Guest Column: The trend in education is away from standardized, high-stakes tests

2013-02-20T00:00:00Z Guest Column: The trend in education is away from standardized, high-stakes testsRobin Hiller Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Research has shown that testing doesn't make students smarter or improve the educational outcomes for those at risk. It just makes test-makers wealthier.

Between 2010 and 2012, Arizona gave Pearson, an international company providing curriculum materials, multimedia learning tools and testing programs, nearly $12.9 million. In 2013, in just one Tucson district, Pearson has made another $6 million with SuccessMaker to make sure third-graders pass their new high-stakes test. Other Arizona districts followed because our state, defying research and education experts, believes that testing is the solution to our educational woes.

But across the United States there is a growing swell of resistance to our national obsession of standardized testing.

The leader in this movement is Texas, the birthplace of standardized high-stakes tests. Recently, its House passed its preliminary budget, designating $0 - yes, zero dollars, for standardized testing.

The GOP speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, stated, "Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you."

This is quite a turn-around. Last year, Texas gave test-maker Pearson a $500 million, five-year contract.

About 880 Texas school districts, representing 4.4 million students, signed a resolution saying standardized testing (like AIMS and PARCC, the upcoming Common Core test) is bad for education.

Former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott announced that testing had become a "perversion of its original intent."

And it's not just Texas:

In New York, more than one-third of the principals signed a letter protesting evaluating teachers based on test scores, and 8,200 parents and educators signed a petition opposing all high-stakes testing.

In Maryland, Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County, often considered the best district in the nation, has said "stop the insanity" and proposed a three-year moratorium on all standardized testing.

In North Carolina, Superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Heath Morrison is working with superintendents across the country to fight "an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars that won't help kids."

In Washington, teachers at Garfield High School voted unanimously to boycott the MAP exams, which take weeks of classroom time just to administer.

In California's State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown said education doesn't work when legislators and politicians "prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work - lighting fires in young minds."

Back here in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer proposes more funding for schools and districts that are performing well on the tests and schools that demonstrate students are getting better at test taking. This is the wrong direction. As Morrison says, "We can teach our way to the top, but we can't test our way to the top."

Arizona needs to spend its money on proven, researched-based strategies: lowering class size to less than 18 in K-3, and using reading and math specialists who can intervene and provide one-on-one assistance in support of new teachers. Trust teachers to do what they were trained to do - teach, inspire and assess the students they work with 180 days a year.

In 2014, Arizona is gambling on a new, untried test at an estimated cost of $10.9 million, not counting the cost of teacher training and paying for substitutes. Arizonans need to band together and say, "Stop the insanity!" Parents, citizens and school boards should sign the anti-testing resolution and demand our policymakers keep the millions of dollars out of the pockets of the test-makers and put the money where it belongs - educating our students.

Robin Hiller is executive director of Voices for Education, an independent, community-based organization to improve public education for Arizona children. Email her at rhiller@voicesforeducation.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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