They are called high- stakes tests because the scores are then used to judge students, teachers, schools, districts and states. These scores are not a valid way to make educational decisions.( see Educational Genocide- A Plague on our Children  http://www.worldcat.org/title/educational-genocide-a-plague-on-our-children/oclc/606051706  )

            If schools did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) on student proficiency percentages they were met with varying degrees of sanctions. Districts, schools and teachers came under more and more restrictive and proscriptive mandates or their schools were reconstituted with new administrators and teachers with state ‘take-over’ as the ultimate punishment.

 Never tested

            The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was never tested for its effectiveness before enactment. The results are now evident: academic stagnation. It did not work! Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch writes:

                        “Because of NCLB, more than 80 percent of our nation's public schools will be labeled "failures" this year. By 2014, on the NCLB timetable of destruction, close to 100 percent of public schools will have "failed" in their efforts to reach the unreachable goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math. Has there ever been a national legislative body anywhere else in the world that has passed legislation that labeled almost every one of its schools a failure?”1


            Recent attempts at NCLB revival include both waivers directed at states and districts who are trying to escape the law’s harsh sanctions as well as stimulation with the ‘Race to the Top’ funding program. Both attempts are hinged on states accepting a set of national education standards called the ‘Common Core Standards’ along with national testing to follow. This new ‘plan’ was never piloted and has no evidence of success, once again making millions of U.S. students guinea pigs. Essentially it says to the states, “Accept these standards or else you will not qualify for these funding programs.”

Wrong questions

            The problem with all of these ‘reform’ efforts is that they ask the wrong questions from the wrong perspectives. They start from the outside-national and state initiatives-with the hope of improving individual student learning within the confines of the classroom. How threats and coercion from the highest levels of government could possibly translate into students becoming more eager and desirous to learn in the classroom is almost farcical. These ‘reform’ efforts were not initiated by practitioners who work daily with students. None of these programs began by asking cadres of teachers, “what are the classroom practices that best engage students in learning?”


            Improvement is what this book is all about. As educationally engaged professionals, parents and community members we should have as part of our ongoing interest the improvement of the learning atmosphere for our students. This interest is not in reaction to economic fear mongering but is a genuine human response to benefit our youth. I suggest a restructuring that begins in the classroom that then moves outward to schools, districts and states as a means of supporting individual student learning.


            What I share here is my personal experience of having integrated various concepts and strategies that I have found to be most beneficial to my students. While many of these ideas may have been used in isolation from each other, I have put them together into a cogent practical and successful pedagogy. I call it ‘Forgiving Learning.’

The brain

            The human brain is the organ for learning, whether inside or outside of school. Each of

our bodily organs has a particular function within the context of living. As educators we hope that all of our students’ organs are working well to the benefit of their health and well being. But in particular we focus on the brain because one of its primary functions is not only a clearing house for what enters through the senses but also seeks patterns and connections.


            It learns from all the random inputs that daily life puts before each of us. I address the question of what are the conditions under which the brain operates with highest efficiency. Which of those conditions is the classroom practitioner responsible for maximizing? Which of those conditions is the school, family life and the greater community responsible for providing? What aspects of having a healthy brain is the student responsible for?

 Natural learning

            The human brain makes decisions. Each of us has a preferred way of making them. These preferences can be both a strength and a weakness. The teacher needs to know and understand how these preferences influence the student’s response to the various strategies that are employed in the classroom. They also need to have a working knowledge of their own teaching preferences and how that can impact student engagement.


            The all-encompassing idea is that over the millennia the human species has interacted with its environment and evolved a process of natural learning. Our brains come to us prewired and ready to follow its programming of learning from its mistakes while making positive changes along the way to success. The heart fulfills its purpose in circulating the blood. All the other organs follow suit in performing their natural functions. Just like any of the other bodily organs the neocortex portion of the brain seeks to fulfill its major role: it wants to learn.


            Forgiving Learning is therefore a pedagogy of educational cooperation. It is one solution

to the question of how to create and operate a student-brain-friendly learning atmosphere k-12 and beyond. Forgiving Learning employs strategies that students readily recognize as satisfying their need to know and successfully comprehend the world in which they live. It is presented in a way that is adaptable to multiple teaching styles and of such a nature that it can be modified to best fit classroom modalities that schools and districts have already mandated. Although the principles of Forgiving Learning were developed within high school physics classes, its central tenet of students learning from their mistakes with multiple opportunities without penalty can be applied to any grade level or course offering. Errors can be redeemed.

Education from living

            Learning from failure is not just the method in which a baby learns to walk, but over the millennia has become a most viable learning process for all human beings. The core elements of Forgiving Learning will be recognized by all adults who support students’ healthy development and can also be of great benefit to the community at large. I long to see what Edgar Z. Freedenberg so perceptibly envisioned:
Then, there may come a time when you can’t even tell education from living.2


  1. Ravitch, Diane, NCLB: End It, Don't Mend It. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/10/dear_deborah_have_you_been.html (accessed 10/25/11)
  2. Gross, Beatrice and Ronald Gross. Radical School Reform, New York :Simon and Schuster, 1970