Spring break is coming up and warmer days are ahead. Unfortunately, this time of year state-mandated tests bloom about as rapidly as the wildflowers. As you might guess, I do not support the growing regimen of testing that has come to define public schools and learning ever since President George W. Bush forced through his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. President Barack Obama poured gasoline on this fire when he used his Race to the Top initiative to force states into more rigorous but narrow curriculum and testing, and ranking schools from Top to Bottom as a result. In Michigan, our legislature has been up and down, in and out about our curriculum and requirements for testing leading to frustration and a substantial waste of our children’s classroom learning time.
Sir Richard Livingstone (1880-1960), a wise and learned British educator, found the whole enterprise of testing requirements forced on schools, teachers, and of course the students themselves, revolting and a curse against authentic learning. In a 1943 publication, he stated very succinctly his view of this type of testing.
“Something no doubt is happening; but it may not be education; it may be the administration of a poison which paralyses or at least slows down the natural activities of the healthy mind. The healthy human being, finding himself a creature of unknown capacities in an unknown world, wants to learn what the world is like, and what he should be and do in it. To help him in answering these questions is the one and only purpose of education.”
Note: In his writings, he referred to testing that is forced on schools as “examinations.” Livingstone was not against all testing admitting that the types of tests devised by the school and the teacher are necessary for measuring student progress.
All this being said, state and federal law requires that for a period of time each spring, we disrupt the learning environment and administer the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and the SAT college entrance test along with the ACT WorkKeys to all 11th graders, the PSAT (pre-SAT) to all 9th and 10th graders, and the hotly disputed M-STEP to all 3rd through 8th graders. Students in each of those latter grade levels will take an English language arts and math test. Certain grades will also take a social studies or science test. The State Superintendent has penned a letter to parents that you can read at your leisure. Additional information is available in a two-page summary of Michigan’s high-stakes testing program titled Michigan’s Education Assessment: What It Is, What It Means, And What It Offers.
I take exception to some of the points he makes including the illusion that narrow, high-stakes testing will lead Michigan to become a “Top 10 education state.” If we truly were interested in that, our first focus would be on equitable school funding while we develop more holistic, local assessments that measure student growth not only in content, but also in the very critical skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. But there is no statewide effort being made in this direction despite the overwhelming research and examples across the country that support my position. Below is a chart that serves as sort of a rubric as to what our learning and assessments should measure.
The most important thing parents and students can remember going into the spring testing weeks is that they are just tests and just one small, narrow measure of a child’s real learning in school. Each and every day your child comes home from school and most often can talk about something exciting he or she did that day, or something they might have learned. Most of that will never be tested but all of it is important to life’s journey and that’s why we stress at Godfrey-Lee the 6C’s of learning illustrated in the table above. How will the SAT or M-STEP ever measure those critical learning skills? They won’t. Economy and efficiency drive our state and federal testing machines and mass-produced, standardized tests cannot adequately measure most of the skills your child will learn throughout their K-12 years.
Never the less, there are some things you as a parent can do to assist your child through this annual testing cycle. Those are in the graphic below and I provide them not as an endorsement for this type of testing but in hopes they might ease your concerns and help you reduce testing stress in your child.
If you have any questions regarding the upcoming testing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with and talk to your child’s teachers, principal, or me. We are all going to do our best to ensure testing goes smoothly for everyone and that any useful results we might receive be not only communicated with you but also inform our district’s strategic human-centered design work.
This will be the final time I write to you as superintendent about my concerns with over-testing our kids since I will be retiring at the close of this school year. I will admit that I’m disappointed that many of my efforts the past nine years to reduce, eliminate, or even re-direct testing towards more useful purposes have fallen flat. Our legislature, due in part to a failed policy of “term-limits” in Michigan, has focused mainly on their individual agendas, or has fallen influence to outside money and lobbyists who do not have the best interests of your child or your public schools in mind. I can tell you that despite retirement, my efforts will continue through other channels to work towards ending the standardization movement, the inequity of Michigan’s school funding, and the efforts by extremists to close public schools and put an end to public education.
With my utmost sincerity,
Post script: By the way, much of the nonsense with state-mandated, narrow, standardized testing has been driven by the wildly absurd myth that our public schools are failing. There are mounds of evidence that prove this wrong but the mainstream, corporate-owned media tends to fall in line with the wealthy promoters of this rot. I would suggest you take the time this weekend or during your spring break to read “U.S. Public Schools Are Not Failing. They’re Among The Best In The World.”