Scared Sleepless

“My son can’t sleep at night,” his mother (and a friend of mine) said.

Why, I asked?

“Because his teacher told him that he had to do well on the tests this week or she would be fired. He’s worried sick.”

That conversation, which occurred almost exactly one year ago, continues to haunt me. What kind of teacher would say that to kids? Or, digging deeper, what were the circumstances made the teacher feel so desperate that she would say that?

It doesn’t matter where that 3rd grader and his family live, because that sort of pressure seems to be everywhere. And it seems to be increasing, as scores on state/city exams become the single most important measure of a teacher’s performance — and as pressure grows to publish the test scores of every individual teacher’s students.

Everyone is familiar with Campbell’s Law, developed by social scientist Donald Campbell:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Scaring the sleep out of a child is surely an example of distortion and corruption. So too is firing people based on the snapshot of one day’s bubble test score.

Bubble Test
Tests aren't going away. But where do we go now?

And then we have the cheating by adults, proven in Atlanta very recently and over the years in Austin, TX, and Connecticut, and suspected now in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Houston and lots of other places.

Is help on the way? The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) has released a thoughtful plan, “For Every Child, Multiple Measures,” that is worth your attention. It has the support of the great Richard Riley, the man who set the standard for Secretaries of Education (IMHO). If we had reliable multiple measures, that would take some pressure off the end-of-the-year bubble tests.

We would still be holding everyone accountable, but children would be able to sleep at night during March and April, and teachers wouldn’t feel it necessary to violate a basic code of decency.

Will the Common Core, now accepted in nearly every state and the District of Columbia, bring some sanity? That’s what the pundits and the bandwagon-builders are saying, but hold your applause. At least until you read Tom Loveless’ latest report, “How Well Are American Students Learning?” It was released by the Brookings Institution recently, the 11th in a series of “Brown Center Reports on American Education.” Loveless takes a clear-eyed look at our latest enthusiasm, the Common Core, and, since that bandwagon is picking up steam, it’s well worth your time. He writes about ‘aspirational standards,’ likening them to that diet you (and I) keep promising to go on. And he reminds us that there’s more variation within states than between states, an important dash of cold water on those who are prone to celebrate Massachusetts and put down Mississippi. In short, don’t expect the Common Core to change much.

What will it take to relieve some of the pressure? Can President Obama and Secretary Duncan really believe that weeks of test prep and tons of pressure are good for our kids? Why aren’t leaders speaking out?

Maybe parents need to say ‘no mas’ to this — if only so their kids can sleep at night.

76 thoughts on “Scared Sleepless

    • Our family had a similar experience — not quite as drastic, but bad enough that we immediately took the decision that our children will not participate in any standardized testing in elementary school.

      In brief, what got us started looking into the issue is this: the first of our children to reach third grade came home one day early in the school year and said with wide eyes and a terrified expression “Mommy, Daddy, there’s going to be a big test in April and if I don’t pass it I’m not going to get to go to fourth grade!” Then sure enough, a few days later, this child, who is a voracious learner, who LOVES his teachers and classmates, who never once in the grades K-2 expressed a desire not to go to school, started saying things like “I wish it was still summer vacation.”

      We were furious, and to their credit his teachers were extremely responsive about talking down the test and helping him get over this totally needless anxiety. We do not blame them; all year whenever we’ve had any concern about our son, they have done everything in their power to help him and us. But this is bigger than parents and teachers. The powers that be have instituted a system that is systematically demoralizing teachers and children. The more we’ve looked into this the more we’ve become convinced that all rhetoric to the contrary, what is going on is the tests are being used as an instrument to undermine and privatize public education. Whether that’s the intention or not, that is what is actually happening across the country.

      We as one family cannot stop this juggernaut. But we can refuse to participate in the fallacious data-gathering that powers it. Our children will be educated in the public schools, we will do everything we can to support their wonderful teachers, and we will also do everything we can to fight the ignorant politicians who have instituted anti-intellectual and anti-democratic test-based “accountability” measures at every level of our government.

      Until and unless standardized tests are restored to the role the test designers themselves think is appropriate — as limited, secondary measures designed to supplement professional assessment by teachers of students’ progress — our children will be boycotting the tests.

      We have been finding there are many, many fellow parents who agree with us. We have also had the bizarre experience of having many teachers contact us privately to support us — they often simply don’t dare speaking out themselves for fear of being fired.

      We do not want to live in a country in which the agencies administering education are creating a situation on the ground in which parents and teachers not only have no say in how children should be educated — they can’t even talk to each other openly about it!


      • Great comment and thoughtful response. I only wonder how your school is responding to your boycott?


    • You and others keep missing the biggest issue, and poor choice made by America’s educational bureaucracy.
      I was one of the national educational leaders who helped start the standards movement, and state testing back in the late 1980’s. I had visited schools in Europe and Asia and saw that rigorous standards and assessment was why they were ahead of us, and moving forward. Also important was that other countries give parents choices and which schools to send their children, and schools that don’t perform must shut down.

      In terms of assessment what is critical is that teachers, principals, and school boards never see the actual exams used. Thus no one can teach to the test. They cannot stop normal learning to ‘cram’ for a specific test. Instead schools around the world focus on teaching to rigorous and broader standards.

      A separate group creates and administers the state and national eams. Teachers cannot teach to a test because they never see the test items. In America we not only screwed up by creating a means and opportunity to teach to specific tests, we have hundreds of teachers and principals in jail for cheating on the tests.

