Monday, May 4, 2015


The spring season of standardized testing shuts down teaching and learning, turning schools into “secured” sites of test score production. Little factories producing “indicators” for rating schools and teachers, with the children as the conscripted labor in the testing machine. This year the testing season brought an unexpected gift to parents: a kind of “Mitt Romney moment” of unintended truth. And it’s all because of the parents.

Whole weeks of testing (the STAAR, the Iowa, End of Course…..) are preceded by months and months of test drills, “benchmark” and “snapshot” tests, then more drill on answers missed. Not much time for teaching and learning.

Opposition to the tests – and their use in rating schools and teachers – has for years been voiced to Congress and to the legislators who voted for these expensive – and unproductive – testing systems, with little result. But every time, the testing company lobbyists easily drown out the voices of parents and teachers.

Parents aren’t waiting any longer. Across the country, even here in Texas where this whole thing began, parents are saying “no more.” “Not my child.” “You can’t have my child’s test score for your school rating.” They are ‘opting out,” keeping their kids home on test days.

The “opt out” movement has spread exponentially as more and more parents realize their power to act.

So how does Mitt Romney fit into this story? Remember the “47%” video? The disdain in Romney’s voice as he spoke to his rich donors about “those other people.”

Parents opting out produced a “Romney” moment of truth: it came in the form a letter from a high official in the Houston Independent School District, the district where high-stakes testing began. That letter, sent to schools and parents in the middle of the testing season, that said parents have no right to keep their kids out of testing. The writer warned of dire consequences – mandatory summer school, the risk of not being promoted to the next grade, and more.

And that “47%” connection? The district’s letter makes very plain there is no option to opt out; in fact, “Not participating in the assessments has negative consequences for the student, the school, and the district” (HISD’s emphasis). The district needs your kids’ scores.

Thanks to the Houston Chronicle’s Pulitzer-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg and education writer Ericka Mellon, the opt out families and the district’s pushback became public news. And Margaret Downing, tireless editor of Houston Press, showed the district’s scare tactics to be just that: a score of “zero” won’t be reported for children who opt out, no child will “automatically” be denied promotion, mandatory summer school is not an automatic punishment. I urge you to read the letter for yourself, the writer’s subsequent “clarification,” and Downing’s very well informed refutation of the letter’s claims.

Sometimes the truth comes out. The “accountability” system “works” only if there are enough “data points” for rating schools and teachers. No parent wants her child to be a mere data point in the testing machine. The system has been held together by fear: fear the school scores will be low and the principal will lose his job; fear the kids scores won’t be high enough to keep the school from being outsourced to a charter chain; fear that teaching a really robust, interesting lesson won’t match the multiple choice test questions.

No longer. The David Gohl letter shows the fear has gone up the system: the fear that parents will realize they have choices. They can fight for their children.

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