What A Difference A Dash Makes!

“Pro-Test” or “Protest”? The dash makes all the difference, making one word into two that, taken together, describe polar opposite worlds. If you are “pro-test,” you favor the Common Core State Standards tests. Remove the dash, and you are aligned with those urging families to opt-out and refuse to take the PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core tests, which will be administered in March.

Are you in one of these camps?

Or are there even two camps? It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure the strength of the “protest” movement, if indeed there really is a ‘movement.’ It could be thousands and thousands of tiny, grass-roots organizations and loose gatherings, or it could be just a few hundred. If it is a national movement, it’s one that lacks a ‘command central,’ although three organizations, Save Our Schools (SOS), United Opt-Out, and Badass Teachers Association, do have modest national profiles. Every week FairTest publishes a report of anti-testing actions, but the list gets repetitive and sometimes includes newspaper stories and blogs that merely ask tough questions–hardly evidence of a full-blown revolt. Is there a genuine bandwagon, or is FairTest trying to create the illusion of a bandwagon where none exists? Hard to say.

In some places, local and state politicians are taking note. Colorado’s legislature is holding hearings, and there’s ferment in Philadelphia, for example. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to stop the testing.

We know the protesters have different motivations. Some are upset about what they see as excessive testing in schools, while others are vociferously opposed to the Common Core State Standards, which they have labelled “Obamacore,” his plan to take control over public education.

Protest politics makes for strange bedfellows, with lefties and righties coming together to agree on this issue (and probably on just this one issue).

As for the other side, the “Pro-Test” camp has the appearance of substance. With unofficial “headquarters” in Washington, DC, the Common Core test defenders include the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council, the Education Trust, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education.

The basic message: “If you don’t take the test, you won’t be counted–and you won’t matter.” The “Pro-Test” group has an impressive roster with money and power, but perhaps it’s mostly Chiefs and very few followers. Impossible to say now, but we will find out before long.

Just last fall, the establishment was agreeing publicly that we might be subjecting our children to too many tests. The President spoke out, and his Secretary of Education noted that testing was sucking the air out of classrooms. Now, they’re saying, “OK, perhaps schools do test too much, but these tests–the Common Core tests–are essential.

I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are going to boycott the Common Core tests, but people in Washington appear worried. How else to explain their going on the offensive to trumpet the importance of these tests?

What do they know that we don’t? Or are they seeing dragons under the bed at night?

In other states, educational leaders have been issuing threats: “Boycott these tests and you will suffer the consequences,” is the tone of these messages. “I know some of you have already received questions from parents who would like their children to be able to opt out of taking the test. Opting out of PARCC is not an option,” Illinois State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch recently wrote to district administrators, a message he expected they would share with their principals. Some schools are going to force kids who come to school but opt-out of the tests to ‘sit and stare’ all day long, instead of offering them alternative learning experiences. “Sit and stare”–Now that’s enlightened leadership, teaching kids what it means to live in a free and democratic society!! Teaching kids how power responds to principled action.

So, the establishment is dropping the hammer. Will that backfire?

We will find out in March, when the PAARC and Smarter Balanced tests are administered over a 2-3 week period.

The great Dinah Washington song I am riffing off, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” ends with the line, “And the difference is you.”

Care to make a prediction as to what will happen?

252 thoughts on “What A Difference A Dash Makes!

  1. Wow, this sure has generated a lot of comments for something that’s not really a movement. My sense is, there are really three camps: those who are making money off the tests and therefore support them, those who have researched the tests and realize how destructive they are to kids, classes, teachers, learning, public schools and education in general, and those who don’t know anything about the subject and are keeping silent out of ignorance and a naive sense that things will work themselves out and those in power must surely know best. You don’t have to do much research to figure out how much falsehood, junk science and hunger for profit lie behind this push for nation-wide standardized testing. VAM to measure teacher effectiveness (“accountability”): totally discredited by statisticians; Common Core standards: un-tested, not-research based and opposed by most experts in child development, child psychology, pediatric neurology and, of course, actual educators; standardized tests as a means to measure how much children have learned: discredited in studies as being culturally biased, measuring income-level more than aptitude, and increasingly rejected by colleges as useful in judging student ability or talent; the PARCC test specifically, asking students to read at levels higher than their abilities, misleading, confusing questions that adults find difficult, computer-based, thus biased against those who don’t have access or experience with computers, the fact that teachers, students and parents can never see the lengthy tests their kids are taking, meaning they serve no pedagogical purpose, the list of wrongs goes on and on. I haven’t even mentioned data mining, English language learners, shrinking curriculum, stress; good gravy, where in this issue can one find anything to be positive about? There is a movement, and what motivates it is knowledge. The more people learn about testing, the more students and parents will opt out and oppose it’s presence in our schools.


