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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, The Multi-Billion Dollar Testing Industry


By Stephanie Jones

The Multi-Billion Dollar Testing Industry has done it again. The industry continues to usurp precious resources out of local schools when districts are forced to lay off teachers, discontinue programs for children, and eliminate field trips. But beyond the fiscal crimes inflicted on schools that restrict children’s opportunities, the industry makes a mockery out of the whole education enterprise.

And they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

The latest, but certainly not the last, scorned school district is right here in our back yard.

The Atlanta Public Schools “cheating scandal” is scandalous, but not necessarily for the reasons spewed from mouths of people not looking beyond their noses. The embarrassment and shame comes from the fact that multinational private testing corporations are determining the fate of our children, youth, educators, and future.

It is widely known in educational research that the tests are poorly written, often scored incorrectly and by non-educators, and often evaluate pre-existing knowledge rather than content learned in school. It is also well documented that textbooks and other materials written to prepare students to take the tests are low in educational quality and experience but very high in price, often costing millions of dollars for a school district to adopt a new textbook.

I am not talking about any kind of test you may have taken as a student prior to the year 2002 when the No Child Left Behind legislation was implemented. Many of you may have taken an annual standardized test in school that was used at the state and national level to document trends in achievement, not your individual fate as a student, the fate of the teacher, or the school. I recall being told the night before my annual Iowa Test of Basic Skills to “get a good night’s rest,” and “eat a good breakfast.” The morning of the test we would receive two brand new No. 2 pencils and get to work. No pressure. No anxiety. No life-altering consequences for the performance on one test on one day.

George W. Bush’s bipartisan legislation ended all that and the only ones who have benefited are those in the testing industry.

Now Georgia kindergarteners know about the CRCT and students take practice tests all year long. Children vomit. Parents cry. Teachers vomit and cry. Some youth and educators have even taken their own lives as a result.

The stakes are unbearable, and the tests are not a good measure of the best teaching and learning. But states keep sending millions and billions to the testing industry, giving the industry carte blanche in determining the academic and psychological fate of our children and schools.

What can be done?

–Opt-out of testing: Parents have started opting-out of state testing all over the country, sending the message that they disagree with the high-stakes nature of the tests and how the tests have distorted teaching and learning. I could not locate an opt-out procedure for Georgia, but if hundreds or thousands of parents kept their children out of school during state testing, surely someone would pay attention.

–Talk to other parents and caretakers in your school and neighborhood: Most people are suffering in silence – handling anxious and depressed children at home on their own without talking to others who are likely experiencing the same thing. Families know the damage done to their children and grandchildren by the testing environments at school. Organize yourselves and make your voices heard.

–Tell your legislators merit pay for teachers based on test scores will only make things worse. This is important if you are in a Race to the Top District that will begin using some version of merit pay this year.

–If you are a teacher or administrator, consider organizing other educators (and families) to end high-stakes testing. Without union protection this can be risky, but folks in other countries have done so successfully.

–Join the Save Our Schools grassroots organization of parents, educators, and concerned citizens. SOS will be marching on Washington D.C. on July 30 demanding four fundamental changes to education, including the end of high-stakes testing.

The APS cheating scandal is being touted as the largest one in the country, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking Atlanta (or Georgia for that matter) is the only place facing serious accusations of cheating on high-stakes tests and abusive behavior towards teachers and children. Cheating on tests has increased significantly over the past several years. This was an entirely predictable trend since test scores started being used to evaluate schools, teachers, and students with unbearable consequences.

In 2002 the multi-billion dollar testing industry gained control over our schools, educators, and youth. We may be witnessing the education equivalent to the foreclosure crisis, where high profits and compensation in private multinational corporations take priority over the children filing into public schools every day. But we can stop the madness before another generation suffers.

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