Monday, August 01, 2011

What passes for intelligent argument by the teachers unions

On Saturday, thousands of teachers rallied at the White House to protest testing. Matt Damon even came in to give them his support. Jon Stewart sent a taped message. So you know their cause must be righteous.

Their rallying cry: “No testing, no testing, 1-2-3.” They're objecting to No Child Left Behind and the trend towards high-stakes testing in schools. So we get the upside down cry of this poster.
“Teach Me, Don’t Just Test Me.”
This represents the utopian vision of students that these sorts of teachers believe in. We can just provide entertaining inputs and the little darlings will happily soak it up. They don't need to be tested to see if they actually mastered the material. Heavens no!

The testing regimen that we've had the past decade has revealed what we all expected was true. Too many kids are going through school and not learning. They come out barely able to master what we expect students to know. But these teachers simply want to quarrel with that result and blame it on the tests, not the lack of learning that is occurring.
Sonya Romero, 36, said she flew from Albuquerque because “No Child Left Behind is demoralizing New Mexico.” The state has a population that is poorer and more diverse than much of the country, she explained. By now, the vast majority of the schools statewide have been classified as “failing” under the federal law, which sets increasingly high pass rates for state tests each year.

Under that “failing” label, Romero’s school has cut back time for physical education and recess, and she has been required to use a new reading curriculum, she said. The regimen “stifles imagination,” she said.
yes, imagination is wonderful. But if the kids can't read, it's time to focus on the basics. If the students aren't learning, perhaps they need a new reading curriculum. That should be her focus, not traveling across the country to complain about having to give her students test.

Yes, I will agree that there are definite problems with No Child Left Behind. States were given the latitude to design their own testing formats and, at least in my state, designed poor tests that don't really evaluate mastery of the material when it comes to the subject tests in history that I'm familiar with. I'd prefer to have a national respected test like the NAEP tests used across the board so that we'd have a true standard of comparison and states couldn't play around with pass rates to make their schools look better.

And of course we need better test security to block the sort of cheating that went on in Atlanta. But deciding that the answer is to get rid of the tests is to throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, we need accountability to find out what students know and then teachers who can design lessons to address those holes rather than to whine about the fact of their students' ignorance being exposed to the rest of the world.

The Washington Post
has no patience with the convoluted reasoning of the teachers' union that blames testing for stories like the Atlanta cheating scandal.

Teachers who admitted to cheating said they were under enormous pressure to raise test scores. That’s prompted some to see the tests, a requirement of No Child Left Behind, as the real culprit. What did you expect, goes this thinking, when you put such high stakes — a school’s evaluation, federal funding, teacher compensation, even jobs — on test scores? That’s a little like suggesting an end to keeping score in baseball because it’s an incentive to use steroids, or eliminating the SAT because some students will try to cheat.

What’s most troubling about this argument is that it demeans the integrity and honor of America’s educators, the vast majority of whom don’t believe that the pressure to perform is a license to cheat. There’s no better method of gauging knowledge and skill than testing; to suggest doing away with this vital tool because of a few bad apples is mad. That’s not to suggest that there isn’t a need for some changes. Attention should be paid to how tests are administered and how suspicious test activity is investigated. Efforts to create useful tests and to move from snapshots to measuring student improvement must be accelerated.
Apparently, such logic is too much for the teachers who traveled to DC this weekend and their celebrity supporters like Matt Damon and Jon Stewart.