      When I was on the Colorado State Board of education and began our move to state testing I warned everyone about this potential downside. I had even arranged to have other state employees and/or retired senior citizens administer and collect the tests from every building in the state.
      However, the teachers, administrators and board members feared the real assessment that would come from that and demanded, through the legislative laws, that they stay in charge of testing, including leaving the opportunity to cheat and teach to a test.


      • I hope a lot of those who read my post also read your thoughtful–and frightening–response


  1. Amen, and Amen again. We know and understand so much now about how the previous wave of ‘aspirational standards’ in the 1990’s, which was accompanied by more innovative and supportive approaches to assessment than anything we are looking at in the current scene, went awry…yet we seem determined to repeat those same mistakes.


  2. This is one more reason why we have to accelerate the adoption of blended learning. By bifurcating learning between content, delivered digitally and pedagogy, provided by a teacher/coach, we can eliminate the need for the inane bubble tests we have been using for decades that really don’t measure anything. As Sal Khan explains it, if you pass the 6th grade math test with 70%, what don’t you know? How will that affect your ability to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade? What we are currently measuring is what students have memorized rather than what they can do. Digital learning can be assessed continuously, interventions can be made instantaneously and teachers can use the data to personalize learning for every child. That is the difference between education, which is adult-centric with the teacher cramming stuff into the student’s brain, and learning, which is student-centric with the individual child actively involved in acquiring knowledge. That’s what the 21st century looks like.


  3. I, too, would add a few amens. Unfortunately, nothing new here, as is often the case. But it is disingenuis (no spell checker here 😦 ) too. I strongly doubt that a teacher would or even could be fired based on one test. This teacher actually “failed’ the “test” when he/she uttered the statement in the first place, in my view.

    The more intriguing question is how to mobilize parents and interested parties towards what we know works. One answer lies is the fact that ours is a competitively based society and there are personal interests at work against improvements for all.

    Lot’s of good stuff in this blog. There must be a way to raise the scope of distribution – sort of like releasing a virus ! In video form !

    John, ever think of these blogs as suitable for a video or pod cast?


    • In The district of Columbia, that teacher would be telling the truth. 50% of teacher evaluation is these complicated math renderings (“value added”) of her kids’ scores. 35% on classroom observations (which correlate almost not at all to the value added s ores, and 15% to how much the teacher sucks up to the principal.
      I kid you not. It’s criminal. And it’s not the teachers fault.


  4. John,
    Count me as a big skeptic on the degree to which “multiple measures” will magically dissolve the pressures that drove this teacher to say this to her student. Where was this teacher working? Most places that have introduced VAM into their evaluation processes, under tremendous pressure from the Department of Education, have done so in a “multiple measures” format. Even New York, where we are seeing teachers humiliated by the publication of often inaccurate ratings, “only” bases 40% of a teachers’ evaluation on test scores or VAM indicators. As I wrote here, multiple measures are not fairy dust we can sprinkle on an evaluation and make all the pressure go away.

    The Miss America contest only bases 35% of a contestant’s score on physical appearance — they use multiple measures as well! But those women are under intense pressure to look a certain way, just as teachers are under intense pressure to get their students scores up — even if those scores are one of multiple measures.


    • In NY, the 40% actually works out to be 100% for a teacher’s VAM because if you are rated ineffective on the “testing’ part of your evaluation – you MUST be rated ineffective overall! So, students’ test scores are really all that matter in a teacher’s evaluation.
      There is no “magic method” to evaluating teachers, and certainly not any “magical measure” to tell what a student has LEARNED. If all you want to know is how well a student can be prepped for and take a test that has no connection to the real world, has boring reading passages, has questions that are ambiguous, and has field test questions embedded, then by all means – let’s keep using standardized tests.
      That “snapshot” of a child doesn’t show any social growth, and is unrelated to what we KNOW to be true about child development and brain development.
      Ever since NCLB, we (teachers and to some extent parents) have been terrified of having our children/students be labeled as a 1 or a 2. We have been telling children for over a decade that their WORTH is based on these ridiculous tests. The madness has to stop!!


    • Anthony, you are so right. The “multiple measures” will not make this go away – they will only dress the evaluation process up a little to please the usual suspects – it’s a way to keep the data factories strong while adding to the pressures with more forms, more submissions, more paperwork that ultimately actually divert teachers’ attention from actually teaching to defending themselves on all fronts. NY rubrics require evidence in multiple domains. It’s all still data-driven.


    • Imagine if Miss America didn’t know where the other 65% percent of her score was coming from. She was only told – don’t worry about it. Most teachers wouldn’t think of doing that to their students, yet that is what the great majority of teachers are facing.


  5. As one of the founders of United Opt Out National I can tell you that this story is told to us daily by teachers, parents and students. What is most unfortunate, is that this story is told more frequently among the schools with the greatest needs. Children living in high poverty areas are trying to keep their heads above water in test prep schools – these schools are void of art, PE, music, history, recess, nap, libraries, books, nurses, speech, drama and more. There is nothing but tests – because, as you have stated – the stakes are so high that students, teachers and administrators must focus on the test in order to avoid being labeled a failing student, teacher, principal or school – take your pick – there is no winning when we are asked to Race to the Top. There is no equity in Racing to the Top – it is a competition set up to fail the neediest students and fail ALL children by providing them with an education void of critical, creative and conceptual thinking. We need only look to China – as Yong Zhao shares – to see how this will end.