  2. John, thank you for opening this dialogue.

    Are there any New Jersey voices out there?

    PARCC is scheduled for NJ in March and May.
    According to NJ Ed. Commissioner: There is no “opt out” option for parents.


  3. Via a Florida parent: (Darcey Addo · Palm Bay, Florida)
    “Respectfully, Dr. Roberts, Commissioner Stewart is an intellectually dishonest, state appointed bully and her disingenuous letter does not dissuade those of us with conviction. We are not “opting out” of these assessments; we are refusing. We are refusing the assessments that lack curricular validity as has already been litigated in the state of Florida and upheld as precedent (Debra p. v. Turlington). We are refusing tests that bastardize public education in the name of data collection and reducing our children to data points. We are refusing assessment that undermines the authority of professional educators. We are refusing summative assessment that does not drive instruction, rather than formative instruction that provides valuable feedback to teachers, students, and parents. We are refusing pedagogically inappropriate use of classroom time. We are refusing to allow or children to silent sit for hours on end when all research, experts, and logic defies that as educational best practice.
    We are not opting out, Superintendent, we are refusing. It is our Constitutional right to guide and direct the education of our children while they attend public school, and that is what we are doing. We are not asking permission, we exercising our parental right. As a parent I appreciate your balanced view of assessment, but I demand better of my public schools. If my elected officials won’t work with haste, I will do my part for my children. Please acknowledge, Dr. Roberts, that refusing the invalid and excessive high-stakes assessments is a last resort for those of us who demand better for our children, their teachers, and their schools.” #defendchildren


  4. The protest movement is real and growing. The Pro-Test campaign gets media coverage because it is being financed/promoted by big money interests, for example, the Gates Foundation. More parents are discovering and joining the protest, are refusing to stand by and watch their children be demoralized/abused by high-stakes testing. Here is another important dash, high-stakes testing vs. reasonable, insightful testing, administered by qualified, experienced, caring teachers.


  5. Oligarchy. The tests exist to feed the corporations their precious data and money. We no longer live in a democracy. We live in an oligarchy. I wish I could unsee this horrible mess but alas, I cannot. So I will continue to fight. I refuse to partake in the dismantling of schools fueled by this testing mania. Starve the beast of its data. Refuse the tests.


  6. Protest!
    A student who is trained to answer standardized test questions is taught to spit answers, not to think. We will lose an entire generation, or two, to mindless responses for minimal effort.

    Do we really want to sacrifice generations to a social experiment that is bound to lose?


  7. Standardized tests are a direct assault on PUBLIC education and they are using children to do it! The powers that be have one target, the teachers’ union. It is the only obstacle in their way of utter privatization and exploitation of learning and schooling. The mission of standardized testing is to corrode public education from the inside out. Their plan: By making schools succumb to impossible testing standards for students and deplorable working conditions for teachers (no teacher I know thinks they should be evaluated based on test scores) wealthy parents will pull out their kids and good teachers will leave. Public education will be a shadow of its former self and the union will crumble. But have no fear! private schools will be happy to enroll (those smart “normal” ) kids and take their vouchers as payment. And as for the rest of the kids, well you’ve read Oliver Twist, right? Get my drift? For the sake of democracy (what’s left of it) OPT OUT!


  8. These tests are excruciating for the kids as well as the teachers. They are long and the schools basically go into lock down for them. Teachers are supposed to actively monitor these tests while in essence do nothing. The kids have to eat lunch in their classrooms on state testing days. In Texas the STAAR tests do not count toward the students grade but the District benchmark tests that are taken before the STAAR tests over the course of the whole year (to show the district if the student will pass the STAAR test when its time) count for 40% of the students grade.

    I feel that teachers feel it necessary to teach to the test. Especially, now that they will be compensated based on their students test scores. I feel that Texas is trying to force us out of public schools and into private schools or charter schools which are cheaper for the state. Teachers will no longer be required to actually teach but read a scripted manual and babysit the class room during tests. This is not what I want for my children.

    I understand that a test can provide data to help however take it as that, just data, take the high stakes out of it and the number of tests given. Its hard enough growing up in this century. We don’t need to add to their already overloaded stressed out brains. They’re just kids remember.


