President Obama’s announcement that students should be tested less is a victory for all those who have seen the destructive results of the education accountability movement that saw its birth in the Nation at Risk report over 30 years ago.
He said it because a movement demanded he say it.
But there may be less here than meets the eye.
When I was still teaching just a few short years ago, our school district had an Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning – a title that had been changed a few years earlier from Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum – who was fond of repeating, “We value what we measure and we measure what we value.”
I’m sure she picked that up at a breakout session at ASCD or saw it on a wall somewhere.
What she meant by measure was standardized testing. Like schools everywhere, we did a lot of it.
To sound progressive, she spoke of multiple measures. She meant multiple kinds of standardized tests that had multiple initials.
She was right though. We tested what we valued.
President Obama says he wants to limit the amount of standardized testing to 2% of student time, not counting test prep.
That happens to be about the same percentage of the school year that the district I retired from offered students time in the Art room. And we were a suburban district that supported the Arts.
That is what supporting the Arts means in American schools.
None of the standardized tests our district used measured what I taught or what my students learned in Art.
Every time I sat in a meeting with the Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning and she said that “we value what we measure and we measure what we value,” I was reminded that she didn’t value Art. Or Music. Or play.
Not because we didn’t test it. But because we were spending more of the students’ day measuring and testing than we were spending making Art, Music or play.
Even if the President is serious, or is even capable, of turning around the monster we have created, it will take years and generations of students.
We now have a national system of education in which every part of it, from admission requirements to teacher evaluation, is rooted in a monstrous system of standardized testing. It will take a major effort and dedication of teachers and parents at street level, and leaders with the will, to undo it anytime soon.
The movement below exists to stop it.
We need more than the words of a lame duck president who allowed toxic testing to proceed and grow for seven years if we want to turn this sucker around.
When there is more time for art, music and play than there is for measuring and testing, then we will know we have gotten somewhere.