    Yet, the politicians and corporations would like our children to keep racing – note the word “our” children – this does not apply to “their” children as they all attend private schools which are filled with resources, respected teachers, music, art, libraries, PE, field trips and organic lunch food.

    Our children are fed tests. Why you ask? Simple. It profits the corporations and it profits the status of the politicians who have been bought. They will require our children to keep racing until parents, teachers and students say ENOUGH. If you truly support public education and believe that all children deserve a whole and equitable education then OPTING OUT of the state test is the tool to return what is rightfully ours to all of America’s children. Take away the data – take away their ability to profit and dismantle the public schools.

    While testing is estimated at a 45 billion dollar industry nationwide our children suffer in schools void of libraries, nurses, social workers, books, teachers who have graduated from college teaching programs (currently our gov’t promotes alternative certification – 6 weeks training and voila- you’re a teacher) and more. They slowly starve the schools and feed our children tests – while telling us there is no money for what now is consider “frills.”

    Our public schools need real educators making the decisions – not billionaires and politicians who never taught a day in their life. Our children need wrap around services for poverty. Our teachers need respect and the ability to assess and evaluate the learners in their classrooms using their own assessments.

    Our children deserve to go to a school like Sidwell, where President Obama’s children attend – a school with ample resources and no state standardized test.

    What’s good enough for President Obama’s children is good enough for our children.

    We will occupy the Department of Education in D.C. from March 30th to April 2nd and share the truth about corporate education reform as well as solutions for ending the privatization of our public schools and strategies for preserving and improving our public schools

    We hope you will join us. We OPT OUT of corporate education reform. Go to our website for more information at United Opt Out National.

    Peggy Robertson
    United Opt Out Administrator


  6. I have to agree with Anthony’s assertion that in current teacher evaluations, it is a quantitative plus position. That is, with all things being equal, tests will likely trump other measures. It’s kind of like in Vegas: dealers win all ties. There are no truly objective evaluations of teachers; test scores are especially loaded. Once you open that box, a teacher’s scores took a dip, it’s hard for an administrator to shut that box and take into stronger consideration the qualitative evaluations.

    Many educators of all levels are now realizing that the data-driven movement is not living up to all of its once glorious promises. Yet, the power structure in place leaves them with few options to resist the mandates. The only option for a growing number of educators, parents, and even students is to simply not comply with test-taking. The pressures to teach to the test and to punish based on test scores seems to violate very basic principles of education, especially at the elementary level, where very young children are subject to bland, scripted curricula.

    If enough educators refuse to comply with mandates, then these Federal mandates won’t be worth the paper on which they are printed.


  7. Oh, and by the way, before I forget, you can find all the information you like on testing non-compliance at In particular, check out the event to Occupy the DOE, which will raise awareness of the pressures to test and the unreasonable decisions based on the scores.


    • We have pleaded with two presidents, and three Secretaries of education to amend NCLB. Our cries have fallen on the deaf ears of an out of control United States of Education spin machine.
      While MNBC, CNN, and FOX won’t question that spin machine the people are going to take back their public schools themselves. We have a DOE that has force fed their new assessments and state standards reforms down the throats of parents and teachers once already, and now Secretary Duncan expects parents and teachers to buy his new assessments and state standards round two. A U.S. DOE has for over a decade, spent nearly a trillion dollars on education reforms whose own data demonstrate little, or no growth. It has come to this the people must take action. We remember these words from our Declaration of Independence, these words not on their NCLB/RTTT test, these words taught to us when history still counted:
      “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
      America’s parents and teachers you know the people declare NCLB/RTTT a tyranny whose time has come.
      See you in DC next week,
      Jesse Turner

      Children are More Than Test Scores


  8. And, I suppose it’s fair to say the teacher did a bad thing. What isn’t so fair is to ignore the reason why she did the bad thing–this false ranking of schools hurts the children in them.


  9. Haven’t I read somewhere that we’re using 20th century assessments for 21st century learning? I think our obsession with the types of assessments being pushed are pathetic. Too much testing!!


  10. I have been telling students to relax about the tests BECAUSE they are really to see how teachers have done at their jobs and NOT meant to judge them as passes or failures. But, of course, I do not fit in with this punitive system where the last thing anyone wants to do is encourage someone by telling them to relax.


  11. This is a war on unions. It has nothing to do with learning. Money is being diverted to test companies and data collectors. Instruction is focused on test prep. These are the darkest days. Shame, shame, shame on the Democrats. Shame on Cuomo, Bloomberg and Obama. Shame especially on the media, bringing out Joel Klein and Bill Gates and Steven Brill to speak as “educators.”


  12. I’m not sure how to comment on this piece. I wish this incident was actually a fictional story warning of the way things might turn out. Sadly however, this is just a small sample of the damage we are doing to children, teachers and public schools. Isn’t this evidence that there really is no defense of the corporate high-stakes-test driven reform of our public schools? Besides sad anecdotal stories of children and teachers being forced into high anxiety settings there is also substantial empirical evidence that constantly reminds us that Campbell’s law remains in tact. As Anthony and The ChalkFace point out, the only way out of this is not through the rhetoric of “multiple measures.” As long as multiple measures are dictated by the corporate reformers the data will always be a simulated version of objectivity with the overall goal of proving that public schools are failing. The discussion is corrupt.