  9. Wow. The number and high level of the comments here are overwhelming. So much insight and so much passion!

    For me it all boils down to this: many things make high-stakes testing totally unacceptable to my wife and me (and our 11-year-old twins have never taken and will not take the mandated New York State tests), but the worst is that the practice has been systematically used to remove authority over education from parents and teachers. They are raising the next generation of Americans, and they will determine how that will be done. Period.

    Standardized tests are not intrinsically evil. They are intrinsically limited and superficial. They virtually never necessary, but can in some circumstances provide useful information to professional educators. That information is only valid when considered in the context of deep knowledge of the whole child, something possessed not by superintendents, state education commissioners or education secretaries, but by teachers. Moreover, testing is only appropriate when it is completely transparent to the teacher and the child’s parents or guardians. None of these conditions is currently met.

    Would we allow the state to prescribe medicine against the better judgment of doctors based on remote, computerized interpretation of medical tests?

    When standardized tests cease to be used as a weapon against teachers, when professional educators are in charge again of all critical decisions at every level of the education system, when these tests are restored to their proper, limited role as a supplementary tool to be used only when called for by professional educators — then and only then will we consider allowing our children to take them.

    By the way, there have been zero consequences to our children, their teachers or their schools because of their refusal of the state tests. Officials threatening parents and teachers need to find another profession and let us get on with the most challenging and important work there is, teaching — and learning from — our children.


  10. Standardized tests and test prep have taken over my children’s school days. The South Florida school administration and teaching staff has become very proficient at teaching how to fill in a bubble – beacause we have given them every incentive to do so. When did we loose sight of our children? Doesn’t each child deserve to learn everyday? The purpose of testing should include providing feedback to both the teacher and the student so that any gaps in their education can be filled. The test itself should be a valid assessment and use appropriate grade level vocabulary. Better yet, there are other options for assessment that can provide a truer insight into a child’s performance and level of achievement over the course of the year, not just a snapshot of one day. Project based or portfolio based assessment could be valid options. I’d like to see teachers be given back the time and the power to inspire and to teach problem solving, innovation, and creativity through hands on learning. What is the true cost of all this testing? The test itself, software and hardware required, staffing to proctor, pretests and practice tests, text books designed around the test, maintinence of the equipment, let alone the opportunity cost of time spent testing and not learning – the costs are staggering and never fully disclosed. Last year I discovered that all teaching was suspended during the FCAT – even for those not testing because actual lessons may cause noise that might disturb the test takers! What? n Monroe County a pubic school student on average takes a standardized test every 8.5 days. Let use that money to each our kids.


  11. John, I’ve been thinking about what else I could possibly say that 200+ respondents have not said already. Today I came to this: where are all the pro-test people on this thread, you ask? A simple answer might be that they don’t need to post comments on blogs. They can spend a million for a TV ad. They can spend 10 million on partisan think tanks that will provide white papers and reports touting the benefits of test-driven corporate reform. Comments sections in blogs such as this, social media, the opinion section of your local newspaper: this is where the protest folks wage their offensive. This is free. This is real grassroots activism. The reasons you’re not hearing from any pro-testers here is that a good number of them are far removed from the realities of public education, especially in poor urban districts.


    • Excellent point William, they know it is a losing argument. See Anthony Cody’s piece on how corporate reform shills are trained to speak about testing. They can only reframe, try to reach a consensus. There is no compromise here. These specific national tests are toxic, harmful to both children and our ability to sustain let alone support public education. Renaming, rebranding, reframing will not change the reality of destruction our communities have experienced. Eliminate the money incentive to create and sell, eliminate the misuse of them as high stakes ranking instruments….then we can talk about how educators can assess small children.


  12. I am thankful to the Rhode Island movement for reaching me and educating me to do the right child on behalf of my profound Dyslexic child who has an IEP. As such, he is monitored with his plan goals to make the necessary measured needs.

    I am so much more knowledgeable to this thread and all of the amazing information gathered that helped me write a letter to say before the School Committee which has never answered the first letter I sent. As the chapter founding member of Decoding Dyslexia in Rhode Island, many of our children that have IEP’s should ALL be exempt from this test. But, upon researching it has become clear there is no Data driving the validity of this test – therefore ALL children should refuse. This was appalling to read that these test developers refuse to sign a confidentiality agreement and will be privy to use our children’s information. I don’t understand how this can be carried out with all the HIPPA laws.

    Thank you Mr. Merrow for this story, which unveiled a ton of amazing information within the thread.


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