Opting Out of High-Stakes Assessments

In response to the growing movement of parents who have opted out of high-stakes testing, Michelle Rhee wrote a defense of the (commercial) enterprise in the Washington Post. This op-ed piece was brilliantly deconstructed, point by point, at http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/04/wapo-wastes-space-on-that-woman.html. I encourage you to read the whole thing. A few excerpts:

[Michelle Rhee]: No, tests are not fun — but they’re necessary. Stepping on the bathroom scale can be nerve-racking, but it tells us if that exercise routine is working. Going to the dentist for a checkup every six months might be unpleasant, but it lets us know if there are cavities to address. In education, tests provide an objective measurement of how students are progressing — information that’s critical to improving public schools.

Except that the current crop of Standardized Tests are not like stepping on a scale or going to the dentist. They are like trying to find out a child’s weight by waterboarding him. They are like having your teeth checked by a blind blacksmith. Because, in education, tests NEVER provide an objective measure of anything, because tests are made by people. Yes, tests are useful– but only good tests. And do you know what good tests are useful for? They are useful for providing information critical to helping further the education of students.

I am not a Systems True Devotee. STDs believe that we just have to create a well-oiled precision machine and it will spit out Smarterer Student Products like toasters off an assembly line. I would stop to further develop the point, but we’re only one paragraph in. These woods are dark and deep, but we have miles to go.

From this diving board, That Woman proceeds to register her stunned amazement that in various places, there’s a movement that is convincing parents to pull kids out of these tests! Really!!! These marvelous tests that will tell us how schools are doing!! What in the name of God are they thinking!?!?!!?


[Michelle Rhee:] This makes no sense. All parents want to know how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom. Good educators also want an assessment of how well they are serving students, because they want kids to have the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Allow to help you comprehend this, O She. You are correct that parents and educators do want to know these things. Your mistake is in believing that they can only know this by looking at standardized test results.

Yes, the Great and Powerful Woman Who No Longer Has a Curtain To Hide Behind imagines a world where parents sit at home after eight months of school, wringing their hands and saying, “Oh, jehosephat, I wish we knew how Janey was doing in school. But we have no idea.” Meanwhile, at school, teachers sit and the lounge and say, “Yeah, I’ve been with this kid for eight months but I just don’t know how he’s doing. Thank God we’re going to be giving a high stakes high pressure badly written unproven standardized test soon so that I’ll know how it’s going.”

In That Woman’s universe, parents and teachers (sorry– public school parents and teachers) are dumber than dirt. In fact, the list of People Standing in the Way of Educational Excellence gets longer and longer. Parents, teachers, democratically elected school boards– reformy fans have an enemies list that keeps lengthening.



[Michelle Rhee:] We don’t need to opt out of standardized tests; we need better and more rigorous standardized tests in public schools. 

Yes!! When you’re doing something stupid and bad and non-productive, do it More Harder!!


[Michelle Rhee:] We also shouldn’t accept the false argument that testing restricts educators too much, stifles innovation in the classroom or takes the joy out of teaching. That line of thought assumes that the test is the be-all and end-all — and if that’s the perspective, the joy is already long gone. 

Here’s a multiple choice test for you, dear, exhausted reader. Select which statement best reflects the meaning of the above excerpt:

1) Do not assume that the test is the be-all and end-all. It will just be-all the way we decide to end-all teaching careers, school existence, and student futures.

2) You cannot claim that this year’s testing is sucking up all the joy of teaching, because we actually drained that lake long ago and killed the fish flopping in the mud with fire and big pointy sticks.

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