    The professionals that have the most to say and the experts that have devoted their lives to understanding teaching, learning, child development, and public education have been silenced. We need to throw a wrench into the reform machine to stop it. The only way I see that happening is when parents decide that their children are no longer mere data points to be used in the attack on public schools. We need a mass movement devoted to opting out of high stakes tests. Take away the precious data and the machine stops. Teachers also need to start speaking up. The idea that they must remain silent or risk being fired is nonsense. If you’re a teacher do you really want to teach in the schools that the reformers are creating? Do you despise being relegated to test prep experts? Then speak up. Parents have your backs. Opt out with us.


  13. John, you and your twitter tweeter (I forget his real name–LMTV) seem to enjoy the selling of the story. And you do it often, though you claim I am wrong about this, by saying nasty stuff about teachers and never going deeper into the reasons teachers might be feeling the way they do, and coming off nasty or whatever word we want to use for the teacher in this piece.

    When I started reading this I thought, hey! maybe John is going to decry the testing regime as harmful to children! But, no, it was a slam against an overworked, frightened teacher who was created by this nonsense, and who said something stupid, proving Campbell’s Law.

    Don’t get me wrong–what the teacher said was bad and damaging. Why she said it seems more important though; you ignored that, mainly. You put no responsibility on the reformers who created this atmosphere. It’s their fault, and you refuse pin any blame on them; it’s always about a bad teacher with you.

    You talk about distortion and corruption, and who are you talking about? The corrupt teacher. Really? The high stakes system is what distorts and corrupts. Teachers are reacting to the distortion and corruption, not instituting it–they are reacting to possible destitute status as a result of a nonsense score on a useless test. And you blame her–only.

    You missed you chance to condemn the whole reform regime, which, if you know so much about education and kids, you know is bad for them. You don’t seem to feel that way, though.

    I, therefore, stand by my accusation that you, John Merrow, have a problem with teachers; you’re a teacher-basher.

    Admit it.

    (You asked for comments)


  14. Reading this blog and comments right after seeing Race to Nowhere last night leaves me feeling very sad and discouraged about what’s being done to American education, teachers, and students. Wake up, people! The corporate reformers are just out to make a buck; they don’t care about our kids. Pressuring children to be the best, take the most AP courses, get the highest test scores, get the highest grades, and get into the best colleges is robbing them of their childhood and denying them the opportunity to develop vital lifelong skills like critical thinking, respecting alternate perspectives, getting along with other people, making choices and not whining about the consequences, etc., etc.

    And blaming teachers for what bad education policy has dumped on them is scapegoating. We are a convenient target. Let’s stop being the victims and fight back. There are other models of education that are far, far superior to ours. In our quest to be the best, to be #1, we are actually becoming worse and harming children in the process. I vote for taking a page out of Finland’s book:


  15. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards is an example of rating teachers than has does not ask for any evidence that student achievement is improving in a teacher’s classroom. Many millions of public dollars have been spent on this. But I know some teachers who are nationally board certified. They are not pleasant to many youngsters. They are not respectful to many parents. They are not, in my view, as a 40 year vet of public school teaching, administration, local PTA president and researcher, great teachers. But they are paid extra because they have been certified.

    I think what the teacher said was highly unprofessional. I can believe that the teacher was under a lot of pressure. I don’t believe in basing a teacher’s evaluation only on how students score on tests. But I don’t see a suggestion from John about what we should be doing here, other feeling bad about the emphasis on standardized tests.


    • @Joe Nathan, Because human beings are involved, the National Board certification is not perfect, and on rare occasions, people who are not necessarily “board-worthy” do end up certified. However, the vast majority of NBCTs are highly accomplished teachers. And, demonstrating our positive impact on students and student achievement is an integral part of the certification process. I’ve been an NBCT since 1999 and proud of it!

      Please don’t play into the hands of the corporate “de-formers.” Keeping us fighting among ourselves is just what they want. Then we’ll be too busy to stop them from ruining public education and turning it into a for-profit endeavor.


  16. Sorry, I should have commented on the NWA Link that John recommended. Are there specific measures that NWA or others have developed, that John thinks should be in use? Does John (and others who have commented) think that development of student assessment should be entirely up to individual teachers?


  17. Come on John. Use the power you have to speak out against the insanity with standardized testing. Move beyond a blog.


  18. One of the reasons I read “Learning Matters” is because I believe Merrow looks at the big education issues from the standpoint of a general-interest journalist, rather than an education “reformer” (a word that needs to be put in quotes, these days) or a well-informed member of the progressive education community.

    When Merrow says things like “we need multiple measures” or “the Common Core may bring sanity”–or when he shares stories like the teacher who told kids (correctly, as it turns out) that her job could be dependent on the scores they produced, he’s writing about what the general public has been led to believe. And trying to figure out what has gone so horribly wrong with education policy in America. He represents mainstream thinking–which is the scariest part of this piece and the comments that follow.

    We’re all looking for who to blame. How did we get to be so test-obsessed? How did a set of mediocre content standards get elevated as The Solution? Who even understands what “multiple measures” means? When in doubt about all the complex and interrelated policy failures, we tell a little story that makes an individual teacher look bad instead. It’s what journalists and politicians have been doing for years–making a case based on an anecdote.

    I see this piece as another hopeful sign that we are coming to our senses, as a nation, and questioning our love affair with “data” and standardization.


  19. Some of these responses baffle me. How this can be called bashing and how I can be labelled a teacher basher is beyond me. I ask those critics to reread the piece, because it seems clear to me that both the third grader and the teacher are victims. I have sympathy for principals who have felt compelled to go against what they know is right, just to get scores up.

    Mr Bartolo and others: my personal view is that, even if there is no overt cheating and just the test-prep education (regurgitation education, i call it), our children are being cheated.

    It’s not my place to go beyond reporting and commenting in this blog. What activists do is their call.

    Anthony and others: we must have multiple measures. What they will be is to be decided, but no one can turn his back on accountability and assessment. (Tests and assessments are different animals, of course). That debate has be joined, but it can be a yes/no argument.


    • John why must we have multiple measures? Is there some research base that I am not aware of that demonstrates (with hard evidence) that multiple measures will do anything positive for students, teachers, and schools? Especially when the multiple measures will be dictated to the profession. This is the real problem–insisting that we must do something. Why? In fact this is the reason we have the disaster you described above.

      We had to do something. And look what we did. Wasted billions of dollars. Narrowed the curriculum. Destroyed the teaching and learning relationship needed between student and teacher. Sent a generation of students to college unprepared for individual and independent work.

      We should stop all forms of “new” assessment ideas and get back to the hard work needed to engage in meaningful research that will help us understand how we might use assessment as a force to help enlighten.

      This debate does not need to be joined. This is not our (educators) debate. This debate devalues educators and holds us in contempt. We must craft the new debate. Until then we must opt out!


  20. Amen. Amen. Amen. Fraudulent use of test scores is having serious implications for educating all students, particularly students with disabilities. By definition students with disabilities learn at different rates and learning levels. This is true for all children but more significant in children with disabilities and students at-risk for delays. Yet the corporate-reformers rigid adherence to common standards and common outcomes insist that all children are the same. This flies in the face of all research on learning and development.

    Yet, corporate-reformers, the president and Duncan are WILLFULLY ignoring the evidence and creating their own version of evidence. White papers from think tanks (e.g.,CAP), and corporate backed philanthropies and charities (e.g., Democrats for Education Reform,Gates, Broad, Walton Foundations, Stand for Children, etc) are funneled directly to media outlets rather than for independent peer review.

    “What will it take to relieve some of the pressure? Can President Obama and Secretary Duncan really believe that weeks of test prep and tons of pressure are good for our kids? Why aren’t leaders speaking out?”

    You will not get an honest answer to this question. DoEd and the corporate reformers are a closed system. They serve only the neoliberals and like minded privatizing profiteers (e.g., Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Corey Booker, Chris Christie, etc.) They have no interest in a free appropriate public education for all children. Rahm Emmanuel revealed their strategy in a private meeting with Karen Lewis (teacher) in Chicago shortly after his election as mayor, (I paraphrase) 25% of “those kids” aren’t going to make it, so we’re not going to throw money at them. That statement is as revealing as it is craven.


  21. I thought I explained why you’re a teacher basher pretty well; you refuse to condemn the current reforms as damaging and instead berate teachers for their reactions to the dishonest test and it’s even more dishonest use as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

    And you seem fine giving us your opinion of the teacher you don’t know but are holding back on your opinion of the reforms’ damage.

    Speak your mind. End the confusion.


  22. Last year I wrote this article about what formative assessment looks like for our youngest students in kindergarten. This year more assessments have been added and class sizes have increased! How can teachers be held accountable when they have no time to teach, and barely have enough time to get all the assessment in? I love my students and I love teaching, but what we are doing to kids now is not teaching, it is abusive.


      • Please. We are actual teachers telling you there is too much testing and the testing reveals nothing.

        Blended Learning is an invention of Tom VanderArk who sells digital education nonsense.

        Reform is a scam. The problem is poverty. All this futzing around with tests and assessments has ruined public education.

        KIPP stands for: Knowledge is Power; Power is Money; I want it!

        Nice, eh?


      • I have reviewed the text of SB 222 and find no rcenreefe to Facebook or private communication with teachers. Could you please post a link to any official record that substantiates the information presented here? If such a bill were passed, it would be a tremendous restriction on the first amendment rights of teachers and students, to say nothing of the insult to teacher integrity and limitation on their ability to do their jobs.But if no such bill was passed, it’d be a shame to further the distrust that already exists between many teachers and many legislators.


      • Nancy,

        Could you please elaborate? What about this video showing engaged kids, dedicated teachers and exceptional results frightens you?


  23. What do you think would happen if standardized tests were (1) NOT bubble tests but actually assessed the skills (applying the information, organizing solutions, explaining the procedures, considering the usefulness of the outcomes, …) and (2) doing those tests SIX MONTHS after direct learning facilitation efforts on the material ended (e.g., on October 1st of each year on material facilitated the previous academic year with no teaching to the test in the intervening period)?

    If the material is effectively learned, and if no teaching to the test occurred, effective Learners should do well and teachers would be doing what they say they need to do. Using THESE tests in part for teacher evaluation: an appropriate use then? Yes, I know, more costly to score; as my father always reminded me, you don’t get something for nothing!


  24. As a parent, I am gravely concerned about the unintended consequences of the standardized testing mania. Student tests are meant to evaluate students, not teachers…hello?!? When teachers are evaluated on the test scores, it naturally causes are best teachers to migrate to the teaching positions with the best students. This will leave our most challenged students with teachers with less experience and higher turnover rates.

    This has also caused more teachers to stop collaborating. If they are scored on “their” students instead of an entire school or district, teaches will be less likely to do group activities that allow for great mentoring situations for newer teachers.

    This also encourages children to be seen as a test score. This again is not an incentive that puts the needs of our children first.

    But none of this matters because the testing is meant to cause increasing numbers of schools to fail so the ed deforming corporate privatizers can come in and sell off public schools to their wealthy donor “non-profit” private charters. These “non-profits” turn around and make money off of our tax dollars with no accountability. In the end our taxes will go up or parents will pay a much higher portion for private charters and the quality of education will only be adequate for those who can pay.

    I support great public education. All of our kids deserve that. The village needs to start living up to that responsibility.


  25. The belief in the power of schools to have a huge positive impact on students from low income families predates the charter public school movement, predates, Gates, Walton, Broad involvement. Here’s a sample, from African American teacher/Harvard Prof Ron Edmonds:
    “How Many Do You Need to See? How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. Whether or not we will ever effectively teach the children of the poor is probably far more a matter of politics than of social science and this is as it should be.

    “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”
    Ron Edmonds

    Blaming charters, Gates, Walton, Broad is convenient. Too much testing can be bad. But believing/knowing that schools can be much more effective, and learning from the most effective district & charter public schools, are important steps forward.


  26. Repeat after me: Body of Evidence. A doctor, when trying assess the health of his patient would never rely on a single measure to determine a course of action. If they did, we would consider them a quack. And yet, when it comes to education, policy makers insist that a single measure or the manipulation of numbers from a single measure, will give us the full story when it comes to a student’s learning. And when teachers decry this approach, and on a daily basis see the damage high stakes testing does to a child, they are branded as anti-accountability. (Melissa Bollow Tempel’s recent blog is an excellent illustration of the impact and folly of testing on a first grade classroom:

    Any assessment of a child’s progress in school should involve “multiple measures” but not the kind testaholics and pseudo-reformers are spouting. A body of evidence of student learning should take into account the child’s strengths as well as the areas of need across a variety of domains i.e. knowledge, reasoning skills, understanding, attitude toward learning, and performance/ability to apply learnings over a period of time. The formative assessments that teachers typically use to gauge learning and inform instructional planning are being hijacked by testing companies who claim this sort of information can be computerized and scored by “intelligent software.” And summative assessments, such as standardized testing, that by design are meant to provide a snapshot in time of a program, district, or region, have become formative in nature i.e. the test has become the curriculum.

    Overlooked in the debate is the fact that most standardized measures capture snippets of the lowest levels of learning – the knowledge level. Knowing is not the same as understanding e.g. I know E=mc squared. I even know E= energy, m=mass, and c squared = the speed of light. And while I can readily identify these on a multiple choice test, I do not understand the formula, let alone apply it. But if I get the right answer on the test, whether I understand it or not, both myself and the teacher are considered a success. When comparing testing items between the U.S. and Finland several years ago, Linda Darling Hammond noted that while here in America we ask 12th grade students to name elements in our atmosphere on a multiple choice, machine-scored test; by contrast, students in Finland are given a description of a virus and are then expected to design a drug to combat the virus and design a lab experiment that will prove the drug will work. Their teacher then reviews and scores their efforts – not a computer. Whereas we here in the U.S. expect students to think about science just long enough to get a good test score, Finland expects students to think like a scientist. Big difference.

    Assessments must also INVOLVE children…not only should there be assessment OF learning, there should also be assessment FOR learning. Assessment for learning gives students ownership of their education, provides them with a clear picture of where they are and need to go across several domains, and with the assistance of their teacher, helps them map out a plan to get there. Standardized, machine-scored, or computerized testing cannot offer the necessary teacher-student collaboration that will lead to true success. Nor will said tests foster a love of learning outside of the classroom – another true measure of success.

    Education policies and “reforms” of late continue the paradigm of education as something done TO students rather than WITH them. And standardized testing, VAM or otherwise, not only continues but expands this faulty paradigm of pseudo-accountability.


  27. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of teachers were also scared sleepless (or some variation) during test times, another indicator of how we have lost our way. And today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution reports on widespread cheating across the nation.


  28. For the sake of all children’s education, the hostile working environments of teachers and the psychological abuse of high stakes tests imposed on our public schools, it is time for all parents to stand together and Opt Out.


  29. I listened to a representative from the Virginia Department of Education address a group of special educators and parents this morning. Most of his presentation was devoted to describing new, rigorous testing designed to make sure students with disabilities meet the state standards and participate in an accountability system that more closely resembles that of their nondisabled peers. A huge some of money is going into research of how to better test students who have intellectual disabilities. Teacher accountability was another big topic, since everyone knows teachers go into this field because it is so easy, the pay is high and there is no stress involved. Naturally, someone needs to make sure teachers actually know what they are doing; a college degree, trainings at the state and county level and multiple tests required in order to qualify for a license are all for….I have no idea, really.
    Ironically, the word “teaching” never came up, neither did an explanation of how teachers will adequately address IEP goals, which are sort of a VERY big deal in special education. I guess it doesn’t matter really because the more “accountability” we squeeze into the system, the less time educators have to actually teach. It is such a good thing we have all those instructional assistants to provide instruction while we collect and examine data. They do not know the research-based practices I had to learn in graduate school but hey, they certainly can get the students to complete worksheets. If you want data, this is what you will get. If you want students engaged in active learning that will last a lifetime, leave us alone and let us do our jobs.


  30. High stakes test scores do not indicate that students have learned deeply, claimed ownership to knowledge and learning, obtained the ability to work with others, or developed the ability to think creatively. Nor do they really reflect the quality of a school or a teacher. They suggest trends in regards to cultural practices, social class, and the ability to learn test taking strategies. And to a certain extent they reveal aptitude based on assimilation and cultural bias. The aforementioned is a response I gave to an interview question.

    Until the focus is taken off profit and exploitation of public funds for education, the testing mania will exist. Folks will come up with fancy catch phrases and dishonest gimmicks to cover their real intent while teachers and students suffer from the backlash of testing that should never be used as a punitive indicator of teacher effectiveness and student achievement. However, as a co-founder of United Opt Out, I continuously advocate for the end of high stakes testing and push for the acceptance of assessments – formal and informal – that are a part of the daily classroom experience to be accepted as the true gauge for student progress. I also advocate for the use of standardized assessments to be returned to their proper place as tools used for random sampling to reveal trends that can inform instruction. I am hopeful that eventually those that share my mission will become the dominate voice in education policy.

    Ceresta Smith, NBCT and United Opt Out Administrator


  31. I write as someone who taught in England and Switzerland for years. Now I live In the U.S. I am horrified at the standardized testing bonanza which is used to demonize teachers and put unbearable pressure on children as young as seven. There is little money for drama, music, sport and the arts but plenty to test children as much as possible. No other country feels the needs to spend precious money in this way. Look at Finland where there is no standardized testing until the children are sixteen. My own boys have gone from a six hour school day with an hour recess at lunch, art twice a week, sports three times a week, music once a week to a situation I find hard to believe. Worksheets galore. No recess. No fun. Just pressure and boredom. I am disgusted. How anyone can feel it is okay to treat children and teachers this way is beyond me. I look forward to the day I can return home and my boys enjoy school again.


  32. What to add that hasn’t been said already? These tests are nothing more than money makers for Pearson, demoralizing experiences for children, and punitive assessments for teachers (and that is NOT supposed to be what a standardized test is assessing). I am quite tired of the narrowing of curriculum, the teacher bashing (as if teachers did not go to a UNIVERSITY or as if these AMerican women are somehow conjuring ways to NOT teach daily), and the focus on these test by politicians who never attended a public school nor send their own kids to one. These tests tell me nothing as a parent other than my child is a great or poor test taker. That’s it. For my gifted child, they are a breeze…for my ld child, they are an exercise in abuse and I STILL cannot get an answer as to did the child do really well on the beginning and then not finish, did the child misbubble, did the child reach cognitive fatigue and give up, was the passage on the development of the combustible engine just so out of his realm of understanding he said, “screw it I’m done”. And if I hear one more person say…then how will we know if the child is learning or the teacher is teaching; I swear, I’ll scream. How do MY parents know? A REPORT CARD…grades on projects, tests, papers….REAL assessments given by qualified teachers who followed a mandated curriculum. School has become a place a stress and angst. While school should be challenging (and please look up the word rigorous…it’s not pretty), there should also be time for socializing via school activities and exploration of interests through electives. All activities that are being cut because we HAVE TO FOCUS ON THE TEST. ANd if these methods of assessing and paying teachers have such merit, then why isn’t every PRIVATE school in this country employing them? And I would remind people the teachers at the private schools as well as charters ALL went to the same univerisities as those who teach in public. Funny, it’s as if people think the people who teach at prvate schools are somehow culled from a different universe. I taught at both, and my children have attended both and I can assure you, the only difference is the students they teach. Period.For those who say we want the status quo…no we don’t want the status quo of the last 10 years of NCLB…we want to return schools to local control, to having policy be dictated by EDUCATORS (gasp!), and we want a fully funded rich curriculum with small class sizes JUST LIKE PRIVATE SCHOOLS.


  33. “And if these methods of assessing and paying teachers have such merit, then why isn’t every PRIVATE school in this country employing them?”

    That’s a wonderful question, even if it’s rhetorical. A long time ago in my first go-round with the NewsHour (85-90), we did a piece about school choice in District 4 in Manhattan. In that piece Sy Fliegel, then the District’s Associate Superintendent (or maybe its Superintendent, I forget), observed that public schools would do well to copy what the far-better-off private schools were doing. He also said that it was fine to try to improve the world but we should all start in our own neighborhoods. The subtext: DO NOT do to other people’s children what you wouldn’t do for/to your own….


  34. Standardize test are also culturally biased. Testing is aimed at the public schools, and do nothing but ware house kids.


  35. John,

    Great piece here. And, yes, quite haunting. But I think there’s another side to this coin that hasn’t been explored.

    I help kids get ready for tests all the time. And I do that by telling them the truth about tests as I see it:

    1. Test work is different from real work so we will study test work specifically for a very short period of time before we take the test.

    2. It’s important to do the best you can—just like its important to do the best you can every day that you are in school.

    3. The results of tests affect many people—teachers, principals, communities, families, yourself—so doing your best matters in many ways.

    4. Doing well on tests does not automatically mean that you are good at what the tests say they measure.

    5. Doing poorly on tests does not automatically mean that you are bad at what the tests say they measure.

    6. Your score on any test could vary a lot depending on the questions you get (not all kids get the same form of a given test), the day you take it (some kids do better on some days than others), and a little bit of luck (whether you feel good that day, or whether you got enough sleep the night before, or whether you’re dealing with some other issue in your life at the time, etc.)

    7. What you know for sure about yourself—and can prove to yourself through real work—is closer to the truth of your ability in any area than any test you will ever take.

    I find that communicating these messages not only helps kids feel better, it also helps me teach better—during the school year with normal instruction and right before a test through effective preparation.

    Many people might disagree with the truth of my seven statements. Some might have additional statements of their own, others might disagree altogether. But I have found them to be very effective, especially when I teach with them in mind.

    One of my biggest messages to kids is “We’re all in this together.” And, yes, that does mean that how they do affects me. But it also means that how I do affects them. So while I would never tell kids that my job hinged on their test scores, neither would I shy away from explaining the truth about how test scores are used. Truly, we ARE all in this together. And so we must see ourselves as a community of connected individuals. And we must act accordingly.

    But I don’t see this as being any different than living in society. We really are in this (life) together. Our actions and results matter not only to us but to others as well. In this sense, testing is no different than playing on the playground. Play fair. Play to win. Never take yourself out of the game.

    There are many tests we face in life. Standardized tests are, by far, the least important. But they do have some importance. And I think it makes sense for us to communicate this importance in accurate and appropriate ways to kids.

    Clearly, if the story you relate in this piece is true, then what the teacher did was not appropriate. It was also unlikely to be accurate as few teachers have, to date, lost their jobs over their kids’ test scores. So the problem here, as I see it, is that an adult was dishonest with children. And that’s never the right thing to do whether we’re talking about tests or anything else.

    Thanks for your great work, as always!

    Steve Peha
    Founder, Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.
    “Learning begins with teaching that makes sense.”


      • Thank YOU, David, for your kind remarks.

        I’ll be the first to admit that there isn’t a lot of sanity in school these days, and that I myself am sometimes guilty of pushing the envelope when I know I shouldn’t. I think we all have to try even a little harder than we might otherwise to take reasonable and constructive positions on education because the stakes are so high.

        I think what keeps me in control of my own emotions is getting outside myself a bit and remembering that I don’t really need to trumpet my own agenda as much as I need to advocate for kids and their families.

        I think if everyone in this national dialog on education thought about something other than their own self-interest, the discourse would improve dramatically, practical solutions would emerge, divisions would dissolve, and real reform might get under way.

        This is one of the reasons I like Mr. Merrow’s work. I’m sure he has his biases and his positions, just like we all do, but I also think his journalistic temperament helps him strike a balance that is hard to find in other places.

        I appreciate your comment very much. Let’s all keep rooting for sane responses. These are our children we’re talking about. They deserve our sane and responsible consideration.



  36. I’d like to know a lot more about the national opt out movement. Why not have some newshour coverage of all the grassroots efforts against this onslaught of big-testing (Pearson), … so much like Big Pharma.


  37. If you fail a school, you fail an entire community. The framers of No Child Left Behind understand this more so than most. This isn’t just about education and the choices one can make whether it be public, private or charter schools. This is about cornering the market where poor, underserved students, who resides in the urban core, are concerned. If you look very closely at the authors behind NCLB/Charter Schools, you will realize they are the same individuals behind the privatization of prisons. They know if a great number of our students fail, then prison becomes an option. They are nothing more than mad scientist at work, further implementing that age old eugenics mentality in America where they feel that the world is over-populated and it’s their duty to rid the world of it’s so called undesirables. Sickening.


  38. This points to a failure to use the test results as a diagnostic during the other 99.9% of the school year to guide the curriculum/classroom or school/district wide practices . Academic progress is measurable. Day to day achievement of each student can be improved and cumulative effect on the day of the test would represent growth over the previous year. I value the test results as an independent arbiter to validate my own measures of individual student growth. As a matter of fact, I especially value the NWEA MAP’s Fall tests, as it helps me level the learning to individual needs right away and keep building on it as the students advance. NWEA has a fantastic resource beyond the test score known as DesCartes, which is a learning continuum. Coupled with personal knowledge of each learner, this helps a teacher make judgments about the content to match the learning level (zone of proximal development). I do not test prep or use homework. Professionals who cheat on the test day or engage in pressuring kids have failed well before the test day and are compromising the prospects of youngsters in unconscionable ways. It is easy to loathe the tests when their results have not been used to change professional practice and that applies to everyone from School Board/Superintendent on down.


  39. I apologize if this was already mentioned….

    There were many who voiced concern and consternation at the fact that the teacher in the piece clued their students into the importance of the test scores to the teacher’s career. While I agree about the egregiousness of this, I wonder if we are fooling ourselves into thinking that students will not figure out how the tests influence teachers’ careers on their own.

    After working in a school district for 7 years I can imagine what it will be like for students once several teachers get laid off based upon test scores. First their parents will speak of the situation in hushed tones, then in less than hushed tones. It will not take long for the kids to figure out that their teacher’s job is riding (to a greater or lesser degree) on their performance on a once a year test. Even if teachers never mention their job situation to their students (and I hope they do not) students will figure it out. If we think we will shelter them from that stress, I think we are wrong.


  40. Superb weblog here! Also your website loads up very quick! What internet host are you currently using? Can I get your affiliate hyperlink to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol


  41. Sorry, I not speak good’re in point of fact a just right webmaster. The website loading velocity is amazing. It kind of feels that you simply simply are doing any distinctive trick. Also, The contents are masterpiece. you’ve done a magnificent activity in this matter!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s